Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Friday, July 28, 2006

"The Middle East Buddy List"

Slate has a useful interactive feature up, "The Middle East Buddy List." While of course such a chart must sacrifice nuance and detail, it's a nice resource for a quick glance. If you mouse over the icons, a brief explanation appears of why Slate classified things as they did. As they describe the chart:

Slate's Middle East Buddy List breaks down the relationships between the countries, terrorist organizations, and political factions who are fighting it out in the current conflict. Who likes whom? Who are the bitterest of enemies? And which groups don't really know where they stand?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Fresh Air on The Middle East

The politics of the Middle East and the history of the region are so complex they can quickly become daunting. I found two programs of Fresh Air, hosted by the amazing Terry Gross, to be very helpful.

On Wednesday, 7/19/06, she interviewed Vali Nasr, professor of Middle East and South Asia politics at the Naval Postgraduate School, who spoke primarily about the Shia strain of Islam. He's the author of The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future.

Her second guest was New Yorker writer Jeffrey Goldberg, who spoke about Hezbollah. He interviewed Hezbollah leaders for a 2002 article, "In the Party of God: Are Terrorists in Lebanon Preparing for a Larger War?" His being Jewish made for an interesting dynamic!

Meanwhile on Thursday, 7/20/06, she interviewed "Julia Choucair… an associate in the Democracy and Rule of Law Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the deputy editor of the Carnegie's e-monthly, the Arab Reform Bulletin" on the subject of " Political Reform in the Arab World."

Thanks, NPR! Keep it coming!

Friday, July 14, 2006

SOAP en français

As it is Bastille Day and right before the weekend, as a public service, I present to you: Snakes On a Plane - en français. Conservatives like to bash the French almost as much as they do The New York Times, but dammit, those French sure know fine cinema when they see it. ;-)

Orson Welles, eat your heart out!

(Talk to me about yo' mofo mise-en-scene! Bring it!)

Happy Bastille Day!

Bon anniversaire et joyeux fête nationale à notre amis français! Vive le quatorze juillet! Vive la France!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

“The President is Always Right”

Updated below

Every so often, the Bush administration drops its guard and the truth slips out. Let me correct that — the truth rarely slips out, but their true attitudes slip out.

Case in point, Steven Bradbury, head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, had a rare moment of cheeky candor today in front of the Senate. Think Progress has the clip and a transcript while Crooks and Liars features only the key line.

Dana Milbank has a good new Washington Sketch on this very Senate session and Dan Froomkin dissects the Bush administration’s current mentality with his usual skill. Meanwhile, Anonymous Liberal has a good post exposing the exercise in bad faith and aggressive denial of reality that is the hallmark of the Bush administration, in this case on the consequences of the Hamdan decision. (Psychosis — it’s not just for Iraq policy, anymore!)

As I remarked at ThinkProgress and Crooks and Liars, Bradbury is clearly irked at being challenged on his obfuscating spin, and takes a condescending tone to Leahy about answering a central question about a (typically) blatantly false statement by Bush. While Leahy may come off as a little cranky to his detractors, his question is directly on point, and Bradbury either doesn't understand the Hamdan decision or is trying to spin it (or both). His answer that "The President is always right" is snotty and may be facetious on one level, but come on, does anyone really have any doubt that he believes it? Bradbury reeks aggressive jock-frat boy and displays an ignorance of the law combined with an arrogant disdain for core principles of American government. (In other words, he fits right in with the other Bushies.)

Whether Bradbury’s ignorance is feigned or actual really is pretty irrelevant, as is the issue of whether he truly believes Bush is "always right." Regardless of his beliefs, his sneering attitude is all too real, and he clearly will continue to act as if Bush is always right. Knowing his true mindset is only useful for gauging the extent of his pathology.

The Bush administration is not run by adults. Bradbury is just further proof.

UPDATE: Predictably, Bradbury has since said he was kdding. It's also no surprise that he and his cohorts continue to push Congress to approve military tribunals exactly like (or very close to) those the Supreme Court just found unconstitutional. Their audacity to dismiss the key aspects of the Hamdan decision is not just an act of bad faith, it's an act of aggressive defiance towards core principles of law. The Bush administration will admit no wrong and will acknowledge no higher authority - apart from what Bush thinks God tells him to do.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Will GOP Senators Face Consequences for Lying to the Supreme Court?

Republican Senators Graham and Kyl lied in their amicus brief to the Supreme Court for the landmark Hamdan case. Crooks and Liars links a good summary of the entire affair by John Dean on the Find Law site. The first reports seem to have come in March from Lynn Denniston at Scotusblog, Emily Bazelon at Slate, and Anonymous Liberal guest-posting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog, Unclaimed Territory (he also did a follow-up post on the matter after the Hamdan decision). Christy Hardin Smith of Firedoglake also penned a good post on the subject.

[Warning: This post is pretty exhaustive. Read the Dean article for a good overview. ;-) ]

Senators Graham and Kyl inserted a colloquy masquerading as a live debate on the Senate Floor into the Congressional Record after the passage of the Detainee Treatment Act (the text of the DTA can be read here or in a slightly different format here). Apparently, such an insertion is fairly common. What is uncommon is to cite such an insertion as evidence of congressional intent in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court.

It’s important to be clear. The insertion by Graham and Kyl into the Congressional Record was not illegal, although it certainly seems unethical since the intent appears to be one of deliberate deception. In contrast, lying in their amicus brief was both illegal and unethical. Since the amicus brief made a blatantly false claim which forms the primary basis for the brief, it’s almost impossible for Graham and Kyl to claim innocence on the matter.

Finally, while both Justice Stevens and Justice Scalia make note of the Congressional Record on the DTA, the greater substance of both opinions do not rest upon it (it is amusing, however, that Scalia notes Bush’s signing statement on the DTA, as if Bush’s opinion had any bearing on the law whatsoever — Bush’s statement, which can be read here, predictably states that the Supreme Court does not have jurisdiction; keep in mind that the Bush administration is the defendant in Hamdan!). Thus, while it seems all but certain that Graham and Kyl's lies to the Supreme Court were a deliberate attempt to influence the Supreme Court's eventual decision, they did not succeed. Credit for uncovering this skullduggery goes to the Hamdan lawyers (likely the clerks of Justice Stevens did his detailed footnote research, and who knows if the aforementoned bloggers were read?). Marty Lederman of Scotusblog has a good immediate summary of the 185-page decision here.

After the predictable hue and cry of conservatives over the Hamdan decision, I began to wonder if it would become a GOP talking point that the Supreme Court had scurrilously violated the will of Congress. Sure enough, it has. The core of Scalia’s dissent is that Stevens is ignoring the actual language of the DTA, while the issue of congressional intent as divined by recorded debate is secondary (not that congressional intent can be entirely separated from the law itself, of course, but the Congressional Record was brought up by both sides, supposedly to clear up key points of contention in interpreting the DTA). The congressional intent angle has in fact proven very popular with conservative pundits such as Tony Blankley, appearing on NPR’s Left, Right and Center, and Charles Krauthammer, in a recent op-ed. Their charges have been contentious if not disingenuous.

(The Supreme Court’s pdf of the Hamdan decision, 185-pages long, can be downloaded here, while a web text version can be read here.)

To go to the record, Justice Stevens in footnote 10 on page 15 of his Hamdan opinion observes (italics in the original changed to bold here):

We note that statements made by Senators preceding passage of the Act lend further support to what the text of the DTA and its drafting history already make plain. Senator Levin, one of the sponsors of the final bill, objected to earlier versions of the Act's "effective date" provision that would have made subsection (e)(1) applicable to pending cases. See, e.g., 151 Cong. Rec. S12667 (Nov. 10, 2005) (amendment proposed by Sen. Graham that would have rendered what is now subsection (e)(1) applicable to "any application or other action that is pending on or after the date of the enactment of this Act"). Senator Levin urged adoption of an alternative amendment that "would apply only to new habeas cases filed after the date of enactment." Id., at S12802 (Nov. 15, 2005). That alternative amendment became the text of subsection (h)(2). (In light of the extensive discussion of the DTA's effect on pending cases prior to passage of the Act, see, e.g., id., at S12664 (Nov. 10, 2005); id., at S12755 (Nov. 14, 2005); id., at S12799-S12802 (Nov. 15, 2005); id., at S14245, S14252-S14253, S14257-S14258, S14274-S14275 (Dec. 21, 2005), it cannot be said that the changes to subsection (h)(2) were inconsequential. Cf. post, at 14 (Scalia, J., dissenting).)

While statements attributed to the final bill's two other sponsors, Senators Graham and Kyl, arguably contradict Senator Levin's contention that the final version of the Act preserved jurisdiction over pending habeas cases, see 151 Cong. Rec. S14263-S14264 (Dec. 21, 2005), those statements appear to have been inserted into the Congressional Record after the Senate debate. See Reply Brief for Petitioner 5, n. 6; see also 151 Cong. Rec. S14260 (statement of Sen. Kyl) ("I would like to say a few words about the now-completed National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2006" (emphasis added)). All statements made during the debate itself support Senator Levin's understanding that the final text of the DTA would not render subsection (e)(1) applicable to pending cases. See, e.g., id., at S14245, S14252-S14253, S14274-S14275 (Dec. 21, 2005). The statements that Justice Scalia cites as evidence to the contrary construe subsection (e)(3) to strip this Court of jurisdiction, see post, at 12, n. 4 (dissenting opinion) (quoting 151 Cong. Rec. S12796 (Nov. 15, 2005) (statement of Sen. Specter))--a construction that the Government has expressly disavowed in this litigation, see n. 11, infra. The inapposite November 14, 2005, statement of Senator Graham, which Justice Scalia cites as evidence of that Senator's "assumption that pending cases are covered," post, at 12, and n. 3 (citing 151 Cong. Rec. S12756 (Nov. 14, 2005)), follows directly after the uncontradicted statement of his co-sponsor, Senator Levin, assuring members of the Senate that "the amendment will not strip the courts of jurisdiction over [pending] cases." Id., at S12755.

Tipped by the Hamdan lawyers about the lie in the amicus brief, Stevens reviewed the Congressional Record and caught Graham and Kyl red-handed. (The website for searching Congressional Records is here but does not allow direct links.) And sure enough, in the Congressional Records for 11/14/05 Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) states his reservations about the amendment in its previous form, and praises his colleagues for considering and incorporating his concerns. The express purpose of the new, improved Graham-Levin-Kyl amendment was to deal with judicial review, most of all by the Supreme Court. Levin’s statements on this issue start in Congressional Record S12754 (all emphasis mine):

One of the reasons I voted against the amendment last Thursday is that it did not provide for that direct judicial review of convictions by military commissions. That is the major change in the amendment before the Senate, the so-called Graham-Levin-Kyl amendment which is before the Senate.

This same speech by Levin continues into Congressional Record S12755:

Our laws and the review which is provided for now, if we agree to this amendment to the adopted Graham amendment, would explicitly make it clear that the review of a court would look at whether standards and procedures that have been agreed to are consistent with our Constitution and our laws.

The other problem which I focused on last Thursday with the first Graham amendment was that it would have stripped all the courts, including the Supreme Court, of jurisdiction over pending cases. What we have done in this amendment, we have said that the standards in the amendment will be applied in pending cases, but the amendment will not strip the courts of jurisdiction over those cases. For instance, the Supreme Court jurisdiction in Hamdan is not affected.


The direct review will provide for convictions by the military commissions, and because it would not strip courts of
jurisdiction over these matters where they have taken jurisdiction, it does, again, apply the substantive law and assume that the courts would apply the substantive law if this amendment is agreed to. However, it does not strip the courts of jurisdiction.

Interestingly, Senator Graham is the next person to speak, and he does not contradict Levin at all on this central issue of jurisdiction. In fact (in the same Congressional Record) Graham remarks:

But Senator Levin was right. The military commission, part of it is written in a way without a direct appeal to Federal courts. There is historical precedent for doing it in-house, but there is a Supreme Court review precedent. So I am willing to take that part of the amendment that was not really the focus of the lawsuit abuse and come up with a compromise the country should be proud of.

Graham later boasted of the fact that the bipartisan Graham-Levin-Kyl amendment passed with a vote of 84-14.

If that were not enough, on 12/21/05, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) made a statement regarding the final version of the broader law (from Congressional Record S14275, emphasis mine):

I am also pleased that the final law would allow courts to consider whether the standards and procedures used by the Combatant Status Review Tribunals are consistent with the Constitution and U.S. laws, that it does not apply retroactively to pending habeas claims that challenge past enemy combatant determinations reached without the safeguards this amendment requires, and that it would allow for court review of the actions of military commissions. I commend Senator LEVIN for his work on these issues.

On balance, I support the final detainee provisions with the following understandings:

First, I am pleased that Senator Graham's original language was altered so that the Supreme Court would not be divested of jurisdiction to hear the pending case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. In fact, subsection (h) of section 1005 makes clear that the DC Circuit and other courts will maintain jurisdiction to hear all pending habeas cases, in accordance with the Supreme Court's decision in Lindh v. Murphy.

Second, on a related but distinct point, I believe this act has no impact on the Supreme Court's ability to consider Hamdan's challenge at this pre-conviction stage of the military commission proceedings. As the DC Circuit held in Hamdan earlier this year, Ex Parte Quirin is a compelling historical precedent for the power of civilian courts to entertain challenges that are raised during a military commission process. Nothing in these sections requires the courts to abstain at this point in the litigation. Paragraph 3 of subsection 1005(e) governs challenges to ``final decisions'' of the military commissions and does not impact challenges like Hamdan's other cases not brought under that paragraph.

Third, this legislation does not represent congressional acquiescence in or authorization of the military commissions unilaterally established by the executive branch at Guantanamo Bay. Whether these commissions are legal is precisely the question the Supreme Court will soon decide in the Hamdan case. Rather, this legislation reflects the fact that the military commissions are currently legal under the DC Circuit's decision in Hamdan. We legislate against this backdrop in setting up a procedure to challenge the commissions, but we do not necessarily endorse the use of such commissions in this manner.

While Senators can of course claim whatever they damn well please, they also may be challenged. Levin and Reid both make unequivocal statements regarding the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction over Hamdan. Graham, Kyl and the other senators do not challenge these statements in live debate, and Levin’s amendment, co-sponsored by Graham and Kyl themselves, was expressly designed with Hamdan in mind. As far as congressional intent goes, it seems pretty obvious. Congress as a whole did not intend to strip the Supreme Court of jurisdiction for Hamdan (Reid even specifically mentions Lindh v. Murphy as well as subsection (h), both cited later by Stevens and Scalia in the Hamdan decision).

The calculated colloquy between Graham and Kyl (with at least one interjection by Brownback to add to the illusion) was inserted as Congressional Records S14256-S14275, after the bill was voted on (and before Bush signed it into law on 12/30/06). The irony — and their mendacity — cries out in a few choice passages, such as in this “exchange” from S14263-S14264 (emphasis mine):

[Mr. KYL]I suppose that some might argue that stripping the Supreme Court of jurisdiction over a pending case is unconstitutional if it is driven by some impure motive. But I can't imagine that the court would take away an authority clearly granted to Congress by the Constitution, regardless of what motive one might attribute to us. I am a member of this body, and would have great difficulty describing some definitive motive or intent to every law that we enact. I don't know how the Supreme Court or any other court could accurately discern such a motive. The laws that we enact have meanings that can be discerned through ordinary rules of construction. I think the rule of law is much more secure when the meaning of legislation is governed by those universally accessible rules of construction rather than through some attempt to psychoanalyze Congress's motive. And in any event, as I recall, this amendment was filed before the Supreme Court even granted review in the Hamdan case. That makes it a little hard to argue that the amendment was motivated by a desire to strip the court of its jurisdiction in that case. I don't think that the Constitution gives Hamdan a greater right to have his case go forward than it did to Colonel McCardle.

Mr. GRAHAM. So once this bill is signed into law, you anticipate that the Supreme Court will determine whether to maintain their grant of certiorari?

Mr. KYL. Yes, in my opinion, the court should dismiss Hamdan for want of jurisdiction. That is what they did in Ex Parte McCardle. I assume that we may see an unhappy dissent from the court's order from one or two of the Justices--there may be some members of the court who refuse to accept McCardle and article III. But I think that a majority of the court would do the right thing--to send Hamdan back to the military commission, and then allow him to appeal pursuant to section 1405 of this bill.

Ah, what "impure" motive could possibly be attributed to such sterling fellows as these? Especially when one is aware of the intent of this colloquy — to falsely represent the bill they have just voted on — and specifically, to misrepresent their own amendment with Levin! — the knavishness of these rogues' statements is breathtaking. Their assertions contain at least one outright lie, disguised as “misrecollection” — John Dean reports that the Supreme Court took the case on 11/7/04, roughly a year before Kyl claims it was enjoined. As Emily Bazelon notes in her post, “Inserting comments into the Record is standard practice in Congress. What's utterly nonstandard is implying to the Supreme Court that testimony was live when it wasn't.” Christy Hardin Smith’s post adds to this, quoting a newspaper article that reports that “U.S. Senate historian Richard Baker told The Washington Post that the actions were unprecedented.”

Their colloquy was inserted after the bill had passed in the Senate, and the revised version of their own amendment upheld the Supreme Court's jurisdiction, but apparently these were negligible concerns for Graham and Kyl. In their amicus brief (pdf downloads available through the Dean and Bazelon links or html version here), Graham and Kyl nevertheless boldly state (emphasis mine), first on page 13:

151 Cong. Rec. S14,263 (daily ed. Dec. 21, 2005) (statement of Sen. Kyl) (“The courts’ rule of construction” is that “legislation ousting the courts of jurisdiction is applied to pending cases.”).

And later on pages 14-15:

B. The legislative history confirms that Congress intended all pending claims to be governed by the DTA, and sought to prevent cases from proceeding under previously applicable statutes. In an extensive colloquy (which appears in the Congressional Record prior to the Senate’s adoption of the Conference Report), Senators Graham and Kyl made it clear that the statute “extinguish[es] one type of action—all of the actions now in the courts—and create[s] in their place a very limited judicial review of certain military administrative decisions.” 151 Cong. Rec. S14,263 (daily ed. Dec. 21, 2005) (statement of Sen. Kyl). The special language in “paragraph (h)(2)” declaring that the new cause of action and substantive standards created by the DTA shall “apply to pending cases” helps make it clear that, to the extent a case is already in the proper court and meets the DTA’s requirements, the claim need not be dismissed; instead, “that claim [can] go forward” as a “request for review of the detainee’s CSRT pursuant to Section (e)[(2)].” Ibid. (statement of Sen. Graham); 151 Cong. Rec. S12,755 (daily ed. Nov. 14, 2005) (statement of Sen. Levin) (no dismissal required but “the standards in the amendment [would] be applied in pending cases”). The notion that Congress specifically amended the DTA to make it inapplicable to pending cases is incorrect. It was revamped to provide for review of military commission decisions that otherwise would have been wholly unreview-able. The provisions setting forth effective dates were also modified at the same time. But that modification merely clarified that pending cases could—indeed were required to—proceed under the standards established by Section 1005(e) itself and did not, to that extent, need to be dismissed entirely.

The bolded sections above are, of course, outright lies.

It’s hardly surprising that after Graham and Kyl deceived their fellow senators and the Supreme Court, Graham also lied to the public. Some organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, were deeply uneasy about the DTA. In a Washington Post op-ed on 12/6/06, Graham sought to reassure the public about the Graham-Levin-Kyl amendment. (emphasis mine):

In addition, the amendment requires federal court review of any military commission conviction involving a war crime and a sentence of 10 or more years. The court can choose to review cases with sentences of less than 10 years, and the Supreme Court will have the right to review lower court actions if petitioned.

Perhaps Graham changed his mind, but that's almost impossible to believe. His op-ed, like the rest of his conduct, was undertaken in bad faith. This is how dirty deeds are done, and I find it fascinating to uncover (thus the length of this post!). This is just standard operating procedure, modus operandi for these guys. It was also back in December of 2005 that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post urging re-passage of the Patriot Act. In the op-ed and his online discussion of it, Gonzales gave special emphasis to the point that no eavesdropping could occur without a warrant granted by a federal judge. That same week, The New York Times broke the first NSA scandal, involving warrantless eavesdropping (a story for which they won the Pulitzer), and by Monday of the next week, Gonzales was publicly defending the illegal program.

Graham and Kyl inserting their colloquy after the vote is a move strikingly similar to Bush’s practice of signing statements (and, of course, Bush's signing statement in this case supports Graham and Kyl's revisionist history versus the actual law). Meanwhile, this entire gambit by Graham and Kyl is typical of their allies in the Bush administration, from Gonzales' deceptions about the Patriot Act to the end-run done around Alberto Mora on torture to any of a number of moves by the obscenely powerful Office of the Vice President. We've seen this pattern many times before, perhaps most clearly with McCain’s anti-torture act. Bush and his allies first ferociously lobbied against the bill, arguing that although they did not torture (they did), they needed to retain the right to torture just in case it became necessary. When it became clear they were going to lose, they publicly acquiesced, the bill passed 90-9 in the Senate, but Bush then issued a signing statement asserting his right to ignore the explicit directives of the very law he had just reluctantly agreed to! Similarly, while the DTA did create some good provisions such as guidelines for humane treatment, its main purpose for Graham and his allies seems to have been stripping Guantanamo prisoners of habeus rights and barring the Supreme Court from ruling on Hamdan, since Bush had already lost grounding with the recent Rasul decision (Dean covers this aspect well in his article, and Glenn Greenwald has often wrote about how the Bush administration, for all its pleas about the legality of its actions, consistently seeks to bar or avoid any sort of judicial review or oversight). In other words, Graham and Kyl tried to push a bad law, failed, agreed to a better law in public, then when no one was looking, acted to undermine a key aspect of the very law they had just passed. If that were not enough, they then lied to the Supreme Court in an attempt to influence the Court's decision on a case that many legal scholars feel may be the most important one to date on Executive Power in the Constitution. Even if this was a freelance move by Graham and Kyl and their actions were not coordinated with the White House, their ultimate goal was surely supported by the Bush administration - especially with Bush writing a specious signing statement for further cover. This is a racket, and thank god the Supreme Court said no to it.

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the leadership of the GOP just cannot have a honest debate, public or otherwise, and has no respect for the due process of law. When they don’t get what they want — even when it is in the nation’s best interests that they not get what they want — they subvert all process by reluctantly agreeing to reasonable compromises in public while acting to subvert those same agreements in private. I’m reminded of the Iran-Contra scandal, a shameful affair that not coincidentally was vigourously defended by Cheney and Addington, the same immoral architects of this entire flawed, illegal military commission apparatus. Today the White House announced it would abide by the Hamdan decision and observe the Geneva conventions, a measure that surely made David Addington’s head explode once again. I honestly have to wonder if the Bush administration actually intends to live up to its pledge, though, given their track record and since they still have black op prisons and the practice of extraordinary rendition at their disposal. Even on the most obvious issues, these guys just do not admit mistakes and just do not learn.

Regardless of one’s thoughts on the Hamdan decision, Graham and Kyl clearly lied and acted in bad faith. But will they face any consequences, or will inter-branch collegiality rule the day? It seems to me that senators should be held to a higher, not lower, standard. They should be prosecuted, and/or censured. At the very least, they should be publicly humiliated for their underhanded (and thankfully unsuccessful) gambit. As is often the case, America must be protected from those who claim to be its most fervent defenders.

(I am not a lawyer, and in this post I am not delving into the substance of the dispute between Stevens and Scalia on the language of the DTA in the Hamdan decision, which I hope to address later. If I have made any factual errors, I would welcome corrections. Thoughtful comments are welcome, as always.)

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Eunice Kennedy Shriver at 85

Best known for creating the Special Olympics, Eunice Kennedy Shriver received a nice portrait in The Washington Post today.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Paid Trolls?

This 6/14/06 post ”Get Out Your Tinfoil Hats” by Blogenfreude of Agitprop over at DailyKos has been making the rounds for some time now (The 1984 film still is a nice touch!). Basically, a company called NetVocates offers to monitor what blogs are saying about its clients. Fair enough. But it doesn’t end there. The site cyberbersoc.com found that in addition to monitoring and analyzing blogs, Netvocates also deploys commenters. As NetVocates describes on their site:

NetVocates then recruits activists and consumers who share the client’s views in order to reinforce those key messages on targeted blogs – and rebut misinformation when appropriate.

While this may not necessarily translate into “trolling,” it does involve paid shills, and obviously such commenters will not identify themselves as such. Movie studios and other corporations have hired people to hype up their products before on website forums, and likely will continue to do so. Cigarette companies have actually gone back to hiring “cigarette girls” to work a club and shill their product – but these employees do not identify themselves as such (I know someone who encountered a couple of “average guys” pimping Red Bull). While all this is not cause for unbridled paranoia, it is a reminder that whatever one reads online should be read critically. It reminds me of a great science fiction short story where citizens are bombarded even while they sleep and brush their teeth with advertising!

I suspect when it comes to political blogs, most “trolls” are likely unpaid, real people with strong beliefs, intentionally coming to hijack a thread and “flame-bait” their political opponents. Still, I would not be surprised if a few were paid shills. On Crooks & Liars, one of the sites where I comment the most often, there are some well-known conservative posters who may have predictable views, but they are mostly civil and some site features, such as C&L’s Late Night Music Club, allow for any partisan divisions to drop. However, there also have also been a few persistent trolls, and in some cases a troll will appear for one thread and one thread only, generally posting very early in the thread, typically expressing a very rightwing, Coulter-esque viewpoint. In other words, the poster unreflectively parrots even the most ludicrous GOP talking points and uses their specific terminology, expresses hostility and derision for all other posters, refuses to concede even the slightest, most obvious point, and typically does not back up any of his or her assertions with studies or facts. It’s quite possible some of these trolls were banned, or they grew bored, only to be replaced by new trolls. But there has been a familiar pattern, especially for some subjects such as the minimum wage. Since arguments on better threads rise and fall on their merits, I’m not overly concerned, but I do find it interesting.

I remain grateful for taking a unit course on advertising techniques in my seventh-grade English class. I believe everyone in the world that is similarly bombarded should receive at least that much training — how to read an ad, which of the basic approaches it employs, how to read an ingredient label, and so on (I’d also love it if more people were trained to recognize the classic bad argument patterns, such as the false dilemma, straw man, and equivocation). Advertising and public relations work really is everywhere. The Center for Media and Democracy , the folks that publish PR Watch, have an excellent site to peruse many of the latest gambits as well as study some of the classic tricks. Of particular use is the Astroturf section, covering organizations that pretend to be grassroots but are funded by corporations or wealthy individuals (“astroturf” is a fantastic term for these organizations, and would make Orwell smile). The section on video news releases, or VNRs, is especially timely, because corporations produce ads masquerading as news segments and then feed them to local news stations desperate for content. Several commenters have observed that it’s naive to think that VNRs will entirely disappear, but it’s completely unethical for them to air as disinterested, objective news pieces when their source should be clearly identified.

I am so very, very far down the totem pole of blogs I’d be shocked to get any NetVocates attention or anything similar. I have received an e-mail asking me to review the DVD release of an old film, but no money was offered, I didn’t review the DVD, and if I had I would have disclosed the solicitation. Before I enabled the word verification feature for comments, I received spambot comments pimping a few companies’ websites, but I imagine everyone using Blogger has experienced that. I don’t envy the site monitors on the larger sites.

The only certainties in life are death, taxes, BS, and that corporations will seek out new consumers and new ways to entice them. While the blogosphere contains more than its share of BS, the best sites have a good track record of exposing BS and honoring valuable work over the disingenuous. The existence and attention of entities such as NetVocates suggests the blogosphere — well, the liberal blogosphere, at least! — is doing something right.

(This post was brought to you by Powdermilk Biscuits— Heavens, they’re tasty!)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

"The Threat to Journalism"

Tom Tomorrow manages to sum up Ann Coulter, the recent excesses of conservative pundits and their alarmist rhetoric, and the media's willing complicity in just six panels!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Conservative Pundit Decency Test

(Updated below)

If a conservative pundit makes an outrageous claim — which flies in the face of common sense — and the error could have been easily prevented with simple fact-checking — will said conservative pundit then own up to the egregious error and apologize?

If you have any doubt about the answer, you obviously aren’t familiar with today’s sterling breed of conservative pundit.

According to several prominent conservative pundits, The New York Times is on a roll, committing high treason yet again by publishing an article, with photos, describing the location of travel homes of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. The inconvenient facts that the information had previously been published by conservative outlets, that the Secret Service report the article caused no security threat, and that Rumsfeld himself gave permission for a much-ballyhooed photo did not get in the way of some fine, alarmist posts by Michelle Malkin and David Horowitz, among many others. But then, it’s only fair to leave the basic fact-checking to journalists, especially those in the evil liberal media.

This is a prime example of the popular conservative pundit defense:

“The fact that my premise was false in no way reduces the strength of my argument.”

(At least one person has suggested this tactic be dubbed, “to Horowitz.”)

Glenn Greenwald covers the initial story here, the fact-checking here, and the conservative non-apologies here. My favorite lines comes from Michelle Malkin:

I have contacted the Pentagon to confirm. This blog says spokespeople for Rumsfeld and Cheney are denying any security threat from the publication of the article.

Alright. I'll take them at their word.

But none of this answers the question I posed to the Times' editors repeatedly in my original post:


What news value and journalistic end was served by publishing the Cheney/Rumsfeld vacation home piece and the accompanying photo? "Because Rumsfeld gave permission" may cut it with the moonbats and fairweather privocrats. Not with me.

(Emphasis for the last sentence mine.)

Conservative pundit logic always amuses me. Bill Bennett believes that if someone doesn’t like Bush, it invalidates his or her opinion, yet simultaneously believes that if someone doesn’t like Bush but agrees with Bennett, it’s further proof that Bennett is right. Similarly, with Travel-Traitor-Gate here, Michelle Malkin’s previous posts and her recent demonstration proclaim that she believes that Rumsfeld knows better than The New York Times when it comes to issues of national security. Nonetheless, Malkin asserts here that she knows better than Rumsfeld when it comes to issues of his own safety and that of his family. (Such fine, fine intellectual consistency. And conservatives like to pretend theirs is the movement of meritocracy and accountability...)

Malkin also writes “this blog” with a hyperlink rather than actually naming or, heaven forbid, crediting Greg Sargent or his publication, The American Prospect. “This blog” is likely in part a lazy convention of Malkin’s (and blogging is a medium that lends itself to overly hasty writing). However, Sargent is a legitimate journalist and his blog has become quite influential. To present him as some anonymous blogger strikes me as an attempt to minimize him and his reporting (or it may be a sign of Malkin’s ignorance as well, since perhaps she hasn’t heard of him). But more importantly, she ducks the substantive objections of Sargent, Greenwald, and others who have called her to task. Nowhere in the post does she confront her own glaring incompetence and demagoguery.

“Alright. I'll take them at their word,” sounds so very disappointed.

Clearly this story is a great embarrassment to Malkin. She neglected to do basic, central fact-checking. It reveals, perhaps more starkly than any of her previous escapades, she is both sloppy and a fool.

While not crediting Sargent by name may be a small thing — and Malkin did link him — it’s a revealing gesture when combined with her unsurprising unwillingness to address the fundamental problem of her entire method.

Credit is something journalists and conscientious bloggers give one another for reporting key facts and contributing to the understanding of a story, all in the name of truth and greater accuracy. The blogosphere possesses a sharp divide on this issue of accuracy. As John Dickerson observes:

One of the healthiest things about the left-wing blogosphere is its confrontational dislike of the mainstream media. There's a distinction here with the media's critics on the right. At some level, the right doesn't much like that the press exists. They don't want to fix it, they want to drive a stake through its heart. The left, on the other hand, just wishes the establishment press would do a better job. The Kos-type critique of the media is intertwined with its passion about politics. When the press gets it wrong, left-wing bloggers believe, the people are ill-informed and democracy suffers. There's respect in that anger, though you wouldn't always know it if you're the target of one of their flaming arrows.

Malkin has the shamelessness to attack real journalists for irresponsibility when she is too irresponsible to do the basic research real journalists do. She is a hack and political shill-at-large. Her post is damage control, nothing more. Her goal was never to report the story accurately. Her goal was to bash The New York Times. The storyline was written, all it needed was a few details to throw in, truthful or no. Malkin and her ilk only care about ideological purity or whether or not a piece is effective propaganda. And in their rarified world, ego, stupidity, and sloppiness make for a winning combination.

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald reports that the Red State blog issued a retraction but buried it. Meanwhile, blogenfreude at Agitprop has a nice round-up of conservative non-apologies and non-corrections - that is, if they acknowledge that they were wrong at all. Besides the rampant hypocrisy, the lack of basic honesty and journalistic standards from these folks is amazing. Greenwald sums it up nicely:

It is truly difficult to describe the lack of integrity and overwhelming propensity to deceive which is reflected by their inability to simply say: "I wrote a post the other day accusing the NYT of (intentionally and/or recklessly) endangering the lives of the Vice President and Secretary of Defense, but facts have now emerged (which I could have and should have obtained myself before making the accusation) which clearly demonstrate that that accusation is false." What does it say about someone who is incapable of doing that? And what does it say about the right-wing blogosphere that so many of their leading lights would rather cling to blatantly false accusations than admit in a forthright and clear way that they were wrong?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Declaration of Independence

Schoolchildren likely know the words to The Declaration of Independence better than most adults. Thomas Jefferson, for all his faults, has always been by far my favorite of the Founding Fathers. Every so often, it's good to revist the actual text. I still find it stirring and inspiring. Happy Independence Day!

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred. to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

— John Hancock

New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York:
William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey:
Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina:
William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

The Great American, Patriotic Tradition of Dissent

E.J. Dionne wrote a great op-ed for Independence Day titled "A Dissident's Holiday." An excerpt:

...The true genius of America has always been its capacity for self-correction. I'd assert that this is a better argument for patriotism than any effort to pretend that the Almighty has marked us as the world's first flawless nation.

One need only point to the uses that Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. made of the core ideas of the Declaration of Independence against slavery and racial injustice to show how the intellectual and moral traditions of the United States operate in favor of continuous reform.

There is, moreover, a distinguished national tradition in which dissident voices identify with the revolutionary aspirations of the republic's founders.

There are those that who wish to retain their own power, or seize it, and there are those who work for the benefit of all to better honor the ideals of America. Dionne's op-ed reminded me of this exchange from the live debate during the final season of The West Wing:

Santos: I know you like to use that word "liberal" as if it were a crime.

Vinnick: No, I'm sorry. I know I shouldn't have used that word. I know Democrats think "liberal" is a bad word. So bad you had to change it, didn't you? What do you call yourselves now? Progressives? Is that it?

Santos: It's true. Republicans have tried to turn "liberal" into a bad word. Well, liberals ended slavery in this country.

Vinnick: A Republican president ended slavery.

Santos: Yes, a liberal Republican, Senator. What happened to them? They got run out of your party. What did liberals do that was so offensive to the liberal party?

I'll tell you what they did. Liberals got women the right to vote. Liberals got African Americans the right to vote. Liberals created Social Security and lifted millions of elderly people out of poverty. Liberals ended segregation. Liberals passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act. Liberals created Medicare. Liberals passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act.

What did conservatives do? They opposed every single one of those things. Every one. So when you try to hurl that label at my feet – "liberal" – as if it were something to be ashamed of, something dirty, something to run away from, it won't work Senator. Because I will pick up that label and I will wear it as a badge of honor.

Happy Independence Day!