Hog is dead--long live Hog!


Saturday, December 31, 2005

[Signposts]

The Year in Review

Some of you don't read BlueOregon, so you will not be aware that I stole this post from there. It's okay, I wrote it. (You may ignore references to Oregon, but why would you want to? We're the center of the galaxy!)

*

Cutting to the chase:

Katrina, Rita, forgotten Wilma, followed by “heckuva job” Brownie and hurricane FEMA. Fires in Texas, but they still don’t believe in global warming in oil country. That wouldn't be very intelligent design.

Measure 37, blackmailing local governments, then death by judiciary. Measure 36, unsullied by an equal-rights, civil unions law, stopped at the shores of Island Minnis. The city, Texas Pacific Group, and PGE, which remained as it began, an Enron concern. Death With Dignity was sent to the big leagues, while the minors produced a budget everyone hated--status quo at sine die.

Social Security hype, tax cut fizzle, a law for Terri Schaivo. A new Medicare drug benefit with a doughnut hole and cuts for students, yet the rich get their tax breaks. The Patriot Act gets a one-month reprieve, but Tookie Williams gets the needle. But it was gas prices that made Bush's numbers fall.

Elections in Iraq, simmering civil war, Cindy Sheehan, vanishing support. Two-thousand dead, John Murtha, but where are our promised "last throes?" Instead: torture, phone taps, secret spying, "black sites," and rendition. War is Peace, said Bush's Ministry of Truth (see Armstrong Williams et. al.).

Mahonia Hall looking good to Kevin and Ron and Jason and Pete and Vicki and Jim, but Ted still has home court advantage. And what about the other Governor K? Other names, stained in 2005: Dan Doyle, Kelley Wirth, Derry Jackson, Matt Hennessee.

Speaking of stained: Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff, Scooter Libby, Duke Cunningham, David Safavian, Bill Frist, and Bob Ney. The GOP loves the smell of K Street money in the morning. Also on the crime blotter, Martha Stewart, Bernie Ebbers, Richard Causey, John Rigas, Dennis Kozlowski. But big prize Kenny Boy sweats yet in Texas.

Ducks football (Holiday Bowl), Beavers baseball (College World Series), and Portland Pilots soccer (national champs). Blazermania can now be found in Section 107 of PGE Park. Just ask for Timber Jim.

Sandra Day O’Connor, John Roberts, William Rehnquist, Harriet Miers. All a prelude to the Sam “Scalito” Alito fight of aught six.

Sifting, sifting: Vioxx, bird flu, Michael Jackson and the runaway bride, Nate McMullen, podcasts, Mark Felt (Deep Throat), Bono, Darfur, Patrick Fitzgerald, Pakistani earthquake, Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope Benedict XVI, Jeff Gannon, Judy Miller, and bombings in London. You make sense of it; I can't.

And so concludes the Year of the Rooster. May the Year of the Dog bring you joy and happiness!

In Memoriam.
Rosa Parks, Johnny Carson, Richard Pryor, Peter Jennings, Pope John Paul II, Susan Sontag, Anne Bancroft, Shirley Chisholm, William Rehnquist, Eugene McCarthy, William Westmoreland, Abe Hirschfeld, Jack Anderson, Hunter S. Thompson.

Friday, December 30, 2005

[Spooks]

We're the Big Bad Wolf Now

As a lead-in to the big news this final day of the year, let me offer an observation I had of the new Narnia movie. An altogether crappy effort, it did at least provide one canary in the cultural coalmine. It is a British production, and all the actors hail from the islands, except one. It is the voice of the head of the White Witch's security team, the ruthless wolf, who is portrayed as snarling evil personified (lupusified?). For the past half-century or so, this character would have been voiced by ...? A German, of course. Across the world, we all know that clipped Tuetonic accent is the sound of aggressive oppression. In Narnia? An American.

Yes folks, we're the scary, bad men now. Get used to it.

Thus the news today that Bush has vastly expanded CIA's spying program is unlikely to dispel our image as big baddies anytime soon:
The broad-based effort, known within the agency by the initials GST, is compartmentalized into dozens of highly classified individual programs, details of which are known mainly to those directly involved.

GST includes programs allowing the CIA to capture al Qaeda suspects with help from foreign intelligence services, to maintain secret prisons abroad, to use interrogation techniques that some lawyers say violate international treaties, and to maintain a fleet of aircraft to move detainees around the globe. Other compartments within GST give the CIA enhanced ability to mine international financial records and eavesdrop on suspects anywhere in the world.
Ve havv vays of makink you tawk...

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

[Meta]

Hiatus Continues.

No guess when I'll be back to regular blogging, but unlikely before the weekend. I'm taking some mental health time and don't plan to resume regular habits until then.

Friday, December 23, 2005

[Meta]

Holidaze.

Enough politics for a while. I'm going off to make merry, and based on traffic right now, you are, too.

Feliz Navidad--

Thursday, December 22, 2005

[White House]

Bush Accomplishments 2005.

President Bush trundled out a dubious list of "accomplishments" today to celebrate a bank up year. The full list is here (propagandistically called a "fact sheet"). It's broken down into three categories. Tell me if you think these were stellar examples of achievement:

Achievement: Winning the war on terror
Thoughts: Going so badly at one point that the White House toyed with changing the name to Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism. The war to change the name has not gone any better than the war itself. On the upside, the earthquake in Pakistan may have done what Bush never could--take out Osama.

Achievement: Improved economy.
Thoughts: You know that things are bad when you look at the titles of his accomplishments. This one is actually "President Bush Is Advancing His Agenda To Maintain A Strong And Vibrant Economy." [cough] gas prices [cough]. [cough] deficits [cough].

Achievement: Supreme Court Nominees
Thoughts: Hey, two out of three ain't bad.

Achievement: Working with Congress to pass legislation
Thoughts: It occurs to me as I type this achievement that both it and the previous one are actually just bullet points on the job description. And this time he's even fudging it--Congress started really not working with him. [cough] McCain torture provision, Patriot Act [cough].

Achievement: "Acting To Help The Gulf Coast Recover From Natural Disaster"
Thoughts: A heckuva job.

It's been such a gold standard of a year that he didn't even have to bother to point out his stunning victories in making Iraq a safer, more Democratic place. Or Terri Schiavo!

Kudos all around: may next year be just as successful.
[White House]

The Administration's Lovely Gifts.

Every now and again, I flash back to the weeks following the election last year and think about Bush and his "mandate." I recall with great pleasure the absurd, over-the-top triumphalism of the GOP, who, Mussolini-like, were talking about absolute power. Could that have been a year ago?

This reminiscence is brought to you by the Seussian-named judge, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who is now gathering together other FISA judges to discuss what to do about Bush:
Presiding Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who also sits on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, told fellow FISA court members by e-mail Monday that she is arranging for them to convene in Washington, preferably early next month, for a secret briefing on the program, several judges confirmed yesterday....

The judges could, depending on their level of satisfaction with the answers, demand that the Justice Department produce proof that previous wiretaps were not tainted, according to government officials knowledgeable about the FISA court. Warrants obtained through secret surveillance could be thrown into question. One judge, speaking on the condition of anonymity, also said members could suggest disbanding the court in light of the president's suggestion that he has the power to bypass the court.

So the Congress wants investigations, the judiciary is considering taking their ball and leaving the playground, and even the press seems to have roused itself to ask a few tough questions.

Meanwhile, the White House reels. Here's a pretty amusing exchange in yesterday's press briefing with Scott McClellan. He wouldn't talk about spying, so the press hammered him on the Patriot Act:
Q So you would veto a three-month extension?

MR. McCLELLAN: I expressed our view last week; nothing has changed.

Q Can you tell me what that was again?

MR. McCLELLAN: You can see what I expressed last week. You know very well what it was.

Q Sounds like you're backing down from that.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, nothing has changed in terms of what I said last week.

Q So just say it. Just say --

Q Will you use the word "veto"? Why are you not using the word "veto"?

MR. McCLELLAN: I expressed our views on that last week --

Q But if you still stand by them, why won't you reiterate it?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, what I said last week still stands.

Q Which is what?

MR. McCLELLAN: I talked about a short-term extension. And Senator Frist has already said that there's not going to be a short-term extension of three months. And Speaker Hastert has already said it would be irresponsible to move with a short-term extension.
Poor Scotty. So inept, so flooded with unanswerable questions. Trying to defend the President's indefensible stand on the Patriot Act, McClellan claims all the Dems want to do is "weaken" the bill because "it's nothing but politics with the Democrats right now."
Q What political goal do they get by "weakening" the Patriot Act?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q What goal --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, they've talked about some of the civil liberties in there. This law has found the right balance. It has saved lives and it has protected people's civil liberties. And there are some Democrats who are playing to certain special interests within their party that want to see authorities within this legislation killed. That's clearly what's happening here.

Q And those Republicans, the eight that Kelly mentioned, they're playing the same politics?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I'm not sure about the number eight; I know that there are few --

Q There are eight.

MR. McCLELLAN: I mean, I know that there are a few that had expressed their reservations about the bill....

Q You suggested that those who are seeking an extension are putting politics above security. That now includes eight Republicans. Are you including them in that accusation?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, it's the Senate Democrats.
You just couldn't ask for a nicer Christmas--holiday--than the one the nice folks at the White House are serving up, could you?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

[NSA Spying]

Special Access Programs.

One of the Post's bloggers, William Arkin, has an illuminating post up about the "oversight process." It contains several key bits of data. First, he describes who "Congress" is when Bush says "Congress has been briefed more than twelve times."
"Congress" in this regard refers to a handful of lawmakers -- sometimes called the "big eight" by the intelligence community and the Pentagon. The big eight consist of either the chairs and ranking minority members of the armed services and defense appropriations committees (in the case of the Pentagon) or the chairs and minority ranking members of the two intelligence committees and the majority and minority leaders of both houses (in the case of intelligence).
That whole business about how Rockefeller couldn't tell even his staff? Here's why:
The big eight sign non-disclosure agreements for access to sensitive and "special" information. The big eight are ushered into special rooms to be briefed by executive branch officials. The big eight are restricted from discussing big eight briefings and deliberations with counsel and staff.
Arkin then explains what that "special" information is: "As best I can find out, the super-secrecy applies to categories 'above' Top Secret called 'special access programs,' known as SAPs." He goes on:
Most SAPs, and there are many hundreds, are acknowledged and unacknowledged, that is, they are routinely reported to Congress and included in the classified budgets presented to the Congress annually.

The most sensitive programs, the "waived" (or sometimes referred to as "carved out") programs are SAPs that are considered to be so sensitive that they are exempt from standard reporting requirements to the Congress. These are the programs that are only orally briefed to the big eight.
There is some bad news in all of this if you want accountability and/or hope to avoid being spied on (or worse):
Ask any intelligence or national security professional with real clearances why SAPs exist and what is the purpose of covert or clandestine operations and they will tell you that they exist as much to cover illegal and unpalatable activity as to "protect" intelligence sources and methods.
Arkin suspects that the Big Eight are as culpable in this as Bush is, which doesn't bode well for Congressional hearings. For the record, Dems who participated in a conspiracy to subvert the Constitution should be strung up next to Bush for doing so.
[NSA Spying]

Bush Lies Immediately Revealed.

Before we get into today's emerging news about administration lies, let me offer a blogobservation: in past years, December has been death. No news, no readers, death. So it is into this context--I presume the norm--that we have, four days before Christmas, this amazing flurry of news. Wild.

But enough of that: we have lies to expose. Once Bush's secret illegal spying was revealed, he offered several lame excuses (documented here, in case you missed 'em). In the spirit of it-ain't-the-crime-that-gets-you,-it's-the-coverup, we have this:
We have consulted with members of the Congress over a dozen times.... Of course we consult with Congress and have been consulting with Congress and will continue to do so.
It appears that this is a lie. What we know thus far is that the Democrats who have gone on record have disputed Bush. First, Jay Rockefeller, in a letter he drafted at the time to document the lack of oversight Congress was given, wrote:
"Given the security restrictions associated with this information and my inability to consult staff or counsel on my own, I feel unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse, these activities."
And on NPR this morning, Bob Graham said he was also forbidden from telling his staff or anyone else on the intelligence committee. He went on:
We met in the office of the Vice President. In attendance were the Chair and ranking member of the Senate House Intelligence Committees. My recollection of the meeting was focused on the issue of calls that were being monitored by the National Security Agency outside the United States--being transferred through the United States. I left the room without any sense that it was going to be done extralegally--that is, outside of the legal structure of the Federal Insurance Security Agency Act.

We could have exercised reasonable oversight over the program I've described, because that was the program that was explained to us. But you can't have oversight over a program that has characteristics that have been withheld from you.
When asked about Rockefeller's letter, Graham said:
First you have to know about the program before you can object to the program. Second, this would have been a very surprising piece of information that we were going to begin to avoid judicial permission to wiretap a telephone message or an email transmission, because that court had had a record of over 25 years of handling these kinds of cases very well.
Next, one of Bush's central claims has been that he only has used his secret, unverified spying to monitor--detect?--international calls. This NYT article says it ain't so:
A surveillance program approved by President Bush to conduct eavesdropping without warrants has captured what are purely domestic communications in some cases, despite a requirement by the White House that one end of the intercepted conversations take place on foreign soil, officials say.
Lies to cover up crimes. Nice to see that Bush has brought accountability and honor back to the White House.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

[Intelligent Design]

Judge's Thoughts on the Dover Case

No on intelligent design. Emphatically. Below, I'll excerpt some of the ruling by Bush appointee, Judge John E. Jones III (.pdf). Keep in mind that the issue was whether the school board of Dover, PA (identified as "the Board" in the ruling) had passed a policy to read a short statement to biology classes to the effect that evolution may be wrong and is just a theory. The plaintiff brought the case to stop them from doing that.
The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.

Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator.

To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.

The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.

Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board's decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.
So that's pretty clear.
[NSA Spying]

In Case You Needed More Information ...

Wow, a LOT of amazing stuff about this NSA thing. People have been busy busy busy.

One of the most linked sites is Volokh, wherein a Bush defense is offered. I'm not a lawyer, but I can't imagine that would make me more inclined to buy this crap. More interesting is SCOTUSblog, where Lyle Denniston tackles Bush's claim to "inherent" power. (Buddhists will find the inherency argument especially dubious.) It's a rambling, inconclusive piece, but rich with data about the claims and their legal basis. While we're doing the law blog thing, TalkLeft poses an interesting question: what if this talk of "monitoring versus detecting" isn't about routing calls through New York, but rather about IP addresses? Yeah, freaky. Good post.

There's also a fair amount of ranting going on, ala Hog. Select cuts: Berube on trust; Digby's got a few--on the legality of Bush's spying, on Hugh Hewitt's idiocy, and on Jay Rockefeller's letter about those Bush "briefings" (via Jesse Berney in .pdf); Kevin Drum on the timing of the Times' article; David Neiwart has a nice take on the scope of Bush's Orwellianism; Ezra Klein also has a lot, but check out his take on the "Pelosi defense." Oh, and eRobin goes on a rant after my own heart, one so long that it defies single-phrase summary.

I also recommend Memeorandum for following the news and reaction to it as it happens.
[NSA Spying]

The Many, Shifting Rationales For Subverting the Constitution and Why They All Suck

This is likely to be a long post--and to what end remains to be seen. I got a lotta spleen, though, and it needs venting. Since this debacle is circular, I'll start randomly. How about Alberto "What Geneva Convention" Gonzales? He is now one of Bush's most well-placed bagmen, having taken rightful place as John Ashcroft's heir (as the entire Bush regime is a game of incompetency one-upsmanship, let's see how Al will take up Johnny's impressive standard). This morning, he gave this rather mind-boggling reason for Bush's pass on trying to update FISA:
We've had discussions with members of Congress, certain members of Congress, about whether or not we could get an amendment to FISA, and we were advised that that was not likely to be -- that was not something we could likely get, certainly not without jeopardizing the existence of the program, and therefore, killing the program. And that -- and so a decision was made that because we felt that the authorities were there, that we should continue moving forward with this program.
So the then-White House counsel makes this calculation: Congress, Constitutionally responsible for making law, will not make this law, and so we won't ask. This is their position: "Yeah, we sorta gave it some thought, but you know, we figured the lawmakers would say it's illegal and would thwart us, and so we thought, well, fuck 'em." Solid legal foundation, that.

Bush offered his own rationale this morning--actually, a couple of them. First up was the how-dare-you-little-pissant-plebians-question-me defense:
My personal opinion is it was a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war. The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy....

We're at war, and we must protect America's secrets.
Let's go back to Al and then move forward. We got a President who knows Congress won't approve of what he's doing and has decided to cut them out. Once he's been discovered breaking the law, he plays the "you're helping the enemy card." That's a rhetorical triple axel, but again, a pretty piss poor defense.

He moves on:
That's what the American people want. We looked at the possible scenarios. And the people responsible for helping us protect and defend came forth with the current program, because it enables us to move faster and quicker. And that's important. We've got to be fast on our feet, quick to detect and prevent.
Of all the justifications, this seems to be the one the White House is sticking with--the "faster and quicker" defense. It may alternately be called the "nimbleness" defense. (Question: would a law that was merely quick, but not fast, suffice? Or just nimble, but slow. One for the philosophers.) Although it's bullshit (Mom, sorry if you're reading, this looks to be a profanity-laced tirade), it is at least the first reason. But bullshit it is: whether or not FISA--the law Bush was subverting--was too slow has little to do with why he chose to subvert it rather than bringing it to the Congress. (For those keeping score, the "faster and quicker" argument is thus defeated by the "illegally subverting FISA" defense.)

Russ Feingold, who is quickly emerging as my favorite candidate for President, put it this way on the Newshour:

So I want to go back to your earlier question which is, you know, you were told -- this is something that is already set up. There is already plenty of protection to go after terrorists and gather that information. No, you can't just make up your own law because you don't like it.

This law is totally sensitive to the need of being quick and efficient and going after terrorists. And what the president has done here in my mind is plainly illegal.

In fact, the White House does believe it can make up its own rules. That's what it believed, anyway, when drafting this classified legal brief in 2002:
"The Constitution vests in the president inherent authority to conduct warrantless intelligence surveillance (electronic or otherwise) of foreign powers or their agents, and Congress cannot by statute extinguish that constitutional authority."
This is the all-purpose 9/11 defense: during times of war, the President, by dint of a terrified populace, is free to do as he wishes. The handy thing about 9/11? It defines the state of modernity as one of a perpetual battle versus evildoers.

Bush does, fortunately for my screed, not stop there. A savvy reporter questioned Bush on why he didn't try to get FISA updated if it was so critical to stopping terror:
I think I've got the authority to move forward, Kelly.... Secondly, an open debate about law would say to the enemy.
Oh wait, that's the old how-dare-you-little-pissant-plebians-question-me argument again. Wait, here's a better rationale, in response to this petulant question, "You say you have an obligation to protect us. Then why not monitor those calls between Houston and L.A.? If the threat is so great, and you use the same logic, why not monitor those calls?"
And there's a difference -- let me finish -- there is a difference between detecting so we can prevent, and monitoring. And it's important to know the distinction between the two.
As far as I can tell, no one tried to interrupt him ("bats!"), but nevermind. Let's get to the substance of the defense: "detecting and monitoring." It's important to know the distinction, you know.

(We're getting near the end--bear with me.) Bush ultimately gets to the "more than 12 times" argument, which is also known as the "but Dems may have known we were breaking the law" argument.
We have been talking to members of the United States Congress. We have met with them over 12 times. And it's important for them to be brought into this process.
Over twelve times?! I bet he means six hundred. Or possibly 13. Anyway, the point is that he had consulted with, or at least mentioned to, a Democrat or two that he might have been breaking the law. This constitutes what kind of defense? It's politically sticky for Dems, but who gives a damn? "He did it, too," ain't exactly the pinnacle of Constitutional law.

There was one moment, where he asserted, in a refreshing return to bizarro world, "Everybody thought there was weapons of mass destruction, and there weren't any."--which was, as Hans Blix will tell him, more bullshit. But never mind, we're moving forward. Toward the end of the conference, a reporter accused Bush of seeking "unchecked power," a reasonable characterization of what Bush had spent a half hour describing. Bush lost his cool:
Hold on a second, please. There is the check of people being sworn to uphold the law, for starters. There is oversight. We're talking to Congress all the time, and on this program, to suggest there's unchecked power is not listening to what I'm telling you. I'm telling you, we have briefed the United States Congress on this program a dozen times.... To say "unchecked power" basically is ascribing some kind of dictatorial position to the President, which I strongly reject.
But we have Al Gonzales saying what Bush in this press conference confirmed: owing to the prickliness of legislative opposition, the White House took the law into its own hands. Which is, by even liberal definitions, fairly close to what we'd call "some kind of dictatorial position."

To recap, Bush, who acknowledges breaking the law, says it wasn't actually breaking the law, for the following reasons:
  • Congress, meddlesome as always, would thwart the right and just administration of his will, which is surely not good.
  • Let's not dwell on petty legalities; spying without oversight is "quicker and faster" and also "more nimble," which jurisprudentially speaking, must trump Constitutional protections.
  • Shut up, plebes, I know what's right.
  • The Constitution says I'm all powerful.
  • There's a difference between "detecting" and "monitoring," which my legal counsel tells me is relevant.
  • Shut up, plebes, I have a mandate.
  • The Dems did not intervene when I hinted obliquely more than twelve times that I may be breaking the law.
  • I resent the implications that I am a dictator. Now shut up and let me spy.
Stirring arguments, indeed. For the final response, I turn to Feingold again:
There will be hearings with regard to what the -- what has been done here and what the legal justifications are, which I'm very skeptical about.

And then if it turns out the law has been broken, which I suspect, then we have to consider the proper remedies. But I think what the president and the attorney general here have done is reckless and unjustified and unnecessary. And there needs to be accountability for it.

All I can say is, Rise pissants, Rise! Show Bush what "freedom is on the march" really means.

Monday, December 19, 2005

[White House]

Impeachment Murmurs Begin

Has Bush finally--finally!--inspired legislative spine to grow? Murmurs of impeachment have begun:
U.S. Representative John Lewis said in a radio interview on Monday that President Bush should be impeached if he broke the law in authorizing spying on Americans.
| link |

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has become the first in the Senate to raise consideration of impeachment of President George W. Bush for authorizing spying on Americans without warrants.
| link |

Sen. John Kerry said last night that if Dems retake the House, there's a "solid case" to bring "articles of impeachment" against President Bush for allegedly misleading the country about pre-war intelligence, according to several Dems who attended.
| link |
It's a long way from murmur to impeachment, but I like the trend.
[Media]

Longer Oregonian Op-Ed

My penultimate draft of the Oregonian op-ed that appeared in yesterday's paper ran something like 250 words longer than the one that made it in. There were some good edits that we made subsequently and if I had a mind, I'd fix those in this draft. This slightly longer draft is nevertheless more coherent, I think. (Bix's longer version is here.) Anyway, here it is--

*

By blogging standards, I’m an old-timer. I started my first blog three years ago, during that punky, anarchic period before they had become a national phenomenon. Bloggers hadn’t raised any money for political candidates yet, they hadn’t been quoted in the mainstream press, and they weren’t appearing on the cable news shows. We were small time. By way of illustrating how little I thought of my site’s commercial prospects, here’s what I named it: Notes on the Atrocities.

Although bloggers all secretly hoped we’d begin to influence the mainstream press, we never imagined how quickly it would happen. Some of the bigger blogs like Daily Kos and Instapundit, with over 100,000 readers a day, now get as much traffic as regional newspapers and definitely exercise some influence. Inevitably, the talk has begun: as old news—newspaper and broadcast television—watches its audience sag and blogs enjoy burgeoning popularity, won’t the latter one day supplant the former?

The short answer is no. In fact, here’s my bold prediction: not only will blogs not destroy the mainstream media, but they may actually help save it. The reason is that blogs are entirely different beasts than newspapers or television. The mainstream media have a mission to gather news objectively and inform the public about the important events of the day. They are organized vertically: a single newsroom gathers the stories across a spectrum of subjects. They must necessarily decide which news to present, and, whether they are commercial or public outlets, they’ll tend to throw the net wide to appeal to a large audience.

Blogs, on the other hand, are a horizontal medium. They exist as interlinking nodes throughout the internet—sometimes working in tandem with other blogs to reveal a single story, sometimes collapsing into one post relevant pieces from a number of different sites. For this reason, they’re sometimes called a “collaborative” medium. Almost all blogs are focused, sometimes very narrowly so. Bloggers address a single subject—and in many cases an aspect of that subject, as when political bloggers specialize in labor (Nathan Newman), law (TalkLeft), or economics (Brad DeLong). And despite the traffic that a handful of the biggest blogs receive, they mostly appeal to fragmented, smaller audiences. Finally, bloggers, because they don’t have the resources to cover news themselves, generally offer their own commentary, making sense of the news rather than reporting it.

The role that blogs will play in the future, and their relationship to the mainstream media, is hinted at in BlueOregon, a blog I founded a year and a half ago with Kari Chisholm, an internet political strategist, and Jesse Cornett, who works in the Secretary of State’s office. We started the site with the mission to become “the water cooler around which Oregon’s progressives gather.” Founded before the 2004 election, BlueOregon immediately became a landing spot for political junkies, including politicians and activists. Our regular writers include some of Oregon’s most interesting political thinkers—Oregon Center for Public Policy Executive Director Chuck Sheketoff, longtime Oregon columnist Russell Sadler, and Secretary of State Press Secretary Anne Martens, to name just three—and they’re joined in the comments threads by many others.

We’ve broken news about Karen Minnis, tracked rumors about Dan Doyle, and even had City Commissioner Randy Leonard propose policy on the site. And conservatives seem to enjoy BlueOregon as well—even Lars Larson has left a few comments on the site.

What makes BlueOregon a successful blog actually prevents it from enjoying the mass popularity of a newspaper. The number of people who have an active, avid interest in Oregon politics is relatively small. BlueOregon is one of the bigger political blogs, but it gets only about 2,500 readers a day—a fraction of a newspaper’s readership. Yet this is an advantage for us. It means we can delve into what would be regarded as minutiae to a larger publication, but which is critical content for a smaller, engaged audience, and unavailable anywhere else. Our credibility arises out of our fidelity to our narrow mission There is no question but that we have a point of view, and perversely, this gives us a level of transparency.

The future of blogs is not to become generalized; it’s to stay specialized. Look past the dozen or so most popular sites, and you’ll see this is already happening. Every group with a special interest has a blog. In each case, they depend on newsrooms to go out and gather quality, unbiased news. Blogs and the mainstream media have a separate, complimentary function: blogs are partisan specialists, newspapers are nonpartisan generalists. Both reach audiences the other can’t.

This is why blogs will never replace the mainstream media. They emerged to fill a void, offering specificity in an ever more bland, colorless media universe. Should the worst come to pass in news media, and daily papers start dying across the country, blogs won’t replace them. We can provide advocacy, opinion, and discussion, but we can’t send people to report from Baghdad.

When I look five years down the road, I hope to see BlueOregon as the indispensable sounding board for liberals. I hope it is a incubator for policy discussions—imagine if the next bottle bill or Oregon Health Plan is an idea first proposed there. If this happens, it means we’ll have become a credible provider for this new kind of collaborative media. But here’s the ironic thing: by succeeding with our mission, it’s also my hope that people will begin to care more about public policy and become more interested in hard news. When bloggers first began our revolution, that’s what we were after. If we’re successful, the MSM may be an unintentional beneficiary. Just think, a future where blogs don’t destroy or replace the mainstream media, but save it.
[White House, Iraq]

Press Conference.

Listening to Bush's press conference (currently happening as I write this), two things are becoming obvious with Bush's new PR campaign of "candor." First, he gave a number of tells that he's deluded himself as much as he hopes to delude us (we see this through bizarre logic and Freudian slips). Second, he's starting to drop many clues about the extent to which he's willing to go to to see his delusion through. It's his grandest faith-based initiative yet. More analysis once I can get ahold of the transcript.

Fascinating stuff.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

[Elsewhere]

Oregonian Op-Ed

The Oregonian contacted me a couple weeks ago to participate in a dialogue about the future of blogs. The three pieces came out today. Mine is here, and companion pieces by b!X (of the seminal, now-defunct Portland Communique) and PSU poly sci prof Regina Lawrence are also online. My final piece was cut down some for space, so I'll post the whole thing here later.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

[NSA Spying]

Democratic Culpability?

Tom Maguire argues that Bush's secret NSA spying couldn't have been too serious if Dems knew about it. He quotes a CBS story as evidence:
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she had been told on several occasions that Bush had authorized unspecified activities by the National Security Agency, the nation's largest spy agency. She said she had expressed strong concerns at the time, and that Bush's statement Saturday "raises serious questions as to what the activities were and whether the activities were lawful."
He may have a point, but this phrase gives me pause: " Bush had authorized unspecified activities." Can the legislative branch exercise its Constitutional authority if it merely receives word that Bush is conducting "unspecified activities?" Bears watching, but this exoneration seems feeble at best.
[White House]

Watershed Moment.

Well, you can't
say the cards aren't on the table. Stymied for the first time by a Congress not perfectly compliant with his autocratic impulses, and a press not perfectly willing to run his press releases as fact, Bush has now made the naked case for executive power. From today's radio address:
In the weeks following the terrorist attacks on our nation, I authorized the National Security Agency, consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations. Before we intercept these communications, the government must have information that establishes a clear link to these terrorist networks.

[The NSA's secret wiretapping] is a highly classified program that is crucial to our national security. Its purpose is to detect and prevent terrorist attacks against the United States, our friends and allies. Yesterday the existence of this secret program was revealed in media reports, after being improperly provided to news organizations. As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk. Revealing classified information is illegal, alerts our enemies, and endangers our country.
Bush's legal team crafted the first part of that language. Bush is careful to claim that the NSA only intercepts international communication--important because domestic communication is protected by law. The second half of that first statement is designed to give the appearance of checks and balances--"the government must have information"--but the "government" here is the executive branch, working secretly and without judicial oversight.

The second paragraph is Bush's claim to power. Not only does he threaten Americans ("crucial to our national security"), but he threatens our free press. Earlier in his speech, talking about the Senate's Patriot Act filibuster, he threatened senators, calling them de facto traitors.

The Times has run a companion piece to its scoop yesterday about the NSA which discusses the legal questions. It will be interesting to watch the righties muster their inevitable defense of these practices (the states' rights party becomes defenders of Orwellian federal abuses), but it's hard to see how there's a legal justification.
"Obviously we have to do things differently because of the terrorist threat," said Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, former general counsel of both N.S.A. and the Central Intelligence Agency, who served under both Republican and Democratic administrations. "But to do it without the participation of the Congress and the courts is unwise in the extreme."
This seems like a watershed moment in the Bush presidency. Working behind the cover of 9/11 and Congressional domination, Bush was able to secretly exercise unconstitutional power over American citizens. He no longer has the cover, and today, he decided to make a brazen grab. I think Atrios was right yesterday to cite this as the moment when conservatives earn their stripes (the Atrios Test)--are they for naked power or the uncomfortable exercise of democracy?

In the Clinton administration, Democrats sided with Republicans to investigate Clinton on dozens of perceived crimes and misdemeanors because, although they knew the GOP had cynical, partisan aims, they recognized that the republic is far more important than the career of any politican. Bush has thrown down the gauntlet. Beware anyone who does not feel democracy's imperative to take it up and challenge this tinpot wannabe dictator.

Friday, December 16, 2005

[Civil Liberties]

Congress Demands Report on "Black Sites"

There seems to be a change afoot in Congress. They dealt Bush another rebuke to his torture regime, voting 228-187 on a nonbinding resolution demanding a report on secret prisons. It's still pretty namby-pamby (nonbinding) but even symbolic moves are surprising.
[Misc.]

Maybe This Explains Fox News (or Vice Versa).

Let me describe something for you. Have a look and then think of college--ponder, if you will, whether what I describe seems like something students should have picked up there.
"Able to read lengthy, complex English texts and draw complicated inferences."
This contrasts with descriptions of lesser accomplishment, like only being "able to understand short, commonplace prose texts."

That first description, which to me reads like a description of something we learned in high school English classrooms, is known as "proficient" literacy. Care to guess how many college graduates have achieved it? I'll give you a hint: in 1992, only 40% had. Now? 31%. A full 16% were at or below the ability to barely read a cereal box. And we're talking college graduates (proof that the correlation between education and intelligence is a weak one).

It's no small wonder that Bush is our president or that Americans felt it was plausible that Saddam bombed the twin towers. If you can't read, you're so much more pliable (which may explain why Bush was selected by Cheney and Co. to be the Slacker in Chief). And if you're so pliable, you're not really a responsible steward of the country. And if you're not a responsible steward of the country, you get the leaders we now have.

I try not to succumb to the liberal Americans-is-bone-dumb argument, but then you read something like this, and...
[Patriot Act]

Whoa.

File this in the "my, ain't hell cold this morning" file:

Backers of a proposed four-year extension of the USA Patriot Act failed to shut off Senate debate today, preventing a vote on the matter and dealing a setback to President Bush on a major issue involving anti-terrorism efforts and civil liberties.

The Democratic-led filibuster drew enough Republican support to keep the president's allies from gaining the 60 votes needed to end debate in the 100-member chamber. The 52-47 vote will require the White House and congressional leaders to seek another way to deal with the scheduled Dec. 31 expiration of key aspects of the law.

The Post now has this cool little feature, in case you missed it, to track votes on key legislation (actually, on all legislation--but you gotta be a masochist to care about that). So now we can quickly find out who's been naughty and nice:

Republican allies
Larry Craig (ID), Bill Frist (TN)*, Chuck Hagel (NE), Lisa Murkowski (AK), John Sununu (NH)

Democratic foes
Tim Johnson (SD), Ben Nelson (NE)

*Frist isn't actually an ally here. He switched his vote in a parliamentary move (that I don't even vaguely understand) that will allow him to bring it to a vote later.

[White House, Crimes and Misdemeanors]

Around the Blogosphere on Bush's Spying.

The news of Bush's secret NSA spying on Americans is, predictably, fairly hot news in the blogosphere. Here's a rundown of the better posts.

Lefties
For the most part, the lefties are just reprinting, as if holding the smoking gun, text from the Times' report. Consensus seems to be that it stands on its own. Couple of interesting comments along the way, though.

Atrios
has been posting random thoughts throughout the day. One of his earliest seems to be emerging as what we might call the "Atrios Test": if conservatives look the other way on this one, says he, the movement is a dead, soulless shell of sycophanty. Okay, those are my words.

TalkLeft quotes from a commenter's thoughts; according to the statute on wiretapping, Bush is breaking the law. The commenter further considers the implications.

One of the best posts is by Payson at Think Progress, wherein he gives some background on John Yoo, who provided the legal justification to spy.

Finally, Jo at Democratic Veteran vents some nice spleen.

Righties
The real action is in the rightysphere, where jaws gape. They, too, see the smoking gun. How will they respond to the Atrios Test? Behold:

Hindrocket at Powerline believes they should go to jail. The people who leaked this to the Times, that is. Threatens national security to have the secret, illegal actions of a petty autocrat reported in the free press, don'tcha know. Atrios Test grade: F.

Instapundit: "I can't see any very compelling reason to bypass the courts here, especially given that warrants in these cases are almost always granted." Atrios Test grade: C.

Michelle Malkin, who always damns herself more ably than any liberal could, blames the Times:
The real headline news is not that President Bush took extraordinary measures to protect Americans in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but that the blabbermouths at the Times chose to disclose classified information in a pathetically obvious bid to move the Iraqi elections off the front pages.
Among a movement so richly absent the sense of irony, Michelle is queen (delightful for a "reporter" to blame the press for, ah, reporting). Atrios Test grade: F.

Hugh Hewitt believes that as long as the secret spying isn't being abused (presumably this means being aimed at any conservative, wealthy, or white men), no worries. He also blames the Times and extends the shrillness into territory few have dared travel: not only was Times wrong to publish accurate information about Presidential lawbreaking, but if we get hit again by terrorists, you can blame Bill Keller. Seriously: "When the next attack comes, one question will be how did the terrorists evade detection. Today the odds increased that one of their methods will be careful reading of the New York Times." Atrios Test grade: F.

John Cole, predictably, is reasonably alarmed. Atrios Test grade: B.

At the Corner, they're blaming ... well, it's all starting to get pretty repetitive.

I think we can reasonably conclude that, for most conservatives, ideology is all well and good, unless the President says it's not.
[White House, Crimes and Misdemeanors]

Spying and Other Crimes.

Let us sift through the various elements of today's big news. First, the New York Times, which broke the news that Bush authorized the NSA to spy on American citizens:
Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.

Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible "dirty numbers" linked to Al Qaeda, the officials said. The agency, they said, still seeks warrants to monitor entirely domestic communications.

The previously undisclosed decision to permit some eavesdropping inside the country without court approval was a major shift in American intelligence-gathering practices, particularly for the National Security Agency, whose mission is to spy on communications abroad. As a result, some officials familiar with the continuing operation have questioned whether the surveillance has stretched, if not crossed, constitutional limits on legal searches....

Mr. Bush's executive order allowing some warrantless eavesdropping on those inside the United States - including American citizens, permanent legal residents, tourists and other foreigners - is based on classified legal opinions that assert that the president has broad powers to order such searches, derived in part from the September 2001 Congressional resolution authorizing him to wage war on Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, according to the officials familiar with the N.S.A. operation.

These kinds of incursions on our Constitutional rights, sought by administrations who pine for power and justified to a population scared of its own shadow, are not Bush's invention. FDR jailed Americans because they were of Japanese descent. But rarely do they accomplish the intended goal, and almost always, they are quite quickly broadened to target citizens beyond the initial probe--Nixon pursuing political enemies. There's no suggestion in this article that Bush was, say, spying on citizens with blogs (not that I'm paranoid or anything). Of course, because the NSA is so secretive (it's jokingly called "No Such Agency"), and because this practice removes judicial oversight, we have no way of knowing.

Essentially, Bush is just asking us to trust him. Condi Rice, speaking on the Today show (this morning?), tried to emphasize this point. Katie Couric was questioning her specifically on the Times' report:
I can tell you that the President has always lived within the law. He has always said that he will do everything that he can to protect the American people from the kind of attack that we experienced on September 11th, but within the law and with due regard for the civil liberties of Americans. Because he takes absolutely seriously his constitutional responsibility both to defend Americans and to do it within the law.
Oh, really? So far, Bush has on at least four instances "stretched" the law (these are documented cases that I recall--surely there are more). The Iraq invasion justification was not, as Bush says, based on faulty intelligence, it was based on overt lies--one of which, the famous 16-word "Africa" claim in 2003's State of the Union, the White House admitted to. Because he cooked the intel, Bush invaded a non-threatening sovereign nation, a violation of international law. Once in Iraq, Bush was secretly pushing the bounds on torture, as the memo from his then-counsel Alberto Gonzales indicated (linking him to Abu Ghraib has proved more difficult). And finally, Bush also lied about what his prescription Medicare plan would cost until Denny Hastert had strong-armed (and possibly bribed) enough Congressmen in the dead of night to get it passed.

Beyond that, the executive branch has consistently sought to extend its powers, shutting out the judicial and legislative branches wherever possible. In this case, the Times' were unable to confirm that any members of Congress were aware of Bush's secret spying. The full extent of how Bush has managed the White House and how far he's gone in breaking citizens' Constitutional rights, is likely never to be known. Certainly with both house of Congress tied up by sycophantic Republicans, no investigations will happen for at least another year.

Fun times, huh?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

[Meta]

Koufax Awards.

Given that I never win, it is true that it's really just an honor to be nominated. Yes, that's self-promotion, in the event I wasn't clear enough. To be even clearer, perhaps "Most Deserving of Wider Recognition" or "Best New Blog" might be appropriate. There might even be bribery involved....

Seriously, it's the only blog awards worth anything, so if you want to make a nomination, now's your chance. Lots and lots of great blogs out there, so let 'em know.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

[2006]

Projecting the Winners.

So it's a little early to be calling any races, but there is a cool site that tracks them. With a name that recalls Saturday mornings, I give you Election Projection. It is run by a partisan Republican, but as good liberals, you won't let that stop you from reading. In fact, the site's predictions about the presidential election were spot on (as opposed to, say, may own). It will be an interesting site to watch as we come in closer to the election. At present, Election Projection gives slight advantage to the Dems in gubernatorial races, but Republicans in the House (which is bad, because we need a huge push to do any good there).

An additional indicator we can watch is PollingReport's generic tracker. It asks which party respondents support generically--that is, without names, Republican or Dem. Currently, Dems are outpolling Republicans an average of 9.3%. That, of course, is predictive of nothing. Still, be interesting to see how things develop.
[Movies]

Good Flicks So Far

The Golden Globe announcements came out yesterday, with several surprises. Brokeback Mountain came out the big winner, with seven nominations, proving that Hollywood may be in Red California, but it's true blue. (Personally, the dischordant note for me is not gay + cowboy, but love + cowboy. Who wants to see cowboys pining for love? [Not that many people, it looks like.]) But enough about movies I haven't seen. Here are my early faves for the coveted Jeffies (aka Goldies):

Kontroll - I saw this at the Portland International Film Fest in February and was blown away. The Hungarian subway functions as purgatory for the hero Bulscu (bull-shew), who wanders around as a "Kontroll" agent--a subway policeman--who is either unwilling or unable to pass to the light of the upper world. But it's neither heavy or ponderous--the director, Nimrod Antal, keeps it lively with techno music, wry wit, and a fair amount of low-risk action. Whenever I see a movie so good so early in the season, I wonder if it will stay with me through to awards season. It has.

Crash - An ensemble piece that also has its share of metaphor. The film follows a series of scenes interconnected by characters and circumstances, all exploring various crashes--racial, class, cultural (but mostly racial). These kinds of movies are hard to bring together, but this one manages it, finding both a clear throughline and a consistent tone and emotion. It's also held up well in my memory. (director: Paul Haggis)

Junebug - This is one of those funny indies I wonder if anyone else liked. It's a film that deals essentially with families. It's looking for little-t truth, and finds it by looking sideways at the way families treat each other, sort of like being able to understand the sun better by not looking at it too directly. It's slow and personal, and has a few moments that show the first-time hand of director Phil Morrison, but it also succeeds on the larger level.

Good Night and Good Luck - The best liberal movie in years. Or the best movie for liberals. Or the best movie by a liberal. Anyway, the key word is "best," not "liberal."

Murderball - I've been slowly collecting a list of "the best movies you've never seen." This may be tops on that list. It won the audience award at Sundance, and everyone expected it to kill in documentary-crazy first run. Apparently people were scared off by the topic--quadrapalegics. (It made less than two million at the box office.) Ostensibly about a kind of wheelchair rugby they play (nicknamed 'murderball'), it's actually about how they live. It's incredibly honest and fascinating, never pitying or voyeuristic. The best example? The discussion about sex. It's the best documentary I've ever seen. (directors: Henry Alex Rubin, Dana Adam Shapiro)
Last year was the low point in film since I first really started paying attention about 15 years ago. My annual Jeffy award featured just one film I thought actually warranted being called a classic (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). The year was filled with such crap, I wondered if we'd entered the beginning of movie end. I'm more hopeful this year. Already--before the "Oscar season"--I've got too many candidates for my lone Grand Jeffy. So maybe last year was just an anamoly.
[White House]

The Gamble.

This is Bush's great presidential gamble, in a nutshell. From today's Iraq proclamation, the last paragraph:
The story of freedom has just begun in the Middle East. And when the history of these days is written, it will tell how America once again defended its own freedom by using liberty to transform nations from bitter foes to strong allies. And history will say that this generation, like generations before, laid the foundation of peace for generations to come.
Bush sees himself in not only a heroic role, but a pivotal, historic role. Of course, most of us think it's utter nonsense--grandiosity from an immature mind. But here's an interesting thought. If history plays out like the neocons dream, will Bush be forgiven for everything else? Will he go down in history as a great president? I shudder to think, but my guess is yes. History forgives a multitude of small sins if a person has one crowing achievement.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

[GOP Propaganda]

New RNC Ad.

The RNC's new ad is a montage of predictable speakers--Dean, Boxer, Kerry. Of course, they sound eminently reasonable to me, and maybe that's what the RNC feared, because they end up the ad with this text:
Our country is at war
Our soldiers are watching...
And our enemies are too [sic]

Message to Democrats:
Retreat and defeat is not an option
This requires little analysis, and so I'll give none. That it is run by the Party with control of all branches of federal and most local government, it does, however, have that acrid aroma of Ingsoc, doesn't it?
[White House]

Where's Bush?

In thirty years, the majority of society will have a pretty fixed, shared view of President Bush. It's a type of clarity we all pine for in the present, given that we have nothing of a shared or fixed view of him. Actually, we pine for having everyone share our fixed view of him now. (To that end, some of us start blogs, but that's another story...)

Still, there are trends. I was shocked not that the President yesterday acknowledged that his folly had killed off 30,000 Iraqis, but that the news media thought this so noteworthy. The President, offering actual answers to an independent, unselected, unscreened media: this is now news. Surely historians 30 years hence will not look kindly on that?

More broadly, Bush's numbers are sinking again, after a brief, unexplained upturn last month. Whatever it was, it's passed, apparently.

Following that Time article I mentioned yesdterday, David Brooks and Mike Allen were pondering on Meet the Press whether Bush would end up a "great" President in the mold of FDR or Lincoln. This is so inconceivable and bizarre, one doesn't really know where to start. The question isn't whether he'll be regarded as great, but an incompetent nadir among all US presidents. Or a criminal. Just scanning the old memory bank, here are a few things that leap out when you think of this President:
  • 9/11
  • Tax cuts
  • Lies about WMD
  • Successful, but forgotten Afghanistan invasion
  • Incompetent Iraq invasion/occupation
  • Secrecy
  • Deficits
  • Torture
  • Leak Scandal
  • Incompetent Katrina response
The "positives" in the Bush years amount mainly to tax cuts and the wars, none of which history is likely to look kindly on. The tax cuts will surely be reversed and, on balance, be regarded as useless prods to the economy. Little benefit and huge costs. Iraq, even if it turns out to be less catastrophic than we imagine--if we cut and run and forget, say--will be a stain on history. The costs there, too--alienating the globe, expense in lives and dollars, damage to our reputation flowing from the Abu Ghraib debacle--will far outweigh anything positive we may accomplish.

The President's approval rating reflects dawning awareness on this point, but I'm still shocked by how much goodwill he still receives. The nature of being an American right now is not understanding why the rest of the country is barking mad. I guess we all agree on that point, anyway.
[Crime and Punishment]

Tookie.

Looking through Memeorandum this morning, Stanley "Tookie" Williams' execution seems to be the only story happening. I don't really have the heart to wade through all the viscious commentary from the right-wing (post headings are adequate: "Time for Tookie to Pay the Piper" "Enjoy the Needle, Tookie!"). As a coda to my earlier thoughts on execution, Arnold's reasoning for denying clemency--like those headlines--couldn't be clearer:
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger did not just reject Stanley Tookie Williams' request for clemency, he aggressively attacked the central element of the former gang leader's case: Williams, he said, had never really reformed.
Execution is not about achieving reform. It's about revenge. Leaving it in the hands of one man to determine another's worth only highlights this.

Monday, December 12, 2005

[White House]

Faith-Based Presidency.

There's a Time story on the President that seems to be the buzz of the blogosphere today--though it's fairly obvious stuff. Bush is confused, his advisors privately worry but publicly claim a comeback, the White House is insular, the GOP is wracked by scandal, Cheney is old. Not anything to write home about, except for the last paragraph, which holds out hope that Dubya may yet offer bloggers a little fun:
However improbable the odds at this point or modest his short-term goals, aides say, Bush still subscribes to Rove's long-held dream that his will be the transformational presidency that lays the groundwork for a Republican majority that can endure, as Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal coalition did, for a half-century or more. Once he gets past the midterm elections, Bush plans to introduce a concept that, if anything, is even more ambitious than his failed Social Security plan: a grand overhaul that would include not only that program but Medicare and Medicaid as well. Says strategist McKinnon: "He knows that part of what he brings to the presidency is an ability and commitment to chart a long course under public pressure."
Wow. He coerced the rest of the country into his bizarro world during the first term, but it seems like he's the only one who still buys its logic. If this is true, and Bush does roll out a grand new scheme of smoke and mirrors, all I can say is: delightful. What theater it will be!
[Politics]

1968.

Late last week, I posted what seemed like a pretty innocuous note about a candidate running for a state House seat in Eugene on BlueOregon. She's a Dem, but one supported by lots of pretty serious developers and real estate speculators who, as it happens, are also major Bush donors. The upshot of the post: can't we get someone a little more liberal? There followed one of the most vitriolic exchanges (led by her campaign manager, as it later emerged) I've ever had on a blog. All of this was in-party stuff.

Interesting, then, to see that Eugene McCarthy died over the weekend. From the late twenties through his failed bid to unseat LBJ in 1968, the Dems were an amazingly united party. Although we didn't really fall out of power for another dozen years, his run in '68 set the stage for what has characterized the party for the last forty years--bitter in-fighting.

It was the war in '68, and weirdly enough, it's the war now. Howard Dean, broadly characterized as a lunatic by everyone from George Will to Jay Leno, is the only guy who's actually gotten it right on the war, and yet I had to listen to idiotic commentary over the weekend about how his dangerously out-of-touch views threaten the party. People keep a straight face when they hold Joe Lieberman up as the grown-up Dem in a party of children. Hillary Clinton, who hasn't yet found an idea she'd stake a candidacy on, is waiting in the wings to see how it all shakes out. You can bet she'll find a view that offends no moderates.

The Democratic strength comes with strong leadership. We're the collectivist team, and so we have a natural inclination toward compromise. This works great when we have strong leadership willing to craft a vision and stick to it, but it makes us look like idiots when we scuttle along like dung sweepers following a parade. America is sick to death of this corrupt, greedy, and violent GOP, but the Dems, who in panic try to stamp out the only voice of conviction in the Party, have no way of capitalizing.

Dems took the wrong message away from McCarthy. He was a man running from his own inner convictions and lost. Dems learned: never run from your convictions. The lesson they should have learned, like LBJ, is not to lie to the American people. That, ultimately, is the choice the Dems face, and one we've consistently gotten wrong since 1980. So, as long as we elect people who can only lead by following the polls, who are scared of their own shadows, and who haven't the convictions to guide policy, we're going to have to get used to looking at the ass-end of the parade.

Friday, December 09, 2005

[GOP Corruption]

FOD: Friends of the Duke.

My eyes have remained mostly glazed to the whole Duke Cunningham affair, but this is interesting: turns out the crooked contractors who bribed the Congressman were also generous donors to, among others, Tom DeLay. Others lavished with poison lucre include members of the House leadership:
  • House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who got $46,000 from Wilkes, Wade and their associates.
  • House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., who got about $50,000 from Wilkes, Wade and their associates.
  • Rep. John T. Doolittle, R-Calif., a member of the House Appropriations Committee, who got about $46,000 from Wilkes and his associates
Wilkes, one of the contractors, was likewise a "pioneer" fundraiser for Bush, netting him $100,000; he also gave Ahnold $70k. Not that this means any of these other folks were on the take, of course. Nothing like that.
[Nazi Spin]

O'Reilly Called me a Nazi!

Bill O'Reilly, defending the demure Ann Coulter, had this to say about lefty bloggers:
"I submit to you--if you go on the internet and you look at the right-wing websites and compare them to left-wing websites, that the far left in this country, the zealots--I mean, these are zealots--are Nazis. This is exactly what the Nazis did. They disrupted rallies, they came in and shouted people down, they intimidated, they smeared, they did all of this."
Oh, the irony!
[Lexigraphy]

Borked, Miered, and ... ?

Avedon has an amusing addition to the definition of Borking:

mier (v): see borked, but when Republicans do it. Usage: If a president's crony is nominated to an office they are unfit to hold and the crony is also not sufficiently partisan to please the party's most radical right-wingers, the nomination can get miered down.

At the risk of fanning the flames of indecency, I'll offer a couple more.
DeLay (v): 1. to use temporary majority advantage to re-write rules to permanently favor one's political party. 2. to meet in the dead of night to draft legislation too unpopular to pass during working hours, or to hold open a legislative session until bribes have been sufficiently distributed to win passage of unpopular legislation. "It didn't look like he was going to re-DeLay those districts, but in the secret session in the Capitol last night, the Congressman managed to DeLay his party into support."

Frist (v) using one's professional background to mislead and misdirect. "I know Michael Behe's a biochemist, but he's just fristing you on intelligent design."
Fire now your off-color bon mots.
[Meta]

Search Referral.

I don't mention these very often, but someone just came to this site after doing a Google search on "turkey against hog." I'd really like to know what the thinking was there.
[Politics]

Iowa and New Hampshire, Privileged No More?

The DNC is considering serious changes to the primary schedule--a move WAY overdue. The race for President is effectively decided within the first two weeks of the primary season, and Iowa and New Hampshire, states with populations of 2.9 and 1.2 million (1.4% of the total), have a huge influence. Those states are among the whitest (94% and 96%) and neither have a major city. They are politically similar moderate swing states (Iowa for Gore in 2000, but Bush in '04, New Hampshire the reverse).

Last year, to try to deal with this imbalance, New Hampshire was followed up by "mini Tuesday,"a seven-pack of states that again privilege conservtism: South Carolina, Missouri , North Dakota, Arizona, New Mexico, Delaware, and Oklahoma. Of those states, only one went Kerry--which further means that the DNC, perhaps toadying up to the DLC, is favoring swing voters in Democratic primaries. The point isn't that liberals should be preferenced--that might well lead to defeat in November--but neither should voters least in tune with the Democratic message. And how long will we continue to allow that?

I don't fully understand what the Dems have planned--they're trying to minimize the influence of Iowa and NH, but they've vowed to let them remain first in the lineup. The DNC is apparently moving up other states earlier in the process that would create "greater diversity"--but does this mean more Southern and intermountain (ie red) states? Or will they have the courage to plop a California or Michigan primary early? They also want to encourage other states to keep their primaries spread out--though this is apparently in response to the difficulty Kerry had in maintaining his long period from de facto candidacy to election, not to benefit states like mine (Oregon), where the decision has long been made by the primaries.

Still, small changes. It could be a good step.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

[Foreign Affairs]

The Trouble With Democracy

The neocons have made their own private secular religion out of the notion of democracy. It shines so brightly as to wash the stain of sin from the souls of the newly converted. How to explain this, then:
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday expressed doubt that the Holocaust occurred and suggested Israel be moved to Europe.

"Some European countries insist on saying that Hitler killed millions of innocent Jews in furnaces and they insist on it to the extent that if anyone proves something contrary to that they condemn that person and throw them in jail," IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.

"Although we don't accept this claim, if we suppose it is true, our question for the Europeans is: is the killing of innocent Jewish people by Hitler the reason for their support to the occupiers of Jerusalem?" he said.

"If the Europeans are honest they should give some of their provinces in Europe -- like in Germany, Austria or other countries -- to the Zionists and the Zionists can establish their state in Europe. You offer part of Europe and we will support it."

Keep in mind, he was elected (sort of). What happens if the Iraqi elections produce a man with these kinds of views? Yet another reason why a little bit of ideology is a dangerous thing.
[Literature, Politics]

Harold Pinter's Nobel Address.

Harold Pinter used the opportunity of giving his Nobel Speech to slam the US. You forget, living in the US, where the head of the minority party is referred to as "Howard the Coward," that actual dissent does exist. Folks like Ann Coulter, who approve of McCarthy and despise regular Americans, call slights against their party anti-Americanism. Pinter reminds us what real anti-Americanism looks like. How do you think they would react to this kind of language, viscious as their own?

A few excerpts:
Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.
He applies this analysis to the US:
But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all. I believe this must be addressed and that the truth has considerable bearing on where the world stands now. Although constrained, to a certain extent, by the existence of the Soviet Union, the United States' actions throughout the world made it clear that it had concluded it had carte blanche to do what it liked.
He goes on to detail these crimes. Then he takes on the invasion:
The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading - as a last resort - all other justifications having failed to justify themselves - as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people.

We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it 'bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East'.

How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought.
He concludes by ghosting a speech for the President. It's perhaps the best passage in the speech:

'God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden's God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam's God was bad, except he didn't have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don't chop people's heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don't you forget it.'

The whole text of the speech is here. The video is here.