Sunday, December 30, 2007

Odds and Sods

Roundup of Excellent Pieces
Glenn Greenwald, always worth reading, has an excellent piece up today titled Oligarchical decay that covers a range of related topics that are favorites of this blog.

In case after case, our political establishment has adopted the "principle" that our most powerful actors are immune from the rule of law. And they've adopted the enabling supplemental "principle" that any information which our political leaders want to keep suppressed is -- by definition, for that reason alone -- information that is "classified" and should not be disclosed.
And now, our government just destroys evidence crucial both to all sorts of court proceedings and a comprehensive investigation into the worst attack on U.S. soil in our history -- part and parcel of its general pattern of destroying or "losing" key evidence -- and the Honorable, Independent Attorney General tells both the legislative and judicial branches that they have no right even to investigate. And although we know for a fact that the top aides to both Bush and Cheney were involved in discussions of whether the tapes should be destroyed, we have no idea what they said and are unlikely ever to know, and even if we did find out, it's impossible to envision anything happening as a result.

Remember folks: Republicans are "tough on crime."

Digby at Hullabaloo takes on the phony cries for "bipartisanship", more accurately known as shutting up and letting Republicans do what they want in the name of the greater good as they define it.

Isn't it funny that these people were nowhere to be found when George W. Bush seized office under the most dubious terms in history, having been appointed by a partisan supreme court majority and losing the popular vote? If there was ever a time for a bunch of dried up, irrelevant windbags to demand a bipartisan government you'd think it would have been then, wouldn't you? (How about after 9/11, when Republicans were running ads saying Dems were in cahoots with Saddam and bin Laden?) But it isn't all that surprising. They always assert themselves when the Democrats become a majority; it's their duty to save the country from the DFH's who are far more dangerous than Dick Cheney could ever be.

The Magic 8-Ball was not Available
One of the great things about reading Hullabaloo is that Digby will make predictions that quite frequently come true. As opposed to say William "Quayle's Brain" Kristol, who has been announced as a NYT guest columnist after unceremoniously parting ways with Time Magazine.

A good take down of Bloody Billy is available here, among plenty of other places. I find it hard to believe that he needs to be taken down; anyone with a brain and an honest bone in their body should be able to read and watch him and quickly realize that the omnipresent smug grin is the summation of his character.

William Kristol is a pundit in the mold of Frank Gaffney: someone who will say anything, no matter how dishonest, foul or offensive to the intellect as long as it helps their side score points. Putting party above country is something they take pride in.

In a now-famous strategy memo, Kristol warned that Republicans had to kill, rather than amend, the Clinton proposal. Its success, he warned, would “re-legitimize middle-class dependence for ‘security’ on government spending and regulation,” and “revive ... the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests.”

William Kristol was opposed to the government health care plan because it might succeed and in succeeding help the Democrats. That's a true patriot.

This bit by Bill Maher, while not the most well-sourced or comprehensive comment on William Kristol, is my personal favorite as it is both brutal and funny.

Journalistic "balance" is pure folly, a worthless goal that places keeping up appearances over delivering the truth. But if the NYT is dead-set on maintaining a perceived balance by hiring another conservative writer they could at least pick one who did something more than deliver pure marketing fluff that even he must know has no basis in reality.

The fact the William Kristol can still be found anywhere other than a local cable access channel is an indictment of our media. It seems a conservative commentator can never be too wrong, too destructive and too dishonest to be unemployable.

Read more!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

On Language: "Satire"

Brilliant Satire? Rape Only Hurts If You Fight It (This link is the best-formatted reproduction I could find)

Rape Only Hurts If You Fight It

John Petroski
Opinions Editor

Most people today would claim that rape is a terrible crime almost akin to murder but I strongly disagree. Far from a vile act, rape is a magical experience that benefits society as a whole. I realize many of you will disagree with this thesis but lend me your ears and I’m sure I’ll sway you towards a darkened alley.
In actuality, rape’s advantages can very much be seen today. Take ugly women, for example. If it weren’t for rape, how would they ever know the joy of intercourse with a man who isn’t drunk? In a society as plastic-conscious as our own, are we really to believe that some man would ever sleep with a girl resembling a wildebeest if he didn’t have a few schnapps in him? Of course he wouldn’t, at least no self-respecting man would, but therein lies the beauty of rape. No self-respecting man would rape in the first place, so ugly women are guaranteed a romp with not only a sober man, but a bad boy too, and we all know how much ladies like the bad boy.

Dishonest speakers often use words incorrectly on purpose to take advantage of certain connotations. "Satire" is one of those words. Sarcasm, hyperbole and contrariness are similar to sarcasm in that none of them are meant to be taken at face value, but satire alone is considered valuable political discourse. So it's no surprise that hyperbolic and contrarian speakers appeal to satire in attempts to sort-of kind-of but not really disown their own writing.

The above piece was defended as satire. Satire of what? It's impossible to plausibly explain what is being sent-up. People who believe that rape is a "magical experience that benefits society" are in short supply and any satire of those few individuals is an exercise in irrelevance.

The latter excerpted paragraph reads less like satire than like the slight hyperbole of an annoying college-age Limbaugh-wannabe provocateur -- a fairly accurate description of the author. It is mean-spirited in a non-satirical manner, especially when you consider that his "satire" is similar to his serious writing and that his writings on women and humanity in general are full of contempt.

"Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I do not endorse, support, or condone rape. That aside, I chose to satirize rape in order to illustrate that no one pays attention to news unless it's sensational," Petroski said.

This explanation by the author is nonsense. The piece does not satirize rape, it does not satirize rapists nor does it satirize the news. His explanation, that it satirizes rape itself, is the most far-fetched of the three already unbelievable interpretations. What it even means to "satirize rape" is beyond me.

Clearly the author enjoys tweaking people and playing the provocateur, his other writing makes that immediately apparent. Unfortunately provocative hyperbole is not satire, it's petulant childishness.

This sort of writing reeks of the typical college conservative fair: mean-spirited attacks divorced from any real politics or philosophy. Which brings us to Ann Coulter, whose work at the Cornell Review helped define the template for hyperbolic gasbags masquerading as satirists.

My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building.

Editor & Publisher magazine defends Coulter as "satire."

Ann Coulter writes highly charged political commentary that's laced with trenchant satire -- satire that can be traced all the way back to Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal," written in 1729. No one really believed that Swift was seriously advocating that the impoverished Irish relieve themselves of the burden of their children by feeding them to the rich.

Ann's hyperbolic style of delivery delights her conservative audience, much to the displeasure of liberals.

Ann Coulter is the next Jon Swift? Probably not. What Jon Swift wrote was an inversion of what he actually believed; what Coulter's writes is a slight exaggeration of her real views. (At best, according to her it is exactly what she believes) Had Jon Swift been a Coulter-style "satirist" he would have believed that while feeding children to the rich may be a bit much feeding their non-essential parts likes ears and feet to the rich is perfectly acceptable.

David Horowitz is also confused about what "satire" actually means:

I began running Coulter columns on my website shortly after she came up with her most infamous line, which urged America to put jihadists to the sword and convert them to Christianity. Liberals were horrified; I was not. I thought to myself, this is a perfect send-up of what our Islamo-fascist enemies believe - that as infidels we should be put to the sword and converted to Islam. I regarded Coulter's phillipic as a Swiftian commentary on liberal illusions of multi-cultural outreach to people who want to rip out our hearts.

Let's review once again the Swiftian formula: take opinions opposed to your own, exaggerate them and present them as your own opinions as a way of mocking true adherents.

Now let's feed Ann Coulter's dreck into that formula. Ann Coulter wrote that we should invade Muslim countries and forcibly convert them to Christianity. The subjects of her "Swiftian commentary" should therefore be people who honestly beleive something similar. People like Norman Podhoretz, Michael Ledeen and other neo-conservative hawks. Yet oddly enough Christian warrior hawks are a large part of her fan base, which is composed mostly of people who agree with her expressed opinions at face value.

Reading David Horowitz it's clear he has no idea what satire is. He can't decide whether it is funny or serious, taken at face-value or as the opposite. Ann Coulter said of 9/11 widows "I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much." In the following interview Horowitz describes these and other comments as "satire" -- then defends them as accurate and "a service."

HOROWITZ: When Al Franken does satire, people understand it's satire.

RUTTEN: Do you think this was satire?

HOROWITZ: Yeah, I absolutely do.


HOROWITZ: I think this is serious. I think that Ann has done is a service.


RUTTEN: David -- David, two-thirds of this book, not about the war in Iraq. About her opposition to stem cell research, the theory of evolution, public school teachers who she accused of mass child molestation.

HOROWITZ: I agree with her.

"I agree with her."

Someone needs to explain to David Horowitz, speaking slowly and with small words, that agreeing with satirical comments is a bad thing. You cannot claim that something is satire and in the same breath claim it is serious and agreeable. Unless you are dumb like David Horowitz.

Read more!

On Language: Introduction

Pictured: Mitt Romney's words to live by.

Something I've touched on in some posts without addressing explicitly is abuse of language. Sloppy language is both a cause and effect of sloppy thinking. Or as George Orwell put it:

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. [emph. added]

In the On Language series I'm going to explore the abuse of language directly in the context of political speech, with plenty of examples to keep things interesting. With each post I'll focus on a particular word, phrasing or rhetorical device.

Introductions are boring so on to the first post.

Read more!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I am not smart. Not smart at all.

After struggling with custom script solutions to add labels to my posts I finally realized there is a handy "Labels for this post" entry field directly below the box I am currently typing in.

Quite the computer expert am I.

Time to go back and edit old posts.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Case for Impeachment

Keeping up with administration scandals and incompetence is a full-time job; larger than a full-time job. It's a depressingly Sisyphean task, made worse by the fact that there is no end-game.

Impeachment of the President and Vice-President would almost certainly fail to pass the Senate. Let's get that out of the way first. It doesn't matter. There are two goals for impeachment: to get the offenders out of office and to resist the normalization of outrageous behavior. The second is far more important than the first.

The fundamental question of this administration is will it be an anomaly or the definition of the new norm? We are leaning towards the latter. We have established a very dangerous precedent: that the President can blatantly and repeatedly break the law and disobey the Constitution without repercussion.

When Nancy Pelosi stated that impeachment was off the table she wrote a blank check to the administration; there is nothing they can't do. Period. Impeachment is the one and only tool we have for dealing with a runaway executive.

Every time the administration breaks the law or skirts the rules without repercussion that behavior is normalized. Spare the rod, spoil the child. At best there is some meek disagreement -- what the president did was naughty and we should send him a disapproving letter. Imprisoning and torturing US citizens without trial, without access to legal counsel and without the Constitutional right to Habeas Corpus? That deserves a polite but stern missive, nothing more.

Impeachment is more than polite disagreement. Impeachment is the recognition that things have gone horribly off-track. Impeachment is the pronouncement that what the executive branch is doing is wrong, is illegal, is bad for America and is something we must fight with every available resource.

Republicans have become masters of shifting the debate in directions that suit them by tugging hard towards the extreme rather than moving towards the center. That is why Frank Gaffney writes columns arguing that speaking out against the Iraq War is a hanging offense. The extreme ideas make the slightly less extreme ideas seem reasonable by comparison. The discussion moves from "speaking up against an unjust war is something officials are morally required to do" to "maybe speaking up against a war isn't quite a hanging offense but it sure is awful!" And hence we get stuck with oft-repeated tripe that doing the right thing is "hurting morale" and "against the troops" and "providing aid and comfort to the enemy." The spectrum, as defined by the endpoints, has been shifted.

When was the last time you heard a Democrat say that Bush should be hung for his misdeeds? If speaking out against a war is a hanging offense then certainly lying about the reasons for a disastrous war is one as well. Disobeying laws passed by Congress and using executive orders to effectively write legislation must likewise be a capital crime. Denying US citizens the Constitutional right to Habeas Corpus should be an invitation to beheading.

Compared to those options impeachment looks downright moderate. Even a failed impeachment attempt is a win in that it places executive scandal and incompetence back into the realm of impeachable offenses. That is the bigger picture that many impeachment foes miss: whether impeachment succeeds or fails at removing criminals from office it succeeds in the larger sense of drawing the lines more towards the side of lawfulness and accountability.

If as President you willfully violate the Constitution we will do everything in our power to stop you. That is the message we should be sending. The message itself is powerful regardless of the outcome.

Read more!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Everything Wrong in Political Reporting Today

From Raw Story, White House press secretary Dana Perino speaking to reporter Helen Thomas:

Helen, I find it really unfortunate that you use your front row position, bestowed upon you by your colleagues, to make such statements," Perino said. "This is a -- it is an honor and a privilege to be in the briefing room, and to suggest that we, at the United States, are killing innocent people is just absurd and very offensive."

Of course that suggestion is not absurd in the least, and is only offensive in that it is clearly correct and contradicts the truly absurd notion that the US is incapable of killing innocent people solely by virtue of being the US.

But more troubling is the notion that "it is an honor and a privilege to be in the briefing room" and that injecting reality into the discussion and behaving other than with total deference is an abuse of that privilege. Sadly many of our intrepid "journalists" subscribe to similar theories.

Katie Couric (emph. added):

The whole culture of wearing flags on our lapel and saying ‘we’ when referring to the United States and, even the ‘shock and awe’ of the initial stages, it was just too jubilant and just a little uncomfortable. And I remember feeling, when I was anchoring the ‘Today’ show, this inevitable march towards war and kind of feeling like, ‘Will anybody put the brakes on this?’ And is this really being properly challenged by the right people? And I think, at the time, anyone who questioned the administration was considered unpatriotic and it was a very difficult position to be in.

The "right people" -- such as the host of the 'Today' show and current host of CBS news for example?

Elisabeth Bumiller, a Washington reporter for The New York Times, was a Times White House correspondent from September 10, 2001, to 2006, on why the Iraq War press conferences was so passive:

I think we were very deferential because ... it's live, it's very intense, it's frightening to stand up there. Think about it, you're standing up on prime-time live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the country's about to go to war. There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time.

Stephen Colbert, speaking at the White House Correspondent Dinner, nailed this:

But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works: the president makes decisions. He's the Decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know--fiction.

Our curageous White House reporters don't want to get into an argument with the president; instead they laugh at his jokes about the lack of WMDs in Iraq. Because challenging the president is not appropriate but laughing about false justifications for a war in which tens of thousands have died is. (Of course, I'm not suggestion that any of those tens of thousands were innocent -- why that's just absurd!)

Read more!

Friday, November 30, 2007

The public includes liberals -- Republicans outraged!

The gay general at the CNN/YouTube debate has turned into a major controversy (lol) among Republicans who are shocked and confused to discover that the general public includes people across the political spectrum. Here are some excerpts in the relevant threads at

I really question Republican Candidates agreeing to go on CNN for their debates especially after incident like last night where the questioners turn up to be Clinton and Obama supporters instead of supposedly Conservative thinkers.
At least six of the questioners were people with ties or allegiences to Democratic Party politicians, candidates, and activist groups.

Heavens no, CNN allowed Democrats to ask questions too? Somebody get Michelle Malkin on the Bat phone!

But the ISSUE is as to CNN's credibility. They presented this debate as being one to allow the public to pose via online video questions to the GOP candidates. Instead, they appear to have produced a work of theatre with a cast of predictable, sufficiently Liberal posers functioning as "questioners."

So...liberals who ask questions are not "questioners" but are merely posing as questioners...and "the public" does not include those liberals. Curious.

Perhaps the GOP has gotten a little too used to pre-screened Town Hall meetings where a "No Blood for Oil" bumper-sticker gets you ejected.

There are legitimate complaints to be made about the CNN/YouTube debate; mainly that most of the questions were stupid and uninformative, designed to trip up candidates for gotcha moments or to allow them to mindlessly pander, with a dose of pure comedy mixed in. The selection process appears designed to be maximally insulting to thinking Americans or the product of drunken monkeys with dartboards.

That questions from the general public included questions from non-Republicans is not a legitimate complaint, it is an inane and incoherent one.

A slightly more sophisticated complaint is that questions from skeptics are acceptable but that Democrats didn't receive any in their parallel debate. For your reading pleasure I will now reproduce all the questions from the CNN/YouTube Democratic debate that appear to be Republican-influenced or otherwise gotcha questions:

I have a question for Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Clinton, how would you define the word "liberal?" And would you use this word to describe yourself? Thank you.

Spider-sense tingling!

My question is for Mike Gravel. In one of the previous debates you said something along the lines of the entire deaths of Vietnam died in vain. How do you expect to win in a country where probably a pretty large chunk of the people voting disagree with that statement and might very well be offended by it? I'd like to know if you plan to defend that statement, or if you're just going to flip-flop.

This guy probably wasn't a Gravel fan. I'm just guessing here though.

This here question's for all you candidates. Mainstream media seems awfully interested in old Al Gore these days. Is he losing weight? What's it say in his book? Is he still worried about all the ice? They interpret all these as signs that he may or may not run. They really want to know if Al Gore's going to run again. Yes. Well, what we want to know is does that hurt you-all's feelings?

This guy made fun of the candidates and Al Gore at the same time. Bonus points. The Gravel guy must have been embarrassed by this clever upstaging.

(SINGING) Pay taxes on my clothes and food, pay taxes on my place, pay taxes on my moisturizer, I pay taxes on my weights. I pay taxes on my land. Every year, y'all make me pay. I pay tax on this guitar so I can sing for you today. My taxes put some kids in college I can't afford to send myself. Now, tell me, if you were elected president, what would you do to help? Also, I got a parking ticket last week. Could one of y'all pardon me?

This guy would probably make a better living if he ditched the singer/songwriter gig, it's just not working.

My name is Marcus Benson from Minneapolis. And I'd like to know, if the Democrats come into office, are my taxes going to rise like usually they do when a Democrats gets into office?

Because one question on Democrats overtaxing people clearly wasn't enough. I suspect Marcus may be a "plant" and not actually a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat.

Hi. My name is Chris Nolan and I'm a Democratic precinct committeeman from Mundelein, Illinois. And my question is for Hillary Clinton.
With Bush, Clinton, and Bush again serving as the last three presidents, how would electing you, a Clinton, constitute the type of change in Washington so many people in the heartland are yearning for, and what your campaign has been talking about?
I was also wondering if any of the other candidates had a problem with the same two families being in charge of the executive branch of government for 28 consecutive years, if Hillary Clinton were to potentially be elected and then re-elected.

Clearly a huge Clinton fan.

Hi, I'm Zenne Abraham in Oakland, California. The cathedral behind me is the perfect backdrop for this question. This quarter reads "United States of America." And when I turn it over, you find that it reads "liberty, in God we trust." What do those words mean to you? Thank you.

I already used the "It's a Trap" picture. I got nothing.

Good evening, America. My name is Jered Townsend from Clio, Michigan.
To all the candidates, tell me your position on gun control, as myself and other Americans really want to know if our babies are safe.
This is my baby, purchased under the 1994 gun ban. Please tell me your views.

That's funny. See the subtle wordplay at work? You're all like "great, this guy just lobbed me a softball" but then he's all like "psych!!! I call my gun my baby 'cause I'm craaaazy!"
I'm going to make yet another indefensible guess that this was sort of a trap question and that the questioner wasn't totally down with the typical Democratic position on guns.


By my count that's eight questions that were hostile to (at least some) Democrats, and most of those also exhibited a clear Republican mindset. Certainly the "liberal" question, the two taxation questions, the gun question and the Gore question at least. So Republicans please stop whining about how some mean old Democrats asked you some trick questions while Democrats got off easy. You got your trick questions in as well.

If you want to complain that the CNN/YouTube debates were vapid go right ahead, I'm right there with you. But the complaint that the debates were biased against Republicans because Democrats got to ask some questions is laughable on every level; open to the general public is the entire premise of the debates and the Democrats were on the receiving end as well.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Artful Dodgers Debate

Some disorganized thoughts on the Republican YouTube debates.

Artful dodgers is the best term. All the definitive statements collected together would span perhaps five to ten minutes, and that's only if you include the blatantly silly and pandering tangential statements. In our country we suffer from severely depressed expectations, to the point where a candidate answering a question is a pleasant surprise. How long should we stay in Iraq? As long as we need to, no more no less! How much power should the VP have? As much as he is given by the President!

The military is unprofessional. That was the implicit answer to the question about gays in the military. The question was well-phrased; to paraphrase "why do you believe that American soldiers are too unprofessional to serve alongside gays in the military without it disrupting operations?" That wording cuts to the heart of the issue: if our military is the best trained and best disciplined military in the world why would a few openly gay men throw it into turmoil? The answer is apparently that our military is composed of rampant homophobes who would drop their guns on the battlefield for some spirited gay-bashing instead.

CNN is trying to drum up some controversy by revealing that the questioner is on a Clinton committee. And? These are YouTube debates, where anyone including a devious Clinton partisan can submit questions which are then selected via some agreed-upon process. There is no conflict of interest here or misrepresentation, the rules do not state that only avid Republicans can offer submissions. The man was not posing as a reporter or faking his military service. His question was deemed valid and worthy enough for inclusion, who he is doesn't change that.

McCain was eloquent on torture. What Romney said was nonsense, his typical strategy of dismissing questions as "hypotheticals" unworthy of answer. He's for waterboarding and it's not torture but he's against stating whether he is for or against waterboarding and whether it's torture - did I get that right?

Nobody knows how to rebuild America's reputation. Did a single candidate answer this question at all? The "best" (read: most amusing) answer was that we help typhoon victims so people in Iraq, which is apparently a frequent sufferer of typhoons, should shut up and be thankful. Every answer was some variation on that: let them eat cake. Everyone loves an arrogant bully.

We would have won Vietnam if not for those rascally kids and their dog. You have to love stock Republican tropes straight out of the rhetorical equivalent of central casting.

Read more!

The MSM emperor naked

"I have neither the time nor legal background to figure out who's right." (But that won't stop me from writing an entire column based on definitive claims I defend.)

The background: Joe Klein writes an entire column based on something obviously false. Hilarity ensues as Klein and his editors toss out contradictory explanations and follow-ups while digging their shared hole ever deeper.

In a previous post I covered how reporters, rather than report facts, report what people characterize as the facts. This Klein incident is an excellent example of that and more generally of "everything that is rancid and corrupt with our political media." He-said/he-said reporting, opinion columns devoid of standards and fact-checking along with a generous helping of sheer laziness.

"I have neither the time nor legal background to figure out who's right."

Yet he wrote the piece. Joe Klein doesn't know if what he wrote is actually true - but that didn't stop him or his editors. The heart of journalism is verification - ha.

Others have done a wonderful job of bashing Klein. What I want to comment on is not his typically wretched "reporting" but the response to it. Ten years ago the piece would have run and the response would have been a few unpublished letters to the editor. There would be no way for the average Time reader to know that information in his column was fabricated, and no way for the informed reader aware of the fabrications to share that knowledge. To everyone without detailed knowledge of the subject matter Joe Klein would have remained an informed expert.

Mainstream journalists (including Klein here) relentlessly attack blogs while simultaneously attempting to co-opt and corporatize them. The reason is simple: blogs represent a way for people to get information and analysis from sources outside of the mainstream media, and to get negative information about the mainstream media itself.

Blogs are simply writing and information sharing, yet the mainstream media is scared to death of blogging -- because it is increasingly obvious that the mainstream media offers little over amateur enthusiasts. Across the country local coverage and beat reporting is being scaled back, as are in-depth investigations and independent reporting of all kinds. Serious journalists tell us they offer a valuable service that blogs can't provide while their organizations increasingly shuffle staff to online ventures that crudely approximate popular blogs.

The typical MSM attack on blogs is little more than "I'm in a major publication so that must mean I'm good at my job! I mean look - Time Magazine!" That emperor has no clothes.

Thanks to those meanies in the blogosphere the fact that Klein is revered by his peers as a thoughtful and serious journalist takes on a very different light. The peer of an incompetent fraud is another incompetent fraud. (This is a man who staked his credibility on the fact that he didn't write Primary Colors, so yes, fraud is the correct term.) When Joe Klein and his friends tell us that their robes are simply fabulous we no longer have to smile and nod dumbly. Instead some voice in the crowd can point out that his fabulous robes are really his wrinkled naked skin.

Read more!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Some light turkey day reading.

President Bush, Karl Rove, and other top administration officials were "involved" in misleading the White House press corps about the outing of ex-CIA agent Valerie Plame, a forthcoming book from former Press Secretary Scott McClellan alleges.

Maybe after Thanksgiving I'll try to compile a list of all the former Bush Administration officials with extremely negative things to say after their tenures have ended. That's a long list.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Alan Dershowitz is like totally opposed to torture

Alan makes a brilliant case for torture:

Recently, Israeli security officials confronted a ticking-bomb situation. Several days before Yom Kippur, they received credible information that a suicide bomber was planning to blow himself up in a crowded synagogue on the holiest day of the Jewish year. After a gun battle in which an Israeli soldier was killed, the commander of the terrorist cell in Nablus was captured. Interrogation led to the location of the suicide bomb in a Tel Aviv apartment. Israel denies that it uses torture and I am aware of no evidence that it did so to extract life-saving information in this case.

But what if lawful interrogation failed to uncover the whereabouts of the suicide bomber? What other forms of pressure should be employed in this situation?

We should torture because in Israel not torturing someone worked out great. Got it. A well-chosen example.

What does Alan mean when he says "I am personally opposed to the use of torture" in an op-ed promoting torture? Perhaps it would be better put as "I am opposed to personally torturing" or "I am opposed to being personally tortured." Either of those might make some sense.

Read more!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Bush and Perino, two small children

From the White House Press Briefing today.

Q Why is the President dodging a personal phone call to Musharraf?

MS. PERINO: The President has had his Secretary of State --

Q I'm asking you directly why doesn't he call him?

MS. PERINO: The President feels very strongly that President Musharraf knows exactly how he feels about the situation.

Q That isn't the point.

MS. PERINO: It is the point.

Q Dana, does the White House believe that Musharraf is now a dictator?

MS. PERINO: Look, I think that that is -- it's premature to say that. This is a President --

Q Well, why is premature when the First Lady --

MS. PERINO: -- who has worked closely with an ally in the war on terror, President Musharraf. We're doing two things with them: on the one hand, working cooperatively to take the fight to the enemy, to fight against terrorists; and on the other hand, trying to help President Musharraf and the other members of the Pakistani government to move along the path to democracy, because ultimately what's going to help solve this problem is a free society, a democratic society. And yes, President Musharraf, we believe, has made a mistake. We are gravely concerned about the situation. We are calling for an immediate return back to --

Q But wait a minute, why are you calling it a mistake? You seem to be giving Musharraf the benefit of the doubt.

MS. PERINO: -- we are calling for an immediate return to civilian rule, and we are in communication with them because we have a lot of cooperative interests. We have a broad relationship, and we cannot lose sight of the fact that we have very serious counterterrorism operations that are currently underway in Pakistan as well.

Q Why did -- the First Lady was very clear in her op-ed in The Wall Street Journal about Burma, Myanmar, saying it's a military dictatorship; what they're doing is wrong. We're not hearing the First Lady, we're not hearing the President being that sharp either on Pakistan. Why do you seem to be giving Musharraf the --

MS. PERINO: And what you have heard -- what you have heard from the President and this administration is that we were made aware that this state of emergency could possibly be declared. We have averted it before, in trying to work cooperatively with President Musharraf. This time the President of Pakistan decided that this is the direction he wanted to go in. We disagree with it. We want him to return to civilian rule. We want the normalcy of the democracy to come back. We're in the early stages of this crisis, and it's going to evolve. We're assessing the situation, and we're reviewing our aid packages.

Q But why is it evolving? It's been days that he basically said, no more constitution, and we're going to round up political --

MS. PERINO: We have condemned the action. We have condemned the action. We cannot support any means that are happening outside of the constitution. And that's why we are calling for him to return to the constitution. But remember, this is a country that we want to see democracy. There is a way to get them back on that path. It would be in the best interests of not just the Pakistani people but for people like those of us in the United States, who want to work with an ally in order to fight against terrorists.

Q But why should Musharraf believe that you guys are really serious about what you're saying from this podium when the President doesn't actually pick up the phone and call him to let him know personally? That carries a lot more weight than having Condoleezza Rice or somebody else talk to him.

MS. PERINO: Well, we disagree. The President has made his points very clear with Musharraf; he's had many meetings with President Musharraf. And Secretary Rice has delivered those messages. And we feel that we are going to keep pressuring them to get back to that rule of law, working with our Ambassador, Anne Patterson, who is in constant contact with President Musharraf.

Q It still does not carry the same weight as the President having direct contact with Musharraf -- (inaudible).

MS. PERINO: Well, I'll let you -- I'll let that be your opinion. I'll let that be your opinion.

Q But what is the tactic? I mean, what is the strategic reason for President Bush not to actually pick up the phone and talk to him?

MS. PERINO: I feel confident that the President is being well served and advised by his senior national security team. The decision has been made to have Secretary Rice be the one directed to have this communication.

Q Why shouldn't we see this as double standard? I mean, it's not the same standard as applied to Burma.

MS. PERINO: I can understand why that question would be asked, but I think everyone has to remember that we are in the early days of a crisis, looking at a country who had decided to try to move down the path to democracy in establishing freedom of the press, civil societies, improving the education system, the public health system, allowing for freedom of expression and assembly. Democracies take time to develop. It is not easy. And this is certainly a setback, and we're --

Q Well, they certainly don't have freedom of the press or assembly at the moment.

MS. PERINO: And we have called for a return to it.


Q Dana, where does the review on aid stand?

MS. PERINO: It's still ongoing. It's early to say.

Q I mean, is there a sense of urgency to it? Do you expect any --

MS. PERINO: I can assure that people have been working on this ever since we had heard that the state of emergency may have been what he was going to decide to do, and early on -- early to mid last week that they decided to have Secretary Rice call once again to President Musharraf to make our feelings known. The aid review that you talked about is ongoing. It's interagency, and I don't have anything more on it right now.

Q And more broadly, you've outlined, again, the White House strategy of urging Pakistan to return down a democratic path, reviewing aid. But you also said yesterday that you shouldn't rush -- you shouldn't rush into a strong action.

MS. PERINO: I don't know if I said that. I said that we have to be mindful to make sure that we do not undermine any of our counterterrorism efforts. We have -- the President has to protect the American people. Pakistan is a country where extremists try to take -- are trying to take hold and have a safe haven, and we had to deny them that. And working -- we have been working with the Pakistani government, through President Musharraf, for the past several years on that.

Q What I'm wondering is, are you concerned at all of a world view that perhaps the White House response to this is too passive?

MS. PERINO: We -- I believe our -- look, our allies understand that we have -- that we have a problem here. It is difficult. The world is not tidy. It is certainly a difficult situation in Pakistan right now. But they also understand that we have counterterrorism efforts there. And I believe that the world community would understand that we would like to try to get him back on the path to democracy, to have the free and fair elections, for him to take off his uniform. And that's what we are going to continue to push to do.

Q Dana, may I quick follow, please?

MS. PERINO: I'm just going to go -- since you had a couple, I'm going to go back to others who haven't.


Q Doesn't Musharraf's actions, in rounding up lawyers, judges, activists, people who have opposed him politically, doesn't that betray his stated reason for the state of emergency, which was supposedly to -- out of concern over Islamic militants? Does the White House perceive that --

MS. PERINO: Clearly we are very concerned that people who wanted to express themselves freely would have been put in prison. We would like for them to be released immediately. The common enemy that we all have are the extremists and the terrorists, and it's not just the extremists and the terrorists that want to attack Americans or other Western allies, but they have attacked the Pakistani people as well. That's the common enemy.

Q Has Secretary Rice or anybody else in the government engaged the Pakistani government on this level, saying, why are you arresting people, lawyers --

MS. PERINO: Yes, certainly. Ambassador Patterson and Secretary Rice have been very involved in it. And Steve Hadley has talked to his counterpart as well.

Q And have you had any feedback from the Pakistan government that talked about the Attorney General, about elections? Have they talked at all about --

MS. PERINO: I would say that we do not have official word, and we certainly don't have a date yet. So hesitant to say that for sure that those are going to take place.

Q But, I mean, have they talked about releasing any of those folks that have been arrested?

MS. PERINO: I have not heard that.


Q Can you concede that the U.S. doesn't have the leverage that it once did over Pakistan? And perhaps the reason the President isn't picking up the phone is because it's easier to point out that Musharraf turns his back on Secretary Rice than it is to point out that he turns away from the advice --

MS. PERINO: No, the President feels strongly that he and Musharraf have had a good relationship in the past. They have worked well together to help prevent terrorists, as well as the President has helped him on the way to establishing a free and fair Pakistan, one that is democratic.

The United States is certainly a powerful country, and the President feels very confident that his feelings are well known by the Pakistanis, especially President Musharraf.

Q But as far as our leverage over what's happening in Pakistan.

MS. PERINO: I think that we are quite comfortable with where our leverage is. This is a situation where, look, the United States, we can be a powerful country; we can urge, we can provide aid. But Pakistan is a sovereign nation. And they made a decision that we disagreed with. We think it's a mistake. We'd like to see them move to democracy, because ultimately what they want is peace for their region and peace for their country, and that's going to come from democracy. This is a step backwards. And in order to get to that peace that they say that they want, and that we certainly would like to see, getting back on that path to democracy is the only way to do that.

This is how I used to act when my mom asked me to clean my room or eat my vegetables.

The rich thing about the Pakistan situation is that Musharraf has suspended the Constitution and is rounding up dissidents in the name of fighting terrorism; stealing a page right out of the Bush playbook. He's adpoted trademark GOP rhetoric, decrying "activist judges" while comparing himself to Lincoln.

This comes on the heels of Turkey justifying excursions into Iraq using similar logic: why surely Turkey must be allowed to defend itself from Kurdish terrorism!

The world has realized we've remodeled our house with glass. What are we going to say to Musharraf exactly? That jailing people without trial or counsel in the name of fighting terrorism is wrong? Does that admonition come with a cough and a snicker?

Turkey and Pakistan have learned from the pros. Make vague appeals to terrorism and you can justify anything.

Read more!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Ironic Times - now with 100% less irony

From the wonderfully funny Ironic Times

Bush Pick for Attorney General Headed for Confirmation
Mukasey last piece in puzzle keeping Bush, Cheney from firing squad.

No attorney general under Bush is going to consider waterboarding torture -- because torture is illegal and we waterboard. Sometimes it really is that simple.

Read more!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Useless Democrats explained

I was going to write about something else, but this is just too good to pass up. DailyKos is a funny place. There is a reason it's not linked to the right, though I admit I read it daily. It has a lot of nice content but is also depressing in the naivete so often displayed there by certain members.

Democrats in the House and Senate are doing a lousy job, and in many ways are more compliant than the previous Republican Congress. I won't argue that in this post beyond pointing out that Democrats have supported every one of Bush's Constitution-destroying power grabs. (Though you can read previous posts on the subject)

In a previous post I looked at some explanations for the Democrats' behavior. But now I have it right from the horse's mouth, in the form of a DailyKos diary called In Defense of Nancy Pelosi. It's worth looking at both the post and the subsequent comments, as they nicely illustrate the mindsets of those who support the utter failure of the Democratic leadership.

Nancy Pelosi has the difficult and often competing tasks of not just trying to enact new legislation now but also of trying to create a climate for the election of a Democratic president in 2008. "But the majority of the people want what we want" is the frustrated cry of so many on here "Why can’t Pelosi deliver?" Yes, the majority of people want to end the Iraq war, but it is a skittish opinion and insecure in its willingness to accept the concept of defeat – even self-inflicted defeat through mal-administration.

Translation: The Democratic Congress was elected with a mandate to end the Iraq War, the majority of Americans want to end the Iraq War, but that opinion is "skittish" due to murky psychological reasons and thus not ending the Iraq War somehow makes sense. After all, that's only why the Democrats were elected.

Maybe it was just me, in my country bumpkin way in the hills of Wales three thousand miles away, that was so surprised to find, after the euphoria of taking control of Congress, that a firm minority and a stubborn President could combine to veto those policies that had suddenly seemed attainable.

Refresher: to pass bills over a veto you need two-thirds. To vote down bills you need one-half. The Democrats have one-half. (And we won't even get into filibusters and the like) This is Middle School material.

Democrats chose to affirmatively vote for FISA "fixes." They chose to affirmatively vote for more Iraq War funding time and time again. Democrats will vote to confirm Mukasey and will probably vote for telecom immunity. The President does not have the power to revive a bill that has been voted down; he does not have to power to reverse-veto failed legislation. To defeat these bills and appointments Democrats must merely not vote for them -- yet they do vote for them, and prominent Democrats, including the Democratic leadership, are often the first to cave.

Now we get to the centerpiece argument:

Since then, despite Bush, despite the solidarity of the Republican vote, much has been achieved in Congress by her. I will criticise the level of that achievement freely with many of you, I will question the effectiveness of the tactics, and I will certainly bewail some of the outcomes. That is my job as a writer on Daily Kos, that is our entire job as radicals. I will do so without having to modify those views by obscuring them with the obfuscation that is called political realities. I ask only that we do not do the Republican job for them by disparaging personally our leaders, whether they be leaders of the Senate Majority or Primary candidates struggling to enunciate our views against a GOP back-cloth of deliberate misinterpretation and a superficially influenced electorate. That is not our job on Daily Kos nor anywhere else where we are fighting for our ideas.

What is "our job" on DailyKos exactly? I wasn't aware that DailyKos paid by the hour to shill for Democrats.

Despite the pledge to the opposite, this is the ultimate invocation of "political realities" -- that we must carry water for Bush enablers in the same way Rush Limbaugh and John McCain carried water for them before the 2006 elections. McCain kept his unhappiness with the Iraq War private, jeopardizing American lives and strategic interests in a failed attempt to keep Republicans at the Congressional helm. That is what this Kos diarist is advocating: we must put a happy face on the situation and allow it to deteriorate further, in the hopes that the future will bring better things.

This thinking is wrong on multiple levels. From a strategic standpoint our failed Congress makes the election of a Democrat in 2008 less likely as that candidate will be associated with those weak-willed enablers. Further a Democrat may not be elected in 2008, or a Democrat elected in 2008 may not be a significant change. The Democratic Congress promised much and delivered little; now we are told that we should double-down on a Democratic President as well.

Fool me once, fool me twice.

The diary above includes the note "[Promoted by DHinMI]." Such a tantalizing morsel, if you are familiar with DHinMI, and sure enough he wastes no time infesting the comments section of the diary with his own brand of do-nothing defenses.

DHinMI posts are a primer in total leadership failure. Poll-driven with no imagination or affirmative agenda DHinMI is incapable of conceptualizing a drive to change public opinion rather than be dictated by it. Public opinion is based on media messages and that opinion can be changed through effort and new messaging -- a concept Republicans grasp very well while Democrats often remain oblivious.

This Two Year Period Was About Preventing... damage. We aren't going to end the war with Bush in office, because the only way to do that is to completely cut off all funding, and the public is hostile to that idea, so the Dems won't even consider it.

Textbook do-nothing reasoning: polls show the public is against something, so instantly give up.

When Republicans wanted to oppose the estate tax they renamed it the "death tax." When they wanted to oppose capital gains taxes they claimed they were "double taxation." (Despite the fact that transferred assets are taxed an infinite number of times in our taxation system.) When they wanted to let Scooter Libby off the hook they claimed that Valerie Plame was a non-covert glorified secretary hen-pecking her husband while Libby was a patriotic hero with a lifetime of valuable service who had committed "no underlying crime." They did not just read the polls on those issues -- they drove the polls. They researched in front of focus groups (no joke) to hit on the right formulations and messages that would resonate with the public, then saturated op-eds and the airwaves with them to great success.

To people like DHinMI public opinion is set in stone and simply congeals from the surrounding ether without explanation or reason. If people are against impeachment today, they'll be against it tomorrow, period. If people are against cutting funding for the Iraq War today they'll be against it tomorrow, even if today they don't understand what that defunding means. This is what DHinMI has to say on Pelosi ruling impeachment off-the-table:

The Public Doesn't Want Impeachment
The Senate won't convict.
Period. That simple equation has never changed, and won't this Congress.

And again:

Oh, So Impeachment or Failure
She knows how to read a poll, and she knows how to count non-existent Republican votes in the Senate.

Those poll-reading Democrats -- gotta love 'em! God forbid attempting to change public opinion rather than be enslaved by it. You know, to "politick" for things. These people take inspiration not from The Devil and Daniel Webster but from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

The case for impeachment is strong and remarkably as many support it as oppose it already. Convince some of the rest. The public is tired of the Iraq War; convince it that cutting funding is safe and effective. Make an affirmative case.

Time and time again the Democrats are unable to convince the public that they are right, even when the public already agrees with them in broad scope -- and most of the time they don't even bother trying. At the same time a President with a 24% approval rating can repeatedly convince Democrats to go along with him on his major proposals using nonsensical terrorist hyperbole that was old five years ago.

What happens if a Republican is elected in 2008? We write off the last two years of Democratic control of Congress as squandered for nothing?

This is a bit meaner than my normal stuff but I don't think there is a good way around that while still addressing the topic without relying on abstracts. DHinMI is a prominent DailyKos poster and these comments are not cherry-picked to prove a point, they are representative of a consistent worldview.
The picture is just plain silly.

Read more!

Posting schedule

Been busy, regular posting should resume this week.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Magical Unicorns in jeopardy, Rice warns

Continuing with the theme of nonsensical titles.

Two-state Mideast solution in jeopardy, Rice warns

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that a "two-state solution" in the Middle East is in jeopardy and described a narrow window of opportunity to push Israel and the Palestinians toward peace.

Magical Unicorns do not exist. (They died out during the Industrial Revolution) Neither does a two-state solution. A plan for a two-state solution does not exist. Things that do not actually exist cannot be in jeopardy.

The "narrow window of opportunity" for a two-state solution occurred directly after 9/11, when most of the world realized that the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts served as motivational and recruitment tools for terrorists. But like most foreign policy opportunities that brief window was left to wither on the vine, untouched. In the wake of 9/11 the Bush Administration did almost nothing, negotiating through minor diplomats in a show of disinterest.

Saying that instability in that region helps fuel terrorism or terrorism recruitment is now a faux pas. (If you listen to the Republican candidates) In our modern United States the notion of cause and effect, or even of related events, must be thrown out the window when terrorism is invoked. They hate us for our freedoms, our moms and our apple pies; a two-state solution won't change that. There is no drive towards a lasting resolution because we've completely divorced the conflict from any broader context.

The writer of the piece let Rice off the hook by pretending there is real progress and asserting that a two-state solution exists in any form. It doesn't, except in the minds of Rice and the author.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Critics say the moon is bigger than an elephant

Journalists should consider reading this book.

"Critics say the moon is bigger than an elephant." Seems dumb -- the moon is clearly bigger than an elephant, the "critics" have nothing to do with it. Yet this construct is commonplace in newspaper reports like this one.

Civil liberties and privacy advocates and a majority of Democrats said the bill could allow the monitoring of virtually any calls, e-mails or other communications going overseas that originate in the United States, without a court order, if the government deems the recipient to be the target of a U.S. probe.

The paragraph above is in reference to the recent FISA "fixes" bill, the contents of which are public record. The text of what the bill allows is short and understandable and what "civil liberties and privacy advocates" say is exactly right -- that is precisely what the bill does.

The entire piece is mostly quotes from various sides -- none of which are vetted by the author in any way. This is pure stenography, know-nothing journalism where the "journalist" uncritically reports he-said/he-said without any verification of claims.

The "critics say..." construct is pervasive in media, but the logical follow-up -- "well are they right?" -- is rarely addressed, even when the statements are purely factual and verifiable. In cases where verification is tricky even the simpler "do they have any evidence?" or "is there any reason whatsoever to believe them?" is rarely asked or answered.

This construct is popular because:

  1. It maintains a false sense of "balance" by attributing all meaningful statements to someone other than the reporter who then cannot be accused of advocacy.
  2. It lowers the burden of what is reportable by moving from reporting the facts to reporting what some third party characterized the facts as.

According to The Elements of Journalism "objectivity" is not a goal but a method that relies on verification. Verifying facts is hard. Verifying the truth of statements is hard. So the game becomes merely reporting what is said, as if that is the story. In that case the only the verbiage of the quotes themselves need verification.

What people say is rarely in itself news, especially when the people in question are provably dishonest. McConnell in the piece above says that the NSA is overburdened with work, but he also said that FISA fixes helped lead to the arrest of terrorists in Germany then recanted when pressed. Given that the man lied to Congress is what he says to Congress still news? Bush says we don't torture. He also said there was no indication the levees would break. What he says is worth exactly nothing.

The Elements of Journalism is a tragic read. Clearly somebody out there still gets what journalism is about. Too bad few are practicing it.

Read more!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Harry Reid means it this time!

Bush wants another $42 billion for wars

Minutes after Bush spoke, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, warned the president not to expect Congress to "rubber-stamp" the latest request.

"In the coming weeks, we will hold it up to the light of day and fight for the change of strategy and redeployment of troops that is long overdue," Reid said.

Do Reid and Pelosi really not realize that their political theater is nothing but bad comedy? Congress has given Bush a perpetual blank check. How exactly are Democrats going to "fight for the change of strategy"? They can't even be bothered to vote against funding requests.

Their strategy is to bluster "no" and vote "yes." Always. You can only cry wolf for so long. What Reid and Pelosi call "fighting" the rest of us call "sitting on the couch."

Read more!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The cynics are wrong about Chris Dodd

You can support Chris Dodd here.

Cynics have been quick to dismiss Chris Dodd's stand against telecom amnesty, arguing that it represents nothing but an attempted shot in the the arm for his campaign, a way to raise popularity and money -- as if that were a bad thing. It isn't.

If Chris Dodd is merely pandering it means he believes there are a number of people worth pandering to. If he is merely raising money it means he believes there are a number of people willing to donate money for this cause. Even if it is a cynical ploy, it is still an admission that these issues have legs and real support among voters.

In case you haven't been paying attention, our politicians often act in their own best interests. They vote based not on what is right but what will gain them money and votes. In this case, if Dodd believes that fighting for the Constitution will earn him money and votes that's a wonderful belief we ought to encourage.

The best message we can send our politicians is that they will be rewarded not for fear-mongering but for supporting bedrock American values. Reward them for good behavior and they'll continue that good behavior. Based on his record it seems highly unlikely that Dodd's support for the Constitution is just an assumed affectation; but what if it is? He's still supporting the Constitution just the same, and doing the right thing for the wrong reason is far preferable to doing the wrong thing.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Democrats' master plan

A video explanation of the Democratic strategy. Got it?

Democrats in Congress are a joke. Despite all their bluster and their true mandate the Democratic leadership in both the House and the Senate eagerly capitulates to the President on virtually every issue. There are many explanations circulating for why that is the case, nearly all of them false.

The Democrats don't have the votes to get past a filibuster or veto.

This is one Democratic candidates used in a recent debate. This statement is technically true but irrelevant, because Democrats routinely fail to filibuster themselves and vote affirmatively for bad bills. It may be hard for the Democrats to pass legislation, but it isn't hard for them to defeat legislation. Democrats chose to vote for the Military Commissions Act. They chose to vote for the FISA "fixes", and now they are choosing to vote for telecom amnesty. To defeat these bills all they have to do is vote against them. But not only do some individual Democrats vote for these bills, important ranking Democrats often lead that charge and the leadership itself plays along.

To stop telecom amnesty all Democrats have to do is vote against it. Chris Dodd is threatening to place a hold on any amnesty bill and filibuster it, but he shouldn't have to do either. He is filibustering against his own party and their attempts to enable Bush.

There is nothing Democrats can do to stop the Iraq War.

Again: try voting against it. Democrats will say that most Americans are against de-funding the Iraq War as a way of stopping it. This is true, but only because Democrats have actively aided Republicans in convincing the American people that de-funding the war is "irresponsible." Republicans make it sound like our soldiers in Iraq will be engaged in a firefight when they suddenly run out of ammo due to money shortages and are slaughtered -- a pure fantasy. Even if Bush was determined to "hold the troops hostage" in Iraq without equipment the military itself would never allow that to happen and any reasonable Congress would impeach Bush as soon as his plan became clear.

De-funding is unpopular with Americans only because both Democrats and Republicans have portrayed the plan as dangerous. Democrats have actively dissuaded the public from supporting their single best strategy for ending the war. De-funding is "off the table", along with every other strategy that has some chance of success.

The Democrats have some elaborate master plan that maximizes their chances of winning the Presidency.

The Democrats are hedging their bets, they don't want to be blamed if another terror attack takes place. The Democrats are giving Republicans the rope to hang themselves. Blah blah blah...

The biggest complaint against Democrats is that they are spineless losers who stand for nothing, and they are doing everything in their power to support that complaint. Nobody likes people who don't fight hard, nobody likes people who fail where they should succeed, nobody likes people who place political calculations above all else.

The American public considers fighting hard to be heroic, even when the fight is lost. John Henry is a folk hero for fighting to the death against impossible odds. In case anyone forgot we lost at the Alamo. Rocky lost to Apollo Creed. There is no shame in showing heart in the face of long odds, but there is little respect for people who barely bother trying at all. "Giving them the rope to hang themselves" looks suspiciously like "doing nothing."

Democrats can't run on a platform of change if they are willing participants. The Democratic leadership is for telecom amnesty -- how then can Democrats run on the platform that they are against the abuses of the Bush Administration? How can they run against the Administration's use of torture when they voted for the MCA?

If this is truly their plan then they are so tone-deaf you have to feel sorry for them. But I suspect there is no grand master plan at work. The simpler explanation is that some Democrats are in the pockets of lobbyists, some are frightened children who cave when threats of terrorism are invoked and some are just plain incompetent and foolish.

When Democrats voted for the recent FISA "fixes" the reasons they gave were absurd: We had to pass something, anything, regardless of what it was! We were told that the capital itself was about to be attacked and the only way to prevent that was to pass the bill! We went to secret meetings and got secret info that we can't describe in any way but that totally convinced us! We met with administration lawyers who assured us the bill was fine! We were in a hurry to go on vacation and didn't have time to read and understand the bill before we voted on it!

Some of these people are just plain gullible and not bright. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me a thousand times...then what?

It must help people sleep at night to think that the Democrats are following some incomprehensible but brilliant strategy that has the greater good in mind, because there is not other reason to believe that.

Addendum: I should point out that some people think the Democrats are following a plan but that the plan isn't good. I can buy that one.

Read more!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Deciphering the Clinton Marriage

Why oh why do people care? I feel like I shouldn't even link to this drivel but completeness compels me. Another screed analyzing the Clinton marriage.

I can't say it much better than Pandagon said here:

Now, for a lot of us, the idea of a couple that is (gasp!) mutually supportive, where they’re both attracted to each other intellectually, is commonplace. But for some reason, it’s still treated as an unheard-of novelty in the news media. Think of poor Maureen Dowd, who seems to really believe that it’s her ambition and not her choice in men that has left her single in middle age. The novelty of the Clinton marriage endures; maybe Barack and Michelle Obama will be spared some of the freak show treatment if he wins the nomination, having had the path carved out for them by the Clintons.

A married couple with roughly equal ambition and ability is a novelty to our media, and an affront to many conservative "traditional marriage" backers who cried "Billary" during the first days of the Clinton presidency. The same pattern is now repeating on a smaller scale with both Michelle Obama and Elizabeth Edwards, both of whom also reject the notion that wives should be seen and not heard. (Unless talking about children's literacy or other proper wifely causes) It's sad that these relationships are news to people rather than the norm.

Marriage is billed as an equal partnership but to many people "separate but equal" would be more appropriate, or perhaps "equal but different." Wife tends the house and raises the kids, husband does the work. Here's an interview you probably won't see with Bill and Hillary:

Many readers asked how you handle stress.
THE PRESIDENT: I pray daily. I exercise nearly daily, and I've got a loving wife who provides a comfortable, warm place for me to come home to.

Now that's a proper wife! (Or a comfy bed, take your pick) The questions directed at Mrs. Bush in the interview are all proper wifely questions -- about the kids and the holidays and how she comforts her husband.

That is the model of marriage our traditional media accepts unquestioningly. They never ask if the Bush marriage is a sham or imply that Laura Bush's lack of political involvement makes her a disinterested unequal partner. They never ponder why she is so incurious or attack her lack of ambition. Rarely do they ask her about her own husband's policies. The understanding is that her primary duty is to provide that "comfortable, warm place."

But the questions never end for the Clintons, because Hillary has explicitly rejected that model of marriage. Here is a transcript of a frontline show centered on Hillary and the famous "baking cookies" comment:

TED KOPPEL (VO): Meet the new political wife. She has a career, she has opinions. A partner in every way.
JUDD (VO): There's never been a candidate's wife quite like Hillary Clinton, outspoken, independent, smart, but her strengths have been used to make Bill Clinton look like a wimp, even by a president who used to be accused of wimpiness himself.

The entire thing is worth a read for how hilariously awful it is. She has a career! She has opinions! She's a partner! Scary!

Yet here we are, 15 years later, and our media still can't get over the notion that equal partnership talk went beyond wedding-day pomp into the actual marriage of two bright, ambitious people. It's so foreign and unusual to them that they've spent over a decade trying to make sense of it.

Read more!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Illegal spying began before 9/11

9/11 changed excuses everything

I have to admit this one surprised even me a little. (All emph. added)

A former Qwest Communications International executive, appealing a conviction for insider trading, has alleged that the government withdrew opportunities for contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars after Qwest refused to participate in an unidentified National Security Agency program that the company thought might be illegal.

Former chief executive Joseph P. Nacchio, convicted in April of 19 counts of insider trading, said the NSA approached Qwest more than six months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to court documents unsealed in Denver this week.

There are a few major takeaways from this:

  1. There is nothing we can't excuse by whoring out 9/11, even when they took place before 9/11.
  2. Our government punishes companies for not breaking the law, while granting them immunity when they do - effectively reversing legal and illegal.
  3. The efficacy of warrantless spying programs, which has never been evidenced in any way, now has more reason to be doubted as those programs did not prevent 9/11.
  4. Once again, we've been misled about the nature of the NSA spying programs - surprise!

Glenn Greenwald had a great piece earlier this week on Joe Klein's defense of warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty. Klein argues that the NSA programs are essential -- even though he has no idea what they do or how effective they are. There is literally no way he can argue that, so he doesn't argue it -- he merely asserts it as fact.

The current head of the NSA was already caught lying about the effectiveness of government surveillance, claiming that recent FISA changes helped catch terrorists in Germany only to retract those claims when pressed. There is no reason to believe that these programs work, or that they are limited to fighting terrorism. We don't know what they do, who they spy on, how broad they are or even what the purpose is. We don't know how many people are privy to the information gathered or whether that information is permanently archived. (Which would be yet another violation of FISA laws)

In short, we simply have no idea what is going on, and by "we" I include Congress and the courts, including the FISA court. Yet that doesn't prevent administration defenders from swearing that these programs are both vital and properly managed.

Qwest did what few telecoms had the courage to do: it asked the government to provide legal rationalization for demands that appeared illegal, and when the government declined it refused to play along and in so doing fulfilled its legal obligation. "What the President says goes" is not a law in our country. We are a nation of laws, not a nation that unquestioningly follows a supreme leader. Other telecoms chose to follow orders that appeared illegal, and now the administration is tacitly admitting their guilt by lobbying heavily for amnesty on their behalf.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

They still have 0 out of 3 branches of the government working for them, and that ain't bad -- wait what?

Oh state secrets, is there anything you can't excuse?

The Supreme Court on Tuesday terminated a lawsuit from a man who claims he was abducted and tortured by the CIA, effectively endorsing Bush administration arguments that state secrets would be revealed if the case were allowed to proceed.
The state secrets privilege arose from a 1953 Supreme Court ruling that allowed the executive branch to keep secret, even from the court, details about a military plane’s fatal crash.

Three widows sued to get the accident report after their husbands died aboard a B-29 bomber, but the Air Force refused to release it claiming that the plane was on a secret mission to test new equipment. The high court accepted the argument, but when the report was released decades later there was nothing in it about a secret mission or equipment.

Translation: suckers!

A quick review of how state secrets claims work:

  1. Government claims that any trial at all will jeopardize state secrets.
  2. Court accepts those claims based purely on faith.
That's the whole process. The court usually does not attempt to verify the claims and review the questionable evidence itself, nor does it allow the trial to continue but merely exclude the secret evidence. Instead, based on nothing but blind obedience, it short-circuits the entire justice system.

The very first invocation of state secrets that set the precedent turned out to be a sham. That is the true precedent: that the government can invoke state secrets claims to magically avoid embarrassing revelations.

Why not verify that the "secrets" are truly important secrets? Clearly the Supreme Court can be given the proper security clearance. Why not exclude only the specific evidence in question but allow the trial to continue without it? I've yet to find a reasonable explanation anywhere -- and I've looked. State secrets claims are nothing more than an exploit, a law-dodging tactic from literally day one.

In our country the courts invent legal theories that are not grounded in any laws, while ignoring actual laws including the Constitution. There is no law that states that the government can get off the hook and avoid trials by invoking unverifiable state secrets claims, for obvious reasons. Meanwhile abduction and torture violate many of our laws, including laws set forth in the Constitution itself. (Including bans on cruel and unusual punishment, the right to proper trial by jury, and that we must abide by international treaties.)

The conservatives who cry about "activist judges" are strangely silent on this one. There is no better definition of an activist judge than a judge that makes up their own pet legal theories that directly conflict with the Constitution. The Constitution is not a complex document, obfuscated with legalese and unfathomable to all but the sharpest lawyers. It is refreshingly straitforward; our Supreme Court Justices should consider reading it, and then doing what it says rather than what some invented legal precedent says instead.

We know that this administration has lied. Beyond that, our system of government is based on wariness, not blind faith and obedience. We don't take as a given that our government is composed of well-meaning, perfectly honorable people. Our system is predicated on careful controls that ensure no branch of government can abuse authority. When the executive branch can claim, without evidence, that a trial would expose state secrets and thus must be stopped there are no checks in play, it becomes a matter purely of trust.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

We'd also like a million dollars and a pony

File this one under things that will never, ever happen:

The demands — part of an Iraqi government report examined by The Associated Press — also called on U.S. authorities to hand over the Blackwater security agents involved in the Sept. 16 shootings to face possible trial in Iraqi courts.

The Iraqi government is corrupt and volatile. Blackwater is corrupt and volatile. The last thing any administration official wants to see is ungrateful Iraqis trying and convicting Americans in Iraqi courts. The second a guilty verdict was returned the entire right-wing media machine would erupt in unison cries of "this is how they repay us?!"

For the Iraqi government this is a chance to prove their independence and to credibly operate as something other than an American puppet. Of course we want an American puppet.

The fundamental question of our Iraq adventure has been how do we accomplish the dual goals of a free democratic Iraq and an Iraq totally subservient to US interests? The answer is wishful thinking. When Iraq threatens to try our contractors or to engage Iran this becomes quite clear -- we have no real response as it becomes increasingly difficult to pretend that Iraq is a sovereign nation while we dictate what it can and cannot do.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Just how dumb do they think we are?

This is how we know they're all terrorists.

Press Briefing by Dana Perino

Q And the protests, themselves, seem to have been stilled. What do you make of that?

MS. PERINO: Well, unfortunately, intimidation and force can chill peaceful demonstrations. And reports about very innocent people being thrown into detention, where they could be held for years without any representation or charges, is distressing;[em. added] and we understand that some of the monasteries have been sealed.

It's interesting that Perino specifies "very innocent people" instead of simply "people." That's probably because when we detain people without representation or charges it's because we magically know they're guilty.* Olberman: Those Aren't Terrorists, They're Monks

And todays winner of the worst case of moral equivalence evah has to be MSNBC's resident idiot Keith Olberman for comparing Burma's Monks to terrorists being held in Guantanamo.

People being held in Guantanamo and CIA black sites are bad guys and bad guys don't have rights -- it's in the Constisomething as well as the Magna Whatsit. Maybe you've forgotten how the justice system works. Here's a reminder:

  1. Declare someone guilty of something.

* = Except when we eventually let them go without charging them with anything.

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

This product contains 5% journalism

Media criticism is something I want to do more of. And now that I'm taking a journalism class, I can use my blog posts to double as homework in a stunning violation of ethics.

Our media is often guilty of pure stenography. Rather than providing readers with relevant facts or background information our "journalists" perform jobs that will soon be relegated to robots, writing as though they were transcribing videotape. And when then do stray from a rote just-the-immediate-facts approach it is more often to inject inanity and personal bias than to inform the reader.

The McClatchy take on Bush's UN address: "Bush astounds activists, supports human rights"

Speaking before the United Nations General Assembly, the president called for renewed efforts to enforce the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a striking point of emphasis for a leader who's widely accused of violating human rights in waging war against terrorism.

Now the New York Times coverage of the same: "Bush, at U.N., Announces Stricter Burmese Sanctions"

Mr. Bush referred repeatedly to the declaration, citing its first article, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” as well as the 23rd, 25th and 26th articles, which call for access to employment, health care and education.

The declaration, a nonbinding resolution that was negotiated in 1948, calls on countries to protect a wide array of rights, including freedom of speech, assembly and religion, while prohibiting slavery, torture and arbitrary detention.

McClatchy chose to compare what Bush said to his previous actions, while the NYT played the part of credulous observer bereft of independent thought. Perhaps that is merely a difference in journalistic styles, or then again, perhaps not:

He said that there were no homosexuals in Iran — not one — and that the Nazi slaughter of six million Jews should not be treated as fact, but theory, and therefore open to debate and more research.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, aired those and other bewildering thoughts in a two-hour verbal contest at Columbia University yesterday, providing some ammunition to people who said there was no point in inviting him to speak. Yet his appearance also offered evidence of why he is widely admired in the developing world for his defiance toward Western, especially American, power.

These are the first two paragraphs of the Times' coverage of Ahmadinejad's visit to Columbia University. Here the Times abandons the blank recitation approach, instead injecting the opinions of the piece writer. Later Ahmadinejad is accused of a "dodge" (rather than a "response") and his visit to New York is described as "dramatic theater".

Let's directly compare the Time's coverage of Bush and Ahmadinejad speaking to the UN:

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, said Tuesday that he considered the dispute over his country’s nuclear program “closed” and that Iran would disregard the resolutions of the Security Council, which he said was dominated by “arrogant powers.”

In a rambling and defiant 40-minute speech to the opening session of the General Assembly, he said Iran would from now on consider the nuclear issue not a “political” one for the Security Council, but a “technical” one to be decided by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog.

Once again the Time's piece contains an immediate value judgement by the author, that his speech was "rambling" and "defiant." Note that Bush's speech was not described as "poorly enunciated" or "hypocritical."

These small darts of negative opinion are featured prominently in the Time's coverage of Ahmadinejad, immediately biasing the reader. Thank God the NYT has the "courage" to attack a man widely portrayed as the next Hitler while refusing to issue any judgements about our own country and President.

Had the Times described Bush's speech to the UN as "rambling", "nonsensical", "hypocritical" or "in willful disregard to his own conduct and policies" they would be taken to task, hoisted up as examples as what is wrong with our media. But describing Ahmadinejad as "rambling", "bewildering", "defiant" (as opposed to, say, "brave") and claiming that his remarks provided "ammunition to people who said there was no point in inviting him to speak"? That of course is perfectly acceptable because it exactly parrots the views of Washington insiders and our administration.

Surely Steven Lee Myers, who wrote covering Bush's speech to the UN, is aware of our own human-rights violations. When he wrote that Bush cited the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" it must have occurred to him that the US may itself be violating it. (We violate numerous articles) He cannot be unaware that, as he reports of Bush's complaints with arbitrary detention, that arbitrary detention is a US policy Bush champions.

Journalists who cover specific topics for a living have a much broader understanding of them than casual readers and have a responsibility to convey that knowledge through their writing. Refusing to provide context or address obvious questions is an abdication of that responsibility. Reporting what people say while ignoring their actions, actions the journalists themselves are well-aware of, is a service only to those who speak loudest and most often.

According to the NYT that Bush spoke in favor of human rights is news; that he didn't mean it, which is not merely a matter of opinion but is evidenced by his own words and actions, is not.

Here is how the Time's reported Ahmadinejad's complaints against the US:

Without mentioning the United States by name, Mr. Ahmadinejad used his speech to carry out a full-scale assault on the country as power-mad and godless. He said its leaders “openly abandon morality” and act with “lewdness, selfishness, enmity and imposition in place of justice, love, affection and honesty.”

“Certain powers,” he said in a thinly veiled reference to Washington, were “setting up secret prisons, abducting persons, trials and secret punishments without any regard to due process, extensive tapping of telephone conversations, intercepting private mail.”

Note again the immediately biasing language, that Ahmadinejad launched a "full scale assault" (a word conveying violence) on the US, calling us "power-mad and godless" -- which is not an actual quote from Ahmadinejad. Let's re-write the above in a way that is unbiased, factually accurate and informative:

Without mentioning the United States by name, Mr. Ahmadinejad used his speech to carry out an accurate attack on the US' numerous human-rights abuses.

“Certain powers,” he said in a thinly veiled reference to Washington, were “setting up secret prisons, abducting persons, trials and secret punishments without any regard to due process, extensive tapping of telephone conversations, intercepting private mail.”

Ahmadinejad said the US runs secret prisons and abducts people, but he didn't merely say it -- the NYT has confirmed it with its own investigations. The original NYT version gives the reader no way to evaluate the veracity of the statements when the NYT knows full well that the statements are accurate.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Hypothetical questions

What would you do if Tim Russert asked you some incredibly stupid questions? (Purely as a hypothetical, of course.)

Hypothetical questions make sense when the scenarios posed are realistic. In the Democratic debate tonight Russert posed the following:

Imagine the following scenario. We get lucky. We get the number three guy in Al Qaida. We know there's a big bomb going off in America in three days and we know this guy knows where it is.

How do we "know" beyond all doubt that the person is a terrorist? How do we "know" a bomb is about to go off? How do we "know" that they know -- and that they will tell us accurately?

We "knew" that Khalid El-Masri was a terrorist -- until it turned out he had the bad fortune to possess a suspicious-sounding name. (For which he was kidnapped, tortured, then finally released without charge or apology) We "knew" that Jose Padilla was a dirty bomber and we tortured him to find out the nefarious details of his plot -- only to discover that he was not a dirty bomber at all.

Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. -- Dick Cheney August 26, 2002

We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more. -- Colin Powell February 5, 2003

Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised. -- George Bush March 18, 2003

There is no doubt that the regime of Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction. As this operation continues, those weapons will be identified, found, along with the people who have produced them and who guard them. --Gen. Tommy Franks March 22, 2003

We know where they [WMDs] are. They are in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad. --Donald Rumsfeld March 30, 2003

That's a lot of "we know" and "no doubt" claims that turned out to be totally false.

If I know that torturing a suspected terrorist will reveal the details of an imminent bomb threat then instead of torturing I'll just use my Lasso of Truth to find out the details then race to the scene in my Invisible Jet.

The rest of you should consider the fact that if you can be wrong about who is a terrorist or where bombs are can be wrong about who is a terrorist or where bombs are. The premise of the question is invalid; our government has proven that what it claims to "know" is only marginally related to actual truth.

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