Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ask a Stupid Question

Whoever said there are no stupid questions needs to familiarize themselves with

In "A blueprint for the closure of Guantanamo Bay" Jack Goldsmith and Benjamin Wittes tackle a tricky conundrum: how best to close Gitmo such that it may as well remain open? According to Goldsmith and Wittes there are some truly vexing problems facing Obama if he wants to close Gitmo, chief among them how he can continue to perpetrate human rights abuses and weild pre-Magna Carta powers. For them the closing of Gitmo is only acceptable if it's a purely cosmetic change.

In order to help the readers of Slate understand how best to maintain the status quo under the thinnest veneer of change they've prepared a list of moronic questions that entirely (and purposely) miss the point of closing Gitmo. I've selected a couple of the silliest ones for our reading pleasure.

Stupid question #1:

Under what theory can detainees who are not tried remain incarcerated?
Detainees convicted of crimes will be incarcerated for the term of their sentence. But detainees not yet charged or who can't be charged must be held in some form of extra-criminal detention.

"Under what theory can detainees who are not tried remain incarcerated?" Oy. (Insert sound of hand slapping forehead) This question can be reformulated as "Bill of Rights -- huh what's that?"

"But detainees not yet charged or who can't be charged must be held in some form of extra-criminal detention."

Because, you know, they're totally guilty. So guilty that we can't possibly try them for lack of evidence. The authors don't even entertain the notion that people who can't be charged with crimes should be released -- that would make closing Gitmo something other than a meaningless symbolic gesture.

Stupid question #2:

What about acquittals and short sentences?

How about "sucks" or "them's the breaks" or "yeah, what about them?" In a working justice system acquittals happen. But that is apparently unacceptable. Because, you know, these people are all totally guilty.

Any of the trial systems above might result in short sentences for or the acquittal of a dangerous terrorist.
This conundrum gives the government an overwhelming incentive to use trials only when it is certain to win convictions and long sentences, and to place the rest in whatever detention system it creates. Should the government loosen the rules for trial to make convictions easier, or should it rely more heavily on noncriminal detention? Hard call.

Should the government railroad detainees through a kangaroo court or not even bother with trials at all? Hard call. Goldsmith and Wittes are pondering how best we can create a Justice system that maintains only the thinnest veneer of justice. The entire piece is devoted to keeping Gitmo open in spirit.

When Christopher Hitchens tackled the question "How Did I get Iraq Wrong" he answered with "I didn't." Similarly the answer Goldsmith and Wittes want to give to "What's the best way to close Guantanamo?" is "leave it open." But unlike Hitchens, who revels in iconoclasm, Goldsmith and Wittes are compelled to pay lip-service to shifting political winds.

At least the Hitchens approach is less weaselly.

Read more!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Those Damn Bloggers

Welcome to Season 2 of Common Nonsense.

The traditional media has long held that the job of the news is not just to inform people of facts but to help them understand them in the broader context by constructing a coherent narrative out of events -- as if reality was a tightly plotted television show. Shoehorning the chaos of existence into story lines means that ill-fitting facts are massaged and ignored. Major news outlets assured us that McCain was "honorable" even as his campaign engaged in gutter politics because that was what the imagined script called for.

When the traditional media reports on bloggers the narrative is always that bloggers are bad. Rude, uncouth, inaccurate, not beholden to the awesome standards of journalism that brought us Wen Ho Lee. They are the upstart youth threatening their respected elders. As the traditional media shifts resources away from investigative reporting and more towards online efforts that narrative has become increasingly disjointed. The message is that bloggers suck and are not to be trusted -- and oh, by the way, check out our awesome new blogs!

Case in point: A Senior Fellow at the Institute of Nonexistence. The piece is about an invented expert who has widely appeared in the news. The lynch pin of the story is this:

Mr. Gorlin and Mr. Mirvish say the blame lies not with them but with shoddiness in the traditional news media and especially the blogosphere.

This fake expert was quoted by MSNBC, The New Republic and the LA Times. But the real problem is that he was also quoted on some blogs. Which blogs?

Mother Jones. The LA Times. The New Republic.

That's "the blogosphere."

The central conceit of the piece is that while the traditional media was fooled the "blogosphere" was fooled worse -- yet all the example blogs are from corporate media outlets. The piece masquerades as a comparison between corporate outlets and independent venues, but it's really a comparison between two different pages on the same corporate website. Not a single non-corporate blog is named and the distinction drawn between news and blogs under the same LA Times logo is truly a distinction without a difference.

And oh, by the way, it was William K. Wolfrum who spent considerable time and effort exposing the invented political expert. The same William K. Wolfrum who blogs at Shakesville, a decidedly non-corporate blog, which is not mentioned by name and is the only blog in the piece that can honestly be called part of "the blogosphere."

Read more!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Posting Schedule - Now With 100% Less Falsehood

Moved across country, computer broke, started new job, blah blah blah. Anyway I'm ready to begin posting again starting the first week of December.

Thanks to the patient few who haven't totally give up on this.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Posting Schedule

I'm in the process of moving and my computer is sitting in a truck somewhere across the country. Will post again in mid-September.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Convention You're Not Being Shown

I believe this image originated at so kudos to them. The reverse side of the bag is a picture of a raised middle finger.
I was going to title this post "The Convention We're Not Being Shown" but I gave away my TV so I'm not being shown anything.

Glenn Greenwald writes a lot of good stuff. It's tempting to post every day with "read this" but I try to save my Greenwald links for his best and most relevant stuff. With that said, read this.

Last night in Denver, at the Mile High Station -- next to Invesco Stadium, where Barack Obama will address a crowd of 30,000 people on Thursday night -- AT&T threw a lavish, private party for Blue Dog House Democrats, virtually all of whom blindly support whatever legislation the telecom industry demands and who also, specifically, led the way this July in immunizing AT&T and other telecoms from the consequences for their illegal participation in the Bush administration's warrantless spying program.
It was really the perfect symbol for how the Beltway political system functions -- those who dictate the nation's laws (the largest corporations and their lobbyists) cavorting in total secrecy with those who are elected to write those laws (members of Congress), while completely prohibiting the public from having any access to and knowledge of -- let alone involvement in -- what they are doing. And all of this was arranged by the corporation -- AT&T -- that is paying for a substantial part of the Democratic National Convention with millions upon millions of dollars, which just received an extraordinary gift of retroactive amnesty from the Congress controlled by that party, whose logo is splattered throughout the city wherever the DNC logo appears -- virtually attached to it -- all taking place next to the stadium where the Democratic presidential nominee, claiming he will cleanse the Beltway of corporate and lobbying influences, will accept the nomination on Thursday night.

The post includes a video by Glenn and Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake of them trying to interview party attendees. Glenn and Jane are exceedingly polite but the attendees refuse to say anything substantial. Police / security soon intervene and force them further and further away from the guests. I imagine most people have been in a situation where authority figures attempt to enforce arbitrary rules and regulations, so at some level I think the video will resonate even with people who don't share its politics.

A private party, thrown by AT&T, for members of congress, in which the press are not allowed and at which the police prevent any interaction between the press and the attendees. That's the convention we're not being shown. And that's not the seedy underbelly of the system, that is the system. As Glenn writes:

The democracy-themed stagecraft inside the Convention is for public television consumption, but secret little events of this sort are why people are really here. Just as is true in Washington, this is where -- and how and by whom -- the business of our Government is conducted.

Read more!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Reality Intrudes

Something that has gotten nearly zero play in the traditional media is the recent "flip-flop" towards "appeasement" that the Bush Administration has made regarding Iran. I kept waiting for this to become a story and it never did.

Barack Obama stated that he would be willing to talk to Iran and was then attacked by McCain, Bush and the right-wing media as being a naive appeaser. Then lo and behold, the Bush Administration sends new Iran envoy William Burns to talk to the Iranians.

Burns, who as career ambassador holds the highest rank in the U.S. foreign service, will represent Washington in nuclear talks with Iran on Saturday, a sharp departure from U.S. policy that could be a launch point to reduced tensions.
Burns' mandate is to listen and not negotiate in Saturday's talks, but if Iran suspends its sensitive nuclear work, then the United States has promised to join full-blown negotiations.

Another piece on the decision to send Burns:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saw it as a "smart step" to depart from usual policy and send senior diplomat William Burns to Geneva on Saturday for talks with Iran along with other major powers, said Rice's spokesman Sean McCormack.

"It sends a strong signal to the world and it sends a strong signal to the Iranian government that the United States is committed to diplomacy," McCormack told reporters.

Hmm, where have I heard that before?

Sen. Barack Obama today continued to his running debate with Sen. John McCain and President Bush over foreign policy in the Middle East and whether it makes sense to have unconditional talks with Iran.


"Anything but their failed cowboy diplomacy that has produced no results is called appeasement," Obama countered. "Here's the truth: the Soviet Union had thousands of nuclear weapons and Iran doesn't have a single one. But when the world was on the brink of nuclear Holocaust, Kennedy talked to Khrushchev and he got those missiles out of Cuba. Why shouldn't we have the same courage and confidence to talk to our enemies? That's what strong countries do. That's what strong presidents do."

William Burns' talks with Iran are unconditional, literally without conditions. Here we have the entire right-wing establishment savaging Obama for a common-sense position, then adopting that same position, validating Obama's view while invalidating McCain's -- and the traditional media has been almost entirely silent on it. When Bhutto was assassinated we were subjected to endless speculation about who would be helped politically, but while Bhutto's assassination was a major event it was unrelated to the campaigns. Obama and McCain fighting over our approach to Iran has been in the news for months, yet this directly relevant action by the Bush Administration has gotten little play. Where are all the talking heads asking which campaign this helps or pointing out the obvious fact that Bush is now pursuing Obama's strategy?

It's as if the media was only interested when it was pure speculation and back-and-forth. Now that real-world action threatens to resolve the debate in favor of one candidate it's no longer an appealing story, the cameras are turned off just as the knockout punch is thrown.

I called this post "Reality Intrudes" because despite the Bush Administration's rhetoric about creating their own reality they have been forced to bend to actual reality. With North Korea we left ourselves only one option: bomb. And since we chose not to bomb North Korea acquired nuclear weapons while our "tough" talk got us nowhere. In Iran we were going down a similar road that would likely have lead to a similar outcomes To their credit the Bush Administration eventually realized that we need options between military action and absolutely nothing.

Read more!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

And Justice For Most

The new improved justice - less sense, nicer abs.

Judge Allred, after the sentencing of Osama Bin Laden's driver to 66 months minus 61 already served in captivity (also known as a whopping five months):

Mr. Hamdan, I hope the day comes when you return to your wife and daughters and country, and you are able to be a husband and father in the best sense of all of those terms.

Well that's odd. Surely that day comes five months from now no?

Whether that day will come, of course, remains unclear. Although the Bush administration insists enemy combatants can be locked up so long as the global fight against terrorism is under way, Hamdan's continued detention after Dec. 31, 2008, when his sentence ends, will become less sustainable politically in light of last week's verdict.


There have been many legitimate complaints about the trial process at Gitmo. It's a thrown-together mess with much lower standards of evidence and procedure, designed to find defendants guilty. But the entire process appears to be a red-herring -- whether or not the defendants are released is not dependent on the results of the trials.

Had Hamdan been found guilty of all charges and sentenced to life the Pentagon would be crowing about how the system validated its actions. But because the sentence was dissapointing the Pentagon feels free to ignore it. Keep the guilty verdicts and ignore the not-guilty ones -- that's justice?

The true justice system is guilt by decree. We pick people up, we use the parlance of "illegal enemy combatants" to declare them guilty, then the rest is an afterthought. Once we've declared someone an "illegal enemy combatant" they are too scary and dangerous to be let go, even if a rigged trial system still disagrees with that conclusion.

That's the new justice, American style.

Read more!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Land of the Free, Home of the Dumb

This picture is extremely relevant in that it includes a motorcycle.

There's no part of the McCain appearance at the Sturgis motorcycle rally that isn't embarrassing and idiotic. It's uncomfortable to watch the opening where McCain wears his joker death-grin while calling the entire crowd "my friend." (Singular) It's unfortunate to see the McCains using their children's military service to try to gain votes, something they'd previously sworn off. It's slightly pathetic to see McCain bashing Congress for inaction when he can't be bothered to show up and vote in the Senate. But the saddest thing of all is watching the Grand Old Party once again mocking human intellect and knowledge.

Keeping your tires properly inflated and your car tuned saves energy -- period. But because that's real knowledge based on things like math and science, because that doesn't come from our brilliant guts (the same guts that told McCain that the anthrax attacks were the work of Saddam), it's worthy of nothing but ridicule from people who are proud to be dumb. Not only do they mock the idea that science can teach us about many aspects of our world including energy conservation, they do so while revving their engines. How is this not self-parody?

It's like these guys take pride in being ignorant. They think it's funny that they're making fun of something that is actually true.

It's not "like" that -- that's it. The nation that built the atom bomb and sent a man to the moon is increasingly proud to be stupid. If you know stuff you're an effete elitist, an ivory-tower academic -- you're not a real man, math and science and knowing stuff is for womanly nerds.

It's far too easy to imagine the same crowd, transplanted in time, laughing at washing their hands after going to the bathroom or at cooking their meat. At what point did being ignorant become synonymous with being a red-blooded American?

Read more!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Sadly Yes, This is our Media

The traditional media thinks that Americans' primary voting criteria is how mediocre a candidate is, where more mediocre is more betterer. Guys who read and know stuff aren't like you and me - we want a lazy moron as president because he won't make us feel bad about ourselves. We can point to him and say "hey, I'm just as smart as that guy" or "hey, I could be doing a better job" and be right.

Along those lines: "Too Fit to Be President?" - Facing an Overweight Electorate, Barack Obama Might Find Low Body Fat a Drawback.

Sadly, No! has much here here and here, including a bit on the anecdotal testimonial from a message board user who was solicited by the author of the piece to produce a money quote.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Useless Democrats Excoriated

Pictured above: an erudite metaphor.

Democrats have once again caved to our historically unpopular President. Politely feign shock.

In this post I revisit something I explored in Useless Democrats Explained and The Democrats' Master Plan: the false notion that Democrats have done something politically expedient, offered up as either an excuse or a rationalization to soften the blow of another Democratic failure.

Weakness is Not a Virtue

The primary narrative employed against Democrats is that they are weak-willed appeasers standing in stark contrast to tough manly Republicans. Against that backdrop it's not political savvy to take actions that predictably lead to headlines like "Senate bows to Bush, approves surveillance bill." Although media narratives of Democratic weakness are often contrived this one is entirely accurate. Once again they have "caved", "capitulated" and "rolled over."

I was looking for examples of heroic behavior to contrast against Democratic actions and remembered the "Kneel before Zod" scene from Superman 2. Per wikipedia:

With this, General Zod's revenge on Jor-El seems complete, as he commands Superman to kneel before him, take his hand, and swear eternal loyalty to him. But Superman has not lost his powers a second time; instead, he has stripped Zod, Ursa, and Non of theirs while he remained safe in the molecule chamber. As he takes Zod's hand, he crushes it and then overpowers him, throwing him into an icy crevasse, where the general disappears into the mist.

I googled "kneel before Zod"+clip for a video clip of that scene to use here. The second result? The gloating Kneel Before Zod | Redstate about the most recent FISA capitulations, which presumably casts Republicans as the menacing Zod and Congress as those who compliantly kneel.

When Democrats and Republicans go head-to-head that is nearly always the presiding tone, that Democrats allow themselves to be dominated even though they have numbers and a mandate.

Democrats Turned Strength into Weakness

A typical explanation for Democratic capitulation is that if a terror attack occurs they will be blamed -- but they will be blamed regardless of their actions. Remember that Republicans blocked Democrats from extending the Protect America Act, an act Republicans previously argued was vital to our national security. Democrats were in a good position to make political hay off of a terrorist attack. (If you're into that sort of thing) Rather than push for an extension to the PAA while portraying Republicans as dangerous obstructionists Democrats instead decided to seek a "compromise" with existing Republican plans and painted themselves as the security lollygaggers.

Politically Savvy Actions Lead to Politically Favorable Results....Right?

The most obvious problem with the argument that Democrats cave due to "political realities" is that there is no evidence that these savvy actions are producing good political results. Here is the polling data for Congressional approval ratings. A graph would make a fun sled ride. Divining meaning from those numbers is difficult but they certainly aren't evidence of success. At Salon the Editor in Chief's current blog entry is "Betrayed by Obama", which runs on the front-page as "Obama's unforgivable FISA sellout." In various places Obama is being correctly labelled a dreaded flip-flopper for saying he'd filibuster any bill with immunity and then voting for this one. Most of the Democrats invested in this issue are strongly opposed to telecom immunity; Obama's actions here have induced a strong negative buzz that threatens to reduce voter turnout, donations and positive word of mouth. Meanwhile it's difficult to imagine anyone of any political persuasion donating more money and ethusiasm to his campaign thanks to this "compromise."

It's absurd to watch people argue that constant Democratic failures are a great strategy even as they generate mountains of negative press and dismal approval ratings, both among the party faithful and among the general public.


Once again Democrats have validated the narrative that they are soft and weak. They've squandered a politically favorable position that made Republicans look like irresponsible obstructionists and recast themselves as behind the curve on security. They've generated negative press and tarnished the image of their Presidential nominee. And despite protestations to the contrary there is no evidence that the Democratic master plan of kneeling before Bush is winning politics.

I suppose it's possible that without these constant capitulations Democrats and Obama would be doing worse in the polls. Given how sullied the Republican brand is though it's difficult to believe that rolling over for Republicans is good politics and I've seen no evidence that it is -- and not for want of looking.

Read more!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Will Post Regularly Again Starting Soon

Been busy. Should start again Tuesday night.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Impossible to Parody

John McCain on the gravest long-term threat to the U.S. economy:

Well, I would think that the absolute gravest threat is the struggle that we're in against Islamic extremism, which can affect, if they prevail, our very existence. Another successful attack on the United States of America could have devastating consequences.

John McCain on general economic policy:

Once we win this ideological war on radical Islamic extremism which will rage for thousands of years, then we will concentrate on the economy.

One comes from a Fortune Magazine interview, one comes from The Onion. Life imitates art.

Read more!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

People Who Think We're Stupid

This guy... this guy is just pissing... he's pissing all over us. He's pissing on you. What does it taste like? Chief, what does it taste like, 'cause you know what, it tastes like piss to me.

But I'm pleased that in Title I, there is enhancement over the existing FISA law. Reaffirmation, I guess that's the word I'd looking for. A reaffirmation that FISA and Title III of the Criminal Code are the authorities under which Americans can be collected upon.

It restores FISA and existing criminal wiretap statutes as the exclusive means to conduct surveillance – making it clear that the President cannot circumvent the law and disregard the civil liberties of the American people. It also firmly re-establishes basic judicial oversight over all domestic surveillance in the future.

There was broad consensus in the Congress that if a suspicious pattern of communications is found and a U.S. person is targeted, there needs to be approval granted by the FISA court. And, as Nancy Pelosi insisted, it needed to be established that the FISA law was the only way to legally wiretap an individual--in other words, under this law the Executive can't just go ahead and do it.

To review: FISA legislation specifically says it "shall be the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance...may be conducted." President Bush chose to ignore that and to this day claims that nebulous Article II powers give him the ability to perform whatever surveillance he wishes, regardless of the law. Now Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama and Joe Klein (among others) tell us that we can rest easy now that we have reaffirmed the very exclusivity that Bush ignored in the past and reserves the right to ignore in the future.

Perhaps the next time we are capture a diabolic serial killer we should remind him that murder is illegal and yes, we totally meant it when we said it the first time -- then let him go free after wagging our fingers slightly. Problem solved!

At some point laws must be enforced but this Democratic Congress has proven repeatedly that it won't enforce the law. Impeachment was off the table from day one. Private citizens are allowed to openly flaunt subpoenas. Now Bush ignores FISA exclusivity without consequence.

Why will Bush honor FISA exclusivity this time around? Not a trick question.

Is Joe Klein dumb enough to believe that simply restating the exclusivity of FISA will prevent Bush from further wrongdoing? Perhaps -- he certainly is a dope about FISA-related issues. (As I've covered previously) Is Nancy Pelosi? I doubt it. Is Barack Obama? Almost certainly not. He cannot honestly believe that "reaffirming" the exclusivity of FISA has meaning. It's just a line to feed to the dumb American public -- AKA us. Up to this point I've been impressed at Obama's willingness to treat the public as something other than rubes and suckers. But the question here is "is he that stupid or does he think we are?"

Perhaps nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public, but feeding nonsense logic-free rationalizations to that public is hardly the politics of change.

Note: Hunter at DailyKos made a very similar set of posts, but similar to how Leibniz and Newton independently invented calculus this is an example of great minds thinking alike.

Read more!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Score One for the Unitary Executive

You may remember that in summer/fall 2007 the Bush Administration decided that the Office of Administration would retroactively stop responding to Freedom of Information Act requests. Now a court decision has validated that action. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the paintiffs, explain the tortured logic of the decision:

In May 2007, CREW sued OA for records regarding missing White House e-mail and the office’s assessment of the scope of the problem. After initially agreeing to provide records, OA changed course and claimed it was not an agency and, therefore, had no obligation to comply with the FOIA. OA made this claim despite the fact that even the White House’s own website described OA as an agency and included regulations for processing FOIA requests.


OA has admitted that it functioned as an agency and processed FOIA requests until August 2007. Although CREW filed its FOIA request in April 2007 – four months before OA changed its position – the court found that OA had no duty to respond to CREW’s FOIA request because OA was never an agency in the first place.

The court found that the Office of Administation does not have "substantial independent authority" and exists solely to "advise and assist" the President. The intent of "advise and assist" is supposed to protect sensitive Presidential conversations, but in this case it was applied quite loosley:

Instead, OA’s charter documents and President Carter’s message to Congress make clear that OA’s function is to support, i.e., assist, the President indirectly [emph. in original] by providing efficient, centralized administrative services to the components within EOP.

This is a win for the theory of the Unitary Executive on two fronts. First it waters down the meaning of "advise and assist", divorcing it from its original intent. Second it further validates the notion that something that looks and acts as an agency, and is generally understood to be an agency even by its own employees, may not actually be one and can have its status changed at any time for the sake of convenience. (Or malfeasance).

According to the theory of the Unitary Executive the President is directly or indirectly in charge of the entire executive branch. Under that interpretation executive branch agencies are extensions of the President and no agency operates with "substantial independent authority" apart from the President. Currently the Department of Justice responds to FOIA requests, but if the "U.S. attorneys are emanations of a president's will" then presumably the DOJ can stop responding to FOIA requests at any time. If you accept the notion that executive agencies are merely appendages of the President then all of them can argue for exemption from the Freedom of Information Act.

Read more!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Swampland Hijinks: Hail to the Queen

"I'm willing to lose a friend over something I write but I'd like to know it was worth it."

Saving the best for last. Searching here for "Ana" (and "Anna" -- I'll go back and fix that at some point I swear) reveals plenty of choice quotes, so rather than rehash them I'll take a slightly different tack.

Both Ana Marie Cox and Michael Scherer possess two different critical writing styles -- normal and McCain. Normal is short, to the point and pithy; McCain is labored, labyrinthine and full of disclaimers, written in a way that turns criticism into compliments. According to Scherer the heat McCain has taken for surrounding himself with lobbyists while decrying their influence is The Downside of Doing the Right Thing -- as opposed to the downside of blatant hypocrisy. And according to Cox, the problem with McCain's Tortured Position is that sometimes McCain is slightly less awesome than his normal full-on awesomeness.

McCain's "tortured position" is that he claims opposition to torture while continuously enabling it. In Cox's typical style that would be a two sentence post, but when the subject is McCain she goes into sprawling, "fair and balanced" mode, writing six paragraphs to explain, or rather confuse, the issue. The final and longest paragraph is a gem (emph. added):

To be sure, McCain's self-scrutiny is withering. (And the estimation of others can be wrong.) If McCain is not always his own worst critic, he is still a vicious and constant one. The level of achievement, honesty and duty to his country that he sets for himself is incredibly high -- higher than most people's, perhaps even "towering." And I am sympathetic to his aides' point that he shouldn't be punished every time his actions meet "normal" standards but fail his own. (This is the obverse of Clinton's claim that since she didn't promise to, for instance, conduct a clean campaign, you can't blame her if she plays dirty.) The problem lies not in the standards themselves, but in his certainty about them, a conviction that may sometimes blind him to even the question of whether he has, even by accident or mistake, blurred them in order to meet them.

This is Cox in microcosm -- six paragraphs to explain away McCain's hypocrisy on torture while heaping superlatives on him. And one parenthetical aside to pick at Clinton while mischaracterizing her position.

Ana Marie Cox likes McCain, something she fully admits to. (In comments in this post.) She also admitted to being biased but bizarrely claimed her "transparency" counterbalances that -- in a post fessing up to the fact that she vacationed at McCain's ranch that she wrote only after commenters caught wind of it through other channels and called her out. Why are even her criticisms of McCain so glowing? She told us:

I think of socializing as part of the larger project: I get to know people and then can then write about them with more depth, and it means that when I do write something critical about them, I take EXTRA care to get it right... I'm willing to lose a friend over something I write but I'd like to know it was worth it.

When it comes to criticizing McCain she takes EXTRA care -- EXTRA parsing, EXTRA benefit of the doubt and EXTRA praise.

Read more!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Swampland Hijinks: Michael Scherer Edition

"In the Democratic presidential pack, the leading man is a woman and the leading woman is a man."
"May the best woman win."

Scherer's Reporting History

Scherer joined TIME and Swampland after a stint at Most of his pieces there were fluff, jello-journalism stories with multi-paragraph feature-style ledes or failed attempts at humor. His credibility at Salon was destroyed after a fawning profile of "citizen journalist" Meghan McCain (I laughed typing that and again editing it) and a piece on the Democratic primaries with the sub-head and final line quoted above -- quips that are not only insulting but incoherent and contradictory.

TIME's Clever Response to Reader Criticism

In early spring Scherer and Ana Marie Cox were under scrutiny. Cox was writing favorably about McCain while vacationing at his ranch while Scherer was doing his usual Scherer thing. So Cox had a brilliant idea: trot out the old "think you can do better? Well let's see you try!" gambit.

I didn't try asking about anything else "serious." Those of you who think the press fell down on the job in not using that time to query him [McCain], well... the guy holds about five hours of press conferences a day when he's on the trail. A lot of questions get asked.
Maybe we missed the ones you want asked; in which case you should keep agitating the people who have the access and responsibility to ask questions on behalf of the public...

The genius here was that Cox was being taken off the McCain beat and could thus plausibly ignore the agitations. A few weeks later, however, Scherer repeated the gambit:

Here is an experiment. Tell me here what questions you would ask McCain that are not otherwise being asked.

You Can Guess Where This is Going

Here are some of the questions commenters posed:

Could you briefly explain, as you understand it, Iran's influence in Iraq, specifically with regard to the recent conflict between the Sadrists and the Maliki government?

Please explain your attitude toward the United Nations and describe how the "League of Democracies" would support or undermine the UN.

What would you do if a pluarality of Iraqi representatives voted to insist the US get out of Iraq within a certain deadline?

As a dedicated proponent of campaign finance reform and a candidate who would like both sides to take matching funds in the general election, how do you justify your efforts to get out of the restrictions on primary spending?

A few months ago you said you didn't know much about economic policy but that were going to read Greenspan's book. Have you read Greenspan's book yet and what did it teach you about economics?

A number of readers also pointed out the rather obvious follow-up to the 100 years in Iraq flap: if it's "out of context" to say McCain is willing to stay in Iraq for 100 years if troops are out of harm's way, does that mean 100 years is unacceptable if they are in harm's way? Timetable questions have been asked before but not in the context of this 100 years discussion - either he is willing to have troops die in Iraq for 100 years or he is not.

Reader questions were submitted on March 30. Scherer on April 2:

I still have not had a chance to respond to list of questions, but hope to get some posts up over the next few days to respond to at least some of them.

Scherer on April 4:

I was with McCain for two days, Wed. and Thu., during which he did not hold a press avail or gaggle. I did not get to ask him any questions directly.
I am pursuing this. I am pursuing some of the other topics that have been raised as well. But I don't want to get into the habit of telling too much about my plans in a public forum, so you will have to wait to be pleased or disappointed.
But let me begin with this insight: The popular impression that reporters always have constant access to McCain to ask whatever they want is not accurate. (Also inaccurate: The popular view that reporters covering McCain are unwilling to ask him challenging questions, or do stories that will upset the campaign.) He has traditionally been far more open than anyone else, but right now he is campaigning in a more traditional mode. Nothing outrageous about it. But is not as simple as you sending me a question and me nailing McCain down with the question. And this has nothing to do with McCain avoiding me or the question, or me not wanting to ask it. That is just the way the game works. So hang in there all.

Here Scherer is already lowering expectations -- it's hard work and he doesn't want to divulge secret plans. The excuse that McCain is not accessible is an odd one. Above Cox wrote "the guy holds about five hours of press conferences a day when he's on the trail." And Scherer, in his piece at Salon, wrote about McCain's "endless on-the-record access". If we believe that McCain is infinitely accessible it's only because the press, including Scherer and Cox, has repeated that ad nauseam.

Scherer on April 11. At this point he has not gotten answers to any of the questions and has not made any Swampland posts about them:

Again, you all misrepresent my relationship with the campaign. There are no nightly booze and bbq fests. The campaign's relationship to reporters can be at times quite adversarial. I do not get all the information I am seeking, so some of this takes more time than I would like.

As I write this it's May 30. As best I can tell Scherer's comments on April 11 were the last time he referenced the reader-asked questions -- questions he solicited and said he would post on -- in any way. He completely stopped responding to commenters asking for followups. It's become a running joke among his readers.

I would say it's disappointing but it isn't -- it's entirely expected.

Read more!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Scott the Snitch

So it turns out Scott McClellan lives on planet Earth after all. You have to love it when Bush insiders tell us what is plainly obvious and it's treated as an amazing revelation:

McClellan calls Vice President Dick Cheney "the magic man" who "always seemed to get his way" and sometimes "simply could not contain his deep-seated certitude, even arrogance, to the detriment of the president."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was national security adviser earlier in Bush's presidency, "was more interested in figuring out where the president stood and just carrying out his wishes while expending only cursory effort on helping him understand all the considerations and potential consequences" of war. Rice "was somehow able to keep her hands clean, even when the problems related to matters under her direct purview," McClellan says, but he predicts that "history will likely judge her harshly."

And former Bush political guru Karl Rove "always struck me as the kind of person who would be willing, in the heat of battle, to push the envelope to the limit of what is permissible ethically or legally."

And Bush is incurious and stubborn. Shocker.

The revelations are not terribly exciting but the right-wing reaction is humorous. The primary objection appears to be disloyalty. Ari Fleischer was on Larry King saying something to the effect of:

I'm afraid that what Scott doesn't realize is that he may make some temporary friends on the left who will use him and discard him after a few weeks, but he'll lose some long-standing friends on the right.

After Fleischer departed a few more right-wing talking heads came on to make similar points. "But... but... we're friends!" is the prevailing tone of the right-wing response to McClellan's book. As opposed to say "this is flat-out wrong" -- an impossible case to make at this point. Glenn Beck's show was teasing a McClellan segment with a graphic titled "Stop Snitchin'". If McClellan is a snitch doesn't that make the Bush Administration the Crips?


I'm watching Chris Matthews rip into Fleischer for using the exact same talking points that Dana Perino and Dan Bartlett have been using. It's a little late but it's nice to see members of the media (at least on MSNBC) catching on to the fact that ring-wing talking heads robotically recite from the same centrally-managed script.

David Gregory and Mike Allen (from Politico) are bitterly complaining about charges that the press was too deferential, saying those charges come from the left -- which implicitly underscores the point that the "liberal media" is anything but.

Read more!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Glenn Greenwald on the Miltary Analyst Propaganda Program

Glenn Greenwald is always worth reading, but his work on the Pentagon military analyst propaganda campaign has been particularly well-done. He's gone beyond the New York Times coverage and made it more tangible and immediate by including pictures of some of the most damning correspondence. I'm going to list the pieces he's written in order, bold the ones you should read if you only have time for a couple, and reproduce a snippet or two.

1. Major revelation: U.S. media deceitfully disseminates government propaganda 2. Media's refusal to address the NYT's "military analyst" story continues 3. Interview with Aaron Brown on NYT "military analyst" story
4. Howard Kurtz on why media outlets ignore the "military analyst" story
5. Brian Williams' "response" to the military analyst story
6. CNN, the Pentagon's "military analyst program" and Gitmo
7. How the military analyst program controlled news coverage: in the Pentagon's own words
8. Larry Di Rita's responses to questions about the "military analyst" program
9. Joe Galloway blasts Pentagon and Larry Di Rita on "military analyst" claims

The best parts of the series in my view are the snippets of correspondence between the Pentagon and the military analysts. These stand on their own without any comment required. Here are a few (click for larger versions) where the "independent" military analysts report back and crow about "carrying water" for the Pentagon and putting the "best possible face" on Guantanamo Bay based on a carefully managed 3-hour tour and some government-provided talking points:

Eric - many thanks for your efforts putting together the Guantanamo trip - it was fascinating and added greatly to my understanding of detainee issues - let me know if I can help you - Don Shepperd (CNN military analyst)

Here is my first GITMO piece ran this morning on Front Page Magazine. Link:...

I did a Fox & Friends hit at 0620 this morning. Good emphasis on 1) no torture, 2) detainees abuse guards, 3) continuing source of vital intel.

Best, Gordon

[redacted] - don't know if you keep this stuff but CNN sent me a transcript. Just wanted to thank you again because the material you sent me very early this morning was very useful in trying to explain what is going on and trying to put the best possible face on it.

You are a pro...


Read more!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Let's Help the Burmese by Killing Them

Thanks to pedestrian at Sadly,No! for spotting this inanity.

This is low, even for TIME Magazine. Is It Time to Invade Burma?

The disaster in Burma presents the world with perhaps its most serious humanitarian crisis since the 2004 Asian tsunami. By most reliable estimates, close to 100,000 people are dead. Delays in delivering relief to the victims, the inaccessibility of the stricken areas and the poor state of Burma's infrastructure and health systems mean that number is sure to rise. With as many as 1 million people still at risk, it is conceivable that the death toll will, within days, approach that of the entire number of civilians killed in the genocide in Darfur.

Wow, that sounds awful. So what's the solution, sages of TIME?

That's why it's time to consider a more serious option: invading Burma.
The cold truth is that states rarely undertake military action unless their national interests are at stake; and the world has yet to reach a consensus about when, and under what circumstances, coercive interventions in the name of averting humanitarian disasters are permissible. As the response to the 2004 tsunami proved, the world's capacity for mercy is limitless. But we still haven't figured out when to give war a chance.

That last line, which is the end of the piece, is a joke -- literally a play on words for chuckles. To some people war isn't hell, it's fodder for puns and flippancy. ("Give War a Chance" is also the title of a lecture Jonah Goldberg gave at the University of Massachusetts Amherst -- TIME is in poor company here) Here we are, five years into our Iraq misadventure, something most Americans agree was a mistake, and the national media is mocking those who believe war isn't something to be taken lightly.

When we invaded Iraq we created a humanitarian crisis. Millions of Iraqis lack access to uncontaminated water, proper medical facilities and electricy. Millions more are displaced refugees. So now, according to TIME, the solution to Burma's humanitarian crisis may be to go in and start shooting the Burmese.

If we bomb enough bridges, hospitals, schools, water treatment facilities and energy plants surely that will solve their problems. And no doubt the Burmese will greet us as liberators and shower our troops with flowers, gladly welcoming us even as we kill their relatives with errant strikes.

In the US media today it's nearly impossible to be too bellicose to be taken seriously. Whatever the problem it's sober analysis to suggest shooting people as the answer. To a man with a hammer everything is a nail and to a country with a powerful military everyone else is a target.

Read more!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Swampland Hijinks: Jay Newton-Small Edition

Kids and Jay Newton-Small say the damnedest things. "You can't invite us in and then not expect people to ask questions."

Jay Newton-Small doesn't get a lot of attention, perhaps because she isn't nearly as prolific as some of her Swampland colleagues. But her piece Lemme Eat My Waffle and her subsequent followups may have been her breakout performance:

He’d already spent more than 30 minutes glad handing the restaurant’s denizens, and with the 15+ press pool crammed behind the counter before him Obama dug in. Which is when one of the network reporters took the advantage of the close proximity to ask a question about Jimmy Carter meeting with Hamas and Obama irritably answered: “Why can’t I just eat my waffle?”
Obama hasn’t given a press conference in 10 days and the questions, some of them -- like Hamas -- rather important, are starting to build up. If he wins the nomination he'll be running again John McCain, whose philosophy is to give the press total access to the point of saturation; Obama might consider holding avails with a little more regularity. Then, maybe, reporters would let him to eat in peace.

It's fluffy, irrelevant and an example of the "act more like a Republican" advice journalists feel obliged to constantly hand out. There's also the hint of a passive-aggressive threat in there: meet our demands or we'll make you look bad compared to McCain. But overall it's not so much terrible as terribly irrelevant.

As is often the case Newton-Small finds herself in larger trouble when she attempts to engage her commenters:

It's about access: you ask the press to cram up in front of you while you eat your waffle and banter friendly jokes with you, but God forbid anyone ask anything serious -- that's trying to have your cake (or waffle) and eat it too, you can't invite us in and then not expect people to ask questions.

You can't? What if you trade the waffles for ribs? You can invite the press in, demand that they leave all recording devices behind and demand that they not ask serious question. As long as you are John McCain.

As more people commented on the story it completely fell apart. Obama had been meeting frequently with the local press, answering the questions that mattered to Pennsylvania voters. He had already weighed in definitively on Carter talking to Hamas, rendering the "important" question at the diner irrelevant -- a fact Newton-Small was apparently unaware of even though it's immediately obvious by running "Obama Carter Hamas" through google. And Newton-Small backed off her claim that McCain gives the press "total access to the point of saturation" after multiple commenters pointed out that her colleague, Michael Scherer, was complaining on the same Swampland pages that he couldn't get McCain to answer his questions after weeks of trying. (More about that in a later installment)

When you take all of that into account the original story is as follows: a reporter asked a question that Obama had addressed multiple times in the recent past and instead of addressing it again he took a bite of a waffle.

Man eats waffle, details at 11!

Read more!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Swampland Hijinks Part Zero: Joe Klein

Like comic books from the early 2000s this series begins with a hastily-produced can-miss post of little significance.

In this series I'm going to bash TIME's Swampland. (Motto: "hey it's a blog - what you expect quality?") But before I do that I have to give credit where credit is due: recently Joe Klein has been doing some good reporting blogging whatevering on the recent militia actions in Iraq and the Iraq situation in general. I especially enjoyed "Too Many Kagans, Too Little Knowledge." (Our foreign policy in a nutshell)

There is no more to "Read more." Someday I'll figure out how to turn that off for short posts...

Update: I have slain the extraneous "Read more" link. Huzzah!

Monday, April 28, 2008

I'm Still Alive

I'll start posting again at the start of May.

I have a ton of topics prepared. Don't click on "Read More", there's nothing more to this post. See you in a few days.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Explaining Feminist Blogosphere Eruptions

You can set your watch to Old Faithful and to dust ups in the Feminist blogosphere.
This is a bit of a departure from my usual stuff, but I find it an interesting to diverge occasionally from civil liberties and media criticism. I'm not going to bother to link to the blog storm in question.

There's nothing quite like a good old fashioned blog storm. What is it about Feminist blogs that makes these eruptions a common occurrence? My theory: accuracy, honesty and critical thinking are not things you can turn on and off. When dishonesty, stubbornness and intellectual laziness are accomodated by a culture it's only natural for internal disputes to display all those ugly attributes.

In this particular dust up Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon is accused of "stealing" from lesser known bloggers. According to her critics (currently centered around Feministe) Amanda is stubborn and marked by a persecution complex, unwilling to admit to the slightest wrongdoing. According to Amanda her detractors are engaged in substance-free attacks on her character. Both of these accusations are true to some degree. Why wouldn't they be? In the Feminist blogosphere substance-free attacks are commonplace and Amanda herself has always been defensive and stubborn.

Amanda is Amanda is Amanda

I should note that I generally like Amanda's writing and Pandagon is in my links on the right.

I first came across Amanda in the Salon piece Why I had to quit the John Edwards campaign. In the piece and in subsequent blog postings and comments Amanda refused to acknowledge that posting inflammatory pieces on her personal blog while working for the Edwards' campaign was poor judgement. Her persecution complex was in full display here, yet the reaction from the Feminist blogosphere was almost total and universal support.

Amanda was one of the bloggers fueling the Duke rape case frenzy. Although the Duke lacrosse players were exonerated Amanda, along with much of the Feminist blogosphere, refused to admit any error whatsoever. Many doubled-down, claiming that the lacrosse players simply had to be guilty by virtue of being white young males of privilege. This stubborn refusal to give an inch was a black-eye on the credibility of Feminist bloggers, but within the Feminist blogosphere Amanda was again applauded for her stubbornness.

Those same supporters are now shocked and outraged over her refusal to give an inch to them.

Outrage Culture Can't Be Switched Off

For her part Amanda complains that her detractors are unreasonable, vicious and outright fabricators but Amanda should expect no less.

Many of the commenters attacking Amanda rely on intellectually lazy sloganeering: "it's not about you" and "your privilege is showing." There's no retort to these claims because the claims themselves are devoid of real meaning. These same slogans are regularly employed against "white dudes" and "Nice Guys" with no objection from Amanda or anyone else in the Feminist blogosphere. It's only now that these catchphrases are turned against Amanda that she sees how vapid they are.

Amanda's detractors continue to make baseless claims, including claims that are provably false. Amanda complains but she is well aware that at Feministe baseless claims are considered acceptable. I've been called a "McCain voter" and "a rapist" by Feministe commenters, and while I'm many things I'm neither of those. Evidenceless accusations have rarely bothered Amanda when the enemy was men's rights activists or right-wingers; it's only now that she is the enemy that she objects to meritless character assassination.

Does This Look Familiar to Anyone Else?

Yes, I'm going there. The shoe fits.

1. A person is accused of something awful and subjected to vicious personal attacks.
2. That person responds with "prove it."
3. The accusers claim that having to prove it unfairly puts the onus on the victimized minority.
4. The accused conclusively proves their innocence.
5. The accusers don't apologize. Instead they argue that because the accused is a white privileged person they must be guilty of...something.
6. And finally they claim that it was never about this specific incident anyway, it was always about the power dynamic between white privileged people and women of color, and anyone harping on this specific incident is guilty of missing the big picture.

I could swear I've seen this before.

The Moral of Our Story

A culture that turns a blind eye towards distortion and dishonesty can not be switched off and will on occasion turn inwards. The stubbornness that Amanda is being bashed for is the exact same stubbornness she's been praised for in the past. The empty reactionary rhetoric that she find herself the target of is the same rhetoric her former allies have always relied on.

A recent popular mocking phrase on blogs is "it's OK if I do it." What we see here is "it's OK if I do it to you." When "you" is "white dudes" or "typical progressives" or MRAs or Republicans it's OK, but now Amanda and her detractors are set against each other and cry bloody murder at tactics they've previously revelled in. Turns out being the "you" isn't as much fun as being the "I."

Blog commenter Pinko Punko, addressing the split between Obama and Clinton Feminist camps, hits the nail right on head:

If we have previously overestimated certain individuals ability to emotionally divest themselves from particular topics, we have no one but ourselves to blame, because back when they were preaching to the choir using similar emotional and incendiary language we all sang in tune. Funny how when we now don’t agree the same tune seems so harsh to our delicate ears.

What This Post is Not About

Sadly I must add disclaimers. This post is not about any of the following things:

That women are stupid.
That feminists are stupid.
That Amanda Marcotte and the people at Feministe are stupid.
That men's rights activists, Republicans, "white dudes", "typical progressives" and Duke Lacrosse players are either awesome or terrible.
That there is some sort of direct moral equivalence between Amanda and the Duke Lacrosse players.
That dishonest rhetoric is monopolized by anyone mentioned in this post.
That anyone mentioned anywhere in this post is getting what they deserve or not getting it.

I could write a very similar post about the clash between Obama and Hillary supporting Democrats, or about the clash between various factions of Republicans split across Ron Paul or John McCain lines, or about the clash between left and right leaning libertarians. The Feminist blogosphere is merely a good example of a behavior that is hardly unique. Online communities encouraging lazy reactionary thinking are commonplace, as are the inevitable blowups when the firing squad turns circular.

Even More Equivocating

In fairness to Amanda being stubborn is hardly a rare failing and not a particularly serious one. (I myself am stubborn to a fault) And in fairness to Feministe commenters it only takes a few bad and overly enthused apples to ruin the bunch. In all these eruptions the same small set of names keeps showing up.

Read more!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Limited Updates for a While

Updates will be slow for the next couple of weeks, battling a cold and a pile of work.

AT&T: Your New Branch of Government

For a while I've been meaning to write about the letter AT&T wrote to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. It's a great example of how the application of State Secrets Privileges has widened to the point of absurdity:

Unfortunately, under current circumstances, we are unable to respond with specificity to your inquiries. That is because, on many issues that appear to be of central concern to you, responsive information, if any, is within the control of the executive branch.
Moreover, the United States, through a sworn declaration from the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), has formally invoked the state secrets privilege to prevent AT&T from either confirming or denying certain facts about alleged intelligence operations and activities that are central to your inquiries.

AT&T can't say anything at all to Congress because that information is just too darn secret to share with out elected representatives. That information is of course also too secret to reveal in court, even ex parte and/or in camera. (In the judge's chamber with only one party present) This is how it's supposed to work? A giant corporation mores know about what our government is up to than two of the three branches?

Read more!

Monday, March 31, 2008

What We Learned From Iraq: Absolutely Nothing

But what I failed to grasp is that war is also a monster...
- Andrew Sullivan

To celebrate the five year anniversary of the glorious cakewalk Slate and the NYT asked Iraq War hawks what they got wrong and what they've learned. Their answers? "Understandable mistakes anyone could have made" and "nothing" respectively.

I'm With Stupid

The most common mistake war supporters point to is some variation on "I was wrong to put faith in the Bush Administration" -- a clever transfer of responsibility. It's not that their entire thought process was wrong, that they were easily deceived, that they didn't demand any plans for the post-war occupation, that they let emotion replace reason or that their philosophy of war as a standard policy tool was flawed. Nope, the problem was that Bush and Rumsfeld were incompetent immoral dummies.

The wonderful aspect of that mistake is that whatever lesson can be learned from it expires in 2009. There's no examination of why they trusted an administration full of incompetent ideologues. They'll be happy to place the same faith in whichever not-Bush is elected, even if that not-Bush has the same foreign policy developed by the same foreign-policy advisors.

You Can't Expect Me To Listen to Hippies

Plenty of smart people made good arguments against the Iraq War that went beyond vague platitudes. But for war hawks it's much easier to pretend that only brainless hippies opposed the Iraq War and that the only "serious" voices were hawks. Many of the "What Did I Get Wrong" pieces are prominently devoted to dismissing the people who weren't wrong. Andrew Sullivan is up first:

For most of my adult lifetime, I had heard those on the left decry American military power, constantly warn of quagmires, excuse what I regarded as inexcusable tyrannies, and fail to grasp that the nature of certain regimes makes their removal a moral objective.
When I heard the usual complaints from the left about how we had no right to intervene, how Bush was the real terrorist, how war was always wrong, my trained ears heard the same cries that I had heard in the 1980s. So, I saw the opposition to the war as another example of a faulty Vietnam Syndrome, associated it entirely with the far left—or boomer nostalgia—and was revolted by the anti-war marches I saw in Washington.

To bolster his support for the war Richard Cohen visualized straw men:

I was miserably wrong in my judgment and somewhat emotional, and whenever my resolve weakened, as it did over time, I steadied myself by downing belts of inane criticism from the likes of Michael Moore or "realists" like Brent Scowcroft, who had presided over the slaughter of the Shiites.

There's no indication that Sullivan or Cohen have changed their thinking at all. They still deride those damn Vietnam-obsessed hippies and the "likes of Michael Moore." Neither of them care to deal with the fact that their "inane criticisms" were largely correct. Nor do they acknowledge the existence of Anthony Zinni, Norman Schwarzkopf and vintage Cheney, hardly stereotypical leftists. They saw what they wanted to see and they still do.

I Was Wrong But For All The Right Reasons

Many of the pieces, like the Sullivan one above, are characterized by a refusal to question basic assumptions and the dismissal of those whose do. Few of the authors reject aggressive war as a standard policy tool. Sullivan still believes that "regime change" is a fine goal and that war should be driven by a vague "moral objective." Jacob Weisberg hasn't changed his view on war at all; his main concern is not letting this war sour us on the next one:

This isn't just a matter of fessing up to error. It's incumbent upon those of us who blew the biggest foreign-policy decision of the past decade to try to understand our mistake—and to try to learn something from it. By this I don't mean that we should know to reject all proposed American military action in the future. One theme that has emerged in this discussion is the hazard that those who wrongly supported one intervention will flinch too reflexively from another that deserves our support. I share this concern. The tendency to relive the last war is as prevalent among writers as it is among generals.

William Saletan makes it specific. His fear is that the Iraq War will prevent us from engaging in the war on Iran that he's already salivating for, based on the exact same justifications he fell for on Iraq:

The problem with dumb war isn't that it's war. The problem is that it costs you the military, economic, and political resources to fight a smart war. Everything Bush wrongly attributed to Iraq turns out to be true of Iran. But we can't confront Iran with the force it probably requires, because we wasted our resources in Iraq. Americans, having been suckered in Iraq, won't accept evidence of Iran's nuclear program. Countries that might have supported us in a strike on Iran won't do so now, since we led them astray.

In the same sentence that he admits we were suckered on Iraq (on the basis of WMDs) he lobbies for attacking Iran based on the same weak claims that they have a WMD program, claims that come from the exact same sources.

William Saletan has learned nothing. Absolutely zero. He still believes the Michael Gordon stories he reads in the NYT. He still believes Bush and his cronies when they hype up WMD threats. He still believes breathless anonymous sources. Take an argument for war in Iraq from 5 years ago, replace "Iraq" with "Iran", hand it to Saletan and he's all for it, lamenting that we can't immediately enact it. It's truly amazing.

Coming in Part 2

One author bravely suggests we should listen to the people who were right about Iraq. That author is dismissed.

Read more!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Our Fearless Rib Gnawers Part 3 of 700

Parts one and two. Please note, although McCain is a central figure in these posts they have little to do with McCain and everything to do with the press.

Two different reporters at TIME's Swampland today linked to an op-ed in the NYT, The Maverick and the Media. The entire piece is well worth reading (though I think the connection with liberalism is a bit forced) but what is most interesting is the first line:

It is certainly no secret that Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is a darling of the news media.

That isn't the point of the piece. It's a given, treated as established fact. We're past the point of debating whether or not the press loves McCain and to the dissecting of exactly why. What's so sad about the press relationship with McCain is that nearly everyone in the press agrees that the press treats him very favorably but few see it as a problem and fewer still take any action to correct it.

Anna Marie Cox and Howard Kurtz vapidly agree that McCain reporters, including Cox herself, are "part of the bubble, part of the team." I've transcribed some of this before but the full transcript is available so I'll quote it at length:

COX: Well, you just saw it. It's true that he can -- especially -- it's almost always someone who has not -- who hasn't been with the campaign, you know, through it all that's going to make a call that makes him look bad.

I remember the lightsaber moment from 2000. That was from someone -- when he said he was going to be -- you know, fight Darth Vader.

KURTZ: But that suggests that the people who have been traveling with him regularly...

COX: Yes.

KURTZ: ... become part of the bubble, part of the team?

COX: Become part of the bubble, and also, I mean, I think what happens is that you -- if you've been covering him for a long time, there's a sense that, well, he does that all the time, it's not worth reporting, because he does -- he's a cranky old man. I mean, to be quite frank.

You know, like, and also, I've gotten much tougher terseness than Bumiller got just there. And...

KURTZ: But the cameras weren't rolling.

COX: But the cameras weren't rolling. And also, we wrote it off to, like, you know, he hadn't had his fifth cup of Starbucks today.

KURTZ: But is there a tendency for journalists to cut more slack for candidates who they have a lot of opportunity to talk, not necessarily because they like them, but because they're not just getting one crack at that person for eight minutes every three days?

TAPPER: Yes. And that's the exchange that the McCain people make now, and we'll see if it lasts until November. But, you know, they have this constant access.

I spent a couple weeks ago -- I did a couple days with each of the candidates, Obama, Clinton, McCain. And I got more time with McCain -- not just me, all of the press corps -- in one day than I had gotten with the other two candidates the entire time.

And that's the exchange. And from 80 percent of the time it's to McCain's benefit and 20 percent it's not. But two points to make about that exchange.

One is "The New York Times" is not currently his favorite newspaper. And the other point is Elizabeth Bumiller was catching him in a lie that he told in 2004. He had been lying. He said no, he hadn't had that conversation. So it was, by definition, a "gotcha" question, and he doesn't like that, but he especially doesn't like "The New York Times."

KURTZ: And McCain did hold a barbecue for the press at his ranch in Sedona, where some people were in attendance.

COX: Yes. Delicious dry-rub barbecued ribs, actually, baby back ribs.

KURTZ: Firsthand report.

Oh Cox and Kurtz you wonderful comedians. First discuss, without any remorse or introspection, how you cut McCain a break then joke about it just for good measure, a giant middle finger to the audience. It's important to note a few things here:

1. Cox is not attacking other members of the media for giving McCain a free pass. This is not criticism. She is the one giving the free pass.

2. Parse through Tapper's comments carefully. Catching McCain in a lie is somehow a "gotcha" and "he doesn't like that." Put that together with what Cox said above, that only newbies ask those "gotcha" questions; only people outside the bubble bother to point out when McCain is lying, because people who are part of the team don't want to rile up McCain -- and they don't report on it anyway because they know he's just a grump.

It appears that cozy relationships lead to poor reporting but reporters defend those relationships to death. I spoke to a reporter who attended the McCain BBQ and he/she stressed the importance of getting to know the subject of coverage. (The reporter refused to be quoted on the record, of course) Responding to reader comments at Swampland Michael Scherer makes a similar point:

Rather, in these settings, on the bus or in a press conference, the competition among the reporters is not to suck up, but to come up with the question that actually produces new information or catches the candidate off guard. There are also other times, after hours and often off the record, when relations between press and campaign staff can be more informal, but even there I think the ultimate goal is almost always professional. We build relationships with people so that they can trust that we will not unfairly treat them, which facilitates the flow of information.

The first half of that obviously contradicts what Kurtz, Cox and Tapper amiably blathered about above. The second half is the killer: even schmoozing off the record is supposedly professional as it builds relationships, engenders trust and facilitates the flow of PR. Hey, did you know that McCain is an all-American dad who shops at Cosco and makes a mean lemon rub?

In an earlier part of the transcript above Cox defends close relationships as well, speaking about the reporting of Samantha Power's comments and echoing Tucker Carlson:

Like, she doesn't have -- she's probably never going to interview Samantha Power ever again. And she probably isn't going to cover the Obama White House should there be one.

I think that a journalist who wants to continue working, I mean, you can call it a sad truth, but it is a truth that you need to keep -- you need to maintain relationships with your sources. And part of maintaining a relationship means having some kind of contract with them that you're not going to do anything unfair. And...

Remember that the "unfair" part here was reporting what Samantha Power actually said in an on the record interview.

On one hand these people tell us that they cultivate sources for the sake of accurate reporting, while at the same time informing us that they'll suppress the truth in favor of cultivating those sources. They tell us that personal relationships lead to better reporting, then admit their own relationships with McCain color their coverage of him. It can't be both.

Here is a novel suggestion for our intrepid press corps: instead of being jovial about your McCain love affair recognize it as a problem. It's not funny. Stop defending behavior at the root of the problem.

Put down the champagne glass, get out of the tire swing and put your shoe back on. Pass on the lobster or, gasp, the party entirely. Get off the bus and find your own ride. Reacquaint yourself with your duty to avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest. The next time you think about catching McCain in a lie do it and then report it, whether he likes it or not. Instead of maintaining access by producing fluff pieces about your personal ride on the wonderful tour bus or about McCain's totally hip and awesome daughter take a chance at real reporting.

It's called "journalism."

And no, it's not balance if you ride around in the Obamamobile and the Clintoncopter as well.

I'll finish with a quote from Walter Lippmann.

A long life in journalism convinced me many presidents ago that there should be a large air space between a journalist and the head of a state.


I just visited and saw Putting McCain to the Ethics Test by Michael Scherer. I was ready to give credit where credit was due but his (metaphorical) place on the bus is safe. It's a wonderful example of timid reporting. The first negative words about McCain's ethics come in the fourth paragraph (talk about burying the lede) and come from the mouth of Howard Dean, a source readers will ignore as obviously biased. The rest of it is standard he-said/he-said "balanced" fair with any exciting details buried beneath masses of trivia. It's not until literally the very last sentence of the piece that readers are given a clear reason to care at all. It's almost as if Scherer was dared to produce the most benign piece possible given the facts. It also curiously leaves out the very contemporary ethical and legal questions surrounding McCain's FEC shenanigans.

Simply by copying and pasting it's easy to change the entire tone of the piece into something with teeth:

In the upcoming election McCain will be in the awkward position of hoping voters will give him the benefit of the doubt that he has denied to others. He is the one who regularly breaks the Senate's code of silence by alleging corruption by his peers. But high standards are a double-edged sword. Even as McCain has railed against the system, he's worked it, sometimes creating unseemly appearances of his own.

Bam, I just turned a snoozer into a must-read. (This is why they pay me the big bucks.) But a story that began that way might mean one less scoop of potato salad at the next shindig.

Read more!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Big Serious War Experts Admit It's Time to Leave Iraq?

Our number one Iraq expert: Little Orphan Annie.
"Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you, tomorrow, you're always a day away."

In August of last year I made two posts back to back about our Iraq War "experts." Time to revisit these self-styled experts and compare what they said then to what they are saying now.

In their WBUR interview both O'Hanlon and Cordesman agreed that late winter/early spring would be the time to leave Iraq if there was minimal political conciliation. Cordesman:

If this central government cannot achieve real progress towards conciliation no later than the late winter or early spring of 2008, I frankly do not see it being able to survive.
If we don't get political conciliation by the end of this winter or next spring, then we have almost no rationale for staying, because there gets to be a point at which you simply cannot wait out the Iraqi political process forever.

(Checks watch) It appears that "late winter or early spring" is also known as "now." So how is that political conciliation coming along? Petraeus: Iraqi Leaders Not Making 'Sufficient Progress'

Iraqi leaders have failed to take advantage of a reduction in violence to make adequate progress toward resolving their political differences, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said Thursday.

Petraeus, who is preparing to testify to Congress next month on the Iraq war, said in an interview that "no one" in the U.S. and Iraqi governments "feels that there has been sufficient progress by any means in the area of national reconciliation," or in the provision of basic public services.

Cordesman's recent glorified PowerPoints say next to nothing about reconciliation at all, instead focusing almost entirely on the military situation. Cordesman, who previously produced "The Need For Strategic Patience", has now cleverly produced "The Continuing Need For Strategy Patience."

As we saw previously, O'Hanlon's main expertise on the Iraq War is lecturing those who disagree with him about what they are and aren't allowed to say. He's at it again, castigating Democrats in his best Karl Rove voice and warning that opposition to the Iraq War is a political liability. His recent writing is much less policy than politics:

To be sure, it is understandably hard for Democrats and other administration critics to believe that a war fought so badly at first could take a turn for the better.
That said, if Democrats cannot get beyond their viewpoint, they could suffer badly in the fall as a result.
Democrats can provide such a melded approach. If Iraqis do their part, we help; if not, we leave.
As such, Iraqi leaders need to feel pressure to deliver. That is where a more conditional Democratic approach comes in. The United States stays only if Iraqis accelerate their own political efforts at reconciliation.

Do those bolded parts look familiar to anyone else? He's repeating the exact same thing he said in August. He gave an ultimatum, it was not met, and here he is again giving another one while ostensibly arguing against an open-ended commitment. That of course comes on the heels of the Congressional benchmarks ultimatum that Iraq also failed miserably.

When O'Hanlon isn't busy telling people who have been right on Iraq from the start that they should listen more to those who are constantly wrong he's observing that people have lost interest in his opinion. Is that surprising? Just open up your calendar, flip ahead six months and write "wait another six months" and you've replicated his message. He and Cordesman and all the Iraq War "experts" have been repeating that exact same message since he war began.

"Just another six months" and empty threats to pull out if certain goals are unment are tired jokes. At this point you'd figure that, if for no other reason than to avoid continued embarrassment, people like O'Hanlon would come clean and admit that they will never under any circumstances support a withdrawal from Iraq until they say we've "won."

Read more!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

One American Who Cares About Big Brother: Barack Obama

Update: Looks like I should have called this "Three Americans Who Care About Big Brother: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain."

This could not be more timely. I write a post about TIME Magazine's dismissal of privacy concerns, go to bed and wake up to news that multiple people accessed Barack Obama's passport file without authorization.

This is what TIME wrote:

In all the examples of diminished civil liberties, there are few, if any, where the motivating factor was something other than law and order or national security.

And here is what we heard today:

On three occasions since January, Sen. Barack Obama's passport file was looked at by three different contract workers, said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

The contractors accessed information in the file in an unauthorized way, he said.

I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that this anauthorized snooping was not motivated by law and order or national security.

Time continued:

For now, however, civil libertarians will have to continue to argue that the danger lies not in how the government's expanded powers are being used now, but how they might be used in the future.

Or maybe we can point out how even narrower, unexpanded powers are currently being abused.

The FBI spied on Coretta Scott King out of fear that in her widow grief she would attempt "to tie the anti-Vietnam movement to the civil rights movement" -- as if that were illegal. MI5 spied on George Orwell for a decade because "This man has advanced communist views ... He dresses in a bohemian fashion both at his office and in his leisure hours." (Not the US but seems appropriate) We know these powers have been and will continue to be abused.

Do American Care About Big Brother? Well, we know that one fairly prominent one does for good reason.

Update: Sorry, did I say one? But seriously folks, somehow this just proves TIME Magazine's point that the pure-hearted thousands of civil servants and private contractors with access to our personal data are simply incapable of abuse. Somehow.

Read more!

You Say News, I Say Potato

Click for larger version. And check ABC for tomorrow's followup: "New Revelations Could Hurt Socks with Vital 'Feline Values' Voters"

Note that the comments on the right are unaltered from the original story.

On Tuesday morning I made the mistake of watching morning news. CNN (or perhaps MSNBC) was trumpeting a "major bombshell." The bombshell? That a man slept with someone other than his wife. This man was not a moral crusader and therefore a hypocrite. He as not sleeping with a prostitute. He was not currently running for office or up for reelection. The entire news value of the story was "man has affair": a "major bombshell" according to our breathless media.

Here is some more hot-breaking "news": a woman was in the vague physical proximity of an event that was itself of dubious news value. Great work "Investigative Team." The "Investigative Team" site is a tawdry bad joke: not much investigation but a lot of hit jobs. My favorite:

The released documents also bring back reminders of scandal, as was previously reported on the Blotter on earlier today.
On the day she testified before a federal grand jury investigating the Whitewater land deal, in January 1996, her official calendar says simply, "No Public Schedules."

I don't know about you but when I see a calendar entry that says "No Public Schedules" I'm instantly reminded of Whitewater.

Thank heavens our media has its priorities straight and focuses on the truly important.

Read more!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

TIME: Do Americans Care When We Tell Them Not To?

Original Ending to Se7en, rejected by test audiences:
Mills: "What's in the box?!?"
Somerset: "I don't know, I didn't open it."
Mills: "Oh -- probably a gift basket. Let's get lunch."

In an absolutely terrible thing TIME poses the question Do Americans Care About Big Brother? When I saw this thing I immediately sent an email to TIME pointing out a factual error. No response, no correction. When I woke up the next morning I saw commenters at TIME's Swampland discussing it and that Glenn Greenwald had already taken it to the woodshed. (Scooped!) I'm not going to repeat his complaints but I will call out the most important ones and take a slightly different angle on the thing in question.

What is this thing I'm reading?

What is this? It's not news; it doesn't contain any timely information. It's not labelled as opinion and is not written in a standard opinion style. I suppose it's "analysis" -- except that it contains no actual analysis.

The primary point of the "analysis" is that Americans don't care about Big Brother. But the article doesn't include a single verifiable fact or any data to support that conclusion. There are no polls cited, no anecdotal interview with a man on the street. Nothing. This is a standard ploy that many pundits have made a career of: speak for "Americans" when the author is really speaking only for themselves.

Regardless of ideology it's just bad journalism.

The conclusion is an example of self-fulfilling prophecy

Even if we grant the dubious conclusion that Americans are eager to trade away privacy for promises of security, that in itself is not surprising or meaningful. The media influences public opinion and media outlets including TIME have spent years excusing privacy violations while dramatizing the threat of the evil terrorists. In the pages of TIME Joe Klein has repeatedly lauded the NSA spying programs, calling them essential to national security even though he knows little about them.

The mainstream media has spent years telling us that 9/11 changed everything, including apparently the Constitution. Mike McConnell, who was caught lying to Congress about these "essential" programs, is still routinely quoted unquestioningly by the media and treated as a reliable source.

For some time after 9/11 most Americans believed that Saddam was personally connected to the attacks. If that's proof of anything it's proof that the government is good at propagandizing and that the media is a credulous enabler.

This TIME article itself makes arguments that Americans should be willing to trade away privacy for promises of security. Is it some sort of revelation if Americans exhibit an attitude that has been beaten into them for years? The article is a trend story that itself perpetuates the trend.

What's inside the box is probably not a gift basket

I won't belabor this point as Glenn covered in depth but without visibility into these programs it's pointless to say that they haven't been abused (which is still false anyway) as that observation is grounded in willful ignorance. The administration has argued that executive actions should remain secret to the point that not even Congress and the Court can know their details. Our information on these programs comes almost entirely from leaks and whistle blowers, which are rare in an administration that has elevated loyalty above competence and ethics.

Before the Walter Reed reporting we as a nation were unaware of the abuse and neglect of our veterans. Before Charles Savage wrote about signing statements few realized that the President was using them to legislate. Investigations into CIA black sites and Abu Ghraib disturbed our theretofore blissful ignorance.

There's one way to know what's inside the box: open it. There's one way to know the extent of abuse in these programs: investigate them. Relying on the administration to voluntarily disclose abuses is inane, especially given that investigators in the executive branch are "emanations of a President's will" with assumedly "no substantial authority independent of President Bush."

Read more!