Wednesday, February 27, 2008

David Broder's Bipartisanship

Many commentators, including Digby here, have observed that to our media elite "bipartisanship" is indistinguishable from acting Republican. David Broder provides a perfect example of this in his recent column "A Did-Something Congress."

The voters' message is getting through, not only in settling the fights for the Republican and Democratic nominations but in changing the mind-set of Washington.

The clearest evidence of the change is what happened last week on the economic stimulus bill. A week ahead of their self-imposed deadline, the House and Senate, by overwhelming votes, sent to President Bush almost exactly the kind of relief measure he had sought for the staggering economy. [emph. added]

It was a dramatic reversal of the gridlock that had characterized executive-congressional relations throughout 2007, and it reflects the recognition by both Republicans and Democrats of the public disenchantment with official Washington that has been one of the dominant themes of the 2008 presidential campaign.

Broder praises both Republicans and Democrats for the "bipartisan" approach but it's not clear what Republicans did to deserve praise or how Democrats doing exactly what Bush wants is an example of bipartisan action.

This is a ubiquitous theme in beltway media: that gridlock is caused by Democrats opposing Republicans and bipartisanship is achieved when Democrats drop that opposition and act exactly like Republicans. In column after column Democrats are chided for not moving enough, while Republicans get a free pass on not moving at all. Joe Klein writes repeatedly that Democrats should sign off on telecom immunity so we can move on to more pressing matters, but he never argues that Republicans should give up on telecom immunity for the same reasons.

The implicit argument in these sorts of columns is that Democrats have to be the "bigger man", that they have to act responsibly because Republicans won't. Imagine if this argument were explicit:

Bush Administration officials today argued that the expiration of the Protect America Act has left our nation at greater risk to terrorist attack. Republicans in Congress blocked the extension of the act and Bush vowed to veto it because the House rejected a separate bill that included telecom immunity. We call on Democrats in the House to agree to telecom immunity because some party has to act responsibly and it clearly won't be the Republicans. We call on voters to vote Democratic at all levels of government so that a cadre of ideologues can no longer force through bad legislation by holding American lives hostage.

This column has been written dozens of times in the last few weeks, only the parts about irresponsible Republicans has been left out. Yet that is the lynch pin of the entire argument for total Democratic capitulation: something has to give and it's not going to be those stubborn Republicans.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

On Language: Conspiracy Theory

"Conspiracy theory" and similar terms are often used to dismiss reasonable arguments out of hand without engaging them -- a last resort when logic and facts are insufficient. It's to the point where when I hear Bush Administration officials or media pundits label something a "conspiracy theory" it makes me much more apt to believe it. Below is a list of notions dismissed as conspiracy theories that turned out to be mostly if not entirely accurate.

Intel on Iraq WMDs was cooked

Christopher Hitchens, writing for Slate, produced a hilariously awful screed on Iraq WMDs, dismissing doubts about WMD intelligence while spinning his own elaborate and now-disproven conspiracy theory to explain the lack of WMD finds in Iraq.

So this is not just a "find" in itself—such gas centrifuges are used for the enrichment of uranium—but evidence of a larger and wider design to fool the international community and to wait for a better day to restart Saddam's nuclear program. If you find hard physical and documentary evidence, along with a complex plan to keep it under wraps, you are entitled to make a few presumptions, not including the presumption of innocence. Nobody bothers to cover up nothing.

This breakthrough, which comes quite early in the inspection process and which will not be the only one of its kind, might possibly quiet the idiotic and premature wailings of the "anti-war" side, who have been saying for weeks that the whole indictment of Saddam Hussein was a put-up job. Then again, it probably won't have that effect. The wailers will settle for nothing less than the full-dress conspiracy theory.

The "conspiracy theory" of the "wailers" was right while Hitchens' own theory of a nuclear weapons lab buried in pieces around Iraq was wrong. (Hitchens gets bonus points for employing one of the worst extended analogies of all time)

The US is looking to establish permanent bases in Iraq

These days we are openly talking about "continuing force agreements" and a "protective overwatch mission" while McCain muses about staying in Iraq for 100 years or more. Congress and the President dance around a "continuing" or "indefinite" occupation of Iraq. But as Glenn Greenwald documents, suggestions that the US would look to stay in Iraq long-term were until recently derided as fantasy.

From The Washington Times' Donald Lambro, April 28, 2003:

The [New York] Times, in a front-page story last week, reported that the U.S. military was setting up "permanent" bases in Iraq intimating, of course, that we will be occupying the country forever. I read the story and it seems as if it was cooly calculated to inflame the Iraqis. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld countered that the report was totally and completely false, angrily condemning this kind of fear-mongering, "Henny Penny" reporting. Henny is a character in the children's tale about Chicken Little, who claimed that "the sky is falling." It wasn't, it isn't and it won't.

We are going to repair the damage done to Iraq, help the Iraqi people start a government, and then get out of there as soon as we can.

From Fox News, April 21, 2003, Special Report with Brit Hume:

BAIER: The front-page story cited unnamed Bush administration sources saying the United States was planning a long-term military-to-military relationship with Iraq, one that would allow the Pentagon to operate bases inside the country.

RUMSFELD: The impression left around the world is we plan to occupy the country, we plan to use their bases over a long period of time, and it's flat false.

The Iraq War was largely planned and sold by the brainiacs at PNAC

How is this even a question? It is self-evidently true. The PNAC website is open to the public and the policy goals for Iraq and the Middle East are clearly spelled out. The statement of principles is signed by Dick Cheney, Frank Gaffney, Francis Fukuyama, Donald Kagan, Norman Podhoretz, I. Lewis Libby, Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld among others. The letter to President Clinton on Iraq includes many of those same names as well as Richard Perle, Richard L. Armitage, John Bolton and the other Kagan brother.

According to The Weekly Standard it's all conspiracy theory once again. Michael Goldfarb derides the following quote from Phyllis Bennis as conspiracy mongering:

I think the motive [for the administration’s lies] is that the lead people within the Bush administration were convinced from before they ever came into office, from the early 1990’s, when they began to work together when they were outside of power, when they were not in office in the Clinton years and they formed the group that later became known as the Project for the New American Century, when they were working for Bibi Netanyahu in the Israeli election. That same group of neocons had the view that the overthrow of the regime in Iraq was a crucial component of expanding U.S. power in the world…it had to do with oil, it had to do with the expansion of creating new permanent bases throughout the region, it had to with protection of Israel, it had to with a whole range of both regional and international goals.

Nothing in the above passage is false or misleading; PNAC's website alone is enough to confirm most of it. Note that while Goldfarb attacks Bennis what he doesn't do at all is attack the veracity of anything Bennis said.

Halo 3 doesn't run at 720p

I had to include this one for the sheer audacity. The theory is explicitly acknowledged as true while still rejected as the product work of tinfoil-hatters. Now that's real chutzpah!

The grand finale

Dismissing valid arguments as conspiracy theories is invariably ad hominem, an attack not on ideas but on their progenitors. Hitchen's conspiracy theorists are "wailers", Rumsfeld's are cartoonish characters, Goldfarb's are anti-Semites and Bungie's (makers of Halo) are "tinfoil hats." The term "conspiracy theorist" itself brings up images of kooks and crazies.

The common thread in the above examples is that the invocation of conspiracy theory is the main argument while facts are a distant second at best. That's why I wrote up top that such attacks only increase my credulity. If Hitchens or Goldfarb or Rumsfeld had definitive proof why didn't they simply present it? That they rely on slurs is more reason to believe that the "conspiracy theorists" are correct.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Klein and Gaffney: Twins Separated at Birth

Joe Klein vs. Frank Gaffney Jr. in a battle of the beards.

Why do I keep beating up on Joe Klein? (Other than the fact that he deserves it I mean) Because Joe Klein is representative of a harmful myth in our political media: that liberal and conservative voices are equal and opposite and represent the two and only two sides of any political debate. "Liberals" like Joe Klein buy into the same authoritarian domestic and imperialistic foreign policy that has come to define modern conservatism. On many issues a liberal and a conservative (or those billed as such) do not define endpoints but a singular indistinguishable position. This subjects us, the American people, to a manufactured false consensus that purports to represent a broad range of opinion while excluding genuinely opposing views.

Joe Klein is considered the liberal columnist at Time Magazine. Frank Gaffney Jr. is a conservative commentator who believes Americans should be hanged for opposing the Iraq War. Yet they agree on a variety of issues and define a spectrum that excludes the majority of Americans. They both believe (despite Klein's attempts to rewrite his own history) that the Iraq War was a great idea and that the surge is working -- positioning the majority of Americans as the "anti-war fringe" without a strong proponent in national media. They both believe, contrary to the views of the American people, that telecom amnesty is a good idea and that consensual sexual relationships are a worse offense for a president than cronyism, incompetence and blatant lies the the public.

Reading liberal commentators like Joe Klein and Thomas Friedman opposing conservative commentators like Fred Gaffney Jr and Charles Krauthammer is similar to reading The Onion point/counterpoint following 9/11:

Point: We Must Retaliate With Blind Rage
Counterpoint: We Must Retaliate With Measured, Focused Rage

Compare that to Klein and Gaffney opining on warrantless wiretapping. Each pair of quotes below consists of one from Klein and one from Gaffney; can you tell them apart?

Klein and Gaffney (or is it Gaffney and Klein?) defend FISA legislation:

At this writing, the U.S. Senate is embroiled in the latest round of this fight. Senators Patrick Leahy and Christopher Dodd are among those trying to prevent passage of a bill that was adopted 13-2 last year by the Senate intelligence committee on a broadly bipartisan basis. While not perfect, this legislation has the virtue of: making clear the President’s authority to engage in such battlefield communications intercepts; updating and circumscribing the role of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts given changes in telecommunications since they were established in 1979; and providing immunity from lawsuits for companies that facilitate such legal surveillance.

The latest version of the absolutely necessary Patriot Act, which updates the laws regulating the war on terrorism and contains civil-liberties improvements over the first edition, was nearly killed by a stampede of Senate Democrats. Most polls indicate that a strong majority of Americans favor the act, and I suspect that a strong majority would favor the NSA program as well, if its details were declassified and made known.

Here they describe the noble government actions following 9/11:

In the wake of the 9/11’s deadly acts of war, George W. Bush did what one would hope any President would do: He strove to prevent follow-on strikes and brought to bear every available instrument for that purpose.

Preeminent among these was the collection of intelligence that might reveal further plots and the identity and whereabouts of those inclined to perpetrate them. Mr. Bush ordered the National Security Agency to monitor phone calls and data transmissions involving foreign nationals suspected of involvement in terror. In so doing, he exercised a well-established power of the Commander-in-Chief in time of war: monitoring the enemies’ battlefield communications. Given the nature of this particular war and of modern telecommunications, such monitoring had to include some individuals and selected intercepts in this country.

In fact, a 2002 investigation by the Joint Intelligence Committees concluded that the NSA was not doing as much as it could have been doing under the law—and that the entire U.S. intelligence community operated in a hypercautious defensive crouch. "Hayden was taking reasonable steps," a former committee member told me. "Our biggest concern was what more he could be doing."

The Bush Administration had similar concerns. In the days after 9/11, it asked Hayden to push the edge of existing technology and come up with the best possible program to track the terrorists. The result was the now infamous NSA data-mining operation, which began months later, in early 2002. Vast amounts of phone and computer communications by al-Qaeda suspects overseas, including some messages to people in the U.S., could now be scooped up and quickly analyzed.

And finally they castigate those irresponsible Democrats for not acting more like Republicans:

In time of war, our country cannot afford to have one of its two major political parties [the Democrats] at best AWOL on the major security issues of our time and, at worst, seriously wrongheaded about them. Behaving responsibly about FISA reform would be a good place to start...

The Democratic strategy on the FISA legislation in the House is equally foolish. There is broad, bipartisan agreement on how to legalize the surveillance of phone calls and emails of foreign intelligence targets.
Unfortunately, Speaker Nancy Pelosi quashed the House Intelligence Committee's bipartisan effort and supported a Democratic bill that — Limbaugh is salivating — would require the surveillance of every foreign-terrorist target's calls to be approved by the FISA court, an institution founded to protect the rights of U.S. citizens only. In the lethal shorthand of political advertising, it would give terrorists the same legal protections as Americans. That is well beyond stupid.

It should be noted once again that people opposed to warrantless wiretapping, a group which on principle should contain both liberals and conservatives, is entirely absent from the fascinating dialog above, and similarly from most media dialogs on the issue.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Stuff Unworthy of Full Posts

Time for another roundup.

That Word Doesn't Mean What You Think It Means

From the State of the Union Address:

The Congress must ensure the flow of vital intelligence is not disrupted. The Congress must pass liability protection for companies believed to have assisted in the efforts to defend America. We have had ample time for debate. The time to act is now.

Believed? The most common justification given for telecom immunity is that the telecoms acted patriotically by responding to direct requests from the President. Surely Bush himself knows whether or not that is the case -- what's belief got to do with it? The answer of course is that Bush does know -- he's just not telling.

Makes you wonder though, if our belief is wrong and the telecoms didn't do anything at all then why exactly do they need immunity?

This formulation is not new. Administration officials ususally qualify their desciptions of telecom actions with "believed", "alleged" or a similar variant. They could simply tell us what the telecoms did, but that would run counter to their devotion to secrecy and misinformation.

This Sandwhich is a Matter of National Security

Three deep-cover operatives were killed bringing you this photograph of the top-secret government project known only as "Lunch Menu Item 5."

Casinos lobby government to ban internet gambling. Government complies. World Trade Organization cries foul. Government negotiates and resolves dispute. Intrepid go-getter Ed Brayton files Freedom of Information Act request to obtain copy of agreement. Administration response?

Please be advised that the document you seek is being withheld in full pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(1), which pertains to information that is properly classified in the interest of national security pursuant to Executive Order 12958.

In his previous post Ed Brayton wrote:

I have submitted an FOIA request for the full text of the settlement. There's no way they can legally deny that request, but given the Bush administration's secrecy fetish I'm willing to bet they'll at least try to stonewall it.

If anything he gave them too much credit. This is an administration that decided the Office of Administration was retroactively not subject to FOIA requests. The same administration that tried to retroactively classify public material. There's nothing this administration can't justify by appealing to national security concerns.

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