Friday, December 28, 2007

Compare and contrast; US presidential candidates on the assassination of Benazir Bhutto

From CNN:

John Edwards:
"Benazir Bhutto was a brave and historic leader for Pakistan. Her assassination is a sad and solemn event, and our hearts go out to her family and to the Pakistani people. But we will not let this contemptible, cowardly act delay the march of progress in Pakistan for a single second.

"I have seen firsthand in Pakistan, and in meetings with Prime Minister Bhutto and President Musharraf, the instability of the country and the complexity of the challenges they face. At this critical moment, America must convey both strength and principle. We should do everything in our power to help bring the perpetrators of this heinous act to justice and to ensure that Bhutto's movement toward democracy continues."

Chris Dodd:
"Today's news from Pakistan is both shocking and saddening. As a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, I have had the opportunity to travel to Pakistan and come to know Former Prime Minister Bhutto very well over the years. I spoke to her personally several weeks ago and have stayed in close contact with her since. She was a respected leader who played an important part in moving Pakistan toward democracy.

"As we recognize the loss of a leader today, we must also recognize the implication of today's tragedy to the security of the region and to that of the United States.

"At this critical time we must do everything in our power to help Pakistan continue the path toward democracy and full elections. Our first priority must be to ensure stability in this critical nuclear state.

"The United States should also stand ready to provide assistance in investigating this heinous act. And as Pakistan perpetrators to justice, it should also demonstrate that it will not allow such violence to derail democracy and proceed with elections in a timely manner."

Mike Huckabee:
"I am deeply troubled by the news accounts this morning of Pakistani opposition leader and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's assassination in a suicide attack. This is devastating news for the people of Pakistan, and my prayers go out to them as we follow developments regarding this dire situation.

"The terrible violence surrounding Pakistan's upcoming election stands in stark contrast to the peaceful transition of power that we embrace in our country through our Constitution. On this sad day, we are reminded that while our democracy has flaws, it stands as a shining beacon of hope for nations and people around the world who seek peace and opportunity through self-government."

Joe Biden:
"This is a terrible day. My heart goes out to Benazir Bhutto's family, friends and followers.

"Like her father before her, Benazir Bhutto worked her whole life – and gave her life – to help Pakistan become a democratic, secular and modern Muslim country. She was a woman of extraordinary courage who returned to Pakistan in the face of death threats and even after an assassination attempt the day of her return, she did not flinch. It was a privilege to know her these many years and to call her a friend.

"I am convinced Ms. Bhutto would have won free and fair elections next week. The fact that she was by far Pakistan's most popular leader underscores the fact that there is a vast, moderate majority in Pakistan that must have a clear voice in the system. Her assassination makes it all the more urgent that Pakistan return to a democratic path.

"This fall, I twice urged President Musharraf to provide better security for Ms. Bhutto and other political leaders – I wrote him before her return and after the first assassination attempt in October. The failure to protect Ms. Bhutto raises a lot of hard questions for the government and security services that must be answered.

"I know that Benazir's followers will be tempted to lash out in anger and violence. I urge them to remain calm – and not play into the hands of the forces of destruction. I urge Pakistan's leaders to open a fully accountable and transparent investigation. We must find out who was behind this and bring those responsible to justice. And the United States should offer any assistance necessary, including investigative teams, to get to the bottom of this horror.

"The way to honor Benazir Bhutto is to uphold the values for which she gave her life: democracy, moderation and social justice. I join with the Pakistani people in mourning the loss of a dear friend."

Bill Richardson:
"Benazir Bhutto was a courageous woman. Her death, and the deaths of so many of her supporters, is more than just a tragedy. It is a testament to the will of the Pakistani people to see democracy restored. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who died today.

"Ms. Bhutto knew the dangers to her safety. But she would not be intimidated. We also must not be intimidated.

A leader has died, but democracy must live. The United States government cannot stand by and allow Pakistan's return to democracy to be derailed or delayed by violence.

We must use our diplomatic leverage and force the enemies of democracy to yield: President Bush should press Musharraf to step aside, and a broad-based coalition government, consisting of all the democratic parties, should be formed immediately. Until this happens, we should suspend military aid to the Pakistani government. Free and fair elections must also be held as soon as possible.

It is in the interests of the US that there be a democratic Pakistan that relentlessly hunts down terrorists. Musharraf has failed, and his attempts to cling to power are destabilizing his country. He must go."

Hillary Clinton:
"I am profoundly saddened and outraged by the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, a leader of tremendous political and personal courage. I came to know Mrs. Bhutto over many years, during her tenures as Prime Minister and during her years in exile. Mrs. Bhutto's concern for her country, and her family, propelled her to risk her life on behalf of the Pakistani people. She returned to Pakistan to fight for democracy despite threats and previous attempts on her life and now she has made the ultimate sacrifice. Her death is a tragedy for her country and a terrible reminder of the work that remains to bring peace, stability, and hope to regions of the globe too often paralyzed by fear, hatred, and violence.

"Let us pray that her legacy will be a brighter, more hopeful future for the people she loved and the country she served. My family and I extend my condolences and deepest sympathies to the victims and their families and to the people of Pakistan."

John McCain:
"I was deeply saddened today to learn about the death of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. My deepest condolences go out to the family and supporters of this remarkable woman, an individual who paid the ultimate price for her embrace of moderation and rejection of extremism.

"The death of Benazir Bhutto underscores yet again the grave dangers we face in the world today and particularly in countries like Pakistan, where the forces of moderation are arrayed in a fierce battle against those who embrace violent Islamic extremism.

"Given Pakistan's strategic location, the international terrorist groups that operate from its soil, and its nuclear arsenal, the future of that country has deep implications for the security of the United States and its allies. America must stand on the right side of this ongoing struggle.

"In my numerous visits to Pakistan - to Islamabad, to Peshawar, even to the tribal areas of Waziristan - I have seen first hand the many challenges that face the political leadership there, challenges so graphically portrayed by today's tragedy. There are, in Pakistan, brave individuals who seek to lead their country away from extremism and instability and into the light of a better day. America, I believe, must do all we can to support them."

Mitt Romney:
"We are still learning the details of today's tragic events in Pakistan, but this is a stark reminder that America must not only stay on high alert, but remain actively engaged across the globe. Pakistan has long been a key part in the war against extremism and radical jihadists. For those who think Iraq is the sole front in the War on Terror, one must look no further than what has happened today. America must show its commitment to stand with all moderate forces across the Islamic world and together face the defining challenge of our generation – the struggle against violent, radical jihadists.

"At this difficult time, our thoughts and prayers go to the family of Benazir Bhutto, and to all the people of Pakistan who are fighting against extremist forces that would commit such heinous acts as the whole world has witnessed today."
Video: Romney blames extremists

Barack Obama:
"I am shocked and saddened by the death of Benazir Bhutto in this terrorist atrocity. She was a respected and resilient advocate for the democratic aspirations of the Pakistani people. We join with them in mourning her loss, and stand with them in their quest for democracy and against the terrorists who threaten the common security of the world," said United States Senator Barack Obama.

Rudy Giuliani:
"The assassination of Benazir Bhutto is a tragic event for Pakistan and for democracy in Pakistan. Her murderers must be brought to justice and Pakistan must continue the path back to democracy and the rule of law. Her death is a reminder that terrorism anywhere — whether in New York, London, Tel Aviv or Rawalpindi — is an enemy of freedom. We must redouble our efforts to win the Terrorists' War on Us."

So, lemme see. . . Giuliani works in an oblique reference to 9/11 (we’d be disappointed if he didn’t), and Clinton is the only one who chose to refer to the late PM as “Mrs. Bhutto” (odd because Bhutto kept her father’s name after her marriage to Asif Ali Zardari).

Anybody else notice anything interesting?

(h/t JW via JR)

(cross-posted from guy2k)

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Julie Bosman: America’s whiniest reporter

Remember the old joke—the food’s lousy and the portions are small? Well, New York Times “reporter” Julie Bosman has done that one better.

Bosman, who just five days ago was “blogging” about how hard it was to keep up with presidential candidate John Edwards’s breakneck campaign schedule, today writes what I guess passes for a news article in her portfolio, complaining that the former Senator’s campaign events run late. . . because of his breakneck schedule.

Leaving aside that her article is completely devoid of the reporting of actual issues—you know, like what John Edwards proposes we do as a country to house and feed the poor, provide affordable healthcare for all Americans, or restore our reputation abroad—has Ms. Bosman forgotten that just six days ago she was whining (and that’s the nicest word I can use) about how she and her pals couldn’t keep up with the Edwards campaign?

And, for that matter, where are the Gray Lady’s editors today? Too much Figgie Pudding? Bosman’s story is not only missing news value, and is not only purely and completely anecdotal, it violates several of the tenets of principled journalism.

First, this article implies that Edwards’s tardiness somehow represents a pattern—going so far as to list a set of different excuses given for delays at separate events days or weeks apart as if they stand for some sort of serial dishonesty. Bosman does not disprove any of the justifications, she just heavily insinuates that it is all some sort of cover-up—as if this is all exhibit “A” in the case against John Edwards’s character.

Bosman even opts to get catty:

Speaking in general about Mr. Edwards’s tendency to run late, Mark Kornblau, the campaign’s traveling press secretary, offered a more obscure explanation: “Fighting hard for change sometimes takes a few extra minutes.”

Yes, you are right, “catty” is also too nice a word.

Second, Ms. Julie leads us to believe that New Hampshire Representative Carol Shea-Porter wound up endorsing Barack Obama instead of Edwards on December 10th because Edwards kept her waiting at an event two weeks earlier. No one is asked about this—no doubt because no one would confirm the implied quid pro quo (or anti-quid pro quo)—but Bosman writes the graph in such a way as to imply it anyway. (And her editors let this stand.)

Third, Bosman takes what seem to be purely oblique quotes, and puts them into a context that gives them added meaning.

Let me ask all of you a question: let’s say that you had to leave an event that was running 20 minutes late (who knows why, maybe you had to pick up your daughter from school, maybe you had to pick up dinner, maybe your back hurt, maybe you were just bored), and on your way out, you were asked by a total stranger why it was you were leaving—what would you say?

Now read this:

Not everyone is patient enough to remain. In Lebanon, N.H., Karen Swanson headed for the exit with a friend after nearly a half-hour. “We can’t wait anymore,” Ms. Swanson said.

What does that mean? Exactly. It means that Karen Swanson couldn’t wait anymore.

Stop the presses.

And one more thing—from an editorial perspective, that is.

This is a one-sentence story: In the run up to the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, John Edwards is campaigning at breakneck speed, keeping up a grueling schedule, and is at least sometimes—and maybe often—late to his own campaign events.

That sums it up. And yet, it takes Bowen 802 additional words to communicate that “fact”—well, that fact and all of her additional insinuations and complaints.

Memo to Julie Bosman: This campaign is about America’s future and the multiple men and one woman who want to play some part in shaping it. It isn’t about you.

Now, a few words about tardiness:

First, in my entire lifetime of attending such events—and, I must sheepishly admit, that dates back to shaking hands with George McGovern—I have never (never!) been to an event that started on time. This is the nature of campaigns, especially during crunch time. Candidates need to make numerous appearances, often miles apart, and so very much of the schedule is out of your control. There are security concerns, there’s traffic, weather, local crews that aren’t quite up to snuff, “serious” journalists that take a bit too much of your time asking those very important questions. . . or sometimes, sometimes, you just, as a candidate, want to break from the cookie-cutter demands of your campaign, and take a few extra minutes to connect with the very people whose votes you are soliciting. Imagine that.

Maybe it’s all of the above, or something entirely different, but, as best I can tell, none of this says much about how you might rebuild a neglected New Orleans, provide medical care to 45 million uninsured Americans, or pull 150,000 US troops out of Iraq.

In fact, let me tell you a story.

This summer I arrived an hour early to see Barack Obama speak in New York—and two hours later, I was still not through the metal detectors. At that point, I had to leave.


I just couldn’t wait anymore. (I had to be somewhere to meet an out-of-town friend, if you must know).

Later that night, I turned on the local news, where I found out that I would have had to wait an additional 45 minutes in order to see Senator Obama. In other words, Barack Obama was an hour and 45 minutes late!

What do I think that says about the junior Senator from Illinois? Absolutely nothing.

Was I disappointed that I didn’t get to hear him in person? Yes. Did I think this said word one about his character? Not even.

Now, for someone we know to have been perpetually running behind: I am, of course, referring to Mr. Hillary Clinton.

The presidency of Bill Clinton was legendary for its lateness. His days started late—sometimes after noon—and ran late—sometimes into the wee small hours. The president was often very late to his own events (Matt Bai’s Sunday New York Times article recounts just such a story). And yet, despite this record of serial tardiness, the other of the three leading contenders for the Democratic nomination—that would be Hillary Rodham—can’t go five minutes without trumpeting the assumed successes of her husband’s their presidency.

George W. Bush, on the other hand, is famous for starting early, and finishing early. His events, filled with prescreened guests, coordinated and traveled to at taxpayer expense, run like clockwork (or so we’re told). And how has that worked out for all of us?

And, by all of us, I mean the country—the world, even—and not just Julie Bosman, who, I assume, is a journalist by choice, and is getting paid to keep up with—or sometimes wait for—the people she is assigned to cover.

Perhaps Ms. Bosman should remember some words the current president said about his job, and take them to heart about hers: it’s hard work.

Or at least it’s work. Paid, coveted, prestigious work. Work Julie Bosman whines about doing.

(Perhaps the only redeeming fact about the Bosman pathetic hit piece is that it didn’t make the NYT’s front page—that was reserved for yet another article about Hillary Clinton. How many is that now?)

Update: A different, less whiny, point of view

After posting a somewhat lengthy critique of Julie Bosman’s lazy whine-fest about the purported tardiness of the Edwards campaign, I was reminded of a different reporter’s take from just a few days earlier.

This is from seasoned CBS news reporter Chip Reid, who posted Five Things I Learned in Ten Days with Edwards just before Christmas:

1. DISCIPLINE, DISCIPLINE, DISCIPLINE - I’m a bit unhappy with John Edwards. I’ve been covering his campaign for 10 days and he hasn't made a lot of news. Let’s face it – a lot of what political reporters report on is mistakes. The campaign trail is one long minefield, covered with Iowa cow pies, and when they step in one – we leap.

I’ve done very little leaping – and I blame Edwards. While other candidates misspeak, over-speak, and double-speak, Edwards (at least in these 10 days) has made so few mistakes that I end up being transported -- newsless -- from town to town like a sack of Iowa corn.

He has a remarkable ability to stay on message. Not just in “the speech,” but even in Q and A. Nothing throws him off. He turns nearly every question into another opportunity to repeat his central theme. Global warming? We need to fight big oil. Health care? Fight the big drug and insurance companies. Iowa farmers’ problems? Blame those monster farm conglomerates. And the Iowa populists eat it up. We'll see how well it works in other states.
He’s even disciplined in his daily routine. While most reporters use the campaign trail as an excuse to over-eat and abandon their exercise routines, Edwards squeezes in a run EVERY DAY, rain, sleet, or shine.

Come on John – relax. Step in an Iowa cow pie and let me do my job.

We know from Reid’s headline that he actually spent ten days with the Edwards campaign—that’s with Edwards, and not just chasing him. After contrasting Reid’s observations with Bowen’s anecdote-o-rama, one wonders where she spent the last ten days.

Alas, Chip Reid only got to post his reportage on the CBS blog—it’s probably a bit too pithy for broadcast. . . not to mention the back pages of a “serious” paper like the New York Times.

(cross-posted to The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Of Mice and Men -or- When the “Robust” Get Bussed. . .

Just before Thanksgiving, New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt wrote that a) yes, the Times had covered Senators Clinton and Obama on the front page to the near total exclusion of all the other candidates, and had done an especially poor job of covering the Edwards campaign, b) we should just wait, because there’s stuff on the other candidates coming up, and c) what you don’t see on the front page of the paper is made up for on the Times’s website, like on their “robust” blog, The Caucus. Since that column, the front page of the paper has seen (on the Democratic side) one mostly irrelevant hit piece about the relationship between John Edwards and John Kerry in 2004, then, a month later, a photo of Edwards with a jump to a back page featuring a sloppy, snarky, assertion-laden profile from that manufacturer of conventional wisdom, Adam Nagourney, and, of course, many, many more stories about Barack and Hillary.

As for that blog, well, if Thursday afternoon’s post is what Mr. Hoyt was thinking of as robust, then I think he should reconsider.

It’s been a bit of a game of cat-and-mouse, and an epic travel day, for five of the reporters who cover Mr. Edwards on a near-constant basis, two weeks from the Iowa caucuses. We started out in Manchester, N.H., and drove to the airport through the middle of a slightly hairy snowstorm that had already dumped six inches on parts of New Hampshire – and barely caught a 5:55 a.m. flight.

Then after stopping in Cincinnati, our second plane was unable to land in Omaha because of fog shrouding the airport, preventing any flights from arriving or departing. We circled the airport in a holding pattern for about 30 minutes until we were able to land.

In Des Moines.

Which is where the travel staff of the Edwards campaign scrambled to find a minivan to shuttle the press corps to the second event of the day (we missed the first), in Le Mars, Iowa, about a four-hour drive away.

. . . .

Mr. Edwards and his staff, it should be noted, flew on a private jet last night from Manchester and spent the night in Omaha.

At the moment, the press van – riding cautiously in the right lane – is 147 miles from Mr. Edwards’s next event, which starts in just under two hours. If we miss it, we’ll next try to chase Mr. Edwards down in Sioux City for his last event of the day.

So, let me see, the reason that the establishment press has been under-covering the Edwards campaign is John Edwards’s fault—is that it? I mean, what else am I supposed to take from this post? He’s campaigning too hard for you?

Did you and your buds ever get to Sioux City? Am I going to read a story anywhere in your paper about that event? How about the events from the prior day in New Hampshire? Wait, let me check. . . nope. I’m not exactly sure what you esteemed members of the corps are doing racing around the country if you don’t actually get to write stories—or is that not part of your job? Maybe The Caucus is just too robust for my lean intellect—it leaves me with more questions than it answers.

And I’m not the only one with questions. Take, for example, a commenter named Patty Morland:

From your description of what happened it really doesn’t seem applicable to use the words “cat & mouse” to describe this. Surely you’re not implying that Edwards is trying to lose you on purpose like a mouse would do to a cat? But maybe you are because after describing how Edwards’ campaign helped you with your transporation [sic] you then rewarded them by this “catty” remark:

Edwards and his staff, it should be noted, flew on a private jet last night from Manchester and spent the night in Omaha.

Or maybe I’m misreading this and you’re just trying to send a message to the NYT that they need to cough up some cash to pay for a private plane for you guys. No, it can’t be that because we all know corporate America only reserves the private jets for the executives. They aren’t really concerned about the safety or well being of the rank and file. Welcome to the two Americas.

Couldn’t have said it better myself, Patty. Luckily, for those in rank and file America, the caucus-goers of Iowa are made of more robust stuff than the Times bloggers.

(cross-posted on The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Are you ready for some filibuster?

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) will take the floor of the US Senate today and engage in the first old-fashioned, “talk until you’re blue in the face,” “hold the floor and refuse to yield” filibuster in fifteen years. Why? Let’s just say the Sen. Dodd is rising to protect a little something I like to call The United States Constitution.

The Senate takes up debate of the latest revision to the FISA law today, and though what lead us to this point could take the better part of filibuster to understand, let me summarize by saying that the issue at hand that has motivated Dodd to rise in objection is the issue of granting retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that broke federal law in order to help the Bush Administration illegally spy on American citizens inside the United States.

That it has come to this is tragic for so many reasons, not the least of which is the perplexing readiness of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to ignore a hold placed by Dodd on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence version of the bill which contains immunity. That the SSCI, chaired by alleged Democrat Jay Rockefeller (WV), reported out a FISA bill that included retroactive immunity represents another titanic failure of the Democrats to show leadership and provide the constitutionally mandated check against Bush executive branch abuses of power.

Yet, in the face of so very many of those abuses over the past seven years, why is this time, this issue, the one that requires Dodd’s filibuster—and our support?

The battle over retroactive immunity contains numerous storylines that embody Bush Administration efforts to usurp power, consolidate it, and preserve it at the expense of the liberties that go to the very definition of what we are as a nation. It also exemplifies the over-close relationship that has developed between our government and corporate interests.

Writing in Sunday’s New York Times, James Risen, Eric Lichtblau, and Scott Shane—the reporters that originally broke the illegal domestic surveillance story two years ago—bring to light several new facts about the warrantless surveillance, as well as the relationship between the NSA and the Bush Administration on one side and several telecommunications providers, such as AT&T, Verizon, and Qwest Communications, on the other.

First up: if there were any doubt before, the article now makes clear that long before the attacks of 9/11/01, the Bush Administration sought to rapidly and massively expand the surveillance of communications between US citizens within the United States, and did so without using the legally prescribed processes laid out either in the FISA law, the criminal code, or the US Constitution.

In a separate N.S.A. project, executives at a Denver phone carrier, Qwest, refused in early 2001 to give the agency access to their most localized communications switches, which primarily carry domestic calls, according to people aware of the request, which has not been previously reported. They say the arrangement could have permitted neighborhood-by-neighborhood surveillance of phone traffic without a court order, which alarmed them.

This adds detail to existing knowledge (documented—with multiple links—in two posts that I wrote in November) that within two weeks of taking office in 2001, the Bush Administration sought the cooperation of the nation’s largest telcos in order to collect a broad array of communications data generated and received by American citizens residing in the United States.

It has been noted that a program to collect phone records from citizens inside the US who called Latin America began in the mid Nineties as part of the “war on drugs,” but a) this program was ramped up significantly as soon as Bush came into office, b) such surveillance still requires some legal certification (so-called “basket warrants” or something similar), and there is no report that the Bush Administration is producing these warrants to defend the increased surveillance, and c) as noted in the above paragraph (if you look at it in the context of the NYT article) the warrantless access which was sought from Qwest was for a separate project.

Why is this timeline so important? As I wrote in early November:

It is not simply a matter of scheduling; it goes to the root of all arguments both for and against the surveillance programs. Since the telecommunications companies were approached by the administration in February of 2001, then none of this is a response to the attacks of 9/11. And, since the spying is not a response to those events, then what were the NSA and the White House looking for?

I added at the time that if they were trying to be proactive on terrorism, the tragedies that befell America seven months later prove the program an abject failure, but as we know (and know more assuredly with every revelation, biography, or ex-White House-staffer tell-all) Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice came into power with less than a passing interest in terrorism, and multiple attempts by outgoing Clinton officials to grab their attention did nothing to motivate the Bush bunch to ramp up their concern or actions.

So, with the drug war and terrorism ruled out as possibilities, what else could the Bush White House want to learn? Though anything I write at this point would by the rules of journalism be classified as speculation, I don’t think it’s too wild a stretch to say “everything.”

What I mean by “everything,” is that this group waltzed into the White House with dreams of a permanent Republican majority, and quickly sought to put in place an infrastructure that they thought would help them build and maintain it.

The consolidation and maintenance of power is a theme that runs through many of the outrages that now hound (or should hound) the administration. It encompasses the replacement of experts with ideologues, illegal detentions, rendition, and torture, the politicization of the Justice Department and federal bench, the accelerated consolidation of the media, the influence peddling and K Street scandals, the diminution of voting rights, and the sophistry involved in perpetuating what, for lack of a better term, I will call the permanent fear economy—and this is to name only a few.

A bulked-up surveillance network operating outside the law and the knowledge of oversight bodies gave the Bush Administration the tools to accumulate whatever information they might deem necessary for any number of projects. It is likely journalists have been the subject of some of this surveillance, and it is not beyond the bounds of logic to assume that others who have sought to dissent or challenge Republican power might also find themselves under the warrantless watchful eye of Bush Administration spooks.

It is this final point that seems to escape so many now engaged in the debate over new FISA legislation—not the least of them being members of the Democratic leadership. Does a Senator Reid or a Senator Rockefeller, who have both often railed against the lies and bad faith efforts of the White House, not believe that if given the opportunity, this administration would use all the tools in its possession to destroy Democrats or disrupt their agenda? If they can’t quite muster the strength to stand for the rule of law and the rights guaranteed by the US Constitution, you think that they could at least get it up to act in their own self-interest.

Self-interest of a different kind has shown itself to be important to the current debate. As I, and others, have noted, too many of the parties involved have a financial stake in acting in the interests of the telecommunications lobby. Jay Rockefeller has done particularly well (in terms of donations from the telecom lobby) since immunity became an issue.

The problem is, of course, that immunity stands in direct opposition to the interests of the nation and its people. As the Sunday Times article notes, there are several pending cases against the telcos that would shed necessary light on the cooperation between the industry and the administration in the building and operation of Bush’s illegal surveillance regime. Because the administration has been so secretive, and because the oversight has been so lax, the pending law suits against the likes of AT&T and Verizon are some of the few options left to those of us that want to restore protections guaranteed under the Constitution.

That members of both the intelligence community and the telecommunications industry tell the Times that a lack of retroactive immunity will make the relationship between the two more difficult—that telcos might not give their “full-hearted help” to the administration—is the very reason why liability should be preserved. After all, if the programs implemented by the Bush Administration were legal—if the White House had sought proper authority through the FISA court or other more open avenues—then the telecom industry would have nothing to worry about. If the legal documentation were in place, then the telcos would be in the clear.

Somebody (or some body) has to hold law-breakers accountable. If the administration won’t police itself, if the Justice Department has been turned into a White House rubberstamp, and the Congress won’t intervene with the power with which it has been endowed, then it is up to the people to protect their rights, themselves. It would show the utmost disrespect (for the people and for our laws) if the Senate were to take away these rights. One might even call the behavior criminal.

* * *

And, if Senators are gong to behave like criminals, where does that leave the rest of us? I would posit it leaves us as victims—or, as the surveillance regime might put it, as “targets.”

Christy Hardin Smith brings to our attention a post from early in 2006 about a provision of the Patriot Act that has been interpreted to apply to what used to be called “pen registers” and “trap and trace” devices that would make it easy and remarkably likely that pretty much anyone’s e-mail could be the target of secret surveillance without any specific warrant.

As I understand it, it is now permissible for the intel community to search the e-mails of anyone that has been connected to a target of an investigation. What constitutes a connection? An e-mail from the alleged “terrorist” or “drug kingpin” to the new party would do, but so would the appearance of the e-mail addresses of the original suspect and the new party in the header of an e-mail sent by a third party.

In other words, if I were to e-mail you, then you are connected to me. If I were to e-mail you and some guy you don’t know, let’s call him Ignatz, you are connected to me, Ignatz is connected to me, AND, in the eyes of the government, you are also connected to Ignatz—and that makes you fair game for a more intrusive level of surveillance, without additional court order.

To my mind, it’s a horrifying scenario. It would be possible—and easy—for the government to decide it wanted to target you, and then simply contract a third party to spam you and a “known” “terrorist” or “drug kingpin” with the same e-mail. With that connection made, your e-mail is now an open book. It precludes counter-arguments of “fishing expeditions” by providing a legal (or, really, “legalistic”) way to “narrow” the search. They don’t just bait the hook; they reach into the tank and wrap the fish in the line.

* * *

But in order to carryout any of this, the Bush Administration needs (needed?) the initial access to the digital systems maintained by telecom companies like Verizon, AT&T, and Qwest for their paying customers. How they wanted to gain access and what they then wanted to do was dodgy enough to give pause not only to former Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio, but, as the Times now tells us, at least one other telecom company, as well.

Nacchio contends that his reticence cost Qwest valuable government contracts—that is up for debate. But the companies that did not pause likely did benefit from the increased level of cooperation between them and the NSA. In fact, Mike McConnell, who was in charge of the NSA, then went to the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton and worked on behalf of private intel-sector industries, and is now the Director of National Intelligence, has made it a crusade of his to privatize much of the government’s signal intelligence infrastructure. And, having done that, he now argues that we must grant immunity to these private concerns for fear that if they don’t have it, they will not allow the government access to their equipment.

In starker terms, McConnell is now insisting immunity be granted retroactively to the parties that he worked for during the time that the alleged crimes were committed.

All of this—the lies about when and why the surveillance began, the likely misuse of the surveillance infrastructure, the legal gymnastics used by the Bush Administration to cast the broadest of dragnets, and the cozy relationship between the government and the telco industry that it should regulate—all of this merits, indeed, requires the greatest degree of scrutiny from the Congress and the courts. That so many in Congress would choose not only to abdicate their rights to oversight, but now seek to strip that power from the people is either the height of ignorance or insolence. Either way, it should not be tolerated.

And, at least one Senator has said that he will not. Christopher Dodd, who is also a candidate for President, has taken time away from his campaign to stand up to a corrupt White House and its corporate cronies. He will spend this Monday (and perhaps many more days) filibustering a bill that his own Majority leader has forced to the floor in defiance of his party’s rank and file, and the vast majority of Americans at large. Where the former boxer Harry Reid would not fight, Chris Dodd has entered the ring. Let’s all let Senator Dodd know we are in his corner.

There are several ways to help:

Go to where you will find suggestions on many ways to help and links to much more information.

Call your senators and ask that they support Sen. Dodd’s filibuster. Ask them to refuse to support any FISA reform that grants immunity to the telecommunications industry.

Give the Senator something to read. Chris Dodd has some time to kill, but he’d like to do it with meaningful statements that show just how much we all care about this issue, about our laws, and about our Constitution as a whole. Crooks and Liars and Firedoglake are collecting statements, and Dodd’s office will look for comments that can be used by the Senator on the floor.

You can also e-mail Chris Dodd with your support.

And, if you want to watch your government at work, Dodd’s filibuster will be carried on C-SPAN2 today (starting at 11am, I believe).

(cross-posted on guy2k, The Seminal, and Daily Kos)

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Obviously, I don’t read the Post enough

I’m talking about the Washington Post, and after reading the sample below, I gotta ask: Why would I?

While responding to a comment (by Alex) on yesterday’s cross-post to The Seminal—a comment asserting that Edwards would be dogged in the general election by the two-minute video of him fixing his hair—I said the following:

The hair thing? Gosh, have we not had our fill of that, yet? I bet that you are right, and some 527 or nutosphere parrot will try to get that going again, but I actually think that the hair got so much play early—complete with late night talk show jokes—that we might have hit saturation on that one. I expect that we can counter that with “what’s worse, pretty hair or an ugly war?” or some such. I also think that if it’s down to Edwards and a Republican, those that would be swayed by the hair probably weren’t going to vote for JE anyway.

Unless there’s a metrosexual equivalent to the Bradley effect.

Silly me.

Only a few hours later, I came across this:

On December 11, The Washington Post published four pieces profiling Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards that each mentioned the cost or "expensive" nature of haircuts Edwards has received. Edwards was the subject of the Post's series "The Front-runners," which the Post bills as a "revealing look at each of the leading presidential candidates."

That’s from Media Matters, and you can follow the link to read the (ir)relevant quotes from the fab foursome of Pressley Montes, Kornblut, Milbank, and Givhan so that you don’t have to soil yourself wading through the entire paper.

The thing that I guess I want to comment upon further is that I have a hard time thinking all the way through this supposed contradiction. Does the hair part (pardon the pun) look good in-and-of itself? No, of course not. But this idea that a guy who has lived a successful life is somehow contradictory or insincere when he expresses a concern for what the press seems to like to call “the little guy” is absurd on its face.

I look at it this way: what’s the opposite? Is it better to be successful and disdainful of the less fortunate—would that be more “sincere?” Would that be less “contradictory?” Would that make for a better president?

Because, I gotta tell you, that’s what we’ve got. President Bush—a guy who was born on third base and claimed he’d hit a triple—has taken every opportunity to work against the interests of the poor and middle class. His tax cuts have overwhelmingly favored the wealthy at the expense of the middle class, and have widened the gap between rich and poor at alarming rates. His second veto of SCHIP funding leaves over six million children in limbo. His “bailout” proposal for the victims of predatory sub-prime mortgages helps almost no one because Bush insists you can’t “reward” people who made bad choices (on the flip side, the plan has been called “the bank lobby’s dream”). And his overall management of the economy has been so bad that financial insiders are “spooked,” and many economists expect things to get precipitously worse for years to come.

Not that the slide will likely hurt George Bush or John Edwards. But where Edwards proposes leading America out of this era of greed and economic injustice, Bush fiddles while the working class burns.

Which brand of sincerity sounds better to you?

To tell you the truth, I think that Senator Edwards got ripped off on his haircut. I mean, it’s solid, and clean and all, but I’d like to see him loosen up a bit. Over all, though, I think Edwards is pretty well turned out. His suits fit him much better than President Bush’s.

Now, don’t I sound a little ridiculous? Does any of that matter when we are faced with a failing economy at home and a military disaster (or two) abroad?

Exactly. . .

. . . except if you work at the Washington Post.

I suppose that I shouldn’t expect better from a paper that has also spent time commenting on Senator Clinton’s pants and spreading tired and unsubstantiated rumors about Senator Obama’s, oh, let’s call it his early religious influences (no, you don’t get a link), but I am astounded that four seasoned newshounds (OK, three, Givhan’s position on this paper is a complete mystery) can’t get this. . . or get over it.

(cross-posted on The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

The results are in (or are they?)

Following up on yesterday’s post—if electability is the sort of thing that floats your boat, then you absolutely should take a gander at the latest CNN/Opinion Research poll. Yes, it’s a national poll, so all appropriate caveats apply, but the results are striking all the same:

On the Democratic side, Edwards performs best against each of the leading Republicans. In addition to beating Huckabee by 25 percent and McCain by 8 percent, the North Carolina Democrat beats Romney by 22 percentage points (59 percent to 37 percent) and Giuliani by 9 percentage points (53 percent to 44 percent).

As interesting to me as the four first-place finishes for Edwards are, I am also intrigued by the margins—in three of the four races, Senator Edwards does better than Senators Clinton and Obama by statistically significant margins. The difference between the three is within the three-point margin of error only in the match-up with Rudy Giuliani (all three Democrats would beat Giuliani, according to the poll).

Senator John McCain is the strongest of the Republicans in this poll—fighting Clinton and Obama to a statistical draw—but, as noted, even he falls significantly short in the head-to-head with Edwards.

I was going to beat this drum a bit more, but Ian Welsh has already done a really fine job of it, so let me just cut to him:

Ok, enough with the BS "let's not talk about electability" idea that seems so prominent in the left-wing blogosphere. This isn't 2004, Kerry isn't the "electable" candidate preparing to cruise himself into the ground. It's almost 2008, we've got a different crop of candidates, and the most electable of the three top candidates is Edwards. This has been clear in poll after poll, the latest of which is CNN's poll, which shows Edwards crushing Republicans.

. . . .

Edwards is also the most liberal (or progressive, if you prefer) of the three of them. Democratic primary voters are supposed to be left-leaning, but they seem to support the most centrist candidate of the three -- Hilary Clinton, the woman who won't even say she'd shut down torture without exception.

Now, as long as we're talking turkey and breaking taboos, let's say the rest of what needs to be said.

Clinton has the highest negatives of any Democratic candidate, by a large margin. She's also a woman. Everyone plays up how that's an advantage, and sure, Americans claim they'd vote for a woman. But there's a well known polling bias on such social issues: people don't want to say they're sexist on the phone, but we all know sexism hasn't gone away. Some of Clinton's theoretical support in a general election is probably phantom popularity. It might only be a few percent, but given she already has razor thin margins against many Republicans, that could be the difference between victory and ignomious [sic] defeat.

And then there's Obama. Bill Clinton wasn't America's first Black President. Obama, on the other hand, would like to be. I fully expect a chunk of Obama's support would simply evaporate at the polling station, because a lot of Americans, no matter what they say, aren't voting for a black man. Shoot the messenger if you choose, but everything I know about America tells me America is still riddled with racism.

Edwards is male, southern and telegenic. He has run a populist campaign. He is probably as left wing as someone can be in the US and still run for President. He has been a friend to unions and to the poor. He has had the guts to admit he was wrong on the war and while his anti-war platform isn't as strong as I'd like (he should commit to pull out) it's better than Clinton's or Obama's.

He's electable. Of the big 3 candidates he's the most progressive.

. . . .

This isn't 2004. Voting your beliefs (the poor and middle class are getting screwed) and choosing the most electable candidate aren't in opposition to each other this time.

So what I'm asking Democratic primary voters is to take a good hard look at Edwards again. Stop accepting the media's narrative of Edwards as "the number 3 guy". Look at the numbers, look at his positions and realize that this time you can have it all -- you can have a progressive candidate and you can have a nominee who will absolutely wipe the floor with the Republicans.

Vote your heart, but by all means also vote electability. And don't let political correctness blind you to political realities. Because the country simply cannot afford another 4 years with a Republican president.

Sorry to quote at such great length, but I wanted to make sure you all read that middle part—yes, that part.

While I am not going to tell you to avoid Clinton or Obama based on sex or race—because I don’t think you should—if you are talking about electability, I think Ian makes a fair point about the biases that still lurk in the dark recesses of the American psyche.

It’s called the Bradley effect, and I am old enough and grew up in the right part of the country to remember whence it got its name. The short read: popular LA Mayor Tom Bradley, and African American Democrat, ran for governor of California in 1982 against the white Republican George Deukmajian. The polls consistently showed that Bradley would win, but he did not. Post election analysis revealed that, when polled, white voters over-reported their willingness to vote for a black man.

And that is far from the only example of this effect.

Do I like that in 2007/8 America we still have to talk about this? Hell no! Do I think that there is still a statistically significant percentage of the electorate that will tell a pollster that a minority or woman would be just fine with them, but when in the privacy of a polling booth know that there is just no way they would ever pull the lever for a non-white non-male? Sadly, yes, I do.

Again, please, do everything you can to fight against the Bradley effect—vote for the person that most appeals to you—but if you are evaluating the polls, please don’t ignore this sad paradox, either.

All of which is to say that, if we were to take the Bradley effect (or some likely anti-woman corollary) into account, the CNN poll likely underreports Edwards’s electability advantage over his two chief rivals.

I would also add that some social scientists believe that the Bradley effect is amplified when the opposing candidates are otherwise poorly differentiated. In other words, when you give the racist or sexist voters the “all things being equal” equation, it gives them the opportunity to focus on the more obvious, demographic difference.

Which is all the more reason to look for a candidate that is not looking to hedge bets or split the difference on the major issues of the day. Being tentative or triangulating just invites the bias problem to again “surprise” the pollsters. Candidates—unfair as it is—that are faced with an extra level of immutable bias should take that to heart, and change their message accordingly.

And that, to make lemonade out of lemons, could be a great thing for Democrats because it brings the core values of the party and electability closer to being the selfsame thing.

(cross-posted on The Seminal)

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

On electability

I have never been one to push electability as a deciding factor in a political race. It’s sort of an absurd game to try to guess what’s in the hearts and minds of others. If everyone would go to polls and vote for the candidate they honestly think is the best choice, then that alone would make him or her electable.

But what if the other side (as I will call Republicans for the sake of argument and comity) tips their hand? What if they basically telegraph whom they would love to square off against, and, conversely, whom worries them—does that change the role of electability as an evaluative criterion?

I don’t think it is a great analytical leap to say that most Republican strategists are prepping for a campaign against Senator Clinton—and I have to think they are fine with that (well, as fine as you could be working for a Republican this election cycle—that can’t be fun). Clinton is an intensely known quantity with a long and well-documented track record in the public eye. Plenty of people like HRC, sure, and indeed feel a keen affinity for her, but plenty really and truly don’t. Nationally, Sen. Clinton has the highest negatives of any top tier candidate—and those numbers have proven remarkably stable throughout this overlong campaign season.

Like I said, she is a known quantity. There are not a lot of people out there who say, “I just don’t know enough about Hillary to make up my mind.”

There’s not a lot of room on the upside, and, theoretically, there’s not a lot of room on the downside, either.

Except that there kind of is. . . .

It is relatively easy to measure what people think, but not always as easy to predict what people will do. But I’m going to take a crack at it, anyway.

The Republican brand is a mess. At present, it is now hard to see what Republicans can stand for in a public sense. Standing by Bush ain’t gonna get it done. Talking about Iraq is not something any of them would want to do. Cutting taxes is an old standby, but with so many current and looming economic crises, and the gap between rich and poor so gaping that even the establishment media occasionally has to sit up and take notice, that old saw seems elitist and irresponsible. Even immigration, supposedly the Republican’s wedge issue, is, in reality, a disaster in the making: polls show most voters don’t think this is a top concern, and the hatemongering nativist bigotry will likely drive more voters to their opponents than it will galvanize any faux-populist groundswell.

The only thing I can see unifying the Republicans next fall is fear and loathing—an nothing seems to turn up the bass on the Republican noise box (and turn out the base for a Republican candidate) like the looming specter of another Clinton in the White House.

Honestly, part of me just doesn’t get this. A thinking Republican (work with me on this, OK?) would notice that President Bill took his party a great big step to the right when he emerged on the national scene. Just think, under Big Dawg, we had such anti-progressive legislation as welfare reform—which was nothing but a Republican pipe dream only years earlier.

And Bill Clinton ran a coattail-free presidency, expending little of his political capital to help his party down-ticket. Under the leadership of Clinton 42, Democrats managed to do something they hadn’t done in some 40 years: lose control of both houses of Congress.

It took a decade of hard work and a really, really bad Republican in the White House to undo that horror (if you can call this current Democratic majority a real undoing).

Maybe it’s that President Clinton appropriated so many of the GOP’s positions, and did it in such a charming way, that has so many Republicans tearing at their clothes every time they hear his name. Or, maybe it’s just that he was so damn charming.

There is no doubting Bill Clinton’s great personal charisma, and when he is sandwiched between Prescott’s progeny and the progeny’s progeny, William Jefferson looks like a fucking god among men. (Hush, you!)

Of course, Hillary is not Bill. She has a bit less charisma, and actually stands a tad further to right (in my humble opinion). But to Republicans, it’s as if she were the wrong kind of second coming.

So, to my earlier point, the best way to unify the Republican Brand is to give them something to be against—and if you have seen the Republican debates or if you watch or listen to rightwing news/talk/blather, then you know they just love being against Hillary Clinton.

Then there’s the other side. Our side. It has long been the contention that the left-leaning base of the Democratic Party would accept a more centrist candidate for national office because, well, because of that electability issue. In theory, you gotta win over some of the middle, right? If you are to the left of the Democratic nominee, where you gonna go?

Unfortunately, many elections over the last two decades have taught us that while the party faithful might not always have somewhere else to go (Ralph Nader not withstanding), they pretty much always have some place to stay: home.

It is not sufficient to expect a voter to cast his or her ballot for the lesser of two evils, or the closer of two ideologies, because contemporary voters don’t always do that. All too often, the uninspired voter writes off the whole process. They don’t vote against you, sure, but they don’t vote for you, either. Much of the time, they just don’t vote.

While there is much to hope for in the candidacies of any of the Democratic presidential hopefuls, some capture that hope better than others. And some do it worse. To my mind, Hillary Rodham Clinton is in the latter category.

As HRC works overtime to win the general election without first winning the primary, she has taken to couching almost every one of her positions in a vast array of buzzwords and qualifying phrases. I find so little of what she says to be daring or inspired, and, so, I find almost none of it inspiring.

I fear other voters might feel the same way. And while I will be at the polls next November pulling the lever (yes, we still do that in New York) for a Democrat, no matter who it is, because this one is that important, I can easily envision others who just won’t bother. I can because I have met them.

Believe it or not, even here in liberal and engaged New York City, I have spoken with people who think this is all a big game. . . or a big bore. Bush/Clinton/Bush/Clinton—it’s just an amusement for the powerful corporate interests that really rule the world. (I am not making this up.) George W. Bush isn’t running this time, so they don’t have to worry about him, and they haven’t paid much attention to anyone else.

Democrats need a candidate that will get these people to pay attention. One that will get them, and people all over the country like them, excited. One that will articulate a message in such a way that it will inspire people who don’t normally think elections matter. One who can bring a cause to people who don’t often think there is a reason to vote. One who can give hope to people who don’t believe that what they do at the polls has any consequence.

So far, which is for far too long, Senator Clinton has not been that candidate.

Which brings us back to electability. Again, not a good reason in-and-of itself to choose a candidate—electability is just not an issue like Iraq, or healthcare, or poverty are issues. But, after eight years of horrific leadership, electability is not a non-issue, either. This is an election Democrats want to win; this is an election Democrats have to win.

And win up and down the ticket, I might add.

And, if that’s the way you see it, too, well, then Hillary Clinton is honestly not the best choice. Honestly.

(Oh, and, as to which candidate does worry Republican strategists, well, there is this.)

(cross-posted on The Seminal)

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Who are you, John Kiriakou? (And who ordered the torture?)

ABC News bills its exclusive interview with John Kiriakou as “Coming In from the Cold: CIA Spy Calls Waterboarding Necessary but Torture,” but where exactly was this spy coming in from?

In his interview with Brian Ross, Kiriakou says a great many things—and it is quite the mixed bag. Sure, he says that he now believes waterboarding to be torture (he tried it and lasted about five seconds), but he also takes a twisted road to say that it was necessary for such a “high value” detainee.

In fact, much of the interview, and much of the tone of the ABC tape, goes to great ends to inflate the importance of Abu Zubaydah. To watch the report, you would believe that Zubaydah was the linchpin to breaking open the whole 9/11 conspiracy, and you would also believe that the crucial information was first divulged by AZ as a direct result of the waterboarding.

Ross and his colleagues do little to undercut this contention. It makes for an exciting exclusive, but not for very good journalism. The truth—if we can ever truly get there in these hyper-secret times—about Abu Zubaydah and his importance seems much, much hazier than Kiriakou or ABC leads us to believe.

Though I don’t have time to post a complete point-by-point (I’m a little under the weather today), I have read numerous major reputable publications on this subject, and I can safely say that for every bit of information that Kiriakou (or, for that matter, George W. Bush) claims was revealed by AZ after his torture, there is credible evidence that the US knew the intel before Zubaydah was even captured. The Washington Post and New York Times have covered this, and even the Report of the 9/11 Commission makes note that the supposedly key information that Kiriakou and Bush like to attribute to AZ—the “nickname” of Khalid Shaykh Mohammed—was known to the US before the attacks of 9/11/01.

Ron Suskind, in his book, The One Percent Doctrine, calls Zubaydah a low-level logistics guy, responsible for making minor travel arrangements, who knew nothing of al Qaeda’s inner workings. Suskind also notes that AZ was, in the words of one intelligence analyst, “insane, certifiable, [a] split personality.”

Like I said—none of that is in the Ross piece. Instead, the takeaway on this is that waterboarding may very well be torture by 2007 standards, but in those heady, just barely post-9/11 days, even torture could be forgiven since it lead to such crucial—and dare I say, because Kiriakou does—life-saving intelligence.

I can already feel the goalposts moving on this debate. Is it not only a matter of time before all the “serious” people “admit” that waterboarding is, y’know, basically a technique that borders on torture now that we look at it, but given the times and the “ticking time bomb,” sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

Watch this space.

One interesting thing that John Kiriakou does say, and at some length, is that instructions for this “enhanced interrogation”—like that used to rough up Abu Zubaydah—came directly from CIA headquarters:

The former intelligence officer says the interrogators’ activities were carefully directed from Langley, Va., every step of the way.

“It wasn't up to individual interrogators to decide, ‘Well, I’m gonna slap him. Or ‘I'm going to shake him.’ Or ‘I'm gonna make him stay up for 48 hours.’ Each one of these steps, even though they're minor steps, like the intention shake-- or the openhanded belly slap, each one of these had to have the approval of the Deputy Director for Operations.

“. . . . [B]efore you laid a hand on him, you had to send in the cable saying, ‘He's uncooperative. Request permission to do X.’ And that permission would come. ‘You're allowed to him one time in the belly with an open hand.’"

This is information that should prick up the ears of more than one committee chair in Congress as they begin to ask questions about torture and the destroyed tapes of Abu Zubaydah’s (and at least one other’s) interrogation.

But, to the matter at hand, I still have questions about who John Kiriakou is. Aside from his being a retired CIA officer of undetermined grade, it appears that he now has a job in the business. . . and when I say “the business,” I mean “the industry.”

Lindsay Beyerstein reported yesterday that Kiriakou, who is credited as a “security consultant” on the upcoming Paramount release The Kite Runner, was connected with the film’s producers by “lobbyists from Viacom.”

The film adaptation of the Khaled Hosseini novel has been the center of some controversy of late. Several of the young stars of the film had to be spirited out of their native Afghanistan after fears arose that the boys and their families might be targets of violence because of a simulated rape scene in the movie.

Several papers credit Rich Klein, a “Middle East expert” with Kissinger McLarty Associates (KLA), as having made many of the arrangements for the evacuation. Klein seems to be the go-to guy for many productions looking to film in the Middle East. KLA is a K Street consulting firm formed by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Mack McLarty, the former White House Chief of Staff for President Bill Clinton. (I do no know if John Kiriakou is connected in any way with KLA, nor do I know if KLA is the Viacom lobbyist that Beyerstein references.)

It’s a tangled, but interesting connection. One, of course, not mentioned by Ross or ABC. It is also a connection made more interesting when you note the Nightline feature that will appear one day after it aired the Kiriakou piece—that would be an interview with the makers of. . . wait for it. . . The Kite Runner.

UPDATE: It seems that Kevin Drum had some similar thoughts about Abu Zubaydah’s suddenly fast-rising stock.

(cross-posted to Daily Kos and The Seminal)

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Halfway between principled and protected: a modest proposal

On Friday, we learned from Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) that she was told of the CIA’s torture tapes in 2003, and wrote a letter advising that they be preserved:

In early 2003, in my capacity at Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, I received a highly classified briefing on CIA interrogation practices from the agency’s General Counsel. The briefing raised a number of serious concerns and led me to send a letter to the General Counsel. Both the briefing and my letter are classified so I cannot reveal specifics, but I did caution against destruction of any videotapes.

Given the nature of the classification, I was not free to mention this subject publicly until Director Hayden disclosed it yesterday. To my knowledge, the Intelligence Committee was never informed that any videotapes had been destroyed. Surely I was not.

While it sure is swell that Rep. Harman had serious concerns and wrote to the CIA about them, the gravity of what is reported to have been on those tapes probably warranted, as many have noted, more than a secret missive.

Matthew Yglesias, for one, suggested that it was about time those in Harman’s position start snitchin’ and let the chips fall where they may:

What members who find themselves in the position Harman says she's in. . . need to realize is that on some level acquiescence in these kind of abuses winds up legitimizing them. A member who believes he or she is in possession of evidence of crimes being committed and covered-up through illegitmate [sic] classification ought to seriously consider civil disobedience: calling a press conference, stating the facts, and accepting responsibility for the consequences. The White House could, of course, then turn around and seek to prosecute a member for violating classification laws, and the member could argue justification and we'd have it out. That's a tough call to make, clearly. But our political leaders have responsibilities to the country and to the constitution and I've never seen a candidate for office say something like "I'm the one who likes to abdicate responsibility, decline to make the tough calls, and then when someone else gets to the bottom of things try to make sure that my ass was covered."

But Michael Froomkin, with an eye on that old chestnut, the US Constitution, believes that perhaps a lesser degree of civil disobedience would be required:

Thanks to the Speech and Debate Clause there was a way for any Senator or Representative who wanted to blow the whistle to do so in a way that involved no risk of jail or fines – at worst they might have lost their security clearances (and even there the law is a little murky).

. . . .

The Speech and Debate clause has been interpreted to extend beyond floor speeches, e.g. to committee statements, but it unquestionably applies to floor statements. Thus, it would have been possible for Rep. Harman, or Senator Rockefeller, or the others allegedly briefed to go to the floor, either during the times when members may speak on topics of their choice, or under one of the extraordinary mechanism for privileged statements, and denounce the Bush administration’s determinate to torture helpless captives in secret offshore detention facilities.

While Yglesias, Froomkin, and myself, for that matter, understand there could still be political consequences to blowing the cover on administration misdeeds, I, for one, would like to believe that our elected representatives, when confronted with evidence of lies, corruption, or criminal activity, would have the conscience and courage to access one or both of these obstreperous remedies. However, things being as they are, with both individual courage and collective conscience in short supply, let me suggest a third way: closed session.

Closed session, in this case, is the means by which either the House or Senate closes the doors, empties the galleries, and conducts its business in private, without their staff present and without publication in the Congressional Record. Closed sessions are relatively rare (especially in the House), but have been used in the past to brief Congress on sensitive material, or to debate more freely matters that concern classified information or activities. Such sessions can be called by any sitting member, and is to commence upon a second from another member.

While I, as a rule, would be one of the very last to advocate more secrecy from our government, there are instances where a closed session can actually shed more light on an issue—though, admittedly, it requires a little artifice.

I learned about the alternative power of a closed session during my brief time around Capitol Hill during the Reagan Administration. Back then, the White House was using the CIA and various proxies to fund rebel movements and paramilitary militias throughout Central America. Some of this was known and talked about, some of it was an open secret, but to those outside the intel communities and the executive branch, some of it, especially the details of the financial and arms transfers and the level at which all of this was authorized, was not known outside the oversight committees and a few others in the legislative branch (if that).

Many of us knew something was going on, knew that at least some of it was illegal, and knew that pretty much all of it was completely unacceptable for a theoretically freedom-loving democracy. The question was, how to let everyone else know?

The trick here was to get a member with clearance—a member of an oversight committee or the leadership—to ask for a closed session to debate some part of one of these programs. Once in closed session, he or she could use the secrecy provided and the rights granted under the Constitution to discuss in greater detail what unconscionable or undesirable activities were going down.

After that, you wait for human nature or an individual conscience to work its magic.

While the odds that a gang of four or eight will commit an act of civil disobedience or just plain blab to a favorite journalist is perhaps small, the chances increase exponentially when you bring in nearly 100 more senators, or upwards of 400 representatives. You not only get the members of Congress, you get—though technically you shouldn’t—some percentage of their staffs, as well. This not only greatly increases the chance that something you want to get out gets leaked to the press, it makes it much, much harder to find out whom did the leaking.

True, as bleak as the Reagan years were for us liberal Democrats, it seems like a modest Valhalla when compared with today’s Capitol class. A closed session strategy would still require some degree of courage, or, at least, perseverance, on the part of a Harman or a Pelosi, a Rockefeller or a Reid, and it would require a fourth estate with the integrity and interest to pursue the story after the leak. And, true, it is advocating some degree of subterfuge in pursuit of openness. But, given the seemingly larger set of, um, values required of our congressional leaders by the suggested tacks of Yglesias or Froomkin, perhaps this wily tactic is the necessary cover that our leaders can use in place of their nebulous courage.

(cross-posted to Daily Kos)

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Friday, December 07, 2007

The banality of evil: like father, like son?

The Bush Administration has once again set out to show us just how banal evil can be.

While the latest revelation of the CIA destruction of at least two tapes documenting their interrogation of alleged al Qaeda suspects is yet another cut-and-dried case of obstruction of justice by this administration, I want to take just a moment to reflect on the reason given for why these tapes were made in the first place:

General Hayden said the tapes were originally made to ensure that agency employees acted in accordance with “established legal and policy guidelines.” General Hayden said the agency stopped videotaping interrogations in 2002.

“The tapes were meant chiefly as an additional, internal check on the program in its early stages,” his statement read.

. . . .

A former intelligence official who was briefed on the issue said the videotaping was ordered as a way of assuring “quality control” at remote sites following reports of unauthorized interrogation techniques.

Because, as we all know, there is nothing more embarrassing to a government than torture of inferior quality. Especially at those franchise outlets “remote sites.”

Now back to the obstruction destruction. . . .

Daniel Marcus, a law professor at American University who served as general counsel for the Sept. 11 commission and was involved in the discussions about interviews with Al Qaeda leaders, said he had heard nothing about any tapes being destroyed.

If tapes were destroyed, he said, “it’s a big deal, it’s a very big deal,” because it could amount to obstruction of justice to withhold evidence being sought in criminal or fact-finding investigations.

. . . .

John Radsan, who worked as a C.I.A. lawyer from 2002 to 2004 and is now a professor at William Mitchell College of Law, said the destruction of the tapes could carry serious legal penalties.

“If anybody at the C.I.A. hid anything important from the Justice Department, he or she should be prosecuted under the false statement statute,” he said.

It seems to me beyond any doubt that the Bush Administration withheld important information about the existence of the tapes, their contents, and their destruction from Congress, the 9/11 Commission, and the judge and defense team in the Zacarias Moussaoui case, but I am beyond holding my breath until we get any movement toward arrests and prosecution in any of those instances.

I am not, however, beyond now speculating about the timing of the release of the new NIE on Iran’s nuclear capabilities, in light of our fresh understanding that the New York Times had planned to go public with the tape story today, Friday, and had officially notified the CIA on Wednesday. I can pretty much guarantee that Michael Hayden knew that this story was on its way some time before that.

In fact, I can’t even fathom the “dumb luck” of having the NIE and the tape destruction revelations come out in the same week—and in the same week as Mitt Romney’s “JFK moment” (not), and a (another) mass shooting, to boot

It’s really too much to fathom. Best we go back to our holiday shopping.

But, before we do, let me add that I draw this post to a close without anything in the way of a new revelation or much of a new angle—and for that, I feel a tad bad.

It’s not as if I didn’t try. Since I read of the tape scandal Thursday afternoon, I have been searching almost non-stop for a very specific angle, and I just can’t find the quotable, linkable piece of evidence I seek.

So, I am going to throw this out to you for help:

I will date myself here, but I have a very clear memory of a certain DCI named George H.W. Bush ignoring congressional requests for files and, indeed, destroying files in a direct rebuke of investigators. I even think I remember him justifying the destruction by saying that the CIA just didn’t have the room to store the files anymore.

The thing is, I can’t remember what the files were, and I can’t find a primary source that refers to this incident.

I believe this happened in the spring or summer of 1976—but the revelation might have come later. It is possible that the files concerned investigations into CIA programs known as CHAOS and CONDOR. The former having to do with Agency spying on domestic activist groups in the 1960’s and ‘70’s, the latter concerning CIA ties to South American shenanigans like the overthrow of Chilean President Salvador Allende, the instillation of Augusto Pinochet, the torture of dissidents, and the murder three years later of Pinochet opponent Orlando Letellier and American Ronni Moffitt by car bomb on the streets on Washington DC. There is also the possibility that the files in question concerned CIA operations in Cuba.

Or maybe they were about something else—the details of this are hazy to me.

But, I feel relatively certain GHW Bush did destroy CIA records, and that he did so in defiance of Congress. If anyone else has this recollection, can shed some light on it, or can point to a newspaper article or a Congressional report, please let me know via comment or e-mail.

Thank you.

(cross-posted on guy2k, The Seminal, and Daily Kos)

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