Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Take the Terkel challenge

While Marcy Wheeler explains how Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and his Senate Select Committee on Intelligence have drafted a law on warrantless surveillance that not only gives retroactive immunity to the telecoms for their illegal complicity in White House supervised domestic spying, but immunizes President Bush and then WH Counsel Alberto Gonzales for their intentional violations of US Code and DoJ guidelines, as well, Studs Terkel, a plaintiff in one of the suits against the telecoms, puts the whole program in chilling context.

Terkel, writing in the New York Times, details a history of government transgressions that color his long life. From the Palmer raids, through the Red Scare, and on past protests for Civil Rights and against the Vietnam War, Terkel’s humanitarianism landed him on many lists, including the blackest one:

In the 1950s, during the sad period known as the McCarthy era, one’s political beliefs again served as a rationale for government monitoring. Individual corporations and entire industries were coerced by government leaders into informing on individuals and barring their ability to earn a living.

I was among those blacklisted for my political beliefs. My crime? I had signed petitions. Lots of them. I had signed on in opposition to Jim Crow laws and poll taxes and in favor of rent control and pacifism. Because the petitions were thought to be Communist-inspired, I lost my ability to work in television and radio after refusing to say that I had been “duped” into signing my name to these causes.

Terkel explains how every movement for social justice was met with more secret government surveillance—of private citizens, journalists, even members of Congress—until a congressional committee with a backbone and a belief in the Constitution pulled back the curtain:

Then things changed. In 1975, the hearings led by Senator Frank Church of Idaho revealed the scope of government surveillance of private citizens and lawful organizations. As Americans saw the damage, they reached a consensus that this unrestrained surveillance had a corrosive impact on us all.

In 1978, with broad public support, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which placed national security investigations, including wiretapping, under a system of warrants approved by a special court. The law was not perfect, but as a result of its enactment and a series of subsequent federal laws, a generation of Americans has come to adulthood protected by a legal structure and a social compact making clear that government will not engage in unbridled, dragnet seizure of electronic communications.

President Bush, as Terkel explains, tore up the FISA law and violated the social compact—and, I might add, unilaterally voided the Constitution—purportedly to save the country from some terrorist threat. But, we now know that the electronic dragnet predated the attacks of 9/11, and so, in reality, fits more appropriately into the dark history of government repression that Studs Terkel has experienced for some 90-odd years.

Terkel understands that the SSCI bill violates the Fourth Amendment, runs counter to current case law, and deprives him, and all of us, of a chance to air grievances and redress the wrongs in court. But Terkel, in that proud and pragmatic way that he has, washes away the cynicism and invokes a wisdom that “Jell-O Jay” can’t even hope to buy with his tens of thousands of telco dollars:

Given the facts and an opportunity to act, the body politic generally does the right thing. By revealing the truth in a public forum, the American people will have the facts to play their historic, heroic role in putting our nation back on the path toward freedom. That is why we deserve our day in court.

Can J-Rock, or DiFi, or any of the other members of the Intel Committee honestly say otherwise? Can “Give ‘em Hash Harry” Reid really contradict Studs? Would any of them, Democrat or Republican, dare to tell Terkel he’s wrong?

How about we ask? Here is a list of the members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence:

Rockefeller (D-WV)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Wyden (D-OR)
Bayh (D-IN)
Mikulski (D-MD)
Feingold (D-WI)
B. Nelson (D-FL)
Whitehouse (D-RI)

Bond (R-MO)
Warner (R-VA)
Hagel (R-NE)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Hatch (R-UT)
Snowe (R-ME)
Burr (R-NC)

as well as the ex officio members:

Reid (D-NV)
Levin (D-MI)
McConnell (R-KY)
McCain (R-AZ)

If you live in any of these states, why not give your Senator a call. Ask him or her if he or she is aware of the Studs Terkel piece. Offer to send over a copy. Read a staffer the last paragraph about the American people deserving all the facts and their day in court. Wave off the SSCI rationalizations that Wheeler so carefully refutes. And then ask if the Senator stands with Studs Terkel or against him. Challenge them to tell a 95-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner that he doesn’t understand what America is all about.

I’m curious what you will hear.

(cross-posted to The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Profiles in cowardice

As I walked down Broadway in the pouring rain on Saturday, marching with somewhere between 10,000 and 45,000 others to protest the ongoing US military action in Iraq, I talked with one of my fellow peace-loving patriots about the next Bush Administration debacle. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wasn’t in my little group, but he might as well have been.

In his Monday commentary, Krugman slices and dices the current crop of fearmongers running around trying to gin up a war with Iran—especially neocon Svengali Norman Podhoretz and his favorite Trilby, Rudy Giuliani.

Rudy Giuliani is taking foreign policy advice from Norman Podhoretz, who wants us to start bombing Iran “as soon as it is logistically possible.”

Mr. Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary and a founding neoconservative, tells us that Iran is the “main center of the Islamofascist ideology against which we have been fighting since 9/11.” The Islamofascists, he tells us, are well on their way toward creating a world “shaped by their will and tailored to their wishes.” Indeed, “Already, some observers are warning that by the end of the 21st century the whole of Europe will be transformed into a place to which they give the name Eurabia.”

Do I have to point out that none of this makes a bit of sense?

For one thing, there isn’t actually any such thing as Islamofascism — it’s not an ideology; it’s a figment of the neocon imagination. The term came into vogue only because it was a way for Iraq hawks to gloss over the awkward transition from pursuing Osama bin Laden, who attacked America, to Saddam Hussein, who didn’t. And Iran had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11 — in fact, the Iranian regime was quite helpful to the United States when it went after Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies in Afghanistan.

Beyond that, the claim that Iran is on the path to global domination is beyond ludicrous. Yes, the Iranian regime is a nasty piece of work in many ways, and it would be a bad thing if that regime acquired nuclear weapons. But let’s have some perspective, please: we’re talking about a country with roughly the G.D.P. of Connecticut, and a government whose military budget is roughly the same as Sweden’s.

It is that last point, especially, that resonates re: my rain-soaked rant from the weekend. While Krugman lays out the case against the Republican’s running for president, the same evidence is as damning for the current residents of the West Wing and the OEOB (or some undisclosed bunker). Calling a country like Iran a direct threat to the existence of the United States is, as Krugman’s relatives call it, “crazy talk,” and going on like that from the bully pulpit of the presidency is, at the least, irresponsible.

But, then again, Bush and Cheney have never been big on responsibility, have they?

It is, of course, beyond irresponsible. In the terms put forward by Krugman, it is also likely cynical. Framing it, as he does, with FDR’s apt admonition that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, Krugman accuses the Republicans of fearmongering, and, by easy inference, racism.

But I’m willing to give those so funhouse-mirror-large and in charge the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say, just for the hell of it, that Bush, Cheney, Giuliani, Podhoretz, et al., are not cynical; let’s say that the fear that they broadcast is the fear that’s inside. Let’s say that all of these men are really afraid. Very, very afraid.

That the men who control, or seek to control, the full economic and military might of the United States are so desperate to risk what is left of US credibility or regional stability on a showy and likely ineffective air war against a country as small as Krugman details shows these men to be cowards—and “cowards” was the word I was using while marching on Saturday.

Sure, I also believe that these neo-conmen are cynical bastards, but I guess I can’t help but feel that given the craziness and cravenness, some of that cynicism is rooted in cowardice. For, as it has gone down, altering the course and progress of the entire country because of one day’s criminal act, as tragic and terrifying as it was, makes us as a nation appear weak. The need to unleash our expensive and mechanized dogs of war on millions of innocents, killing hundreds of thousands, in order to convince others of the superiority of our way of life, makes our ideals appear weaker. The Republicans (and a few Democrats, too) that cynically like to wrap themselves in the flag are, quite frankly, cowering behind it.

I would like to believe that America is tougher than that. I would like to believe that as a society we are stronger, and that our ideals are more attractive. I would like to believe that we can do better. And, though I don’t often think of myself as a “patriot,” that, to my mind, is patriotism.

The Republicans that offer us cynical and cowardly crazy talk are espousing something else—rather than appeal to the better angels of our nature, they exploit and expose some of our most devilish flaws.

If there were an ideology we could label “terrorist”—that is pretty much how I would describe it.

(PS Yes, I admit it, I have used this headline before.)

(cross-posted to The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Bush moves ahead with plans for Clinton’s war

In what must be a great disappointment to Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), the Bush Administration stopped short of actually dropping bombs on Iran on Thursday. However, moves by the administration yesterday did take a key step toward bridging the gap between the Clinton-supported Lieberman-Kyl amendment and an all-out hot war on the sovereign state of Iran.

The move designated the Quds force of the Revolutionary Guard and four state-owned Iranian banks as supporters of terrorism, and the Guard itself as an illegal exporter of ballistic missiles. The decision thus raised the temperature in American’s ongoing confrontation with Iran over terrorism and nuclear weapons.

. . . . after 18 months in which the administration has touted the virtues of collective action against Iran by the United States and its allies, the sanctions are a major turn toward unilateralism.

Indeed, in the same report, the New York Times reiterated that Sen. Clinton has moved to the right of this administration declaration.

The United States is not accusing the entire Revolutionary Guard Corps of being a terrorist organization, a step advocated by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who voted in favor of such a measure last month and has since come under attack from antiwar members of her Democratic party. Some conservatives in the administration had also pushed for the broader declaration.

Still, when you take this move by the White House with administration plans to attach so-called Massive Ordinance Penetrators—30,000 pound bunker busters—to B-2 bombers in the gulf, and increasingly bellicose statements from President Bush and Vice President Cheney, Clinton’s vote and continued support for Lieberman-Kyl ties her to the looming military action.

My only question, really, at this point: Does Bush let the bombs fly in the near future in an attempt to sidetrack Hillary Clinton’s march toward the Democratic nomination, or do they wait till the spring or summer in an attempt to sap some energy from the Democratic base while energizing their own?

With the predictions of Sy Hersh and others looking frighteningly prophetic, will the majority of peace-loving Democrats be forced to swallow a bit of their own throw-up as they listen to candidate Clinton try to triangulate the difference between her pro-war stance and that of the Republican candidate? With our troops again fighting armies instead of insurgents (or, more likely, both), will Republicans hint, subtly or otherwise, that in times of rapidly evolving military action, you need a manly man at the helm?

Those are the questions I have looking at the next twelve months. Whether we attack Iran—with Senator Clinton’s finessed blessing—seems, with each passing day, to be less in doubt.

(cross-posted on The Seminal)

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Americans are undertaxed

They say there are only two things certain in life: death and taxes. Alas—and you will understand why I say “alas” in a moment—only the former is truly certain in too many American lives.

With that in mind, I want to give a big guy2k/Red Wind shout-out this morning to the editorial board of the New York Times for putting in print something I have been screaming (mostly, but not entirely, metaphorically) for well over a decade: America, as a whole, does not pay enough in taxes.

With corporatists, Republicans, and libertarians coming at me from the right, and the working poor or the just chronically overworked underpaid who shoulder more than their fair share going bug-eyed on my left, let’s just say that this is not one of my more popular views. In fact, saying that Americans are undertaxed in front of Bill Maher once got me tossed from an audition to be on Politically Incorrect (his producers, by the way, really loved my “incorrect” stance, but it was Bill’s show, after all).

What I tried to explain to Bill all those years ago, and is even more true now, is that Europeans laugh at us when they hear the American vox populi whine about high taxes. As the Times details:

According to a report from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, a think tank run by the industrialized countries, the taxes collected last year by federal, state and local governments in the United States amounted to 28.2 percent of gross domestic product. That rate was one of the lowest among wealthy countries — about five percentage points of G.D.P. lower than Canada’s, and more than eight points lower than New Zealand’s. And Danes, Germans and Slovaks paid more in taxes, as a share of their economies.

The reason Americans think they are overtaxed (as I tried to explain then, but as the Times falls just short of explaining today) is because we don’t see our tax dollars coming back home and working for us. With large percentages going to the military, farm subsidies, and various aid programs for the poor and elderly, the bulk of the hard-working, tax-paying electorate feels like they are getting a raw deal. And, frankly, with too much of our federal kitty going to the military-industrial complex and agribusiness, most taxpayers are.

When polls are conducted asking individuals if they would be willing to pay a few dollars more a year (and we really are only talking about a few dollars for average earners) for equal access to affordable healthcare, cleaner air and water, safer food, or better public schools, the results show most Americans are easily sold on the idea.

Of course, when polls are conducted asking Americans if they wouldn’t like to pay less on their taxes, most say yes—but, hell, who doesn’t love a bargain?

The problem is that an underfinanced and unprogressive tax structure is no bargain at all. Americans pay every day for the shortfalls in the government coffers and the shortsightedness of pandering politicians. Again, the Times:

Politicians on the right have continuously paraded the specter of statism to rally voters’ support for tax cuts, mainly for the rich. But the meager tax take leaves the United States ill prepared to compete. From universal health insurance to decent unemployment insurance, other rich nations provide their citizens benefits that the United States government simply cannot afford.

The consequences include some 47 million Americans without health insurance and companies like General Motors being dragged to the brink by the cost of providing workers and pensioners with medical care.

For most of the last thirty years, our tax-cutting “leaders” have flattened what was once a truly progressive federal income tax into a high-calorie subsidy for corporations and very wealthy individuals, while providing a subsistence level diet for the government. Or, especially as we move forward, with the burdens of foreign policy fiascos and crumbling domestic infrastructure, a sub-subsistence level diet. It is time for some of our true leaders—and I’m not saying there are many—to acknowledge that fact, to expend the time and political capital to explain it, and to then set about fairly and properly nourishing the civil sector.

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

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean we all don’t think you’d a make a lousy president

Writing in today’s New York Times, Maureen Dowd (I know, I can’t believe I’m referencing her column, either) describes how surprised she was to see Sen. Hillary Clinton stray from her practiced unflappability.

[O]n Sunday in New Hampton, Iowa, Hillary lost her cool at last. Sparring with a voter on Iran, she sounded defensive and paranoid.

A Democrat, Randall Rolph, asked Senator Clinton why he should back her when she did not learn her lesson after voting to authorize W. to use force in Iraq. He did not understand how she could have voted yea to urge W. to label Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, possibly setting the stage for more Cheney chicanery.

Hillary said that “labeling them a terrorist organization gives us the authority to impose sanctions on their leadership. ...I consider that part of a very robust diplomatic effort.”

Fearful that her questioner was an enemy spy creeping into her perfect little world, she suggested that he had been put up to the question and did not have his information right.

“I take exception,” Mr. Rolph insisted. “This is my own research. ... I’m offended that you would suggest that.”

Hillary apologized and said that she had been asked “the very same question in three other places.”

Though Clinton’s vote on Lieberman-Kyl is worth every column inch of criticism that MoDo and I can heap upon her, I want to remark on a related issue—this idea that because Mr. Rolph had the same question as three others on the campaign trail, he, as Hillary saw it, had to have been put up to it. Perhaps space limitations prevented Dowd from expanding upon this, so let me express outrage for the both of us.

Does it strike anyone else out there as odd that Sen. Clinton’s first reaction to being asked repeatedly about her unsavory vote is to assume that there is some coordinated and, thus, insincere campaign to “get” her rather than to understand that a large number in her own party were seriously troubled by her position?

For my part, “odd” isn’t the half of it.

It shows me—once again—that HRC’s default position is a political one. Instead of thinking that her questioner—questioners—found her vote an example of poor judgment, or to be wrongheaded or just plain wrong, the Senator assumes that her antagonists are staging a political spectacle. Instead of thinking that Mr. Rolph is in sympathy with others who asked the same question, Ms. Clinton thinks he is in league with them. Instead of understanding that some voters have a core belief, Hillary can only see that they might have a coordinated strategy.

The Junior Senator from New York can’t grasp any of that because it is completely alien to her way of thinking. The reasoning of a Randall Rolph—that a yea vote on Lieberman-Kyl is bad for the country—is too abstract for Clinton. As Hilary sees it, her vote was good for her candidacy.

In her final analysis, Dowd sees plenty that backs this up:

When Hillary voted to let W. use force in Iraq, she didn’t even read the intelligence estimate. She wasn’t trying to do the right thing. She was trying to do the opportunistic thing. She felt she could not run for president, as a woman, if she played the peacenik.

By throwing in with Joe Lieberman and the conservative hawks on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard issue, she once more overcompensated in a cynical way.

This does not bode particularly well for Clinton the candidate—in the primaries or the general election. As MoDo puts it, “Voters seem more concerned with Hillary’s political expediency—which the vote underscored—than with her ability to be manly.”

But, as bad as this looks for candidate Clinton, it makes for an even more troubling picture of the possible president. A vote like the one on Iran, and the reasoning behind it, doesn’t show leadership—or at least not the kind that is going to lead us out of the morass in which we now find ourselves.

It was that other Clinton, you know the one, that triangulated his way to and through a two-term presidency. Along the way, he lost his party control of both houses of Congress, failed to reform healthcare, succeeded in deforming welfare, signed the death warrant for a diverse establishment media, and gave years of life to a largely unprincipled (oh, I’m sorry, “pragmatic”) group of sell-outs called the Democratic Leadership Council. Bill Clinton’s personal strategic success came at the expense of his party’s popular appeal. Big Dawg may have won his prize, but, under his leadership, the Democrats lost their way.

It has taken the democratic wing of the Democratic Party the better part of this decade to recover (or begin to recover). After two terms of Clinton’s successor, it will take the US much longer. If the party and the country are both to flourish, our next president needs boots on the ground, not fingers in the wind.

But Hillary Clinton’s triangulation 2.0 won’t mobilize the party faithful (or the body politic, for that matter) the way hating George W. Bush has. I’m not even sure it will win her many extra votes. If the Bush years have taught us nothing, they have taught us that values are tough to finesse, that cynicism breeds cynicism, and that standing for something beats sitting on the fence.

If a President Hillary Clinton wants to accomplish any of the things on which she is campaigning (besides making war on Iran)—if she is going to drawdown US forces in Iraq, restore integrity to government, cover the uninsured, or help the poor—then she is going to have to spend some political capital, take some risks, and make a stand. She is going to have to choose definable sides rather than shoot for the amorphous middle. She is going to have to teach and she is going to have to lead.

The way HRC is voting, talking, and campaigning, I don’t get the feeling she is ready to do any of that. Worse, I’m not sure she understands that she has to.

No, Senator Clinton, I’m not out to get you; I just don’t get your thinking.

And neither does MoDo.

(cross-posted to Daily Kos)

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Too pissed to blog

I really thought that with the elevation of Democrats to the leadership of both houses of Congress that the worst of my politicocentric rages were behind me—but today, my cardiovascular system and I discovered that I was wrong.

WASHINGTON, Oct. 8 — Two months after insisting that they would roll back broad eavesdropping powers won by the Bush administration, Democrats in Congress appear ready to make concessions that could extend some crucial powers given to the National Security Agency.

Administration officials say they are confident they will win approval of the broadened authority that they secured temporarily in August as Congress rushed toward recess. Some Democratic officials concede that they may not come up with enough votes to stop approval.

Say what??? Are you fuckin’ kidding me? Have we learned nothing. . . again? Did the Democratic leadership fail to read the editorials back in August that shot their cavalier strategizing square through the strangely missing moral core? Did they fail to read my blog???

Sadly, everything—absolutely everything—that I, the New York Times, the Washington Post and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said back in August still applies (please take a moment to click back to that post—I can’t bear to write it out again). And that leaves me seething to point of crimson face and bulging eyes.

Today, even the previously resolute and admirable Rep. Nadler seems to be showing his jelly-leg.

Mr. Nadler said that he was worried the Senate would give too much ground to the administration in its proposal, but that he was satisfied with the bill to be proposed on Tuesday in the House.

“It is not perfect, but it is a good bill,” he said. “It makes huge improvements in the current law. In some respects it is better than the old FISA law,” a reference to the foreign intelligence court.

Not perfect, in this case, is not good enough. . . and not at all good. Calling the proposal an improvement on the current law is like calling a stake through the heart an improvement on water-boarding followed by a stake through the heart. I will remind everyone, including Mr. Nadler, that all the Democrats have to do (like all they had to do in August) is NOTHING. This colossal capitulation mistake is set to expire around Valentine’s Day—this no time to pen another love letter to the Bush Administration and its cowardly pals in Congress.

Jerrold Nadler is my Representative, and I plan to give him a piece of my mind. I urge all of you to do the same with the men and women that claim to represent you. . . especially if he or she is a Democrat. (I can’t believe I just wrote that. . . I can’t believe I just had to write that.)

Remind them that you support moral representatives that uphold their oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic—including the Bush/Cheney Administration.

Remind them that our most basic liberties hang in the balance. Tell them that you will stand by them if they stand strong themselves. Teach them what you and civil liberties experts already know about this purported FISA compromise:

‘This still authorizes the interception of Americans’ international communications without a warrant in far too many instances, and without adequate civil liberties protections,” said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, who was in the group that met House officials.

Caroline Frederickson, director of the Washington legislative office of the American Civil Liberties Union, said she was troubled by the Democrats’ acceptance of broad, blanket warrants for the security agency rather than the individualized warrants traditionally required by the intelligence court.

“The Democratic leadership, philosophically, is with us,” Ms. Frederickson said. “But we need to help them realize the political case, which is that Democrats will not be in danger if they don’t reauthorize this Protect America Act. They’re nervous.

“There’s a ‘keep the majority’ mentality, which is understandable,” she said, “But we think they’re putting themselves in more danger by not standing on principle.”

Indeed, they are putting us all in danger. Let we the people try not to let that happen.

(Gosh, I guess that you just can’t really be too pissed to blog—who knew?)

Update: Apparently things are at least a little grayer than the Gray Lady would have us believe. According to Glenn Greenwald and Christy Hardin Smith, there is much to feel good about in the House version of this legislation. Christy is urging folks to call their Reps in support of the work of the House Progressive Caucus in restoring some safeguards and adding some new requirements to the FISA process.

Serves me right to go on record after only reading the paper of record.

Of course, the proof is in the endgame, which will involve the Senate and some serious backroom bullying and front room grandstanding by the likes of GW, Dick, and Mike McConnell. I am still uncomfortable with the idea of “umbrella warrants,” and, frankly, the whole idea of a secret FISA court strikes me a singularly anti-American, but, from a lobbying and calling your Representatives standpoint, perhaps it is best we keep our powder dry for the moment, and call to support what we like about this Conyers-Reyes proposal.

(cross-posted on guy2k and Daily Kos)

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Where is the “where is the outrage?”

I was mildly heartened this weekend to hear NPR’s On the Media lead with a Bob Garfield story about the shocking lack of shock at the revelation that, as the New York Times summed up its own reporting:

President Bush and his aides have not only condoned torture and abuse at secret prisons, but they have conducted a systematic campaign to mislead Congress, the American people and the world about those policies.

When I read in the Times on Thursday that the Bush White House and Justice Department had conspired to circumvent several laws—domestic and international—and provide their henchmen with the legal cover to perpetuate pointless and barbaric interrogation techniques, torture, I expected the exposé to be the lead story on every network news program that evening.

It was not.

I was not able to watch every broadcast, so I did not remark on it last week, but the Garfield piece filled in some of the missing parts and confirmed what I had only partially witnessed. The NBC nightly news with Brian Williams led with more of the “will he or won’t he” about the toe-tapping Senator from Idaho, Larry “Wide Stance” Craig; the revelation of the administration’s secret torture memos was the second story.

That was the highlight. As Garfield observed, neither ABC’s Charles Gibson nor CBS’s Katie Couric had word one to say about the new news that the Bush administration had worked out in secret a way to keep kidnapping and torturing. I watched with amazement as The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer could not find room in its newsie hour to examine the story (the program did pick up on it on Friday). And, needless to say, I was not surprised to discover that ABC’s Nightline thought it more newsworthy to run with two pre-taped pieces: one, a heartwarming tale of a young girl’s struggle with heart disease, the other, a giant infomercial for a New Jersey wine superstore.

Local newscasts paid the torture memos no mind, either.

With that deafening silence, I was surprised to read in the Times the following day that their story had caused an uproar. Maybe it had over cocktails in a bevy of Beltway watering holes, but it couldn’t be heard above the last slurps of a super-big-gulp across America’s broad media landscape.

That yet another horrific betrayal of all that we hold dear as a country by a band of greedy, cynical cowards didn’t cause an instant and intense shockwave to shake every branch of the establishment media isn’t, at this point, almost seven years in to the G. W. Bush Administration, really such a wild surprise, as much as I might want it to be. Rather, and sadly, at this place in history, I am surprised by the seeming lack of surprise.

Back in 2003 and 2004, when we first learned about “extraordinary rendition” and saw photographic evidence of the Bush torture regime in action, I was indeed shocked that such revelations didn’t cause the entire house of grimy, marked cards to topple. When it did not, when these revelations seemed to come and go without much more than a few weeks of elaborate lip-service from Congress and the establishment media, then, at that point, I did shout “Where is the outrage?”

Today, after so many more stories about so many more atrocities committed in our name with our tax dollars, I have stopped mouthing that simple plea. I understand all too well, as Alan Ginsberg did 50 years ago, that “Whoever controls the media, the images, controls the culture.” And, I understand that a scant handful of corporations with a vested interest in currying favor with the powers that be control what, for better or more likely worse, critics on many sides have come to call the “mainstream media.”

That this mainstream media has little in common with mainstream thought is a bugaboo for another post, but that the occasional burst of solid professional journalism is now met with a cynical and all too collective “quelle surprise” is still news to me. And that we have come to expect not only the mis-, mal-, and nonfeasance of this presidency, but the lack of interest by the media and its consumers is sad news indeed.

So, it was a small consolation to find at least one veteran journalist who was, like me, outraged by the lack of outrage. That this tiny prize buoyed my spirits even a little is perhaps the most outrageously sad revelation of all.

(cross-posted to The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

You can’t have one without the other

Forgive me, this story originally broke last week, but I tend not to link to things that I can only find on Politico. Now that I’ve just heard it confirmed by another source who knows enough to know, here goes:

According to Politico, GQ magazine spiked an upcoming article by Josh Green (staff writer for the Atlantic Monthly) that pulled back the curtain on infighting within the presidential campaign of Senator Hillary Clinton. The reason: The Clintons threatened to cut off access to former president Bill—slated to be cover boy for the December issue—if GQ ran the story on Hillary (and her campaign).

Despite internal protests, GQ editor Jim Nelson met the Clinton campaign’s demands, which had been delivered by Bill Clinton’s spokesman, Jay Carson, several sources familiar with the conversations said.

. . . .

“I don’t really get into the inner workings of the magazine, but I can tell you that yes, we did kill a Hillary piece. We kill pieces all the time for a variety of reasons,” Nelson said in an e-mail to Politico.

Appearing on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show on Monday, GQ writer Robert Draper (author of Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush) said that he had no knowledge any specifics beyond what has been reported since he was not involved with this story, but he could confirm that there was an article on Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and that it was killed over a threatened embargo of Bill.

Back to Politico for the money quote:

The campaign’s transaction with GQ opens a curtain on the Clinton campaign’s hard-nosed media strategy, which is far closer in its unromantic view of the press to the campaigns of George W. Bush than to that of Bill Clinton’s free-wheeling 1992 campaign.

Indeed. While I have much fault to find with GQ for allowing itself to be intimidated by the Clintons (remember, it’s a symbiotic relationship—celebrities need the press in order to push their messages as much as the press needs celebrities in order to push paper), I am not worried about Jim Nelson running for president anytime soon. I am really disturbed by the Senator’s behavior, however, because beyond revealing Hillary Clinton’s cynical, Bush-like view of the media, I think this little story sheds an unfavorable light on her also Bush-like desire for absolute secrecy and loyalty.

The way a candidate runs a campaign is a window on how he or she might function as president. Sen. Obama, for instance, while talking about being a change agent, has been overly tentative; increasingly so as he has solidified his top tier status, and that worries me.

And Hillary Clinton’s campaign is confirming far too many of my doubts about her. She continues to “triangulate”—looking to politically optimize every position rather than standing firmly behind core Democratic (or, for that matter, personal) beliefs. She talks a lot, but says little; after a Clinton speech/performance, I might be impressed with her diction and apparent understanding of “the issues,” but again, I am left with no impression whatsoever about where she stands on “the issues”—except, perhaps, the impression that she is skirting them (no pun intended).

Finally, the GQ flap confirms one of my biggest fears about an HRC presidency: Of all the candidates vying for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Clinton is the one I think is least likely to operate in the sunlight, entertain a diversity of ideas, and give back the powers stolen from the other branches of government by the self-imagined Unitary Executive Bush.

As disturbing as the carrot and stick approach is as a press strategy, in our celebrity-driven, hyper consolidated mediascape, it might actually work. However, the same approach, when used to manage White House staff, a domestic initiative, or foreign policy, would be an absolute disaster.

That, frankly, is the far more important lesson Hillary Clinton should learn from George W. Bush.

From the way that Clinton is running her campaign, however, I have a bad feeling that she will not learn. With us now watching her campaign more and more, I would hope that we, the voters, will.

(cross-posted to Daily Kos and The Seminal)

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Monday, October 01, 2007

When Bush pulls the trigger, remember who helped load the gun

As despicable as the lopsided vote on Lieberman-Kyl seemed last week, it seems altogether ominous now.

Though much was made of how the first paragraph of the amendment was “watered down” (it originally stated that US forces were to “combat, contain, and roll back” Iranian forces allegedly destabilizing Iraq, but this was seen as a too-thinly-veiled thumbs up to send troops over the border, so it was changed to the cumbersome “it should be the policy of the United States to stop inside Iraq the violent activities and destabilizing influence of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its foreign facilitators such as Lebanese Hezbollah, and its indigenous Iraqi proxies,” which is, frankly, comedic and not much better), it is the second paragraph that truly stands as a senatorial love letter to Dick Cheney.

After L+K gets done pandering to the fiction that there is some hegemonic transnational Islamic threat to the existence of the United States/Israel™, it sets about to “approve the listing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard of Iran as a ‘foreign terrorist organization.’”

As stupid as it sounds to lump a sovereign nation’s largest military force in with the various designated non-state antagonists in the GWOT™, when read in tandem with the latest revelations by reporter Seymour Hersh, the Lieberman-Kyl Amendment is the perfect method for Bush/Cheney madness.

Writing in the October 6 issue of The New Yorker, Hersh explains that White House warriors, seeing limited traction for their original reason for war with Iran—that being to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon—have shifted the strategic rationale to counter-insurgency. Under the new “plan,” US and British forces would conduct “surgical air strikes” against Revolutionary Guard headquarters and training camps, while American special forces would work inside Iran to disable antiaircraft weapons and Iranian command and control.

A few points:

  • Moving goals posts—changing the rationale for war from destroying weapons of mass destruction to counter-insurgency to part of the GWOT—whoever heard of such a thing???

  • If surgical strikes with special forces behind the lines sounds a bit like war to you, that’s because it is war. As even a first term President John Kennedy realized before the October 1963 missile crisis, there is no such thing as a surgical air strike. Even today, aerial bombing is far from a precise tactic—collateral damage deaths of innocents have been manifold during Iraqi and Afghani raids—and few battlefield objectives can be accomplished with airpower alone. Air strikes will not completely immobilize Iranian forces, and they will likely provoke more of the behavior that Bush/Cheney and Lieberman-Kyl label as destabilizing influences—they are not the final battle, but, more likely (and intentionally) a prelude to a broader war.

  • And, most importantly, by declaring Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization—right here, right now—Congress has given Bush and Cheney all the “authority” that they need to attack them. . . anywhere. . . even inside Iran.

    According to Hersh, that’s exactly what they plan to do.

Make no mistake, as much as some senators, oh, say, like Hillary Clinton, want to argue that this resolution “gives us options to impose sanctions,” it is, in cold, clear fact, all that the current inhabitants of the White House need to start their next war. . . and claim that they have a congressional blessing—and the blessing of a Democrat running for president—to do so.

Bush may pull the trigger on a new round of bloodshed, but several Democrats—Sens. Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid, most notably—helped load the gun.

(And a PS to Sen. Barack Obama: Don’t think that skipping the vote on Lieberman-Kyl while making noise about how you would have voted against it lets you off the hook—it doesn’t. If convenient absence is your idea of leadership, then I suggest you lead yourself right off of the national stage.)

(cross-posted to Daily Kos)

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