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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Jack's Loyal Friend

by digby

Tom: You were around the old timers -- and meeting up on how the family should be organized. How they based them on the old Roman legions and called them regimes -- the capos and the soldiers. And it worked.

Abramoff:Yeah, it worked. Those were the great old days you know. And one was like the Roman Empire. The Family was like the Roman Empire.

Tom: It was once. Jackie -- when a plot against the Emperor failed -- the planners were always given a chance to let their families keep their fortunes.

Abramoff: Yea -- but only the rich guys Tom. The little guys -- they got knocked off and all their estates went to the Emperors. Unless they went home and uh, killed themselves -- then nothing happened. And their families -- their families were taken care of Tom.

Tom: That was a good break -- nice funeral.

Abramoff: Yeah -- they went home -- and sat in a hot bath -- opened up their veins -- and bled to death. And sometimes had a little party before they did it.

Tom: Don't worry about anything Jackie Five Angels.

Abramoff: Thanks Tom -- thanks.

Socially Close

by digby

Jane makes a vital catch.

What in gawd's name is Alice Fisher doing anywhere near a political case? She should recuse herself immediately. Full stop.

The probe is being overseen by Noel Hillman, a hard-charging career prosecutor who heads the Public Integrity Section and who has a long track record of nailing politicians of all stripes. But politics almost certainly will creep into the equation. Hillman's new boss will soon be Alice Fisher, who is widely respected but also a loyal Republican socially close to DeLay's defense team.

Now, ask yourself if an investigation was being held into powerful Democrats under a Democratic administration if there would be shrieking harpies flying all over the airwaves today demanding a special prosecutor.

Yeah, I know. Whatever.

update: More from Jane on Alice.

Bipartisan BS

by digby

The media is working hard to make this into a bi-partisan scandal but that is simple bullshit. Ed Henry on CNN, for instance, couldn't stop talking about Byron Dorgan being implicated in this scandal. I don't know if Dorgan's going to be swept up, but let's just say that if he is he probably deserves it because he would be the stupidest man in the world. He's the top Democrat on the Indian Affairs Committee and even Steno Sue writes:

Dorgan has asked some of the toughest questions in the committee hearings probing the $82 million Abramoff and Michael Scanlon charged their tribal clients.

I suppose some people would think this is a normal thing for a man on the take to do, but I would suggest that it's unlikely. Here's a good rundown on the Dorgan connection (and the media's predictably bad reporting on it) from Media Matters.

Fasten your seatbelts. The press is surely under tremendous pressure from the Republicans to report this as a bi-partisan scandal and they are already buckling under. But that doesn't change the fact that this is a GOP operation from the get --- and they know it.

I wrote a piece a few months back about Abramoff and his two college Republican lieutenants Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist called Nixon's Babies in which I discussed just how important Abramoff is to the "movement." And I highly recommend reading Nina Easton's Gang of Five: Leaders at the Center of the Conservative Ascendacy Anybody who looks at Jack Abramoff and sees anything but a hard core GOP influence peddler who was paid very well to finance the GOP machine is either a shill or a fool.

I just saw CNN's Henry again say that this was a bi-partisan scandal and that Democrats were going to find it very hard to make the "culture of corruption" charge. This was not "he said/she said" --- he was editorializing in his piece and his opinion is either uninformed, myopic or biased. This piece was followed by another from William Schneider in which he helpfully points out that while the public indicates that it thinks Democrats are less corrupt than Republicans that's only because the public understands that it's because the Republicans are in power and have more opportunity.

Bullshit. The reason people think this is because every few years we find out that Republicans leaders have no respect for the law. It's like clockwork. If they aren't selling themselves outright to big business on the floor of the congress they are claiming the constitution allows them to break any law they choose. Just in the past couple of weeks we've had news reports about legal trouble for corrupt Republicans George W. Bush, Ken Lay, Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, Duke Cunningham, Ralph Reed and Jack Abramoff. Lot of dots there. Is it too much trouble for the media to connect them?

This characterization of the scandal as being "bi-partisan" is typical bad mainstream journalism, particularly the emphasis they are placing on the very small handful of Democrats who've even been mentioned (much less included in any legal procedings.) Not only are they creating some equity and illegality where none exists, by doing it they are missing the real story, as usual.

This isn't a story about power corrupting or about a few bad apples. This is about a corrupt political machine --- a system of money laundering and public corruption on behalf of one political party. It's about a party that has used every tool at its disposal to legally and illegally enrich itself and enhance its power. It's right there. It's unravelling before our eyes.

And all Dana Bash and Ed Hanry can say is that Jack Abramoff lent his skybox to Democrats and Republicans alike. Which he did. He lent it 1% of the time to Democrats and 99% of the time to Republicans. That makes all of them equally corrupt.

Update: Crooks and Liars has some great Tweety spin footage. Seems it's not partisan because Abramoff is Satan.

Press The Meacham

by digby

Media Matters caught Jon Meacham calling Howard Dean insane on Russert yesterday. I think that's especially rich considering Meacham is the guy who penned this crazy shit:

The uniqueness—one could say oddity, or implausibility—of the story of Jesus' resurrection argues that the tradition is more likely historical than theological.

He's also the guy who told Imus (scroll down) that Joe Wilson went on his trip to Niger after we had invaded Iraq to "discover if those 16 words were true." He really knows his stuff.


Monday, January 02, 2006


by digby

Watching Hardball, I just saw Bush's full face in his appearance yesterday. He looks like shit. It's not just the scratch on his forehead, which I realize could be the result of some extreme brush clearing over the week-end. There's something wrong with his lip too and his eyes are all puffy.

I will say it again. It is not normal for a healthy 59 year old man to injure his face as often as this guy does. It just isn't.

Here's today (the picture doesn't do justice to how bad he rally looks):

Here are a couple of pictures from previous pratfalls in the first term:

The first one was the pretzel incident. The second was a fall from his bike in May of 2004. There was another incident just last July when he fell off after crashing into a security officer in Scotland.

I continue to think this is very odd, even for a daredevil brush clearing cycler like Junior.


by digby

Jane discusses this article in today's NY Times about how blogging is affecting journalism and she makes this important point:

They do not spend the hours and days sifting through raw data now available to average people on the internet. I cannot emphasize this strongly enough. That is not what they do. If you want to know some obscure detail about something Judith Miller did or said in June of 2003 you call emptywheel. If you need to know about journalists named in the subpoenas sent to the White House in January 2003 you email Jeralyn. If you expect that kind of depth of knowledge about details from the people whose job it is to dig up new dirt in this case, they don't have it. They don't have the time.

In this light bloggers serve the function of analysts. Or re-analyzers, more aptly, who attempt to contextualize as they sort through available data and look for patterns, inconsistencies and greater truths. For my money if I was trying to marry a blog with a newsroom that's where I'd start -- I'm constantly amazed that with all the access to information now available the big news bureaus don't have a deeper pool of researchers to be the adjunct memories of people who spend their time in the development of external news sources.

There was a guy who did this kind of journalism long before technology made it possible for many of us to carry on the tradition. At their best, bloggers are the heirs to IF Stone, whose methods wwere described by his friend Victor Navasky this way:

His method: To scour and devour public documents, bury himself in The Congressional Record, study obscure Congressional committee hearings, debates and reports, all the time prospecting for news nuggets (which would appear as boxed paragraphs in his paper), contradictions in the official line, examples of bureaucratic and political mendacity, documentation of incursions on civil rights and liberties. He lived in the public domain. It was his habitat of necessity, because use of government sources to document his findings was also a stratagem. Who would have believed this cantankerous-if-whimsical Marxist without all the documentation?

Sound familiar? And while we scruffy bloggers are (mostly) not marxists, we are greeted with great skepticism because we are unregulated, uncredentialed, and in some cases psuedonymous, so we also must go to great lengths to document our findings. Luckily, the technology that gives us such amazing instant access to reams of information also gives us the ability to link directly to our source material --- as Arianna once described it "showing our work." And over time we gain credibility with our readers the same way that newspapers do.

What Jane says about contextualizing is absolutely correct. If you followed the Whitewater scandal (or attempted to) you came to realize that the journalists who were writing about it were so caught up in day to day reporting that somewhere along the line they lost sight of both the big picture and the details. It became a daily exercize in futility trying to sort out what exactly was going on. Until Gene Lyons' articles in Harpers (that led to his book "Fools for Scandal") and then a couple of jury trials, I honestly couldn't figure out what was going on. And I read three or four papers a day at the time. It was a story in desperate need of context, research and command of detail, mostly because it was a story being dribbled out a daily basis by political operatives and Arkansas opportunists to journalists who, in the midst of daily reporting, couldn't see the larger story. (I have no idea where their editors were.)

I didn't know how that worked in those days, thinking that journalists would see through spin and report it if it was clearly partisan. But I was wrong. They did fall for that story and turned it into an unintelligible, meaningless scandal that harrassed the president from almost his first day in office.

Today, certain bloggers would keep meticulous track of details, speculation and obvious spin and would report and discuss them in real time. Others would bring the whole story into historical perspective. Still others would try to tie all the disparate threads together to show larger patterns and trends. And many would speculate about the meaning of the scandal and the political ramifications. The scandal might happen anyway, but at least there would also be informed, engaged readers and easy access to those who have taken the time to analyze and contextualize the story as it unfolds. The alternative is to continue to allow the powerful triumverate of official sources, professional PR flacks and political operatives to lead the press (and, therefore, the country) around by the nose as they have so often in the last 15 years.

I'm not suggesting that blogging is a replacement for mainstream journalism. The daily papers, news broadcasts and news weeklies are indispensible. But more and more, people are recognizing mainstream journalism's vulnerability to conventional wisdom, establishment pressure and partisan spin. And the longstanding reliance on he said/she said "objectivity" is simply no longer adequate in the modern world of sophisticated public relations. Blogs fill in some of the gaps.

I'm a little surprised that so many reporters are fighting them so hard instead of doing the smart thing, which is co-opt them. Good bloggers can be a reporter's best friends if he learns how to use them.

Up Down By 15 Points!

by digby

Steve Benan points out that Elaine Chao needs to find a standard of success other than the Dow Jones to tout this fabulous Republican economy:

[W]hile it was the 0.6% decline for the year that generated headlines, most seem to have overlooked the fact that on the day Bush was sworn into office in January 2001, the Dow Jones stood at 10,732.46. As of now, it's at 10,717.50.

In other words, after five years of Bush's presidency, the stock market has a cumulative gain of negative 15 points.

Under Reagan, the Dow went up 148%. Under Clinton, it grew 187%. After five years, Bush isn't quite breaking even.

This reminds me of an article I read in the LA Times over the week-end. In the relativistic fashion we've come to love in the Bush era, that inconvenient fact has made many people simply decide that the Dow is no longer relevant:

As for the Dow, many believe the 109-year-old index of 30 large, blue-chip companies hasn't been an accurate barometer of the economy or the broader stock market for the past two years.

Yes, and we're actually winning in Iraq and global warming is a hoax --- which you'd never know just by looking at the facts. Clearly, the facts are biased.


Sunday, January 01, 2006

Hold Harmless

by digby

Hey all you macho Republicans. Do you know why you elected Junior Bush to be the president?

I was elected to protect the American people from harm.

Thank goodness for Daddy.

And here I thought the Republicans were against that sort of fuzzy wuzzy kumbaaya pussified crapola. I guess not. How about a federal helmet law for bicyclists, then? (Gawd knows he needs one) Maybe he could outlaw pretzels and alcohol too. Or driving over 35 miles an hour. Or trans-fats. If protecting us from harm is what we elect presidents to do then he's been seriously falling down on the job. There's a ton of harm out there he hasn't done even one thing about.

Oh, and isn't it inappropriate for the administration to be talking about this while there's an ongoing investigation? Seems I heard that somewhere.

Divine Right Of Republicans

by digby

This Newsweak story is, well, weak:

The message to White House lawyers from their commander in chief, recalls one who was deeply involved at the time, was clear enough: find a way to exercise the full panoply of powers granted the president by Congress and the Constitution.

First of all, I'm sick of this bullshit about the president being the commander in chief all the time. This isn't a military dictatorship. Citizens, and even lawyers in the Justice department, don't have a commander in chief. We have a president. I know that's not as glamorous or as, like, totally awesome, but that is what it is. A civilian, elected official who functions as the commander in chief of the armed forces.

But that's nit-picking. This is some real bullshit:

When the story of the NSA's program broke in The New York Times on Dec. 16, there was an immediate uproar in the press and on Capitol Hill. The reaction was predictably partisan. Most Republicans and conservatives defended Bush for safeguarding the country (though warrantless spying gave libertarians some pause). Most Democrats and liberals cited the eavesdropping program as more damning evidence that Bush and Cheney, already caught countenancing torture and jailing detainees without any legal rights, were running roughshod over civil liberties.

This is wrong. The Cato institute, which I think everyone in the DC orbit will agree is a libertarian think tank said this:

Cato senior fellow in Constitutional studies Robert A. Levy says, "President Bush's executive order sanctions warrant-less wiretaps by the National Security Agency of communications from the United States to foreign countries by U.S. persons. Reportedly, the executive order is based on classified legal opinions stating that the president's authority derives from his Commander-in-Chief power and the post-911 congressional authorization for the use of military force against Al Qaeda. That pernicious rationale, carried to its logical extreme, renders the PATRIOT Act unnecessary and trumps any dispute over its reauthorization. Indeed, such a policy makes a mockery of the principle of separation of powers.

Crook and Liars has footage of libertarian (and Republican hitman) William Safire joining with the critics this morning on Press the Meat.

That's more than a pause. It's a full stop, hold your horses, what the fuck do you think you're doing? This is a partisan issue to the extent that the Republicans are invertebrate, hypocritical chichenshits who would be having a full on case of the vapors if anybody but their Dear GOP Leader tried a stunt like this. They certainly called for the smelling salts often enough over a couple of furtive blowjobs, shrieking to high heavens about tyranny and the rule 'o law.

Harken back to the immortal words of Henry Hyde:

That none of us is above the law is a bedrock principle of democracy. To erode that bedrock is to risk even further injustice. To erode that bedrock is to subscribe, to a "divine right of kings" theory of governance, in which those who govern are absolved from adhering to the basic moral standards to which the governed are accountable.

We must never tolerate one law for the Ruler, and another for the Ruled. If we do, we break faith with our ancestors from Bunker Hill, Lexington and Concord to Flanders Field, Normandy, Iwo Jima, Panmunjon, Saigon and Desert Storm.

Let us be clear: The vote that you are asked to cast is, in the final analysis, a vote about the rule of law.

The rule of law is one of the great achievements of our civilization. For the alternative to the rule of law is the rule of raw power. We here today are the heirs of three thousand years of history in which humanity slowly, painfully and at great cost, evolved a form of politics in which law, not brute force, is the arbiter of our public destinies.

We are the heirs of the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic law: a moral code for a free people who, having been liberated from bondage, saw in law a means to avoid falling back into the habit of slaves.

We are the heirs of Roman law: the first legal system by which peoples of different cultures, languages, races, and religions came to live together in a form of political community.

We are the heirs of the Magna Carta, by which the freeman of England began to break the arbitrary and unchecked power of royal absolutism.

We are the heirs of a long tradition of parliamentary development, in which the rule of law gradually came to replace royal prerogative as the means for governing a society of free men and women.

We are the heirs of 1776, and of an epic moment in human affairs when the Founders of this Republic pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor - sacred honor - to the defense of the rule of law.

We are the heirs of a tragic civil war, which vindicated the rule of law over the appetites of some for owning others.

We are the heirs of the 20th century's great struggles against totalitarianism, in which the rule of law was defended at immense cost against the worst tyrannies in human history. The "rule of law" is no pious aspiration from a civics textbook. The rule of law is what stands between all of us and the arbitrary exercise of power by the state. The rule of law is the safeguard of our liberties. The rule of law is what allows us to live our freedom in ways that honor the freedom of others while strengthening the common good. The rule of law is like a three legged stool: one leg is an honest Judge, the second leg is an ethical bar and the third is an enforceable oath. All three are indispensable in a truly democratic society.

Very moving, no? All those fine words about the rule of law safeguarding our liberties, the arbitrary exercise of power and Bunker Hill, Lexington and Normandy went right out the window on 9/11. That was when Henry and the rest of his stalwart defenders of the rule of law promptly wet their pants and then let their president use the constitution to clean up the puddle.

Update: For a full compendium of conservative critics of the president on the NSA illegal spying scandal (including one leg of the Powerline stool!) read this excellent post by Glenn Greenwald.

Shaft of Sunlight

by digby

I wrote the other day that I thought it was time for some angry Justice Department lawyers to step up and reveal what in the hell went on with the White House cherry picking and stovepiping the legal advice that allowed them to create a new commander in chief infallibility doctrine.

It looks like we know the name of one of them and he's a biggie, James Comey. Comey is, by all accounts, a very straight arrow. He's exactly the kind of guy whose credibility is required to make this case if there is one. If this article is true, he refused to sign on on their little plan when he was filling in for Ashcroft when he was in the hospital. Jane has all the details. She's been following Comey for a long time and will have lots of tid-bits about this development for us I'm sure.

Also, Walter Pincus reports this morning that the NSA shared its illegally obtained information with other departments, including the pentagon, which we know has been tracking anti-war protestors.

The picture gets clearer every day. The evidence increasingly points to the possibility that NSA and others illegally monitored Americans who disagreee with administration policy and shared that information with all the federal police agencies in the government. This does not surprise me. They've called us unpatriotic to our faces. They've written best-selling books calling us treasonous. It's not exactly a stretch to suspect that these were not just rhetorical flourishes.


Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year Everyone!

Clearing The Ranchette

by digby

This is the wierdest damned article I've read in ages. I knew that Junior did the brush clearing thing, but I assumed that he did it for photo-op purposes. It turns out that he's actually obsessed with it.

He's obsessed with brush clearing.

On most of the 365 days he has enjoyed at his secluded ranch here, President Bush's idea of paradise is to hop in his white Ford pickup truck in jeans and work boots, drive to a stand of cedars, and whack the trees to the ground.

If the soil is moist enough, he will light a match and burn the wood. If it is parched, as it is across Texas now, the wood will sit in piles scattered over the 1,600-acre spread until it is safe for a ranch hand to torch -- or until the president can come home and do the honors himself.

President Bush, shown clearing cedar at his Crawford, Tex., ranch in 2002, has not lost his enthusiasm for the task during recent trips to what aides call the Western White House.

Sometimes this activity is the only official news to come out of what aides call the Western White House. For five straight days since Monday, when Bush retreated to the ranch for his Christmas sojourn, a spokesman has announced that the president, in between intelligence briefings, calls to advisers and bicycling, has spent much of his day clearing brush.

This might strike many Washingtonians as a curious pastime. It does burn a lot of calories. But brush clearing is dusty, it is exhausting (the president goes at it in 100 degree-plus heat), and it is earsplitting, requiring earplugs to dull the chain saw's buzz.

For Bush, who is known to spend early-morning hours hacking at unwanted mesquite, cocklebur weeds, hanging limbs and underbrush only to go back for more after lunch, it borders on obsession.

The president of the United States likes to spend his suburban ranchette vacation killing time cutting stuff down with a chainsaw and then torching it. Holy shit. Does it get any more symbolic than that?

(It reminds me of the tales his pals told about his childhood, stuffing frogs with firecrackers and blowing them up.)

Certainly the 1,583 acres of rugged canyons and rocky hillsides, creeks and pasture land on Prairie Chapel Ranch contain a lot of brush. Bush, a creature of habit, is not in danger of finishing the job. The Bush ranch, however, is not a working ranch. The president has kept only a handful of cattle on the property since Kenneth Engelbrecht, who sold him the former hog farm six years ago, stopped leasing back some pasture land that supported a herd of cows.


Real ranchers, who need to clear a whole lot of brush for pasture land, either hire someone to spray herbicides from the air or run an excavator through it. They tend to tend cattle, several said.

Bush, by contrast, practices a selective, do-it-yourself sculpting to enhance his enjoyment of his property, local experts say. He will clear underbrush to preserve beautiful live oaks and pecan trees, or to prepare the 50 acres where Laura Bush is cultivating native grasses, or to help carve nature trails through the ranch's many canyons.

"It's a selective control of the brush," said Sam Middleton, owner of a West Texas ranch brokerage, who added that this enhances a ranch's value.

Then again, there will be times when the president drives around his property and "will see a stand of cedar trees and say 'Let's clear those,' " said Joseph Hagin, Bush's deputy chief of staff, who has been cutting brush with his boss all week. They do not talk a lot of policy over the sound of their chain saws, he said.

You can't compare this to his bicycling or running obsessions, because those have a certain meditative yet thrilling physical challenge. This is something else entirely. This is the the only thing he can think of to do when he isn't running or biking. Mindless, loud, repetitive manual labor. It's like obsessively jackhammering sidewalks for fun.

A reader wrote me an e-mail asking me what conclusions I had come to about Bush after all this time. Is he evil? Is he stupid? Is he a religious fanatic, a spoiled frat boy, what?

I haven't actually changed my mind from the first impression I had of him when he said "Christ. He changed my life" in answer to the debate question about favorite political philosophers. He's simple but well-trained. And he hasn't changed. The person we have been watching for the last five years is the same inarticulate, testy, arrogant and shallow, rich mediocrity he was when he took office.

He's also as laughably robotic and unresponsive as ever. (Only Scott McClellan is less spontaneous.) But the Republicans discovered that if the president doesn't submit himself to spontaneous situations and is disciplined in his message, people will get used to it after a while and stop expecting him to actually answer questions. This was new. Reagan wasn't a genius, but he understood the public after a lifetime of training in what they wanted from a celebrity. He also had a good sense of humor and great timing. He was very capable of dealing with the press. Clinton was a master of detail who could riff on anything. His intellect and his obvious enjoyment in governing prepared him to answer any question that was thrown at him. Bush senior was bumbling but professional. He responded.

Junior simply doesn't engage unless he is forced to, seeing encounters with the press as nothing more than an oppportunity to get out the message of the day and run out the clock. He is a living stone wall who speaks in strange parables and cliches and sometimes just pure gibberish. He falters, he stammers, he looks uncomforatble and weak. Yet he was until fairly recently perceived by most to be a strong and resolute leader. (The post 9/11 delusion was some powerful mojo.)

I know that it's not considered wise to "misunderestimate" him and I've heard many people say that he's got political acumen that we elitist nerds just don't get. I don't believe it. I know what I see. The man has been in over his head since the day he entered the presidential race and he's still in over his head. 9/11 got him reelected in 2004, but he and his administration have been hanging on by their fingernails since the day they took office. They wear suits and ties and say sir and ma'm, but it's all to cover for the fact that they had no idea how to govern and by now it's clear they never will.

I see a man who is barely holding back his panic; a man who clings to his pathetic "war president" image like a talisman. He looks confused and hurt by the criticism he's receiving from people who he thought bought into the program and reportedly knows on some level that he's been duped by his advisors. He has no choice but to keep barreling along pretending that he knows what he's doing. He barks at underlings and pretends to be in charge even as he gets more and more confused. He's distanced from his father, the one person everyone thought could help guide this callow airhead if the shit came down. He trusts no one now.

So he clears brush like a madman everytime he gets the chance, hiding behind his Oakley's, blessedly unable to hear anything over the sound of chainsaws ---- maybe even the voices inside his head that remind him that he's still got three more years of this horrible responsibility he knows he cannot handle.

Constitutional Thuggery

by digby

Mark Kleiman makes a point about the NSA sping scandal that I think is essential:

Of course the Rasmussen Poll purporting to show 64% support for the Bush secret eavesdropping policy is an artifact of artful question design.

But, unlike some of my liberal friends, I don't think the answer would be much different if the phrase "without a warrant" had been included. The key missing word was "illegally."

The word wiretapping should always be preceded by the word illegal. That's the qualifier. Nobody thinks that wiretapping is always wrong and nobody knows from warrants. I have little doubt that most people assumed the government was wiretapping terrorists suspects and their suspected friends. What we didn't assume was that the president would consciously break the law to do it --- and that he believes himself immune from all laws during "wartime," (which he alone defines.)

Kleiman goes on to say that the issue should be framed as "rule of law" rather than civil liberties and I slightly disagree with that. I think you must do both. The frame of civil liberties is important for our party's long term health because it is a fundamental value --- and we need to be willing express those even when the country as a whole might not agree. Right now a good many people think that the only things we believe in are gay rights and abortion, and they have no concept of the fundamental values that undergird our positions on those issues. Liberals should not be afraid to wave around the Bill of Rights any more than the right waves around the only amendment it cares about (the second.)

I do not think that conflicts with the argument that America is a land of laws not men. Indeed, I would suggest that the two messages go quite well together. If you want to go all "originalist" on us, the belief that the president cannot violate the laws and the Bill of Rights whenever he feels like it is as fundamental as it gets.

As I listen to the Bush apologists on Fox and elsewhere, it's become clear to me that they are hinging their argument solely on the idea that the president was "protecting" us infantile Americans and was only monitoring the "bad guys." This shows the weakness of their argument. They are not standing up and saying "yes, even if they did illegally listen in your phone calls, comrade, it's the least you can do to keep the homeland safe" or "if you have nothing to hide you won't mind if the government illegally spies on you." The ramifications of data mining aside, they are saying that only guilty people were monitored. Sure.

As Kleiman points out, there is already one excellent example of using the power of the federal government for political purposes in a post 9/11 environment:

The ability to spy on domestic conversations is obviously abusable. And we already know that Tom DeLay tricked the Department of Homeland Security into tracking the whereabouts of Texas Democratic legislators who had fled to Oklahoma to try to block a quorum for DeLay's redistricting scheme. And we know that DeLay got away with it. So if the question on the table is "Will the Republicans abuse domestic-security powers for political purposes?" we know that the answer is "Yes."

Governor Bill Richardson, who isn't exactly shrill (he's running for president as a centrist) is very suspicious that the NSA illegally tapped his domestic calls to Colin Powell regarding the North Korean crisis --- and then illegally gave the transcripts to John Bolton:

"The governor is upset that his conversations with Secretary Powell would be intercepted since most of them were domestic calls," said Richardson spokesman Billy Sparks. "The governor felt his calls about North Korea were confidential."

This is where the Plame scandals and the NSA illegal spying scandals intersect. It's the ethics, stupid. These people are partisan thugs. They used journalists to leak classified information for political purposes. They are now going to try to destroy both whistleblowers and journalists for political purposes. And if that doesn't tell you that they are willing to illegally monitor citizens for political purposes then you are absurdly naive. In fact, this government is the poster child for the division of power and the rule of law. They were written into the constitution with these guys in mind.

Update: I don't know how reliable Wayne Madsen usually is,(Michael Froomkin says he's not a nut) but in the course of writing that post, I came upon this:

December 30, 2005 -- More on Firstfruits. The organization partly involved in directing the National Security Agency program to collect intelligence on journalists -- Firstfruits -- is the Foreign Denial and Deception Committee (FDDC), a component of the National Intelligence Council. The last reported chairman of the inter-intelligence agency group was Dr. Larry Gershwin, the CIA's adviser on science and technology matters, a former national intelligence officer for strategic programs, and one of the primary promoters of the Iraqi disinformation con man and alcoholic who was code named "Curveball."

Gershwin was also in charge of the biological weapons portfolio at the National Intelligence Council where he worked closely with John Bolton and the CIA's Alan Foley -- director of the CIA's Office of Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control (WINPAC) -- and Frederick Fleitz -- who Foley sent from WINPAC to work in Bolton's State Department office -- in helping to cook Iraqi WMD "intelligence" on behalf of Vice President Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby.

In addition to surveilling journalists who were writing about operations at NSA, Firstfruits particularly targeted State Department and CIA insiders who were leaking information about the "cooking" of pre-war WMD intelligence to particular journalists, including those at the New York Times, Washington Post, and CBS 60 Minutes.

The vice chairman of the FDDC, James B. Bruce, wrote an article in Studies in Intelligence in 2003, "This committee represents an inter­agency effort to understand how foreign adversaries learn about, then try to defeat, our secret intelligence collection activities." In a speech to the Institute of World Politics, Bruce, a CIA veteran was also quoted as saying, "We've got to do whatever it takes -- if it takes sending SWAT teams into journalists' homes -- to stop these leaks." He also urged, "stiff new penalties to crack down on leaks, including prosecutions of journalists that publish classified information." The FDDC appears to be a follow-on to the old Director of Central Intelligence's Unauthorized Disclosure Analysis Center (UDAC).

NSA eavesdropping on journalists and their sources is sending chills throughout Washington, DC and beyond.

Meanwhile, WMR's disclosures about Firstfruits have set off a crisis in the intelligence community and in various media outlets. Journalists who have contacted WMR since the revelation of the Firstfruits story are fearful that their conversations and e-mail with various intelligence sources have been totally compromised and that they have been placed under surveillance that includes the use of physical tails. Intelligence sources who are current and former intelligence agency employees also report that they suspect their communications with journalists and other parties have been surveilled by technical means.

Scroll down to December 28th to get the first story on "Firstfruits." Bob Baer mentioned this tracking of journlaists on Hardball a week or so ago too, causing Andrea Mitchell to blink hard a few times.

For a primer on the meaning of the biblical word "Firstfruits" try this. Feel free to speculate in the comments as to why you think they chose it to describe a surveillance program.


Friday, December 30, 2005

Cui malo?

by digby

Krauthamer just said that he needs to see a case of abuse before he is convinced that the leakers in the illegal NSA spying case are whistle blowers. That's interesting. It shouldn't be required to show harm in a criminal case like this, but perhaps on a public relations level this is really what needs to happen.

I believe there is only a one percent chance that this extra-constitutional power grab did not result in abuse. The FISA court and the justice department both pulled in the reins in 2004 for a reason. The president kept this program secret long past the time he could have developed some reasonable legislation to accomplish what he needed to accomplish. There is something very wrong with this program or they wouldn't have handled it the way they did.

Considering the history, "trust us we're only monitoring the bad guys" doesn't pass the smell test. We need real hearings and if we get them Krauthamer may very well get the examples of abuse that he needs.

Our Allies

by digby

Kos has the story on the Uzbek torture memos that are being leaked to blogs in the UK (and preserved by blogs in the US.) I honestly don't know what to say about this except reiterate futile statements about oil, the Great Game and moral clarity.

If we are in the business of invading countries to depose tyrants, there's no good reason that we didn't go to this one first. That it is our ally in the "War on Terror" is a cosmic joke of epic proportions.

Here's just a small excerpt of one of the memos:

The Economist of 7 September states: "Uzbekistan, in particular, has jailed many thousands of moderate Islamists, an excellent way of converting their families and friends to extremism." The Economist also spoke of "the growing despotism of Mr Karimov" and judged that "the past year has seen a further deterioration of an already grim human rights record". I agree.

Between 7,000 and 10,000 political and religious prisoners are currently detained, many after trials before kangaroo courts with no representation. Terrible torture is commonplace: the EU is currently considering a demarche over the terrible case of two Muslims tortured to death in jail apparently with boiling water. Two leading dissidents, Elena Urlaeva and Larissa Vdovna, were two weeks ago committed to a lunatic asylum, where they are being drugged, for demonstrating on human rights. Opposition political parties remain banned. There is no doubt that September 11 gave the pretext to crack down still harder on dissent under the guise of counter-terrorism.

Yet on 8 September the US State Department certified that Uzbekistan was improving in both human rights and democracy, thus fulfilling a constitutional requirement and allowing the continuing disbursement of $140 million of US aid to Uzbekistan this year. Human Rights Watch immediately published a commendably sober and balanced rebuttal of the State Department claim.

Oh, and we commonly "render" suspects to Uzbekistan for interrogation. I'm sure they promise not to boil them though.


correction: "render-ed." Via Upyernoz I see that we have, apparently, seen the light and cooled our relationship with Uzbekistan since the government there opened fire on a bunch of civilians last May. Still, people wonder why (considering that we didn't object to the boiling and all) a little random shooting into crowds would cause our relationship to suddenly be strained. I suggest that someone look into Vladimir Putin's soul for the answer.

Update II:

Americana has more on this.

Missed Opportunities

by digby

I've been thinking about what might be the biggest cock-up of this metaphorical war on terrorism and there are so many that it's hard to limit it to just one. Invading Iraq has to be the grandaddy, but Gitmo, abu Ghraib and letting bin Laden go at Tora Bora rank right up there. (Speaking of bin Laden at Tora Bora, I don't know why this story by Seymour Hersh about Konduz has been flushed down the memory hole.)

Making enemies of the entire world wasn't such a great idea. Secret prisons in Europe not so much either.

After giving it some thought, I think that it's possible that our biggest mistake in dealing with radical islam is our failure to respond with everything we had to the Pakistani earthquake. And we should have done it in tandem with our response to Katrina and the Tsunami, with a full-on international disaster response led by the United States. If we can afford to spend a billion a week on this misbegotten war, we could have come up with a plan to help these poor people all over the world, even in our own country, who were the victims of natural disasters. Bush should have been all over the TV. He should have gone to Pakistan personally and made a pledge to every single victim there that we would do everything we could to help.

I know that sending Karen Hughes around to share her experiences as a suburban mom with poor women in Indonesia is extremely useful in changing our image overseas, but this was a tremendous opportunity lost.

Instead, we pretty much did nothing to help the people who live in the very center of militant radical islam. Husain Haqqani, Kenneth Ballen of the the Carnegie Endowment wrote last November:

The most critical location for immediate international engagement is not Iraq or Afghanistan but Pakistan.

The devastation in Pakistan from the earthquake is as devastating as Southeast Asia's tsunami last year. But the international response has fallen short. The death toll has risen to 87,000 and the severe Himalayan winter is only weeks away. Equally horrendous is the number of people displaced - three times as many as those affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami. And yet international assistance provided following the tsunami dwarfs the aid provided to Pakistan. Eighty per cent of the aid pledged for the tsunami (more than $4-billion) was given with two weeks. Pakistan so far has only received $17-million, just 12 per cent of aid pledged. According to the United Nations, pledges to date total only 25 per cent of what is needed.

For the tsunami, 4,000 helicopters were donated to ferry life-saving aid to stricken areas, and in Pakistan just 70 - even though there are almost three times as many people who need the food and shelter to survive than after the tsunami.

International humanitarian assistance doesn't just save lives, it helps fight the war on terror. According to post-tsunami polls conducted by the Maryland-based, non-profit group Terror Free Tomorrow, support for Osama bin Laden dropped by half as a result of international assistance to tsunami victims in the world's largest Muslim nation.

In nuclear-armed Pakistan right now - another of the world's largest Muslim nations, where 65 per cent of the population think favourably of Mr. bin Laden - radical Islamist parties are mobilizing and are in the vanguard of those helping in the most-stricken areas. The void left by the Pakistan government, the United States and the international community has been filled by Jamaat-ud-Dawa and the Al-Rasheed Trust, both groups linked to al-Qaeda, as well as Jammat-i-Islami, the leading radical Islamic party in Pakistan.

Even Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao had to acknowledge that the radicals are now "the lifeline of our rescue and relief work."

In fact, radical Islamic groups have vigorously opposed U.S. and international aid because they know this will weaken their propaganda efforts. In a speech last week, Jamaat's leader, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, said, "The Americans are [providing relief in Pakistan] to damage the solidarity of the country, and will work for materializing their ulterior motives."

The United States and the world community must now do nothing less than spearhead a response similar to that following the tsunami, not only for self-evident and overwhelming humanitarian needs but also for long-term national security.

I know that it would have been difficult to muster the relief effort after Katrina, but that's what leadership is about. If the administration really wants to fight the scourge of Islamic terrorism, they need to come up with something other than torture, imprisonment and incoherent military occupations to do it. Coming to the rescue in this terrible disaster --- or at least visibly mustering an international response --- would have gone a long way toward helping our allies regain some faith in our good intentions and persuade the people most vulnerable to al Qaeda's arguments that we are not the great Satan. We didn't do it.

But maybe Karen Hughes can go over later this year and share her secret for eliminating ring around the collar, so that's good.

No Comment

by digby

So the Justice Department is going to investigate the leak of the illegal NSA spy scandal. Fine. I assume this also means that nobody from the White House will be able to comment in any way since there is an ongoing investigation.

And that means no matter what comes up, Scotty is required to stonewall. Even when he doesn't want to. Thems the rules.


Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Sequel

From the great uggabugga:

Patrick Henry Democrats

by digby

As much as I appreciate all these Republicans offering us advice about how we are endangering our political prospects by not supporting illegal NSA spying, I have to wonder if they really have our best interests at heart. I just get a teensy bit suspicious that it might not be sincere.

The truth is that I have no idea where the NSA spying scandal is going and neither do they. The Republicans would like it to go nowhere for obvious reasons and so they are trying to psych out timid Dems. What I do know is that the most important problem Democrats have is not national security; it's that nobody can figure out what we stand for. And when we waffle and whimper about things like this we validate that impression.

In Rick Perlstein's book, "The Stock Ticker and The Super Jumbo" he notes that many Democrats are still reeling from the repudiation of the party by the Reagan Democrats. And while they continue to worry about being too close to African Americans or being too rigid on abortion or too soft on national security, they don't realize that the most vivid impression people have of the Democrats is this:

"I think they lost their focus"
"I think they are a little disorganized right now"
"They need leadership"
"On the sidelines"

The reason people think this is because we are constantly calculating whether our principles are politically sellable (and we do it in front of god and everybody.) We've been having this little public encounter session for well over 20 years now and it's added up to a conclusion that we don't actually believe in anything at all.

Perhaps the NSA scandal is a political loser for Dems. We can't know that now. But it is a winner for us in the long term. We believe in civil liberties and civil rights. With economic fairness, they form the heart of our political philosophy. If this particular issue doesn't play well, that's too bad. People who believe in things sometimes have to be unpopular. Over time, they gain the respect of the people which is something we dearly need.

A party that is described as fumbling, confused and scared is unlikely to win elections even if they endorse the wholesale round-up of hippies and the nuking of Mecca. People will listen to us if we can first convince them that we know who we are and what we believe in.

I'm of the mind to adopt "give me liberty or give me death" as my personal motto. If I have to kowtow to a bunch of childish Republican panic artists who have deluded themselves into believing that fighting radical Islam requires turning America into a police state, then it's just not worth it.

Imperial Nutball

Julia connects the dots on Michael Scheuer and concludes that he is a bit unhinged. I'm inclined to agree.

No Likee

by digby

I know this will come as a great disappointment to Republicans who have taken to saying that the NSA spy scandal boosted Bush's approval ratings ten points, but the new CNN/USA Today poll has his job approval rating at 41%, which is down a point from the last one. In fact, his rating has been pretty steady at around 40% since last August.

Just as point of contrast:

December 20, 1998
Web posted at: 10:48 p.m. EST (0348 GMT)

(AllPolitics, December 20) -- In the wake of the House of Representatives' approval of two articles of impeachment, Bill Clinton's approval rating has jumped 10 points to 73 percent, the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll shows.

Bush also hit a new low in "favorable opinion" down to 46%. Some might think he would be described as unpopular since they called him popular until he hit 48%. But no. He's now "poised for a comeback."

Uh Oh

by digby

This gives me the creeps.

Via ReddHedd at firedoglake, the LA Times reports:

A little-noticed holiday week executive order from President Bush moved the Pentagon's intelligence chief to the No. 3 spot in the succession hierarchy behind Rumsfeld. The second spot would be the deputy secretary of defense, but that position currently is vacant. The Army secretary, which long held the No. 3 spot, was dropped to sixth....

But in its current incarnation, the doomsday plan moves to near the top three undersecretaries who are Rumsfeld loyalists and who previously worked for Vice President Dick Cheney when he was defense secretary.

ReddHedd points out that this is taking cornyism to new heights, which it is. But, I got a sick little shiver when I read it. Do they know something? Failed military coup? Bin laden determined to strike in the United States, perhaps?

Under the new plan, Rumsfeld ally Stephen Cambone, the undersecretary for intelligence, moved up to the third spot. Former Ambassador Eric Edelman, the policy undersecretary, and Kenneth Krieg, the undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, hold the fourth and fifth positions.

If something happens, pray for Rumsfeld's health because Cambone is an even wilder nutcase than Rummy is. Jesus. Three more years of this?


by digby

The National Security Agency's internet site has been placing files on visitors' computers that can track their web-surfing activity despite strict federal rules banning most of them.

These files, known as "cookies," disappeared after a privacy activist complained and The Associated Press made inquiries this week, and agency officials acknowledged Wednesday they had made a mistake. Nonetheless, the issue raises questions about privacy at a spy agency already on the defensive amid reports of a secretive eavesdropping program in the United States.

They say they are strictly listening to conversations between terrorists and their American friends who are plotting to blow up weddings. They don't need anyone looking over the shoulders, not even a rubber stamp secret Star Chamber. They are professionals who aren't interested in tracking people for any reason but terrorism. No oversight necessary, nosirree.

Yet we are supposed to believe they don't know they have a fucking cookie allowing them to track every visitor to their web site and we are also supposed to believe that they aren't making any other "mistakes" in their data mining of American citizens' communications. The alternative, of course, would be to believe that they knew very well they had a cookie on their site and were, in fact, tracking the surfing habits of those who vistited it, in which case we know for a fact that they aren't just monitoring communications with al Qaeda. Either way, I think this little episode proves that the NSA could use a little oversight, don't you?

Maybe not. In a debate at the WaPo yesterday on the subject, a fine Republican wrote:

An al Qaeda operative can walk into any Radio Shack, buy X number of cell phones, activate them with an American company (thereby acquiring a US phone number), then take them to another country to use.

The Fourth Amendment offers protection to Americans against UNREASONABLE searches. Is it unreasonable, after 9/11, to monitor the phone calls of foreign al Qaeda operatives to those using cell phones with American numbers when we know in hindsight that Atta -- while in this country preparing for the attack -- communicated with al Qaeda's leadership abroad? Is it unreasonable for the government to do whatever it can to intercept such conversations, knowing that Able Danger had identified Atta as an al Qaeda operative before the attack? What about the civil rights and liberties of those slaughtered on 9/11 by al Qaeda?

IF these phone calls really were domestic spying, I, too, would object. But, they're not. They are international calls with one end outside the country. The remedy is simple and involves personal responsibility: If an American citizen does not want his calls monitored, then he shouldn't be chatting with foreign al Qaeda operatives on the phone. And to me, it is that simple.


But just in case the NSA is making more "mistakes," (or fibbing just a little bit) the best thing to do to be perfectly sure the government isn't spying on you is to not make any phone calls. Or surf the internet. Or leave the house. But the very best thing to do is vote Republican and support the war and you won't have any trouble at all. (Shhhh. Don't tell the terrorists.)


To be clear:

All I'm saying is that if the nation's premiere surveillance agnecy can make "mistakes" about something as simple as a cookie, they can certainly make mistakes about much more complicated and serious matters.

Kept Down By The Pansies

by digby

Yglesias notes that Marshall Wittman is whining that liberal hawks get no respect. He points out that despite representing almost no actual Democrats, Democratic hawks have dominated the Democratic leadership in congress virtually forever. And that leadership has failed to win elections that would justify to liberals who were against the Iraq war that they should continue to support them.

They don't deliver votes, they join in Republican calumny against the Democratic Party and they are wrong. Why, exactly should they have even more influence than they already do?

And what in the hell is up with these powerful conservatives of both parties who see themselves as constantly being beseiged by people who they simultaneously perceive as weak and useless? Does this make any sense at all?

Hollywood Confidential

by digby

Matt Stoller has a very interesting post up over at MYDD. It's written by his brother, Nick Stoller, a screenwriter whose new movie "Fun With Dick and Jane" has an extremely funny trailer, so I'm looking forward to seeing it.

I've always thought of the original "Fun With Dick and Jane" starring George Segal and Jane Fonda as the quintessential "malaise" movie. It was the chronicle of a middle class family who fell through the cracks in a harsh economy and ended up robbing banks. It's a comedy, of course, but for those of us who lived through the late 70's it had a bit of a bite. When I saw that it was being re-made I had one of those "of course" moments. I had just been reading about rising gas prices and GM lay-offs. Deja vu all over again.

Stoller's post asks why Democrats don't rely more on Hollywood for expertise instead of just fund-raising. I've been asking that question for years. Politics today requires narrative and stagecraft --- and Hollywood knows from narrative and stagecraft. It's about heroism, spectacle and soap opera. It's about myth. I realize that this offends our wonky souls on some level but it's a fact that the Republicans understand and exploit to their great advantage and we don't.

In the final days of the presidential campaign as John Kerry was being introduced by Bruce Springsteen on the stump with a moody, soulful solo rendition of "No Surrender" (which I loved) George W. Bush was landing in stadiums at sunset on the Marine one helicopter to fireworks and the theme to "Top Gun" screaming from the speakers. Which one do you suppose felt more like a rally?

The Bush administration has been working with a very defective product as we all know; a barely literate ignoramus with dismal communications skills. Yet they were able to bring him close enough to steal it in 2000 and eke out a narrow victory in 2004. They did it almost entirely with image, iconography and an archetypal warrior/leader narrative. And they used professionals to pull it off:

Officials of past Democratic and Republican administrations marvel at how the White House does not seem to miss an opportunity to showcase Mr. Bush in dramatic and perfectly lighted settings. It is all by design: the White House has stocked its communications operation with people from network television who have expertise in lighting, camera angles and the importance of backdrops.


''They understand the visual as well as anybody ever has,'' said Michael K. Deaver, Ronald Reagan's chief image maker. ''They watched what we did, they watched the mistakes of Bush I, they watched how Clinton kind of stumbled into it, and they've taken it to an art form.''

The White House efforts have been ambitious -- and costly. For the prime-time television address that Mr. Bush delivered to the nation on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the White House rented three barges of giant Musco lights, the kind used to illuminate sports stadiums and rock concerts, sent them across New York Harbor, tethered them in the water around the base of the Statue of Liberty and then blasted them upward to illuminate all 305 feet of America's symbol of freedom. It was the ultimate patriotic backdrop for Mr. Bush, who spoke from Ellis Island.

For a speech that Mr. Bush delivered last summer at Mount Rushmore, the White House positioned the best platform for television crews off to one side, not head on as other White Houses have done, so that the cameras caught Mr. Bush in profile, his face perfectly aligned with the four presidents carved in stone.

And on Monday, for remarks the president made promoting his tax cut plan near Albuquerque, the White House unfurled a backdrop that proclaimed its message of the day, ''Helping Small Business,'' over and over. The type was too small to be read by most in the audience, but just the right size for television viewers at home.

''I don't know who does it,'' Mr. Deaver said, ''but somebody's got a good eye over there.''

That somebody, White House officials and television executives say, is in fact three or four people. First among equals is Scott Sforza, a former ABC producer who was hired by the Bush campaign in Austin, Tex., and who now works for Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director. Mr. Sforza created the White House ''message of the day'' backdrops and helped design the $250,000 set at the United States Central Command forward headquarters in Doha, Qatar, during the Iraq war.

Mr. Sforza works closely with Bob DeServi, a former NBC cameraman whom the Bush White House hired after seeing his work in the 2000 campaign. Mr. DeServi, whose title is associate director of communications for production, is considered a master at lighting. ''You want it, I'll heat it up and make a picture,'' he said early this week. Mr. DeServi helped produce one of Mr. Bush's largest events, a speech to a crowd in Revolution Square in Bucharest last November.

To stage the event, Mr. DeServi went so far as to rent Musco lights in Britain, which were then shipped across the English Channel and driven across Europe to Romania, where they lighted Mr. Bush and the giant stage across from the country's former Communist headquarters.

A third crucial player is Greg Jenkins, a former Fox News television producer in Washington who is now the director of presidential advance. Mr. Jenkins manages the small army of staff members and volunteers who move days ahead of Mr. Bush and his entourage to set up the staging of all White House events.

''We pay particular attention to not only what the president says but what the American people see,'' Mr. Bartlett said. ''Americans are leading busy lives, and sometimes they don't have the opportunity to read a story or listen to an entire broadcast. But if they can have an instant understanding of what the president is talking about by seeing 60 seconds of television, you accomplish your goals as communicators. So we take it seriously.''

The president's image makers, Mr. Bartlett said, work within a budget for White House travel and events allotted by Congress, which for fiscal 2003 was $3.7 million. He said he did not know the specific cost of staging Mr. Bush's Sept. 11 anniversary speech, or what the White House was charged for the lights. A spokeswoman at the headquarters of Musco Lighting in Oskaloosa, Iowa, said the company did not disclose the prices it charged clients.


''They seem to approach an event site like it's a TV set,'' said Chris Carlson, an ABC cameraman who covers the White House. ''They dress it up really nicely. It looks like a million bucks.''

Even for standard-issue White House events, Mr. Bush's image makers watch every angle. Last week, when the president had a joint news conference with Prime Minister José Mariá Aznar of Spain, it was staged in the Grand Foyer of the White House, under grand marble columns, with the Blue Room and a huge cream-colored bouquet of flowers illuminated in the background. (Mr. Sforza and Mr. DeServi could be seen there conferring before the cameras began rolling.) The scene was lush and rich, filled with the beauty of the White House in real time.

''They understand they have to build a set, whether it's an aircraft carrier or the Rose Garden or the South Lawn,'' Mr. Deaver said. ''They understand that putting depth into the picture makes the candidate or president look better.''

Or as Mr. Deaver said he learned long ago with Mr. Reagan: ''They understand that what's around the head is just as important as the head.''

Stoller asks:

Why didn't Michael Bay direct an awesome action adventure ad where John Kerry singlehandedly blows up the terrorist insurgency with a solemn nod of his granite-chiseled chin? Why weren't the writers of SNL and the Daily Show brought in to create hilarious, ruthless anti-Bush spots that would have been forwarded all around the internet? Why wasn't James Brooks hired to create a touching, pull-the-heartstrings Kerry-Edwards-cares-about-the-voter commercial? This schlock works -- remember that 9/11 Bush ad where he's holding the crying girl? With the Hollywood talent the Democratic party has at its disposal, we could have blown that spot out of the water, made it look like a mediocre episode of Touched by an Angel next to our sinking of the Titanic. I don't care if you think "I am king of the world" is a cheesy line -- it made people cry. Nothing Kerry said made people cry. Except perhaps accidentally, out of boredom or pain.


In the end, there is no intersection between Hollywood and the Democratic Party (or none that I have noticed besides that of fundraising). This is a missed opportunity of gargantuan proportions. There are hundreds of writers and actors and directors who are angry and who want to do something besides give money. We are expert message machines offering our (generally overpriced) services for free and the Democratic Party does not use us. We create villains and good guys, we write America's jokes, we create the narrative of America, the lines that are repeated by boys and girls, men and women, over lunch and the water cooler and we have been left completely un-consulted.

If I were to guess, I would suspect that it's because political consultants believe that the liberal Hollywood elites don't understand average Americans.

Think about that for a minute. The purveyors of television, films and commercials don't understand average Americans. After all, only the brie 'n cheese eating set watch any of that stuff, right? Everyone else in America does nothing but homeschool and pray in their free time.

If I'm right and political consultants tell their employers that they shouldn't consult with professional show business, they should be fired. In today's world if you ignore the show business aspect of politics you lose. The Republicans have been on to this for decades and it (at least partially) explains why they've become more successful despite the fact that a minority of people support their policies.

I'll give you one word: Schwarzenneger. The man won the governorship of the most populated state by simply repeating the tag lines from his movies. Nothing else. He had no platform, no policies and no ideas. And latte liberals and anti-immigrants alike voted for him in droves. (Now, remember, I'm talking about getting elected here, not about governance --- a whole different issue.)

The fact is that as much as endorsing an ideology, people cast the role of "Leader" and choose "Best Story" when they vote and it behooves us to recognize this. Our culture is awash in showbiz values. I'm not crazy about this development but it's real and we ignore it at our peril.

Stoller also says:

Fun with Dick and Jane" (which, again, you should all see) has a relatively overt liberal message. However, that message has received none, or very little, mention in the press. Creatively, I discovered something interesting. At the beginning of the process, I was incredibly excited to fill the film with political message (like in Hal Ashby's Shampoo). However, every Gore-Lieberman poster (the movie takes places in 2000) and Bush reference takes one out of the movie, distracts from the laughs. Movies are supposed to be entertaining. Anything that distracts from entertainment feels preachy and extraneous.

And that's just fine, too. Regardless of whether the Democrats wise up and use its resources more wisely, Liberal Hollywood still provides an essential service by keeping our values, if not our politics, mainstream. There have always been Hollywood films with an overt political message, from "The Grapes of Wrath" to "Syriana." But it's the comedies like "Fun with Dick and Jane" that show the plight of the downsized or even an ostensibly "conservative" show like "Law and Order" which educates people about the legal system in a compelling and complex way, that really carry the liberal mail. "Will and Grace" goes into homes all over the country, not just San Francisco and it's probably been more influential in mainstreaming gay life than any activism. "The Simpsons" and now "The Family Guy" are two of the most liberal subversive television shows in American history --- and they are both on Fox.

And here's the great thing about it. Nobody is selling this stuff out of the goodness of their hearts or for propaganda purposes (as the right does with its communistic subsidized media.) Hollywood produces this stuff because there is a massive audience for it. They must make money or die. And through this virtuous feedback loop our values of tolerance and freedom, social and economic justice are kept alive in a period of reactionary politics.

Why do you think the Republicans hate us Hollywood liberals so much anyway?

Update: I should also add that the GOP sadists who endorse torture should thank liberal Hollywood for mainstreaming it in endless shows that have cops routinely beating the shit out of suspects to get information. Nobody's perfect.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Just Another Republican Hustler

by digby

Via Susie Madrak

IT WAS astounding enough for Washington’s political elite: last month they discovered that the man at the heart of a scandal over the planting of US propaganda in Iraqi newspapers was a dapper but unknown 30-year-old Oxford graduate who had somehow managed to land a $100 million Pentagon contract.

What is even more remarkable however, after an investigation by The Times, is that just ten years ago Christian Bailey, whose US company is under investigation for planting fake news stories in Iraqi newspapers, was a nerdy, socially awkward English school-leaver called Jozefowicz.


The journey from the Royal Grammar School, Guildford, which Mr Bailey left in 1994, to the heart of K Street in Washington, the centre of money and influence in the US capital, has been remarkably rapid. Today he has a reputation in Washington for being a socialite with links to influential Republicans. He is a helicopter and aircraft pilot and his home is in a fashionable area.

Through a Lincoln Group spokesman, Mr Bailey answered questions from The Times to help to explain how, at just 30, he landed the Pentagon as an important client. He was born Christian Martin Jozefowicz on November 28, 1975, in Kingston upon Thames, to Jerzy and Anne Jozefowicz.


In his third year at Oxford he hired an assistant to help him to run his first proper company, Linck Ltd, which sold self-help tapes. In 1998, he changed his name to Bailey. “Following his father’s death, Bailey assumed the name for family reasons, something which children commonly do,” a Lincoln Group spokesman said. In the late 1990s he moved to San Francisco to try his hand as a dotcom entrepreneur, and then to New York, where he became treasurer of the Oxonion Society, a club for intellectual Anglophiles. He became co-chairman of a networking group for young Republicans. With his Republican contacts growing, Mr Bailey moved to Washington, where he spotted a golden business opportunity: the looming war in Iraq. He formed a partnership with Paige Craig, a former US Marine who served in Iraq.

In early 2003, just before the invasion, Mr Bailey formed a Lincoln subsidiary, the Lincoln Alliance Corp, offering “tailored intelligence services [for] government clients faced with intelligence challenges”. He also formed another subsidiary, Iraqex, which won a $6 million Pentagon contract to launch “an aggressive advertising and PR campaign that will accurately inform the Iraqi people of the c oalition’s goals and gain their support”.

The big breakthrough came in June this year when the Pentagon awarded the Lincoln Group a contract worth up to $100 million over five years to support the US military’s “joint psychological operations”, known as “psyops”.

I think this guy has a future in the ministry.

Stovepiping The Legal Findings

by digby

This review of John Yoo's book in the New York Review of Books illuminated something that I hadn't fully understood before:

Few lawyers have had more influence on President Bush's legal policies in the "war on terror" than John Yoo. This is a remarkable feat, because Yoo was not a cabinet official, not a White House lawyer, and not even a senior officer within the Justice Department. He was merely a mid-level attorney in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel with little supervisory authority and no power to enforce laws. Yet by all accounts, Yoo had a hand in virtually every major legal decision involving the US response to the attacks of September 11, and at every point, so far as we know, his advice was virtually always the same— the president can do whatever the president wants.

I hadn't realized that Yoo was not a senior officer in the justice department. I guess I just assumed that he was quite high level. This makes me wonder if we are looking at another case of stovepiping and cherry-picking.

We know now that the pre-war WMD findings were subject to extreme pressure to conform to the administration's desire to substantiate their claims of an Iraqi threat. It looks like they may have done something similar with the legal findings supporting the president's desire to seize unprecedented power. They relied exclusively on the one guy who could be counted on to tell the president he could do anything he wanted.

The internal battles between and within the CIA, pentagon, state department and the white house have come to light because of the glaring reality that there were no WMD found. A mistake like that forces information out into the public domain as people step up to defend themselves. Up to now, despite a lot of controversy, that has not happened with the Justice Department. Perhaps it never will. It's always possible that the administration never asked anyone but John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales for advice, both of whom they knew would radically expand presidential power. But if there was any dissension within the Justice Department, it may be time for certain fed-up lawyers to step up and set the record straight if they value their reputations.

This NSA spying scandal is the tipping point, in my opinion. It's not the worst of the legal atrocities (I would argue that the sickening finding on torture remains the gold standard) but the culmination of all these revelations show that this president understood 9/11 to be a threat so dire that his vow to preserve and protect the constitution had been superceded by a new vow to protect the American people by any means necessary.

I know that the fevered warbloggers agree that the 9/11 attacks were the opening salvo in a war in which civilization itself is under attack by an unimaginable, all powerful evil. Others, not so much. To many of us who spent our childhoods diving under our desks in nuclear drills, the idea that the oceans had always protected us and this was the most frightening threat the world has ever known is ridiculous.

Frightened people overreacted to 9/11 and sought out people who would justify their actions. (All you have to do is look at the My Pet Goat footage of a paralyzed leader in a time of crisis to know it's true.) John Yoo, with his radical, untested theories was there to provide them. The question now is whether there are any lawyers in the Justice department at the time who presented opposing views. If there were, perhaps these hearings won't be the bust we are all expecting them to be.

Don't Worry Be Happy

by digby

I don't know how many of you are watching CNN today, but something terrible has happened. It has been taken over by the writers of Republican Hallmark cards.

The man who performed in the Dunkin Donuts commercials died over the week-end, leaving a hole in our hearts. Puppies are tearfully reunited with their masters. Saxby Chambliss and Carol Lin are weeping together over baby Noor. Military moms keep a stiff upper lip. All morning, over and over again.

And right now Carol Lin is implying that it's disrespectful to veterans for a man to put up a sign that says "Remember The Fallen Veterans" (with the numbers) next to a recruiting center. She says that Iraq veterans are angry about it.

Who says that the Clinton News Network doesn't report the good news?


Tuesday, December 27, 2005


by digby

Matthew Yglesias points out that William Kristol is acting dumb, which he is. This ridiculous excuse that Bush had to act quickly in the days after 9/11 to "perteckt thea Murican peepul" makes no sense at all in light of the fact that the administration continues to do it more than four years later.

I would also point out that all this nonsense about how the administration couldn't ask the pansy ass congress to amend the law because they wouldn't appreciate the administration's need for unfettered power, neglects the fact that since January of 2003, the congress has been a rubber stamp herd of invertabrate GOP sheep who would do anything their Dear Leader required when it comes to the GWOT. If they couldn't get that congress to pass this vital change in the FISA law then they need to take it up with Bill Frist and Tom DeLay. (And if the administration didn't think they could get the invertebrate herd of GOP sheep to do something you really have to ask yourself what in Gawd's name they wanted them to do.)

But there is, of course, much more to this than just congressional bedwetters not having the guts to defend the nation from islamofascists.

There's also this, from the original NY Times article:

In mid-2004, concerns about the program expressed by national security officials, government lawyers and a judge prompted the Bush administration to suspend elements of the program and revamp it.

For the first time, the Justice Department audited the N.S.A. program, several officials said. And to provide more guidance, the Justice Department and the agency expanded and refined a checklist to follow in deciding whether probable cause existed to start monitoring someone's communications, several officials said.

A complaint from Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the federal judge who oversees the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court, helped spur the suspension, officials said. The judge questioned whether information obtained under the N.S.A. program was being improperly used as the basis for F.I.S.A. wiretap warrant requests from the Justice Department, according to senior government officials. While not knowing all the details of the exchange, several government lawyers said there appeared to be concerns that the Justice Department, by trying to shield the existence of the N.S.A. program, was in danger of misleading the court about the origins of the information cited to justify the warrants.

"...concerns about the program expressed by national security officials, government lawyers and a judge."

Clearly, this program has had problems even by the standards of an administration that thinks the president has the inherant constitutional right to ignore specific laws passed by congress if he deems it necessary in order to "perteckt thea Murikan peepul." That bar is mightly low and yet there still were problems that were subject to suspension and revamping.

I realize that we are just supposed to trust this president in spite of the fact that he has repeatedly and blatantly lied to our faces, but I would think that this would pique the interest of even the most vociferous bush defenders. If the Ashcroft Justice department had issues with this program that ought to be enough even for Bill Kristol to question its legality.

After all, as I have written before, Bill has a history of holding presidents to very high standards:

The lines have been drawn. What Republicans now need is the nerve to fight. They must stand for, to quote Helprin again, "the rejection of intimidation, the rejection of lies, the rejection of manipulation, the rejection of disingenuous pretense, and a revulsion for the sordid crimes and infractions the president has brought to his office." (William Kristol, Weekly Standard, May 25, 1998, page 18.)

Of course the president in question was secretly surveilling Monica Lewinsky's underwear, which was a terrible threat to the nation. Kristol had no choice but to throw the book at him.

Jihadi Media

by digby

Over pictures of people who are handling rocket launchers and wearing ski masks with strange suits, the braindead Brit who is filling in for Cavuto today asked John Podhoretz if the New York Times should be charged with treason.

Charging a newspaper with treason seems like a stretch, but I could be wrong. I think the proper legal charge would be sedition. But implying that the New York Times staffers are jihadis seems a bit inflammatory to me.

The Pod was unpleasant.

Just Don't Count 'Em

Steve Benen of the Carpetbagger Report is filling in for Kevin over at Political Animal and he has an interesting post up about the new movement to deny automatic citizenship to babies born in the United States. It's one of those Lou Dobbs obsessions that's gaining ground among the wingnuts.

His post reminded me of another Dobbsian boogeyman that I've been meaning to discuss which will have a very pernicious effect on politics if it is enacted: the anti-immigrant fanatics want to change the census to only include citizens. And they quite openly say it is because they want to change the make-up of the congress.

This is another one of those Karl Rove specials. It's ostensibly about the scourge of illegal immigration, and plays perfectly into people's cultural anxieties, but it's really about structural political change.

Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson's exceedingly interesting book Off Center talks (among other things) about how the Republicans have gone about creating a "backlash proof" system in which Republican seats are safe no matter how unpopular their beliefs or voting records are in the country at large. It's a huge part of their long term strategy to change the political system in their favor. The book doesn't mention this specifically, but it's exactly the kind of thing that Karl and Tom would try to push to assure a long term majority.

This article in the Arizona Republic, shows that the estimate is that the seats lost would mostly be in Democratic states:

The U.S. Constitution should be changed so that only legal citizens can be counted when determining a state's number of congressional districts, a Republican lawmaker argued Tuesday.

"This is about fundamental fairness and the American ideal . . . of one man or one woman, one vote," said Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich, testifying to a U.S. House subcommittee on federalism and the census.

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that, "Representatives of the (U.S.) House shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state . . . "

But Miller, backed by 29 House co-sponsors, is pushing a vote on an amendment that would change the word "persons" to "citizens," excluding non-citizens as a factor in determining how many of the 435 U.S. House seats each state gets.

According to the 2000 census, there were more than 18 million non-citizens in the country, representing about 6.6 percentof the nation's total population. They included as many as 8 million undocumented immigrants, along with guest workers, foreign students or others on temporary visas.


Recent studies, including one in May by the Congressional Research Office, show that had only citizens been counted in the most recent apportionment based on the 2000 Census, California - with more than 5.4 million non-citizens -- would have six fewer U.S. House seats.

Texas, New York and Florida would each have one seat less.

Lower-immigration states like Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Wisconsin and Indiana would each have one more seat.

There could be a shift of 10 seats affecting 15 states if non-citizens are excluded in 2010, according to early projections by Polidata, a Lake Ridge, Va., firm that analyzes demographic information.

Arizona would not lose any of its seats. The state's 462,239 non-citizen residents represent 9 percent of its total population - the seventh highest percentage in the nation. However, even if these individuals were not counted, Arizona's population would still be high enough to still qualify for eight congressional seats in 2010.

But removing non-citizens from those calculations would have impact within the state. Arizona's congressional district lines would have to be drawn much differently than they are now to equalize "citizen" representation.

For instance, based on their existing congressional districts, Rep. Rick Renzi, a Republican, is currently representing 620,000 "citizen" residents in his largely rural district, while Rep Ed Pastor, a Democrat, represents 480,000 citizen residents in his central-southwest Valley district. If non-citizens are no longer be counted , both Renzi' and Pastor's districts - as with all of Arizona's congressional districts -- would have to be redrawn so that they have more-comparable citizen numbers.

... an estimated 10 million legal permanent residents in the nation who are eligible to become citizens are Latino, and that 77 percent of these Latinos live in California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey or Arizona.

While not disputing there are large undocumented populations in these states, Gonzalez said, "the reality is that these states also have hundreds of thousands of immigrants who are law-abiding citizens, have played by the rules and are preparing to become full participants in this nation."

Kenneth Prewitt, director of the Census bureau from 1998-2000, warned Miller's amendment would lead to less cooperation by immigrants who are already too often wary of census takers, and a less complete and less accurate census.

I think it's pretty clear which party would benefit from this, don't you? It's true that a couple of upper midwest swing states might gain a seat or two, but for the most part it's the big blue population centers that will suffer. And you can bet that the necessary gerrymandering that comes with such a scheme will be well planned to take care of Republicans in states in which immigrant communities suddenly "disappear" from the body politic.

These are the little landmines that Karl and company have set throughout our political structure that are going to have reverberations for decades. Right now the immigration debate is dividing the GOP more than the Republicans and Democrats. But who knows where things will be in a couple of years? Karl and company play the long game and bet that it's always better to institutionalize their strict numerical advantage.

Short term they may be trying to play to the hispanic vote, but ultimately it's all about solidifying their base to such an extent that they never have to do more than win a few showy races to maintain a majority. Big business doesn't care one bit about whether legal and illegal immigrants are represented in the census. If it takes the heat off of the cheap labor debate, they would be perfectly happy to support it. And this feeds the angry white vote nicely.

This is how you keep a political machine well oiled and working even if you wind up spending quality time in a federal prison. The mob works this way too.