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Hullabaloo


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

 
K.I.S.S.

by digby

Samela writes in the comments:

I think the simplest story that reveals the difference between what people perceive as 'big-business influence through lobbying" (which they relate to both parties) and the Culture of Corruption swirling around the Republicans is the one involving the Magazine Publishers of America.

Back in 2000 the magazine industry hired Abramoff as a lobbyist (he was then at Preston Gates Ellis) to help stem a proposed rise in postal rates. Now, most people can understand why the magazine industry would not want higher postal rates: it affects the bottom line of their business. Aside from printing, postage is one of their biggest costs. No one, of course, likes higher postal rates (and no one particularly wants magazine subscription rates to rise). But sometimes they are necessary to keep the postal system running. Nonetheless, it would seem perfectly legitimate for the MPA to hire a lobbyist to try to put their case before congressional members. One would assume the USPS would similarly be trying to jawbone legislators to present their side of the story, arguing FOR the need to raise postal rates. Senators and representatives should then duly consider the arguments from both sides and come to a decision about whether rates should rise or not.

This is not what happened. Mr. Abramoff was paid $525,000 by the MPA to seek a postal rate reduction in Congress. Did he make a heckuva case for them? Not exactly: he asked the MPA to give an additional $25,000 to a Seattle-based charity (slush fund) he'd helped found--and then he used that money (as well as another $25K from elottery) to help pay the salary for the wife of Tom Delay staff member Tony Rudy. It's called money laundering and bribery.

It's okay for lobbyists to collect money from clients to argue their cases before legislators. It's even okay (though problematic) for businesses or interests who have a stake in congressional legislation to try to elect the people they think can help them by donating to their campaigns, within the law. (Though I'd like to see changes in those laws.) What's not okay is money laundering and bribery. That is what a number of Republican Congressmen and their staffers are involved in here .... but no Democrats, to our knowledge.

The Democrats may be too tied to corporate contributions, and it's a problem that needs to be addressed. But we have thus far not seen any widespread shakedown, extortion, bribery, money-laundering schemes to which high-level Democrats or their staffers were party.

It's an easier story to understand than the baroque Indian tribe one (though smaller in scale). But it's been going on a long time, and DeLay and his staffers were at the very heart of it.

And yeah.... the Republicans are famous for defending their own until the fire gets too hot. The Democrats let go of Trafficante the moment his shenanigans hit the fan (it might even have been before), disavowing him. The Republicans have been trying to defend DeLay even AFTER his indictment. They got him to relinquish his leadership role, but they have in no way repudiated him formally.

samela



There you have it.


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How Can He Be Even More Right? A Modest Proposal.

by tristero

George W. Bush's latest thoughtful speech was, as usual, boldly audacious. With his demand that responsible debate over Iraq must be limited entirely to arguments over exactly how much praise he deserves, The President's speech will go down in history as among the most remarkable utterances ever.
The American people know the difference between responsible and irresponsible debate when they see [sic] it. They know the difference between honest critics who question the way the war is being prosecuted and partisan critics who claim that we acted in Iraq because of oil, or because of Israel, or because we misled the American people. And they know the difference between a loyal opposition that points out what is wrong, and defeatists who refuse to see that anything is right.
In other words:

Is the Bush administration doing (1) a heckuva job; (2) a heckuva great job; or (3) a totally heckuva great job? And how can we help The President be more right?

Before we can answer that second question, we need to understand exactly why The President refuses to consider the topics he mentions as worthy of responsible discussion.

Of course, we didn't invade Iraq because of oil. Why this isn't obvious to everyone is one of the mind-boggling mysteries of our epoch. Briefly, all we're trying to do is grow the Iraq economy. Now, everyone knows the world is in a post-industrial phase, where it's high tech that rules, not Big oil-gobbling Iron. Therefore, it's vital to Iraq's infrastructure that they make use as soon as possible of their most abundant resource - sand - and become the major player they deserve to be in the international chip market.

All we're doing is expediting that process by purifying the sand. We're simply eliminating all that putrid-smelling retro petro-pollution from their valuable natural mineral resource and shipping the smelly sludge - at our own companies' expense, mind you - back to the US. This is not about oil but about transforming a volatile region into a Land Of Milk and Honey. And Sand. Because of The President's actions, I can predict with near certainty that within five years Iraq will become the pre-eminent Silicon Desert of the Middle East.

As for Israel, it simply must be recognized that any critic who mentions Israel in the same sentence with Iraq is not only thoroughly irresponsible but clearly an out and out anti-Semite. Now I admit, Pat Robertson may have been overstretching a bit, but only those who refuse to acknowledge cause and effect fail to see the connection between Sharon's recent stroke and the unremitting criticism he received in the past few months by all those here in the US who refused to support the Iraq war.

Now regarding the alleged misleading of the American people, I submit that The President never did such a thing. The proof, as if any is needed (he is after, all The President, and doesn't need proof), can be found in this very speech of 10 January, 2006. Notice how carefully and repeatedly The President distinguishes between "Saddamists" and "foreign terrorists." He's telling us he's known all along that there's a difference and that he's never confused them. Furthermore, notice how he fearlessly deplores the utterly unprecedented abuse of Iraqi prisoners by Iraqi security forces. This also subtly alludes to the moral axis of The President's actions in Iraq. After all, where else could those murderous Iraqi security police possibly have learned to perpetrate such horrors if not while suffering under the obscene guidance of the monstrous Sons of Saddam - Uday and what'shisname?

But The President goes even further in clearing our mind of dangerous clutter. Little noticed by the punditocracy - at least so far - The President makes it very clear he has secret evidence American troops never blew up innocent wedding parties. Those were suicide bombers disguised as American planes and Blackhawks.*

But we digress. Back to that second question: How can The President be more right? Okay. I'll tell you and I'm not going to mince words. And I don't care who wants to turn me in for saying them!

I think the Big Problem is that everyone thinks The President is wrong and they won't trust his judgment. I think it's wrong that these people are wasting The President's time by making him worry that he's only doing a heckuva job. I think responsible debate should be limited to whether The President is doing a heckuva great job or better. If this proposal is adopted, The President by definition would immediately be more right! And that's what we, and he, want.

I think if irresponsible opponents weren't clogging The President's time with so many questions and empty scandals that his presidency has begun to resemble a New Orleans sewer, The President would have been able to sign the necessary emergency orders for more upper body armor for our troops. Now, let me be crystal clear about this: Because The President couldn't find time to sign that order, the critics of the The President's performance are responsible for much more - way much more - than aiding and comforting our enemies. The irresponsible critics of The President are systematically killing our soldiers. And I don't care who knows it.

Now, the Doomsayer Democrats object to certain wiretaps made without authorization. I say if they don't like them, here's a plan that will end the "illegal" wiretaps debate immediately. Disconnect the critics' telephones! And while we're at it, deny 'em ADSL. Let them rant over a 28.8k AOL connection and see how well they like it.

Bottom line: The President couldn't be more right. After all, he wouldn't be The President if that wasn't so. That's self-evident, just like it says in the Constitution. Or somewhere.



*Don't let yourself be misled by the irresponsible rantings of mere eyewitnesses who swore they were American planes. They weren't and I have a reason why they were mistaken.

Now, of course I have only the greatest sympathy for a bride whose husband was turned into viscous red goo in the middle of their vows, but, to be perfectly blunt, such an hysterical woman does not a reliable witness make. Indeed, probably very few men would either, in her position (not as the bride of another man, of course, nor did I mean to imply by "her position" anything smutty, it's just that I meant...oh, you get it, I don't need to explain).
 
Corrupt Reformers

by digby


I admire Rich Lowry's intellectual integrity in pointing out that no matter how much the Republicans might wish to portray the Abramoff scandal as bi-partisan it just isn't. But his prescription just won't do.

You see, this graft and corruption has been going on in plain sight for a long time and GOPers had their mouths so full of pork they apparently couldn't say a word about it until a Republican Justice Department public integrity section stumbled over Jack Abramoff. The Republican party has no standing to reform itself now. It's like the mafia saying they promise to clean up their act once Sammy the Bull blew the whistle.

The Abramoff scandal is about corrupt lobbying and money laundering, which was coordinated at the highest levels of the party, run by the majority leader of the House of representatives. But that's just one of many corrupt GOP practices. There are the perjury and obstruction cases in the CIA leak investigation. And the SEC investigation into the majority leader of the Senate. There are the numerous payola and propaganda schemes. Bribes on the floor of the House. Crooked Pentagon appropriations and missing billions in Iraq. Dirty tricks in New Hampshire. Hiding the real cost of the prescription drug program (and Billy Tauzin being on Pharma take when he got it passed.) The list goes on and on.

(Here are just a few of the alleged GOP ethics abuses from the Washington Post. Here's an even longer one. And here's Think Progress' indispensible compendium of Abramoff criminals.)

This Republican party is crooked. And despite what George Will says, it's not because of big government. Government spending has exploded under the allegedly "small government" Republicans while delivering less and less to average Americans. They have proven that they are completely full of shit on that issue and anyone who votes for them on that basis is an idiot. Judging by their performance the only things they actually care about are padding their own pockets and protecting their own power. If there are a hoard of "reform" Republicans out there who have been objecting to this pillaging of the treasury, they haven't exactly been speaking up. All I've heard is "praise God and pass the contributions."

I expect Republicans to take potshots at Clinton and his supporters whenever possible so I don't usually respond, but this statement is too self-serving to let pass:

Republicans must take the scandal seriously and work to clean up in its wake. The first step was the permanent ouster of Tom DeLay as House Republican majority leader, a recognition that he is unfit to lead as long as he is underneath the Abramoff cloud. The behavior of the right in this matter contrasts sharply with the left's lickspittle loyalty to Bill Clinton, whose maintenance in power many liberals put above any of their principles.


That might be an apt analogy except for the fact that Democrats defended Clinton out of the principle that a rabid partisan witchunt into a president's sex life was beyond the pale.

By contrast, both the Republican president and the invertebrate Republican congress have engaged in or silently acquiesced to blatant graft and corruption for years while the Democrats impotently screamed into the void. The party was keeping the seat warm for months while the majority leader remained under indictment. They changed the rules so that an indicted leader could keep his seat until the public outcry forced them to retreat, for crying out loud, and then they launched a grassroots campaign to defend him:

Conservative leaders are crafting plans to launch a public campaign to defend House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

The move follows a meeting last week among DeLay, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the chief deputy majority whip, and nearly two dozen conservative leaders, including David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union; Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council; Morton Blackwell, president of the Leadership Institute; and Edwin Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation.

Perkins, Keene and Feulner called the meeting, according to participants.

“It was a rallying cry to our conservative community that we are under assault. We need to fight back. We’re going to have a challenging year with the judicial issue bubbling up in the senate and the impact it may have on our ability to get things done,” said Cantor, who said he described to the group how Democrats and liberal groups have waged a coordinated battle to raise doubts about DeLay’s conduct.

Several of the conservative leaders who met last week are planning to launch a grassroots campaign targeted at conservatives in the districts of House Republican lawmakers whose support for DeLay may be wavering.


This man is a corrupt thug who ran a corrupt political machine. Everybody in Washington knew it. Republicans celebrated it and bragged about it publicly. For them to now go all Claude Rains about it is just funny.

It's possible that the voters will not care or will not hold Republicans responsible for this corruption. But these are early days in the 2006 election cycle and many more shoes are going to drop over the next few months. I wouldn't want to place a bet that Americans won't laugh at any Republican claiming the mantle of reform come election day. It's going to be very easy to find pictures of Republicans kissing the ring of Tom DeLay.


Update: Read this great post by Tom Watson (via Wolcott)on this topic.


.
 
Wallflowers

by digby

I feel so dirty. My Alito the freeper post is linked on both The Corner and Free Republic. Seems bedwetters don't like my armchair analysis of the chickenhawk pathology one little bit.

Here's Jonah:

I DUNNO... [Jonah Goldberg]

Byron - Seems to me the cops at the '68 convention proved their "manhood" without going to Vietnam or joining the croud chanting "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh!" and echoing Che Guevara's call for "two, three, many Vietnams."

Also, it's kind of funny listening to liberals argue that getting laid "a lot" makes you a man.

Addendum: I posted too fast. I meant to say it's kind of funny listening to liberals argue that there are only two paths to becoming a man -- getting laid "a lot" and going to war. And here I thought they didn't like social Darwinism.


He actually wrote the words "getting laid a lot makes you a man" and then came back with an oops "I posted too fast." You can't make this shit up.

Of course if he'd read the post in question he would know that I didn't actually say that there are only two paths to manhood, but that's just nitpicking. He's right. There is a tried and true path to manhood for right wing chickenhawks: they can host Kaffee Klatches for mama, Linda Tripp and Michael Isikoff and then make a whole career out of it.


The best freeper comment is this:

This Freeper will gladly meet Mr. "Digby", anytime, anywhere, for a little test of "physical courage". Hygiene-challenged, hairy little socialist creeps who throw like girls ought not write checks their skinny butts can't cash. I know: when the phone doesn't ring...I'll know it's him. Chickenhawk? Chickensh!t.


Me thinks the lady doth protest too much.


Here's a thread to vote on Alito's freeper handle over at MYDD. I'm thinking "wallflower".



.

Monday, January 09, 2006

 
Freeping The Court

by digby

I watched the Roberts hearings and couldn't help being impressed by the guy even though I knew he was way too conservative for me. He was obviously intelligent, confident and smooth and I ended up thinking that anybody who was smart enough to keep a good distance between himself and the Federalist Society might just be smart enough to see through their more ridiculous theories. That's probably wishful thinking, but still.

By contrast, I just had a chance to see Alito's opening statement and I have to say that I think he came off as an asshole:

And after I graduated from high school, I went a full 12 miles down the road, but really to a different world when I entered Princeton University. A generation earlier, I think that somebody from my background probably would not have felt fully comfortable at a college like Princeton. But, by the time I graduated from high school, things had changed.

And this was a time of great intellectual excitement for me. Both college and law school opened up new worlds of ideas. But this was back in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

It was a time of turmoil at colleges and universities. And I saw some very smart people and very privileged people behaving irresponsibly. And I couldn't help making a contrast between some of the worst of what I saw on the campus and the good sense and the decency of the people back in my own community.


This is the same guy who wanted to keep women out of Princeton. Presumably, they wouldn't have "felt comfortable" there. But that's not what made that statement so revealing. It's this notion of smart and privileged people "behaving irresponsibly."

I think it's fairly certain that he's not talking about branding frat boys' asses or getting drunk and stealing Christmas Trees. He's talking about anti-war protestors, feminists etc. And like so many campus conservatives of that era, he sounds like he's still carrying around a boatload of resentment toward them.

Roberts apparently came out of all that unscathed. Confident in his own abilities and social prowess, he didn't appear to have this puny, pinched view of liberalism as a threat to decency and morality. (He may have it, but it didn't show --- or he was smart enough to hide it in his hearings.) Alito is one of those other guys. You know the ones:

The only political aspirants among those three groups who failed to meet the test of their generation were the chickenhawks. And our problem today is that they are the ones in charge of the government as we face a national security threat. These unfulfilled men still have something to prove.

And, I suspect because their leadership of the "conservative" movement has infected the new generation, we are seeing much of the same pathology among younger warhawks as well. This is why we hear the shrill war cries of inchoate bloodlust from these quarters every time the terrorists strike. It's a primal scream of inner confusion and self-loathing. These are people whose highest aspirations and deepest longings are wrapped up in their masculinity, and yet they are flaccid failures. They are in a state of arrested development, never having faced their fears, never becoming men, remaining boys standing in the corner of the darkened hallway watching Bill Clinton emerge from a co-ed's dorm room to lead a rousing all night strategy session --- and sitting in the bus station on the way home for Christmas vacation as Chuck Hagel and John Kerry in uniform, looking stalwart and strong, clap each other on the back in brotherly solidarity and prepare to see what they are really made of. They have never been part of anything but an effete political movement in which the stakes go no higher than repeal of the death tax.


In other words, he's a freeper. I say filibuster the creep.



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Welcome Back Newtie

by digby

As much as I love having Newtie back on the scene reprising his former role as a fake Republican reformer, I can't help but wonder how he hopes to explain the fact that he was officially reprimanded as Speaker for his unethical behavior by a special counsel . I realize that this happened almost ten years ago, so it's ancient history, but it was quite the circus at the time:

The House ethics committee recommended last night that House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) face an unprecedented reprimand from his colleagues and pay $300,000 in additional sanctions after concluding that his use of tax-deductible money for political purposes and inaccurate information supplied to investigators represented "intentional or . . . reckless" disregard of House rules.

The committee's 7 to 1 vote came after 5 1/2 hours of televised hearings and the release of a toughly worded report on the investigation by special counsel James M. Cole. The recommendation, which followed a week of partisan conflict that has split the House into warring camps, sets the stage for a resolution of this investigation into Gingrich's actions.

Gingrich earlier admitted he had violated House rules and was prepared to accept the committee's recommendation for punishment. If the full House votes as expected on Tuesday, Gingrich would become the first speaker to be reprimanded for his conduct and would begin his second term politically weakened and personally diminished.

[...]

Cole said he had concluded that Gingrich had violated federal tax law and had lied to the ethics panel in an effort to force the committee to dismiss the complaint against him. He said the committee members were reluctant to go that far in their conclusions, but said they agreed Gingrich was either "reckless" or "intentional" in the way he conducted himself.

[...]

Cole made clear he had concluded that Gingrich's activities were not random acts but part of a pattern of questionable behavior. "Over a number of years and in a number of situations, Mr. Gingrich showed a disregard and lack of respect for the standards of conduct that applied to his activities," he said.


Newtie was always loosey goosey about ethics, even as he excoriated the Democrats. (He did it just recently, saying that people expect the Democrats to be corrupt.) And like all Republicans, his hypocrisy knew no bounds:

How sweet a victory it must have been when Newt Gingrich ran former House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Texas) out of town because he made $55,000 off the bulk sale of his book to lobbyists. The trick was turned by Gingrich's insistence that an independent counsel be appointed. As Gingrich put it back in 1988: "The rules normally applied by the Ethics Committee to an investigation of a typical member are insufficient in an investigation of the Speaker of the House, a position which is third in line of succession to the Presidency and the second most powerful elected position in America. Clearly this investigation has to meet a higher standard of public accountability and integrity." Gingrich's words must haunt him now, when his own far more lucrative and questionable book deal has been added to complaints filed with the House Ethics Committee alleging his improper use of political-action-committee and nonprofit-foundation money.

Gingrich has attempted to squiggle out of the book controversy by giving up the $4.5-million advance from HarperCollins, the book publishing company owned by Rupert Murdoch...he had met secretly with Murdoch -- Mr. Multinational himself, a man who built his media empire by hustling legislators on three continents -- Nov. 28, three days before he began negotiating the book contract. But when the book deal was announced in December, Gingrich's press spokesman, Tony Blankley, told reporters he didn't know whether his boss had ever met with Murdoch. Why didn't Gingrich step forward then and admit to the meeting if there was nothing to hide? Why was it only after the New York Daily News broke the story that he confessed?

The truth leaked out when a Murdoch spokesman the next day conceded that an NBC lawsuit against the Murdoch-owned Fox network, based on the foreign-ownership issue, was discussed. And two days later, we learned from Murdoch's Washington lobbyist, Preston Padden, who was also at the meeting, that this was not a chance courtesy call but rather was planned to counter NBC's lobbying.

This week, Gingrich was dissembling once again: "They said something to me about, 'We are in this big fight with NBC,' and I said fine. I mean, I don't care. I never get involved in individual cases like that."


And then, of course, there's this:

In August 1999, Gingrich revealed that he had been carrying on an extramarital affair for the past six years with a House clerk twenty-three years his junior, Callista Bisek. Critics noted that Gingrich's adultery had taken place while he was leading moral attacks against Bill Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal. Because of the similarity of the situations, critics charged Gingrich's attacks on Clinton had been grossly hypocritical



Still, despite his checkered past, we really shouldn't be surprised that Newtie is the Republicans' front man on ethics and a likely candidate for president. At this point he's about the cleanest they've got.



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Tolerance In The Heartland

by digby


TBOGG has the scoop on the Utah theatre that banned "Brokeback Mountain". It's quite strange when you think about it because Mormans were traditional adherants of polygamy which Rick Santorum contends is the inexorable consequence of legalizing gay marriage.

In fact, I find all this Utah intolerance to be quite puzzling. Here's Orrin Hatch in 2003:

'I'm not here to justify polygamy,'' he said. ''All I can say is, I know people in Hildale who are polygamists who are very fine people. You come and show me evidence of children being abused there and I'll get involved. Bring the evidence to me.''

Hatch said he could not take unsubstantiated claims and enforce law, and he would not ''sit here and judge anybody just because they live differently than me.

''There will be laws on the books, but these are very complicated issues,'' Hatch said.


Gee, and gay sex isn't even illegal.


For those looking for the bigger picture, here's the latest on the grosses for the film that everyone assumned would fail big time in Real Murika:

Don't look now, but Brokeback Mountain is selling in the heartland. The gay cowboy romance, which has been cleaning up in early awards races, was considered a difficult box-office sell nationwide because of its subject matter.

But Brokeback Mountain is averaging $10,000-plus per screen in such markets as San Antonio, Nashville and Columbus, Ohio, according to Nielsen EDI.

The Ang Lee film was ninth at the box office this weekend with $5.8 million on 483 screens, a healthy $11,904 per-screen average. That's a higher average than the No. 1 movie of the week, Hostel.

"It's been humbling to see how the movie is getting received across the country," says Jack Foley, head of distribution for Focus Features. "We knew we were getting good reviews and doing well at the awards. But that's never a guarantee you can sell your movie across the country — particularly the most conservative parts of it."


And all the Oscar talk is bringing in couples, including a lot of hetero men who suffer from Larry David syndrome:


Comedian Larry David joked in a New York Times commentary that "cowboys would have to lasso" him into the theater, because he's sure the voice in his head would say, " 'You like those cowboys, don't you? They're kind of cute.' "


I think everyone can agree that Jake Gyllenhall does have a purdy mouth.



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Who's A Terrorist?

by digby

Kevin responds to Joe Klein's tremulous admonition that Democrats should temper their criticism of the NSA illegal spying because it makes us look like we don't care about terrorism:

Politically, I continue to think Democrats should make it absolutely clear that what they're attacking isn't necessarily the NSA program itself, but the fact that the president unilaterally decided that he could approve the program without congressional authorization. In the world of 10-second sound bites, that might end up being a difficult distinction to make, but it's worth making it over and over anyway. We're not opposed to cranking up our intelligence efforts, but we are opposed to a president who thinks that a vague and indefinite state of war gives him the authority to do anything he wants.


Absolutely. But then, I don't understand why anyone is worried about this in the first place. I don't think anyone seriously suggests that the government doesn't have the power to spy on suspected terrorists. The polls show that a majority of people already believe that the president should have to get a warrant before spying on American citizens. Indeed, I think all of us naturally assumed that the FBI has been doing that for years and those in the know understood that the NSA had the ability to do it through the FISA court. I don't know of anyone who is saying that the government should be able to do this at all --- this idea that people are just "against wiretapping" is a straw man.

There is no downside to criticizing this administration for illegally wiretapping Americans in no uncertain terms. But, I think we can take it one step further. We need to be asking why they couldn't even get John Ashcroft to sign off on the renewal of this program back in 2003. Why did the FISA court deny more applications after 9/11? It's impossible to imagine that they were tightening existing rules at a time like that. The history of this program is suspicious and it isn't just unAmerican civil libertarians like me who are aware of the potential for abuse. Even people who support the program see it. Here's a quote from the AP poll over the week-end:

The issue is full of grays for some people interviewed for the poll, including homebuilder Harlon Bennett, 21, a political independent from Wellston, Okla. He does not think the government should need warrants for suspected terrorists.

"Of course," he added, "we all could be suspected terrorists."


This is an issue that cuts across all the abuses of power in the GWOT, from rendition to torture to illegal wiretapping. What constitutes a suspected terrorist? Without due process how do we know that innocent people aren't being accused? There is no review. There is no oversight. We are asked not only to take the word of the president that he is using these extra-legal powers judiciously, we are asked to believe that all the people he's judiciously using these powers against are guilty.

Some Americans don't trust this president. Some Americans wouldn't trust a Democratic president. And some of us don't trust any president with the power to unilaterally decide who is a terrorist and who isn't and then unleash extra-legal actions against them. Certainly, we don't believe that any president can unilaterally declare someone guilty.

Yet that is exactly what has been happening. And we know that many of the people who the president has decided are guilty were not. A fair number of those who were beaten, abused and tortured in our custody at Gitmo and elsewhere have turned out to be cases of mistaken identity. Others were "sold" to Americans as terrorists by rivals. Still more were low level grunts who had no operational knowledge of anything. This has happened quite often. Yet, we have accepted it because we "we're at war" excuses a great deal of inhumane behavior (which is why we should always be careful about saying that we are waging one.) It's very easy for people to fall into a primitive tribalism --- the old "the only good Muslim is a dead Muslim" or perhaps "if you don't want to be seen as a terrorist, don't be a Muslim."

But this NSA illegal spying issue has brought all that home. We have a president who believes that he knows who is guilty and who is not. He believes that he has the inherent constitutional power to declare American citizens "unlawful combatants." He interprets the office of president to be above the laws. When you have a president who takes this position, it is not illogical to assume that he might declare some innocent Americans to be suspected terrorists as well. And that innocent American could be anyone.

The supporter of wiretaps who I quoted above knows that, too. I can't see any reason why Democrats and civil libertarians of all stripes should be afraid to make that point openly. It's why due process was made a part of the Bill of Rights in the first place.

If we willingly discard this principle in the case of morons who are planning to attack the Brooklyn Bridge with a blow torch, why on earth should we adhere to the principle in cases of dangerous gangs or serial killers or child molesters? After all, throwing those people in jail without due process, wiretapping them without a warrant, holding them indefinitely without trial could easily be seen as the president upholding his personal oath to "protect the American people" which has now officially usurped his official oath to protect the constitution.

The fourth amendment is in place to protect innocent people who mistakenly or purposefully get caught up in the government's hugely powerful maw. To pussyfoot around that bedrock principle is to help destroy it.

I'm betting that Joe Klein and his band of would-be tough guy liberals are on the wrong side of this. Fifty-six percent of the country already believes that the government should have to follow due process. Even that guy who supports wiretaps knows very well that there is a danger in allowing anyone the unilateral power to decide who is a suspected terrorist. I hope that Democrats ignore the mewling of timorous pundits and call upon Americans' regard for liberty and their healthy skepticism of government power to make this argument explicitly.



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Presidential Infallibility

by digby


Atrios flags this catch by Weldon Berger regarding Bush's use of "signing statements" (which I admit I only vaguely understood until until recently.) Weldon writes:

Bush doesn’t veto bills because in his view, he doesn’t have to; he can simply ignore the ones he doesn’t like.

The administration have made that argument explicit, but only in terms of the president’s capacity as “commander in chief” during an endless war, as with the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping, the decisions to ignore various Geneva Conventions and the selective suspension of habeas corpus. According to the Hutcheson story, though, it isn’t only legislation dealing with national security issues that the White House asserts the right to ignore.



The Hutcheson story lays out how Bush has used these signing statements:

President Bush agreed with great fanfare last month to accept a ban on torture, but he later quietly reserved the right to ignore it, even as he signed it into law.

Acting from the seclusion of his Texas ranch at the start of New Year's weekend, Bush said he would interpret the new law in keeping with his expansive view of presidential power. He did it by issuing a bill-signing statement - a little-noticed device that has become a favorite tool of presidential power in the Bush White House.

In fact, Bush has used signing statements to reject, revise or put his spin on more than 500 legislative provisions. Experts say he has been far more aggressive than any previous president in using the statements to claim sweeping executive power - and not just on national security issues.

"It's nothing short of breath-taking," said Phillip Cooper, a professor of public administration at Portland State University. "In every case, the White House has interpreted presidential authority as broadly as possible, interpreted legislative authority as narrowly as possible, and pre-empted the judiciary."

Signing statements don't have the force of law, but they can influence judicial interpretations of a statute. They also send a powerful signal to executive branch agencies on how the White House wants them to implement new federal laws.

In some cases, Bush bluntly informs Congress that he has no intention of carrying out provisions that he considers an unconstitutional encroachment on his authority.

"They don't like some of the things Congress has done so they assert the power to ignore it," said Martin Lederman, a visiting professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. "The categorical nature of their opposition is unprecedented and alarming."



Lest anyone think that this is a unique practice of the Bush administration, the article points out that other presidents have issued signing statements too. But Bush has made a fetish out of them by issuing more than 500 of them, often specifically citing the Presidential Infalliibility Doctrine (aka the "Unitary Executive Theory").

Here's what I find fascinating about that. Other presidents issued signing statements to bills. (I have no idea if they also cited the Presidential Infallibility Doctrine.)But they were almost always working with a congressional majority of the other party. You can see why a president would want to establish his interpretation of a hard fought negotiation with political opponents. So, although I am appalled at the idea of unchecked presidential power under any circumstances, I can at least see the logic of a typically authoritarian Republican using these tactics when dealing with a liberal Democratic congress. But you have to ask yourself why he can't get laws passed exactly the way he wants them to in his rubber stamp congress? He couldn't get Bill Frist, his own handpicked puppet, and Tom DeLay, his own Tony Soprano, to pass bills in language that he could agree with? After 9/11?

The answer is of course he could have. He chose not to:


The roots of Bush's approach go back to the Ford administration, when Dick Cheney, then serving as White House chief of staff, chafed at legislative limits placed on the executive branch in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal and other abuses of power by President Nixon. Now the vice president and his top aide, David Addington, are taking the lead in trying to tip the balance of power away from Congress and back to the president.


Weldon Berger puts it this way:

The upshot of this is that until someone gets around to challenging the White House, Congress is just an advisory body with the authority to dole out bucketloads of cash. For now, we have a coup.


I can't help but chuckle mordantly at these chickenshit congressional Republicans who have laid down their integrity and their duty to the constitution for this spoiled little Dauphin and his evil grey eminence, Dick Cheney. But then, they've been paid handsomely in mountainous piles of pork, so I suppose they've been amply rewarded for their pusillanimous gluttony.

Barring a filibuster, it looks as if Alito will be confirmed on a party line vote (or close to it.) There is little doubt in my mind that he believes in this doctrine. However, after Bush vs Gore, I also no longer have any illusions that the Supreme Court is above partisan politics. I suspect that Alito and others will have qualms about codifying the Unitary Executive Theory because someday a Democratic president could face a Republican congress.

But it doesn't matter. The president doesn't believe that the Supreme Court has the power to rule on the issue of presidential power in the first place. I'm sure the Federalist Society will come up with an appropriate remedy should a Democrat ever become president and decide to exercise the same power.


If you are interested in going deeply into this topic, Michael Froomkin is an expert on this doctrine of presidential infallibility (aka "the Unitary Executive Theory") and has been writing about it for quite some time:

[This is] an argument popular with the Federalist Society, but not taken seriously by mainstream academics, for unlimited, uncontainable, Presidential power. The so-called “unitary executive” argument is set out most clearly in a Harvard Law Review article, Steven G. Calabresi & Kevin H. Rhodes, The Structural Constitution: Unitary Executive, Plural Judiciary, 105 Harv. L. Rev. 1155 (1992). My explanation as to why this article is profoundly wrong and dangerous can be found at A. Michael Froomkin, The Imperial Presidency’s New Vestments, 88 Nw. L. Rev. 1346 (1994), which in turn sparked separate and not entirely consistent answers from each of the two authors of the Structural Constitution article. My rebuttal article Still Naked After All These Words, 88 Nw. L. Rev. 1420 (1994) is also online.




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Sunday, January 08, 2006

 
Sickness

by digby

New details have emerged of how the growing number of prisoners on hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay are being tied down and force-fed through tubes pushed down their nasal passages into their stomachs to keep them alive.

They routinely experience bleeding and nausea, according to a sworn statement by the camp's chief doctor, seen by The Observer.

[...]

Edmonson's affidavit, in response to a lawsuit on behalf of detainees on hunger strike since last August, was obtained last week by The Observer, as a Guantánamo spokesman confirmed that the number of hunger strikers has almost doubled since Christmas, to 81 of the 550 detainees. Many have been held since the camp opened four years ago this month, although they not been charged with any crime, nor been allowed to see any evidence justifying their detention.


Thanks to Lindsey "Goober Pyle" Graham, they never will, either:

This and other Guantánamo lawsuits now face extinction. Last week, President Bush signed into law a measure removing detainees' right to file habeas corpus petitions in the US federal courts. On Friday, the administration asked the Supreme Court to make this retroactive, so nullifying about 220 cases in which prisoners have contested the basis of their detention and the legality of pending trials by military commission.


Someday, US Army grunts and innocent Americans with no operational information are going to be held captive by another country and that country is going to use the same rationale for imprisoning and tormenting them indefinitely. And the people who do it will eventually go to the ninth circle of hell and join George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as they scream into the void for eternity about how they had to become sadistic monsters in order to prove they weren't afraid.



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Nixonian Rhapsody Part Deux

by digby

Glenn Greenwald has an excellent post up today about the latest Republican "public intellectual's" assertion that president has a right to use the constitution as toilet paper whenever he unilaterally decides that we are at "war." Someone named "fly" writes in the comment section:

As a "Bush defender" I would like to point out that the NYT article entitled "Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts" encourages readers to conclude that this is a first in domestic surveillance ...


Reader Poputonian wrote this in response:


As a Bush supporter, fly, you are absolutely right to point out that he is not the first president to use the wiretap illegally. At least one past president confronted matters of grave national security by shifting the legal locus of control to his own domain. He understood how secret spy programs were necessary to preserve this great nation of his. He believed that citizens would willfully surrender their liberties to him, and he knew the threat constituted by a hostile media, and he knew what to do about it. He also understood how to make a nation of bedwetters feel more secure. But his theory died when an activist judge ruled against the argument of executive privilege, a ruling which was later upheld by the Supreme Court. By then, what might be called ‘harangue fatigue’ was creeping into the American living room and, frankly, people were sensing that they had reached their limit.

All of which now necessitates Mansfield’s illusory extra-legal theory of what the founders really meant when they designed this system of government. Let’s call it -- 'Mansfield's Separation of Powers, Except' -- clause to the Constitution. Naturally, it would tip off the enemy if this were stated directly in the Constitution, so what the founders did was they cloaked it in mysterious ambiguity so only a future ideologue could detect its presence. But make no doubt about it, as a previous Chief Executive had ascertained, a very close reading of the Constitution shows the founders' original intent, and it was as plain as the nose on his face. It really does give the president extra-legal power, in spite of what the courts ruled.

Some might argue whether or not history repeats itself, but one thing is sure -- it often rhymes.



He's right. This isn't unprecedented. In fact, it's a pattern.



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Culture Of Conservatism

by digby

Frank Rich's column today is getting lots of attention as it should. It's great. But I have to take issue with one passage:

Real conservatives, after all, are opposed to Big Brother; even the staunch Bush ally Grover Norquist has criticized the N.S.A.'s overreaching.


Norquist isn't a "real conservative." In fact, there is no such thing as a real conservative in the Party or movement leadership. The only "real conservatives" left are regular citizens, a few scholars and a couple of pundits.

This is an easy trap to fall into. Whenever their leaders inevitably suck the treasury dry, usurp the constitution, turn America into an international pariah (you know, the usual) "conservatives" protect their valuable brand by simply saying that these particular leaders weren't really "conservative" after all.

Grover Norquist believes in one thing and one thing only --- the perpetuation of Republican power. His job is managing the leaders of the GOP base --- which he fatuously calls "the leave us alone" coalition:

The Leave Us Alone Coalition is an idea popularized by conservative/libertarian activist Grover Norquist for a wide-ranging and loose collaboration among various elements of U.S. politics, united by a common desire for minimal involvement with and restrictions from government, especially the U.S. federal government. There is no actual organization by this name, rather, it is a description of a hoped-for reality of cooperation between social conservatives, libertarians / free market supporters, and various single-issue voters such as gun rights supporters.


He has to say that he opposes the NSA wiretaps if he hopes to keep this political devil's bargain together. Here's what Norquist is really all about:

"The Republicans are looking at decades of dominance in the House and Senate, and having the presidency with some regularity," Norquist told the New York Times last week. A few days earlier, he made the same point, with slightly less confidence, to CNBC Washington bureau chief and Wall Street Journal columnist Alan Murray: "For the next 10 years in the House and Senate, we're looking at Republican control." In the Washington Post last month, Norquist wrote of a "guarantee of united Republican government" that "has allowed the Bush administration to work and think long-term."

[...]

[I]n the November 1992 American Spectator, he wrote an article titled "The Coming Clinton Dynasty," in which he admitted that "any vision of conservatism as the ultimate winner in a two-steps-forward, one-step back Leninist march, is a flawed one."

Instead, Norquist explained, the way a party ensures its perpetual dominance is by controlling the levers of power. In 1974, Watergate led to the election of 75 new Democrats in the House. In Norquist's view, "this liberal band of congressmen" was "willing to change the rules to ensure their continuation in power." Without the benefits of incumbency (bigger staffs, larger budgets, taxpayer-funded mail, pork, and the ability to "extort campaign contributions from industries"), Norquist argued, the Democrats could not have remained in office for the subsequent 18 years. Power perpetuates itself. The correctness of conservative ideas paled before the ruthless "minority ideological cabal" in Congress.


It's shocking that such a delusional person is so influential in American politics, but he is. And despite his rare faux libertarian statements of principle he quite clearly desires a permanent Republican state endowed with unlimited power. He just worries that someone he disagrees with might try to do the same thing. I don't think that's conservatism. He's just a good old authoritarian statist. Here's Grover on his idol Josef Stalin:


He was running the personnel department while Trotsky was fighting the White Army. When push came to shove for control of the Soviet Union, Stalin won. Trotsky got an ice ax through his skull, while Stalin became head of the Soviet Union. He understood that personnel is policy.


This article in the WaPo from January 2004 on Grover is very entertaining and informative. I particularly liked this part:

Some conservatives have stopped attending the meetings because, they say, the institution has "gone Beltway." Now that Republicans are in power, the emphasis has shifted from ideology to lobbying for rich clients, they say. At one session, former representative Bob Livingston (R-La.) promoted a telecom client. At another, former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating (R) talked to the audience as president of the American Council of Life Insurers. One coalition dropout dismissed Norquist as a "homo economicus" -- driven by market forces rather than by social issues.


Part of the reason for "having the personnel in place," of course, is to ensure that money is funnelled where it needs to be. And Grover, along with his best pals from the College Republicans, Abramoff and Reed, made sure that this happened. Norquit's name has already come up in the Abramoff proble and I would expect it to come up again. He's right in the middle of that mess.

But why wouldn't he be? As you can see from the quote above, he believes that corruption is the method by which a political party maintains power. And there is nothing Grover cares about more than maintaining power.

Basically, he ascribes to George W. Bush's political ideology:

"If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator,"



There you have it; modern conservatism in a nutshell.


Update: For more evidence of the mindset, check this out from Josh Marshall:


You have to love this. Three and a half years ago members of the New Hampshire state Republican party, the Republican National Committee and others entered into a criminal conspiracy to disrupt Democratic get-out-the-vote activities on election day.

[...]

Now, in recently filed court papers, the Republican State Committee’s attorney, Ovide Lamontagne, is claiming that the Dems' suit is "in attempt to use the court system to interfere with the (GOP’s) constitutionally protected election activities." There's a certain amount of sense to this, I suppose, since the Republican party, in its current incarnation, does seem to rely heavily on law-breaking as an electoral tool. Still, I've never heard it alleged that such criminality is constitutionally protected
.





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Nixonian Rhapsody

by digby


Finally, somebody in the press wakes up:

"But the climate of those years was so grim that half the Washington press corps spent more time worrying about having their telephones tapped than they did about risking the wrath of Rove, Libby and Cheney by poking at the weak seams of a Mafia-style administration that began cannibalizing the whole government just as soon as it came into power. Bush's capos were never subtle; they swaggered into Washington like a conquering army, and the climate of fear they engendered apparently neutralized The New York Times along with all the other pockets of potential resistance. Bush had to do everything but fall on his own sword before anybody in the Washington socio-political establishment was willing to take him on."



Oh sorry. Transcription problem. That was actually Hunter S. Thompson, in the October 10, 1974 Rolling Stone, writing about the Nixon administration. My bad.



Thanks to Rick Perlstein for the gonzo catch. I have a feeling we're going to see a whole lot of juicy stuff like that when he publishes his new book.
 
Private Partisans

by digby

Via Political Cortex

As it hunted down tax scofflaws, the Internal Revenue Service collected information on the political party affiliations of taxpayers in 20 states.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a member of an appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the IRS, said the practice was an “outrageous violation of the public trust” that could undermine the agency’s credibility.

IRS officials acknowledged that party affiliation information was routinely collected by a vendor for several months. They told the vendor last month to screen the information out.

“The bottom line is that we have never used this information,” said John Lipold, an IRS spokesman. “There are strict laws in place that forbid it.”

[...]

In a letter to Kelly, Deputy IRS Commissioner John Dalrymple said the party identification information was automatically collected through a “database platform” supplied by an outside contractor that targeted voter registration rolls among other things as it searched for people who aren’t paying their taxes.


They don't mention who the contractor was, unfortunately, and that is worth finding out. As we know, Brownies have been rewarded by the GOP patronage machine all over the place, both in and out of government. Anybody want to place a little bet?

I have long thought that privacy is a potent issue for Democrats and all these nasty revelations about Republican snooping and interefering in people's personal decisions just make it more so. With the exception of a few sincere Goldwaterites who have all passed on, the libertarian strain in the Republican party was always just a simple cultural appeal on guns and taxes. History shows that they clearly favor big government that serves their corporate special interests and are more than willing to use the full force of the state at their discretion. (This is most vividly demonstrated by the new presidential infallibility doctrine on one hand and Terry Schiavo on the other.)

Between the Bedwetter Caucus and the Christian Right you also have a very large faction of the GOP that considers people with opposing views to be dangerous. The true philosophy of modern conservatism is about control and domination, not freedom and equality.

I posted this (Warning pdf) before, but it's worth posting again.

What makes you feel free?

36.

Next I am going to read some basic American rights. For each one, please indicate whether this is crucial to your own sense of freedom, very important but not crucial, somewhat important, or not important at all.


Crucial---very important---Somewhatimportant---Not Important---No opinion



The right to vote 60 37 2 1 *

Freedom of religion 55 39 5 1 *

The right to free speech 52 40 7 1 *

The right to due process 52 37 7 1 3

The right to privacy 47 44 9 * *

The right to petition the government 44 37 15 2 2

Protection against unreasonable searches/seizures 40 39 16 2 2

Freedom of the press 36 37 22 4 1

The right to keep and bear arms 30 26 27 15 2



You'll notice that the right to privacy is considered more crucial than some other rights that are explicitly written into the Bill of Rights. (You'll also notice that number one is not a right --- which was noted by none other than Uncle Nino during the Florida debacle. Too bad the press was so busy handwringing about preganant chads that it didn't bother to discuss that fact in any depth.)

And this issue pertains to Republican (and, frankly, certain Democratic) partners in crime as well --- the corporations and the "contractors" who are invading citizxens' privacy these days as if all information is not only public, it is also for sale.

John at Americablog caught this one yesterday:

Anyone can buy a list of your incoming and outgoing phone calls, cell or land-line, for $110 online.


He bought his own records so he knows it's true. And it turns out that the congress has known all about this and doesn't give a damn.

I support the idea of Democrats introducing a constitutional amendment to codify a right to privacy once and for all. I have heard some say that we should not do this because people will then realize that we don't already have that right. I think that's weak. The only people who are currently concerned with that argument in any practical sense are judges and they understand the issue very well. This is about taking a public stand and fighting for something that most Americans, not just Democrats, believe in and care about.

A constitutional amendment is a very difficult thing to do and would probably require decades to accomplish, but it is something that we can hang our hats on as a matter of fundamental principle. It should be a standard Democratic line along with "health insurance for all Americans" or "equal rights under the law." People need to understand that when the Republicans say there is no right to privacy in the constitution, they like it that way --- and that we disagree. Strongly.



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Saturday, January 07, 2006

 
Puppet Theatre

Did anyone catch the ignominious debut of the new MSNBC freakshow called "Week-ends With Maury and Connie" today?

I could be wrong, but I think they might be trying to do a sort of grandparents version of The Daily Show. It could also be a tribute to early television pioneer Dave Garroway and his chimp, J. Fred Muggs (Maury is playing the part of the chimp.)

I honestly don't know what to make of it. I'm pretty sure that Maury is working with Michael Jackson's plastic surgeon, though. I never saw the resemblance between him and Lena Horn before.



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Christian News Network

by digby

I see that conservative evangelical leaders have stepped up to criticize Pat Robertson's wacko statements:

I'm appalled that Pat Robertson would make such statements. He ought to know better," said Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest U.S. Protestant denomination.

"The arrogance of the statement shocks me almost as much as the insensitivity of it," Land said in an interview.

[...]

Land, who sat next to Robertson at a Washington event last year honoring Sharon, said that Robertson spoke for "an ever diminishing number of evangelicals, and with each episode like this the rate of diminishment accelerates."

Land said Robertson might have isolated himself from anyone but yes men. "When you're the head of your own organization, if you don't cultivate people telling you what you don't want to hear, sometimes you don't hear it," Land said.

The Rev. Kevin Mannoia, chaplain at Azusa Pacific University and past president of the National Assn. of Evangelicals, was among those who suggested that Robertson's comments could have been a misguided effort to restore his once powerful standing as a religious and political voice in America by creating new controversy.

"I wonder whether, consciously or subconsciously, this is an effort on the part of an individual who has significant influence in the church and the country and recognized that influence is waning," Mannoia said.

"He continues to try to maintain that influence by increasingly controversial statements — perhaps statements out of desperation, perhaps statements out of [wanting] more attention," he said.


Meow. Pull your claws in, boys.

No matter what they say, Pat Robertson is incredibly influential among the rank and file Christian Right through his immensely successful tax exempt television empire, Christian Broadcast Networks. From the Columbia Journalism Review, May/June 2005:


CBN’s new digs are abuzz with activity. The Republican Senator Trent Lott came by for an interview earlier in the day, as did Jim Towey, who directs the White House office of faith-based initiatives. Now Lee Webb, the CBN anchor in from Virginia, sits behind the desk in one of the studios preparing to deliver the network’s first half-hour nightly newscast from this gleaming set. Behind him is a floor-to-ceiling world map illuminated in violet and indigo and a screen emblazoned with CBN’s logo. At his side, just beyond the camera’s view, sits a squat pedestal that holds a battered American Standard Bible. Webb lowers his head and folds his hands. “Father, we are grateful for today’s program,” he says. “We pray for your blessing. We ask that what we’re about to do will bring honor to you.” Then the cameras roll.

To many people — especially in blue-state America — God, news, and politics may seem an odd cocktail. But it’s this mix that fuels much of CBN’s programming.

CBN’s flagship program, the 700 Club with Pat Robertson, is familiar to many Americans. But few outside the evangelical community know how large the network is — it employs more than 1,000 people and has facilities in three U.S. cities as well as Ukraine, the Philippines, India, and Israel — or how diverse its programming...As Christian broadcasting has grown, pulpit-based ministries have largely given way to a robust programming mix that includes music, movies, sitcoms, reality shows, and cartoons. But the largest constellation may be news and talk shows. Christian public affairs programming exploded after September 11, and again in the run-up to the 2004 presidential election. And this growth shows no signs of flagging.

[...]

Christian radio news networks experienced their largest growth spurt in the months after September 11. That was also when CBN launched NewsWatch, the first nightly Christian television news program. The show is on three of the six national evangelical television networks, as well as regional Christian networks and the ABC Family Channel. FamilyNet TV, part of the Southern Baptist Convention’s media empire, followed suit in 2004 by hiring a news staff. And at the 2005 NRB convention, Christian television networks from around the world joined forces to form a news co-op. They intend to pool footage and other resources as a means of improving coverage and helping more Christian stations get into the news business.


Pat's getting at least a million viewers a day on the 700 Club alone. And to those who were listening to his broadcast, his faux pas about Ariel Sharon wouldn't have sounded the least bit odd:

Christian news networks devote an enormous amount of airtime to Israel, and their interest has theological underpinnings. In addition to being the place where many biblical events unfolded, Israel plays a pivotal role in biblical prophecy. Most evangelicals emphasize that God granted Israel to the Jews through a covenant with Abraham. They believe that the Jews’ return to Israel was biblically foreordained, and that Jewish control over Israel will trigger a cascade of apocalyptic events that will culminate in Christ’s second coming. Israel’s strength is vital to their own redemption.

Such beliefs explain the unwavering support for Israel expressed by some evangelical talk show hosts. Among them is Kay Arthur, whose radio and TV program, Precepts For Life, offers audiences biblical solutions to everyday dilemmas such as divorce and addictions. She took to the stage at the Israeli Ministry of Tourism Breakfast, held in conjunction with the 2005 NRB conference, and told the hundreds of broadcasters in the audience, “If it came to a choice between Israel and America, I would stand with Israel.” Janet Parshall, host of a popular political program that also runs both on radio and TV, implored the Israelis in attendance, “Please, please, do not give up any more land.” Lest anyone think her alone in her zeal, she urged all those who believed “in the sovereignty of Israel” to stand. Virtually everyone in the room got up.

[...]

The Israeli government has responded with gratitude. Senior officials meet regularly with evangelical broadcasters. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent Pat Robertson a taped message for his seventy-fifth birthday, thanking him for his stalwart support.



I'm sure that Pat's good friend Benjamin had no problem with his comment that Sharon's stroke was divine retribution. He might even agree.

Pat's been popular with conservative politicians for a long time, as everyone knows. But even though he's been spouting off like a lunatic every couple of months (America was asking for it on 9/11 etc.) the Republican party knows which side of the communion wafer its bread is buttered on:

... a few months after the 2000 presidential election, when President Bush invited the NRB’s executive committee to join him and Attorney General John Ashcroft for a meeting in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. After the gathering the NRB’s board chairman wrote an exuberant message to members, saying there was a “new wind blowing in Washington, D.C., and across the nation . . . . The President has surrounded himself with a wonderful staff of people of faith. And it’s obvious that people of faith are being welcomed back to the public square.” The message also urged members to seize the opportunity to “make a difference in our culture” — which in the parlance of religious conservatives generally means effecting political change.

In the months that followed the Roosevelt Room gathering, the NRB executive committee continued to meet periodically with senior White House staff members. On occasion, Bush himself attended. And monthly NRB-White House conference calls were established to give rank-and-file NRB members a direct line to the Oval Office.

George W. Bush also attended NRB’s 2003 convention and gave a speech, much of it dedicated to promoting the looming war in Iraq. At the event, the NRB passed a resolution to “honor” the president. Though the NRB is a tax-exempt organization, and thus banned from backing a particular candidate, the document resembled an endorsement. The final line read, “We recognize in all of the above that God has appointed President George W. Bush to leadership at this critical period in our nation’s history, and give Him thanks.”


Just last spring, when Pat opened up his shiny new DC CBN studios during the fight over judicial nominees, the Republican leadership happily stepped forth to kiss Pat's ring and genuflect appropriately:

The judiciary was also front and center during opening week at the network’s new Washington bureau. A parade of senators — all of them Republican — made their way into the studio, to go on camera advocating the nuclear option. During his interview, broadcast as part of NewsWatch’s inaugural Washington, D.C., program, Trent Lott stood with studio lights glinting off the American flag pin on his lapel, and held up a scrap of paper with a list of senators’ names and how they intended to vote on the initiative. The tally seemed to be stacking up in his favor. Pat Robertson, who interviewed Lott, asked no tough questions and offered not even a passing nod to opposing viewpoints. Instead, Robertson scored Democrats for trying to “eliminate religious values from America” by blocking the appointment of conservative judges. All the while, the dizzying blend of God, news, and politics that he has crafted and honed was bouncing off satellites, winding through thousands of cable systems, rippling over the airwaves, and glowing on television screens across America.


And contrary to what Reverend Land and others are trying to say, Pat's news and entertainment network is growing, not shrinking:

January 2005:

The 700 Club's average daily audience, according to AC Nielsen's November sweeps, is up 26% over last year. At a time when most daily shows are struggling The 700 Club is experiencing tremendous increases. November's average daily audience of 922,000 households is the highest in ten years and we experienced the same success in October and November.



I suspect that some of this criticism of Pat is simple jockeying for influence in the Christian broadcasting field. You'll notice that Land's Southern Baptist Convention has its own competing network. Pat's the Rupert Murdoch of religious programming and there are a number of little Mini Pats nipping at his heels.

But I'm not worried about him. He's got two thirds of born again Christians watching his news show and they're not going to stop watching because of something he said about Ariel Sharon:

( Mar 14, 2005) The reshaping of Americans’ lives is evident in various facets of their life, including the spiritual dimension. A new nationwide survey conducted by The Barna Group indicates that while 56% of adults attend church services in a typical month, a much larger percentage is exposed to religious information and experiences through various forms of media. Radio and television are the most popular Christian media, but faith-related Internet sites as well as religious magazines, newspapers and books also enjoy significant exposure...Two-thirds of the born again population views Christian programming each month, which is more than double the proportion of non-born again adults (30%) who follow that pattern.


It isn't just FOXNews. CBN is a powerful force in the Mighty Wurlitzer too. Robertson may be a nutcase, but he's also a huge player in GOP politics whether they like it or not.


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Who Knew?

I just want to follow up a little bit on Glenn's fine post on this blog (and on his own) in which he takes on Highpockets' pathetic argument defending the Bush apologist war cry that revealing the NSA illegal spying scandal harmed national security.

I agree, of course, that despite the fact that Bush likes to talk about how they hide in caves, islamic terrorists aren't cave men. They can read as well as anyone. And because they have what you might call a "particular interest" in such things, they would be more likely than 99% of Americans to know about American surveillance law and practices such as FISA, if such things concerned them.

I also agree that this alleged revelation about "switches" and "encryption" is a red herring. In the first place the Times story didn't mention it, but even if it did, it makes no difference. All this technological information was in the public domain, as were the laws, so if any terrorist was concerned about how the US went about surveillance or the state of technology that enables it, they could have easily found out.

But none of that really matters. The NY Times story revealed nothing that would give a terrorist pause because the fact is that everyone in the world assumed that we were monitoring terrorists' electronic communications. I assumed that. So did Osama bin Laden. I further assumed that American friends of terrorists and their friends would be monitored, too. And I have no doubt that Osama bin Laden assumed the same. But while both Osama bin Laden and I undoubtedly made exactly the same assumptions, only one of us has any interest in the NY Times revelation that the surveillance was illegal --- and it isn't Osama.

This article from the Washington Times, via Glenn, bears that out, saying that all this surveillance has resulted in no good intelligence about al Qaeda in the US.

U.S. law enforcement sources said that more than four years of surveillance by the National Security Agency has failed to capture any high-level al Qaeda operative in the United States. They said al Qaeda insurgents have long stopped using the phones and even computers to relay messages. Instead, they employ couriers.

"They have been way ahead of us in communications security," a law enforcement source said. "At most, we have caught some riff-raff. But the heavies remain free and we believe some of them are in the United States."


But even if that were not true and American suicide bombers were plotting their next attacks in AOL chat rooms, the government would have no trouble getting warrants to spy on them. And that's the rub. I just don't see any scenario in which a FISA judge would not retroactively grant a warrant in a case that thwarted a terrorist plot. Neither can I imagine that if the administration made a case to the congress that it needed to extend the 72 hour retroactive limit to three weeks (or three months!) that the GOP congress wouldn't have gone along. Nor would they have withheld the money required to hire all the people needed to do the paperwork, or whatever the excuse of the day is. The administration would have gotten whatever it needed to legally monitor terrorist suspects. In fact, the terrorists and Anmericans alike assumed it had already done so.

Therefore, the only logical reason that the administration believed that it had to secretly and illegally spy on Americans is because they knew that Americans would not approve of which Americans they were monitoring. As Glenn says, the only security threatened by the revelations in the NY Times story is the Republican Party's political security.



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Hanging In Wingnutland

by digby

Man, am I one lucky lil' blogger or what? Let's have a hand for Julia of Sisyphus Shrugged and Glenn Greenwald of Unclaimed Territory. I'm sure you will all be visiting their great blogs often. If there were an award for best guest blogging, they would be shoo-ins. Many thanks to both of them for filling in while I was hanging with the wingnuts.

How is FoxNews indoctrinating the subjects these days, you ask? Well, it's interesting. From this small subset of wingnuts, it looks like the Abramoff scandal is spawning a kind of feverish excitement, although they don't seem to realize that it's going to affect their favored political party more than the hated liberal traitors. The atmosphere was very reminiscent of gatherings during Whitewater and Monicagate and it occurred to me that they are either addicted to scandal in general or they were so conditioned during the Clinton years that they now automatically associate scandal with an advantage to their side.

Keep in mind that while these are wingnuts they are not Pat Robertson wingnuts, so they aren't faithbased. However, they are military and their tribal indentification with the GOP is very stong. They are unable to admit, as yet, that this is a throughly Republican scandal, but they are scandalized nonetheless. They say generic stuff like "it's time to throw all those bums out" which, if you knew these particular wingnuts, is as close as they are ever going to get to openly admitting that the Republicans have fucked up.

They also complained that Bush is on TV too much. His hectoring bozo-ism embarrasses them now.

Of course they were also saying, "somebody ought to put a stop to that woman."

Baby steps.




Corrected shoo-in

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Hey, me too...

What he said. Thanks for the conversation, and for making me feel at home, and thanks to Digby for inviting me.

Since this came up in the comments of an earlier post, Wampum (home of the Koufaces, and they're still a little short the money they need to pay for them, if you happen to think of it when you drop by), firedoglake and his rooness all have smart posts up explaining why if you think that "the tribes donated to Democrats" means that Democrats are implicated in the Abramoff scandal, you don't really understand what the Abramoff scandal is about.

That makes me kind of nervous. We're the ones who are paying attention. Imagine what impressions the people who aren't paying attention are getting.

I think we need to get on message here, folks.

Just, you know, saying.

edit: Oh, man. I almost forgot to make Digby profoundly uncomfortable by suggesting that you head over to the Bloggies with this blog in mind.

Best writer seems to be the popular category.
 
A couple of last points

by Glenn Greenwald

Thanks to Digby for asking me to blog here while he was away, and thanks to all of his readers for the lively and provocative comments in response to mine and Julia’s posts. This is the place where one finds what I think is the most consistently superb writing and analysis on the Internet, and I've enjoyed blogging here these last few days.

I wanted to bring two final items to your attention:

(1) The nonpartisan and independent Congressional Research Service released a Report yesterday (.pdf) which analyzed and, in a mild though clear tone, decimated the legal theories advanced by the Administration to defend George Bush’s lawless eavesdropping.

Though lengthy and legalistic, the Report is well worth reading. Of particular note is its discussion of the history of eavesdropping abuses on U.S. citizens by the Executive Branch which necessitated the protections of FISA (page CRS 13); the Report’s destruction of the Administration’s claim that the AUMF (the Congressional resolution authorizing military force against Al Qaeda) can be read to have provided Bush an "exemption" from the mandates of FISA (CRS 32); and its emphatic rejection of the notion that a President can simply violate a Congressional law (rather than asking Congress to amend it) simply because the President views the law as undesirable for national security (CRS 41).

(2) Atrios has spent the last several days repeatedly asking if there are any Bush followers, anywhere, who can answer this question:

Can anyone - anywhere - explain, just a little bit - just one time - how "national security has been damaged" by revelations that the Administration was eavesdropping without FISA-required warrants and judicial oversight rather than with them?

One of the most devoted and loyal Bush followers, John at Powerline, has courageously stepped up to the plate, and attempted to provide an explanation as to how it can be said that disclosure of the illegality of the eavesdropping program "harmed national security."

It’s the first such attempt (at least which I’ve seen) to answer this question. For reasons that I point out here on my blog, John’s explanation is not just astoundingly incoherent, but conclusively demonstrates that John -- as I believe is the case for many Bush followers -- does not have any idea what FISA says or what this scandal is actually about.

The utter emptiness of his response makes quite clear that the only thing "harmed" by disclosure of this illegal program is George Bush’s political interests, not American national security interests. The rage and "treason" accusations arising from this scandal rest on the borderline-religious belief that to criticize and undermine George Bush is the same as criticizing and harming the United States, and harming George Bush’s political interests -- even by pointing out that he broke the law -- is, therefore, by definition, to commit treason. That really is the premise of those who are defending George Bush in this scandal.

Friday, January 06, 2006

 
Hanging the Messenger

by Glenn Greenwald

Atrios asked this question yesterday:

So, what if it does come out that the administration was spying on journalists, political opponents, etc... How WILL the broders/russerts/matthews/hiatts/ roberts/humes of the world react?

I’m not sure exactly what those commentators would say (although I’m sure it would be appropriately balanced and would give due deference to the view that Bush had good arguments for such spying and did so only with the best of intentions for all of us), but I definitely know what Bush’s followers would say: It’s about time, and it doesn’t go far enough. Bush’s blogosphere followers have already begun justifying and excusing the Administration’s potential spying on journalists.

But clearly they believe that a lot more should be done to anti-Bush journalists than simply spying on their calls. Since the New York Times disclosed the undisputed fact that George Bush ordered his Administration to eavesdrop on American citizens with no judicial oversight and outside of FISA, the attacks on the media by the Administration and Bush’s followers have seriously escalated. Since this scandal arose, they have been relentlessly calling the Times and its sources "subversives" and "traitors," and have been openly claiming that they are guilty of treason.

When Bush followers use terms like "subversives" and "traitors," and when they accuse people of engaging in "treason," many assume that they are joking, that it’s a form of political hyperbole and it’s only meant symbolically. Pajamas Media member and Instapundit favorite Dean Esmay wants it know that the terms "traitors" and "treason" are used literally, and that these traitors must meet the fate which traitors deserve:

When I say "treason" I don't mean it in an insulting or hyperbolic way. I mean in a literal way: we need to find these 21st century Julius Rosenbergs, these modern day reincarnations of Alger Hiss, put them on trial before a jury of their peers, with defense counsel. When they are found guilty, we should then hang them by the neck until the are dead, dead, dead.

No sympathy. No mercy.Am I angry? You bet I am. But not in an explosive way. Just in the same seething way I was angry on 9/11.

These people have endangered American lives and American security. They need to be found, tried, and executed.

Similarly, on Powerline yesterday, Big Trunk shared some of his dirty fantasies about criminally prosecuting and imprisoning the reporters and editors of the Times who were responsible for having disclosed the fact that his Leader ordered the Government to eavesdrop on American citizens in violation of the law:


Assuming that the terms of the statute apply to the leaks involved in the NSA story, has the Times itself violated the statute and committed a crime? The answer is clearly affirmative. . . .

Is the New York Times a law unto itself? In gambling that constitutional immunity protects it from criminal liability for its misconduct, the New York Times appears to me to be bluffing. Those of us who are disinclined to remit the defense of the United States to the judgment of the New York Times must urge the Bush administration to call the Times's bluff.

Even discussions of this sort have the effect, by design, of intimidating the nation’s media into remaining quiet about illegal acts by the Administration. With an Administration which throws American citizens indefinitely into military prisons without so much as charges being brought and with access to lawyers being denied, or which contemplates military attacks on unfriendly media outlets, isn’t it just inevitable that all of this talk about treason and criminal prosecution of the Times and its sources is going to have some substantial chilling effect on reporting on the Administration's wrongdoing?

None of this is new. It’s all been tried before. The New York Times previously obtained classified documents revealing government misconduct with respect to the Vietnam War, and the Nixon Administration argued then, too, that the Times’ publication of that classified information was criminal and endangered national security. The U.S. Supreme Court in New York Times Co. v. The United States (the Pentagon Papers Case) 403 U.S. 713 (1971), barred the Nixon Administration from preventing publication by the Times of this information.

In doing so, Justice Hugo Black wrote a concurring opinion which makes clear just how dangerous and perverse it is for the Administration and its followers to seek to silence the media from reporting, truthfully, on the Administration’s illegal eavesdropping. I’m quoting from it at length because it is so instructive and applicable to what is occurring today:


Our Government was launched in 1789 with the adoption of the Constitution. The Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment, followed in 1791. Now, for the first time in the 182 years since the founding of the Republic, the federal courts are asked to hold that the First Amendment does not mean what it says, but rather means that the Government can halt the publication of current news of vital importance to the people of this country. . . .

Yet the Solicitor General argues and some members of the Court appear to agree that the general powers of the Government adopted in the original Constitution should be interpreted to limit and restrict the specific and emphatic guarantees of the Bill of Rights adopted later. I can imagine no greater perversion of history. . . .

In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government's power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.


The subtle and not-so-subtle threats against journalists for committing "treason" are not confined to the rabid Bush followers in the blogosphere. Bush’s closest political allies routinely make similar accusations, and Bush himself, in his very first Press Conference after disclosure of his eavesdropping, accused those responsible for the disclosure of “helping the enemy,” i.e., committing treason:

There is a process that goes on inside the Justice Department about leaks, and I presume that process is moving forward. My personal opinion is it was a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war. The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy. . . .

With a Congress that is controlled by Republicans and hopelessly passive, and with a judiciary increasingly packed with highly deferential Bush appointees, the two remaining sources which can serve as meaningful checks on Executive power are governmental whistle-blowers and journalists, which is exactly why the most vicious and intimidating attacks are now being directed towards them.

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