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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Monday, March 31, 2008

 
Party Crashers

by digby

Apparently Jay Rosen was intrigued (and concerned) by Will Bunch's characterization of the liberal bloggers at Eschacon "declaring war" on the press. I find that interesting since, as far as I'm concerned, liberal bloggers declared war on the press many years ago. I'm not sure that this is even controversial. Pushing back on biased, anti-Democrat and pro-Republican lies and editorial judgment is supposed to be one of our primary raison d'etres.

Jay seems to think this discussion was unusually provocative, but it actually wasn't. What we said was that the press is in love with McCain, that it is very dangerous for Democrats and that we needed to work hard to combat that, starting now while the Democrats are still settling their primary. (As Bunch wrote in his piece, October is way too late to do it.) When I said that bloggers could get "personal and ugly" in ways that institutions like Media Matters couldn't, I wasn't suggesting that we "take the culture war to the next level and de-legitimate the media for as many people as we can reach." That's hyperbole that nobody even came close to saying.

By going personal and ugly, I meant that we could write about the press the way I did in the excerpt from this post which Jay positively quotes at length. In other words, we can write like bloggers, laying out the critique in edgy, irreverent, aggressive terms that an organization like Media Matters would not want to do. (And our new organizing tools may make it possible to drill our national critique down to the state and local level and mobilize readers to take it to the writers themselves.) The informality and shoot-from-the-hip style, along with our outsider status and freedom, is the essence of blogging.

A better case than my post, would be the ridicule the blogosphere as a whole dished out when the video of the McCain press bar-b-que in Sedona found its way on to Youtube. That was "personal and ugly" simply by showing the fawning media schmoozing with their favorite flyboy (and garnering two glowing accounts in the Washington Post on the same day.) After the 2000 campaign, when Bush bought off the press corps with Dove bars and Animal House nicknames, it's not unreasonable to be skeptical of the media when they get friendly with their favored candidates like this. The history of the love affair between the McCain campaign and the press is legendary and there has been nothing so far in this campaign to reassure me that it has changed.

Jay wonders if by "declaring war on the media" we mean we will declare war on Bill Keller for either being a "loser" and not making the McCain/Iseman story stick or having the bad judgment to publish it in the first place. Neither actually. The derision emanating from blogosphere about the Iseman story was mostly about the run on smelling salts down at the Village drug store --- The New York Times unethically published a front page story about McCain's private life based on rumor and innuendo! The humanity!

After years of trivial tabloid coverage of Democrats, from discussions of Kerry's
"butler" to Edwards' haircuts, you'll have to excuse us cynical bloggers for finding that reaction absurd, particularly in light of the lengthy, anonymously sourced front page story just six months earlier cataloging the number of nights the Clintons spent together. That story was relentlessly flogged by the cable gasbags, who justified their heavy breathing with the rationale that Bill had a habit of catting around, so his marital bed was newsworthy since his wife was running for president. Indeed, not only was it responsible to speculate how often the Clinton's have sex, it would be irresponsible not to.

Unlike the Clinton Rules which say that if one tiny detail of the story is proven factual then the entire story is taken as gospel, the McCain Rules say the opposite. The fact that the alleged affair with Vicki Iseman was not proven means that his rank hypocrisy on campaign finance and ties to lobbyists can never be mentioned again. The Village hissy fit (and McCains own self-righteous performance) was sufficient to cow any news organization from going there again.

Jay brings up the fact that my colleague on the panel in question, NTodd, said that if people are asking Chelsea Clinton about Monica Lewinsky we should have people asking McCain about the circumstances of his marriage. Jay speculates that it would be risky because McCain's response might be able to turn that into a positive viral Youtube ( that old McCain magic, I guess.) But even if that were so, according to Cokie's Law, once it's "out there," it doesn't even matter if it's true or not --- people would be talking about it.

This is how the right wing gets these things into the ether. It would be nice if they didn't, but they do and it does no good to stand on the sidelines clucking about how unfair it all is. Ironically, Jay reports that the person asking Chelsea that question was actually a Clinton supporter, but today it's become a topic of conversation on the Chris Matthews show because she's now being asked the question by others on college campuses. Howard Fineman sniffed that she was going to have to come up with a better answer than she has, spiritedly seconded by undercover right wing operative Michele Bernard. Only the reporter from Congressional Quarterly suggested that there might be some political coordination going on among these college students who are suddenly popping up and asking Chelsea Clinton how she feels about her father's infidelity. Everybody else on the show played dumb. (In case anyone's forgotten, College Republicans pretty much require ratfucking beatdowns as an initiation ritual.)

Most people don't know about McCain's marital history because the press has been hands off. It is why the gasbags and the village pearl clutchers were able to claim the Iseman story wasn't newsworthy and chastise Bill Keller for doing to McCain what the New York Times does to Democrats with impunity and Chris Matthews and his ilk do every day on their repulsive sideshows. I don't have any particular desire to know who politicians are sleeping with and the idea that this information is some sort of great window into the character or qualifications for the job (particularly when the criticism is coming from promiscuous celebrity playboys) is laughable. But if they are going to do it (and there is no sign that they aren't) the least we can expect is that they will be equal opportunity busybodies and show the same hypocrisy toward politicians they personally like as well as the ones they loathe. "Fair and balanced" scandalmongering isn't particularly edifying, but it's better than yet another decade of open season on Democratic presidential candidates.

Jay believes there is a chance that the press has been chastened by their behavior in 2000 but I see absolutely no evidence that they have ever looked at the fundamental issues underlying their attachment to McCain --- their simple-minded attraction to his macho warrior bonafides, the assumptions of political courage based upon his record of physical bravery 40 years ago and his famously bad tempered iconoclasm, his phony clubbiness. They give him a pass because they like him. And they like him because he pretends to like them. The fact that McCain's "openness" results in the boys on the bus protecting him is not an improvement over Tim Russert's mindless gotcha questions or the blatant hostility to politicians they find "boring" or "cold."

Jay brings up one episode I find very revealing, from Howard Kurtz:

McCain said he couldn’t stop[talking to reporters], because “that destroys credibility.” And besides, he said, “I enjoy it a lot. It keeps me intellectually stimulated, it keeps me thinking about issues, and it keeps me associated with a lower level of human being than I otherwise would be.”

Can’t stop. Destroys credibility if I change now. Keeps me thinking. Reporters: lower level of human being. Kurtz was supposed to chuckle at the insult, which is the towel-snapping part of the affair


Is it really too much to ask that the relationship between the press and the powerful be based upon healthy mutual skepticism and (even begrudging) respect for each others' jobs rather than boys locker room experiences? It seems to me we should have worked that through after this last round, but apparently the "Bush III" campaign (talk about dynasties) is going to reported in much the same way as Bush II --- hijinx and bar-b-q and assorted useless stupidities substituting for journalism.

Jay thinks all that is possibly about to change because Obama may match McCain in "radical openness" with the press. It's possible, of course, but Obama's been more closed to the press than any of the other candidates of both parties (and considering his success so far, I would suggest that it's worked.) But as stories like this ,this and this begin to surface, you can see a critical narrative building up around his failure to do it.

There are a number of reasons as to why he's escaped the normal Democratic coverage so far, not the least of which is that the media have been obsessively diverted by their complicated, long standing relationships to the Clintons and John McCain, which play out as the soap opera or stirring warrior tales that were written long ago. That doesn't take anything away from Senator Obama, who until FoxNews decided they needed to get in the game, had managed to finesse them quite successfully. (Managing the press corps is a skill that I wouldn't ever take for granted. It's a big selling point for Obama in my book.)

But history shows that these love affairs with Dems tend only to last as long as the press corps isn't getting fed the kind of juicy, tabloid style GOP spin points they find irresistible, while at the same time being slammed mercilessly by the same operatives for being in the tank. The Reverend Wright brouhaha was an example of what we can expect --- at some point Obama will start receiving an onslaught of tough press. But it will be much worse for him if John McCain is allowed to continue to get away with allowing the professional character assassins to get it "out there" while righteously declaring his moral superiority and opposition to such tactics.

Jay quotes Paul Waldman, one of the co-authors of "Free Ride" about McCain's relationship with the media, saying that he's hopeful the book will help persuade reporters to take a step back and ask themselves whether their coverage of McCain has been what it should be. The book is impressive and perhaps there will be some in the press who read it and have that epiphany. But as Jay points out, the rightwing babblers all hate McCain too. Under those circumstances, the press conventions dictate that because McCain is hated by both the too hot right and too cold left --- he's just right. McCain becomes the man in the middle, that most precious of political commodities. (And he loves them, he really loves them!)

Judging by what I'm seeing in the campaign so far, the press hasn't spent even one minute reassessing their campaign coverage of the past couple of decades and are mindlessly running repetitious (and long ago discredited) plot lines. The younger ones don't even know how much right wing cant they've internalized and the older ones are still trying to justify their previous bad behavior. When you look at the press coverage of Bill Clinton, Gore and Kerry, it's more than obvious that Republican narratives dominate once they get going. (It's why I have been of the opinion that having the primary go on for a while was actually a good thing -- the Republicans can't settle on a single story line.) We can assume that this time is different or we can try to get out in front and attack this stuff head on, right now.

Jay wants us to not declare war, but rather try to persuade. That seems a matter of semantics and tactics to me. I desperately want to persuade them to stop being ninnies and jackasses but the only way I've seen to do that is by relentlessly pointing out their foibles and mobilizing the public to hold them accountable for it. If they all wake up tomorrow and begin reporting the race in a way that doesn't seem to come out of junior high slumber parties and boy scout camp, I couldn't be happier. But I think it would be foolish to count on it.

Jay has some interesting ideas about how to go about making the coverage of McCain better at the end of the article that are worth considering. (But I would be very surprised if McCain would allow liberal bloggers on the back of the bus and I suspect the press corps wouldn't like it much either. After all, we would very likely spoil the party.)


Update: I should make clear that I'm not criticizing Jay for his observations. I disagree with some of his assumptions about the possibility of change in the press corps' behavior in this election, but he's not wrong to ask these questions. I just believe that bloggers pointing out incorrect reporting isn't enough. Media Matters does that better than any of us. the independent bloggers connect the dots with aggression and attitude. It's what it takes to engage the public and break through.


.
 
Too Big To Fail

by dday

So the Treasury Secretary called for a "sweeping overhaul" of financial rules, and the cheerleaders on the business channels are predictably calling this some kind of radical change, whereas Paul Krugman rightly explains this as rearranging deck chairs.

Anyone who has worked in a large organization — or, for that matter, reads the comic strip “Dilbert” — is familiar with the “org chart” strategy. To hide their lack of any actual ideas about what to do, managers sometimes make a big show of rearranging the boxes and lines that say who reports to whom.

You now understand the principle behind the Bush administration’s new proposal for financial reform, which will be formally announced today: it’s all about creating the appearance of responding to the current crisis, without actually doing anything substantive.


I think what we've seen is the belief in deregulation of financial markets and massive corporate consolidation in general working in tandem. This created huge financial institutions of the likes of Bear Stearns, which then became too big to allow to fail no matter how speculative they became. And so they could engage in whatever risky operations they wished, full with the knowledge that they would never experience a full washout of their assets. The result is a safety net for massive corporations only at the expense of the social safety net for individuals.

Without a vote of the Congress or a public debate, the Bush administration and the Federal Reserve have made government the guarantor of the shadow banking system – the unregulated, unhinged hedge funds and investment houses whose compulsive excesses now threaten the global economy. They say necessity is the mother of invention, but we seen only a part of the new machine, not surprisingly, the part that buttresses Wall Street. They have scrambled to put this together in an emergency, behind closed doors, without a hint of the necessary regulatory changes that must rationally accompany such guarantees. That is what the fight in the coming months will surely be about [...] The shadow banking system now must be brought out of the shadows. After all we are constantly told that finance serves the economy, and the market system is the best means to solve our social goals. It feels very uncomfortable when our servant's servant becomes our master's master as Wall Street has been permitted to become in America in recent years by contribution- hungry elected officials.


Barack Obama explicitly connected the current crisis to the bipartisan practice of deregulation. This is part of a culture of laissez-faire economics that has shifted risk to individuals and removed risk from corporations, and Obama's speech talked about the need to radically change that midset with actual regulation instead of putting new names on the same old ineffective regulatory agencies. Corporations for too long have, as Bob Borosage said, been given "the freedom to gamble with other peoples’ money ... protected by lavish campaign contributions and powerful lobbies."

One thing we all know is that John "Let's Schedule A Meeting Sometime" McCain would offer the same Hoover-like do-nothing approach. But it's striking how many connections there are between McCain allies and surrogates and every aspect of the financial crisis. After all, some top campaign advisors of his lobbied for the shady lender Ameriquest, one of his top surrogates Carly Fiorina is a welfare queen whose company paid off her mortgage between 1999 and 2003, the most recent RNC chair is saying that his non-plan to deal with the mortgage crisis is incomplete, and his top economic advisor is perhaps most responsible for the crisis itself:

The general co-chairman of John McCain’s presidential campaign, former Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas), led the charge in 1999 to repeal a Depression-era banking regulation law that Democrat Barack Obama claimed on Thursday contributed significantly to today’s economic turmoil.

“A regulatory structure set up for banks in the 1930s needed to change because the nature of business had changed,” the Illinois senator running for president said in a New York economic speech. “But by the time [it] was repealed in 1999, the $300 million lobbying effort that drove deregulation was more about facilitating mergers than creating an efficient regulatory framework.”

Gramm’s role in the swift and dramatic recent restructuring of the nation’s investment houses and practices didn’t stop there.

A year after the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act repealed the old regulations, Swiss Bank UBS gobbled up brokerage house Paine Weber. Two years later, Gramm settled in as a vice chairman of UBS’s new investment banking arm.
http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif
Later, he became a major player in its government affairs operation. According to federal lobbying disclosure records, Gramm lobbied Congress, the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department about banking and mortgage issues in 2005 and 2006.

During those years, the mortgage industry pressed Congress to roll back strong state rules that sought to stem the rise of predatory tactics used by lenders and brokers to place homeowners in high-cost mortgages.

For his work, Gramm and two other lobbyists collected $750,000 in fees from UBS’s American subsidiary. In the past year, UBS has written down more than $18 billion in exposure to subprime loans and other risky securities and is considering cutting as many as 8,000 jobs.


The regulation referred to here is the Glass-Steagall Act, and after its demise investment banks grew larger and larger, essentially becoming invulnerable. It's so clear that lack of regulation gave the investment banks a license to steal, and that Phil Gramm and his puppet Presidential candidate, who doesn't know or care about the economy, want the theft to continue.

UPDATE: See also emptywheel deconstructing the Treasury Department's fallacious rhetoric.


.
 
And Again, The Winner Is Iran

by tristero

Juan Cole analyzes the latest cease-fire in the multi-front Iraqi civil war:
The entire episode underlines how powerful Iran has become in Iraq. The Iranian government had called on Saturday for the fighting to stop. And by Sunday evening it had negotiated at least a similar call from Sadr (whether the fighting actually stops remains to be seen and depends on local commanders and on whether al-Maliki meets Sadr's conditions).
Cole also notes in his headline that Bush has been reduced to sheer irrelevancy: al-Sadr and Iran clearly are in control of the situation.

Think about that. Four thousand plus American lives have been sacrificed, countless Iraqis have also died, at a financial cost in the multiple trillions and the upshot is not democracy but the spread of radical Shiite islamism. There aren't words in the English language ominous enough to describe how profound a catastrophe this is.

Note to United States: Bush/Iraq is why you should never, ever, elect a president with a C+ average.

Note to United States II: Bush/Iraq is also why you should never, ever elect a president who has "senior moments" and scrambles the differences between Shiite and Sunni.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

 
Fun

by digby


Saturday, March 29, 2008

 
Saturday Night At The Movies


Divine Trash, Hidden Jewels, Part 6: Short Attention Span Theater

by Dennis Hartley


One of the most striking signs of the decay of art is when we see its separate forms jumbled together.
-Jean Luc Goddard


A mixed-up mix
Mix up your journey to the next journey
Mixers rock
-DJ Takefumi, from the film Funky Forest: The First
Contact





So, do you think you’ve seen it all? I would venture to say that you haven’t- until you’ve sat through a screening of Funky Forest: The First Contact, originally released in 2005 as Naisu no mori in Japan but now available for the first time on Region 1 DVD.

The film is a collaborative effort by three Japanese directors, most notably Katsuhito Ishii (The Taste of Tea). Ishii, along with Hajime Ishimine and Shunichiro Miki, has concocted a heady “mixed-up-mix”, indeed. There is really no logical way to describe this blend of dancing, slapstick, surrealism, sci-fi, animation, absurdist humor, and experimental filmmaking, married to a hip soundtrack of jazz, dub and house music without sounding like I’m high (perhaps I already sound that way in a lot of my posts-n’est-ce pas?), but I will do my best. There is no real central “story” in the traditional sense; the film is more or less an anthology of several dozen vignettes, featuring recurring characters a la late night TV sketch comedy. Some of these disparate stories and characters do eventually intersect (although usually in a somewhat oblique fashion). The film is a throwback in some ways to “channel surfing” anthology films from the 1970s like The Groove Tube, Tunnel Vision and The Kentucky Fried Movie; although it is important to note that the referential comic sensibilities are very Japanese. If a Western replica of this project were produced, it would require collaboration between Jim Jarmusch, Terry Gilliam and David Cronenberg (and a script from Charlie Kaufman).

Although there are ostensibly no “stars” of the film, there are quite a few memorable vignettes featuring three oddball siblings, introduced as “The Unpopular With Women Brothers”. The barbed yet affectionate bickering between the hopelessly geeky Katsuichi, the tone-deaf, guitar strumming Masuru (aka “Guitar Brother”) and the pre-pubescent Masao, as they struggle with dissecting the mystery of how to get “chicks” to dig them is reminiscent of the dynamic between the uncle and the two brothers in Napoleon Dynamite and often quite funny. It is never explained why the obese, Snickers-addicted Masao happens to be a Caucasian; but then, the whole concept wouldn’t be so absurdly funny, would it? The scenes centering around the relationship between Notti and Takefumi, a platonic couple, probably come closest to displaying any kind of conventional narrative structure (well, at least up to the point where they start telling each other about their dreams). Then there are the 1001 Tales of the Arabian Nights-influenced trio of giggly “Babbling Hot Springs Vixens”, who tell each other tall stories in three segments entitled “Alien Piko Rico”, “The Big Ginko Tree” and my personal favorite, “Buck Naked and the Panda”. I could tell you more (I haven’t even scratched the surface on the really bizarre stuff) but I’ll let you discover all that on your own-if you dare.

You will need to clear some time-Funky Forest runs 2½ hours long, in all its challengingly non-linear glory. So is it worth your time? Well, it probably depends on your answer to this age-old question: Does a movie necessarily have to be “about” something to be enjoyable? At one point in the film, Takefumi goes into a soliloquy:

The turntable is the cosmos
A universe in each album
A journey, an adventure
A journey, a true adventure
Journey, adventure
Journey
Needles rock. Needles rock.
Music mixer and the mix

There is also another significant clue on the film’s intermission card, which reads: “End of Side A”. I think that this may be the key to unlocking the “meaning” of this film, which is, there is no meaning; perhaps life, like the structure of the movie, is best represented by a series of random needle drops, no? It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey (OK, now I’m stoned.) With an underlying spirit of winking goofiness running all throughout this unconventional weirdness, perhaps the filmmakers are just paraphrasing something that Mork from Ork once said about always retaining “a bit of mondo bozo”. God knows, it’s helped me get through 52 years on this silly planet.

WTF?: Paprika, The Falls (1980), Bliss (1985), What the Bleep Do We Know!? Sans Soleil , Waking Life, Schizopolis , Tales from the Gimli Hospital, Twilight of the Ice Nymphs, Beat the Deva, Eraserhead, Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, The Ninth Configuration, 8 1/2, Forbidden Zone, Love and Anger, Dancer in the Dark , Pee-wee's Big Adventure, The Short Films of David Lynch, The Brothers Quay Collection, El Topo, Arizona Dream, The Ruling Class, Greaser's Palace, Head, The Acid House, The Bed Sitting Room, The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie, Naked Lunch , Delicatessen, Being John Malkovich, UHF, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

And one more thing…

I’m sad to note the passing of actor Richard Widmark, he of the patented “stare”- who died at the age of 93 earlier this week. He appeared in over 70 films from 1947 to 1991. Widmark specialized in tough guy roles; he certainly played his share of killers, cops, rugged cowboys, and steely-eyed military men.

Few actors have ever made a screen debut as audacious or memorable as Widmark’s psychopathic killer, Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death. One particular scene, wherein Udo shoves an elderly crippled woman down a flight of stairs, was shocking enough for 1947, but I’m sure audiences never expected Widmark’s character to then laugh manically at the sight of his hapless victim as she tumbled ass over wheelchair to her grisly demise.

Nearly all the films noir that Widmark starred in early in his career are now considered genre classics; in particular I would recommend Night and the City (1950) and Pickup on South Street (1953), which have both been given the deluxe DVD treatment (including luminous transfers) by Criterion. Another recommendation from this period would be No Way Out (1950), a hybrid noir/social issue drama with Widmark and co-star Sidney Poitier both in top form.

Widmark teamed up again with Poitier in 1965, giving a great performance as the captain of a naval destroyer in one of my favorite nuclear paranoia thrillers, The Bedford Incident (1965). A few other mid-career highlights include one of the seminal “cop on the edge” dramas, Madigan (1968) and the epic Cinerama spectacle, How the West Was Won (which will be airing on Turner Classic Movies April 3; check your local listings!)

Widmark’s career came full circle in 1984, when director Taylor Hackford cast him in Against All Odds , which was a loose remake of the 1947 film noir Out of the Past.

Definitely one of the last of a certain breed of Hollywood icons.

-D.H.
 
There's Something About JJ

by digby

I wrote about this before, but I think it's worth reiterating. The "special relationship" between John McCain and the press is particularly dangerous in one respect: he is not held accountable for his words on the stump, (while Democrats' are used against them as if they'd carved them in stone from Mt Rushmore) and he's not held liable for his gross and obvious panders and policy shifts. I'm not sure I've ever seen a politician have this kind of industrial strength teflon before.

Dave Neiwert addressed this the other night over on FDL:


A lot of wags have been chortling about "the McCain Moment," myself included, because it encapsulates so neatly much of what's wrong with John McCain. But not everything.

We also need to deal with the McCain Of The Moment. The guy who said one thing six months ago and says nearly its opposite now. Who knows what he'll say in another six months?

As disturbing as his obvious mental lapses might be, McCain's bizarre policy flip-flops make Daffy Duck look positively stolid in comparison, especially because they have come in many cases in which he has made himself a national reputation. Things like torture and campaign finance ethics.

And this is especially the case with immigration. The co-author of the Kennedy-McCain Immigration Act -- which, comparatively speaking, took a moderate approach to immigration reform -- McCain is now saying that he wouldn't even vote for it today, let alone co-author it.


I think we all remember a fellow who was relentlessly called a "flip-flopper" for much less egregious and far more ancient policy shifts than that. Indeed, one of the truisms about presidential politics until now has been that Senators, particularly those with long legislative records, could not be elected because of votes they've taken in the past which were done for horse trading or positioning or some other reflection of sausage making that isn't easily explained. (You see it in the current Democratic race.)


St. McCain is different. When he makes a policy shift or takes a U-Turn in his rhetoric, or misrepresents his own record, it's excused by his fanboys in the media as something he "had to do." Here's Nick Kristoff on the subject:

... his pride in “straight talk” may arise partly because he is an execrable actor. When he does try double-talk, he looks so guilty and uncomfortable that he convinces nobody.

It’s also striking that Barack Obama is leading a Democratic field in which he has been the candidate who is least-scripted and most willing to annoy primary voters, whether in speaking about Reagan’s impact on history or on the suffering of Palestinians.

All of this is puzzlingly mature on the part of the electorate. A common complaint about President Bush is that he walls himself off from alternative points of view, but the American public has the same management flaw: it normally fires politicians who tell them bad news.

It is true that Mr. McCain sometimes weaves and bobs. With the arrival of the primaries, he has moved to the right on social issues and pretended to be more conservative than he is. On Wednesday, for example, he retreated on his brave stand on torture by voting against a bill that would block the C.I.A. from using physical force in interrogations.

His most famous pander came in 2000, when, after earlier denouncing the Confederate flag as a “symbol of racism,” he embraced it as “a symbol of heritage.” To his credit, Mr. McCain later acknowledged, “I feared that if I answered honestly I could not win the South Carolina primary, so I chose to compromise my principles.”

In short, Mr. McCain truly has principles that he bends or breaks out of desperation and with distaste. That’s preferable to politicians who are congenital invertebrates.

That sentiment is quite common among the punditocrisy and the media fanboys. They have talked themselves into believing that McCain's flip-flops and panders are actually a sign of his integrity and strength because he does them so blatantly. Now that's teflon.

The main thing at play here is a pernicious, primal narrative that's been out there for decades in which liberals are tarred as being sissies who can't stand up for the country. Therefore, when they "flipflop" they do it out of weakness of will and unformed identity. They are always trying to "find themselves." Conservatives have no such issues. They are always on the side of God, Mother, Country (and Wall Street) and don't care who knows it. Unlike those nancy boys on the left, they aren't small, flaccid and flip-flopping --- they are large, hard and straight-up. That's the long standing (ahem) narrative of liberal and conservative politics in the modern era and McCain is the perfect hero of the tale.

This is where all that bonhomie on the old Straight Talk Express really pays off. He can literally say anything and the press will excuse it because they think he's their cynical, postmodern pal --- a Rorschach test for their own beliefs. When he gets "angry" at lobbyists or rightwing ministers he's telling the truth. When he cozies up to lobbyists and seeks the endorsement of rightwing ministers, it's because he *has* to, (and he really, really hates doing it.) John McCain's heart, you see, is always in the right place, and oddly enough, everyone believes it's in the same place as is their own.

I can't conceive of a greater advantage for a politician. He's almost a magical figure. He's an editorial from The Advocate, from just last week:

McCain's opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment is emblematic of his tempestuous relationship with the religious right. After the bruising 2000 Republican presidential primary in South Carolina, McCain labeled the Revs. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson "agents of intolerance" and "corrupting influences on religion and politics." Sure, McCain spoke at Falwell's Liberty University in 2006, but he didn't pander.

At the end of the day, McCain loathes the religious right, and the feeling is mutual. A notoriously stubborn man, he will probably not feel the need to appease the anti-gay wing of his party, especially considering how outspoken its members have been in their denunciation of him. Evangelical leader James Dobson has already said he will not support McCain.

His allegedly stubborn belief in gay rights, you'll notice, is assumed. Sure, he went down to Liberty University and kissed Jerry Falwell's ring. But that wasn't a pander. And all the other anti-gay legislation he's supported he just did because he *had to.* He won't feel the need to appease the right wing of his party by throwing gays to the wolves. He said he'd take money from the Log Cabin Republicans and everything!

This is a serious danger for the Democrats. Everyone thinks this guy is secretly on their side. Jonathan Chait, one of the original McCain fanboys, wrote this recently:

Determining how McCain would act as president has thus become a highly sophisticated exercise in figuring out whom he's misleading and why. Nearly everyone can find something to like in McCain. Liberals can admire his progressive instincts and hope that he is dishonestly pandering to the right in order to get through the primary. Conservatives can believe he will follow whatever course his conservative advisers set out for him and will feel bound by whatever promises he has made to them...

The amazing thing about McCain is that his reputation for principled consistency has remained completely intact. It is his strongest cudgel against opponents. Wall Street Journal editorial page columnist Kimberley Strassel recently gushed that McCain is "no flip-flopper." "Like or dislike Mr. McCain's views," she added, "Americans know what they are." Then, in the very next paragraph, she wrote that McCain will now be "as pure as the New Hampshire snow on the two core issues of taxes and judges" and that "[t]he key difference between Mr. McCain in 2000 and 2008 is that he...appears intent on making amends" to conservatives.

It is a truly impressive skill McCain has--the ability to adopt new beliefs and convince his new allies that his conversion is genuine (or, at least, irreversible) while simultaneously strengthening their belief in the immutability of his principles.



It isn't a skill, it's a gift, bestowed upon McCain by a press corps which can't ever seem to do its job properly. Because of his POW history and his savvy manipulation of their hero worship, they have imputed the character of the young man of integrity who stood steadfastly by his fellow prisoners forty years ago to the older sleazy, self-serving, intellectually lazy politician he became.

He's the perfect man for the Republicans right now, a party which has devalued its brand in the service of neocon crazies and corrupt incompetents. He's one of them to the core, but because of his stirring life story, the media present him as sui generis, a different kind 'o Republican, their kind 'o Republican, a man who shares everyone's principles, even when they are diametrically opposed.

We'd better hope he dodders around so much that people think he's sick or something because that is a formidable advantage for any candidate. It means there's nothing he can say or do that disqualifies him on the merits.

Even on Iraq, you say? Well get this, from Chait again, in the same article from which I quoted above:

Even the ideological tendency McCain is most strongly identified with--neoconservative foreign policy--is, as John B. Judis explained in The New Republic, a relatively recent development: McCain originally opposed intervention in Bosnia and worried about a bloody ground campaign before the first Gulf war (see "Neo-McCain," October 16, 2006). McCain's advisers include not only neoconservatives but also the likes of Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft. It would hardly be unimaginable for McCain to revert to his old realism, especially if Iraq continues to fail at political reconciliation. He could easily be the president who ends the war.

See, he's just saying we might have to stay in Iraq for a thousand years because he *has* to. He factually finds the idea quite distasteful (just like me!) and because he's a stubborn man of principle he will end the war much sooner than anyone else.

Don't underestimate him. I know true blue liberals who really like this guy. Why wouldn't they? They read the liberal media.


Update: Classic Somerby

Does the press corps fawn to McCain? It’s a very important question. But if you watched this seven-minute segment, you saw very little real discussion of that critical question. The scribes’ minds wandered all about, as is the rule when such questions are asked. Until the very end of the segment, when Matthews explained the whole syndrome:

MATTHEWS: Let me explain why a lot of guys like McCain. He served his country in ways that none us cannot imagine serving this country. I think that gives him a moral edge over a lot of us and we show it.

Anyway, Jennifer Donahue, thank you very much for being on. Ryan Lizza, as always.

It’s all about Nam, Matthews said. McCain served there, and we multimillionaires didn’t. “That gives him a moral edge over of us,” Matthews said. And then, the key part of his statement: That gives him a moral edge—and we show it.

Shorter Matthews: We refused to serve during Vietnam. And because we feel so guilty about it, we refuse to serve today too.



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Weird, As In Pravda Weird

by tristero

Am I the only one who finds this news article about al-Sadr's call to Arabs to support his cause profoundly weird?
Anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has called on Arab leaders meeting in Syria to voice their support for Iraq's "resistance" to what he calls foreign occupation.

Al-Jazeera television has shown a brief clip of an interview with the Mahdi Army militia leader. It says the full interview will be shown later Saturday.

The broadcast is the first word from the reclusive cleric since the Iraqi government launched a crackdown against militia violence in the southern oil port of Basra earlier this week.

Al-Sadr is believed to be in Iran, but Al-Jazeera doesn't say where or when the interview took place. The portly al-Sadr, who is in his mid-30s, appears to have lost a great deal of weight in the clip.
From word one, "Anti-American," the article is designed to create an irrational animosity against al-Sadr.He could just as accurately, and with less volatility, be described as "Shiite cleric," "Radical Shiite cleric," "The popular radical Shiite cleric Muktada al-Sadr" but no. The only salient feauture, as far as AP is concerned is his anti-Americanism. Then we get scare quotes around "resistance" and a careful hedge "from what he calls foreign occupation," as if that is somehow an inaccurate description of the American - I'm so sorry, I meant coalition - troops stationed in Iraq behind heavily protected walls.

Then we learn that al-Sadr is "reclusive." Oh, really? For all I know he really may be another Unabomber, choosing to live alone in some shack out in the desert, but somehow I suspect he doesn't go for a nice stroll in public because he's shy but because the United States military once had a contract out on his life (and probably still does). I may be a nervous Nellie but I, too, would probably become pretty reclusive if I knew the most powerful military organization on earth was trying to kill me. But "reclusive" really does imply someone mysterious, vaguely malign, and maladjusted. In short, an evil "anti-American."

Next we are told what al-Sadr's resistance to the occupation really should be called - "militia violence." In this context, "militia" implies illegitimate paramilitary organizations, quite a contrast to describing the beyond-any-law mercenary killers of Blackwater as "contractors." Yet there is a bit of truth to AP's description. This is no longer about "insurgents" - shadowy guerrilas and the like. The civil war in Iraq goes far, far beyond IED's and surreptitious assaults. Heckuva job, General Petraeus!

Finally, AP pulls out all the stops to portray al-Sadr in the most unpleasant light to a famously obese America. "The portly al-Sadr" - I honestly can't believe I read that - lost a "great deal of weight"! That evil, anti-American, militia-wielding bastard! How did he do it? I guess we'll have to tune in to our local al-Jazeera broadcast later today to get his diet tips.

All joking aside, this kind of blatantly propagandistic reporting (how, by the way, do we know he may be in Iran?) serves no useful purpose whatsoever. It merely makes it more difficult to understand what is going on and provides nothing of importance about what is clearly a very ominous move on al Sadr's part - an overt appeal to make the Bush/Iraq war a regional conflict. But to write an article about that requires research and interviews and a lot of icky work with translators - it's too much to ask that American reporters speak Arabic. It's far easier to notice that al-Sadr has slimmed down and "report" that.

Friday, March 28, 2008

 
Squids and Romans

by digby

I am on the road today travelling to Philly PA to pay homage to the great Atrios and cheese steaks, not necessrily in that order. I am blessedly away from all gasbags and feeling the better for it.

to keep you all entertained, I have flagged two articles that should give you something to laugh, cry, or maybe get angry about (as if we need that...)

The first is "Generation Squeeb" by Matt Taibbi, who shows us once again, in his inimitable way, that we Americans are all a bunch of suckers:

Now, no one is suggesting that there shouldn't be some reaction to genuinely toxic ideas, or that all criticism of racist or unpatriotic comments is unfounded. But what we're getting with all of these scandals isn't a sober exchange of ideas but more of an ongoing attempt to instill in the public a sort of permanent fear of uncomfortable ideas, and to reduce public discourse to a kind of primitive biological mechanism, like the nervous system of a squid or a shellfish, one that recoils reflexively from any stimuli. And the campaign is where you really see this process at work full-time. It's something I noticed while spending so much of the last year (and, before, so much of the years 2003 and 2004) on the campaign trail talking to prospective voters, listening to their complaints and their fears and their (often fleeting) enthusiasms. During this time, I started to notice a pattern, comprised of several elements.

The first is a truly remarkable tendency of seemingly intelligent people to work themselves into genuine outrage over information they didn't even know about twenty minutes ago, until they heard it on television, or coming out of the mouths of a candidate.


(Or a blogger, perhaps?)

Along the same lines, but much less fancifully written is this from Walter Shapiro in today's Salon called "Rum, Romanism and James Carville"

If Carville, McPeak and Fischer did not exist this week, some cable-news producer would have to invent them. Fischer, for instance, is portrayed as a close advisor to Obama, even though the Iowa Democrat admitted in an interview Wednesday that he has had only three short telephone conversations with his favored candidate (including a call on his birthday) since the Jan. 3 caucuses. "I'm going to exempt myself, since I wrote something stupid," Fischer said. "But we've had two full news cycles parsing what Carville said as if it were written by Abraham Lincoln or recorded in the Bible."

Of course, it does not take a video camera or a gossip-monger with a BlackBerry to turn the incendiary comments of a campaign surrogate into a voting issue. In the waning days of the 1884 campaign, Republican nominee James Blaine listened without objection as a New York City minister at a GOP rally denounced the Democrats as the party of "rum, Romanism and rebellion." All it took were some handbills and newspaper stories to inform Irish Catholic voters about Blaine's silence in the face of the slur -- and Democrat Grover Cleveland carried New York state (and with it the Electoral College) by a scant 1,149 votes.

It would be nice to believe that the American electorate has grown more sophisticated in the past 124 years. But you certainly cannot prove it by the latest twists in the Democratic race. The way the news coverage is going, pretty soon we will be arguing over the cosmic meaning of some comments by an alternate delegate from Idaho immortalized on a Facebook page. And by the time we get to the potentially rambunctious Denver convention, the final week in March may be remembered as the good old days of substantive political debate on the issues.


God help us.


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How About 30 Days? Best 3 Out Of 5?

by dday

Before I go I just have to post about the situation in Iraq, which would be funny if it didn't involve mass death. First the Prime Minister went down to Basra to personally direct the fighting like a miniature Commander Codpiece, and he defiantly gave the ultimatum that all Mahdi Army officers must disarm within three days. After the Mahdi Army replied by, well, kicking the Iraqi Scurity Forces in the teeth, the deadline is now ten days.

Iraq's government has extended by 10 days a deadline for Shia militiamen fighting troops in the southern city of Basra to hand over their weapons.

More than 130 people have been killed and 350 injured since a clampdown on militias began in Basra on Tuesday.

US-led forces joined the battle for the first time overnight, bombing Shia positions, the UK military said.


I'm guessing that US-led forces joined the battle because the Iraqi forces were failing miserably, as we've seen about 25 other times in this misbegotten war. And this doesn't just include air cover, which we've been giving all along, but armor forces. And we're in the lead.

Four U.S. Stryker armored vehicles were seen in Sadr City by a Washington Post correspondent, one of them engaging Mahdi Army militiamen with heavy fire. The din of American weapons, along with the Mahdi Army's AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, was heard through much of the day. U.S. helicopters and drones buzzed overhead.

The clashes suggested that American forces were being drawn more deeply into a broad offensive that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, launched in the southern city of Basra on Tuesday, saying death squads, criminal gangs and rogue militias were the targets. The Mahdi Army of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite rival of Maliki, appeared to have taken the brunt of the attacks; fighting spread to many southern cities and parts of Baghdad.

As President Bush told an Ohio audience that Iraq was returning to "normalcy," administration officials in Washington held meetings to assess what appeared to be a rapidly deteriorating security situation in many parts of the country.


"Drawn in" like one is drawn into quicksand. Or perhaps a quagmire.

Baghdad Bush can go on all he wants, but I hope something else doesn't get lost. For two years, these Iraqi security forces, the ones who consistently get routed on the battlefield and defect to the other side and generally provide a pretext for our troops having to continue to return to battle, were organized by DAVID PETRAEUS, who now walks with angels, I'm told. We shouldn't forget this.

According to the WaPo we didn't even know in advance that this offensive would be launched, and considering that we had to end up doing the fighting that seems odd. It's obvious that this is a political fight disguised as a military operation, with Maliki's Iran-backed militia attacking Sadr's not-so-Iranian-backed militia in order to gain an edge heading into provincial elections in the Shiite south in the fall. That's all this is about, and our troops are now paying the price.

It's really enough to make you sick. The New York Times has some additional coverage. And don't miss Josh Marshall's take.


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Bush's Goons, Jenna's Barhopping, and Breathtaking Lawlessness

by dday

I'll be heading out to San Jose tomorrow for the California Democratic Party Convention, the largest gathering of uncommitted superdelegates outside the US Capitol. Bill Clinton will be there on Sunday and we'll have a lot of coverage at Calitics. So I won't be posting around these parts much, unless you like hearing about legislative districts in the Palm Springs region.

But before embarking on that journey, I wanted to highlight this incredible excerpt from Eric Lichtblau's upcoming book Bush's Law: The Remaking of American Justice. Lichtblau and his partner James Risen won a Pulitzer for breaking the illegal warrantless wiretapping story in late 2005. But they had the story over a year earlier, and were rebuffed from going to print due to the Administration's intimidation of New York Times editors. In this excerpt Lichtblau recounts the story when Bush sends in the big guns to try and kill the story once and for all. You really sense how they work as a kind of loanshark operation rather than an executive branch:

For 13 long months, we'd held off on publicizing one of the Bush administration's biggest secrets. Finally, one afternoon in December 2005, as my editors and I waited anxiously in an elegantly appointed sitting room at the White House, we were again about to let President Bush's top aides plead their case: why our newspaper shouldn't let the public know that the president had authorized the National Security Agency, in apparent contravention of federal wiretapping law, to eavesdrop on Americans without court warrants. As New York Times Editor Bill Keller, Washington Bureau Chief Phil Taubman, and I awaited our meeting, we still weren't sure who would make the pitch for the president. Dick Cheney had thought about coming to the meeting but figured his own tense relations with the newspaper might actually hinder the White House's efforts to stop publication. (He was probably right.) As the door to the conference room opened, however, a slew of other White House VIPs strolled out to greet us, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice near the head of the receiving line and White House Counsel Harriet Miers at the back.

For more than an hour, we told Bush's aides what we knew about the wiretapping program, and they in turn told us why it would do grave harm to national security to let anyone else in on the secret. Consider the financial damage to the phone carriers that took part in the program, one official implored. If the terrorists knew about the wiretapping program, it would be rendered useless and would have to be shut down immediately, another official urged: "It's all the marbles." The risk to national security was incalculable, the White House VIPs said, their voices stern, their faces drawn. "The enemy," one official warned, "is inside the gates." The clichés did their work; the message was unmistakable: If the New York Times went ahead and published this story, we would share the blame for the next terrorist attack.


It's impossible to overstate how much of a lie this is. "Terrorists" who didn't know they were being surveilled before December 2005 were indeed very stupid and out-of-work terrorists. The program that would have to be shut down immediately is illegal; but spying on terrorists who threaten the country is still, in fact, both legal and operative, under FISA. And the chief Administration concerns are on full display here: how would the phone companies get out of their lawsuits, and who would get blamed for their own fuck-ups. Corporate crime and passing the buck; that's the Bush way.

And later we learn that the White House is so concerned about keeping every American safe in their beds that they have agencies like the Secret Service only tackle the most important assignments.

As federal officials scrambled to avert the much-feared "second wave" of attacks, reporters likewise scrambled to follow any hint of the next possible attack and to put it on the front page—from scuba divers off the coast of Southern California to hazmat trucks in the Midwest and tourist helicopters in New York City. One example of the shift: On Sept. 12, 2001, another major newspaper was set to run a story on the extraordinary diplomatic maneuverings the U.S. Secret Service had arranged with their Mexican counterparts to allow Jenna Bush, then 19, to make a barhopping trip south of the border. (She had just been charged with underage drinking in Texas.) A few days earlier, a scoop about a presidential daughter's barhopping trip getting special dispensation from the Secret Service and a foreign government might have gotten heavy treatment. But the story never ran, and the Secret Service's maneuverings remained a secret until now. In the weeks and months after 9/11, there was no longer an appetite for such stories.


Then Lichtblau explains to us the Administration's contempt for the press:

By 2004, I had gained a reputation, deservedly or not, as one of the administration's toughest critics in the Justice Department press corps; the department even confiscated my press pass briefly after I wrote an unpopular story about the FBI's interest in collecting intelligence on anti-Iraq war demonstrations in the United States. To John Ashcroft and his aides, my coverage reflected a bias. To me, it reflected a healthy, essential skepticism—the kind that was missing from much of the media's early reporting after 9/11, both at home in the administration's war on terror and abroad in the run-up to the war in Iraq.


And what's so typical of this crowd, guys like Cheney who really think they are the smartest guys in the room, is that they can out and out lie to reporters and the American public even when they must KNOW that the recipients of their lies know the truth. That's a rare gift.

On that December afternoon in the White House, the gathered officials attacked on several fronts. There was never any serious legal debate within the administration about the legality of the program, Bush's advisers insisted. The Justice Department had always signed off on its legality, as required by the president. The few lawmakers who were briefed on the program never voiced any concerns. From the beginning, there were tight controls in place to guard against abuse. The program would be rendered so ineffective if disclosed that it would have to be shut down immediately.

All these assertions, as my partner Jim Risen and I would learn in our reporting, turned out to be largely untrue. Jim and I had already learned about much of the internal angst within the administration over the legality of the NSA program at the outset of our reporting, more than a year earlier in the fall of 2004.


It wasn't until Risen basically told the paper that he would put the wiretapping story in his book State of War that the Times got serious about publishing it. And even after their reporting uncovered all the ins and outs of the story - and how the debate reached the highest levels - the Bushies were about to go so far as blocking publication through a "Pentagon Papers-type injunction." (This led the Times to publishing the story online the night before they put it in the paper.)

There's only one reason for this: because the Administration knew what they were doing was flagrantly illegal, and at the time thought they wouldn't be able to wiggle their way out of it. The extraordinary lengths to which they wanted to go to spike the story speaks only to the enormity of the crime. We still don't know the extent of it, but Lichtblau and Risen gave us a road map to follow, and Mark Klein and the EFF and the ACLU are continuing down that path today. For now, the Congress hasn't put up a roadblock. But add this excerpt, and Lichtblau's forthcoming book, to the pile of cautionary tales which should give any Blue Dog or Jello Jay pause before they eviscerate the rule of law.

That issue looks to be in a stalemate for now. What is far more revealing in this story is how utterly shameless this crew, which should have a restraining order barring them from coming within 100 yards of Washington, has always been. A responsible media would be churning out story after story about the breathtaking state of lawlessness inside the White House, viewing it in historical context and talking about the pall they've cast over our nation. As it is, everybody wants to forget it. But that would be a crucial mistake. There should be no binding up of wounds and moving on for the sake of the nation. In fact, for the sake of the nation we must do just the opposite: have a full recounting of the facts and a full prison cell for everyone who participated in this wreck.


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Thursday, March 27, 2008

 
Who's On First

by digby

In case you missed it, K-Drum has put together a very helpful cheat sheet for trying to sort out all the players in the new Shia intramural explosion in southern Iraq. Very helpful. I was beginning to feel like John McCain, not knowing which extremist/jihadist/terrorist/militia was up.

I'll sure be glad when St John gets all the players in a room and gets them to "stop the bullshit" won't you?


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It Can Wait

by digby

This seems like a very odd day to make this statement:

Attorney General Michael Mukasey vowed anew Thursday to crack down on crooked politicians and public officials, dismissing critics who accuse the Justice Department of letting partisan loyalties interfere with corruption cases.

[...]

"It's often in the interest of someone to charge politicization whenever a prominent public figure is investigated or prosecuted," Mukasey said during a noontime speech at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. "I find it notable that they make these accusations in the media, rather than before a court."


Tell it to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

This guy has turned out to be far worse than even I imagined, smoothly continuing the Bush Justice Department's primary mission which was partisan prosecutions. Spitzer's investigation stinks to high heaven.

They need to stay out of the corruption prosecution business until a new president is sworn in. Their credibility on the matter is just a tad frayed.


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Hope For Justice

by dday

Activism and relentless focus from progressives and a few journalists have yielded fruit. Don Siegelman is free pending appeal.

Former Gov. Don Siegelman will be released from prison, after the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals granted him an appeal bond, the lead prosecutor in the case said.

Acting U.S. Attorney Louis Franklin said he received a courtesy call from the court today. "He's going to be released," Franklin said.

He said he was disappointed but said, "The 11th Circuit has the discretion to do that and I respect that."

...I just got off the phone with Hiram Eastland, one of Siegelman's lawyers, who said that today the appeals court had issued a "straightforward" four-page order simply finding that there were, indeed, "substantial questions" raised by Siegelman's appeal. The ruling overruled the controversial finding by the district judge in the case, which had sent Siegelman immediately to prison after his conviction.


The House Judiciary Committee was already seeking Siegelman's temporary release to testify before them, and now that he will be released, I expect that hearing will take place.

The Siegelman case is maybe the clearest case of Bush's Justice Department misconduct, and Karl Rove is right in the middle of all of it. Rove had better give Gold Bars Luskin a call - time for some more billable hours.


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Return On Success

by dday

So Bush today scolded the nattering nabobs of negativism on Iraq and claimed that the country is making good progress toward political reconciliation.

As if on cue, news came out that two Americans had been killed in rocket attacks inside the Green Zone, the city of Baghdad is under a weekend curfew, per MSNBC all Green Zone personnel has been told to stay inside fortified areas, and the Iraqi Army may have "faltered" in Basra:

Iraq’s Prime Minister was staring into the abyss today after his operation to crush militia strongholds in Basra stalled, members of his own security forces defected and district after district of his own capital fell to Shia militia gunmen.

With the threat of a civil war looming in the south, Nouri al-Maliki’s police chief in Basra narrowly escaped assassination in the crucial port city, while in Baghdad, the spokesman for the Iraqi side of the US military surge was kidnapped by gunmen and his house burnt to the ground.

Saboteurs also blew up one of Iraq's two main oil pipelines from Basra, cutting at least a third of the exports from the city which provides 80 per cent of government revenue, a clear sign that the militias — who siphon significant sums off the oil smuggling trade — would not stop at mere insurrection.


Or, as Bush would put it, "good progress".

It's time more than ever for leading Democrats to speak up on the war. The country is in flames.


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Ever Tried

by digby


Chris Hayes at The Nation writes about The Responsible Plan:

In the face of this official indifference to public opinion, it is tempting to succumb to despair. The antiwar strategy, after all, has not been static. In the run-up to the war, organizers managed to pull together the largest simultaneous worldwide demonstrations in history. That didn't work. Then the antiwar movement channeled much of its energy into electoral politics, helping to elect Democratic majorities in both houses. That hasn't worked either. So we find ourselves in the situation of Beckett's protagonist in Worstward Ho: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

Although the electoral strategy has not yet borne fruit, it is still the most viable option, barring a draft or a radical turn in public opinion that would once again bring people en masse into the streets. (There are, of course, parallel strategies to be pursued. Passing a ban on mercenaries in Iraq would make the occupation untenable.) The question, then, becomes how to create the electoral conditions that maximize the power and representation of the majority who want the war ended. The antiwar caucus doesn't have enough votes to override a delusional President or enough members willing to bear the political risk of cutting off funding for the war. The solution to this impasse is, in the words of Congressional candidate Darcy Burner, to elect "more and better Democrats"--Democrats who have publicly committed to pursuing a legislative strategy to end the war.

[...]

As an organizer working on the Responsible Plan stressed to me, it is an explicitly legislative road map, to be pursued by Congress with or without a President committed to withdrawal. Among other actions the plan calls for war funding to be brought into the normal budgetary process, as opposed to the ersatz emergency supplementals, which detach the cost of the war from the rest of the nation's discretionary spending. The plan also highlights more than a dozen bills that have already been introduced, like HR 2247, the Montgomery GI Bill for Life Act of 2007, which the signatories would support if elected.



I hear that more than 40 challengers have signed on now. The mainstream press is starting to pay attention. Perhaps Democrats really can change the conversation on national security and start talking sense instead of reacting to right wing gasbag calumny. Make the hawks react to us for a change.



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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

 
Make Them Do It

by digby

Authors Naomi Klein (The Shock Doctrine) and Jeremy Scahill (Blackwater) have written an important article about ending the war. The central thrust of the piece is that we should be using this prolonged primary to leverage the two candidates against each other on the issue instead of joining in the fun and games of primary politics.

There is no question that the Bush administration has proven impervious to public pressure. That's why it's time for the anti-war movement to change tactics. We should direct our energy where it can still have an impact: the leading Democratic contenders.

Many argue otherwise. They say that if we want to end the war, we should simply pick a candidate who is not John McCain and help them win: We'll sort out the details after the Republicans are evicted from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Some of the most prominent anti-war voices--from MoveOn.org to the magazine we write for, The Nation--have gone this route, throwing their weight behind the Obama campaign.

This is a serious strategic mistake. It is during a hotly contested campaign that anti-war forces have the power to actually sway U. S. policy. As soon as we pick sides, we relegate ourselves to mere cheerleaders.

And when it comes to Iraq, there is little to cheer. Look past the rhetoric and it becomes clear that neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton has a real plan to end the occupation. They could, however, be forced to change their positions--thanks to the unique dynamics of the prolonged primary battle.

Despite the calls for Clinton to withdraw in the name of "unity," it is the very fact that Clinton and Obama are still fighting it out, fiercely vying for votes, that presents the anti-war movement with its best pressure point. And our pressure is badly needed.


I agree with this, although sadly, I think it's probably too late for the netroots. I had hoped all along that we would work together as a movement, leveraging our issues in the primary when we had the attention of the candidates. As Klein and Scahill put it: be players not cheerleaders.

You know how these things work. They move left in the primary to get the nomination --- and then rush to the center in the general. If you're a liberal, you need to get your candidate to position himself as close to you as possible before they do that so they don't wind up being Joe Lieberman when the whole thing is said and done. And during the primaries, when candidates still care about what you think, you can play them off against each other to get there. It sets the terms of the debate and creates a mandate that otherwise will likely end up being "finessed" once they have to compete with a conservative.

The netroots chose not to do that and it seems to me we are way too invested in our chosen candidates to try to leverage our support now. But Klein and Scahill, both very fine writers and thinkers, believe it's still possible for the anti-war movement to affect how these candidates deal with Iraq and if that's the case then it may be worth a try. We've got an eternity before the next primary and just about every insult has been hurled and every paean has been written. Perhaps we could set aside our differences long enough to try to encourage our congresspeople to sign on to The Responsible Plan and make sure the Democratic presidential candidates don't waffle on Iraq when the heat is on?

I've written this before and I'm sure I'll do it again:

President Franklin Roosevelt recognized that his ability to push New Deal legislation through Congress depended on the pressure generated by protesters. He once told a group of activists who sought his support for legislation, "You've convinced me. Now go out and make me do it."

We don't help our cause or our candidates by failing to "make them do it." It's our end of the deal.



H/T Lambert
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Constitutional Concern Trolls

by digby

I've been enjoying all the deep concern and hand wringing that Republican gasbags and pundits are expressing over the Democratic primary. It's always so nice of them to give advice and try to help us out. I'm sure they have our best interests at heart.

But I must confess that I'm actually a little stunned by this one:

In today’s Wall Street Journal, former Justice Department official John Yoo blasts the Democratic party for its “undemocratic” system of superdelegates:

"This delegate dissonance wasn’t anything the Framers of the U.S. Constitution dreamed up. They believed that letting Congress choose the president was a dreadful idea. Without direct election by the people, the Framers said that the executive would lose its independence and vigor and become a mere servant of the legislature. They had the record of revolutionary America to go on. All but one of America’s first state constitutions gave state assemblies the power to choose the governor. James Madison commented that this structure allowed legislatures to turn governors into 'little more than ciphers.'"

Could somebody please tell me again how the electoral college is democratic, because back in 2000 something weird happened and I got all confused.

Without even commenting on the ludicrousness of Yoo a) worrying about the Democratic party's nominating process and b) worrying about the constitution, it's obvious that what Yoo conceives as the framers' vision was an elected dictatorship. He just has no respect for any other office. He's so obsessed with the fear that executives will be "turned into ciphers" that you have to wonder just what kind of psychological issues this guy has. (After all, there's the indefinite imprisonment and torture thing too ...)


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Cosmological Flyboy

by digby

Neal Gabler has a fascinating article today in the NY Times about the relationship between St. McCain and his Hannah Montana fanboys in the press. I think he really gets to the nub of the mutual fascination --- and outlines how McCain manages to fool a good number of Americans into thinking he is really a closet liberal despite being a raving wingnut:

Mr. McCain’s joviality and seeming honesty with the press in 2000 constituted a very effective scheme indeed, until it came time to woo actual Republican voters. As Time’s Jay Carney once put it, “You get the sense you’re being manipulated by candor, rather than manipulated by subterfuge and deception, but it is a strategy.”

What makes 2008 different — and why I think Mr. McCain can be called the first postmodernist presidential candidate — is his acknowledgment of the symbiosis between himself and the press and, more important, his willingness, even eagerness, to let the press in on his own machinations of them. On the bus, Mr. McCain openly talks about his press gambits. According to Mr. Lizza, Mr. McCain proudly brandished an index card with a “gotcha” quote from Mitt Romney that the senator had given Tim Russert of “Meet the Press,” a journalist few would expect to need help in finding candidates’ gaffes. In exposing his two-way relationship with the press this way, he reveals the absurdity of the political process as a big game. He also reveals his own gleeful cynicism about it.

This sort of disdain might be called a liberal view, if not politically then culturally. The notion that our system (in fact, life itself) is faintly imbecilic is a staple of “The Daily Show,” “The Colbert Report,” “Real Time With Bill Maher” and other liberal exemplars, though they, of course, implicate the press in the idiocy. Mr. McCain’s sense of irony makes him their spiritual kin — a cosmological liberal — which may be why conservatives distrust him and liberals like Jon Stewart seem to revere him. They are reacting to something deeper than politics. They are reacting to his vision of how the world operates and to his attitude about it, something it is easy to suspect he acquired while a prisoner of war.

Though Mr. McCain can be the most self-deprecating of candidates (yet another reason the news media love him), his vision of the process also betrays an obvious superiority — one the mainstream political news media, a group of liberal cosmologists, have long shared. If in the past he flattered the press by posing as its friend, he is now flattering it by posing as its conspirator, a secret sharer of its cynicism. He is the guy who “gets it.” He sees what the press sees. Michael Scherer, a blogger for Time, called him the “coolest kid in school.

This is the problem. The macho "maverick" is the coolest kid in school and all the breathless media villagers are thrilled to be in his orbit. It's why they are always telling us that his panders don't mean anything. Everybody knows that cool guys think crazy preachers like Falwell and Hagee are losers. It's a show for the rubes. Just like democracy.

It's the same thing that fueled their sophomoric coverage of the earnest Big Bore Al Gore and the green tea swilling ponce, John Kerry. Those flaccid wimps took themselves waay too seriously, with all their dull planning documents and long winded speeches about mortgages and lock boxes and such. JJ the Maverick knows it's all bullshit --- just like they do. Only the half-wit public thinks that stuff matters. In one ear and out the other.

Obama is cool, but not in the proper ironic, post modern way the press loves so much. His call to hope and change is probably going to give McCain and his fanboys a lot of laughs down the road. Look at all the silly hippies. And even if he were a cynic and a ironist, which he isn't, Obama is stuck with the liberal party and they are, like, totally uncool with all their useless blabbering about icky women's issues and goo-goo anti-war crap and talk about poor people. Talk about a bunch of bringdowns.

This relationship between the press and McCain is lethal. They're already subject to GOP narratives about the faggy, mommy party and having their awesome maverick actually in the race is a perfect opportunity to show their cool, manly bonafides. They'll be on the straight talk express no matter what crazy bullshit McCain spews out. Because they know he really doesn't mean it. He's a cool guy, just like them, and they don't mean anything they say either.


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