The Seattle International Film Festival is in full swing, so over the next several weeks I will be sharing highlights with you. SIFF is showing 272 films over 26 days. Navigating such an event is no easy task, even for a dedicated buff. Yet, I trudge on (cue the world’s tiniest violin). Hopefully, some of these films will be coming soon to a theater near you…
In Our Nixon, director Penny Lane strives to construct an arch portrait of The Tricky One by sneaking in through the back door. It seems some of the president's men were home movie buffs. A treasure trove of Super8 footage taken by H.R. Haldeman, John Erlichman and Dwight Chapin during their White House tenure recently surfaced. Lane blends choice snippets of the aforementioned with archival news footage, interviews with the three aides and excerpts from the infamous secret Oval Office recordings. It's the Nixon administration retooled as an episode of Entourage. No new revelations or insight for political junkies, but for viewers of a "certain age", it sustains an oddly nostalgic tone.
Forbidden Voices (from Swiss director Barbara Miller) is an excellent doc profiling three influential "cyber-feminists" who bravely soldier on in the blogosphere whilst running a daily gauntlet of intimidation from their respective governments, including (but not limited to) overt surveillance, petty legal harassment and even physical beatings. Despite the odds, Yoani Sanchez (Cuba), Farnez Seifi (Iran, currently exiled in Germany) and Zeng Jinyan (China) are affecting change (if only baby steps). In an interesting (and disturbing) bit of kismet, a day after I saw this, the DOJ/AP phone records scandal broke.
Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton is an aptly entitled profile of the free-spirited poet, playwright and filmmaker (1913-1999) who was part of the "San Francisco Renaissance" (pre-cursors to The Beats). Stephen Silha's documentary is as playful and provocative as his subject, who emerges here as one of those fascinating, Zelig-like figures who managed to remain relevant to and in simpatico with nearly every major counter-culture arts/social movement from the Beats and the hippies to gay liberation and beyond. I admit being previously unfamiliar with Broughton, but this film made me a fan.
Canadian actress Sarah Polley has quietly made a name for herself as a feature film director in recent years (Away from Her, Take This Waltz). Now she turns the camera inward, for her documentary Stories We Tell. Polley uses her film as a sort of family therapy session, seeking to uncover the truth regarding her late mother's rumored dalliances outside the marriage. Polley was 11 when her mother (also an actress) died of cancer. As Polley gently grills her father (a retired actor), siblings and long-time family friends, secrets, lies and unbelievable truths slowly burble to the surface, Rashomon-style. It teeters toward the navel-gazing side, but it unravels like a good mystery should.
My favorite Emo Philips joke goes: A man came to my door and said "I'd like to read your gas meter." I said, "Whatever happened to the classics?" A breezy documentary called Out of Print takes that rhetorical question to the next level: Whatever happened to reading? That is, “reading” in the traditional sense…as in holding a book and turning pages? Director Vivienne Roumani examines the impact of digital media on the world of publishing, with a variety of industry mavens weighing in with their take on the central question: “Is the book dead?” The issues raised mirror the economic, legal and aesthetic hysteria stirred up by the advent of music file sharing back in the late 90s. Absorbing, if not essential (and at 54 minutes long, it’s surely destined for PBS). Meryl Streep narrates.
The Horde is an historical epic from director Andrey Proshkin based on a relatively obscure event (well, outside of Russia) that occurred in the 14th century, when the Metropolitan of Moscow (a monk also known as St. Alexius) saved his city from destruction by the Mongolian Golden Horde by “healing” the Khan’s mother, who had been stricken blind. The first half is involving, with royal intrigue and (literal) backstabbing amongst squabbling members of the Khanate, but once the story shifts to the endless suffering of St. Alexius as he wends his way home (we get it…he’s a saint) the film suffers too. Lavish production design and fine acting helps makes up the deficit.
The Rocket could prove to be one of this year’s sleepers. Aussie writer-director Kim Mordaunt tells the story of Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe, in a remarkable performance), a 10-year old Laotian boy who can’t catch a break. In rapid succession, a member of his family dies in a freak accident and then the surviving members are forced to relocate after their village gets earmarked for razing to make way for a hydroelectric project. Ahlo’s dour grandma labels him as a “bad luck charm”. Determined to redeem his standing, Ahlo sets out to win an annual Rocket Competition. Mourdaunt has a Terrence Malick-like penchant for gorgeous “magic hour” composition; perfectly capturing the dichotomy of UXBs and battle-scarred ruins as they contrast with Laos’ lush, rugged natural beauty.
Note: You may or may not have noticed that the site I have been using for the past year or so to archive my reviews, Clipboard.com has put up a notice on their home page advising that they will be going dark at the end of June (I know..."So whaddya expect for free?"). I'm currently scrambling to find a similar site that I can port the archives over to.
People, people: the IRS wasn’t roaming around the countryside looking for Tea Party groups to persecute; it was responding (yes, poorly, no doubt) to voluntary applications for a tax exemption that has been routinely and massively abused over the years. Nobody’s doors were being kicked down; nobody was being fined or threatened, so far as we know. Yes, a benefit was delayed or withheld to which the applicants might have (or might not have) been entitled as a matter of (really bad, in my opinion) public policy. But any “monster under the bed” was entirely in their own minds, as it is in Mike Kelley’s.
This is what we used to call the paranoid strain in American politics. It isn't confined to the right, but any means. But they are the only one's to make such a tidy profit at it.
If I were you, I'd buy smelling salts futures. Why should they make all the money off of this nonsense?
Paying for their sins: human sacrifice edition by digby
I don't know if you've had the interest or time to follow the "Michael Kinsley" debate over the past few days, but suffice to say that he wrote something that indicated that we must have human sacrifice to pay for our sins. You know the drill. Anyway, at is so often the case, Paul Krugman features heavily in this discussion and a number of people have weighed in with interesting observations.
Kinsley’s original screed about inflation ... is in a way where all this started. It’s very worth reading, and not just because he was dead wrong (and learned nothing from the experience). For it is pure Schumpeter/Hayek/Mellon liquidationism:
In short, I can’t help feeling that the gold bugs are right. No, I’m not stashing gold bars under my bed. But that’s only because I lack the courage of my convictions.
My fear is not the result of economic analysis. It’s more from the realm of psychology. I mean mine.
But this cure has been one ice-cream sundae after another. It can’t be that easy, can it? The puritan in me says that there has to be some pain. That’s not to say that there hasn’t been plenty of economic pain. But that pain has come from the recession itself, not the cure.
Look, folks, when I write about the urge to see economics as a morality play, I am not just inventing this out of thin air. I read a lot; I also talk to a fair number of these people at things like Group of 30 meetings. Yes, there’s class interest; yes, there’s disaster capitalism at work. But the gut feeling that there must be pain (your pain, of course, not theirs) is very, very real too.
I'm not sure why we're so reluctant to believe this explanation. Every day we see wealthy, celebrity pundits all around us insisting on the need to "sacrifice" things which will cause them no pain but will make the rest of us suffer. It's very hard not to believe that this is some sort of psychological/emotional/spiritual belief that has overtaken the "winners" in this society, which suggests to me that it's a way of justifying the success they've had, either at the expense of others or in spite of what they know are their own ordinary talents. In order to live with themselves they've had to order their world around the notion that anyone who achieves material success in life does so because of their natural goodness. Those who fail to achieve such success must have failed because we are bad. Therefore, we must be punished.
Here's the young scion of a wealthy, influential family and recipient of nepotistic largesse from his father's employer --- Luke Russert:
Both parties don't want to tell the American people it's time to drink their tough medicine.Both parties are going to try to take 2012 as the avenue to have this debate further. But as this debate goes on and on and on. The real difficult decisions, the real ideas of how are we going to cut this deficit, they go unanswered.
Yes, the idea that this 25 year old richie rich believes that the American people must be punished doesn't seem like a stretch to me. And if Little Luke Russert believes it you can be the super-rich CEOs and Wall Street MOUs do. After all, we've failed to be properly respectful to our betters and made them feel embarrassed about their superiority. That will not stand.
Anyway, just read this. It gets to the crux of the problem.
Compared to Watergate, on the basis of everything we know about what are the current “scandals” amount to a piffle. Watergate was a Constitutional crisis. It was about a pattern of behavior on the part of the president of the United States abusing power to carry out his personal vendettas. It was about whether the president was accountable to the other branches of the government; it was about whether the Congress could summon the courage to hold accountable a president who held himself above the law. It was about a president and his aides who were out of control in their efforts to punish the president’s “enemies.”
It was also about, though this has still gone largely unrecognized, an attempt by a sitting president to determine the nomination of the opposition party’s presidential candidate. Potentially strong challengers were spied upon, their offices broken into and files disappeared, their campaign events disrupted by what were diminished by their categorization as laughable “dirty tricks.” It was about black bag jobs and paying criminals to carry out ideas that sprang from the fevered brain of a president who saw opponents, political and otherwise, as enemies, and then trying to hush the whole thing up. The attempt, not unsuccessful though not exclusively their doing, to try to get the opposition party to nominate its weakest candidate was a step along the road to fascism. It was a putsch by a head of state.
Nixon’s extraordinary abuse of his new power started almost as soon as he had put away his Inaugural finery. In February 1969 he told his staff that he wanted private funds raised to establish an intelligence unit within the White House to carry out around-the-clock surveillance of political opponents. This led to the hiring of a group of fanatics, bums, fools, and losers—most of them paid for with private funds but run by White House aides and right out of the Executive Office Building, next door to the White House. Some were of Cuban origin and had participated in the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba; to motivate them Nixon instructed that they be told that their mission was to root out Communists in the Democratic Party. (He even ordered that they be required to read the chapter of his memoir Six Crisis that recounts his exposure of Alger Hiss as a spy for the Soviet Union. But Nixon was always telling people, even Mao, to read Six Crises. The shrewd Mao had beat him to it.).
The following year Nixon signed off on a plan (the “Huston plan”) that included not just wiretaps also but break-ins and intercepting mail; the plan was so extreme that even the powerful FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, no civil libertarian, objected; though Nixon said that the plan had been rescinded parts of it were implemented. The list of “enemies” he ordered John Dean to draw up, was considered by many who were on it funny and even a point of pride, but it was a chilling exercise of power: the president used the levers of government, including the IRS, to audit and harass his opponents, a wide swath of people in public and private lives. Nixon was often heard on the tapes telling his aides he wanted them to “get the goods” on this or that perceived enemy. Edward Kennedy, presumably Nixon’s most powerful opponent for reelection, was put under twenty-four hour surveillance for a time by one of the clowns hired by the White House to carry out Nixon’s plan.
Nixon’s most serious problems arose out of his obsession about the leak of the Pentagon Papers, in 1971. This led—shortly after the Papers were first published in The New York Times—to the establishing, four days later, the White House “plumbers” office in the EOB. A sign saying PLUMBERS was on the door. But even before the plumbers office was fully set up Nixon’s aides implemented “Special Operation No. 1”: in a first step toward punishing the leaker, Daniel Ellsberg, the White House sanctioned the gravest offense—a break-in at the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist in order to get the files of this particular patient. A raid of the office of the psychiatrist of a private citizen on the orders of the president of the United States. This clear flouting of the Fourth Amendment protection of private property from searches and seizures was the most disturbing act during this extraordinary period and it shook even conservative senators; Nixon knew that its discovery was the single greatest danger to him, and this was what he was so frantically trying to cover up. As it happened, even though one of the plumbers had cased the place, the psychiatrist’s office contained no files at all.
The obsession over the leak of the Pentagon Papers also led to the mad suggestion by the president of the United States that the offices of the Brookings Institution be firebombed in order to get to the safes in the offices of former Kissinger aides, Leslie Gelb and Morton Halperin, who were suspected of keeping the drafts of some unpublished chapters of the Pentagon Papers. The president could be heard on the tapes instructing his aides: “Godammit. Get in there and get those files. Blow the safe and get it.” You see, Kissinger had ordered up the study. Ellsberg had been assigned by Kissinger to do a super-secret study on the papers and had been given access to them, which were stored at Rand. Though one of the burglars had searched Brookings and reported that the files existed, there were none. In any event, some White House aides thwarted that plan before it was fully carried out.
In this context the break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office building on June 17, 1972 was almost routine. This one, when the burglars were caught, which started the unraveling of Nixon’s secret plots against his enemies, was actually the burglars’ fourth attempt: in the first attempt they faked a banquet to get into the building but ended up locked in a closet; the second time they couldn’t break the lock on the DNC office door; the third time, on Memorial Day, they got into the DNC office but put a bug on the wrong phone, so on they went back to fix it. Perhaps because breaking in had become so habitual they got sloppy and left the immortal piece of tape on a door. That the plumbers were stumblebums doesn’t negate the sinister nature of what they were told to do.
Read on to see what a congress that wasn't insane did in response to these revelations.
There have been scandals before and since. The 80s featured another blatant executive power grab with Iran-Contraand the 90s were one long investigation into the personal lives of the president and his family and associates. The Bush administration was investigated for yet more abuse of its executive power and at least one instance of using classified information to punish a political enemy. But none of those scandals reached both the scope and combination of personal pettiness and abuse of power of Watergate.
This White House has continued many of the executive prerogatives begun in the Bush administration in the name of the Global War on Terror. Indeed, there's never been an administration that "gave back" power once granted to its predecessor. (Yes, some of us mentioned that back in the day ...) But there is no evidence whatsoever that the President is anything like Richard Nixon. It's absurd to even suggest it. It was The Mother Of All Political Scandals.
And the Republicans will never stop trying to find something to even the score, I'm afraid. Had Clinton resigned, they might have calmed down. But I doubt it. Watergate was so huge on every level that it's hard to imagine there will be another one like it in their lifetimes. Sorry --- Nixon was uniquely corrupt.
They're on a roll. This one's from the anti-marriage equality, the National Organization for Marriage:
Dear Marriage Supporter, The road to tyranny is paved with incidents like this. Private Citizen Harassed for Her Political Writings For Prof. Anne Hendershott, the phone call to her home from the IRS came out of the blue in May 2010:
"The IRS calls my house and says ... 'I just wanted to let you know that we're going to be auditing your business' and I said 'My businesses?' and he said, 'You know the expenses you take off for writing."Prof. Hendershott is a sociologist and a fierce Catholic critic of what she calls "fake" Catholic, Soros-funded groups supporting pro-abortion Pres. Obama and Obamacare's mandates on Catholic groups.
Prof. Hendershott made very little money publishing a few pieces a year for places ranging from the Wall Street Journal to the Catholic Advocate.
But the IRS demanded she come to New Haven, Connecticut without her husband, met with her, and grilled her about every check she had deposited, demanding to know irrelevant questions like what kind of groups the money came from, etc.
The chilling effect of any abuse of the IRS' power, terrifying to millions of ordinary American taxpayers, is very real. The tactic worked:
"I haven't written for them since the audit, because I was so scared," she said.
This is what tyranny feels like.
Because nobody ever gets audited unless they are anti-abortion. It's just how it works.
All the liberal cognoscenti are pooh-pooing this scandal as being much ado about nothing and assuming that it will pass. I think they are missing the point. Just as Obaaaaahmacare got the troops all riled up in 2010, the GOP sees this as having a similar effect in 2014. The right wing already believes it is an oppressed minority --- they believed it even when George W. Bush was president and they held both houses of congress and a majority on the Supreme Court. This could feed their persecution complex for years. (Also too: there's money in it.)
There will likely be huge numbers of people they can drag out with similar tales as these. After all, people get audited all the time, even wingnuts.
Inflation is low, conservative economists are wrong, sun rises in east
by David Atkins
Remember how all the Serious People said that quantitative easing, loose monetary policy and fiscal stimulus was going to lead to out-of-control inflation that would doom the dollar, destroy America, and hamper the world's economy? About that:
The leading economies of the industrialized nations may not have a lot in common, but they are all afflicted by this: Inflation is too low.
That was the astoundingly consistent theme out of a range of data released Thursday. Prices rose 1.1 percent over the 12 months that ended in April in Germany, 0.8 percent in France and 1.3 percent in Italy. In the United States, the consumer price index rose 1.1 percent over the last year. Japan reported surprisingly strong first-quarter growth this week as its aggressive new stimulus policies took effect, but that came against a backdrop of continued falling prices; its consumer price index fell 0.9 percent in the year that ended in March.
The leading central banks at this point are all unified on this: 2 percent is the amount of annual inflation they are aiming for. And they are all failing in that mission, and nearly all failing in the same direction (Britain is the notable exception; prices there rose 2.8 percent over the year that ended in March, the most recent data available).
The world is in deflationary spiral, not an inflationary one. Just as Keynesian economists predicted, and as conservative economists insisted could never happen.
Throw this in there with the disproven claims that bond vigilantes would punish the dollar for the S&P downgrade, that tax cuts would lead to economic growth, that deregulation would lead to endless prosperity and self-policing markets, that lower taxes would lead to increased revenues, and that austerity would lead to increased investor confidence and lower unemployment. All wrong. Dead wrong.
Is there anything that conservative economists have gotten right lately? Anything at all?
This one might get you misty: Nine-year-old Alayna Adams threw out the first pitch before Thursday's Tampa Bay Rays-Boston Red Sox game. She was told she'd been selected by the U.S.O. for the honor, partially because her father, Lt. Col. Will Adams, had been deployed overseas in Afghanistan for most of the past two years.
Before Alayna threw her pitch, a message from Dad played on the video board, saying he'd see her soon. Indeed he would.
Because it turned out the whole thing was a ruse orchestrated by the U.S.O and the Rays. Lt. Col. Will Adams was, in fact, dressed in catcher's gear, crouching behind home plate, awaiting the throw from his daughter.
When he caught the ball and flipped up the catcher's mask, Alayna looked at him for a second, realized what's going on, ran full speed toward him and launched herself into his arms.
Dana Adams, Will's wife and Alayna's mom, didn't know about the surprise either. Soon, she joined them in tears.
Stocks continued their climb into uncharted territory on Friday, racking up the fourth week of gains in a row as encouraging economic data prompted investors to pick up shares of growth companies.
The Dow and the S&P 500 finished at fresh record highs, driven by gains in energy and industrial shares. The indexes have pushed to a series of never-before-seen levels as part of the rally that has lifted equities more than 16 percent for the year so far.
In a sign of how far the market has come, the S&P 500 is also about 1,000 points above the low hit in March 2009 in the wake of the credit crisis and recession. Shares picked up strength late in the day on Friday, with the S&P 500 rising 1 percent not long before the closing bell.
Until wages start going up and unemployment comes down to more moral levels, all stock market records represent is a theft by the top 5% from the people who actually create that wealth. A theft that is legal today but that will, I am confident, be illegal one day under international law so that the plutocratic class cannot play one nation-state against another to perpetuate their state-sanctioned larceny.
The IRS scandal is an official free-for-all. I'm hard-pressed to find any right wing group that isn't wailing about its persecution. Here's just one example of the religious right's horning in on the action:
Friends of the family,
This past week, revelations about the IRS targeting conservativegroups seemed to keep coming. Just yesterday, we learned that the Internal Revenue Service acting commissioner Steven Miller has submitted his resignation for his agency's "inexcusable" targeting of conservative groups who had applied for tax-exempt status. According to Fox News, the IRS targeting went broader than originally reported. Apparently, the IRS’ additional scrutiny “went beyond targeting ‘Tea Party’ and ‘patriot’ groups to include those focused on government spending, the Constitution and several other broad areas.” One of these ‘other areas’ now appears to be churches and faith-based organizations.
In the Christian community, several established organizations were apparently targeted, including Franklin Graham, whose two North Carolina charities came under sudden scrutiny after he and his father, Rev. Billy Graham, published pro-marriage and pro-family election ads. In a letter to President Obama, the Grahams explain that an IRS agent visited both groups in October to conduct a surprise tax "review." National Organization for Marriage was another target, as their confidential documents were released to the Human Rights Campaign--whose then-president was a chairman for Obama's re-election campaign.
Pro-Life non-profit groups are reporting being stonewalled by IRS agents as well. Some were told that they would not qualify as an educational 501(c)3 organization unless they advocated for abortion as well, while others had their applications held up until they promised not to protest outside of abortion clinics! Let me be clear that MFI is an educational and advocacy non-profit that, as you know, is grounded in Judeo-Christian morality. We are exactly the type of organization that the IRS now appears to have been targeting.
What we must do now, as men and women committed to bringing salt and light into the public square, is refuse to be intimidated into silence, even when the sword of the state is used against us. Unfortunately, this sort of hostility and interference from the IRS towards faith-based groups is not new. The IRS has been targeting churches since the passage of the Johnson Amendment in 1954, which amended section 501(c)(3) of the tax code and has since been applied to intimidate churches and pastors across the country into silence on the moral qualifications of candidates and the positions they hold. There is no difference between what the IRS has been caught doing with conservative groups and what the IRS has done to churches for the last 59 years. Both are intimidation. Imagine the impact of a system of intimidation targeting a particular group left unchecked for over half a century. That is exactly what has happened with America’s churches. Free speech is a fragile thing and it needs breathing space to exist. The power of government can all too easily squelch dissent. People will not speak at all if there is uncertainty over whether the power of government will come down on them if they say something that might violate the law. This is what we are seeing first hand with the revelations of the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups. And this has been the problem with the Johnson Amendment and the IRS’ vague regulations enforcing it. The law does not give any certainty over what is allowed and what is permitted from the pulpits of America’s churches. So pastors, concerned that they might say something that would trigger the enforcement power of the IRS (a very powerful government agency), stay silent. America’s churches have suffered for too long under the intimidation of the IRS. The best way to shine the light on that intimidation is to stand in the face of it.
That’s why we ask you to encourage your pastor to participate in June 9th’s Pulpit FreedomSunday. And that’s why we hope that if you are a pastor, you will go today to sign up to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday. It’s time for the IRS to stop using its power to squelch free speech and freedom of religion for America’s churches.
For our families,
Rep. now about to pop a blood vessel at the IRS hearing is Rep. Tim Griffin, central player in the US Attorney Firing Scandal.
Oh, that's not even the half of it:
Thursday, May 22, 2008
So I hear that Tim Griffin has abandoned his quest to become a fearless crime fighting lawman to go back to being the nasty dirty trickster he was born to be:
The Republican National Committee is hiring one of the party's toughest oppo-researchers -- former Karl Rove protege Tim Griffin, who was also at the center of the U.S. Attorney scandal -- to dig into Barack Obama's past and unearth info to damage his general election candidacy, a senior Republican operative confirms to me.
Griffin played a lead role in the GOP oppo operation during the 2004 campaign, unearthing info that damaged John Kerry's presidential bid. According to the senior GOP operative, who's familiar with Griffin's past work, he was instrumental in unearthing a videotape of a 1971 interview that Kerry did in which he appeared to confirm that he renounced his medals to protest the Vietnam War.
The video was subsequently used in an ad by the Swift Boat Vets, whose work was renounced by McCain. The McCain campaign -- and the RNC -- declined to comment on Griffin's hiring.
"Griffin is basically going to consult for the Republican National Committee on working out Obama's vulnerabilities," the senior Republican said, somewhat euphemistically. "The hope is to do to Obama what folks successfully did with John Kerry."
If you want to see Griffin in action, you can watch Digging the Dirtthe BBC documentary on oppo-research from the 2000 election.Here's an article about the movie from Time magazine about it:
[T]he overwhelming coup of the film is the insight it brings to the Republican version of Carville's War Room - the seething boiler room at RNC headquarters in D.C. where GOP Head of Research Barbara Comstock and Deputy-Head Tim Griffin ply a rough trade that has probably cost Gore the election.
The nasty secret of the 2000 elections is undoubtedly the enormous growth in the past four years of the people who "do oppo" the nickname for the innocuously titled "Opposition Research" departments in each campaign.
That both sides maintain teams dedicated to unearthing material on the other side is not new. What IS new is the intensity of the digging, the sheer breadth and depth of the search - and most of all the now seamless and instant deployment of the results through the spin meisters directly into the mass media.
In fact, the film reveals how much the media has come to depend on the Oppo research teams for material.
Where newspaper journalists and TV producers once conducted independent research of charges made by a campaign - that has now dwindled. That is because the media has become aware that the research offered by both sides is so intensively fact-checked and triple-checked that it can safely accept the word if offered by the oppo experts.
In the film we see RNC glee as AP accepts their oppo research on a Gore misstatement during the first debate. During their months of filming BBC producers also observed producers for NBC's Tim Russert among others calling to enquire if the team had any new material. This was apparently normal trading on both sides.
RNC researcher Griffin comments in the film: "It's an amazing thing when you have topline producers and reporters calling you and saying 'we trust you.... we need your stuff.'"
The instances where such research - by either side - has proven to be false are very few in number. [really???] The backfire effect on the campaign that issues the material would be far too devastating. It is this that presumably gives the media its comfort zone.
So one might say that if the oppo research of both sides is so accurate - where is the harm in them disseminating and the media accepting the information?
The problem lies not in the veracity of the information per se - but in the significance and disproportionate magnification that is then placed on the information - and how its disbursement reinforces other themes in the campaign gameplans.
The program established its bona fides with the Bush campaign early in the year. Being a 'foreign' film crew from the impeccable BBC was the irresistible blandishment. Obviously without a dog in the race - the BBC were granted the sort of access that American journalists dream of.
But even more remarkable is the way the subjects react in front of the camera. They KNOW they're being filmed. They KNOW that what they're doing might appear sly and devious. And yet they can't resist the lens. Like a team of art thieves in the Louvre heisting the Mona Lisa. Even though the snap might be incriminating - they can't quite resist the lure of posing for a quick vacation Polaroid. "Me and Chuck heisting some old painting in Paris, France."
And so - on the night of the first debate - we see a pumped-up Tim Griffin (deputy head of RNC Research) barking orders to his large team of "oppos." Lehrer tosses Gore the question about him having cast doubt on whether Bush has sufficient experience to lead. Gore demurs and parses his response. Griffin leaps into loud action. Within minutes his team have tracked down an obscure Gore quote buried within the transcript of a lengthy speech. Gotcha! "It directly contradicts what he just said in the debate! He just lied!" crows Griffin. Seconds later Griffin has fed the contradiction to the Associated Press. This is beyond post-debate spin. This is play-by-play impeachment. And incredibly effective.
Moments later the topic is the Balkans. Gore speaks of how the First World War started there and says "my uncle was a victim of poison gas there." The RNC oppo staff giggles at this and Griffin bellows: "This family stuff is killing me... let's check his uncle! Let's see if it's Witt Lafont. He's under investigation for drug-trafficking..." There is a flurry of activity and history books being consulted - and then palpable disappointment that Gore's uncle really was a gas victim. "OK so that is not a lie..." Griffin grimaces and phones the bad news to a waiting colleague: "Hey... we confirmed the uncle tear-gas story...."
But when Gore makes what turns out to be his misstatement about visiting Texan fire sites with James Lee Witt (Director of FEMA) - Griffin senses blood. "Have Jeanette take a look at that!" he cries. And his hunch is right. Gore has transposed dates or people. And that gives Griffin another opportunity.
The BBC cameras catch him on the phone exulting to a colleague: "You know what this would be perfect for is... Get one of these AP reporters or somebody on it for the next few days and then we get a lie out of it... and roll a few days with a new lie!"
And "LIE" was what they got. The New York Post trumpets LIAR LIAR on its front page - and the post-debate spin cycle becomes about Gore's perceived chronic character flaw. And so it has gone every week since the debates. The image is enshrined.
Was the fact that Gore DID visit Texan firesites - but on that occasion with another FEMA executive relevant? Did it matter that he had made other visits to Texas with James Lee Witt? Were Gore's words a misstatement or a lie? What would have been the benefit in intentionally lying about such a trivial fact? Was it important either way?
To Griffin it is all very simple:
"If there's something really good that we can attack on then we will... Research is a fundamental point. We think of ourselves as the creators of the ammunition in a war. Research digs up the ammunition.. We make the bullets."
The enduring legacy of the 1992 campaign was the large sign in Carville's War Room - bearing a phrase that subsequently entered the political lexicon. "It's the economy, stupid."
Behind Tim Griffin in the RNC Oppo Room, the BBC camera captures a large sign he has erected. "On my command - unleash hell on Al."
It's just hilarious to see him today as an elected official acting as if he's the second coming of Honest Abe. Who says there are no second acts in American life?
Wow, an "air of crisis." And where did this "air of crisis" come from? It surely did not come from financial markets, were investors have shown a willingness to lend the United States governments trillions of dollars at very low interest rates in the years since President Obama took office. It certainly did not come from competent economists who were able to recognize that the large deficits were a direct result of the economic collapse in 2008. It also did not come from the millions of people who lost their jobs due to the downturn and looked to government stimulus as the only possible source of demand that could re-employ them.
A more accurate statement might be that:
"the improvement in the short-term forecast has removed the air of crisis around the budget deficit that the Washington Post and its allies have sought to promote since President Obama took office."
Let's be serious here, the crisis was invented by people in Washington who have an agenda for cutting Social Security and Medicare. That is as clear as day. The deficit crisis does not actually exist in the world. In the world we have a crisis of a grossly under-performing economy that the Post and its allies have attempted to perpetuate.
Deficit fever may have finally broken, but the ravages of the disease are still painful. So, it's not as if they can't have any fun at all.
Via @Billmon1 on twitter last night I read that Charlie Cook has some advice for the Republicans. He says that even though the second term presidents often stumble, it's important that the Republicans not publicly come down too hard on Obama with all these scandals because congress is already disrepute and the public might not respond the way they want them to. He offers another plan:
Republicans would be much wiser to pursue a third option: Dig up as much damaging information as they can about the Obama administration and leak it to reporters they know will write tough stories that won’t be traced back to the source. That way, the public won’t see the GOP as being obsessed with attacking the other side and playing gotcha at the expense of the big issues facing the country—the ones voters really care about.
As Billmon pointed out, he's basically advising them to take Obama down through Nixonian ratfucking and rumor-mongering rather than public hearings and investigations. Not that they would need any prodding, mind you. They are pros at that practice, having invented covert political war when Barack Obama was still playing with his covert GI Joe dolls. But still, it is a bit startling to see an allegedly dispassionate political analyst come right out and tell them they should do it in order that they not appear to be the reckless partisan wrecking crew they really are.
I'm sure Karl Rove's heart was warmed by the friendly advice. But since the immediate plan is to gin up the rubes for 2014 in order to take the Senate and take as much hide as they can off Hillary Clinton in the process, I'm going to guess they'll open several fronts in this campaign. If I were the administration I think I'd be prepared for everything. Cook's no wartime consiglieri.
At what point do the old guard holdout Senate Dems grow a spine?
by David Atkins
Jonathan Bernstein asks a very pertinent question apropos of systematic Republican obstruction of Obama Administration nominees:
Two of Obama’s major nominees — Gina McCarthy to head the EPA, and Thomas Perez as secretary of labor — were voted out of committee today in straight party-line votes. Next stop? The Senate floor, where both are likely to be defeated by GOP filibuster.
Look: filibusters of these two nominees are absolutely certain — as has been the case on virtually all of Barack Obama’s nominations. Republicans have made it mandatory for nominations to reach a previously-rare (and almost unprecedented) 60 vote standard.
So the question with McCarthy and Perez is the same as the question is with everything Democrats want in the Senate — can they find five Republicans who are willing to allow a final, simple-majority vote? In other words: can they overcome the Republican filibuster?...
If Mitch McConnell went to the floor of the Senate and announced that Republicans would block literally every single nominee for the duration of the Obama presidency, then Harry Reid would almost certainly change the rules tomorrow. Republicans are not blocking every nominee, but they are blocking far more nominees than was the case for any previous president. The question is, How close are they to crossing the line that will finally force Democrats to take action?
It's not fair to curse Democrats as a whole for lack of courage in this situation. Reportedly over 45 of the current Senate Democrats are on board with significant filibuster reform. But it's time that the few old guard holdouts realize that if there ever was a "good old days" of comity in the Senate, those days are long gone and not coming back. Business has to get done in the Capitol--and yes, while there is a fear that Republicans could do significant damage if they get control of the Senate, most studies show that reforming the filibuster would bolster progressive priorities on average.
Even the old guard has to realize at this point that it's time to pull the trigger on filibuster reform.
SCOTT PELLEY: also at his news conference today the president called for tighter security for u.s. diplomatic facilities. to prevent an attack like the one in Benghazi, Libya, last year that killed U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. of course, Benghazi has become a political controversy. republicans claim that the administration watered down the facts in talking points that were given to U.N. ambassador Susan Rice for television appearances while Mr. Obama was running for reelection. republicans on capitol hill claim that they had found proof of this in white house e-mails that they leaked to reporters last week. well, it turns out some of the quotes in those e-mails were wrong. Major Garrett is at the white house for us tonight. Major?
MAJOR GARRETT: Scott, Republicans have claimed that the state department under Hillary Clinton was trying to protect itself from criticism. The white house released the real e-mails late yesterday and here’s what we found when we compared them to the quotes that had been provided by republicans. One e-mail was written by deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes. On Friday, Republicans leaked what they said was a quote. But it turns out, in the actual e-mail Rhodes did not mention the State Department. republicans also provided what they said was a quote from an e-mail written by state department spokesman Victoria Newland. The Republican version notes Newland discussing: the actual e-mail says: the C.I.A. agreed with the concerns raised by the state department and revised the talking points to make them less specific than the C.I.A’s original version, eliminating references to al Qaeda and affiliates and earlier security warnings. There is no evidence, Scott, the White House orchestrated these changes.
I don't know what the "Tax Exept" office is, but obviously this means that conservatives are going to be targeted for death panels under their Obamacare mandate. Or something. Whatever it is, it's superbad.
"We are in the midst of the worst Washington scandal since Watergate."
Well, there was that time when Ronald Reagan lied to our faces about breaking the law and selling arms to our enemies in order to illegally fund our "anti-communist" pals in Nicaraugua, but although Noonan was working for him at the time, she was so distracted by his sexy toes that I guess she didn't notice. (And I can't help but laugh at the fact that despite Peggy's eight long years of hysterical apoplexy on a daily basis, none of the Clinton scandals made the cut..)
I'm going to guess that as much as liberals are convinced that these scandals are going away, that may be wishful thinking. There is nothing the conservatives love more than being martyrs.
Anyway, his words about what the elites really think are what I wanted to highlight here:
I think for most of them, austerity is just a convenient facade. Their real motivation is simpler: they want to cut spending on the poor. Unfortunately, they've learned that this appeals only to voters who are already hardcore conservatives. To win over a broader audience, they need to appeal to the conventional view that a high debt level betrays a lack of national discipline and needs to be corrected at a national level. Like a household that spent too much redecorating its kitchen with a home equity loan, the country has spent too much and now needs to cut back. For most people, this argument is far more palatable than a simple appeal to cut spending.
So yes: a lot of people view the economy as a morality play. But among conservative elites, I suspect there's less of this than you might think. Rather, it's used primarily as a cynical way of getting the spending cuts they want without overtly bashing the poor.
I'm not sure this is entirely confined to conservative elites but perhaps the centrists who go along with the program simply don't care about the poor as opposed to consciously wanting to hurt them. In any case, what struck me about this observation is that the sequester is a perfectly realized policy under that definition. (Even better, it also includes hurting a whole bunch of federal workers, who they hate almost as much as poor people!) What could be better than that?
And the best part is that they got a bunch of Democrats (including some progressives) and a Democratic president to sign off on it. No wonder they've moved into full scandal mode. Their work is done.
The progressive, anti-imperialist case for international intervention
by David Atkins
In many circles on the political left, there isn't a dirtier word than interventionist. The word conjures associations with the worst kind of arrogant imperialism, a constellation of belligerent privilege that stretches from Rudyard Kipling through Woodrow Wilson all the way to George W. Bush. This is with good reason: after all, most interventionism by Western powers has been well-intentioned but ineffective at best, and immoral, abusive and bloodthirsty at worst. It's not surprising that anyone who declares themselves a progressive and an interventionist will be immediately subject to charges of imperialism, racism, warmongering, economic exploitation and other evils. Nor does being steeped in the excellent work of Naomi Klein, Chalmers Johnson or Joseph Stiglitz shield the liberal interventionist from these attacks. Live and let live, reduce blowback, embrace global diversity, end cultural prescriptivism, and let each nation fend for its own economic interests, the interventionist is told.
The moral charges against the interventionist are so varied and intensely felt by his critics that it is often difficult to respond to them in a a satisfying way without descending into a futile series of personal attacks. Arguments on both sides of the interventionism debate are not known for their calmness or rationality, and frequently descend almost immediately into name-calling.
So as a self-proclaimed liberal international interventionist, I'd like to take a step toward explaining the position in a way that will hopefully serve to advance the debate and add light rather than heat to the discussion. I've made this case before here at Hullabaloo, but only sequentially and not in a single, easily digestible article. That's in part because the thesis is somewhat difficult to encapsulate, but this post will be an attempt to do so. For those interested in the longer version, please read in sequence here, then here, then here, then here, and then here.
The first thing to understand about a liberal interventionist is who she is not. The liberal interventionist does not advocate unilateral action on the global stage, nor the use of military power to further corporate interests, nor the use of law or force where the result achieved does not justify the use of force involved, nor does she demand that her own nation be exempt from the rules that apply to others. The liberal interventionist does not believe in the expansion of empire, or in a Pax Americana. The liberal interventionist understands and takes to heart the concept of blowback, and does her very best to minimize it while staying true to her principles.
So what does drive the philosophy of the liberal interventionist? The first and most important is the principle of universality of morals. This principle of universality is what makes the liberal the natural enemy of the libertarian and the moral relativist, both of whom hold divergently opposite views. The liberal does not believe that a single nation can abide slavery in some of its states, but not others, or that some states should be able to ban abortion, or segregate their schools, or allow child labor. A liberal understands that if "driving while brown" laws are wrong as he stands on west side of the California/Arizona border, they're also wrong if he takes a few steps across the border to the east. Nor does the liberal have any qualms about using the federal court system, backed up by the inherent threat of federal guns to enforce it, to deny conservatives in Arizona the right of self-determination on the matter. Liberals cheer the desegregation of Southern schools at the point of a federal gun, nor do they spend sleepless nights worried about cries of federal tyranny from the racists who complain. A liberal is more than content to use the threat of federal force to ensure that women have access to an abortion and that minorities receive Medicaid, nor do we blame an oppressive and imperial federal government for creating blowback when Tim McVeigh or Eric Rudolph decide to actualize their displeasure with liberal policy by bombing innocent civilians. The anger of a few fundamentalist conservatives is understood, within the borders of a nation state, to be the price of the universal application of social justice in a free society.
What separates the liberal interventionist from the standard liberal is simply that this principle of universality of morals doesn't end at the national border. If differential exploitation and discrimination are not acceptable across state lines, they are likewise not acceptable across nation-state borders.
As a practical matter it may not be possible to enforce that moral principle across nation-states without causing greater damage than the original harm. That is a practical, realpolitik and reasonable argument against intervention. It is, in fact, the reason that most liberal interventionists would be wise to not intervene across nation-state borders except in the most extreme cases. However, the usual arguments against international liberal intervention are not made by those who might like to stop abuses but feel powerless to do so without causing greater harm, but by those who feel moral revulsion at taking away another nation's right to determine its own affairs and set its own cultural standards. These are libertarian and moral relativist arguments that make no sense in the context of a national, anti-interventionist liberalism. If it's wrong to tell Afghan and Pakistani Taliban that they shouldn't oppress the Hazara and destroy the lives of women because it interferes with their principle of self-determination, it is equally wrong as a Californian or New Yorker to tell Alabaman conservatives that they don't have the right of self-determination to oppress African-Americans and eliminate reproductive rights. There might be a distinction in current law, but there is no moral distinction between the two cases.
Further, if we are to consider Boston bombers Dzhokar and Tamerlan Tsarnayev somehow a product of a victimized group actualizing blowback against a libertine, oppressive power, then so must we also give the same emotional quarter to abortion clinic bombers. The liberal interventionist is not inclined to do so.
The second principle of the liberal interventionist is the acknowledgement of the weakened power of the nation-state. The world currently faces a large number of challenges that nation-states are simply too powerless to contain themselves. By far the first and most pressing of these challenges is climate change. No single nation can act alone to contain climate change. Any nation that does act alone will, at least in the short term, put itself at a competitive disadvantage against other nations that continue to burn fossil fuels with reckless abandon. That in turn leads to a situation in which everyone knows that something must be done, but no one will step up to act. International laws may or may not be passed, but there exists no credible enforcement mechanism to ensure that nations meet their commitments. Meanwhile, the world burns.
But climate change is not the only issue of its nature. International financial organizations have proven utterly unaccountable to any country, nor has any nation shown it has the clout and power to put a stop to the abuses. Some nations like Iceland have acted in small ways, but none of those actions have caused changes to the behavior of these institutions. In the wake not only of their crashing the world economy while privatizing profits and socializing losses, but also their price fixing and manipulation of oil markets and LIBOR rates, little has been done except modest slaps on the wrist. That's because no major nation can afford to act alone against the banking industry that holds the entire world hostage and enforces its preferred policies through the threat of bond vigilantes. Beyond finance, other international corporations and their wealthy shareholders have turned record profits by selling high to the middle classes of developed world, manufacturing cheaply and dangerously in the desperate developing world, and then stashing over $32 trillion dollars in offshore accounts. That's more than a thousand times the cost of eliminating world hunger. Much like climate change, it's a global crime against humanity that no single nation-state can resolve. Any nation that attempts to right the balance of power against an international corporation finds its manufacturing jobs yanked and its politicians tussled by powers far greater than any nation can cope with.
Terrorism itself is creating a new legal morass for nations that know they must control the behavior of bad actors and asymmetrical warriors in another country, but cannot depend on that country to take action. No nation is safe from reckless and immoral invasion, because international courts have little enforcement power to seize war criminals like Dick Cheney and put them to trial, and most developed nations would rather "look forward" than hold their own war criminals to account. Nuclear proliferation, overfishing, water shortages, and a host of other problems only serve to reinforce the powerlessness of nation states to solve global problems in the modern world.
That imbalance of power serves in turn to increase the likelihood of unilateral imperial actions. With no international framework to deal effectively with terrorism or war criminals, overreactions and exploitative acts by powerful nations and non-state actors will increasingly become the rule rather than the exception. With no international power able to do much of anything against Bin Laden or Dick Cheney, the number of Dick Cheneys and Bin Ladens in the world will increase, not decrease. Goldman Sachs will continue to rule the world unhindered, the climate will burn, developing-world factory workers will die en masse, people will starve, eventually there will be nuclear war, and not a thing will change for the better. The balance of corporate and state power must change, and the only option is a stronger international framework of law and enforcement that constrains multinational corporations, as well as both sides in the new era of asymmetric war.
The liberal interventionist, then, is not a retrograde imperialist. The liberal interventionist is an idealist who resists the neoliberal global consensus of corporate power over national power while simultaneously rejecting the siren calls of antiquated nationalism. The liberal interventionist rejects the moral self-determinist supremacy of nation states' rights abroad as strenuously as he rejects the same self-determinist supremacy of "states' rights" at home. The liberal interventionist rejects the moral relativism of the academic in the ivory tower as surely as she rejects the libertarianism of the anti-government militia man. The liberal interventionist does not accept that institutionalized massive gender and social inequities must be long accepted either at home or abroad except as a nod to the greater moral evil of war, and adamantly refuses to accept that massacres such as those that occurred in Rwanda or are currently occurring in Syria must be tolerated at all without global intervention. The liberal interventionist is confident that the power of multinational corporations can be curbed, but only with effective international action. And the liberal interventionist knows that climate change is the greatest moral challenge of our day, while seeking to build institutions that will be able to tackle the threat in ways that current institutions seem utterly inadequate to do.
To many, the liberal interventionist may be a naive utopian playing with forces she does not understand and cannot control. Perhaps. She would counter that human history is in many ways the story of the power of civilization and complexification to mitigate the worst tendencies of human nature while expanding universal rights and unlocking the secrets of the universe. She would argue that there is no reason to believe that that process of societal complexification has ended with our current global political structures, and that there is every reason to believe that without a metamorphosis of some kind toward greater complexity and universality, humanity itself stands at the precipice of its own destruction.
But at the very least, as a liberal interventionist myself, I would prefer that arguments over liberal interventionism be conducted in the context of what those like me actually do believe, rather than be set up as the straw man imperialism of a dying era.