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Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year Everyone!

Clearing The Ranchette

by digby

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

He's obsessed with brush clearing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Constitutional Thuggery

by digby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, December 30, 2005

Cui malo?

by digby

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

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

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

Our Allies

by digby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Update II:

Americana has more on this.

Missed Opportunities

by digby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Comment

by digby

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

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


Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Sequel

From the great uggabugga:

Patrick Henry Democrats

by digby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imperial Nutball

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

No Likee

by digby

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

Just as point of contrast:

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

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

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

Uh Oh

by digby

This gives me the creeps.

Via ReddHedd at firedoglake, the LA Times reports:

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

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

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

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

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


by digby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


To be clear:

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

Kept Down By The Pansies

by digby

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

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

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

Hollywood Confidential

by digby

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Stoller asks:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Stoller also says:

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Just Another Republican Hustler

by digby

Via Susie Madrak

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

I think this guy has a future in the ministry.

Stovepiping The Legal Findings

by digby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don't Worry Be Happy

by digby

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, December 27, 2005


by digby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jihadi Media

by digby

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

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

The Pod was unpleasant.

Just Don't Count 'Em

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clutched Pearl Cluster

The Kippies have been announced and each one is more perfect than the rest. I do have one quibble, however. My personal favorite, Chris Matthews, didn't win Best Wank for his repeated exhortation that a man, a real man, a manly man filled with masculinity, be sent in to save the day in New Orleans. Is there a bigger public wank in history than this?

Will the most powerful vice president in American history become the man who ramrods the rise of the new South and with it a legacy that could promote a draft for a Cheney presidency? The question is a big one. Is Cheney charging down South to serve as President Bush's executioner or full-fledged viceroy?


"a tough guy...smart politician.. trying to figure out how to get his president out of a jam... smart guy, tough warrior..aware that now that he's put his [huge] boots on the ground he has a stake in this. How big a foot is he going to land on this issue."

Fo shizzle my nizzle

I'm sorry that Chris didn't win a Kippie this year despite his many heroic paeans to Republican manly manness. But then Cary Grant never won an Oscar either. Sometimes life isn't fair. (As with so many of the greats, maybe the problem is that he just makes it look so easy.)

Chris can take heart that he earned the Media Matters "misinformer of the year" so it's not like his stand-out performance went unrewarded. And there's always next year --- all the commentators are telling us on a loop that Bush is poised for a comeback, and there is no greater chronicler of the rise of the codpiece than our man Chris.


by digby

Jane appropriately excoriates the WaPo ombudsman, Deborah Howell, for her he said/she said prescription for even more confusing and useless reporting. I think this column may just be the perfect example of everything that's wrong with modern journalism.

Howell comments on a report about military recruiting that stated that more recruits are coming from low income and rural families:

Numbers aren't just facts. They can be interpreted in many ways, even if they come from the same or similar sources.

Ann Scott Tyson, a respected military reporter just back from Iraq, wrote in a front-page story Nov. 4 that "newly released Pentagon demographic data show that the military is leaning heavily for recruits on economically depressed rural areas where youths' need for jobs may outweigh the risks of going to war."


The story, which was largely based on Pentagon data, included some analysis done by the National Priorities Project (NPP), a liberal-leaning think tank that questions the war in Iraq. The NPP also used Pentagon, census and Zip code data. A different analysis, released by the conservative Heritage Foundation a few days later, was reported by other media outlets.

In looking at the story, I talked to Curt Gilroy, who, as director of accession policy for the secretary of defense, has oversight of all active-duty recruiting; Tim Kane, a Heritage researcher; Betty Maxfield, demographer of the Army; Bruce Orvis, director of the Manpower and Training Program at the Rand Corp.'s Arroyo Center, and Robert Brandewei, director of the Defense Manpower Data Center in Monterey, Calif.

All said the story and NPP analysis lacked context because they did not report trends over the past several years and did not look at "nationally representative data" or the entire recruit population. A statement from Gilroy and Maxfield said that "incomes and socioeconomic status of recruits' families closely mirror the U.S. population. These findings are contrary to those" in Tyson's article.


My bottom line on polls and surveys, no matter what kind: Look for the widest context. Ask as many experts as possible what the numbers mean. Numbers can be right but not tell the full story, and that's the case with the article on recruiting.

Shorter Deborah Howell:

There are those who think with their heads and those who know with their hearts... But the gut's where the truth comes from...I know some of you may not trust your gut yet. But with my help you will. The truthiness is that anyone can report the news to you, but I promise to feel the news at you.

Unfortunately for Howell, her "clarification" only leads to a muddy, unfathomable mess. After reading her further reporting, you have absolutely no idea what the truth is. She should have written her cute little opener to say "numbers are partisan and have an agenda. If you are a supporter of the administration you can believe the pentagon and Heritage analysts. If you are a liberal traitor, you can believe this crappy NPP think tank. It's all about choice."

Howell is promoting that absolute worst kind of he said/she said journalism in this piece. She does not recommend any kind of context in the reporting that might illuminate the Pentagon or Heritage agendas, such as the trouble the military has had with recruiting or the different sales pitches that the military uses in different areas. She does not seek out an academic statistician who might be able to look at all the statistics and sort them out in some way so that readers could come to a reasonable conclusion.

And for someone who so believes in telling all sides of a story, I think it might have been helpful if she told her readers what prompted her to write on this subject in the first place, don't you? Was it, perhaps, a complaint from the pentagon which pointed out the conservative Heritage Foundation's contradictory figures? (We know it wasn't average readers, whom she and others at the Post consider nuisances.)

I do not know if the WaPo's new ombudsman is political but she is remarkably willing to assume liberal bias in the Post's reporting and recommend a "counterbalance" of right wing bullshit to even it out. In fact, this seems to be the Post's answer to everything, lately.

As we have all written about ad nauseum in the blogs these last few years, this is what we hate about mainstream journalism these days. This idea that "numbers aren't just facts." Yes, they fucking well are. Numbers are numbers. They don't have feelings, they aren't obscure. They are what they are. They can be used in different ways, yes, but the job of journalists isn't just to point out all the different interpretations and let the reader choose on the basis of which political party they belong to, it's to reveal how they being used in different ways and why.

I already know that the Heritage Foundation and the pentagon have an agenda. I take Howell at her word that the NPP is a liberal think tank that is against the war. I don't give a shit about any of that. What I would like to know is whether or not the military is recruiting more from lower income and rural areas and if so, why?

The editor of the paper defended the original piece by saying this:

Post National Editor Michael Abramowitz said, "Ann set out to tell the story of what kind of young people are joining today's military. Obviously the armed services draw from a range of demographic, income and ethnic groups. The Pentagon's own numbers indicate that that the military is drawing disproportionally from rural and southern communities, and from families with slightly lower incomes than the population in general.

"The numbers also show a close correlation between the unemployment rate and recruiting. These are the phenomena that Ann accurately described in her story. While we did note some trends, such as the growth in wealthier recruits, we probably could have done a better job highlighting some of the nuances in recruiting patterns and providing more context. But the overall thrust of the story still seems accurate and sound to us."

That's not good enough for Howell, whose further consultations with pentagon, Heritage and Rand analysts report a bunch of arcane gobblodygook that I defy Howell or anyone else to interpret.

But then, I guess that's the point. In order to be fair one must go out of one's way not to tell the truth. The facts, after all, are biased.


Monday, December 26, 2005

Southern Fried

Atrios links to Novakula's column today in which he discusses Trent Lott's agnizing over whether to seek another term. I think we've all wondered if Katrina would have an impact on the GOP in Mississippi and Alabama and this may be the test. (New Orleans' African American disapora is very likely to result in a stronger Louisiana GOP) I suspect he thinks it's time to cash out. They'll never be a better opportunity.

Atrios also highlights Novak's last line which I also think is the most interesting aspect of the piece:

When George W. stood aside while Trent Lott was tossed out, I wrote on Dec. 23, 2002, that the secret liberal theme behind his defenestration was that "the GOP's Southern base, the bedrock of its national election victories, is an illegitimate legacy from racist Dixiecrats.

Now, three years later, that bedrock may be eroding.

I don't know why he thinks it was secret. That view is right out in the open and it happens to be true. Both the Republicans and Democrats have been talking about the southern strategy for decades. (Perhaps Novak thinks the mass defections from Democrat to Republican in the south directly on the heels of the voting rights act of 1964 was a coincidence?)

In any case, that's not what's interesting. It's that he thinks the "bedrock" of the southern GOP base may be eroding. Personally, I doubt it, at least in any significant sense. However, many of the structural problems conservative writer Christopher Caldwell predicted in his famous contrarian article "the Southern Captivity of the GOP" from 1998 could be coming to fruition.

9/11 obscured them but the problems remain. Here are some excerpts from that article:

The party's 1994 majority came thanks to a gain of nineteen seats in the South. In 1996 Republicans picked up another six seats in the Old Confederacy. But that only makes their repudiation in the rest of the country the more dramatic. The party has been all but obliterated in its historical bastion of New England, where it now holds just four of twenty-three congressional seats. The Democrats, in fact, dominate virtually the entire Northeast. The Republicans lost seats in 1996 all over the upper Midwest -- Michigan, Wisconsin (two seats), Iowa, and Ohio (two seats). Fatally, they lost seats in all the states on the West Coast. Their justifiable optimism about the South aside, in 1996 it became clear that the Democratic Party was acquiring regional strongholds of equal or greater strength.


The Republican Party is increasingly a party of the South and the mountains. The southernness of its congressional leaders -- Speaker Newt Gingrich, of Georgia; House Majority Leader Dick Armey and House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, of Texas; Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, of Mississippi; Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles, of Oklahoma -- only heightens the identification. There is a big problem with having a southern, as opposed to a midwestern or a California, base. Southern interests diverge from those of the rest of the country, and the southern presence in the Republican Party has passed a "tipping point," at which it began to alienate voters from other regions.

As southern control over the Republican agenda grows, the party alienates even conservative voters in other regions. The prevalence of right-to-work laws in southern states may be depriving Republicans of the socially conservative midwestern trade unionists whom they managed to split in the Reagan years, and sending Reagan Democrats back to their ancestral party in the process. Anti-government sentiment makes little sense in New England, where government, as even those who hate it will concede, is neither remote nor unresponsive.


Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, ... and insists that libertarians and moralists can still cohabit. And since Norquist is a key -- if not the key -- adviser to Newt Gingrich, his interpretation can be taken as a semi-official Republican understanding of what's left of Ronald Reagan's electorate. "The Reagan coalition is the Leave Us Alone coalition," Norquist says. "Tax activists want their paychecks left alone. Pro-family people want their kids left alone. Ralph Reed's constituents are not interested in running other people's lives. They don't care what odd people do in San Francisco on Saturday afternoon."

For his part, Reed, formerly the executive director of the Christian Coalition and now a Georgia-based political and public-affairs consultant, thinks the two wings get along as well as ever. Looking at the Republican field for President in 2000, he says, "Traditional supply-siders like Steve Forbes are enthusiastically embracing the social dogma of the party. Lamar Alexander is moving to the right, guys like John Ashcroft are picking up steam, John Kasich is talking about faith in God. I see a holistic message developing." To an extent Reed is right: this is not 1963 or 1964, when the Rockefeller wing and the Goldwater wing fought an intraparty civil war. Yet there is something more troubling going on. Every Republican candidate now has to "make his bones," to prove his good faith by declaring his unequivocal willingness to alienate the "elites" of the country. Describing the Christian right to a reporter last fall, the former Washington congressman Randy Tate, who is now the executive director of the Christian Coalition, said, "They don't just want to be given crumbs off the table and taken for granted." Far from proving Republican tolerance, the rapprochement Reed points to is merely the sound of the Republicans' cosmopolitan wing crying "Uncle."

This southern takeover is part of a natural, if paradoxical, transformation. It parallels the way the Goldwater debacle of 1964 destabilized the Democratic Party -- by sending alienated northern Republican progressives into the Democrats' ranks. These progressives joined with northern urbanites to forge a party that was more to their liking, though it was too liberal for the Democratic Party's stalwart southern conservatives -- and, eventually, too liberal for the nation as a whole. In like fashion, Democratic excesses since the seventies may have destabilized the Republican Party by chasing those southerners into the fold, transforming the Republican Party into a machine that is steadily becoming too conservative for the country.

There has always been tension between the Republicans' constituent wings. What long masked it was the Cold War. The Reaganite party was never a two-part but always a three-part coalition, of social conservatives, economic conservatives, and foreign-policy hawks. The hawks' group was minuscule, but it happened that their passion (anti-communism) was shared by Christians and capitalists alike.


When the Republicans can no longer promise tax cuts, they're left with only the most abrasive aspects of the Reagan message, kept under wraps throughout the 1980s: the southern morals business. If the Republicans didn't believe in shrinking government, they didn't believe in the freedom that it was supposed to promote -- which made it much harder to argue that their moral agenda was being advanced in the name of live and let live. And what did they have besides the moral agenda?

The Republicans are too conservative: their deference to their southern base is persuading much of the country that their vision is a sour and crabbed one. But they're too liberal, too, as their all-out retreat from shrinking the government indicates. At the same time, the Republicans have passed none of the reforms that ingratiated the party with the "radical middle." The Republicans' biggest problem is not their ideology but their lack of one. Stigmatized as rightists, behaving like leftists, and ultimately standing for nothing, they're in the worst of all possible worlds.

There is messaging "gold" in that article now that it is crystal clear that the Republicans are not the party of small government and it lies here:

If the Republicans didn't believe in shrinking government, they didn't believe in the freedom that it was supposed to promote -- which made it much harder to argue that their moral agenda was being advanced in the name of live and let live.

How can Norquist's "leave us alone" coalition exist in a party that supports the government spying on its citizens and supports intrusion into a family's most difficult medical decisions? How can a "leave us alone" coalition support a president who acts like a king? How can decent people who believe in moral values continue to work hard and support a party that is corrupt to its core?

They can't.

Caldwell concluded with this:

Their party is now directionless, with only two skills to recommend it: first, identifying and prosecuting the excesses of its opponents; second, rigging the campaign-finance system to protect its incumbency long after it has ceased having any ideas that would justify incumbency. The Republican Party is an obsolescent one. It may continue to rule, disguised as a majority by electoral legerdemain. But it will be a long time before the party is again able to rule from a place in Americans' hearts.

They gave up trying to rule from a place in America's heart some time ago and are now ruling from some place in America's gut. Fear (or the fun "horror movie" version of it anyway) is what they use to keep the disparate threads of Norquist's coalition together. I think, however, Bush's misdhandling of Iraq and Katrina -- not to mention the ridiculous overplaying of the terrorist threat --- may have dampened their prospects for a repeat of their successful communist fearmongering of the past.

I think that Caldwell's thesis is proven by the fact that Bush won so narrowly in 2004 and that they were unable to gain any Senate seats outside of deep red territory. They couldn't win any house seats outside of the rigged Texas gerrymander. Bush's popular vote margin came from turnout in the deep south, not because of any gains elsewhere. I ask you, if a Republican incumbent couldn't win big in that election, when we were just three years from a major terrorist attack and deeply engaged in wars in two countries, then what will it take?

They've got the south for the time being. The question for them is if they can legitimately win anywhere else. If Novak is right and they are starting to lose their grip a little bit there then they've reached their high water mark.

Jeanne D'Arc needs a new computer.

I can't imagine a blogosphere without Body and Soul, can you?

It's common wisdom that this administration has, from the outset, and right up to the present, made a habit of accusing others of what it is guilty of. I've always thought of that as just an effective technique -- put your opposition on the defense, so that, at best, no one notices what you're doing, and, at worst, people excuse your crimes because the other side supposedly does it too.

But when self-described Christians are choosing to replicate the history of their faith in reverse, casting themselves in the villains' place, while somehow still claiming the innocence of holy victims, it looks more like pathology than political spin. They remind me of Alex in A Clockwork Orange, aroused by Christian iconography, fantasizing himself as a Roman soldier. Then throw in something too twisted for Alex --fantasizing himself, simultaneously, as a martyr.

Sick. Just sick, these Clockwork Christians.


Sunday, December 25, 2005

Guest Post

Bush's Head

by Poputonian

James Wolcott’s recent reference to Digby’s blog as “a Paul Revere gallop through the pitched night of the Bush years” reminds me of this passage from Paul Revere's Ride, a 1994 book by the great historian David Hackett Fischer. The passage seems relevant to the recent discussion (triggered by the Kos article in WM) about the role blogs play in political discourse. Fischer sees Revere in relationship to the overall Revolutionary movement and debunks the myth that he was a "just a messenger." He describes Revere as an important cog *in a liberal movement* that was "open and pluralist" and made up of "an alliance of many overlapping groups." Revere was a silversmith by day, but away from his trade he was doing much more for the rebel cause, and it was more than a poetic midnight ride. This has a feel to it, like maybe this is what bloggers did before computers, in a day when everything was closer, within physical reach, and people did their politics face to face.

Paul Revere's Role in the Revolutionary Movement

The structure of Boston's revolutionary movement, and Paul Revere's place within it, were very different from recent secondary accounts. Many historians have suggested that this movement was a tightly organized, hierarchical organization, controlled by Samuel Adams and a few other dominant figures. These same interpretations commonly represent Revere as a minor figure who served his social superiors mainly as a messenger.

A very different pattern emerges from the following comparison of seven groups: the Masonic lodge that met at the Green Dragon Tavern; the Loyal Nine, which was the nucleus of the Sons of Liberty; the North Caucus that met at the Salutation Tavern; the Long Room Club in Dassett Alley; the Boston Committee of Correspondence; the men who are known to have participated in the Boston Tea Party; and Whig leaders on a Tory Enemies List.

A total of 255 men were in one or more of these seven groups. Nobody appeared on all seven lists, or even as many as six. Two men, and only two, were in five groups; they were Joseph Warren and Paul Revere, who were unique in the breadth of their associations.

Other multiple memberships were as follows. Five men (2.0%) appeared in four groups each: Samuel Adams, Nathaniel Barber, Henry Bass, Thomas Chase, and Benjamin Church. Seven men (2.7%) turned up on three lists (James Condy, Moses Grant, Joseph Greenleaf, William Molineux, Edward Proctor, Thomas Urann, and Thomas Young).

Twenty-seven individuals (10.6%) were on two lists (John Adams, Nathaniel Appleton, John Avery, Samuel Barrett, Richard Boynton, John Bradford, Ezekiel Cheever, Adam Collson, Samuel Cooper, Thomas Crafts, Caleb Davis, William Dennie, Joseph Eayrs, William Greenleaf, John Hancock, James Otis, Elias Parkman, Samuel Peck, William Powell, John Pulling, Josiah Quincy, Abiel Ruddock, Elisha Story, James Swan, Henry Welles, Oliver Wendell, and John Winthrop). The great majority, 211 of 255 (82.7%), appeared only on a single list. Altogether, 94.1% were in only one or two groups.

This evidence strongly indicates that the revolutionary movement in Boston was more open and pluralist than scholars have believed. It was not a unitary organization, but a loose alliance of many overlapping groups. That structure gave Paul Revere and Joseph Warren a special importance, which came from the multiplicity and range of their alliances.

None of this is meant to deny the preeminence of other men in different roles. Samuel Adams was especially important in managing the Town Meeting, and the machinery of local government, and was much in the public eye. Otis was among its most impassioned orators. John Adams was the penman of the Revolution. John Hancock was its "milch cow," as a Tory described him. But Revere and Warren moved in more circles than any others. This gave them their special roles as the linchpins of the revolutionary movement -- its communicators, coordinators, and organizers of collective effort in the cause of freedom.

Another list (too long to be included here) survives of 355 Sons of Liberty who met at the Liberty Tree in Dorchester in 1769. Once again, Paul Revere appears on it. There were at least two other Masonic lodges in Boston at various periods before and during the Revolution; Paul Revere is known to have belonged to at least one of them. In addition to the North Caucus, there was also a South Caucus and a Middle Caucus. Paul Revere may or may not have belonged to them as well; some men joined more than one. No definitive lists of members have been found. But it is known that Revere was a member of a committee of five appointed "to wait on the South End caucus and the Caucus in the middle part of town," and that he met with them (Goss, Revere, II, 639). Several Boston taverns were also centers of Whig activity. Revere had connections with at least two of them-Cromwell's Head, and the Bunch of Grapes. The printing office of Benjamin Edes was another favorite rendezvous. In the most graphic description of a gathering there by John Adams, once again Paul Revere was recorded as being present.

In sum, the more we learn about the range and variety of political associations in Boston, the more open, complex and pluralist the revolutionary movement appears, and the more important (and significant) Paul Revere's role becomes. He was not the dominant or controlling figure. Nobody was in that position. The openness and diversity of the movement were the source of his importance. Appendix D, page 301, Paul Revere's Ride, by David Hackett Fischer, New York, 1994.

People will use blogs as they wish, but their important role in directing the actions and messages of a political movement is becoming more and more undeniable. The liberal blogs that I read *usually make their assertions* in an open and pluralist way, not in a top down hierarchical fashion; independent and distributed, yet coordinated and overlapping. This is quite the opposite of our *conservative* adversaries. [I changed rightwing to conservative because the real conservatives hate to be painted with the Bush brush. Tough shit.]

Fischer's description of Revere as a 'linchpin, communicator, coordinator, and organizer of collective effort' seems also seems apropos (heh). It's pure teamwork, where each role is small, even miniscule, but in the aggregate can lead to an essential outcome, which in today’s political environment is the shedding of authoritative conservatism in favor of an open pluralism.

And wouldn't you give just about anything to sit in a place called, Bunch of Grapes? Or how about The Green Dragon Tavern or Cromwell's Head? With luck, maybe someday there will be an establishment called Bush's Head.