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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Grandpa's Good Little Boy

by digby

I notice that everyone's on the case of the latest Ben Domenechist hire, Karl Zinsmeister. He's quite the guy. A liar, of course, and completely full of shit but he's perfect to replace the person who was arrested for shoplifting toiletries from Target. In an administration that cares nothing for policy, these jobs are all just patronage gigs. And old Karl has been a good little wingnut. He deserves a nice Whitehouse gig on his resume.

John Amato has all the dirt on this fine fellow, but he leaves out what I think is the most impressive item on Karl's list of accomplishment. It seems he writes comic books too:

Longtime embedded journalist Karl Zinsmeister (Boots on the Ground: A Month with the 82nd Airborne in the Battle for Iraq) and penciler Dan Jurgens (Thor, Superman) chronicle three months in the lives of the 82nd Airborne in the Battle for Iraq in this groundbreaking series. Collects Combat Zone: True Tales of GI's In Iraq #1-5.

Some people love it for its classic "Sgt Rock" quality. Others, not so much:

I bought this because of the positive reviews and because it sounded like it might be pretty good. It's not. The drawings are well-done. Beyond that, this could easily have been written during the WWII Africa campaign with a few updates on weapons and jargon.

All the sterotypes are here. There's Duhon, the dumb but friendly Southerner, Kulzinski, the brawny Pole, Dean, the third-generation Army brat, Marco, the tough Texan, Gordon, the wet-behind-the-ears Lieutenant, and Brown, the token black. I'm pretty sure I've seen all these guys in a John Wayne movie or three. Oh, right, Wayne's there too, playing the cowboy sharpshooter.

The dialogue is wordy, freighted with needless backfill, and just plain corny. Here are a couple of example quotes:

Lt. Gordon: "I know we're still in shock over losing Sgt. Kramer. But we've got a job to do. Now I know I'm just a kid out of college, and that my joining the Army to try to make the world safer may seem a little goofy to you. But we all agree we have to succeed here."

Capt. Kirkwood: "There's a good chance one of those cavalry gun trucks could get ambushed and pinned down. If that happens, I want you to treat it like a downed helicopter, understand? We are not going to lose another one of those men. You drop everything until those soldiers are saved. That's what we do for other Americans who risk their lives with us."

These wingnut guys are all living out their Hollywood war fantasies. It's pathetic.

Here's the story told in a more relevant way:

The documentary [Soundtrack To War]is simply a series of interviews with soldiers about the CDs they’ve brought with them to Iraq and which ones they prefer to play when they roll out on a mission. Turns out, every Humvee, Bradley fighting vehicle, and Abrams tank is wired in such a way that it’s easy to hook a CD Walkman up to the internal sound system that each soldier hears in his or her headphones. And though it’s an open secret that the military’s own psy-ops folks are partial to AC/DC as a means to psych up their troops for battle, there don’t appear to be any official regulations regarding what a tank commander can and can’t play. Both 50 Cent and Jay-Z turned out to be popular among rap-loving crews; here the filmmakers might have asked how the military brass feels about the message of some of 50’s rougher raps. Among those in the know, Mystikal was a favorite because he himself is a former military man. One white private turned out to be a big fan of Jay-Z because he’s from the same part of Brooklyn and The Black Album reminds him of home. (I did find myself wondering whether psy-ops distinguish between pre– and post–Bon Scott AC/DC: though Scott’s "Highway to Hell" would have to be high on anyone’s list of kick-ass rock and roll, the post-Scott albums Back in Black and For Those About To Rock are more explosive. I’m sure they’ll be convening a committee to recommend regulations on the use of AC/DC any day now.)

More typical are the tank crews who blast new metal by the likes of Drowning Pool with lyrics like "Let the bodies hit the floor," drums that sound like artillery explosions, and shrapnel-spraying guitars set to hard-hitting martial rhythms.


The most disturbing part of Soundtrack to War is the revelation of how closely rolling out into a tank battle resembles playing a tank-battle video game. With Drowning Pool blasting through the headphones, the gunner targeting the enemy with a joystick on a digital computer screen, and "smart" ammo directing the shell to its target before the enemy even knows he’s under attack, you get a real sense of how life imitates art in the confines of an Abrams tank. The experience is depersonalizing in a way that doesn’t prepare the average soldier to deal with the reality of blown-apart bodies once he or she emerges from the tank.

Now that's interesting. Retread comic book dialog from episodes of "Combat" in 1963 isn't interesting. It's so typical of conservatives to be culturally stuck in their grandparents era. It's always been like that. When I was a kid they were talking about getting a malted down at the olde soda shoppe while the rest of us were getting stoned. (Not that we wouldn't have greatly enjoyed a malted down at the soda shop under those circumstances, but you get the picture.)

This guy has gone on to advise the president of the United States about domestic policy, which he seems highly qualified to do. He's a comic book writer for a cartoon administration.

None of this should be construed as a put down of comics or graphic novels in general. It's this comic I'm dissing.

Hat tip to a reader. You know who you are. I lost your email.

Erosion Of Powers

by digby

This dailyKos diary by Captain Doug linking to to my earlier post led me to an interesting document that I haven't come across before.

As we contemplate why Joe Klein the DLCers and the rest of the Democratic establishment are stuck in 1972 mode, petrified of the "angry left" and worried sick that we are going to scare away the real Americans, take a look at this FBI report:

May 9, 1968

Our Nation is undergoing an era of disruption and violence caused to a large extent by various individuals generally connected with the New Left. Some of these activists urge revolution in America and call for the defeat of the United States in Vietnam. They continually and falsely allege police brutality and do not hesitate to utilize unlawful acts to further their so-called causes. The New Left has on many occasions viciously and scurrilously attacked the Director and the Bureau in an attempt to hamper our investigation of it and to drive us off the college campuses. With this in mind, it is our recommendation that a new Counterintelligence Program be designed to neutralize the New Left and the Key Activists. The Key Activists are those individuals who are the moving forces behind the New Left and on whom we have intensified our investigations.

The replies to the Bureau's request have been analyzed and it is felt that the following suggestions can for counterintelligence action can be utilized by all offices.

1. Preparation of a leaflet designed to counteract the impression that Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and other minority groups speak for the majority of students at universities. The leaflet should contain photographs of New Left leadership at the respective university. Naturally, the most obnoxious pictures should be used.

2. The instigating of or the taking advantage of personal conflicts or animosities existing between New Left leaders.

3. The creating of impressions that certain New Left leaders are informants for the Bureau or other law enforcement agencies.

4. The use of articles from student newspapers and/or the "underground press" to show the depravity of New Left leaders and members. In this connection, articles showing advocation of the use of narcotics and free sex are ideal to send to university officials, wealthy donors, members of the legislature and parents of students who are active in New Left matters.

5. Since the use of marijuana and other narcotics is widespread among members of the New Left, you should be alert to opportunities to have them arrested by local authorities on drug charges.

6. The drawing up of anonymous letters regarding individuals active in the New Left. These letters should set out their activities and should be sent to their parents, neighbors and the parents' employers.

7. Anonymous mailings should be made to university officials, members of the state legislature, Board of Regents, and to the press. Such letters could be signed "A Concerned Alumni" or "A Concerned Taxpayer." [emphasis added]

8. Whenever New Left groups engage in disruptive activities on college campuses, cooperative press contacts should be encouraged to emphasize that the disruptive elements constitute a minority of the students and do not represent the conviction of the majority. The press should demand an immediate referendum on the issue in question.

9. There is a definite hostility among SDS and other New Left groups toward the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the Young Socialist Alliance (YSA), and the Progressive Labor Party (PLP). This hostility should be exploited wherever possible.

10. The field was previously advised that New Left groups are attempting to open coffeehouses near military bases in order to influence members of the Armed Forces. Whereever these coffeehouses are, friendly news media should be alerted to them and their purpose. In addition, various drugs, such as marijuana, will probably be utilized by individuals running the coffeehouses or frequenting them. Local law enforcement authorities should be promptly advised whenever you receive an indication that this is being done.

11. Consider the use of cartoons, photographs, and anonymous letters which will have the effect of riduculing the New Left. Ridicule is one of the most potent weapons which we can use against it.

12. Be alert for opportunities to confuse and disrupt New Left activities by misinformation. For example, when events are planned, notification that the event has been cancelled or postponed could be sent to various individuals. Director to All Field Offices, July 5, 1968

I'm sure this had nothing to do with why the "silent majority" voted Republican. Nor does it have anything to do with why Joe "gag me with a spoon" Klein is so hostile to liberalism even today or why the Democrats in washington scurry at the slightest conflict. It's not like they could have been played by a disinformation campaign that became conventional wisdom, right?

This report is also a good reminder of why some of us don't trust the FBI to be the good guys in these political battles and why we think there should be pretty strict separation of powers and very strong oversight. Police agencies have a tendency to forget their limitations. And so do presidents:

CHENEY: All right. But in 34 years, I have repeatedly seen an erosion of the powers and the ability of the president of the United States to do his job. We saw it in the War Powers Act. We saw it in the Budget Anti-Impoundment Act. We've seen it in cases like this before, where it's demanded that presidents cough up and compromise on important principles.

ROBERTS: And they always do.

CHENEY: Exactly, and that's wrong.

ROBERTS: So in the end, it always comes out anyway, so why...

CHENEY: It's wrong. And--well, but the...

ROBERTS: ... go through this agony?

CHENEY: Because the net result of that is to weaken the presidency and the vice presidency.

And one of the things that I feel an obligation, and I know the president does too, because we talked about it, is to pass on our offices in better shape than we found them to our successors. We are weaker today as an institution because of the unwise compromises that have been made over the last 30 to 35 years.

That was in January of 2002. Cheney has been upfront about this from the get. He believed that the nation was better served when someone like Nixon could do whatever he wanted. He believes that the FBI should be able to do what he thinks is necessary to "protect" to country from people like me.

He just simply believes that the presidency should be more powerful than the other two branches (as long as a Republican occupies it, of course. Let's not kid ourselves about that):

December 21, 2005

ABOARD AIR FORCE TWO -- Vice President Dick Cheney yesterday said President Bush is aggressively consolidating the powers of the presidency, reversing a weakening of the office dating back more than 30 years.

"We've been able to restore the legitimate authority of the presidency," he told reporters after inspecting earthquake-relief efforts in Pakistan.

Mr. Cheney, who was President Ford's chief of staff, said "an erosion of presidential power and authority" emerged during that era but that the pendulum has now "swung back."

"At the end of the Nixon administration, you had the nadir of the modern presidency in terms of authority and legitimacy," he said. "There have been a number of limitations that have been imposed in the aftermath of Vietnam and Watergate."

He said the Bush administration has reversed that trend in a variety of ways, ranging from its successful fight to keep secret the deliberations of its energy task force to its muscular assertion of authority at home and abroad in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks.

"We've been very active and very aggressively defending the nation and using the tools at our disposal to do that," he said.


Speaking to reporters while flying from Pakistan to Oman, the vice president also suggested that the strengthening of the presidency is not finished. He noted that no president has eliminated the War Powers Act, which he said "many people believe is unconstitutional."

"That was an infringement on the authority of the president," he said. "It's never been tested. It will be tested at some point."

Again he's totally candid. He did it, he believes he has the right to do it and the fact that war protestors or political dissidents are being monitored is a feature not a bug.

And about that disinformation and propaganda, I think we have a little hint about where that's going in this era as well:

Bush 'planted fake news stories on American TV'

Federal authorities are actively investigating dozens of American television stations for broadcasting items produced by the Bush administration and major corporations, and passing them off as normal news. Some of the fake news segments talked up success in the war in Iraq, or promoted the companies' products.

Investigators from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are seeking information about stations across the country after a report produced by a campaign group detailed the extraordinary extent of the use of such items.


The range of VNR is wide. Among items provided by the Bush administration to news stations was one in which an Iraqi-American in Kansas City was seen saying "Thank you Bush. Thank you USA" in response to the 2003 fall of Baghdad. The footage was actually produced by the State Department, one of 20 federal agencies that have produced and distributed such items.

As far back as 1968 they were doing this in other forms and I have little doubt that among their many lies they are spreading disinformation about the left today as well. Cheney sees the GWOT as equivalent to the Cold War (or maybe the War of the Worlds.) He sees nothing wrong with expanding the police powers of the executive branch as far as he thinks necessary.

Keep your eyes wide open for signs of the kind of program outlined above against the New Left. Everything old is new again.

If you have an interest in seeing Richard Pryor's FBI file you can see it here. He was a very serious threat to the nation, you know. He made people like Dick Cheney feel all wierd. You can understand why it was important for the government to keep tabs on him.

Limning The GWOT

by digby

I have long thought, and written, that the "GWOT" is a false construct. And common sense says to most people that it is pretty nonsensical. We might as well have a war on sadness or a war on jealousy or a war on hate. As Pach writes in this post from the week-end, terror is a human emotion and you can't fight a war against it. In fact, war creates it.

But then it isn't really fair to deride it as a "war on terror," is it? That's just the shortcut phrase. The real term is "war on terrorism" which makes just as little sense but in a different way. Terrorism is a method of warfare --- a specific type of cheap and dirty violence which is not eradicatable, certainly not eradicatable by force. It is special only in the sense that it makes no distinctions between civilians and warriors. (And if you could eliminate a particularly harsh and inhumane method of warfare, it would certainly make no sense at all to try to do it by throwing aside all civilized norms and engaging in even more odious taboos like torture.)

When you think about it, a "war on terrorism" is actually a "war on warfare" which kind of brings the whole damned thing home, doesn't it? All warfare is terrifying. Metaphorically, a war on warfare is a nice concept. I can picture some lovely bumper stickers and t-shirts along the lines of "War is not healthy for children and other living things." "Let's declare war on warfare" expresses a rather basic premise that war is a bad thing. (Somehow, I don't think that's what the architects of the GWOT had in mind.)

A war on warfare is entirely absurd, however, in a literal sense. Using war to eradicate terror or terrorism is an oxymoron. And yet the nation has been drunkenly behaving as if it is a real war, spending the money, deploying the troops, inflicting the violence.

Setting Iraq aside, which was a simple imperialist invasion with no ties to this threat of terrorism, we are dealing with a "war" against certain stateless people who are loosely affiliated with Muslim extremism but could just as easily be nationalists or Christian fanatics or even environmentalists, as our justice department has recently decreed. make no mistake: the GWOT is not a simple shorthand for fighting the "islamofascists." Islamic extremism is an ideology centered in a religion and it has no "place" --- it is not a nation or even a people. Warfare as it has been understood for millenia will not "beat" it. The GWOT masterminds knew this which is why the phrase War on Terrorism was coined: it represents a permanent state of war, which is something else entirely.

This is the problem. This elastic war, this war against warfare, this war with no specific enemy against no specific country is never going to end. It cannot end because there is no end. If the threat of "islamofascim" disappears tomorrow there will be someone else who hates us and who is willing to use individual acts of violence to get what they want. There always have been and there always will be. Which means that we will always be at war with Oceania.

I am not sanguine that we can put this genie back in the bottle. The right will go crazy at the prospect that someone might question whether we are really "at war." They are so emotionally invested in the idea that they cannot give it up. Indeed, the right is defined by its relationship to the boogeyman, whether communism or terrorism or some other kind of ism (negroism? immigrantism?) They will fight very, very hard to keep this construct going in the most literal sense. And they will probably win in the short term.

But it is long past time for people to start the public counter argument, which has the benefit of appealing to common sense. Many Americans are emerging from the relentless hail of propaganda that overtook the nation after the traumatic events of 9/11. Iraq confused people for a while, but that confusion is leaving in its wake a rather startling clarity: the "war" as the governmehnt defines it is bullshit. It will take a while for this common sense to become conventional wisdom, but it certainly won't happen if nobody is willing to say it out loud.

What we do about Islamic fundamentalism is a topic we must deal with. I suspect that it will take a global effort and a willingness to deal intelligently with the impending global oil crisis. There will be other challenges as well, including potential wars and regional strife and any of the other things that have marked civilization from the beginning. All peoples must deal with such things.

But there is no war on terrorism. The nation is less secure because of this false construct. We are spending money we need not spend, making enemies we need not make and wasting lives we need not waste in the name of something that doesn't exist. That is as politically incorrect a statement as can be made in America today. But it's true.

More on this topic from Atrios, Matt Stoller, Chris Bowers, Pachatuchec, Kevin Drum. More to come, I suspect.

And I suspect, too, that I will be long in my grave before the "war on terrorism" is a thing of the past. It was a terrible accident of history that September 11th happened when the lunatic neocon cabal was in power. Nothing could have been worse. It was more damaging than the attacks themselves. We'll be dealing with the fall out from that strange happenstance for a generation.

"As Bad As You Can Make It"

by digby

Good news. South Dakotans got the repeal of the coathanger law on the ballot. But what's most impressive is that they got 37,846 signatures on their petitions. That's a lot of signatures in a state than only has about 770,000 people and almost 27% of them are under 18 and can't vote. Let's hope they vote this cruel law down in November. South Dakota is as red a state as there is. If this things has gone too far for them then there's no way anyone can claim it is a mainstream position.

I hadn't seen this cartoon by Stephanie McMillan about our good friend Bill Napoli, the creator of the Sodomized Virgin exception. You can buy a print or a t-shirt here and it will go to benefit family planning clinics.

And it will greatly annoy Bill Napoli:

“The cartoon generated a huge amount of filth, intolerable filth.”
-- Senator Bill Napoli

He knows from filth:

A real-life description [of an exception] to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.

This is a man who thinks he has right to tell women what they can do with their own bodies.

Missing Something, Folks?

by tristero

Please don't get me wrong: I've been a member for a very long time of MoveOn, and I love the group. I've also given them thousands of dollars I can't afford to give, and I have every intention of continuing to do so. But I happened to notice that there is one set of major issues missing from this list.* Care to guess what it is? Three hints:

1. The Democrats did their best to try to ignore it during the 2004 elections.

2. The Democrats are still doing their level best to sidestep the issue because so many of them behaved like fools from the beginning, and are still doing so.

3. The issue begins with "I" and ends with "raq."

And there can be no list of "big, positive, goals" that doesn't meet this issue head on. "Global leadership through diplomacy" - you gotta be joking. That makes "Cumbayah" sound like a thoughtful plan.

I know what they're trying to do - come up with something we're all "fer" and not just always be "a'gin." However, we're living in a time when our tax dollars are being used to prosecute a thoroughly illegal and pointless war which has included the wholesale murder and torture of innocents. To pretend otherwise is stupid; Iraq must be addressed. Directly. And MoveOn is one of the few organizations in a position to do so and actually have a chance to hold a few feet to the fire. Not much, but some.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Mean Girls

by digby

Ezra took Jonah Goldberg to task for his egregious Gore trivia column this week-end but I don't think he goes far enough. Jonah clearly thought this would be an entertaining riff for his little circle jerk to giggle over as they sipped their frappucinos, but I think it's actually a perfect example of the symbiosis between the wingnut noise machine and the robotic mainstream media, which Jonah Goldberg (!) now embodies.

The "Gore is a crazy liar" meme just pops out naturally, as does the speculation about the Clintons' sex lives or the idea that Dean is a screaming freak. These are established GOP narratives that the lazy media, both right and mainstream, just pull out of mothballs for their own amusement and I'm not sure it isn't too late to stop them. I'm frankly a bit stunned they still feel comfortable doing it what with all the death and destruction of the last five years, but it's quite obvious they have done no introspection whatsoever. If, after all that's happened, the media can slip so effortlessly into both the Clenis and Crazy Gore memes without even a moments pause, then a bold new strategy is required.

As a card carrying member of the rightwing noise machine Goldberg is very aware that trivializing Democrats is helpful to his cause. His harpy mother made a career out of it. And he is also aware that ridicule and cheesy gossip are very effective ways to make liberals' appear to be insubstantial and beside the point. It gets people's attention in ways that other forms of criticisms don't. The cartoonizing of Democratic politicians is one of their most effective tools and we've made a grave error in not better understanding it and using the same methods to equalize the playing field.

Here on the blogs we have some masterful voices of ridicule and Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are liberal heroes for the same reason. Wr have tons of biting, dizzyingly precise take-down artists on our side. But none of these themes seem to capture the mainstream media as do the wingnut themes and I have concluded that it is because they are too sophisticated. Just like Goldberg and his frappucino sipping sycophants, we too entertain ourselves with this stuff. But unlike them, we only entertain ourselves. They entertain the press.

The right specializes in schoolyard taunts and sleazy gossip because they must attract the stupid vote in order to get elected and that's the only humor stupid voters understand. But it's also because it's what the media prefers --- they too have to attract the masses.

We have tried their comic book insult method on occasion, but it has always seemed to backfire. The Republicans, having shrewdly capitalized inherent rightwing insecurity, are remarkably successful at parrying. My favorite was this:

Dean: "You think people can work all day and then pick up their kids at child care or wherever and get home and still manage to sandwich in an eight-hour vote? Well Republicans, I guess can do that. Because a lot of them have never made an honest living in their lives."

The right went into a full-on screaming frenzy over that. It was as if Dean had said the Republicans eat children for lunch. They went nuts, claiming that you should never insult average voters. Many Democrats agreed that it was clumsy and crude to put it that way. But put the word liberal or Democrat in there and see if it works a little bit better:

"You think people can work all day and then pick up their kids at child care or wherever and get home and still manage to sandwich in an eight-hour vote? Well liberals, I guess can do that. Because a lot of them have never made an honest living in their lives."

I don't know about you, but I've heard that kind of thing thousands of times from every strata of the right's hierarchy. Bashing rank and file liberals is so common that you don't even have to make the explicit argument anymore --- you just say it with an appropriate sneer and everyone gets the picture. Of course, some on the right do enjoy spelling it out:

Here at the Spawn of Satan convention in Boston, conservatives are deploying a series of covert signals to identify one another, much like gay men do. My allies are the ones wearing crosses or American flags. The people sporting shirts emblazened with the "F-word" are my opponents. Also, as always, the pretty girls and cops are on my side, most of them barely able to conceal their eye-rolling.


As for the pretty girls, I can only guess that it's because liberal boys never try to make a move on you without the UN Security Council's approval. Plus, it's no fun riding around in those dinky little hybrid cars. My pretty-girl allies stick out like a sore thumb amongst the corn-fed, no make-up, natural fiber, no-bra needing, sandal-wearing, hirsute, somewhat fragrant hippie chick pie wagons they call "women" at the Democratic National Convention.

And it's not just the cranks and the professional provocateurs like Coulter. Remember this?

U.S. Sen. Trent Lott today told an enthusiastic Neshoba County Fair crowd that Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry is “a French-speaking socialist from Boston, Massaschusetts, who is more liberal than Ted Kennedy.”

Imagine if Ted Kennedy had used similar stereotyping and said "George Bush is a slow-talking hillbilly from the old confederacy who is more racist than Strom Thurmond." Do you even want to think about the uproar? (And has any Democratic politican in recent years said anything close to that?)

Lott's remark got big laughs down in Mississippi. And I have little doubt that it got big laughs in press rooms all over the country. I don't recall anyone but a few bloggers being a bit insulted by his comment.

Certainly, New England didn't rise up in high dudgeon and demand that Lott retract his comment. That's partially because the phrase "Massachusetts liberal" is now simple shorthand for cowardly jerk-off and people in Massachusetts seem to have resigned themselves to it. (Birthplace of the American revolution be damned. Only the secesssion is to be revered as an inviolable symbol of our heroic heritage these days.)

If someone from Massachusetts had said anything, they would have been told to lighten up. It's only a little gentle ribbing. God you Democrats are a bunch of frail little wusses. How can you protect America? Meanwhile, you're walking on the fighting side of Trent if you go after him with stereotypical taunts about southern culture. They can play into all these subterranean psychological currents, but nobody else can. Works great. For them.

We could play their game too, but it's very difficult for liberals over the age of twenty to get in touch with their inner seventh grade asshole. I'm not sure why, but we seem to prefer a more subtle form of humor. I suspect it could be because of this:

An investigation by Simone Shamay-Tsoory and colleagues shows that the ability to understand sarcasm depends on a carefully orchestrated sequence of complex cognitive skills in specific parts of the brain.

Dr Shamay-Tsoory, a psychologist at the Rambam Medical Centre in Haifa and the University of Haifa, said: "Sarcasm is related to our ability to understand other people's mental state. It's not just a linguistic form, it's also related to social cognition."

The research revealed that areas of the brain that decipher sarcasm and irony also process language, recognise emotions and help us understand social cues.

"Understanding other people's state of mind and emotions is related to our ability to understand sarcasm," she said.


The study showed that people with damage in the prefrontal lobe struggled to pick out sarcasm. The others, including people with similar damage to other parts of the brain, were able to correctly place the sharp-tongued words into context.

The prefrontal lobe is known to be involved in pragmatic language processes and complex social cognition. The ventromedial section is linked to personality and social behaviour.

Dr Shamay-Tsoory said the loss of the volunteers' ability to understand irony was a subtle consequence of their brain damage, which produced behaviour similar to that seen in people with autism

"They are still able to hold and understand a conversation. Their problem is to understand when people talk in indirect speech and use irony, idioms and metaphors because they take each sentence literally. They just understand the sentence as it is and can't see if your true meaning is the opposite of your literal meaning."

Now, I would hesitate to say that the right does not understand irony and therefore, are brain damaged. That would be very rude. Still, you have to admit that this proves my point:

A good sign that Tom DeLay doesn’t have the facts on his side: the top source for his latest defense against his critics is Stephen Colbert.

This morning, DeLay’s legal defense fund sent out a mass email criticizing the movie “The Big Buy: Tom DeLay’s Stolen Congress,” by “Outfoxed” creator Robert Greenwald.


DeLay thinks Colbert is so persuasive, he’s now featuring the full video of the interview at the top of the legal fund’s website. And why not? According to the email, Greenwald “crashed and burned” under the pressure of Colbert’s hard-hitting questions, like “Who hates America more, you or Michael Moore?”

Apparently the people at DeLay’s legal fund think that Colbert is actually a conservative. Or maybe they’re just that desperate for supporters.

This is not surprising to me. You can tell when some of the rightwingers go on the show that they don't know what they are dealing with. They suspect that something is up because of the audience, but they really don't get it. "Their problem is to understand when people talk in indirect speech and use irony, idioms and metaphors because they take each sentence literally."

I have also long suspected that the media doesn't know that Stewart and Colbert are satirizing them as well. They get the part about the politicians. everybody makes fun of them. But they don't see that the entire premise of the show is that TV news people and pundits are idiots. It explains why more than few of them weren't quite sure what to make of Colbert's "partisan" speech at the White House correspondents dinner.

They operate on the same seventh grade level as the Republicans. Here's Joe Klein:

SCARBOROUGH: You know, it's interesting you say that. If -- of course, if Hillary Clinton were to be elected and then re-elected, you could go back to 1980, and there would have been a Bush or Clinton as president or vice president from 1980 to two thousand -- I guess it would be 2016.

KLEIN: Gag me with a spoon.

I rest my case.

What do we do about it? I don't know. But we can't pretend that the press' willingness to run with this puerile crapola for their own amusement doesn't hurt us. We would like to stop them by appealing to their better natures, but that hasn't exactly worked out. And now they are behaving like shocked little schoolmarms that the left is "angry" about what they've done. It appears that no matter what happens --- even Armageddon apparently --- they are going to run with the breathless, sophomoric Democratic narrative the Republicans created. And they are too powerful to ignore.

So perhaps we should think about how to give them what they want: a Republican narrative that appeals to their seventh grade sensibilities. I throw this out there for you to discuss. (I'm going to have to have an aspirin and coke and listen to "Last Train To Clarksville" before I can properly get into the mood.)


Friday, May 26, 2006

Cultural ID

by digby

Chris Bowers writes about one of my favorite subjects today: American tribal identity.

Over the past year and a half, I have slowly developed an argument that the electorate is, in general, non-ideological, not interested in policy, and generally unmoved by the day-to-day minutia of political events that, within the blogosphere, are treated as cataclysmic events. Sure, most people hold general political beliefs, but in general national voting habits are motivated by something else--something more basic. As we look for ways to motivate voters in November, we need to remember the powerful role that identity plays in political decision-making. As progressives, we shrug off concepts such as the "battle of civilizations," but if you look closely at demographic data, maybe it is a battle of civilizations taking place after all. We may very well be living in an era of identity politics. Who knows, maybe every era of American politics is an era of identity politics.

I think the evidence is overwhelming that it is. He reproduces one of those great maps that break down everybody by something or other and like most of them, it ends up showing the south as being a homogenous region surrounded by a hodgepodge of different things everywhere else. In this case it's religion, but it could be anything, including electoral results or sociological indicators. It's just a fact that the south has a very strong regional identity of its own. And I don't think the rest of the country is quite like it. That divide has been with us since the beginning and it far transcends any mommy/daddy party dichotomy.

I watched the country music awards the other night and saw what looked like a typical bunch of glammed up pop stars like you'd see on any of these awards shows. Lots of cowboy hats, of course, but the haircuts, the clothes, the silicone bodies were not any different from any other Hollywood production. But the songs were not. There are plenty of Saturday night honky tonk fun and straightforward gospel style religious and patriotic tunes. But there is a strain of explicit cultural ID that wends through all of them.

Gretchen Wilson and Merle Haggard's song "Politically Uncorrect" perfectly captures the sense of exceptionalism and specialness of southern culture:

I'm for the low man on the totem pole
And I'm for the underdog God bless his soul
And I'm for the guys still pulling third shift
And the single mom raisin' her kids
I'm for the preachers who stay on their knees
And I'm for the sinner who finally believes
And I'm for the farmer with dirt on his hands
And the soldiers who fight for this land


And I'm for the Bible and I'm for the flag
And I'm for the working man, me and ol' hag
I'm just one of many
Who can't get no respect

Politically uncorrect

(Merle Haggard)
I guess my opinion is all out of style
(Gretchen Wilson)
Aw, but don't get me started cause I can get riled
And I'll make a fight for the forefathers plan
(Merle Haggard)
And the world already knows where I stand

Repeat Chorus

(Merle Haggard)
Nothing wrong with the Bible, nothing wrong with the flag
(Gretchen Wilson)
Nothing wrong with the working man me & ol' hag
We're just some of many who can't get no respect
Politically uncorrect
(Merle Haggard)

Now that's identity. I emphasized the "can't get no respect" part because I think that's key, as I have written many times before. The belief that these ideas are particular to this audience, that they stand alone as being politically incorrect and are "out of style" for holding them, is a huge cultural identifier. And it's held in opposition to some "other" (presumably someone like me) who is believed not to care about any of those things --- particularly the welfare of the common man.

Bowers writes:

Motivating voters and pulling off a landslide election will require a gut-level change of attitude about the two parties among millions of Americans. For all of the great policies everyone will suggest Democrats to run on this fall, ultimately winning will be based just as much on how Americans view their identity in relation to the image of the two coalitions as anything else. We need to avoid falling into the wonk trap of assuming that people are motivated by policy details. It is the identity, stupid. We need to explore ways to motivate voters for progressive causes with that in mind.

The conservative southern coalition has a very clear sense of identity. They always have. I would suggest that back in the day the New England and Midwestern cultural identifiers were pretty solidly Main Street bourgeois --- if you made it your kids got to go to college and you got to join the chamber of commerce and the country club. But that's no longer the case. The non-southern Party appears to exist mainly as a repository of opposition to conservative policies. Is that true?

Perhaps the big question is this: If you could write a country song about Blue State identity, what would the lyrics say?


by digby

Media Matters has determined that the alleged "concern" about this woman Big Bill (the 60 year old quadruple bypass survivor) is supposed to be schtupping comes from one year old Globe Magazine cover story:

Healy offered no specific reasons for this purported interest among "prominent Democrats" aside from the amount of time the Clintons spent apart, a mention of a decade-old affair, and a reference to year-old "concern[]" over a "tabloid photograph showing Mr. Clinton leaving B.L.T. Steak in Midtown Manhattan late one night after dining with a group that included Belinda Stronach, a Canadian politician." Healy continued: "The two were among roughly a dozen people at a dinner, but it still was enough to fuel coverage in the gossip pages."

It was also enough to fuel a front-page New York Times article, and the rapt attention of the Washington press corps, as Media Matters has documented.

Healy did not identify the "tabloid" in question, but he seems to be referring to the Globe magazine, which in the spring of 2005 ran a headline about Clinton and Stronach that read "Bill caught with blonde AGAIN! New divorce battle with Hillary."

The New York Times is literally circulating rumors from the Globe and the giggling schoolmarms of the DC press corps are eating it up. Ok. Fine.

But as Jane pointed out the other night, and Media Matters notes today, the Globe has another shocking cover story up right now, and one that should be of grave concern to the screeching magpies:

Has anyone informed David Broder and Chris Matthews of this development? Not only isn't the president sleeping with the first lady, he's drinking again. I am very "concerned."

Fool Me Once

by digby

There is a lively debate going on in the blogosphere about whether the FBI should be allowed to raid a congressman's office. I will let others make the legal and philosophical arguments. I would just offer this from the Church Committee files:

The historical backround of political abuse of the FBI involves at least three dimensions. The first is the Bureau's subsurvience to the Presidency, its willingness to carry our White House requests without question. When L. Patrick Gray as Acting FBI Director destroyed documents and gave FBI reports to Presidential aides whom the FBI should have been investigating after the Watergate break-in, he just carried to the extreme an established practice of service to the White House. The other side of the practice was the Bureau's volunteering political intelligence to its superiors, not in response to any specific request. And the third historical dimension was the FBI''s concerted effort to promote its public image and discredit its critics.


The committee staff found in these "O" and C" files ("Official and Confidential") such special memoranda on ... all the members of the Senate Subcommittee chaired by Senator Long which threatened to investigate the FBI in the mid-1960's. Some of these "name check" reports and special memoranda contained derogatory information about his wife. The reports on members of the Long Committee were compiled in a briefing book, with tabs on each senator.


In 1965, the FBI declined a request of the Justice Department Criminal division to "wire" a witness in the investigation of former Johnson senate aide Bobby Baker. Although the FBI refused on grounds that there was not adequate security, the Criminal Division had the Bureau of Narcotics in the Treasury department "wire" the witness as a legitimate alternative. When the Baker trial began in 1967 this became known. Presidential aide Marvin Watson told the FBI that President Johnson was quite exercized, and the FBI was ordered to conduct a discrete "run-down" on the head of the Criminal Division in 1965 and four persons in Treasury and the Narcotic Bureaus, including specifically any associations with former Attorney General Robert Kennedy.


At the request of President Johnson made directly to FBI executive Cartha Deloach, the FBI passed purely political intelligence about United States Senators to the White house which was obtained as a by-product of otherwise legitimate national security electronic surveillance of foreign intelligence targets. The practice also continued at the request of Mr. H.R. Haldeman.

That is just a tiny bit of the Church Committee summary of the historical political abuses perpetrated by the FBI through the mid-70's. It was bipartisan, which is why I chose to highlight the incident with Johnson.

I am quite sure that Congressman Jefferson is nobody I want to defend (for his politics and much as his criminality.) But the FBI and the executive branch have a long sordid history of using their power for political ends. (Even Hoover never believed they could raid a congressman's office, however.)

Recently, the FBI's conservative culture has led to some in the bureau covertly helping Republicans as we saw during the Clinton years. Convicted spy Robert Hanssen had a relationship with Robert Novak that seemed to be based upon his political loathing of Janet Reno, although as with so many of these cases, it's hard to tell what motivates individuals. But history shows that the FBI can be used by any party for nefarious purposes which is bad enough and requires constant vigilance and oversight. When it is used for partisan reasons directly against the congress you have a problem of an even greater dimension.

The reason to be against this is political and constitutional, not legal. It's entirely possible that the warrant they got was proper and that their cause is just. And I have no doubt that Hastert had a hissy fit and got Bush to seal the documents to cover his own ample ass. But the bigger issue is something that someone wrote in an email a couple of days ago: This Republican Justice Department, led by a lifetime Bush loyalist and good friend to Karl Rove now has every Democratic strategy memo that ever came across Congressman Jefferson's desk. Trust 'em?


Thursday, May 25, 2006

War Crime

by digby

The New York Times is verifying that the Pentagon now acknowledges that a massacre took place at Haditha. In fact, they are briefing members of congress on it to try to keep the story from blowing up into a huge scandal on the level of Abu Ghraib.

Considering the explosion of outrage on the right against John Murtha for discussing it earlier, this concerns me:

The first official report from the military, issued on Nov. 20, said that "a U.S. marine and 15 Iraqi civilians were killed yesterday from the blast of a roadside bomb" and that "immediately following the bombing, gunmen attacked the convoy with small-arms fire."

Military investigators have since uncovered a far different set of facts from what was first reported, partly aided by marines who are cooperating with the inquiry and partly guided by reports filed by a separate unit that arrived to gather intelligence and document the attack; those reports contradicted the original version of the marines, Pentagon officials said.

You will recall that Joseph Darby, the soldier who blew the whistle on the Abu Ghraib abuses was vilified by his neighbors. And then there was this:

He was a 24-year-old pilot flying over the Vietnamese jungle on March 16, 1968. The crew's objective: draw Viet Cong fire from My Lai, so helicopter gunships could swoop in and take out the enemy gunners.

Thompson spotted gunfire but found no enemy fighters. He saw only American troops, who were forcing Vietnamese civilians into a ditch, then opening fire.

Thompson landed his helicopter to block the Americans, then instructed his gunner to open fire on the soldiers if they tried to harm any more villagers. Thompson and two other chopper pilots airlifted villagers to safety, and he reported the slaughter to superiors.

"We saw something going wrong, so we did the right thing and we reported it right then," Thompson said.

The Vietnamese government estimated that more than 500 were killed.

Army Lt. William Calley Jr. was convicted in a 1971 court-martial and received a life sentence for the My Lai massacre. President Nixon reduced the sentence, and Calley served three years of house arrest.

Thompson received the prestigious Soldier's Medal -- 30 years after the fact.

His acts are now considered heroic. But for years Thompson suffered snubs and worse from those in and out of the military who considered his actions unpatriotic.

Fellow servicemen refused to speak with him. He received death threats, and walked out his door to find animal carcasses on his porch. He recalled a congressman angrily saying that Thompson himself was the only serviceman who should be punished because of My Lai.

Does anyone think that it will be any different this time?

Pam And Tommy

by digby

Jane's tending to her sick pup so I've got a post up over at FDL this afternoon. That is if anyone's interested in a little more Broder bashing (with a sprinkling of Chris Matthews squealing like a blushing schoolgirl.)

V For Victory

by digby

Give a big shout out to Move-On and Matt Stoller for successfully turning out grassroots support for net neutrality. It just passed the House judiciary committee 20-13.

This was a real grassroots victory --- until recently, it seemed like an easy gimme to the wealthy telcos. This is good news for us intrepid bloggers, but it's good news for the internet in general. Much like the FEC regulations that we managed to stave off earlier my support for net neutrality not based upon a general disdain for regulation. Regulation is often a necessary thing. But this medium is just too new, too important and too democratizing to allow corporate interests to sneak in the back door with phony concerns designed simply to enhance their profits at others' expense.

If the internet needs regulating in some presently unimagined way, I'm sure we will all see it. Right now, if it ain't broke don't fix it.

Moving Past It

by digby

I don't live in DC and I'm sure it's not nice of me to be derisive about its culture. After all, I live in the biggest glass house in the world --- LA --- where high culture is defined by fake breasts and "the zone" diet. But still. I can't help but feel that there is something really wrong with a place that elects themselves a "wise man" like this:

From A Tiny Revolution:

Perhaps you've already seen this column by David Broder, Dean of the Washington Press Corps, in which he explains what he's interested in:

But for all the delicacy of the treatment, the very fact that the Times had sent a reporter out to interview 50 people about the state of the Clintons' marriage and placed the story on the top of Page One was a clear signal -- if any was needed -- that the drama of the Clintons' personal life would be a hot topic if she runs for president.

Now, here's the Broder on Meet the Press last December, explaining what he's NOT interested in:

MR. RUSSERT: David Broder, is it possible for official Washington--the president, Democratic leaders, Republican leaders--to arrive at common ground, a consensus position on Iraq?

MR. DAVID BRODER: It's possible, Tim, but they won't get there by arguing about who did what three years ago. And this whole debate about whether there was just a mistake or misrepresentation or so on is, I think, from the public point of view largely irrelevant. The public's moved past that.(more)

There you have it. The public has moved past all that ugliness about whether the president lied about a war that's killing thousands of people and draining the treasury at a mind boggling pace. But they can't get enough of 60 year old Bill and 58 year old Hill's bedroom habits.

This man really needs to leave the beltway more often. I would advise him to come out here to California and spend some time in Malibu. Maybe he'll even catch a glimpse of Angelina and Brad. They could be worth fantasizing about (although I think he should keep his sexual thoughts off the pages of the Washington Post. It's kind of trashy, don't you know.)

Kenny Boy, We Hardly Knew Ye

by digby

So Kenny Boy Lay went down today. Let's hear if for the justice system.

But let's also hear it for the White House press corps who after eight long years of invetigating every transaction that members of the Clinton administration ever made, never really gave a damn about Kenny Boy's very intimate connection to George W. Bush and apparently still don't.

Now that we have the guilty verdict, let's revisit what we know of that relationship, shall we? From Consortium News, 2002:

George W. Bush is trying to rewrite the history of his and his family’s relationship with Enron Corp.’s disgraced former Chairman Kenneth Lay. So far, Bush has enjoyed fairly good success as the U.S. news media has largely accepted the White House spin.

But the reality, as established by a wealth of historical record and recent disclosures, is that Lay and Enron were instrumental in Bush’s rise to power – and Bush played an important behind-the-scenes role in advancing Enron’s aggressive deregulation agenda, which helped the energy trader ascend to its lofty perch as the seventh-biggest U.S. company.

The Bush-Lay coziness earned the Enron chief a nickname from Bush as "Kenny Boy." But more importantly for Enron, Bush pitched in as governor and president whenever the energy trader wanted easier regulations within the U.S. or to have U.S. taxpayers foot the bill for loan guarantees or risk insurance for Enron's overseas ventures.

The Bush-Lay relationship helped Enron extend its reach across the globe, with the appearance of a successful company, as it pulled in billions of dollars in investment money from tens of thousands of unwary investors.

Now, in trying to insulate Bush from the spreading Enron scandal, White House aides have emphasized that administration officials rebuffed Lay and other Enron executives who sought a federal bailout to save their corporate skin. But the documentary record paints a different picture, showing that the administration did what it could last year to help Enron, until the Houston energy trader's collapse was so far advanced that its deceptive bookkeeping could no longer be kept out of public view.


With Enron’s ignominious collapse over deceptive accounting, Bush began to act as if he barely knew Lay. On Jan. 11, Bush told reporters that Lay "was a supporter of Ann Richards in my run in 1994." Bush implied that he had gotten to know Lay as a Richards holdover appointee to a Texas business council. The impression Bush sought to create was untrue.

The Bush-Lay relationship can be traced back at least a half decade before the 1994 race. It grew out of the Houston social circle where oil tycoons have long rubbed shoulders with political players – and where Ken and Linda Lay had grown close to George H.W. and Barbara Bush in the 1980s. Since 1988, when Lay backed the elder George Bush in his run for the White House, Enron and its executives have written big checks for one Bush initiative after another.

Besides the political financing, Lay has supported private and charitable activities of the Bush family. Lay joined one of Barbara Bush's charities to promote literacy as he served as the honorary chairman of the Celebration of Reading at Houston Wortham Theatre Center. [The Guardian, Jan. 30, 2002]

A trustee of the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation, Lay has donated $50,000 as a patron as well, the New York Daily News reported. In 1999, the Lays chipped in $100,000 for the Andersen Cancer Center at Texas A&M University in a fundraising drive led by then-Gov. George W. Bush and his wife, Laura.

During the Republican presidential primaries in 2000, Enron corporate jets were made available eight times to Bush's campaign staff and his parents, with the future president sometimes personally arranging the flights. [New York Daily News, Feb. 3, 2002]


In 1985, Lay created Enron by merging his company, Houston Natural Gas, with one of the largest pipeline companies in the world, Nebraska-based InterNorth. Lay named the new company, Enron, and set its sights high. Political allies would be critical to Enron’s growth.

In his first major venture into politics, Lay went to work raising money and organizing support for then-Vice President George H.W. Bush’s campaign for the Presidency. Bush, who built his own fortune in the Texas oil fields, was appreciative as he battled through a tough Republican primary and then defeated Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis.

In the weeks after the 1988 election, Lay may have gotten his first dividend on his investment in the Bush family. Enron had joined the bidding for a contract to build a $300 million pipeline in Argentina. The government appeared close to choosing between two other companies -- one from Italy, Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi, and the other a partnership between Argentine firm Pérez and America’s Dow Chemical.

Argentina’s Minister of Public Works, Rodolfo Terragno, later told Mother Jones that he considered Enron’s one-page project outline "laughable." He also noted that Enron "wasn't well established in Argentina." [Mother Jones, March/April 2000]

But Enron apparently was getting well established in the power corridors of the U.S. A few weeks after the 1988 elections, Terragno said the president-elect’s eldest son, George W. Bush, called to check up on "the slow pace of the Enron project."


George Bush ran a hard-hitting campaign, suggesting that Richards was soft on crime. Critical to the campaign was getting his message out, and critical to that effort was money. Bush turned to his father’s old political benefactor, Ken Lay. Enron and Lay contributed $146,500 to the Bush campaign, seven and a half times more than they contributed to the Richards campaign. Lay also publicly endorsed Bush. [Texans for Public Justice]


n the 2000 campaign, Lay was a Pioneer for Bush, raising $100,000. Enron also gave the Republicans $250,000 for the convention in Philadelphia and contributed $1.1 million in soft money to the Republican Party, more than twice what it contributed to Democrats. [www.opensecrets.org]

Lay and his wife then donated $10,000 to Bush’s Florida recount fund that paid for Republican lawyers and operatives to ensure that a full recount of Florida’s ballots never occurred. To this day, Bush has refused to release an accounting of how that recount fund money was spent.

After Bush took the White House in January 2001, Enron Corp., Enron’s President and Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Skilling, and Ken Lay contributed $100,000 each for a total of $300,000 to the Bush-Cheney Inaugural Fund.

These contributions cemented Lay’s standing with the White House. From the beginning of the administration, Lay advised on policy and personnel. The Enron chief was on the short list for two Cabinet posts, Energy and Treasury, though he ultimately stayed in the private sector.

Starting in late February 2001, Lay and other Enron officials took part in at least a half dozen secret meetings to develop the Bush's energy plan. After one of the Enron meetings, Vice President Cheney's energy task force changed a draft energy proposal to include a provision to boost oil and natural gas production in India. The amendment was so narrow that it apparently was targeted only to help Enron's troubled Dabhol power plant in India. [Washington Post, Jan. 26, 2002]

Other parts of the Bush energy plan tracked closely to recommendations from Enron officials. Seventeen of the energy plan’s proposals were sought by and benefited Enron, according to Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., ranking minority member on the House Government Reform Committee. One proposal called for repeal of the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935, which limits the activities of utilities and hindered Enron’s potential for acquisitions.

Besides listening to Lay's advice, Bush put the corporation's allies inside the federal government. Two top administration officials, Lawrence Lindsey, the White House’s chief economic adviser, and Robert Zoellick, the U.S. Trade Representative, both worked for Enron, Lindsey as a consultant and Zoellick as a paid member of Enron's advisory board. [http://www.public-i.org/story_01_011102.htm]

Bush also named Thomas E. White Jr., an 11-year veteran of Enron's corporate suites, secretary of the Army. White had run a key subsidiary, Enron Energy Services, which is now the focus of allegations about accounting irregularities. After taking office in May, White vowed to apply his Enron experience to privatizing utility services at military bases. White's subsidiary had been responsible for selling energy services and Enron was eager for contracts with the U.S. military.

Public Citizen, a liberal watchdog group, has demanded that White fully explain 29 meetings and phone calls with senior Enron officials after White became Army secretary. White says the conversations were with "personal friends" about "Enron's deteriorating financial conditions." [Washington Post, Jan. 27, 2002]

At least 14 administration officials owned stock in Enron, with Undersecretary of State Charlotte Beers and chief political adviser Karl Rove each reporting up to $250,000 worth of Enron stock when they joined the administration.

Those are just a few of the many highlights. Bush's career had in many ways been enabled by his relationship with Kenny Boy --- and Enron's scams had been helped along by Kenny' Boy's relationship with George W. Bush.

That story was never of any interest to the press corps. (Perhaps if Kenny Boy had worn a striking yellow pantsuit things would have been different.) The fact that the biggest campaign contributor to the occupant of the white house was in charge of the biggest corporate ponzi scheme in history should have been news. It wasn't.

Kenny Boy's going to jail. Let's hope he ends up rooming with Karl Rove. There would be a very nice symmetry to that.

Update: Here's a first person account from one of the many tens of thousands of people whose lives were adversely affected by Lay, Skilling and Bush in the Enron debacle. It's journlaistic malpractice that the press never made this clear.
Is He Serious?

by digby

Jacob Weisberg says:

Bush doesn't worry about being politically correct or care what other people think of him. He likes to listen to white guys singing country and rock and doesn't care if Jerry Falwell objects to some of the lyrics.

Right. He's a real maverick:

He flew halfway across the country in a vain effort to save her life, but in the week since, President Bush has retreated back to his ranch and remained largely out of sight as the nation wrestled with the great moral issues surrounding the fate of Terri Schiavo.

The president has said nothing publicly about the bitterly contested case since Wednesday, when reporters asked about it and he said he had exhausted his powers to intervene. On Saturday, as he used his weekly radio address to express condolences to the victims of a school shooting in Minnesota and extol a "culture that affirms life," he did not mention the most prominent culture-of-life issue in the public eye.

The juxtaposition of racing through the night in Air Force One to sign legislation intended to force doctors to reinsert Schiavo's feeding tube and choosing not to use his bully pulpit to advocate for her life afterward demonstrates how uncomfortable the matter has become for the White House. For years, Bush has succeeded politically in stitching together the disparate elements of the conservative movement, marrying the libertarian and family-values wings of his party. Now he faces a major Republican rupture.

The General And The Giant Ape

by tristero

Man, this has me steamed:
Reporters en route to Arizona on Air Force One last week opted to watch the movie "King Kong" in the press cabin. Not so Tony Snow, the new White House press secretary and former Fox News commentator, who told reporters that he spent the flight in the staff cabin watching Gen. Michael V. Hayden's confirmation hearings to be the new C.I.A. director — on CNN.
Okay, once you're back from the dental surgery room and had your jaw returned to its proper place, let's state the obvious:

In a country with a rational press, any reporter on that plane who was watching "King Kong" instead of the Hayden hearings would be fired within 1 hour of the publication of Bumiller's story. Including, apparently, Bumiller herself.

Like I just said, no one was fired, as far as I know. And the farce of an open press continues - not that anyone other than the press itself believes it.

And there's also an obvious question here: What the hell was Bumiller thinking? She couldn't have possibly realized that she portrayed herself and her pals as exactly as lazy and dangerously incompetent as we thought they were. If she had, she never would have let that paragraph see the light of day.

Now, because I think there are a few important but easily overlooked issues at stake in this seemingly minor incident, I'd like to mull it over a bit. It's another one of those "yeah, it's oh-so-telling, but cmon, it's trivial" things that really isn't trivial at all. Let's start by trying to figure out what got Bumiller motivated to write this clearly embarassing if not potentially self-destructive lead in the first place.

I'm pretty sure Bumiller started out with this. She wanted to stroke Tony Snow, telling him - but more importantly, his masters - that he takes his job seriously. If you read the rest of the article - a sniffy, snooty account over the tussle to have something other than extremist propaganda available to watch in the press cabin - you learn that at an earlier time, poor Tony overstepped his bounds as press secretary and was gotcha'd by a former colleague at Fox (now, that's trivial, imo). And then, it becomes explicit that Bumiller was buttering Snow when she writes:
Mr. Snow, who is at the White House by 5:30 a.m. to start plowing through his briefing books...
and she continues, clucking sympathetically (did I just mix metaphors? Butter Snow? Clucking? Nevermind) over the dilemma poor Snow faces being fair - but not too fair - to his tv ex-station. (Nothing about being balanced, tho.)

But here in the lead, she just wanted to be humorous and light in her praise. So Bumiller used somewhat self-deprecating humor but basically standard office joshing and jocularity in a passive-aggressive effort to be charming as in, "Ha! Here we are enjoying a new movie but Tony, you can't do that anymore, can you? Nose to the grindstone, you poor guy, hope you really enjoyed watching those hearings 'stead of Naomi Watts! (grin) "

But by doing so, in writing up the lead, it simply never occurred to Bumiller that the true subject was not the workaholic Snow but her pals. She hadn't thought to consider -was she drunk?- that she was calling herself and her colleagues lazy, incompetent, and willfully, deliberately ill-informed and disinterested in their jobs. From her point of view, it's was just, "Hey! We work really hard, we need to unwind like everyone else, what's the big deal? And besides, it our job to report the White House, not hearings of White House appointees. Can I get some more sherbert, please?"

In other words, The White House press corps is so utterly corrupt and inept that it doesn't even know what working, nevermind working as a reporter, means. Bumiller wasn't arrogantly flaunting her laziness and incompetence. She couldn't even see it. Nor is it likely she could ever be taught to see it. Otherwise, it would have been utterly impossible to have written anything like that for her boss to see. "Tough day, Mr. Keller? Not me, I was catching up on my movies during the Hayden hearings! Gosh, I'm sleepy, gotta turn in now. Kiss-kiss bye bye!"

It's almost as if the press corps clowns are preparing for a return engagement of the infamous March of Folly press conference.

For reasons that I'm sure say much about my mechnanisms for association, I was reminded of Temple Grandin's efforts to make conveyor belts leading animals to their death in the slaughterhouse as stress-free as possible, by keeping them ignorant of the dreadful fate that will soon befall them. And then I thought, yeah, and I'm on that conveyor belt, too, but y'know, fellow beasts:

I'd really really appreciate it if I got just a teensy bit of the good skinny on what is happening right now, and why. My distressingly imminent fate may be to wind up as a tub of glue, but even so, I wouldn't mind being apprised of the glue factory's conditions.

If it's not too much trouble, of course.

But seriously, who cares? Bob Somerby notes the mordant humor in it, but finds more important things to focus on. And he very well may be right. But I do care about this one (and the others, too, duh). If only because as a symbol of the rot at the heart of American mainstream journalism, I would care. This story makes its point in the most direct and devastating way: Congress is getting bamboozled yet again by the Bushites, and the press is boggled by bouncy KIng Kong and his paw candy. It's let 'em eat cake for the Wired Age.

But it's more than a starkly obvious symbol. There are two realities here that bear taking a moment to tweeze out.

First of all, the time to express outrage is before things get so bad there's a second March of Folly. People got killed - lots and lots and lots of innocent people, thousands of people - in good measure because the American, and especially the Washington press corps, were mesmerized by the sight of an earlier eight hundred pound gorilla - the Bush administration's shock and awe propaganda of 2002 and 2003.

Dammit, those bozos should be fired now, not later when they've done -yes, done as in Judy Miller done - major damage. So I'll object loudly now, when it's seemingly trivial. It may not make any immediate difference, but it just might straighten up a few toes when it gets serious.

The second issue is the other main subject, besides fluffing Snow (that a better metaphor?), of Bumiller's column. CNN is not very good, but it is a news outlet, not a 24/7 source of extremist propaganda (well, not yet anyway, even if that CCC graphic is truly scary). It should be a matter of grave concern that this is not only the main source of information for the Bush/Cheny administration but that the administration went to ridiculous lengths to make sure that rightwing propaganda, and only rightwing propaganda, be broadcast to the press corps when traveling with the president. How ridiculous were those lengths? They were so extreme that it was only by asking the question publicly, and very carefully by pre-emptively insisting that the question was entirely serious, that anything changed. Before that, all attempts to get the situation changed were rebuffed.

C'mon! Isn't it just a matter of opinion, that Fox is what you call "extremist propaganda?" After all, American officials nicknamed CNN the "Communist News Network." Different strokes is all. And since it's just opinion, it's silly and trivial.


Saying that Fox News [sic] is extremist propaganda may not have the same value as an assertion of fact, as say, the claim that all life has common ancestry and evolved over billions of years. However, the ungodly extent of Fox's lies, distortions, and far right boosterism has been objectively documented over and over again. These aren't "mistakes" or nuances resulting from differing perspectives. This is deliberate radical activism with a particular goal: to advance an extreme right agenda. There is nothing comparable at CNN or at any other national television outlet. None. Only Fox would permit a scoundrel to compare a vice president of the United States to Goebbels and not so much as even make a token objection. Or even take note of it.

To demand that the American press subject itself to extremist indoctrination whenever the administration had the opportunity to manipulate what they could watch was not immature behavior for a presidency, but scandalous behavior by a government working hard to emulate a tinpot dictatorship. It's also telling. And very ominous.

Of course, does this really need to be said? - it's only a trivial incident when compared to the slaughter, torture, misery, and corruption the Bush administration has perpetrated. But just as it obviously isn't the worst by a long shot - for my money, the 9/11 intelligence failure, Iraq, the war on science, and Katrina are the worst, so far - the dangers of a US government all but compelling a literally captive audience of reporters to watch propaganda should not be minimized or ignored.

"Right! "'All but,' you said it yourself! They may be sometimes strapped in but they can do what they want! The press don't have to watch TV, y'know, they can read a book and actually learn something, hunh."

Ok, very slowly now. It is a simple fact that Americans mostly get their news from television. At the very least, it behooves a responsible press corps to watch a fair amount of televised news. At the very least. On the other hand, there simply is no reason for the press to watch a steady diet of extremist propaganda unless someone wants them to take it seriously as fact. It is outrageous that the administration was trying to pass off one as the other and offer it with a straight face. It is outrageous that the press apparently permitted them to do so for so long.

(Insert boilerplate here that reading books is also a good idea for the press to do more often than they have. Oh, and it's also a good idea to wear socks much of the time.)

(Edited slightly after initial posting.)

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Elephant In His Pants

David Broder comes right out and admits what we all suspected:

But for all the delicacy of the treatment, the very fact that the Times had sent a reporter out to interview 50 people about the state of the Clintons' marriage and placed the story on the top of Page One was a clear signal -- if any was needed -- that the drama of the Clintons' personal life would be a hot topic if she runs for president.

Yes it was, wasn't it? The press is putting everyone on notice that they are going to keep their noses firmly buried in Hillary Clinton's panty drawer for the next two years. As he gazes upon her "striking appearance in a lemon-yellow pantsuit" old Dave is so aroused he can't concentrate on her serious energy speech. Hillary and Bill are more potent than Viagra to these nasty old geezers in the Washington Press corps

Oooh. What delicious, delicious fun it is for these shriveled old crones. Finally they can write about things they really enjoy instead of all this boooring corruption, war, terrorism and political failure. Damn it's invigorating to be back in the saddle isn't it Dave?!

I am actually kind of impressed with Broder's candor here. He's not mincing any words. He comes right out and admits that the press is laying down the gauntlet: if Hillary runs, the Washington Press Corps is going to treat her like a whore. A frigid whore, of course, but a whore nonetheless. No games, no pretense. They are primed and cocked for a full-on Clenis porn-fest. It's clear they are desperate for it.

Broder is, of course, the man who famously said the Clintons came to town and trashed the place. And it's some fine place it is. It's social leaders have all the style of Pyongyang combined with the sophistication of Fresno. And like busybodies in all bourgeois backwaters, when the leading denizens decide that somebody's a little bit too human, they viciously tear them apart for pure sport.

Broder concludes:

Three times in the question-and-answer session, she referred to her husband as "Bill," praising him for seeing that his library in Little Rock incorporated a lot of energy-saving features.

Other than that, the elephant in the room went unmentioned.

But it got a rubdown didn't it Dave, you sick creep.


by digby

FYI, Lou Dobbs responded to Greg Sargent today about how they used that Aztlan map created by the CCC:

In response to my questions, CNN sent over the following statement from spokesperson Christa Robinson:

A freelance field producer in Los Angeles searched the web for Aztlan maps and grabbed the Council of Conservative Citizens map without knowing the nature of the organization. The graphic was a late inclusion in the script and, regrettably, was missed in the vetting process.

The network declined to go any further.

Uhm, excuse me CNN, but that is really missing the point. The problem isn't that the map was from the CCC, it's that the CCC is making maps about this alleged issue and you are reporting it as if it's credible. Nobody's alarm bells went off today when they found out that a racist organization was pimping this ridiculous notion that there is a serious movement to take over several western states? No, nothing, just regret that they didn't pull the right map off the internet --- you know, the one that didn't have the words CCC on the bottom. The intention behind the story is just hunky dory.

I certainly hope that anyone who goes on Dobbs' show to debate his obsession will bring this up. The mere fact that the CCC is pushing this Aztlan nonsense should automatically discredit it among decent people. There is no threat and no "movement;" seriously reporting about it is inflammatory and racist. But then Lou Dobbs is inflammatory and racist too, so there's no surprise.

It's All About Me

by digby

I realize that quite a few people are upset with the Democrats for joining Hastert in condemning the Justice Department for raiding William Jefferson's capitol hill office, but I think this may be a blessing in disguise.

First of all, it really does look suspicious to me that Jefferson is the first one out of all these crooks they've done this too. The didn't raid Cunningham's office and they haven't raided Delay's. I can't for the life of me think of why that would be. But regardless, this is a very dicey subject because we are dealing with an administration that has absolutely no respect for the co-equal branches of government. They believe in this unitary executive theory (aka elected monarchy) and they are not afraid to use that power against the legislature.

Now we can all say that the legislature deserves it in these corruption cases, no doubt about it. But then you have to ask yourself why of all the GOP crooks in the congress, and they are legion, the Bush justice department has only taken this unprecedented step with the one outright crook we know of from the Democratic party? The danger of the executive branch using its power for partisan purposes is one of the prime reasons why we are all so suspicious of the illegal wiretapping and the rest of this power grab. And here we have it staring us right in the face.

Which brings us to Denny. This news tonight that he is under scrutiny certainly explains why he is suddenly so all concerned about the separation of powers --- something he and the rest of his boys didn't give a damn about when the president was asserting the right throw out any pieces of the Bill of Rights they find inconvenient. That's the silver lining. Hastert and others on the GOP side are probably just covering their asses, but this may just cause the congress as a whole to wake the hell up and recognize that the administration is out of control. There is value in that, even with the GOP Eunuch Caucus in charge.

This is one of those typical cases where until the politican actually experiences something personally, he could give a damn. You know the type: the free market privatizer who suddenly becomes concerned with government funding for Hodgkins disease when his wife gets it. Or the rightwing moralist who gets all relativistic when his son is arrested for drug dealing. It happens all the time.

Today, the congress had a taste of what it is like to have its constitutional rights walked on by this imperious executive branch and they didn't like it. Good. Maybe they'll get some religion on this checks and balances thing.

Update: To be clear, I'm not defending Jefferson. He's a scumbag on many levels and he should resign. I'm also not defending the Congressional Black caucus, but I do understand that they tend to get a little defensive when their members are singled out all the time --- especially during close elections when the rightwing rednecks are having problems turning out their base. They are probably wrong in this case, but I understand it.

Just Do It

by digby

Following up on my post below lambasting the Democrats for failing on the Michael Hayden nomination, I see that the Senate leadership is whipping the caucus into not helping out vulnerable Republicans with bipartisan legislation in an election year. This is good news.

But, that is just a defensive move and it doesn't address what I think is the much bigger problem which is that on high profile nominations and big ticket legislation, the Democrats do not use those opportunities to publicly draw stark distinctions and call the Republicans out. Instead, when the cameras are rolling and the press is paying attention they do the big el-foldo. I don't see how this helps us.

Look, we would have lost the Hayden nomination. They are the majority. But even if they like Hayden they should have voted against him. They could have used that vote as a show of solidarity against Bush's executive infallibility doctrine, complained vociferously about the lack of checks and balances and set oureslves up as being in united opposition to Bush. Being seen as obstructionist against a 29% president is A GOOD THING! He does not have the country's support. The issue itself is secondary to the optics of the Democrats opposing this administration in a high profile way.

I'm glad that Shumer and Reid are reminding the senators that helping Republicans win by giving them bipartisan cover isn't really a good idea. (I'm a little stunned that they need to be whipped to do this, but ... well. Yeah.) But that's pretty weak gruel considering that what the country wants and needs is for the Democrats to show that they are going to do something completely different than this failed administration and failed GOP congress are doing now. They need to demonstrate this, not yammer about what we should do and what we will do if only we win. Do it now.

The Sequel

by digby

Straight Talk McCain unveils his secret plan to end the war:

"One of the things I would do if I were President would be to sit the Shiites and the Sunnis down and say, 'Stop the bullshit,'" said Mr. McCain, according to Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi, an invitee, and two other guests.

You've got to love the Republicans. Their solution to everything is to say they will knock some heads together and "stop the bullshit." Just trust them.

This one's my favorite, from Junior in 2000:

Bush said today that he would bring down gasoline prices by creating enough political good will with oil-producing nations that they would increase their supply of crude:

“I would work with our friends in OPEC to convince them to open up the spigot, to increase the supply. Use the capital that my administration will earn, with the Kuwaitis or the Saudis, and convince them to open up the spigot.”

How's that working out for everybody?

It's nice that these tough guys like to pretend that they can rule the world with their impressive codpieces, but I think we've had enough of this impotent GOP posturing. McCain was a very tough guy years ago, but now he's prostituting himself to the rightwing and believing his own hype.

As Ezra says:

Woo! That's bracing stuff! And then, after the hasty consultations with translators to make sure he actually said that, the participants would stare at him quizzically, wondering what the straight-talk solution to oil sharing, political representation, entrenched hatreds, and varying conceptions of secularism will be. So what is it? McCain demands that they "stop the bullshit." What are his next ten words?

Exactly. It's funny, but it's just possible that George Bush's failure using a faux McCain image has ruined it for John McCain. That ballsy fighter jock thing just doesn't have the same resonance it used to have. McCain's playing the lead in a cheap sequel of his own story.

Silverback Males

by digby

The New York Times got scooped today on another hot sexy story about a presidential candidate. This time it's about Bill Frist, whose wife needs to keep her hubby on a leash when he's hanging around female Wapo reporters:

At 9:30 a.m., Frist opened the Senate, gripping the corners of the lectern, as he had the operating table. Across the city, rolling in a bed of hay, Kuja opened his eyes and grunted. The gorilla kept touching his tongue to his tooth. Something had changed inside of the beast while he slept. Frist smiled and spoke unremarkably from the lectern, reeking of silverback testosterone.

Granted, this article is about Frist operating on gorillas for National Zoo, which is nice considering his history of cat killing. But the term "silverback" is not only applied to gorillas. It's also a slang term for sexy middle aged human males. How this applies to Bill Frist, I'm not sure, but then who can account for people's taste in members of the opposite sex? Henry Hyde and Newt Gingrich are prime examples of this conundrum.

But I'm sure this reporter knew nothing about that silverback thing, Mrs Frist. All that hot imagery about the beast within and silverback testosterone is completely innocent. Still, it might be a good idea to have Patrick Healy look into the Frist marriage for the Times. This doesn't look good.

Charlie Brown Politics

by digby

Glenn Greenwald has a depressing post up about the Democratic retreat on Michael Hayden:

But by and large, what happened yesterday with Gen. Hayden's nomination is exactly what would have happened in 2002 and 2003. Democrats are afraid to challenge the President due to their fear -- always due to their fear -- that they will be depicted as mean, obstructionist and weak on national security. And so, even with an unbelievable weakened President, and even with regard to the most consequential issues -- and can one doubt that installing Gen. Hayden as CIA Director is consequential? -- Democrats back away from fights, take no clear position, divide against each other, and stand up for exactly nothing.
It is quite possible that Democrats would not have been able to stop Gen. Hayden's nomination. It is true that they are still in the minority and thus are limited in what they can achieve legislatively. But that's really irrelevant. Gen. Hayden is a symbol and one of the chief instruments and advocates of the administration's lawlessness. He refused to say in his testimony even whether he would even comply with the law. Opposing his nomination is both compelled by a principled belief in the rule of law as well as justified by the important political opportunity to highlight this administration's lawbreaking. Sen. Feingold, as usual, shows how this works:

The Democrats who voted against the nomination were Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Evan Bayh of Indiana. Each cited concerns about General Hayden's role in a controversial domestic surveillance program he ran while head of the National Security Agency.

"I am not convinced that the nominee respects the rule of law and Congress's oversight responsibilities," Mr. Feingold said.

In other words, there are serious questions about whether Gen. Hayden will comply with the law and whether he believes in the rule of law, so perhaps it's not a good idea to install him as CIA Director. Is there some reason Democrats were afraid to make that clear, straightforward, critically important point?

Glenn answered that question in his first paragraph. National security has the Democrats so spooked they are paralyzed and for some reason they don't seem to understand that every time they retreat they look like they are frightened of their shadows --- and thus appear to the American people to be incapable of protecting the country. And what's depressing is that their primary political concern can be rather easily alleviated by doing the right thing and standing up for their principles. George Bush has no credibility. Perhaps some people don't grasp the significance of the illegal wiretapping per se, but they are certainly open to argument if someone would care to make one. It's not as if they trust this president to make good decisions.

More importantly, for electoral purposes, the Democrats simply have to show that they are willing to fight this weakened unpopular president or people will see no point in kicking the bums out --- and certainly will not believe that the Dems are capable of taking on someone of real strength. As bad as it was in 2002 and 2003, how pathetic is it that the the Democrats rubber stamping Bush when he's at 29%? How unpopular do his policies have to get before Democrats take the side of the majority?

Glenn goes on to speculate about the future and sees that there is not likely to be a whole lot of action on these matters going forward, even if we win. And that is my great fear, too. The Democrats have the GOP snake by the neck but I'm pretty sure they don't have the nerve to kill it. And that is a huge mistake as has been demonstrated over and over again for the last 30 years.

Here's Robert Parry discussing the last time we had a chance to follow up and knock off the criminal element:

My book, Secrecy & Privilege, opens with a scene in spring 1994 when a guest at a White House social event asks Bill Clinton why his administration didn’t pursue unresolved scandals from the Reagan-Bush era, such as the Iraqgate secret support for Saddam Hussein’s government and clandestine arms shipments to Iran.

Clinton responds to the questions from the guest, documentary filmmaker Stuart Sender, by saying, in effect, that those historical questions had to take a back seat to Clinton’s domestic agenda and his desire for greater bipartisanship with the Republicans.

Clinton “didn’t feel that it was a good idea to pursue these investigations because he was going to have to work with these people,” Sender told me in an interview. “He was going to try to work with these guys, compromise, build working relationships.”

Clinton’s relatively low regard for the value of truth and accountability is relevant again today because other centrist Democrats are urging their party to give George W. Bush’s administration a similar pass if the Democrats win one or both houses of Congress.

Reporting about a booklet issued by the Progressive Policy Institute, a think tank of the Democratic Leadership Council, the Washington Post wrote, “these centrist Democrats … warned against calls to launch investigations into past administration decisions if Democrats gain control of the House or Senate in the November elections.”

These Democrats also called on the party to reject its “non-interventionist left” wing, which opposed the Iraq War and which wants Bush held accountable for the deceptions that surrounded it.

“Many of us are disturbed by the calls for investigations or even impeachment as the defining vision for our party for what we would do if we get back into office,” said pollster Jeremy Rosner, calling such an approach backward-looking. [Washington Post, May 10, 2006]

I urge you to read the whole article. It shows just what a massive failure it was on the part of Democrats and Clinton not to follow through. Unsurprisingly, the Republicans didn't see this "let bygones be bygones" attitude as anything but weakness. Clinton was rewarded with a partisan impeachment for his trouble.

This issue perfectly defines the real argument between the netroots and the establishment. We want to engage the opposition head on and they simply refuse. It is not about policy, although there is plenty to discuss on that count. It is about enabling criminal, radical, undemocratic politics to go unchecked in the name of some sort of bipartisan comity that only Joe Lieberman and his friends at the Democratic Leadership Council believe still exists. It's about not letting Lucy pull the football away again.

It's true that we are a vanguard at the moment, but this new media technology makes it far easier for a vanguard to become a movement than it used to and we have the momentum. What is happening in Connecticut is the canary in the coal mine if these establishment types care to actually see it instead of flailing about incoherently that leftists are ruining their party like it's 1968 and we're all on acid.

Glenn thinks that here in our blogospheric bubble it appears that things are changing when they aren't. I have to disagree a bit with that. It's true that the blogospheric bubble often gives the false impression that there is more momentum on our side than there actually is. I suspect that true inside any movement or campaign where you spend most of your time with fellow travellers. But that doesn't mean things aren't changing. We are now a factor. They may hate us, fear us and dismiss us, but we're here and we aren't going anywhere. (Say it loud, I'm blog and I'm proud!)

Rick Perlstein noted in the discussion of "Before The Storm" and the conservative movement last week-end at Firedoglake that history is complicated, it moves like a battleship. Things aren't going to turn around overnight. But we are beginning to affect the way the media sees itself and we are putting political pressure on the party. This is how change is made. We'll ride all their asses like Zorro until they get the message. We're in for the long haul.