Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Media Spectacle

Sunday, Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, mindless cheerleaders for the Iraq War since day zero, published an op-ed in the New York Times, cheerleading for the Iraq War. In it, they described themselves as a critics of the Bush Administration's Iraq policy, the better to highlight their "good news".

Monday, the right-wing, corporate News Media catapulted the propaganda, and the blogosphere divided.

Glenn Greenwald, at Salon summarized:
I spent yesterday and today reading through virtually all of the writings and interviews of these two Brookings geniuses over the past four years concerning Iraq. There is no coherence or consistency to anything they say. It shifts constantly. They say whatever they need to say at the moment to justify the war for which they bear responsibility. It is exactly like reading through the writings of Bill Kristol, Tom Friedman and every other individual who flamboyantly supported this disaster and -- motivated solely by salvaging their own reputations -- are desperate to find some method to argue that they were right.

Even though I write frequently about how broken and corrupt our establishment media is, witnessing these two war lovers -- supporters of the invasion, advocates of the Surge, comrades of Fred Kagan -- mindlessly depicted all day yesterday by media mouthpieces as the opposite of what they are was really quite startling. After all, there is a record as long as it is clear demonstrating what they really are.

But in order to maximize the potency of their propagandistic Op-Ed, they proclaimed themselves to be "analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration's miserable handling of Iraq" and -- just like that -- Americans hear all day about the magical and dramatic conversion of these deeply skeptical war opponents who were forced by the Grand Success they witnessed first-hand in Iraq, as much as they hate to do it, to admit oh-so-reluctantly that the Surge really is working! Well, if even these Howard-Dean-like War Opponents say it, it must be true. That was the leading "news" story all day yesterday.

I caught several carefully measured reactions at various magazine websites. George Packer, author of the Assassins Gate, and a recovering supporter of the war himself, wrote a note at the New Yorker, which basically invited people to consider whether O'Hanlon and Pollack, in their visit to Iraq, had been brainwashed by a carefully orchestrated dog-and-pony show, but concluded with this cya boilerplate paragraph:

O’Hanlon and Pollack have long been critics of the war. They are serious analysts and have nothing to gain by supporting the strategy of an Administration that they say has “lost essentially all credibility.” I don’t doubt that they believe what they saw and heard and wrote, and I’m certain that some of the gains they describe are real. I would like to know more about what they didn’t see and hear. At the heart of arguments over the war there has always been the question of what’s happening “on the ground.” It’s never been harder to find out than it is now, and in my experience, no news is generally bad news. Over the past four years, Iraq has humbled a lot of people. What’s missing from the Op-Ed is a necessary humility.

Matthew Yglesias, young and naive over at the Atlantic Monthly, initially snarked with abandon:

Meanwhile, it's worth noting the incentives that O'Hanlon and Pollack face. If they bow to reality and say the US should move rapidly to start cutting our losses in Iraq, then they're people who advocated in favor of a disastrous policy and this'll be bad for their careers. If, by contrast, they say the surge is looking good, and then work together with Bush administration officials and The Weekly Standard to construct a stab in the back narrative about Iraq, then they can hope to salvage their professional reputations at the expense of liberals.

(of course, haha, that's to imply that the policy analysis put forward by Brookings Institution foreign policy program people might be influenced by crass careerism rather than Very Serious Expertise but that's absurd, right, after all Very Serious People are above such things)

But, later in the day, Matthew was spanked by Jon Chait at The New Republic and Ross Douthat at his own Atlantic Monthly, and had to show humility. What did Jon Chait have to say?

Jon said:
It's hard for me to evaluate whether their argument is correct, but the on-the-ground evidence they present from their recent trip to Iraq deserves to be treated seriously.

In other words, Jon can't be troubled to be the least bit critical, but he knows that these Brookings guys are serious.

UPDATE: Greg Sargent at Horse's Mouth documents how the Associated Press has transmuted this one op-ed into a general narrative of critics seeing military progress in Iraq. And, how Anthony Cordesman's pessimistic, but very cautiously worded report on the same trip as O'Hanlon and Pollack, has been reported by the Washington Post as optimistic.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Economic cross-currents

A political storm is moral theatre, a nation coming to terms with error -- not a simple policy error, but moral error, a betrayal of core national values, a challenge to the constitution, a falling short in national solidarity -- which the body politic attempts to correct in a restructuring of political elites and power.

Powerful political storms almost always have an economic component, as background if not as a central element. Economic pain motivates some large part of the body politic to pay attention.

A remarkable aspect of the Bush Presidency has been the absence of serious economic pain. That all the gains of economic growth have gone exclusively to corporate profits and to the very wealthy has been a critical part of the context of dissatisfaction. That Bush policies have increased gas prices (and, not incidentally, energy company profits) has not gone unnoticed.

But, low unemployment has kept the intensity of economic dissatisfaction bounded, even while unhappiness about Iraq and Katrina and corruption have simmered.

A truly "perfect" storm will have a nasty economic component. See those dark economic clouds on the horizon?

Economist.com: "The greenback has never been further out of favour on currency markets. The Federal Reserve tracks the dollar's value against a weighted basket of seven currencies that are commonly traded beyond their respective borders. This index, regarded as a good gauge of financial-market sentiment about the dollar, has fallen to an all-time low"

Financial crisis just one 'Bear-like' event away: "A global financial shock is just one 'Bear-like' event away, economist Mark Zandi warned Thursday, giving it a one-in-five chance. In the current 'high level of angst' following the collapse of two Bear Stearns funds, the uncertainty caused by another hedge-fund failure could cause investors to freeze, he said. Zandi, chief economist for Moody's Economy.com, said he expects significant declines in home sales and prices in coming months to further erode mortgage credit quality. About half of the structured securities owned by hedge funds are in the riskiest tranches of complicated derivatives based on the subprime mortgages that are going sour quickly, he said. If there is a global financial crisis, he said he expected the Federal Reserve would ease, but questioned how effective it would be in restoring confidence in the U.S. financial system."

"Rough ride for U.S. stocks; selloff resumes"

Krugman had an excellent column on the origins of the present crisis is housing, oil and credit. And,he draws the political connection:
"what’s really striking is ... the current angst ... over two things that I thought had been obvious for a long time: the magnitude of the housing slump and the persistence of high oil prices. . . "

Over the last couple of years a peculiar conviction emerged among some analysts — mainly, for some reason, among those with right-wing political leanings — that the housing bubble was a myth and that the real bubble was in oil prices. . .

I didn’t think many people believed this stuff, but the market’s sudden freakout over housing and oil suggests that I was wrong.

Anyway, now reality is settling in. And there’s one more thing worth mentioning: the economic expansion that began in 2001, while it has been great for corporate profits, has yet to produce any significant gains for ordinary working Americans. And now it looks as if it never will.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I was angry once, proudly shrill even. But that time is over

Liberty Calling:
"It is the summer of our discontent, because we want an end to the decade of stupid, and yet, we keep waking up in stupid's America. . .

"Some people wait, and hope that the summer of our discontent will start the fall of the House of Bush. But if not you, who? If not now, when? If not by your hand, how? If not in the place where you live, where? If not for what we have seen and know, what?

"Tomorrow is another day. It can be the first day of you doing something, the next day of you doing something. Just don't let it be the last day of doing anything, or the next day of not doing anything, or the first day of not doing anything any more. And if what you have been doing hasn't been working, then maybe it is time to try something else. I was angry once, proudly shrill even. But that time is over, because it really is time to explain to the people, who don't approve of Bush, but don't yet want him gone, that he's never read anything not written on a baseball bat.

Which end of that bat are you going to be on?"

Blinded Justice

Talking Points Memo | Blinded Justice: ". . . think about what it means for the institutions of justice in this country that the sitting Attorney General of the United States is suspected of perjury, by senators from his own party, who are willing to say so publicly, in matters involving national security and the fundamental constitutional rights of American citizens; yet, the President does nothing but voice his support for man."

Sunday, July 22, 2007

the credibility of war supporters

So, perhaps, you, Dear Reader, think I have gone a bit over the top, in deriding the remaining leadership of the Republican Party and its pundit allies.

Let's consider, Glenn Greenwald of Salon on "the credibility of war supporters"

At its core, the history of the Iraq War has been authored by an indescribably deceitful and very intellectually limited political and media elite, perfectly symbolized by Kit Bond. These are people who spent four years hailing the Great Progress the Leader was making in Iraq, claiming we were "clearing and holding" neighborhoods of all the Terrorists, that Freedom was on the March, that anyone who questioned any of this was either brainwashed by the war-hating media or a Friend of The Terrorists.

And now, four years later, with the War plainly having been a failure, and their assurances all exposed as false, what are they doing? Hailing the Great Progress the Leader is making in Iraq, claiming we are "clearing and holding" neighborhoods of all the Terrorists, that Freedom is on the March, that anyone who questions any of this is either brainwashed by the war-hating media or a Friend of The Terrorists. Nothing ever changes. It just plods along with the same idiot slogans and the same people spouting them. And they do it with no shame, no acknowledgment of their own past behavior, and no loss of credibility.

A political storm is a theatrical event, an event in social chemistry. The wind and rain are rhetorical and the landscape affected, philosophical. In the present political storm, it is not just politicians, who are subject to revolutionary pressure, it is the Media establishment. Increasingly, the problem -- The Problem -- is being defined, within the progressive blogosphere as well as the country at large, as an inexplicable and inexcusable conspiracy of mendacious stupidity between politicians and pundits, reporters and political operatives.
The increasingly threadbare narrative of "successful" war in Iraq has lost its political potency. In a political storm, events support adoption by the Public of an alternative narrative, which is not at all flattering to the powers that be. Of such transitions, revolutions are made. The alternative narrative to the detached-from-reality narrative of Bush and the "serious" establishment of foreign policy and media figures has become more and more sharply critical of those, who supported the war and supported Bush. The alternative narrative is revolutionary in its implications, not just because it offers no room for "bi-partisanship" but because it does not acknowledge any legitimacy whatsoever to the opinions of politicians or pundits of the Right.
Matthew Yglesias comments rather sardonically on the contrast between performance and reputation among figures of the political right:

"Michael Gerson, in his role as White House speechwriter, helped outline a foreign policy approach that, whether you liked it or not, was certainly audacious and new -- taking some strands that had long existed in US political culture and taking them much further than they'd ever gone before. If all this had gone well, Gerson could have left his government job and become a pillar of the Washington Establishment. Since it turned out to be a tremendous failure, instead he got a Council on Foreign Relations fellowship and a Washington Post column."

This kind of matter-of-fact acknowledgement carries the seeds of Revolution.

Are you scared now?

Pacific Views: Are you scared now?:

Remember that executive order about "Continuity of Government" that Dubya issued back in May? The one that put the prez in charge of running the government after a massive terrorist attack or other major disaster? And which gave the prez the authority to determine just what constitutes a major disaster? . . .

Here in Oregon, some people were sufficiently worried about the executive order that they asked US representative Peter DeFazio to look into whether anything sinister was lurking in order's classified portions, which describe in detail how the executive branch would run the government after a major disaster. DeFazio asked the White House to have those classified portions delivered for viewing in a special secured room at the Capitol building — a request that he's definitely entitled to make as a member of the House's Homeland Security Committee. After initially giving the nod to DeFazio's request, something — no one knows what — changed at the White House, and permission to see the classified documents was withdrawn.

Is it paranoid to take seriously the possibility that Bush and friends might let a terrrorist attack occur, and then use that attack as an excuse to overthrow the government?

Or, that Bush might precipitate a crisis over Congressional funding of government operations, and defy Congress and law, to seize funds?

Bush and the leadership of the Republican Party are evil. Let's just leave it at that, for the moment, shall we? The Revolution can wait until we truly need one.

Phony Debate?

The War in Iraq is a catastrophic failure for American foreign policy, a policy initiated and carried out by right-wing Republicans. That policy, viewed in its totality is not just stupid, it is despicable, and all, who support it, are really bad people.

So, when Fred Hiatt, at the Washington Post, editorializes on the Iraq War, which he and his newspaper have supported at every stage, blames the Democrats for playing politics with the war, by insisting on a policy of withdrawal, one should consider the source.

The perverse Republican hope appears to be that, by predicting that withdrawal will intensify the chaos and bloodshed in Iraq, they can insulate themselves from blame and responsibility for the whole, misbegotten, bloody exercise.

Those, who favor withdrawal, accept the reality that Bush's policy has been catastrophic, and accept that withdrawal will lay bare the total costs of catastrophically bad policy.

Those, like Fred Hiatt are too stupid and corrupt and foolish, to recognize horrifically bad policy and its consequences, want to continue to deny the reality of those consequences, by the expedient of extending a bad policy indefinitely. Not incidentally, Hiatt's rationalization furthers the Bush goal of keeping the U.S. in Iraq forever and ever.

The weakness of Iraq is a means to that end. Perverse and despicable use of power, it shows what a hopeless evil man Hiatt is, what evil people populate the whole of the leadership of the Republican Party.

Trying to add more time to the shot clock

Phil Carter takes a dump on his blog, Intel Dump, in a post titled,Trying to add more time to the shot clock. Phil shares his wisdom: "Tactical patience is an elusive quality." Very yoda-like, Phil; pithy, but still smells like what it is.

I actually admire Phil Carter for his clean prose and analytical mind, but he gives a fine example in the case of the cited post of the bull excretions weighing down the debate over the Iraq War. So, it is with no sense of personal disrespect that I call him on this. Indeed, I pick on him, because he is definitely not one of the corrupt and stupid talking heads -- he is not Tom Friedman, for example.

Sensible discussion and assessment of strategy -- whether in business, politics or war -- is possible. Various kinds of strategy are legitmate subjects for research and teaching in academia, and large organizations depend on the ability of people to rationalize and elaborate a strategy into policy, and to execute the policy. In a society dominated by large enterprises and government bureaucracies, large numbers of people need to be familiar with the basics of strategic thinking and organizational policy. This is not a topic, which is only appreciated in the rarefied air of the Executive Suite and the Senate Chamber. It is a necessary element and aspect of our public discourse.

And, yet, America is bogged down in a hopeless and costly land war in Asia -- yet, again -- and the fault appears to lie, in part, with the breakdown of our public discourse. Political debate on strategy and policy has become a seriously faulty sieve, incapable of filtering out even the most least discriminating judgments.

Rather obviously, the political reporters snarking on about the price of John Edwards' haircuts, are not even going to be discussing serious policy issues. Pointing out the shortcomings of David Broder and Tom Friedman and other pundits I will leave to greater minds than mine.

But, I will take on the case of Phil Carter, and only because I could and do expect better from this accomplished attorney and former active-duty Army officer.

I submit that, aside from outright lies about Saddam's WMD and role in the 9/11 terrorism of Al Quaeda, one of the most noxious memes about the American policy in Iraq is that (ill-defined) "success" requires "more time".

There's an old joke about business strategy -- "High-quality, Low-price, or Soon: choose two" -- which embodies the truth that there are tradeoffs of a kind in project planning and execution, that put some outcomes out of practical reach, and one of the dimensions of trade-off is the time to completion. So, there's a basis for the intuition that "more time" may be one of the "resources" available for successful project management, and a trade-off exists between time and other resources.

There's another joke, meant to highlight that success in a single instance is not confirmation of the merit of a strategy: "Even a stopped clock is right twice a day." The deeper, unspoken insight is that a "good" clock has to be highly accurate, or it is useless -- a clock that is a little slow or a little fast will be wrong, for more often than a completely stopped clock. And, over time a slow (or fast) clock may tend to be increasingly wrong.

America's "strategy" in Iraq has been that of a slow clock, which has become more and more dysfunctional -- more and more inaccurate in relation to the true time -- the longer it has run. The U.S. has never had sufficient resources in Iraq to accomplish its purposes, and it has deployed those resources in ways, which are destructive to its ostensible purposes. This is true, with regard to both military and political strategy.

The U.S. did not have sufficient troops in the original invasion to secure Saddam's enormous stocks of munitions -- and did not secure those stockpiles, never mind the fantasy WMDs. The U.S. did not have sufficient troops, to provide simple security for civil society. The decision to disband the Iraqi Army compounded these deficiencies. The committment of resources to Iraqi Reconstruction -- including a generous $18 billion gift from the American People -- were not even barely sufficient to Iraqi's needs (estimated to be $60-$80 billion), and those resources were squandered in epic incompetence and corruption.

The consequence of these shortcomings in U.S. policy and resources has been a snowballing chaos in Iraq. The lawless looting, which followed in the wake of inadequate U.S.-provided security immediately after the invasion, undermined the rule of law and the economic basis of civil society -- it was not just ancient and priceless treasures looted from museums: buildings needed for public purposes and business enterprise were looted of their copper plumbing and electrical wire.

The inability of the U.S. reconstruction efforts to provide electricity has frustrated all the efforts to restart a productive, civil economy in Iraq. If Iraqis join the insurgency, it is, in part, because "insurgent" is the only paying job available -- and it is a paying job, thanks in large part to the generosity of President Bush's dear friends in Saudi Arabia, who are well overmatching the subsidies provided by Iran to the Shiites, we nominally support, and about which Bush's anonymous minions complain regularly. (If that sentence is hard to parse, it is because Bush is an idiot, and no summary of U.S. policy, as it exists, can be entirely logical.)

Efforts to suppress the insurgency with military means, which have continued even after the funds to reconstruct the country have been largely exhausted without result, have only served to further escalate violence and alienate the Iraqi People from the occupying Americans.

Every step along the way, the Americans have been falling further and further behind, through inadequate committment of resources, inadequate planning and incompetent execution of policy. American policy is not a stopped clock, it is a slow clock, which is more wrong every hour and day, it continues.

And, how is the disastrous "slow clock" policy of the Bush Administration policy treated in our public discourse. Well, Phil Carter, whom I do take seriously, treats it as a public relations problem:

The challenge facing Odierno, Amb. Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus is a daunting one: how to translate their operational picture into politically palatable and viable terms that will enable them to win the support of America's political leaders at home. My sense is that the only thing which will work in September is for Crocker and Petraeus to give a blunt, honest assessment of how things are going -- good, bad and ugly -- and then to request additional resources to achieve their proposed endstate. Anything less than that will
appear dishonest and intellectually bankrupt.

The "theatre review" style of punditry has claimed the otherwise admirable Phil Carter as a new victimizer. This is the same air-headed nonsense that praises the psychopathic, senile fool, John McCain, for his "straight-talk", instead of pointing out that he is bat-shit insane.

Crocker and Petraeus are likely to portray "blunt" and "honest" like practiced thespians, but the policy of the Bush Administration has been "dishonest and intellectually bankrupt" from the get-go, five years ago. What makes translating their operational picture into politically palatable and viable terms so challenging is that the operational picture, as is plain as day to anyone with even passing familiarity with actual facts, is that the policy, in any and all of its variations over five years, has never been viable.

In fact, one perfectly sensible interpretation is that Bush has always intended to stay in Iraq indefinitely, and the policy was adapted to the goal of a weak Iraq and a weak Iraqi central government. Only a weak Iraqi central government could be counted on to give consent to the U.S. military staying in Iraq. The strategy has failed, because an Iraq weak enough to want the U.S. to stay, is too weak to hold together.

Sensible people, who were paying attention, could see that the policy was not viable even before the war started, and the conduct of the Occupation and Reconstruction, simply confirmed that, as has been amply documented in several excellent books. The plain fact that the policy, as executed, is not viable has made continuation of the policy less and less politically palatable. Shocking, I know.

So, yes, Phil, making a non-viable policy appear viable is a daunting task. And, doing so, while not appearing dishonest and intellectually bankrupt will be challenging.

America will save, itself, when public servants no longer feel any obligation to accept such challenges, and when the Media no longer facilitate the pretense that the appearance of "blunt and honest" substitutes for the reality.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Bush Polls

Since I wrote a while back about the Bush sinking in the polls, I thought I should mention that he has enjoyed a tiny bounce back in the last couple of weeks, rising in most polls 2 or 3 percentile, from the often record lows reached three and four weeks ago.

It is three steps forward and two steps back.

Pollkatz, which was showing all declining polls for a couple of weeks, up until a week ago, is now showing all increases in approval.

Looking minutely, I think it interesting that the difference between approval and disapproval has continued to worsen, despite this slight uptick in approval. The majority disapproves, and the intensity of their feeling may be increasing, even as the ill-informed often-have-no-opinion set wavers.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

"it's the imperialism, stupid"

Neither Bush nor Cheney were ever honest about their war aims. Not being bound to persuade anyone to cooperate in their actual aims, they have been free to fight the public relations battle with whatever narrative was most effective or convenient, in the moment.

As their credibility has eroded, however, it has gradually become easier for people to consider actions, rather than words. This may well be the critical factor, in the final undoing of George W. Bush -- the loss of credibility, that lays bare and undeniable the mendacity and callous cruelty at the heart of Bush policy.

Matthew Yglesias:
here we are, over four years after the invasion, and it's time to face up to the possibility that the Bush administration's policies in occupied Iraq haven't been driven exclusively by a sincere and idealistic commitment to the well-being of the Iraqi people and the principles of liberty and democracy. Shocking, yes. But not to put too fine a point on it, it's the imperialism, stupid.

Bush won't adopt a bargaining strategy that involves walking away as an option, because he's not willing to walk away. The objective is to retain Iraq as a platform for the projection of American military power in the region, to continue a larger regional struggle against Iran and Syria, to maintain physical control over Iraq's oil resources, etc. That means Bush can't walk away and can't "let Iraqis sort this out on their own." To accomplish his objectives, the United States needs to be intimately involved in Iraqi affairs to give us leverage and prevent the possibility of the dread "Iranian influence." It's unrealistic war aims that launched this war, it's unrealistic aims that have made it last so long, and it's unrealistic aims that prevent it from ending.

Assessing the Republican Field

My own inclination is to regard the field of Republican Presidential candidates as a bad joke -- the qualities of the various "first-tier" candidates an early indication that the Republican Party is undergoing a process of self-immolation, which will not stop much before 2010 at the earliest.

But, of course, I am not a Republican, and I have no way to gauge the sentiment in the country, especially among the politically ill-informed. The outcome of the 2002 and 2004 elections makes me shy, and I am acutely aware that right-wing Republicans completely own and control the news media and the punditocrisy. Some people, who don't share my allegiance, like David Brooks and George Will, are also skeptical of the Republican field, and of Republican electoral prospects in the wake of the Bush catastrophe, but, hey, Joe Lieberman got elected in Connecticut.

It may be that a large part of the American electorate has not yet learned the hard lesson of Republican malfeasance, and that the country will find itself tested by yet another flirtation with Republicans in power.

In that spirit, I read Michael Gerson warning of hurricanes on the horizon: "With the same rootless confidence that causes people to ignore hurricane warnings, many social conservatives remain in denial about Rudy Giuliani's chances of winning the Republican nomination."

I think Gerson has Guiliani's number: "Giuliani is a Nixon Republican."

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


A political storm, as I have explained before, is a bit of political theatre and storytelling, in which the nation, hopefully, learns from its mistakes.

The nation certainly made a mistake, when it let George W. Bush crawl into the Presidency, and then confirmed the Republicans in control of the Congress in 2002 and 2004. The Republicans have led the nation into the debacle, which is Iraq, as well as further down the road toward national bankruptcy and corruption, and away from the rule of law.

The rampant corruption apparent in the Republican Congress, the catastrophic aftermath of Katrina and the debacle in Iraq brought on the political storm, giving the Democrats a remarkable sweep in 2006. The Democrats are now in charge of Congress (or are they?) and trying to stage-manage the on-going political storm.

But, the Republicans, with near-complete control of the news media, and near-control of the Senate, appear to be winning the political struggle to control the narrative accompanying the poltical storm.

digby at Hullabaloo:
You can't help but be impressed by the sheer audacity of their strategy. Since the November election, in every situation, the Republicans have responded by not compromising, negotiating or capitulating in even the most minor ways. They have instead aggressively upped the ante.

The Democrats won largely as a result of the public's desire to end the Iraq war. What did the president do? He escalated it. The Democratic congressional majority quite naturally wanted public oversight, the president offered private, undocumented "talks." Then, when the congress issued subpoenas to ex-staffers, the white house directed them not to comply. One showed up and testified incoherently, and the white house ordered the other one not to show up at all. Even when the congress asked for documents about Pat Tilman the president invoked executive privilege.

The Republicans in congress have not been any better. Today you see them completely reversing their recent position that the filibuster is unacceptable (recall their mantra, "elections have consequences") and bizarrely calling for a permanent filibuster on all Iraq measures, as if ending the occupation should require a super-majority!

I don't think the Democrats have fully internalized what is going on yet. As I wrote the other day, we are dealing with a political party that is employing a strategy of anarchy in which incoherence is used to flummox the opposition and confuse the media. They are confident (and likely right to be so) that this will never catch up to them because the media has ADD and today's political atrocity is forgotten by the next news cycle. By running circles around the Dems with obnoxious disregard for the congress and gleefully flouting their own precedents and rhetoric, the president and the Republican minority are almost daring the Democrats to try and stop them. Which is the point. They are going for the big narrative, which is the old stand-by that the Democrats are too soft to run the country: "If they can't stop Mitch McConnell and Lindsay Graham, how can we trust them to stop Osama bin Laden?"

The question comes down to whether the Democrats will make sure the Republicans are held responsible for the mess they made or whether they are going to allow themselves to be held responsible for failing to stop them. The Republicans are betting that the public will blame the indulgent parents when the children run wild and it's a pretty creative plan for a party that has a deeply loathed president and monumentally unpopular agenda.

I wonder what the Democrats' strategy is?

I wonder, too.


Fears of a Tet Offensive in Iraq - Yahoo! News:
"The U.S. commanders in Iraq seem to sense some new horror for the country is near. On July 7, Gen. David Petraeus predicted that insurgents would lash out with spectacular attacks in the coming weeks, as the clock runs down on time ahead of the September progress report due in Washington. And yesterday Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, the commander of U.S. forces in southern Iraq, echoed the fear when talking to reporters in the Green Zone. 'We're concerned about some kind of Tet offensive that's going to affect the debate in Washington,' Lynch said, harking back to the pivotal 1968 push by communist forces in Vietnam.
Today the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk witnessed one version of what an Iraqi Tet offensive might look like. At midday, a car bomb shook the city. Then came another blast, followed by one more. The coordinated trio of explosions left at least 75 people dead and offered a horrifying glimpse of the kind of organized assaults that American officials fear could unfold nationwide. Imagine a day in Iraq when catastrophic car bombs rip through not just one Iraqi city but several. "

If we leave, we will be morally responsible

Anne Applebaum - No Magic Bullets For Iraq - washingtonpost.com: "Perhaps these things would never have happened if we hadn't gone there in the first place -- but if we leave, we'll be morally responsible."

Above, we see displayed the narrative time-bomb being hurled by the complacent and the right-wing at all attempts to get the U.S. out of Iraq.

It is not a logical argument. It is not an analysis. It belongs to more closely to the category of hypnosis. And, it sets up the all-important stab-in-the-back theory.

Bush and the Republicans have created a catastrophe in Iraq, but the Democrats will become "morally responsible" for all the consequences, when they get us out.


Monday, July 16, 2007


Two salients have emerged, heralding the more perfect, coming storm:

1.) War with Iran
2.) Impeachment of the President and Vice-President

The first -- war with Iran -- is, apparently, what Bush has in mind, or what people, who are paying too much attention fear Bush has in mind.

The second -- impeachment -- is how many people feel the present Constitutional crisis can and must be resolved.

Those advocating impeachment most strongly have "eschewed any political calculations or even any specific charges" to predict that the Constitutional machinery will, inevitably, lurch into action.

Excuse me, if I demur that no political movement occurs without calculation or specifics.

I don't know that I credit the notion that Bush is planning a War with Iran. There's a logic to it, and plenty of circumstantial evidence that Bush is determined to drum up war with Iran. I just find it hard to believe that even Bush could be dumb enough to start a war -- or, even more unwisely, permit a terrorist attack in the U.S. -- in an effort to restore his own power and popularity. The political backfire from such a hare-brained scheme might well bring down the Republic.

But, the idea that an impeachment will get underway, without a Capone charge -- some indefensible and unambiguous charge of wrong-doing, however irrelevant -- seems even more incredible than war with Iran.

War with Iran?

Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Adviser to President Carter, testifying on February 1, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

If the United States continues to be bogged down in a protracted bloody involvement in Iraq, the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran and with much of the world of Islam at large. A plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran involves Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks; followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure; then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran; culminating in a "defensive" U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The depressing message

No matter how bad things get, just remember, things could be worse.

In the spirit of that cheery thought, let us recall that all of the earnest efforts being made in Washington, to get the U.S. out of Iraq, real soon now, are premised, as they must be, Constitutionally, on a withdrawal managed in its details by the same hopelessly incompetent President, who "planned" and "managed" the Occupation and Reconstruction.

Fred Kaplan at Slate:
A precipitous and total U.S. withdrawal from Iraq probably would have 'serious consequences.' Iraq could erupt into sheer chaos. (If you think the country's already as bad off as it can be, think back on Lebanon during the civil war or Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge.) This chaos could impel neighboring countries to intervene, either to contain the violence or to fight alongside their respective sectarian allies.

However, this warning is beside the point. Few Democrats, much less Republicans, want a rapid and total pullout, for precisely these reasons. The defecting Republicans are telling Bush—either directly or through his aides, who have been scrambling to Capitol Hill this past week—that the only way the congressional leaders might vote for a total pullout is if the White House forces them to do so. If Bush fails to present an alternative strategy—if the only choice Bush gives them is "Stay the course" or "Cut off all the funding"—the weary legislators might well call his bluff.

Like the moth to the flame, so our President is drawn to catastrophe.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Seeing Al Qaeda Around Every Corner - New York Times

Clark Hoyt, the New York Times "Public Editor" -- ombudsman by another name -- spanked the paper, today, for its increasingly sycophantic Iraq War coverage. Many others have noticed that the Times has started parroting uncritically the Administration line on Iraq, a redux of its shameful efforts before the Iraq War in 2003, involving at least one of the same stenographic reporters, Michael Gordon.

Glenn Greenwald, writing at Salon.com, was less restrained, and named the incompetent Michael Gordon by name:

"The Times -- typically in the form of the gullible and always-government-trusting 'reporting' of Michael Gordon, though not only -- makes this claim over and over, as prominently as possible, often without the slightest questioning, qualification, or doubt. If your only news about Iraq came from The New York Times, you would think that the war in Iraq is now indistinguishable from the initial stage of the war in Afghanistan -- that we are there fighting against the people who hijacked those planes and flew them into our buildings: 'Al Qaeda.'
What is so amazing about this new rhetorical development -- not only from our military, but also from our 'journalists' -- is that, for years, it was too shameless and false even for the Bush administration to use."

Greg Mitchell, writing for Editor & Publisher, is even more pointed than Mr. Greenwald:
"As if he hadn’t done enough damage already, helping to promote the American invasion of Iraq with deeply flawed articles in The New York Times, Michael R. Gordon is now writing scare stories that offer ammunition for the growing chorus of neo-cons calling for a U.S. strike against Iran – his most recent effort appearing just this morning.

What’s most lamentable is that editors at The New York Times, who should have learned their lessons four years ago, are once again serving as enablers."

Mr. Hoyt, a veteran of the former Knight-Ridder Washington bureau, where he was part of one of the few important teams in journalism, which acquitted itself honorably in the run-up to the Iraq War, may have been brought in as Public Editor with the hope that he would make the very criticism he made in the paper today. Seeing Al Qaeda Around Every Corner - New York Times

Mr. Hoyt tactfully avoids mentioning Michael R. Gordon by name, and gives space to quotations from N.Y. Times editors apologizing for their lapses and vaguely promising to do better. But, Mr. Holt concludes with a critical point:

"I’d have been happier still if The Times had helped its readers by doing a deeper job of reporting on the administration’s drive to make Al Qaeda the singular enemy in Iraq."

The difference between stenography and journalism is right there. The difference between sociopathic insiderism and professional integrity is right there.

When the Administration is pushing a particular story-line, the "news" is not the Administration story-line, the "news" is that the Administration is pushing this story-line. To treat it otherwise, is to join the conspiracy to hide the organized campaign to channel propaganda through the news Media.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

Republican pundits are able to gaze out at a landscape studded with Republican stupidity, incompetence, corruption and obstructionism, and then blame Democrats for everything. It is quite a performance, featuring high-minded calls for ending the decisive partisanship, which any objective observer would attribute to the unprincipled Republican expedience.

Lance Mannion explains why the right-wing pundits, like David Ignatius of the Washington Post or David Broder of the New York Times appear to be so irrationally determined to believe the best of the leaders of the Republican Party and the Bush Administration, when those people are, in fact, among the absolute worst political leaders imaginable.

I think that they're being told lots and lots of scary stories off the record.

I'm thinking that at parties, or after press conferences, or while waiting in the green room before a Sunday morning bobblehead fest or while in the lines waiting to get into the best restaurants at lunch someone pulls them aside, saying, "A word in your shell-like?"

Maybe they get phone calls.

This someone is not the usual suspect. This someone is a someone they trust. Someone who seems sane, who seems to know what they're talking about, who is on the inside but not "one of them," not an obvious party hack or true believer. This someone may wear a uniform but more likely it's a someone who is known to have the ears of trustworthy men and women who do wear uniforms.

This someone pulls a David Ignatius aside and says, "This is on the hush-hush, the QT, deep background."

And then the someone tells a scary story about what the terrorists almost did yesterday.

The story is vague, sketchy, but it has the ring of truth and it contains at least one detail that makes the journalist's skin crawl.

And then the someone adds that he or see could say more . . .

But the someone must be quiet. Walls have ears. The people would panic if they knew. The someone melts away into the air, leaving shaking in his socks the journalist who goes home to have nightmares all night and then gets up in the morning and, unable to tell us the horrorible things he knows, writes instead a column in which he tells us to just shut up and let the big strong daddies in the Republican Party handle everything for us.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Memo to David Brooks

In the Left Blogosphere, the absurd analyses offered by the pundits of the corporate, right-wing media are fact-checked and challenged. Larry Johnson, acting as a good neighbor, sees to it that David Brooks sees David Corn eviscerate his lying ass.

Letter to a Neighbor | TPMCafe: "A Memo for David Brooks"

Unfortunately, this doesn't happen much in the Media most people read or view.

At most, about 5 million Americans are exposed in some degree to the views, which circulate in the Left Blogosphere. Ninety-five percent of Americans are exposed to David Brooks or worse, without ever seeing this factually-challenged right-wing propaganda challenged or refuted.

The furious outrage of the politically aware has been channelled, bottled up and isolated, marginalized.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Teach the controversy

The Republican talking point or meme, which says that Libby deserves leniency, because, although lying to investigators and a grand jury was bad, there was "no underlying crime" -- really disclosing Plame's identify as a CIA operative was no big deal -- is getting wide play in the mainstream media. There are several variations on this Republican thesis. There's "everybody was doing it" -- Armitage was the source for Novak's story (tellingly, Rove's name usually goes tactfully unmentioned, though Rove was the second source). And, there's Plame was not "really" covert, though the CIA and prosecutor Fitzgerald both asserted that she was.

As I noted in previous posts, on NPR and the PBS NewsHour, this meme has gone unrefuted and largely unchallenged. Do I really need to document how it is fared on CNN and elsewhere?

Meanwhile, in the blogosphere, where logical analysis and a memory for events stretching back through the dark ages of political history even a year or two ago is still possible, this meme is being challenged.

Steve commenting on the Matthew Yglesias blog:
"Why didn't Fitzgerald go after Armitage? Did he, in the end, conclude that leaking Plame's name was not a crime?
I don't understand how anyone who has been following the story could still not understand the answer to this question. I blame the right-wing efforts to obfuscate the issue with as much noise as possible.
The answer is that the reason why Armitage, Libby, and the other leakers weren't prosecuted under the IIPA is that the IIPA requires proof, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the leaker had actual knowledge that the CIA agent's employment was classified at the time of the leak.
To prove that, you need to be able to prove how the person found out about the fact of CIA employment. In the case of Armitage, it was clear that he didn't know; he found out from a document that said nothing about Plame's covert status. In the case of Libby, it was less clear what he knew, but Fitzgerald nonetheless concluded that he couldn't prove anything beyond a reasonable doubt.
The real issue is what Cheney knew and when he knew it. Libby's lies were intentionally designed to keep Fitzgerald from getting a closer look at Cheney and determining what role Cheney had in the leak campaign and whether he knew Plame was covert. That's why the obstruction was a big deal. That's why no one was charged; the IIPA requires that you prove knowledge and Fitzgerald couldn't."

What do you suppose it would take for such a point to be be part of the discussion on, say, CNN or CBS, in the pages of the New York Times or the Washington Post?

A revolution?

Teach the controversy, mainstream media, teach the controversy.

Compare and Contrast

Here's an instructive case, for those interested in how the corporate plutocracy has reduced American opinion journalism to a ruin.

Dan Froomkin, who writes a popular blog for the WashingtonPost.com, provides a high standard for acute observation and logical analysis. Don't look for his column in the print edition; his views will never find print, and if his was not the most popular thing on the WaPo website, he would have been fired yesterday. As it is, I don't think his long-term employment is at all assured. Anyway, he writes succinctly and clearly about the Libby commutation. Here's a taste:
"If you take the White House's position at face value, then Bush felt that the sentence -- which followed federal sentencing guidelines for perjury and obstruction of justice -- was unjust. In that case, why isn't he doing anything about those guidelines?
Another possibility is that Bush felt there were circumstances the judge did not take into consideration. What could those circumstances be? Is Bush saying that, yes, Libby lied, but he should be cut some slack because he did so for noble reasons? If so, what might those reasons be?
There is, of course, a third possibility: That the commutation and all the expressions of concern are just a delaying tactic, and that Bush intends to pardon Libby at the end of his term if Libby's appeal fails. That theory was bolstered by Bush's assertion on Tuesday that he wouldn't rule out a pardon in the long run. If Bush 'respects' the jury verdict today, why raise the possibility that he won't 18 months from now?"

Michael Kinsley is widely admired for his logical powers. Having been fired from his position as the L.A. Times editorial page editor for being too liberal, he is now a columnist for Time Magazine, which, of course, employs no liberals. Kinsley, who still likes to eat and needs health insurance, has adapted to the journalistic ecology. His op-ed in the N.Y. Times:
"So as much as I dislike the war in Iraq, as much as I dislike President Bush, as much as I expect that I would dislike Mr. Libby if I ever met him, I feel that he should not have had to face a perjury trap: the choice between prison for lying, or prison for his role in a set of transactions that the press regards as not merely O.K. but sacrosanct. In fact, if journalists had a more reasonable view about this, the reporters whom Mr. Libby tried to peddle this story to would have said, “Look, outing C.I.A. agents is bad and we are not going to help you do it anonymously.” I bet that today, commuted sentence and all, Mr. Libby wishes they had done just that. So as much as I dislike the war in Iraq, as much as I dislike President Bush, as much as I expect that I would dislike Mr. Libby if I ever met him, I feel that he should not have had to face a perjury trap: the choice between prison for lying, or prison for his role in a set of transactions that the press regards as not merely O.K. but sacrosanct. In fact, if journalists had a more reasonable view about this, the reporters whom Mr. Libby tried to peddle this story to would have said, “Look, outing C.I.A. agents is bad and we are not going to help you do it anonymously.” I bet that today, commuted sentence and all, Mr. Libby wishes they had done just that. "

Did you get that logic? Believe me, reading the whole column scarcely makes his argument any clearer. Apparently, Kinsley feels that, since so many journalists regard anonymous leaks to the Media, regardless of their content, as a sacred rite, Libby can scarcely be blamed (by the Media?) for lying to protect this sacred rite of journalism and "the dark art of politics" (as the faux liberal WaPo columnist, Richard Cohen, put it, arguing for commutation even before Bush made it so).

The op-ed pages of our leading newspapers, and whatever time on cable news can be spared from the coverage of Paris Hilton, are filled with logically challenged analysis, designed to make what Bush has done seem normal. The kind of straight-forward analysis, demonstrated by Froomkin, is rare to the point of extinction outside the blogosphere (where Froomkin's work lives exclusively).

Factual reporting and moderated discussion from the corporate right-wing Media is no better. The Daily Howler takes up the case Rebecca Roberts, brain-dead child of Cokie Roberts, hosting a discussion of the Libby commutation on National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation. Just as on PBS's NewsHour, the false right-wing claim that Plame was not, in fact, covert and that Libby's disclosure of her status as a CIA employee was not prohibited by law, went unchallenged by the clueless hostess.

With the nation's public discourse in such carefully chosen, incompetent hands, no one should wonder about how the country should be run into a ditch, and no political storm ensue.

The careers of Rebecca Roberts (NPR) and Michael Kinsley (Time Magazine), Richard Cohen (Washington Post) and many others depend on this kind of incompetence, artfully rendered. Not to please an audience, but to please a corporate employer, who will not tolerate competence, let alone liberalism. This is as true of Public Broadcasting, which is now as dependent on funding from corporate advertisers as its for-profit "competitors". And, it is as true of CBS and NBC, and the New York Times, as it is Fox News and the Washington Times.

Consider this precis summarizing the "career" of John Solomon, who went from winning a prize for slandering Democrats for the Associated Press, to a full-time gig at the Washington Post, slandering Democrats.
"A year ago, John Solomon wrote a series of odd and misleading articles attacking Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), accusing him of ethical lapses. The closer one looked at the criticisms, the weaker the charges looked. Months later, Reid was cleared of any wrongdoing, while Solomon was inexplicably rewarded — in December he joined the Washington Post’s national desk, heading up some sort of investigative “team,” ostensibly focusing on the intersection of money and politics.Since then, Solomon has run an odd front-page piece on John Edwards selling his house, a bizarre front-page expose on Hillary Clinton’s charitable donations, and a sloppy piece on a Nancy Pelosi earmark for a San Francisco waterfront redevelopment project.Yesterday, however, Solomon out did himself — he devoted nearly 1,300 words to the “controversy” surrounding John Edwards’ haircut."

The American news Media is part of the disease afflicting American politics.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

What real outrage looks like

(You should go view or read the whole thing, of course.)

Keith Olbermann:

I accuse you, Mr. Bush, of lying this country into war.

I accuse you of fabricating in the minds of your own people, a false implied link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11.

I accuse you of firing the generals who told you that the plans for Iraq were disastrously insufficient.

I accuse you of causing in Iraq the needless deaths of 3,586 of our brothers and sons, and sisters and daughters, and friends and neighbors.

I accuse you of subverting the Constitution, not in some misguided but sincerely-motivated struggle to combat terrorists, but instead to stifle dissent.

I accuse you of fomenting fear among your own people, of creating the very terror you claim to have fought.

I accuse you of exploiting that unreasoning fear, the natural fear of your own people who just want to live their lives in peace, as a political tool to slander your critics and libel your opponents.

I accuse you of handing part of this republic over to a Vice President who is without conscience, and letting him run roughshod over it.

And I accuse you now, Mr. Bush, of giving, through that Vice President, carte blanche to Mr. Libby, to help defame Ambassador Joseph Wilson by any means necessary, to lie to Grand Juries and Special Counsel and before a court, in order to protect the mechanisms and particulars of that defamation, with your guarantee that Libby would never see prison, and, in so doing, as Ambassador Wilson himself phrased it here last night, of you becoming an accessory to the obstruction of justice.

The Libby Commutation

The Libby Commutation -- the President of the United States, in broad daylight furthering a conspiracy to obstruct justice -- would, in a country with a healthy, democratic politics, spark a firestorm without equal.

But, the United States does not have such a healthy politics, and the reason is clear: the Media has been consolidated into a monolithic, corporate, right-wing propaganda machine.

Media reporting on the Libby commutation reveals this state of affairs quite clearly, as various news "outlets" and pundits carefully avoid the most sensitive aspect of the case, and, instead, concentrate on promoting narratives, which distract and disceive.

The PBS NewsHour offered "differing views" on the Libby Commutation: those of a non-partisan expert on the pardon process, who confessed to knowing nothing about Libby's case -- why he was prosecuted, etc. -- and a Republican partisan, who was able to put forth one Republican talking point after another, unrefuted.

The N.Y. Times, never hesitant to publish a White House press release, as long as it is marked "secret", produced a lengthy article based on anonymous (Republican) sources about how the President examined the case at length. (It was really touching, reading about how the man, who had cut in half to fifteen minutes the time he wasted on Texas death penalty cases -- over 150 of them -- anguished for weeks over the case of Libby.)

The pundits were on duty, of course. I won't bother with David Brooks phoning in Republican lies to the N.Y. Times op-ed page, but take a look at the liberals. Timothy Noah, at Slate, was one of the very few, who acknowledged the obvious implication that it was a "payoff for Libby's failure to implicate Vice President Dick Cheney, and perhaps even Bush himself, more directly in the Plamegate scandal", but tellingly, Noah does not endorse this implication or explore it. Noah, instead, argues: "What Bush did was just and fair. It was the right thing to do." Is Noah looking for a better job, or just securing his future at the Washington Post Company?

Of course, the always cautious candidates for the Democratic nomination and the Democratic leaders in Congress did little better. While Republican pundits and politicians spew their carefully focus-grouped talking points, the Democrats seem scattered, cautious and confused.