Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Congress abolished; President rules by decree

Bipartisan Group to Speak Out on Detainees -
"A bipartisan group of 200 former government officials, retired generals and religious leaders plans to issue a statement on Wednesday calling for a presidential order to outlaw some interrogation and detention practices used by the Bush administration over the last six years. . . .
"A White House spokesman, Tony Fratto, noted that Mr. Bush last year issued an executive order on interrogation that outlawed torture and other abuses while preserving the C.I.A.’s right to use some coercive interrogation methods. He said Qaeda terrorists should not be treated the same way uniformed soldiers were."

An Executive Order is now necessary to "outlaw" torture, because Congress is no longer the legislature, I guess.

Monday, June 23, 2008


Kevin Drum: "It's as if McCain is trying to become a parody of himself . . . "

Indeed, he does. It is a truly remarkable development: I have seen several newscasters on television remark that this is the first Presidential election in their memory where the choices and contrasts were so stark and divergent. And, it is true: usually, the candidates are at least pretending to be like one another. "I care about the environment, too." or "I am strong on Defense, too."

Nixon was a master at this: he always, always posed in public as being just as committed to the goals of the New Deal as any Democrat, he was just differing as to methods and means. It was a wonderfully subversive approach, and one that George W. Bush was still following in the 2000 campaign against Gore.

But, somehow the mask has fallen askew.

The Media Won't Care

Ezra Klein notes that McCain's tax plan would reduce Cindy McCain's taxes by almost $400,000: "Sigh. It's hard to know how to write these posts sometimes. Is snark really enough? This sort of thing should be a scandal. Yet the media won't care. Catty reporters will not emblazon $373,000 into voters minds In 2000, everyone know the line (or a misrepresentation of the line) 'I took the initiative in creating the Internet.' In 2004, everyone was aware that Kerry said 'I voted for it before I voted against it.' Yet there's no way that reporters will stitch '$373,000' into the DNA of this election. But they should. McCain is running for president, during a war, despite a deficit, amidst a likely recession, on a plan that gives him and his incredibly rich family almost $400,000 in tax cuts. It's absurd."

Media delenda est.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Media delenda est

The news Media must be destroyed.

A recognition has been growing over a number of years that the news Media -- broadcast television networks, cable news nets, mass-market radio and leading newspapers -- have evolved into a monolithic platform for corporate and right-wing propaganda, the most visible feature of which is an elite corps of pundits and celebrity-journalists, who are incompetent and untrustworthy.

The underlying problem is not just, say, "Maureen Dowd’s wholehearted failure as a person." Maureen Dowd has attracted the attention of a wide variety of critics. The Times' own Public Editor allowed that she "went over the top this election season." That sort of makes it official. But, the official version is that the problem is "sexism" or other impolite language. The deep problem with Maureen Dowd, and the corporate Media, in general, is that it fails to inform and that it misinforms.

The choice of "personalities" is, itself, part of the misinformation involved. Riffing off of the London Telegraph's list of the 50 most influential American pundits, Digby at Hullabaloo had this to say:
"I have long held that the reason so many people hate liberals in this country is because the right convinced them that all of those pictured above [the Telegraph's choices for the top ten most influential U.S. pundits] who are not right wing icons --- are liberal. No wonder they hate us. With the exception of Jon Stewart, they are all immense jackasses.

The list includes a few Democratic political operatives and a handful of intelligent liberals like Paul Krugman and Rachel Maddow who are listed at 48 and 50, but for the most part they are rich, mainstream gasbags and conservative dickheads. . . .

When three of the top liberal pundits in the country are actually comedians (no matter how funny), you know there's a problem.

But hey, the fact that a sociopath like Michael Savage even makes the list should tell you just how screwed up our national discourse really is."

But, the essence is the misinformation.

Truly stupid arguments are given prominent play. (See "Supply-side economics")

And, the Right-Wing gets to have its own truthiness and facts.

This isn't just about low-information voters. This is about a Justice of the Supreme Court basing his opinion on an "urban legend". Think Progress » Report: Scalia’s Claim That Released Gitmo Prisoners Have Killed Americans Is An ‘Urban Legend’

Update and Self-comment: Trying to write a cogent, coherent blogpost of finite length is hard work. Never have I admired the work of Digby more than when I got to the end of writing this abject failure of a post.

If anyone should read this, I apologize. I use this blog as a kind of diary, where I take notes. Oh, well.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Atrios at Eschaton: "Democrats will regret embracing the expansion of executive power because a President Obama will find his administration undone by an 'abuse of power' scandal. All of those powers which were necessary to prevent the instant destruction of the country will instantly become impeachable offenses. If you can't imagine how such a pivot can take place then you haven't been paying attention."

I echo this comment from the perspicacious Atrios, because I agree with it. And, because I am always amazed at how poorly Democrats play this game.

Republicans knew that they were immunizing Bush, when Ken Starr was abusing the office of Independent Prosecuter to death, and when the House Republicans impeached Clinton, they knew they were taking impeachment off the table.

Republicans have been playing a long game, in terms of building up an authoritarian government, for, literally, decades. The Federalist Society, which, thanks to Bush, now peoples the Federal judiciary with authoritarians, who would not know a genuine principle of law, if it hit them over the head, will do everything to blockade the Democrats.

The Iraq War was played with a brazenness, which often took my breath away. Bald-faced deception in the State of the Union. Lying to the United Nations Security Council. But, the fix was in. The Media Pundits played their assigned parts. (I am so glad Tim Russert is still dead.) And, Democrats like Hillary Clinton could not seem to see their way through the fog. Idiots. And, did the Democrats learn anything; when the Surge came along, it was obvious that they had not learned anything whatsoever.

The thin thread of hope is that Republicans have overplayed their hand a bit, maybe messed up the timing slightly. But, when Democrats play so badly, with so little institutional awareness, it is quite discouraging to watch. And, hard to believe that small slips in timing will make any difference.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Will it be done?

Stirling Newberry in Upsetting the oil drum | The Agonist explains what it means for a political storm to fail to wash away the past: "
petroleum is hopelessly compromised, running out, and worse, by objective measures, than a different economic future.

But that is the bullet that no one in the internal combustion for land economy wants to bite: that it is a different future we are talking about - not just changing how we get energy, but changing what we do with it. However, it means not only a radically different structure of the economy, but a change in who runs American industry. And this is what the current political order is fighting to the death. It wants to keep the same people in charge who have driven things to crisis, because they are the people who are in charge. The same bankers, industrialists, politicians, writers, lobbyists, and assorted other elites, who have wildly thrown away a generation on an orgy of consumption, are the ones who are going to stay in power until the last rock of coal is turned into the last barrel of synfuels, to drive the last SUV, to the last development. On that day some other nation will call the dollar worthless paper, and American will go through the radical austerity that Britain did after the collapse of its empire.

Is there a way to prevent this? The answer is yes. Will it be done? The answer is no. Instead we are about to see an administration, Obama or McCain, which is committed to having less of the national effort as public investment, and more as consumption, and investment in consumption. Less as a change to the future, and more for the military, which is consumption and investment in consumption. Both will pass stern laws saying that the next President will have to solve this problem. That's change you can believe in, because it is straight talk. It is not that there are no differences between the candidates, but there is little difference between their campaigns, because both are dialing for dollars, and the dollars, from big or small donors, are from people who want things to stay as they are, only with a few of their problems solved at someone else's expense.

The reality is quite different. Either Presidential nominee will reach December, put their transition team in place, and find out - that the cupboard is bare. That the treasury has been looted, and while the Saudis will lend us a great deal of money to consume, they will lend us far less to get off of our oil addiction. This is the rightward slant of the last 40 years: there is plenty of money for consumption, but far less for investment. So the world has invested in consumption. In itself this is not bad, but without a corresponding investment in supply, that consumption investment is foolish and destined merely to drain the sources of supply harder and sooner.
. . .
The accumulation of the next 12 years - because it is at least a 12 year cycle where one failed cautious President will be followed by a swashbuckling Bobby Jindahl type who will give us balls to the wall gas guzzling - will be fiscal crisis in Medicare, a dramatic reduction in American standards of living, and the disruption of American Empire. We could do something about this, but we are not going to do something about this, because the leadership class, set for the next 12 years, is dedicated to not ever doing anything about this under any circumstances, and there is no wave of new leadership ready to take over. The die is cast, Americans have voted repeatedly not to vote on this issue, but instead put whoever is in charge in charge. There we are.

This may sound bleak. In one sense it is, everyone attached to the petroleum economy is going to ride it all the way down. . . .
Obama, the conservative Democrat, is running for Jimmy Carter's second term, while John McCain is running for Herbert Hoover's second term. Utterly devoid of ideas, utterly devoid of political courage, utterly devoid of vision, the political system picked them, because they had less than any one else.

That is what Americans wanted: two people who promised not to upset the oil drum. And so we have it."

I fear there's truth is this passage from Newberry. The American People have lost the moral compass necessary to be dissatisfied with the Bush, who tortured and cheated and committed war crimes; they are only upset that the price of gas is high. The politically aware are struggling to overthrow a whole regime, to effect a passing of generations and outlooks. In this, I take some hope from Tim Russert's passing. People die, even if we do not kill them.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

War Crimes

McClatchy Washington Bureau | 06/18/2008 |
Easing of laws that led to detainee abuse hatched in secret: "The framework under which detainees were imprisoned for years without charges at Guantanamo and in many cases abused in Afghanistan wasn't the product of American military policy or the fault of a few rogue soldiers."

The framework under which detainees were imprisoned for years without charges at Guantanamo and in many cases abused in Afghanistan wasn't the product of American military policy or the fault of a few rogue soldiers.

It was largely the work of five White House, Pentagon and Justice Department lawyers who, following the orders of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, reinterpreted or tossed out the U.S. and international laws that govern the treatment of prisoners in wartime, according to former U.S. defense and Bush administration officials.

The Supreme Court now has struck down many of their legal interpretations. It ruled last Thursday that preventing detainees from challenging their detention in federal courts was unconstitutional.

The quintet of lawyers, who called themselves the “War Council," drafted legal opinions that circumvented the military's code of justice, the federal court system and America's international treaties in order to prevent anyone — from soldiers on the ground to the president — from being held accountable for activities that at other times have been considered war crimes.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

What went wrong?

Matthew Yglesias (June 15, 2008) - Am I The Establishment? (Foreign Policy):
[traditional liberal internationalist foreign policy] ideas . . . could and should have been the key ideas of center-left think tanks in the post-9/11 world. But that's not what actually happened. Instead, a set of ideas that originally existed as a fringe right-wing position wound up being espoused not only by nearly the entire Republican Party but by a huge swathe of the broader establishment. The kind of institutions that you would expect to try to put the country back on an even keel -- The New York Times's foreign affairs columnist, The Washington Post's editorial page, the top foreign policy officials from the second Clinton administration, the Brookings Institution, etc. -- instead hopped aboard George W. Bush's madcap adventure.

[liberal internationalist foreign policy ideas have] traditionally been espoused by the establishment. And America traditionally hasn't engaged in Iraq-scale blunders. But in the wake of 9/11 we saw a massive, system-wide failure of our elites that the country is only beginning to recover from, and that seems -- despite its incredibly disastrous consequences -- to have permanently pushed certain key institutions into loony land where the height of "seriousness" is to think politicians should muse aloud about launching an unprovoked attack on Iran.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Obama Coalition

I thought David Brooks, of all people, had a good column today, that addresses how Obama rides his coalition.

Brooks discusses how Obama has managed a two-horse team on education policy. The two, often-opposing camps in education policy is a division between those who emphasize the need for additional resources to do what we are already doing (what Brooks calls the "status quo camp") and those reformers, who want to change the structure of what we do and how we do it, emphasizing measurement and accountability.

Though Brooks doesn't intend to, he highlights the key to Obama's campaign: Obama affirms both positions, without resolving the contradictions between them. He doesn't resolve the contradictions, because he doesn't have to: McCain does not offer anything to either camp.

I think much the same is true among the economists. There's been controversy over Obama's choice of economic advisers, including criticism, say, from Unions, over whether some of these relatively conservative economists have been anti-Union or too ready to "reform" Social Security. In some ways, this reflects some discomfort within the Democratic coalition over how broad Obama's support in the country is. Obama has, deliberately made himself appealing to conservative-leaning independent voters, and this openness to conservative views and conservative support, makes Progressives nervous. What it ignores, though, is the extent to which this expansion of the Democratic tent is a gift from the Republicans.

The Republicans, under Bush, have painted themselves into a corner, where they are just evil and empty and pointless. No progressive would support the Republicans, of course, but no principled conservative would, either. McCain's economic proposals for more insane tax cuts and larger deficits and more magical thinking has no appeal for any knowledgeable or rational person. (Greg Mankiw, former adviser to Bush, of course, supports McCain. Go figure.)

If America had a fully functional, rational politics, Jason Furman and Austan Goolsbee would be advising the Republican candidate, and Galbraith and Bernstein (and Max Sawicky!) would be advising the Democrat. And, natural moderates like myself would be scratching our heads, and mumbling, "Choices, choices . . . ???"

We don't have a fully functional, rational politics, in case you folks haven't noticed. We have Bush and McCain and the Republicans in Congress. The Republican Party is dominated by political and economic nutcases, who advocate, in essence, national bankruptcy as the path to prosperity.

So, all the sensible people are crowding into the Democratic Party, the conservative wing of which is being transformed fairly radically by the infusion of new people and activism.

The old Democratic conservatives -- the DLC, the Blue Dogs, and, yes, the Clintons -- could be a fairly noxious bunch, not least because they reached for power by allying themselves with Republicans, while dissing their fellow Democrats.

So, I can understand the anxiety surrounding the Obama campaign's big tent. It is not that I don't find the prominence of some of these conservatives in the Obama campaign somewhat troublesome and suspicious. Because I do.

But, for the moment, I prefer to hope that this electoral coalition can become a governing coalition, that conservative Democrats can learn to reach for power by allying themselves with progressive Democrats.

I look forward with guarded hope to an Obama administration and an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress, where Democrats compromise productively with each other in order to govern and legislate, reasonably, rationally and productively.

The right question to ask about Obama is not, which adviser is he "really with"? The question to ask, can he manage the coalition?

I wish there were enough, pure-of-heart progressives in this country to win an election, and too few plutocrats to stop them, but such is not the case. What we have, instead is a Democratic Party, whose support is swelled by conservative refugees from the corrupt and crazy Republican Party. I'll take what I can get, and be glad of it.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

What Went Wrong?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: "Had Hillary Clinton’s vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq proved uncontroversial, or had she provided a compelling explanation for it, she might now be the Democratic nominee."

Interestingly, this explanation for Clinton's loss to Obama is not one widely embraced by journalist-pundits. Of the 12 worthies invited by the New York Times to give brief post-mortems, Ms. Jamieson, one was the only one to offer it. Director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, sponsor of, Ms. Jamieson appears sometimes on Bill Moyer's PBS program, where she offers well-informed critiques of the campaigns. In contrast to the narcissistic impressionism of most journalist-pundits, Jamieson actually seems to work at her critiques, applying systematic frameworks to the analysis and (gasp!) looking for evidence, pro and con.

In this case, she has obviously gone back to look at statements at the time. I've read the speech Clinton gave on the Senate floor, justifying her vote, and, in it, she made a very good case against war, even as she voted for the threat of war.

Jamieson doesn't offer an explanation for why Senator Clinton was unable to convince anyone that she didn't mean it as support for Bush's invasion and occupation. The obvious answer is that she did not have the courage or foresight to stand up in protest against the decision to invade. She could have led the critics and opponents of Bush's Occupation in the Senate, using her star power to unite opposition to the war. Then, her campaign would have become a movement.

And, there's the rub.

The country needs a perfect political storm, to cleanse away the sins and tragic errors of the Bush years. The country needs a movement in opposition, a movement for, in a word, change. Clinton, for whatever reasons of political blindness or caution, made herself unavailable to be the vehicle of that movement. It is easily forgotten now, but much earlier, when Clinton seemed more certain to be the nominee the Republican message machine was actually working to make her the virtual incumbent. "Virtual-incumbent" was also a potent attack from the Obama people.

Not entirely unavailable, as some certainly embraced her, but too late, and without a convincing argument for those, who had already turned to Obama. Notably, her base of support was strongest among those late to get the message, late to cop to the trend: the working classes, the old, and those stuck in Appalachia.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Meaning of Box 722

Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland writes about the The Meaning of Box 722 and the white backlash against civil rights in 1966, which created the modern Republican Party:
"At the Chicago History Museum, the Douglas collection covers seven hundred "linear feet"—archivsts' metric for how big a collection would be if you stacked the papers one atop another. And somehow, somewhere, I stumbled upon Box 722, which contained all the letters Senator Paul Douglas received about open housing and Martin Luther King's presence in Chicago. I quote many of them in a section of NIXONLAND of which I'm most proud, the one with the most original research and historical insights: the one on how "open housing" opened up the conservative backlash that inaugurated the Republican dominance of the politics of our own generation."

Perlstein reviews those letters, which foretold the election in which Republican Charles Percy replaced the Liberal New Deal Lion, Paul Douglas as Senator from Illinois. And, this is how he concludes what is a very moving post:

"Here is the fundamental tragedy of the backlash: Voters like this empowered a party that decided they didn't need protection against predatory subprime mortgage fraud. Didn't need affordable, universal health insurance; made it easier for companies to rape their pensions; kept on going back to the well to destroy their Social Security; worked avidly to shred their union protections. Fought, in fact, every decent and wise social provision that made it possible in the first place for mere factory workers to live in glorious Chicago bungalows, or suburban homes, in the first place."

"Now a black man from the city King visited in 1966 and called more hateful than Mississippi is running for president, fighting for all those things that made the mid-century American middle class the glory of world civilization, but which that middle class squandered out of the small-mindedness of backlash."

This post is for Chicago. This post is for America. This post is for our future. This post is for our history—that we may redeem it. This post is for a man who, had he walked down the wrong street in his own city 42 years ago, might well have been beaten to death."

hattip to Brad DeLong for the pointer.

Bush Lied, People Died

Talking Points Memo reports on the release of the long-long-awaited Phase II report of the Senate Intelligence Committee into pre-war intelligence and its uses and abuses.

Politics is a conversation, a dialectic, a debate. Some silly folks think of a debate as a competition to display superior argument. More realistically, it is a battle of action and reaction, in which each side tries to lead the other, both by what is asserted, and by reacting strategically. The reaction shapes what is said next, as much, or more than what is said. Over the last 40 years, the Right in the United States has been the past masters of strategic reaction, utilizing manufactured outrage over supposed gaffes like artillery on the political battleground. Their paid minions in the Media manipulate the propaganda landscape with both a failure to react, and with the ability to react with high dudgeon.

Nowhere has that been clearer than in the long, sad career of the Bush Administration. Here we have documentation of Bush and his Administration lying the country into a disastrous war. Surely, it is a useful supplement to Press Secretary McClellan's confessional.

But, how will Media pundits and Republican slimeballs (is there any other kind?) react? With McClellan, it was a remarkably coordinated sadness at the betrayal -- that would be McClellan's betrayal of Bushian colleagues, not Bush's traitorous betrayal of the country.

So many scandals, so little reaction among the Media pundits. Atrios asked today if there was a single Media Talking Head, who shared the majority opinion of the country on Iraq. He might as well have asked if there was a single Talking Head with a moral spine or sense.

It is not as if Iraq stands alone. Bush has screwed up Afganistan as well, and never captured Osama Bin Laden. Political prosecutions by the Justice Department have been identified. White House officials outed a CIA agent. The top 3 officials at the CIA resigned in a corruption scandal; does anyone remember that? The top two officials at the Air Force were forced to resign today, after a corruption scandal and some missing nukes!!! The list goes on and on.