Monthly Archives: March 2007

Just Hillary: publius v Eric Martin (Updated)

There’s an interesting argument/discussion/debate going on between Eric Martin of Total Information Awareness and publius of Obsidian Wings about Hillary Clinton that I suspect is a foretaste of the controversy that’s building in the Left Blogosphere as her candidacy intensifies and the primaries get closer. I haven’t been invited and have no business sticking my neck into this, so of course that’s precisely what I’m going to do. I haven’t made up my mind about Clinton yet, and the points brought up by each of them are the ones I’ve been debating with myself (mostly; there’s one element that bothers me that neither of them mentioned, at least not directly). And I don’t think I’m (we’re) alone in that.

publius begins with noting that he can’t get up any enthusiasm for Hillary and he’s wondering why.

I also don’t really care about her 2002 vote. A lot of smart people supported the war in good conscience. No, what bothers me is not her initial support, but her ongoing support in the face of obvious and ongoing failures. What bothers me is her prolonged post-war silence. As Yglesias has documented, she consciously played up an image as a war supporter and a hawk for years. In doing so, she essentially abandoned progressives on the foreign policy and national security fronts until very recently. “Abandon,” I think, is the most appropriate word to use. After all, the netroots’ skepticism of Clinton is rooted in the feeling that she left everyone out to dry when they could have really benefited from her speaking out.

Eric defines this as the standard criticism that she is “cynical and calculating”, responding:

The second criticism has been unfairly attributed to Clinton quite consistently throughout her political career – at least when compared to other politicians. It’s not that Clinton doesn’t possess these strategic imperatives, it’s that the groupthink has settled in such that Hillary has come to represent the conniving electoral gamesmanship of politicians in general. Let me divulge a secret though: ALL politicians have political aspirations, and the vast majority are looking to the next election, or next “promotion” available. Does anyone doubt that perennial candidate John McCain has wanted to be President for a very long time? That he has taken cynical, calculated steps to facilitate these goals. Yet, his career is not marked with the same level of suspicion as Hillary’s. How about George “clearing some brush on my ranch” Bush? Come on people.

But I’ll go further: since political power comes through winning elections, I actually admire Hillary’s desire and ability to play the electoral game. Good on her. Whereas the cold, calculating maneuvering of other politicians is greeted with praise and admiration at the skill and mastery at how they can game the system, with Hillary, for some reason, it’s viewed as unseemly and improper. It would be myopic to discount the influence of sexism on this rather obvious double standard.

(quote edited to correct one obvious typo)

While I think Eric’s characterization is fair and accurate as far as it goes, I also think, with all due respect, he’s missing the main point. What publius seems to be on about is less her maneuvering than her lack of leadership. Asking “Where was she?” is a fair question. While others were sticking their necks out and sometimes getting them chopped off, where was Hillary? Hiding in a bunker?

At the point when a political figure lets other people take all the risks and suffer all the consequences of an unpopular stand she will later adopt as her own, cynicism is not uncalled for. More importantly, it raises perfectly legitimate questions about what she would do as president. Continue reading

Bush Library 2: The Price of Prestige

The controversy over the placement of Bush’s presidential library at Southern Methodist University continues. It may even have intensified a bit, and not without reason. While most of this is happening under the press’ radar (but then, one could legitimately wonder, what isn’t?), what I characterized as a “tempest…somewhat larger than a teapot but smaller than a breadbox” last week came within a single vote of becoming a full-blown hurricane.

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Clockwork Cheney

After the revelations in the Libby trial, there’s no doubt that Dick Cheney is a dangerous man, though his theory of a “unitary” Vice Presidency free of Constitutional restraints should have proved that a long time ago. But there is also a level at which Cheney approaches farce – the public Cheney, the one that you wind up in front of the cameras and he says the same things. Over and over and over.

“When members speak not of victory but of time limits, deadlines and other arbitrary measures, they are telling the enemy simply to watch the clock and wait us out,” Cheney said in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “When members of Congress pursue an antiwar strategy that’s been called ‘slow bleed,’ they are not supporting the troops, they are undermining them.”

Maybe it’s because this argument is the only one they have, but whatever the reason, it’s becoming surreal. He says the same thing in almost the same words with the same expression of snarling contempt, and in the same tone of absolute how-dare-you-question-me certainty that he had when he said he “knew” where the WMD’s were.

Knew, mind you.

You could almost sit down with Cheney’s last statement and bet on how many words were going to change in the new one. 2? 3? He’s turning into a human tape loop.

This administration started a war it can’t explain, justify, or defend. Thousands of people on both sides have died because of it,  and all it has to offer us is a wind-up VP and his tape loop, saying the same things endlessly, endlessly, endlessly.

I feel like I’m living inside an SNL skit.

The FBI and NSLs: Not “Accidental”

The DoJ IG’s report has ignited a sort of firestorm both in the mainstream press and in Congress. Although it hasn’t yet reached the stage of the Justice 8 Purge, the FBI’s “misuse” of NSLs has excited widespread condemnation, an abject apology from FBI Director Robert Mueller, and a Congressional investigation. The issues, however, as Glenn Greenwald points out in this post, are just as serious, maybe more so.

In those isolated cases where we learn about what the administration has been doing in secret, or where Congress pretends to demand information, the administration refuses to provide any actual information (see, e.g., the NSA scandal ). Instead, they simply issue boilerplate assurances that the law is being complied with, that the powers are being exercised responsibly and properly, that there is no abuse, and that they have created ample “safeguards” (always within the Executive Branch) to ensure that no abuse occurs. Whatever isolated instances of abuse or impropriety end up being leaked are dismissed away as pure aberrations, the work of bad apples, and they profess how gravely concerned they are about such abuses and assure us that they are working diligently to ensure they never occur again.

And that is always the end of the story. No claims by the Bush administration have been meaningfully investigated because the authoritarian sickness that has governed our country has meant that there is blind faith in the representations made by the President, with no corroboration or investigation needed.

In the case of the NSLs, for instance, the DOJ — after the Post article on NSLs was published — repeatedly insisted to Congress when it was debating re-authorization of the Patriot Act in November, 2005, that the claims in the Post story were false. As but one example, the DOJ sent a letter, from Assistant Attorney General William Moschella to House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Sensenbrenner, accusing the Post of presenting a “materially misleading portrayal” of the FBI’s use of national security letters (I am attempting to find that original Moschella letter; if you find it online, please leave the link in comments or by e-mail).

Obviously (as even the DOJ is now being forced to acknowledge), the attacks on the Post article by the DOJ were simply false. If anything, the Post article under-stated the problems with the NSLs. The DOJ simply gave false assurances to Congress that there were no problems with the FBI’s use of NSLs and assured Congress that all regulations and laws were being complied with. Those claims were lies, designed to steamroll over concerns about the NSLs and induce the Congress to re-authorize the Patriot Act, which it did.

US Asst AG Richard Hertling has now sent Sens Patrick Leahy and Arlen Specter a letter – get this – retracting his previous letters of assurance that all was well. Glenn quotes from the letter and then translates what it means:

In other words: all of those assurances we gave you in order to convince you that we were using NSLs in strict accordance with the law were false. Now that the IG Report proves that what we told you is false, we are retracting what we said, and when we get around to it, we will also correct the false testimony we gave at Congressional hearings and the false assurances we gave you in secret, classified meetings — all of which successfully convinced you to re-authorize the Patriot Act.

Greenwald is properly sarcastic as he dismisses the DOJ’s incredible response, a Lost in Space mea culpa in the tone of a high school sophomore apologizing to a teacher for copying the wrong citation in his term paper – “Too bad but it’s no big fucking deal, chief, so chill out. At least I did the damn thing.”

But there’s a problem just as big that Glenn (so far) only hints at.

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The Myth of Corporate-Style Governing 5: The State v Commerce Turf War

No one who has ever worked for a corporation could fail to be aware of a certain “turf consciousness” as various departments – and individuals within those departments – compete for attention and power. There are two myths involved in turf consciousness.

1. The “team concept”

That’s the one that portrays corporate life as a sports metaphor, where every individual has a specific job to do but works seamlessly with everyone else as part of a unit with the same goal: winning the game (read: “making a lot of money”). According to the myth, “teamwork” increases efficiency and corporate harmony by honoring the value of everyone’s contribution equally, and subsuming private goals to the overall good of the team. The idea is expressed in one of two ways:

  1. The only “turf” that matters is the turf of the playing field where the game is being fought. It is common to everyone and no single individual or group controls it. Therefore, fighting over control of it is counter-productive and inefficient.
  2. The game can only be won if the team works together. Fighting over prerogatives, perks, and power serves to fragment the team effort, weakening it with jealousy, internal strife, and hurt feelings, effectively sabotaging the team’s efforts.

There are a number of corporate fads swirling around the concept of building teamwork. My sister-in-law, for example, runs corporate Team-Building Weekends on ropes-challenge courses in which junior executives learn to work together on an obstacle course consisting of rope-ladders, rope bridges, trapezes, and simulated cliffs. Most of it happens in trees, 20 feet or more above the ground. The course is designed to make it difficult or even impossible for an individual to succeed alone but a snap if the group works together. It’s a very sophisticated version of the kind of obstacle course the military uses during basic training. She makes a good deal of money running these weekends.

Then there was the “dragon boat racing” craze of a few years ago. Adapted from the Chinese, dragon boat racing requires participants to row and steer together. If they argue, they lose.

The latest of these fads was adapted, believe it or not, from acting and improvisational exercises. Two of these exercises were on view last year in tv programs, an episode of What About Brian? and a teaser for Donald Trump’s new Apprentice.

The point of all these is to build trust between the participants and break down the walls of competitive ego by forcing the subjects to co-operate with each other. Does it work?

The short answer is, of course, No.

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Anti-War Activist Shames Himself in Obey Confrontation (Updated)

Alright. We’re all going to talk about Obey so let’s get it out of the way so we can go on to something substantive – the FBI’s ignorance of the Constitution and the Republicans’ contempt for it, maybe.

What bothers me about that video isn’t the fact that Obey’s frustration led him to a little name-calling (not of the people involved but of liberals in general). That’s understandable given what he and other Democrats have been up against with the Republicans.

They also seem to have waylaid him in a hall at the end of the day. Right from the beginning he looks tired, on edge, yet he stays patient with Richards for a couple of minutes before he snaps a little, and even then he barely raises his voice until the end when he’s somewhat wound up. And why not? These people are supposed to be on his side and they’re harassing him.

And it doesn’t bother me that they were harassing him a bit. A lot of Democrats deserve harassment. They sat on their hands for years or actively rolled over to Bush and Cheney and Ashcroft (remember him?) and Gonzales and Rice and so on and so on, allowing them to make patently false statements time and again without calling them on it. Nor has their cowardice under Pub rule earned them any points. And it shouldn’t. They’ve shown little in the way of backbone for two decades now (except in the area of fighting Bush’s outrageous choices for federal judgeships, for which they deserve full credit) and their shameful behavior during the run-up to the invasion was a low point in Democratic history, no error.

Nor does the fact that it was clearly a setup. With the bulk of the mainstream media in the pockets of the powerful, citizen guerrilla-journalism is eminently justifiable. The late Hunter Thompson invented the phrase “gonzo journalism” to describe a type of reporting that deliberately sets out to break the gentlemen’s agreement between reporters and their targets that there is such a thing as “off the record”, when politicians in particular can be as hypocritical and debased as they like secure in the knowledge that it will never see the light of print. In gonzo, nothing was off the record, especially in politics. In a time of extreme, authoritarian secrecy on the part of the govt, gonzo is an absolutely necessary counterbalance.

No, what’s disturbing isn’t Obey but the astounding ignorance of the two who accosted him.

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Bush and Latin America 2: Brazil Isn’t Happy

Well, that didn’t take long.

Thousands of students, workers and environmentalists protesting President Bush’s arrival here Thursday shut down a road in a central business district, and some clashed with helmet-wearing riot police who fired tear gas and beat demonstrators.

The boisterous rally and the sharp police response presaged a potentially volatile visit for the president, who landed here in the evening for a six-day tour through Latin America, his longest since taking office. Protesters also gathered Thursday in Colombia and Mexico, two later stops on Bush’s itinerary, and organizers expect tens of thousands at a demonstration in Buenos Aires on Friday.

Before his plane had even set down on the tarmac, they were gathering. Six thousand of them, and that’s only the beginning. Expressions of deep disgust were everywhere.

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Because I Like It. So What?

Miles Davis & John Coltrane

The first time I saw Miles I didn’t really see him. Not to play, I mean.

I was in high school and I heard Miles was coming to Boston again for the first time in a number of years. This was New Hampshire – not exactly a hot bed of jazz lovers, and not a black face inside 50 miles. I was in the band and I managed to talk a couple of other people into bearding the band teacher in his den. He was planning a field trip anyway and we hit him – hard – to make it Miles’ appearance at the War Memorial Auditorium. One of the greatest jazz players in history? How could he say no? I admit I may have gotten in his face a bit.

It was, I think, the last time Miles ever played Boston, and it became his most famous Boston gig because he didn’t play it.

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Bush and Latin America: Bottomless Hypocricy

Bush is about to tour Latin America, and according to Dan Froomkin, has been trying to out-Chavez Chavez with faux-populist rhetoric of the kind he wouldn’t ordinarily be caught dead using here.

Just before heading off for a six-day visit to Latin America, President Bush yesterday attempted to co-opt the populist rhetoric of his hemispheric arch-nemesis, President Hugo Chavez, of Venezuela.

Speaking to the “tens of millions in our hemisphere” who “remain stuck in poverty, and shut off from the promises of the new century,” Bush said: “My message to those trabajadores y campesinos is, you have a friend in the United States of America. We care about your plight.”

But if you think Bush has a credibility problem in his own country, it’s even worse south of the border — especially when it comes to issues of social justice.

Let there be no doubt about this: Bush’s attempt to persuade Latin Americans that he is the champion of the poor — given his pro-business bent and six years of an almost exclusive focus on free trade and terrorism — is utterly doomed. Almost laughably so.

Bush leaves for Brazil on Thursday, then travels to Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico. Here’s the text of his speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce yesterday. Startlingly, it contains the phrase “social justice” fully five times.

“Social justice” and Junior Bush? You might say that’s the textbook definition of “cognitive dissidence”.

But believe it or not, it gets worse.

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The Globe and Obama’s Parking Tickets (Updated)

One of the nicer things about living in Mass is that the Globe knows its audience and doesn’t pander to the right in anything like the same degree that the NYT, its owner, is infamous for. But that may be changing. I get the Globe newsletter emailed to me – it’s one of 5 papers I go through every day – and this idiocy was one of their lead pieces.

Obama paid late parking tickets
Racked up penalties while at Harvard

What?!

Two weeks before the US senator from Illinois launched his presidential campaign, he paid parking tickets he received while attending Harvard Law School, officials said yesterday.Obama received 17 parking tickets in Cambridge between 1988 and 1991, according to the city’s Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department.

Of those tickets, he paid only two while he was a student and paid them late, said Susan Clippinger, the office’s director.

This is a major story you highlight in your newsletter??!! PARKING TICKETS???!!!

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The Justice 8: How Dumb Do the Bushies Think We Are? (Updated)

Six of the eight US Attorneys fired by the Justice Dept testified all day yesterday, first in the House and then in the Senate, describing in detail how their dismissals came about. There wasn’t all that much that was new, frankly. Most of it simply confirmed what had been written in the press and a lot of the speculation in the blogosphere.

Six fired U.S. attorneys testified on Capitol Hill yesterday that they had separately been the target of complaints, improper telephone calls and thinly veiled threats from a high-ranking Justice Department official or members of Congress, both before and after they were abruptly removed from their jobs.

In back-to-back hearings in the Senate and House, former U.S. attorney David C. Iglesias of New Mexico and five other former prosecutors recounted specific instances in which some said they felt pressured by Republicans on corruption cases and one said a Justice Department official warned him to keep quiet or face retaliation.

Pretty much what we figured had happened, knowing the Bush Administration as well as we do at this point. What’s been more interesting have been the responses from Justice as the case has opened up – and the lack of response from anybody higher than Assistant Attorney General William Moschella. Why don’t we start with him before we go on to Domenici and Heather Wilson, since he testified yesterday as well.

The JD has been doing the Reagan Three-Step: Continue reading

Bush Privacy Board Clears Bush

Well, boys and girls, if you were concerned about the Constitutional violations of the PATRIOT Act wherein the Bush Administration wiretapped millions of Americans, instituted surveillance on thousands more, and intercepted the financial transactions of who knows how many, you can relax. It’s all good. So sayeth the five-members of the White House Privacy and Civil Liberties Board.

A White House privacy board is giving its stamp of approval to two of the Bush administration’s controversial surveillance programs – electronic eavesdropping and financial tracking – and says they do not violate citizens’ civil liberties.

Of course, those slimy Democrats aren’t satisfied.

Democrats newly in charge of Congress quickly criticized the findings, which they said were questionable given some of the board members’ close ties with the Bush administration.

“Their current findings and any additional conclusions they reach will be taken with a grain of salt until they become fully independent,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee.

Tsk-tsk. Such suspicion. What have they got to be so suspicious about? I’m sure someone as deeply concerned about protecting the privacy of Americans as Bush claims to be would never load the Board up with political hacks and family friends who would give anything he did a pass no matter how offensive or even illegal it might be, right? Continue reading

Coulter Smacked by the Pendulum (Updated)

I was going to talk about Ann Coulter but I hear you have to go into rehab if you use the phrase “brain-dead fascist bimbo”.

Jesus. I can’t believe I have to waste time and energy talking about this but there’s something that needs to be said and nobody’s saying it.

Believe me, I’m pleased as punch that a furor has erupted over Coulter’s jab at John Edwards during her speech at the annual CPAC meeting. Nobody deserves it more. (Michael Savage, maybe, but that’s how low you have to go to get underneath Anorexic Annie.) But, really, what’s the big deal? Calling a Democrat a “faggot” is mild for her, and it was clearly a joke – or what passes for one at a right-wing gathering (it’s not like Republicans have senses of humor a normal human being can relate to). She wasn’t seriously suggesting Edwards is gay, she was just dissing him with her usual lack of class.

Now before you get all outraged righteous on my ass, don’t miss the point. I’m not defending her. I’m saying that in the pantheon of Coulterisms, this one wouldn’t rate so much as a footnote were it not for the response. I mean, this is a woman who wrote a best-selling eliminationist screed calling all Democrats “traitors” and advocating that True Americans go out and shoot themselves one or two. And unlike her CPAC quip, she wasn’t kidding when she wrote that. Yet that book raised not a single eyebrow in the media. Not only did no one but Democrats denounce it but she went on a lot of television shows and repeated her charges, using much of the very same language that’s in the book (she has a, uh, limited imagination), and was treated like a) nothing she said was a big deal, and b) everything she said was sane, rational, and correct when it was none of the three. Continue reading

Clintonite Appeals Court Judge Upholds Reaganite Judge in CIA Kidnapping Case

US District Court Judge TS Ellis III, who recently dismissed the corruption suit against Custer Battles on the fairly specious grounds that the CPA was not a “US govt entity” without explaining how it could rationally be considered anything else, last year dismissed Khaled Al-Masri’s lawsuit against the CIA for kidnapping and torture on the dubious grounds that “state secrets” might be “exposed” by a public trial. Al-Masri appealed that decision and yesterday the Fourth Circuit, led by Clinton appointee Robert B King, upheld Ellis’ ruling.

In May 2006, Judge T. S. Ellis III, of the Federal District Court in Alexandria, Va., dismissed the suit under the so-called state secrets privilege. The privilege can require courts to limit or dismiss suits that might disclose information harmful to national security. The decision yesterday, by the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, affirmed that ruling.

“We recognize the gravity of our conclusions that el-Masri must be denied a judicial forum for his complaint,” Judge Robert B. King wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel of the court. “The inquiry is a difficult one, for its pits the judiciary’s search for truth against the executive’s duty to maintain the nation’s security.”

Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents Mr. Masri, said there was enough public information about his ordeal to allow his suit to be adjudicated without endangering national security. The appeals court disagreed, saying that Mr. Masri could not win his case without exposing “how the C.I.A. organizes, staffs and supervises its most sensitive intelligence operations.”

Furthermore, the court continued, the defendants “could not properly defend themselves without using privileged evidence.”

King’s argument is tantamount to giving the CIA carte-blanche to do anything it wants to do anywhere in the world without either oversight or accountability and – as the Church Committee proved thirty years ago – there is no such immunity from prosecution enshrined in either US law or international law, nor was it ever the intent of Congress to give the Company such blanket immunity. Continue reading

The Myth of Corporate-Style Governing 4: Rumsfeld the Manager

For almost three decades, conservatives in both parties relentlessly pushed the idea that America should be governed as if it was a corporation where every activity was means-tested by cost/benefit analysis, departments were made efficient by being made smaller, costs were kept down in the traditional way (layoffs followed by underpaying and overworking those who were left), and any agency or appropriation unrelated to the military or helping business prosper was considered a waste of time and money that should be cut to the bone if it couldn’t be eliminated altogether. The Doctrine of Social/Economic Darwinism held that in the corporate world efficiency was rewarded and inefficiency punished, money was never wasted, management had to be effective, and results had to be positive or the “free market” would operate to weed out those companies who were not. It was a message whose simplicity proved to be enormously attractive to the general public.

Unfortunately.

Because the whole construct, as I argued in a series called “The Myth of Corporate-Style Governing” (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, with support here), was mythology. Corporations in fact often – even usually – reward ass-kissing over efficiency, waste enormous amounts of money in executive perks and bad ideas, produce shoddy and over-priced goods, are almost always satisfied with the appearance of success rather than the reality, have an unswerving faith in PR and advertising as replacements for quality, and have cultures which foster management teams and executives who are so far removed from the real world, so arrogant, and so used to blind obedience that they will deny problems and difficulties right up to the point where the company implodes in its own lies. (See Enron, WorldCom, the S&L’s, and too many other examples to enumerate here.)

If none of that sounds familiar, you haven’t been paying attention. Every standard corporate idea/belief/fad/illusion/technique/management style has been on display in the Bush Administration for the past 6 years. Not surprising given that virtually the whole admin was staffed by ex-corporate executives, lawyers, PR flacks, and lobbyists. We have been given the chance to find out just what “running govt like a corporation” looks like, and it’s not pretty.

Maybe that’s why we don’t hear that mantra all that much any more. The Republicans who used to run – and win – on a platform centered around making govt perform like a business have abandoned that approach wholesale as “corporate-style governing” has come to be synonymous with corruption, inefficiency, and incompetence. Various members of the Bush Admin illustrate the usual corporate management types that are familiar from business literature: Continue reading