Unclaimed Territory - by Glenn Greenwald


I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Media finally starting to report the President's systematic lawbreaking

(updated below)

On March 24, 2006, The Boston Globe published an article by Charlie Savage reporting that the President, after signing into law the bill which renewed the Patriot Act, issued a "signing statement" making clear that "he did not consider himself bound" to comply with various reporting provisions in the law and therefore reserved the right to violate them. The article was extraordinary because it noted that the Patriot Act signing statement was merely "the latest in a string of high-profile instances in which Bush has cited his constitutional authority to bypass a law" -- and the article tied that ideology of lawlessness to, among other things, the President's deliberate violations of FISA when ordering warrantless eavesdropping on Americans.

I discussed that Globe article in my book and described it as "an important milestone," because "it is one of the first truly comprehensive articles by an establishment media outlet to recognize the fact that the president has expressly seized the power to break the law, and is exercising that power enthusiastically and aggressively, in numerous ways." Once the reality of the president's claimed lawbreaking powers starts to be truly discussed in our national political dialogue, I believe there will finally be accountability for what this administration has done.

The Globe has today published an even more sweeping and significant article, this one also by Savage, reporting as clearly and unambiguously as I have seen on the fact that the President not only believes that he has the right to break the law but has been exercising that right with staggering frequency, in almost every area of significance (h/t Jill):

President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.

Among the laws Bush said he can ignore are military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration services problems, ''whistle-blower" protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research.

Legal scholars say the scope and aggression of Bush's assertions that he can bypass laws represent a concerted effort to expand his power at the expense of Congress, upsetting the balance between the branches of government. The Constitution is clear in assigning to Congress the power to write the laws and to the president a duty ''to take care that the laws be faithfully executed" . . .

As has been clear from the beginning, and as Savage notes, the significance of the NSA scandal was never about eavesdropping. Its significance lay in the fact that the President got caught red-handed violating the law on purpose, because he believes he has the power to do so. To defend his conduct, the administration has been forced to parade those theories around out in the open, and as a result, it is only a matter of time before the public starts to realize how severe the crisis is that we have in our country:

But with the disclosure of Bush's domestic spying program, in which he ignored a law requiring warrants to tap the phones of Americans, many legal specialists say Bush is hardly reluctant to bypass laws he believes he has the constitutional authority to override. . . .

Many legal scholars say they believe that Bush's theory about his own powers goes too far and that he is seizing for himself some of the law-making role of Congress and the Constitution-interpreting role of the courts.

Phillip Cooper, a Portland State University law professor who has studied the executive power claims Bush made during his first term, said Bush and his legal team have spent the past five years quietly working to concentrate ever more governmental power into the White House.

''There is no question that this administration has been involved in a very carefully thought-out, systematic process of expanding presidential power at the expense of the other branches of government," Cooper said. ''This is really big, very expansive, and very significant."

For the first five years of Bush's presidency, his legal claims attracted little attention in Congress or the media. Then, twice in recent months, Bush drew scrutiny after challenging new laws: a torture ban and a requirement that he give detailed reports to Congress about how he is using the Patriot Act.

It is not hyperbole to say that these actions and theories are as antithetical to democracy as can be. The country intensely debates all sorts of controversial issues (torture, Patriot Act renewal, eavesdropping powers); legislative compromises are reached by the American people through their Congress, often over the objections of the President; the President signs those bills into law -- and then he simply decrees that those laws are irrelevant because he has the power to violate them at will:

Bush administration spokesmen declined to make White House or Justice Department attorneys available to discuss any of Bush's challenges to the laws he has signed.

Instead, they referred a Globe reporter to their response to questions about Bush's position that he could ignore provisions of the Patriot Act. They said at the time that Bush was following a practice that has ''been used for several administrations" and that ''the president will faithfully execute the law in a manner that is consistent with the Constitution."

But the words ''in a manner that is consistent with the Constitution" are the catch, legal scholars say, because Bush is according himself the ultimate interpretation of the Constitution. And he is quietly exercising that authority to a degree that is unprecedented in US history.

Bush is the first president in modern history who has never vetoed a bill, giving Congress no chance to override his judgments. Instead, he has signed every bill that reached his desk, often inviting the legislation's sponsors to signing ceremonies at which he lavishes praise upon their work.

Then, after the media and the lawmakers have left the White House, Bush quietly files ''signing statements" -- official documents in which a president lays out his legal interpretation of a bill for the federal bureaucracy to follow when implementing the new law. The statements are recorded in the federal register.

In his signing statements, Bush has repeatedly asserted that the Constitution gives him the right to ignore numerous sections of the bills -- sometimes including provisions that were the subject of negotiations with Congress in order to get lawmakers to pass the bill. He has appended such statements to more than one of every 10 bills he has signed.

''He agrees to a compromise with members of Congress, and all of them are there for a public bill-signing ceremony, but then he takes back those compromises -- and more often than not, without the Congress or the press or the public knowing what has happened," said Christopher Kelley, a Miami University of Ohio political science professor who studies executive power.

The entire article -- which I highly recommending reading -- details the numerous instances in which Congress has passed laws banning certain conduct, the President has signed those bills into law, only for the President not only to reserve the right to violate those laws but to then order that those laws by violated, systematically and repeatedly. As the Globe article reports with startling clarity, to describe the state of affairs we have in our country is to describe, by definition, a state of authoritarian lawlessness. We literally have a President who has been saying for years, right out in the open, that he can act without regard to the law whenever he wants, and we need to repeat that fact - and prove it - over and over until that debate is finally had. The Globe article advances that objective significantly.

It is not uncommon for a President to refrain from executing a law which he believes, and states, is unconstitutional. Other Presidents have invoked that doctrine, although Bush has done so far more aggressively and frequently. But what is uncommon - what is entirely unprecedented - is that the administration's theories of its own power arrogate unto itself not just the right to refrain from enforcing such laws, but to act in violation of those laws, to engage in the very conduct which those laws criminalize, and they do so secretly and deceitfully, after signing the law and pretending that they are engaged in the democratic process. That is why the President has never bothered to veto a law -- why bother to veto laws when you have the power to violate them at will?

I have pointed out many times before that scandals which harm or bring down a presidency do not develop overnight. Americans have to really be persuaded that there is serious and deliberate wrongdoing in order to demand that meaningful action be taken. But that is clearly starting to happen, and the Globe and Charlie Savage should be congratulated for that rarest of acts -- journalists who are fulfilling their journalistic purpose by informing Americans as to what this government really is doing.

UPDATE: One of the principal tactics used over the last five years by Bush defenders to transform the president, our public servant, into some sort of monarchical figure is the endless, craven effort to refer to him as "The Comamnder-in-Chief," in order to implicitly bestow upon him an aura of elevated, militaristic glory which renders not only disrespect towards the President, but also mere criticism of him, somehow inappropriate, even unpatriotic. In that regard, it was extremely refreshing to see Stephen Colbert's stand-up routine last night (video here - transcript here) at the White House Correspondent's Dinner. Pam Spaulding provides an excellent discussion of that event, as does Joe Gandelman.

As Pam notes, a commenter at the site of Jonah's mom, Lucianne Goldberg, said that "Steve Colbert was utterly disgusting. . . He was rude, snarky and unpatriotic toward the President and First Lady." One can be unpatriotic towards one's country, but not to the Leader, and certainly not by expresing criticism of the Leader, even to his face. The efforts to shield the President from criticisms of any sort has been one of the most significant factors enabling the lawbreaking pathology of this president, who clearly has come to see himself as a shielded king. The belief that an American citizen is unpatriotic by virtue of criticizing and opposing the president is one of the most pernicious ideas to take hold in some time. What Colbert did took real courage and - like Savage - he should be commended for reminding us of the kind of country we are supposed to have, and the kind of country we aren't supposed to have and, until this administration, never had.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Building the Secrecy Wall higher and higher

There are multiple investigative efforts underway -- Congressional, judicial, journalistic -- seeking to uncover the Bush administration's illegal warrantless eavesdropping activities aimed at Americans, and the administration, in order to keep its conduct concealed, has doggedly sought to impede each of these investigations. The administration's cover up of its behavior has become so severe that the usually meek Arlen Specter actually threatened this week to introduce legislation to cut off funding for the NSA program unless the administration ceased its stonewalling of the Judiciary Committee's investigation.

The latest such obstruction is the administration's invocation of what, prior to the Bush administration, was the rarely invoked "State Secrets Privilege" in order to demand that a federal judge dismiss the lawsuit brought by the libertarian privacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation against AT&T. That lawsuit alleges that AT&T secretly diverts electronic communications to the NSA in order to allow the NSA to monitor those communications without warrants, i.e., in violation of the law. From this morning's The New York Times:

The lawsuit, accusing the company of illegally collaborating with the National Security Agency in a vast surveillance program, was filed in February by the
Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group.

The class-action suit, which seeks an end to the collaboration it alleges, is based in part on the testimony of Mark Klein, a retired technician for the company who says Internet data passing through an AT&T switching center in San Francisco is being diverted to a secret room. There, Mr. Klein says, the security agency has installed powerful computers to eavesdrop without warrants on the digital data and forward the information to an undisclosed place.

The foundation has filed documents obtained by Mr. Klein that ostensibly show detailed technical information on N.S.A. technology used to divert Internet data. He has also said in a deposition that employees of the agency went to the switching center to oversee special projects.

The judicially created "State Secrets Privilege" was first recognized by the Supreme Court in United States v. Reynolds, 345 U.S. 1 (1953), a suit brought under the Tort Claims Act by the widows of 3 civilians who died when an Air Force plane crashed. The widows sought to obtain military reports regarding the crash in order to prove that the Air Force was negligent, but the Supreme Court upheld the Government's refusal to produce the documents on the ground that doing so would divulge military secrets and harm national security:

It may be possible to satisfy the court, from all the circumstances of the case, that there is a reasonable danger that compulsion of the evidence will expose military matters which, in the interest of national security, should not be divulged. When this is the case, the occasion for the privilege is appropriate, and the court should not jeopardize the security which the privilege is meant to protect by insisting upon an examination of the evidence, even by the judge alone, in chambers.

As it turns out, those Air Force reports were finally released 47 years later -- in 2000 -- and they contained no military secrets at all, but were suffuse with information showing that there had been gross negligence with regard to the maintenance of the plane's engines, facts which would have likely been fatal to the Air Force's defense had it not been able to successfully conceal those documents by falsely claiming that national security would be harmed by disclosure:

But in early 2000, one of the daughters of the deceased crew members acquired newly declassified copies of the documents that the Air Force had withheld and was astonished to find nothing corresponding to what the Air Force affidavits had portrayed.

"Contrary to the statements in the Affidavits, on which the Supreme Court expressly relied, not one of the documents... contain any secret or privileged information," according to a new complaint, filed last October. "The documents consist, instead, of admissions of negligence on the part of the Air Force."

One of the odd - and dangerous - features of this privilege doctrine is that, in many cases, courts allow the Government to assert the privilege without even submitting the documents in question to a judge for the judge to review in secrecy, a process known as in camera review. That process is typically used to enable a judge to review documents over which there is a disputed privilege claim (such as attorney-client privilege) without the other side being able to see the documents before there is a ruling on whether the documents are really privileged. But unlike other privileges, once the Executive asserts the "State Secrets Privilege," courts frequently accept the government's claim without even reviewing the documents. As the Reynolds Court explained:

Regardless of how it is articulated, some like formula of compromise must be applied here. Judicial control over the evidence in a case cannot be abdicated to the [345 U.S. 1, 10] caprice of executive officers. Yet we will not go so far as to say that the court may automatically require a complete disclosure to the judge before the claim of privilege will be accepted in any case.

In other words, the doctrine is notable because the Executive Branch can decree that the documents should not be disclosed because disclosure will harm national security, and that decree is, in practice, often blindly accepted without anyone reviewing its truthfulness or propriety. For that exact reason, and quite unsurprisingly, the Bush administration loves this doctrine, as it is so consistent with its monarchical view of presidential infallibility, and the administration has become the most aggressive and enthusiastic user of this doctrine as a means of preventing disclosure of government documents:

"This comparison highlights the risk of permitting the executive branch to determine, without close judicial scrutiny, whether relevant government information may be withheld from discovery," according to D. Churchill and E. Goldenberg in a paper entitled "Who Will Guard the Guardians? Revisiting the State Secrets Privilege of United States v. Reynolds," published in Federal Contracts Report, vol. 80, no. 11, September 30, 2003. . . .

And "recent cases indicate that Bush administration lawyers are using the privilege with offhanded abandon," they write in a comprehensive study to be published this year in Political Science Quarterly.

Unsatisfied with the mere power to unilaterally block courts from obtaining relevant documents while he is in office, President Bush, while the rubble from the World Trade Center was still sitting in lower Manhattan and everyone was distracted by that, had the presence of mind to extend this power to assert the State Secrets Privilege to both his father and to himself for life and even thereafter:

In November 2001 President Bush issued executive order 13233 that would permit former presidents to independently assert the state secrets privilege to bar disclosure of records generated during their tenure.

More than that, the Bush order would make the state secrets privilege hereditary, like some divine right of kings, enabling the heirs of deceased presidents to assert the privilege after their death.

"This is a power heretofore unrecognized either in courts or politics," Weaver and Pallitto observe.

As the Chicago Tribune detailed last year, the administration has also used this doctrine repeatedly to obstruct any judicial proceedings designed to investigate its torture and rendition policies, among others:

The Bush administration is aggressively wielding a rarely used executive power known as the state-secrets privilege in an attempt to squash hard-hitting court challenges to its anti-terrorism campaign.

How the White House is using this privilege, not a law but a series of legal precedents built on national security, disturbs some civil libertarians and open-government advocates because of its sweeping power. Judges almost never challenge the government's assertion of the privilege, and it can be fatal to a plaintiff's case.

The government is invoking the privilege in an attempt to wipe out the heart of a lawsuit that seeks to examine rendition, the secretive and controversial practice of sending terrorism suspects to foreign countries where they might be tortured.

Use of the secrets privilege could also eliminate a suit by a former FBI contract linguist who charges that the bureau bungled translations of terrorism intelligence before and after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Bush administration is also using the secrets privilege to seek dismissal of a third case not related directly to terrorism. And the administration has invoked the privilege in less sweeping ways on several other occasions.

The use of state-secrets privilege, critics say, is part of President Bush's forceful expansion of presidential secrecy, including a more restrictive approach to releasing documents under the Freedom of Information Act; limitations on the dissemination of presidential papers; and curtailment of information on people rounded up in the war on terrorism.

And so it goes, over and over, with seemingly no end. This administration endlessly searches out obscure legal doctrines or new legal theories which have one purpose -- to eradicate limits on presidential power and to increase the President's ability to prevent disclosure of all but the most innocuous and meaningless information.

A chilling Washington Post op-ed this morning from former investigative journalist Mark Feldstein regarding the FBI's unprecedentedly aggressive attempt to use the Espionage Act of 1917 -- a law which, prior to this administration, was reserved for very narrowly defined cases of true espionage but which is now being converted into an all-purpose Official States Secret Act -- makes clear just how systematic is this effort to erect an impenetrable and unprecedented (at least for our country) wall of secrecy around this administration's conduct.

This administration has been caught in one abuse of power scandal after the next. A majority of Americans no longer trust the administration's honesty or competence. The absolute last thing that they ought to be doing is engaging in a full-fledged campaign to create unprecedented shields of secrecy around what they are doing, so that they can operate with more secrecy and less transparency than any government we have previously had. And yet that, of course, is just what they are doing.

When the NSA scandal began, the administration boastfully insisted that it had nothing to hide and welcomed as many investigations as could be brought, while their defenders claimed that such investigations would be wonderfully helpful to the President politically. Six months later, we still don't know who was eavesdropped on, whether those eavesdropped on had anything to do with terrorism, what was done with the information, and whether there are other warrantless eavesdropping programs besides the one the New York Times discovered. And the reason we don't know any of that is because the administration, consistent with their extremist love of government secrecy, has done everything possible to prevent the very investigations they claimed that they welcomed.

UPDATE: Christy at FDL has more on this case.

UPDATE II: This article in The Oregonian reports on what might turn out to be the most significant, currently pending challenge to the legality of the administration's warrantless eavesdropping program. The lawsuit was brought by various plaintiffs and their attorneys alleging that their conversations were illegally eavesdropped on by the administration as part of the NSA program (something they discovered when the administration accidentally and incompetently produced transcripts of the recorded conversations to the lawyers). The Govenrment requested permission to file their response to the lawsuit in secret -- without even the plaintiffs being able to see the response -- but the judge denied the request, concluding that the Government failed -- at least thus far -- to provide convincing rationale to justify that level of secrecy.

There are far too many of these investigative branches for the administration to permanently conceal their conduct in the NSA scandal. It is only a matter of time before it is exposed.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Addressing Byron York's confusion

(updated below)

When I was on Air America last night with the excellent interviewer Sam Seder, he asked me why I thought my book had gone to #1 on the Amazon Best Seller List and stayed there for what has become virtually the entire week (it first went there Monday night and hasn't moved) -- even though the marketing campaign for the book hasn't begun and it's not even released yet. I didn't have a good answer -- in fact, I really didn't have much of an answer at all, and so I just spat out a few cliches about its being a "testament to the power of the blogosphere," which, while true, is now clearly only part of the story (albeit a big part). I thought about it more afterwards and this morning and developed some thoughts about it, but I don't want this blog to become some annoying, neverending promotional venue for the book, so I decided not to blog about those ideas.

But this morning, Byron York published a rather odd (and strangely amusing) article in National Review Online about How Would a Patriot Act?, in which, with great bewilderment, York asked the same question -- why has the book gone to #1 and stayed there:

There's something interesting happening on the best-seller list these days. A new book, How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok, by the left-wing blogger (sic) Glenn Greenwald, is number one on Amazon.com's top sellers list. It has been there for several days after having shot from somewhere in the 50,000 range to number one earlier this week — all in less than 24 hours and without the benefit of any high-profile radio and television publicity campaign. And it hasn't even been released yet — the official publication date for How Would a Patriot Act? is May 15, 2006.

The promotional material for the book suggests that it is an indictment of George W. Bush of the sort that has become commonplace on the Left in the last
few years . . . Indeed, Greenwald's blog is filled with such stuff. Nevertheless, How Would a Patriot Act? appears to have become something of a (quiet) publishing phenomenon, outperforming — at least in the early stages — other, higher-profile anti-Bush books, not to mention all the other best-sellers on the list these days. Why? No one seems to know. "We're often caught by surprise by these," says Tom Nissley, senior books editor for Amazon.com.

Originally, I thought that one reason for the book's initial surge might be that many regular readers of this blog bought multiple copies of the book, due to a desire for the book to do well so that the administration's expressly claimed lawbreaking powers would finally be discussed in a clear and prominent way in our national political dialogue. But multiple-book purchases apparently isn't a factor:

Nissley says a book's Amazon ranking is based on "a running 24-hour total" computed by a complex algorithm that also factors in past sales. He says he does not believe it is possible to game the system to highlight a particular book. Specifically, he says that the Amazon system is designed to overlook bulk orders for books, in which a person might order, say, 1,000 copies of a single work. "We rank by orders, not by sales," Nissley says. "We only count orders — we count an order of 1,000 copies the same as an order of one."

And, while it is definitely true that the book was prominently talked about by many bloggers, including some of the blogosphere's largest and most influential, that would explain the initial ascent but not its stay at #1. And, as York notes, this is not the first book to be heavily promoted in the blogosphere:

In the case of How Would a Patriot Act?, sales appear to be the result of word-of-mouth in the blogosphere, although the book has soared higher than books written by other, more prominent, bloggers.

The day after the book rose in the Amazon rankings, I wrote a post explaining how that ascent reflected the very under-appreciated power of the blogosphere generally, and the liberal and/or anti-Bush component of the blogosphere in particular. The influence which the blogosphere has developed was clearly the prime and original cause of the book's surge, and that should be -- and, I am sure, will be -- noticed by all sorts of publishers and others.

But blogger promotion alone does not explain why the book went to #1 (as opposed to, say, #50), nor does it explain why it has stayed there. What I have come to believe is the book's principal appeal is its subject matter and its approach to that subject matter. Contrary to York's somewhat sloppy claim that the book "is an indictment of George W. Bush of the sort that has become commonplace on the Left in the last few years," the reason I wrote the book is precisely because the issues it discusses have been largely (and inexcusably) ignored in our national political discussions.

Over the last five years, our country has been gradually though incessantly changing in fundamental and radical ways. The things we see and hear our government doing are squarely at odds with how we perceive of ourselves as a nation and the values which Americans, by definition, universally embrace. We have watched while this administration imprisoned U.S. citizens on U.S. soil and claimed the right to keep them there indefinitely with no trial, no charges and no access to lawyers; routinely used torture as an interrogation tool; created secret gulags in former Soviet Eastern European prisons in order to detain people beyond the reach of the law or monitoring; and eavesdropped on American citizens, on U.S. soil, without warrants or oversight of any kind in patent violation of a 28-year-old law which makes warrantless eavesdropping on Americans a criminal offense.

Those scandals have received their fair share of attention, but this critical point has not: all of those scandals stem from the fact that we have a president who, expressly and out in the open, claims that he has the power to act in the broadly defined area of national security (which includes measures taken against American citizens on U.S. soil) without any "interference" from anyone -- including Congress, the courts, and even the law. In sum, we are radically changing our system of government, and, in the process, have transformed ourselves from a country that, for decades, was widely respected as a restrained and principled superpower into an amoral, highly militaristic and aggressive state which is widely feared and despised. As Digby, who has read the book, recently said when discussing its themes:

I'm not naive about American history. I know that the last two hundred plus years are rife with examples of our government failing to live up to its ideals. But for many of us who have grown up in the post World War II world of American dominance, watching our country casually discard its hard-won moral authority in favor of a childish insistence on "might makes right" is beyond disturbing. It hurts.

I genuinely believe there is a hunger to talk about what is happening to our country and why it is happening. The media is capable, at best, of talking about scandals and issues in day-to-day isolation. The fact that this administration has expressly embraced theories of presidential power which are entirely unprecedented and plainly alien to our most basic political values and traditions is something of unparalleled significance and yet also something that we have barely discussed as a country. I think Americans know there is something deeply amiss and are receptive to attempts to talk about what that is.

Moreover, the conditions are ideal to have a real discussion about the abuses and excesses of this administration. One thing which administration supporters such as York have failed to sufficiently appreciate is just how many people who previously supported this administration have now turned on it and have irrevocably abandoned it. The president's approval rating didn't plummet from 60% to 33% because "liberals" changed their minds. That has happened because people who were open to standing behind the president -- and who, for several years, did support him and his policies -- have changed their minds about his competence, his likability, his trustworthiness, and the overall wisdom of his world-view. That is an extraordinary shift. The group of people who believe that the Bush presidency is a failure extends far beyond "the Left" and includes virtually every group on every point on the political spectrum.

George Bush isn't just an unpopular president. He is close to reaching historic levels of disapproval. Richard Nixon's approval rating at the time he resigned his office after two years of the Watergate scandal was 25% -- only 8 points below the lowly level to which Bush has tumbled. As is clear, the vast majority of Americans believe that the Bush presidency has taken us down a very ill-advised and destructive path and attempts to explore how and why that happened -- and what can be done about it -- are naturally going to find a receptive audience.

York's main source of bewilderment seems to be that this book is simply a garden-variety "left-wing" attack on Bush -- hence, I'm a "left-wing blogger," the book contains arguments that have "become commonplace on the Left," and - as York said in a Corner item today -- the book (which he hasn't read) contains "little more than the standard anti-Bush boilerplate." For years, that's been the standard dismissive tactic for any criticisms waged against the "Commander-in-Chief" -- that such criticisms, by definition, are merely the by-product of left-wing hatred of the President and can therefore be ignored.

That tactic simply isn't working any more and that, more than anything else, is why people like York are so confused about what's going on. As indicated, most of the people who have turned against Bush - and the war in Iraq - are not "on the Left." It no longer works to equate anti-war opposition or anti-Bush sentiments with radical left-wing derangement because most Americans now share those sentiments.

More to the point, people know intuitively that objecting to the specific extremist policies of this administration is not a by-product of a liberal or conservative political ideology. The book's subtitle refers to a defense of "American values" because the principles which it defends and which this administration has been eroding and assaulting -- the rule of law, the guarantee of due process for Americans, the need for checks and balances, prohibitions on the use of torture and other lawless tactics which are the hallmarks of the lowest authoritarian regimes -- are not a function of liberal or conservative ideological beliefs. They have nothing to do with partisan allegiance. Instead, these values comprise the core, defining principles of who we are as a nation and the ideals that have guided us for 220 years.

The values under attack by this administration are the values which Americans believe in almost by definition. Defending them and opposing the attacks on them has nothing to do with liberalism and everything to do with an impassioned belief in the principles which have made our country strong and free and great since its founding. Again from Digby:

This is an issue with which every American, regardless of party, should be concerned. The founders knew that relying on the good will of men in power is stupid and we are seeing their predictions come true before our very eyes. The modern Republican leadership may currently have a monopoly on authoritarian impulses, but they are by no means the only people in this country who could be seduced by this Republican notion of executive authority.

The constitution is what protects all Americans from the dark side of human nature when it has power over others, regardless of party or political philosophy. Those of us who worry about this usurpation of the constitution and degradation of the Bill of Rights know that this is not a passing fashion that will easily be tucked back into its former shape. Once you allow powerful men to seize power it's awfully hard to persuade their successors to give it back.

The sources on which I rely in my book are primarily news accounts demonstrating what the administration has done and the theories it has embraced, along with the words of the founders regarding what our country was supposed to be and what it was designed to prevent. But to the extent the book relies upon contemporary political sources to make its arguments, those sources are Bob Barr, Bruce Fein, George Will, Antonin Scalia and others like them -- all of whom have eloquently argued that the administration's conduct is contrary to the most basic American values and poses a direct threat to the fundamental liberties which our constitutional republic was created to preserve. Attempts to dismiss these critiques away as "left-wing boilerplate" is as false as they will be ineffective.

Since I started this blog, I have said over and over and over that Americans may not pay close attention to political developments on a daily basis, but we all have instilled within us the belief that our country is great because of these core political values and principles of government that were created at its founding. And when those values are threatened with sufficient gravity, Americans will notice and will take a stand in defense of them.

That is why I wrote the book, and although this book would never have received the attention it has received without the energetic promotion from liberal bloggers, I believe it is having resonance because it condemns the extremist and un-American conduct of the Bush administration based on facts that have been virtually ignored by an attention-deficit media. It also resonates, I believe, because the book's objections to the administration's conduct transcend partisan allegiance and the liberal/conservative dichotomy, and are grounded purely in the values and political traditions that have long defined what America is.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum thinks he has a clever answer for York:

This is what passes for a mystery these days? On Tuesday, big liberal blogs started pushing their readers to pre-order Greenwald's book on Amazon, with the specific goal of driving up its Amazon ranking. And it worked. Mystery solved.

I will be the first to acknowledge - and, actually, was the first to acknowledge - that the discussion of the book by liberal blogs caused its initial surge. But -- as York pointed out -- in the last several months alone, bloggers with a much larger daily readership than my blog has have published books, accompanied by an equally large, if not larger, blog push for those books -- including books by Instapundit, Hugh Hewitt, National Review's Kate O'Beirne and Ramesh Ponnuru. None of that resulted in this level of ordering activity. Blogosphere promotion will definitely boost a book's sales, but there is obviously something else going on here.

I don't want to be in the weird position of arguing that there is something unique about my book that accounts for its initial success rather than just blogospheric promotion, but I also don't want what I think is the substantive significance of the the book's initial appeal to be obscured by incomplete explanations.

I really believe that its significance lays in the fact that the extremist and dangerous theories of lawlessness expressly adopted by the administration have received virtually no attention, and the fact that our national character and fundamental values are being radically changed -- through fear-mongering, exploitation of the terrorist threat, efforts to quash dissent, and plainly lawless and un-American policies -- is a discussion people want to have. And, the way in which that discussion has been conducted here over the past few months is, I believe, also a factor in why the book is being ordered.

There are also, I'm sure, more pedestrian factors influencing the ordering (the price, its paperback format, the connection of the book's themes to today's headlines). But trying to explain away the entire event by simply noting that the book was heavily promoted by blogs, aside from being illogical, also insults the intellegence of the people ordering the book. Lots of things are heavily promoted which people don't want. The reason I wrote the book is because I believe these issues are uniquely important and yet are not being discussed anywhere; that's the same reason I believe the book is finding an audience.

Using generalizations to describe political groups

Whenever I write a post about the tactics and behaviors of Bush defenders, some pro-Bush bloggers invariably write responses accusing me of unfairly generalizing, trafficking in stereotypes and prejudices, and exhibiting anti-Bush fanticism. There were a few such accusations yesterday in response to my post describing how the pro-Bush bloggers' mindless embrace of the erroneous Matt Drudge item illustrates their practice of choosing which "facts" to believe based upon which ones bolster their desired beliefs.

First, some credit where it's due. In response to the tidal wave of data and arguments conclusively demonstrating how wrong Drudge was (and, therefore, how wrong those were who rushed to embrace his assertions), Roger L. Simon -- who led the pro-Bush blogger embrace of Drudge -- posted a very straightforward, undiluted, and commendable apology and retraction: "I will do the right thing . . . and apologize to Markos Zuniga (sic) for my snotty comments about his book sales." Simon explained why his comments were made without reliable information. Everyone -- especially bloggers who post every day, in good moods and bad, with no editors -- is going to make mistakes in fact and judgment sometimes. What matters isn't if someone errs but how they respond when they do. I have nothing but good things to say about Simon's apology.

Similarly, Instapundit, who originally linked to the Drudge item while expressing some mild doubt about its accuracy, last night repudiated the Drudge claim rather aggressively: "Drudge should know better than to report a decently selling book as stalled. As it stands, he’s misreporting the situation." At least with regard to the deceitful Drudge claims which had been spreading like wildfire, it's hard to ask for more than that.

Finally, Captain Ed wrote an unusually gracious post the other day congratulating me for the book and John Aravosis for the cell phone privacy legislation which Aravosis' blog reporting engendered, concluding: "Both men show that the blogosphere's influence and power continue to increase and therefore make the market better for all of us. Congratulations on your successes." Ed would likely disagree with most of my book and most of Aravosis' postings but found the common ground -- that bloggers with vasty different views still have a common interest: namely, establishing the credibility and influence of the blogosphere and defending it against both rhetorical and regulatory assaults. It's commendable for someone to be that gracious with people with whom they disagree politically with regard to just about everything.

I say all of that not in order to create a moment of blogospheric peace and harmony, but instead, to lay the foundation for what I want to say about the use of generalizations when discussing political movements.

It is impossible to avoid generalizations when discussing political groups and the rhetoric and tactics those groups use. Everyone who talks about political conflicts by necessity resorts to generalizations at some point. We organize ourselves, sometimes loosely and other times formally, by groups -- Democrats/Republicans, conservatives/liberals, Right/Left, Bush supporters/opponents, war supporters/opponents, etc. Those group adopt tactics collectively, take on general behavioral attributes, are motivated by common objectives or needs, and come to be governed by distinct and dominant group forces.

It is critical and unavoidable to talk about, and defend or criticize, the behavior and attributes of these groups as groups. These political groupings win or lose, persuade or alienate, create or destroy, all as a result of the tactics and attributes which come to predominate and define what the group is. If we avoided talking about groups as groups -- which necessarily includes all sorts of generalizations -- it would mean that we would avoid talking about some of the most significant influences on political events. It's impossible and completely undesirable to avoid the use of generalizations when talking about political matters.

As necessary as they are, generalizations are fraught with risks and dangers. In any group of any size, the generalized statements which accurately describe the group's behavior will be inapplicable to various individuals who compose the group. That's just the nature of generalizations, and while that means one should exert caution when using generalizations, it does not mean that they ought to be avoided. They shouldn't be and can't be.

When I talk about Bush defenders and Bush followers and the Bush movement, I am referring to the tactics and behaviors exhibited by those who lead that movement and to those who most prominently, influentially and loyally defend it. As is true with all generalizations, none of it is absolute. Some Bush defenders deviate now and then from those strategies. Some of the individuals who lead or defend the movement may be uncomfortable with some of the defining rhetorical tactics and even repudiate them. But none of that undermines the validity and accuracy of the generalizations, which, by definition, describe what a group does generally, not every moment, in every instance, without exception.

Individuals themselves are complex and can act with conflicting motives. The most vicious and amoral tyrant can engage in a periodic act of kindness and generosity. Highly dishonest people can have moments of unusual candor, while the most magnanimous and selfless person can engage in isolated acts of cruelty and deceit. But most individuals, like most groups, end up with attributes which predominate, and it is entirely legitimate -- and necessary -- to talk about those attributes even if there are deviations and exceptions.

Many of the criticisms made against Bush followers are not unique to them. Individuals on the Left, in the center and everywhere else can also be vulnerable to group think, the selective disregarding of facts which conflict with their beliefs, and the temptations to abuse power. That ought to go without saying. But the combination of factors and circumstances which have defined the Bush presidency -- an extreme event (the 9/11 attacks), extreme imbalance in our government (accounted for by pro-Bush domination of all three branches of government), and extremists at the highest levels of the executive branch -- have made the Bush movement uniquely radical and extreme.

The idea that one can't talk about those things because some people who support George Bush may be nice, good, honest people -- or because some Bush supporters are complex people with mixed motives that aren't susceptible to generalized descriptions -- is just absurd. The Bush movement is identifiable by overriding attributes, tactics and behaviors which have had an extraordinary impact in fundamentally changing our country. Of course that movement is going to be talked about as a movement, and it ought to be.

What determines the accuracy of these observations isn't whether they exist on the level of generality but whether they are supported by documentation, evidence, credible sources, etc. Those who make generalizations about groups based on nothing but emotion and prejudice are acting irresponsibly, but those who describe group behavior supported with data and documentation are engaged in necessary and valuable analysis.

Our country is not governed by the Left or by liberals at the moment, and hasn't been for some time. Almost every government institution -- including the entire Executive Branch, both houses of Congress, and large swaths of the federal judiciary, particularly at the highest levels -- is dominated almost entirely by individuals who are loyal to the Bush presidency, its worldview, and the defining and predominant items on its agenda. The "Left," or any other group, controls virtually nothing. Our country is governed with virtually no opposition by the Bush movement and its defenders, and as a result, the corruption, dishonesty and abuses of power which one finds among them are the ones which, in my view, are the ones most worth talking about and battling against.

I read numerous pro-Bush blogs and other sources on a regular basis -- The Corner, Powerline, Michelle Malkin, Instapundit, Weekly Standard, the New York Sun, and scores of others, big and small. When someone blogs every day, they necessarily reveal far more about themselves than is usually revealed by people you don't actually know. Reading someone's blog on a daily basis is almost like sitting with them at the breakfast table every day -- with them in a whole array of moods -- while they sit and read the newspaper and talk aloud in an unmediated, unedited way about their views on pretty much everything. If you have that level of raw exposure to someone's thought processes, you come to learn how they think and reason, what their level of intellectual honesty is, and what motivates them.

Much of what I have come to believe about how Bush defenders think, how they behave, what motivates them, what tactics they use, is based upon the insight one develops as a result of having that level of exposure to their thought processes. With almost everyone opining so regularly and continuously on the Internet, how Bush defenders think and what they believe is all right there to look at -- it's all out in the open -- and, as a result, it can be amply documented. Almost every post I write about Bush defenders is usually stuffed full of links to pro-Bush bloggers or other Bush-defending advocates because I try to ensure that any such generalizations are supported by ample documentation and are accompanied by abundant (and meaningful) examples (i.e., from influential and representative Bush followers rather than obscure and unrepresentative ones). That is what I think distinguishes responsible generalizations from irresponsible ones.

The Bush movement generates such intense responses on both sides precisely because it is unusual, extreme, and radical. Those who defend it think that its radical departures are justifiable and beneficial and those who oppose it think they are destructive and amoral, but most people work with the premise that this administration has forged its own new path.

For that reason, it is to be expected that the Bush movement is discussed as an entity unto itself. Arguments of that nature are not inherently invalid because they are comprised of generalizations. To say "oh, he's talking in generalizations" is not an indictment of someone's argument. Whether the arguments are valid is simply determined by whether there is rational and evidentiary support for those generalizations. When I describe the behavior of Bush defenders, I never simply assert the description but always provide what I believe is ample support for it. One can dispute the persuasiveness of the claims or the support, but one cannot, in my view, claim that those descriptions are somehow inherently invalid because they are made in the form of generalizations.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Various matters

(updated below - updated again)

Here are a few short items which I will likely add to a little bit later today:

(1) I'm going to be on Air America's Majority Report tonight at 8:35 pm. You can find your local AAR station here or listen to the live audio feed here.

(2) As is their practice, Amazon has unilaterally reduced the price for How Would a Patriot Act? by 40%. The book continues to occupy the #1 position on the Amazon Top Sellers List. The tour, interviews, appearances, etc. are being planned now and will be scheduled around the date of the book's release (May 15). I will post those here as they are confirmed.

(3) This is what Michelle Malkin said about Ramesh Ponnuru's new Ben Domenech-edited book Party of Death:

Party of Death is the most important book of the year, if not the decade. Ramesh Ponnuru, one of the nation’s most penetrating and lucid young conservative thinkers, makes a thorough, reasoned case for respecting life. The good news is that the death cult of Planned Parenthood, Howard Dean, and the New York Times is on the way to ultimate defeat.--Michelle Malkin

What is "ultimate defeat"? Isn't death ultimate defeat? Why does everything which Michelle Malkin says always have such deranged and angry undercurrents, and isn't it particularly ironic to wish "ultimate defeat" on people while praising a book supposedly devoted to the decrying of death values?

(4) In other Corner news, Kathryn Jean Lopez finally comes clean and admits: "I credit Lucianne Goldberg with getting him the job" -- only she wasn't talking about all of Jonah's employers, but instead about Tony Snow's hiring as Press Secretary.

(5) Speaking of Michelle Malkin and the Corner, Michelle is (as always) enraged; today it's about some vandalism at UNC-Chapel Hill's ROTC armory, reflected by this picture which she posts:

Although Michelle blames left-wing anti-war protestors for the vandalism, couldn't that message have been expressed just as easily - and just as accurately - by people like Bill Kristol, Dick Cheney, John Hinderaker, Michael Ledeen, or Jonah Goldberg?

(6) The news from Iraq today:

A sister of Iraq’s new Sunni Arab vice president was killed Thursday in a drive-by shooting in Baghdad, a day after the politician called for the Sunni-dominated insurgency to be crushed by force.

In southern Iraq, a bomb hit an Italian military convoy, killing four soldiers — three Italians and a Romanian — and seriously injuring another passenger, officials in Rome said. The bomb struck the convoy near an Italian military base in Nasiriyah, a heavily Shiite city 200 miles southeast of Baghdad, said local Iraqi government spokesman Haidr Radhi.

Elsewhere, a U.S. jet fired two missiles at insurgent positions in Ramadi, U.S. officers said. Fighting also broke out northeast of Baghdad between Iraqi forces and insurgents.

Just the sheer quantity of killing on a daily basis makes it morally reprehensible for politically motivated individuals to minimize the violence and to suggest that it's really just all overblown.

(7) Arlen Specter today threatened to introduce legislation to cut off funding for the illegal NSA program if the White House does not cease stonewalling the investigation he is trying to conduct:

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said Thursday he is considering legislation to cut off funding for the Bush administration's secret domestic wiretapping program until he gets satisfactory answers about it from theWhite House.

"Institutionally, the presidency is walking all over Congress at the moment," Specter, R-Pa., told the panel. "If we are to maintain our institutional prerogative, that may be the only way we can do it." Specter said he had informed President Bush about his intention and that he has attracted several potential co-sponsors. He said he's become increasingly frustrated in trying to elicit information about the program from senior White House officials at several public hearings.

According to a copy of the amendment obtained by The Associated Press, it would enact a "prohibition on use of funds for domestic electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes unless Congress is kept fully and currently informed."

Specter also agreed with Democrats who say that any of the bills to tighten guidelines for National Security Agency program and increase congressional oversight could be flatly ignored by an administration with a long history of acting alone in security matters.

"It is true that we have no assurance that the president would follow any statute that we enact," Specter said. He said he's considering adding an amendment to stop funding of the program to an Iraq war- hurricane relief bill being debated by the Senate this week and next.

I can't count how many times I have criticized Specter for exhibiting pretenses of independence and dignity only to back down and obediently fall into line behind the White House. It's his defining charateristic. And the realization that the President preserves the right to break the law and that the White House is "walking all over Congress" is a few years late.

But still, it is encouraging to hear a Republican Senator in his position (Judicary Committee Chair) clearly state that the President believes he can break the law and threaten to cut off funds unless the White House cooperates with the Senate's investigation into the NSA scandal (h/t John Stephenson of Stop the ACLU, who says about Specter and others who think that the President shouldn't break the law: "If we are attacked again, and it could have been prevented by this program, you know who to point the finger at").

Stephenson, like so many Bush defenders, apparently thinks that the United States is so weak that we can only defend ourselves by allowing the President to break the law when he wants to. Ronald Reagan managed to comply with FISA while waging war against the Soviet Empire, but George Bush can't defend the country against some jihadists unless he eavesdrops on us without warrants.

(8) A video featuring Al Qaeda leader/Iraq branch Abu Musab al-Zarqawi surfaced the other day, and a U.S. military official is saying that it's "an act of desperation . . . that is indeed Zarqawi in his final hours." The official said: "He knows the people of Iraq are on the verge of foming a national unity government and democracy equals failure for Zarqawi. So he's pulling out all stops."

It's so interesting how this works. Whenever we don't hear from Al Qaeda leaders for awhile, it means that we're winning, because their absence that shows how they have to hide in caves and are probably really hurt or even dead. But then when we do hear from them, that also shows we're winning, because it shows that they're desperate and they know they're in their final hours.

It's the same formula that's used to assess increases and decreases in insurgent violence in Iraq. When the violence decreases for awhile, it means that we're winning because the insurgency is dying. When it increases, that means we're winning because it shows how desperate they're getting; they know they're dying and increased outbursts of violence are their last chance.

That's so lucky for us. Every event -- even opposite ones -- means we're winning. How come, then, we don't seem to be any closer to leaving, or achieving anything that would have made the incalculably costly invasion even remotely worth the costs?

Anatomy of the "thought" process of Bush defenders

(updated below with Glenn Reynolds & Hugh Hewitt book figures - updated again)

As much as anything else, Bush defenders are characterized by an increasingly absolutist refusal to recognize any facts which conflict with their political desires, and conversely, by a borderline-religious embrace of any assertions which bolster those desires. It's a world-view which conflates desire with reality, disregards all facts and evidence that conflict with the decreed beliefs, and faithfully embraces any assertions and fantasies, no matter how baseless and flagrantly false, provided that they bolster the mythology.

Thus, things are going really great in Iraq - just as we predicted they would. When we invaded, Saddam had WMD's and he was funding Al Qaeda. Oil revenues will pay for the whole thing, we will be welcomed as liberators, the whole war will be won quickly and easily. A large military presence is unnecessary because there is no insurgency. Bush is a popular and beloved President. All but a handful of radical fringe subversives in America support the war and believe terrorism is the overarching problem. Americans want to militarily confront Iran, want illegal warrantless eavesdropping, and are happy with how the country is being governed.

It never matters how much evidence arises demonstrating the falsity of these beliefs. They are not susceptible to challenge or reconsideration because they are the by-product of faith and desire and not a critical or rational assessment. They believe these things because they want to believe them, they have to believe them, because the whole world-view on which their identity and purpose has come to be based -- the brave, heroic President leading the great conservative nation in glorious, epic war-triumph over the evil Muslim enemy -- depends upon believing these myths. No facts can shake these beliefs because they aren't grounded in facts and aren't the by-product of rationality.

Yesterday, a relatively unimportant -- though particularly stark and instructive -- example arose which, to me, vividly illustrates how this fantasy-based "thought" process works. It began when Matt Drudge, probably the single least credible and most demonstrably dishonest source for information on the planet, wrote an undocumented, typically error-filled item claiming that the new book by Markos Moulitsas and Jerome Armstrong, Crashing the Gate (which Drudge referred to as "DAILY KOS"), was a huge flop because, according to Drudge, the book "has sold only 3,630 copies since its release last month." Drudge claims that his source was "Nielsen's Bookscan," whose "figures do (sic) include online sales from AMAZON.COM, and others." Since Nielsen's Bookscan does not include online sales, I assume Drudge meant to say "do not include online sales."

There are so many data holes and misleading omissions in this item that it is literally and wholly useless in determining whether the book is a success. I want to emphasize that what matters here is not whether the book really is a success (I have no idea if it is or isn't), but how the baseless Drudge assertion became gospel fact among Bush followers, a distorted and corrupt process which generally governs how they come to think about the world with regard to virtually every issue.

The uselessness of the Drudge item is self-evident. The most glaring and gaping hole is that the figures do not include online sales. Markos and Jerome are known almost exclusively for their work online. People who know them -- and who would therefore buy their book -- are almost certainly people who spend a lot of time online, and who therefore likely buy their books online. Given that their most noteworthy accomplishments are as bloggers, I would guess that the vast, vast bulk of people who buy Markos and Jerome's book order it online, not in brick-and-mortar bookstores. To try to analyze the success of their book by excluding online sales is blatantly and staggeringly dumb. It would be like trying to determine the success of the next Ann Coulter book by only looking at sales in Berkeley and Madison, Wisconsin.

Beyond that towering omission, one would need to know an array of facts that the Drudge item ignores in order to even make an educated guess about whether the book is a success. How many books were purchased during the lengthy pre-ordering process, when Kos readers were encouraged to order? What is the budget for the book, and how many units were expected to be purchased by now? And how does it compare to other comparable political books -- such as those recently published by Hugh Hewitt and Glenn Reynolds? Drudge (as well as Hewitt and Reynolds) are, revealingly, deafeningly silent about those comparisons.

In short, based upon the very partial slice of data Drudge provided (assuming it's even accurate), there is simply no way to know -- or even rationally speculate about -- whether the book is doing well or not. The item does not provide any rational person with the ability to make that assessment. And, as Markos pointed out, there is plenty of data Drudge left out which suggests the opposite conclusion.

Despite all of that, Drudge's baseless and deceitful proclamation -- that Crashing the Gate is a flop -- was immediately and mindlessly ingested as unchallengable fact by those whose mental processes are centrally guided by fantasy and desire, and it will forever remain as unshakable, conventional wisdom among them that the book failed, no matter how many facts in the future undermine their faith that it's true. Believing this provides emotional satisfaction for them, confirms the myths to which they desperately cling (Bush is popular, liberals are hated), and they therefore adopt it is a belief even though it does not correspond to reality. That really is a snapshot of what one, without hyperbole, could describe as the psychological imbalance that has driven the policies and actions of our government for several years.

The Drudge claim spread like wildfire among Bush followers yesteday. The delusional anchor was Roger L. Simon, who dribbled out some observations about what he called the "pathetic sales figures" for CTG, linking only to Drudge's inane item. Simon also asserted, literally without a single citation to anything, that the book by Glenn Reynolds -- whom Simon reverently describes as having "remarkable respect in the blogosphere for his integrity and intelligence" -- "is selling much better." He says this even though the only publicly available data that relates to that comparative assessment -- the Amazon rankings -- shows that CTG is at #33 (#24 yesterday), while Reynolds' book is at #1,006 (#1,157 yesterday). What rational person could possibly claim that Reynolds' book "is selling much better" than CTG?

These twin items by Drudge and Simon -- equally baseless, fact-free and misleading on their face -- were mindlessly recited as fact by countless Bush followers all day yesterday. The always fact-free Powerline John dutifully recited the claim that CTG "has sold an astonishingly low 3,630 copies," and even repeats Simon's fantasy-driven fiction "that Glenn Reynolds' book is selling well." Right Wing News drools: "it's really nice to see Kos's book nosedive into the pavement." The Bush zombie at BlogsFor Bush echoes the script: "I've stopped laughing long enough" to note that "there is no mention of the pathetic book sales of Kos's book on the site's front page." And PunditGuy, after celebrating the "failure" of CTG, says this:

Kos claims that Drudge’s numbers aren’t on the up and up. What-ev-eh.

Doesn't that pretty much capture the whole sickness? "There are facts that suggest that what I am saying is not actually true. What is my response do that? 'What-ev-eh.'" As in: "Some people claim there are facts that show that things in Iraq are not going really great. Something about civil war, sectarian hatred, anarchy, widespread violence, a total lack of security. What-ev-eh."

Don't they have somewhere lurking in their brain any critical faculties at all? For the sake of one's own integrity and reputation if nothing else, who would read an undocumented assertion on Drudge -- no matter how much of an emotional need they feel for it to be true -- and then run around reflexively reciting it as truth, writing whole posts celebrating it and analyzing it, without bothering to spend a second of time or a molecule of mental energy trying to figure out if it's really true?

This intellectually corrupt syndrome goes back a long way and has been festering for a long time. Nuggets of deceitful, fact-free fantasy get planted in some cesspool like Drudge and then mindless followers who want to believe it start repeating it as fact, and then it gets ossified forever as conventional wisdom and can never be dislodged from their minds. That's how Al Gore came to "claim that he invented the Internet," how Howard Dean became a far left radical pacifist, how Jessica Lynch had a heroic shoot-out with Al Qaeda and was then rescued by gun-blazing Marines, how Moveon.org produced commercials saying that Bush was Hitler, how Saddam funded Al Qaeda and personally participated in the planning of 9/11. It's even how the lesbian, Hillary, killed Vince Foster in order to ensure that their affair (or whitewater crimes or drug-running landing strip) would be kept quiet and, to this day, it's how Bill Clinton was a wildly unpopular president.

Soon after 9/11, the Bush movement became driven by much more than a set of political beliefs. It provides its adherents with much more than just a vehicle for political activism. It gives them purpose and a feeling of strength and power that they otherwise lack. In that sense, it is not dissimilar to a religion, and it is therefore unsurprising -- but nontheless ugly and destructive -- that their beliefs and convictions are not grounded in facts and reality but in a resolute faith that cannot be shaken by facts. Every event is interpreted so as to bolster the faith, facts are disregarded which undermine the faith and fact-free assertions are embraced which confirm the faith.

The way in which it became an instantaneous certainty that CTG is a failure (and Glenn Reynolds's book is a grand success) -- a "fact" that will endure in those circles forever, literally -- reflects a process that repeats itself over and over, with a whole range of issues. That is the process that led us into Iraq and not only kept us there, but ensured that we remained immoveably wedded to policies which were so plainly producing nothing but horrendous failure. Being able to pick and choose what facts you want to believe based upon which ones feel good or vindicate your desires can be emotionally satisfying, but there is no more destructive and dangerous mental approach than this for determing how the world's sole superpower will be governed.

UPDATE: Like Drudge, Patrick at Making Light has access to the Bookscan sales data. Unlike Drudge, Patrick not only published the sales figures for Crashing the Gate but also for Glenn Reynolds' book Army of Davids:

As of this morning, for Reynolds’ An Army of Davids (February 2006), Bookscan reports 1716 retail sales and 2609 “discount” sales, for a total of 4325.

As of this morning, for Armstrong and Kos’s Crashing the Gate (March 2006), Bookscan reports 2598 retail sales and 1804 “discount” sales, for a total of 4402.

In other words, despite the fact that it’s been available for four fewer weeks, Kos and Armstrong’s book has now clocked Bookscan sales in excess of Reynolds’. Notably, several hundred more full-price sales. This is leaving aside the fact that Kos and Armstrong’s book is currently at #40 on Amazon, whereas Reynolds’ is at #801.

So not only is CTG outselling Reynolds' book -- by far -- on Amazon (as well as on B&N), it has also sold more copies according to Bookscan -- Drudge's chosen source -- even though Reynolds' book was released before CTG. Patrick clearly understands the publishing world and his whole post is worth reading.

All of the available evidence shows that CTG is selling better then Reynolds' book, and yet, in the mind of the Bush follower, Reynolds' book is a grand success while CTG is an embarrassing failure. What else can that be called other than delusional?

UPDATE II: According to a source I cannot reveal but whose credibility is sky-high with me, these are the Bookscan figures for Hugh Hewitt's Painting the Map Red:

1712 - retail
931 - discount
2643 - total

How come Roger Simon, Powerline and Drudge aren't talking about what grotesque flops the books are by Reynolds and Hewitt? At least according to the Bookscan data they were venerating yesterday, those books make Crashing the Gate look like The DaVinci Code.

UPDATE III: In this post, I identifed multiple reasons why no rational person could form a conclusion about the success of CTG based on the information provided by Drudge, one of which -- and only one of which -- was that the Bookscan data does not include online sales from Amazon. Thereafter, I listed the specific sales figures showing that contrary to the central point made by the likes of Roger Simon and Powerline yesterday, Crashing the Gate, by every available measure, is significantly out-selling Glenn Reynolds' book (not to mention Hugh Hewitt's book, which is lagging even further behind).

According to Pat at Brainster's Blog, who also left comments here to the same effect, the sales data from Bookscan does include Amazon sales, and Pat posted a chart sent by Bookscan. In the posts I linked to above, both Markos and Patrick at Making Light said Bookscan does not include Amazon sales, a point Patrick bolstered here. That the Bookscan data really does include all or most of the Amazon sales is something I highly doubt, and whether it does is not indicated by the chart or by Pat's claims about the statements from Bookscan.

Nonetheless, if Bookscan includes all or most of the online sales from Amazon - and that is far from proven - that would mean that that specific criticism of Drudge's statement was in error. All the others are accurate, and more importantly, the central claim made by Bush followers -- that CTG is a failure and that Reynolds' book is doing much better -- is demonstrably false. If Pat were really as interested in securing apologies for misleading statements, there would be several e-mails from Pat in the in-boxes of Roger Simon, Powerline John and Drudge -- all of whom made patently false statements yesterday -- demanding such apologies. Why is it that I know that there aren't any such emails?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The power of the blogosphere

(updated below)

In just one day, before it has been released, and with literally nothing more in the way of marketing and publicity than a handful of bloggers discussing it and a very committed and passionate blog readership here, How Would a Patriot Act? went to #1 on the Amazon Top Sellers List last night, and it sits there currently. Both thank you and congratulations are in order for everyone who helped make that happen, especially the regular readers of this blog and the other bloggers who have supported both this blog and the book, and I want to make a few observations about why I think this is so potentially significant:

(1) This book is a pure blogosphere book. The book's ideas and arguments were developed almost exclusively as a result of writing this blog. The research was done primarily by blog readers who worked with me on the book, and I discovered many of the arguments and much of the evidence that comprise the book as a result of reading comments here as well as the posts of other bloggers.

The publisher, Working Assets, approached me about writing the book as a result of their reading this blog. They were willing to commit to the book, first and foremost, because they were committed to publicizing the ideas and arguments in it. But the fact that the liberal blogosphere along with more independent and centrist bloggers would likely discuss and support the book enabled them to feel comfortable that the book -- just from blogs alone -- had a viable marketing base. They were obviously right about that.

There have been a few other recent blog-based books, including Markos and Jerome's highly successful Crashing the Gate, Get This Party Started by Chris Bowers, and Tom Tomorrow's recently released Hell in a Handbasket. Publishing books by bloggers, the ideas for which largely emerge from the blogosphere, is clearly a model that works and will only grow.

(2) That matters not simply because bloggers are new faces, but because so many of the ideas, so much of the analysis, and the underlying approach to political change which characterize the blogosphere is just different in nature than most everything else that comprises the standard national media discussions of the political issues facing our country. That isn't to say that the blogosphere is perfect (it definitely is not) or that it doesn't have disadvantages as compared to the national media (it does). But very generally speaking, the blogosphere is a fundamentally different way of talking about, thinking about, and being engaged in political matters, and all of that means that the content it produces, the ideas it generates, are substantively different than what gets produced elsewhere.

Whole books could be (and, I believe, have been) written on how and why the blogosphere is different. The collaborative nature of it is definitely one of the principal factors -- unlike some paid media pundit who talks only to a handful of like-minded and similarly situated pundits and others in the isolated elite political class, the blogosphere is nothing more than the aggregate by-product of mass, undiluted conversations taking place among thousands of highly motivated, engaged and well-informed citizens every day.

But beyond being just collaborative, the blogosphere is characterized by an independence and autonomy which is glaringly absent in the conventional national media venues. As Jane Hamsher eloquently observed the other day, there has to be some significant motivation for someone to go to their computer every day and do the work to maintain a blog, just as something has to motivate people to spend time at their computers every day reading and participating in intense, detailed political discussions.

Bloggers, their readers and commenters are mostly just citizens who are highly dissatisfied with the conventional media outlets and dominant political institutions, all of which have failed in so many ways. What is most significant about the blogosphere, in my view, is that it enables direct and immediate communication -- and coordination -- among huge numbers of dissatisfied citizens who want to force new ideas and arguments into what was previously a closed and highly controlled media and political dialogue. And, gradually and incrementally, it's working. I think we are at the very beginning of that process and the impact on our country's political processes will only grow, vastly.

Reading other blogs is what made me become much more attentive to the political crises we face, and is what then motivated me to start this blog. That happens over and over again, to thousands and thousand of people. That is just inevitably going to have a significant impact.

Given how broken and rotted our media and government institutions are (with some noble exceptions), fundamentally new ideas and different voices, no matter their imperfections, can only be an improvement. Our media and government are, on the whole, staid, depleted, corrupted, broken down china shops that could use some good, irreverent, aggressive bulls running through them.

(3) Specifically with regard to How Would a Patriot Act?, I can't think of anything that would be more gratifying and, in my view, more beneficial for our country than for the issues it raises to enter the public discourse, and I know that most everyone who reads this blog shares that view.

Whatever else one might want to say about this administration, it is simply indisputable that the theories of executive power it has adopted are radical, extremist and extraordinary; the policies adopted pursuant to those theories -- including the efforts to intimidate the media, stifle dissent, and prevent disclosure of its conduct -- are wholly alien to our most basic political values and traditions; and the entire approach to governing the country is unlike anything we have seen for a very long time, if ever.

Regardless of whether one thinks those theories and policies are justifiable, there is simply no question that allowing them to fester and become legitimized and institutionalized -- and we are well on our way to that destination -- will change our country in fundamental and likely irreversible ways. The changes will be not just to our laws and system of government but to our national character.

The absolute worst and most inexcusable thing is for that to happen without Americans even having a debate about those issues, really without even being aware that these things are occurring. But outside of the blogosphere, we haven't had that discussion -- at all -- because the media, for multiple reasons, just doesn't report it, pundits don't discuss it, very few people with any real public voice outside of the blogosphere have explained and opined about the fact that all of these scandals stem from a common source: the President's expressly stated belief that he has the power to act without restraints and outside of the law, literally.

I believe that so many people ordered the book yesterday, including many who ordered multiple copies, because there are huge numbers of Americans who want to find ways to force these self-evidently critical issues into the public discourse and will enthusiastically support any effective project designed to do that. I know it sounds borderline trite and naive, but I really do believe that Americans are not going to just sit idly by and let the government continue to assault our political values and radically undermine the political system that has made our country great, strong and free for more than two centuries.

Americans are instilled from an early age with a commitment to our political values and liberties, even if it buried by other distractions and life concerns, but that deeply felt commitment has been triggered and galvanized to great effect many times before in our history, and can be again. If the media fails to perform its central function to serve as a watchdog over the government and to ensure that citizens are informed about what the government is really doing -- and it has been failing in that function, dreadfully -- citizens who are committed to defending the principles of our country will find other ways -- will create other ways -- for that to happen.

That is what I think largely fuels the blogosphere, and I think it's also what explains why there is such impassioned and truly awe-inspiring support for things like How Would a Patriot Act? There are many, many people who see that this administration has created a genuine and profound crisis for our country; that the safeguards which are supposed to exist against those abuses have been co-opted, eroded away, and are largely useless; and that it is therefore incumbent upon them to take matters into their own hands and find and create ways to force these facts into the light.

UPDATE: In a post about the unique virtues of the blogosphere, I would be remiss, as several commenters pointed out, if I did not mention the truly pernicious threats to the neutrality and independence of the blogosphere posed by various proposed regulations which would vest telecommunications companies with greater power to control access to Internet sites. Matt Stoller has been leading the effort to ward off these threats, and Digby adds some insights regarding the havoc which some of these proposals would wreak on the blogosphere.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The need for a political soul

(updated below)

Brad Friedman of BradBlog informally interviewed Russ Feingold several days ago at a dinner at which Feingold spoke, and Freidman recounted Feingold's answers on various topics of interest. The most revealing was Feingold's answer as to why he did not consult with the Democratic Senate caucas before announcing his intention to introduce his Censure Resolution:

First, he made clear that, contrary to the general impression out there, there is no rule or requirement for a Senator to confer with anybody before proposing something on the floor of the Senate. Thus, he simply proposed the Censure Resolution having decided that "it was the right thing to do."

That decision came, he said, after the end of the year. He had been encouraged by the tough stance the Democrats had taken concerning renewal of the Patriot Act before the session ended, but found that during the break their resolve seemed to have disappeared and they returned to their "foxholes"."Foxholes?" I interrupted..."Yes, I said, foxholes," he answered back quickly, with a clear inference that he had chosen the words quite deliberately.

Once he'd felt the Dems had again lost their resolve to fight, and once the information concerning the warrantless NSA spying had come to light, he'd decided the right thing to do was to simply take action. And he did."Yes," I followed up, "and don't get me wrong, I strongly support your effort there, but might you have gotten more support from your Democratic colleagues had you consulted with them first before announcing the Resolution publicly?"

He explained that had he done that, the matter would have then been vetted by "Democratic consultants" who would have decided to kill the idea entirely before it could even be proposed on the floor. "Our party," he said, "is too beholden to Democratic consultants."

Initially, it should be noted that I have been waiting for some time to hear Feingold explain: (a) whether he did provide any advance warning to other Senators before announcing his Censure Resolution and (b) if not, as seemed to be the case, what the reasons were for not doing so. This is the first time I have seen anyone ask him this. That the truly probing questions are being asked by bloggers rather than by national journalists is becoming increasingly commonplace.

As for Feingold's explanation, it is easy to see exatly what he is describing. Democratic consultants attacked and tried to kill his resolution even after it was announced and had been widely publicized. Is there any doubt at all that had he consulted in advance with Democrats, all that he would have confronted would be efforts to dissuade him from doing anything?

As Crashing the Gate chronicles, and as Feingold implied, the Democratic Party has all but turned itself over to highly risk-adverse, overly calculating political consultants who have drained the party of ideals, passion, energy and life. Almost all of them inspire nobody, because they so transparently lack any governing principles or passion about anything. They embrace only those ideas which are guaranteed in advance to be popular, and they run from ideas they believe in and that are right whenever they are told -- by the bookish, soul-less consultants who dominate them -- that those ideas are risky or unpopular. And everyone sees this and knows this.

Say what you will about the Bush movement, but it is difficult to accuse it of lacking passion and conviction. Indeed, the deep emotional fulfillment it provides to its adherents is one of its greatest strengths. Democrats never throw caution to the wind or take a real stand -- one that might be unpopular or risky -- for anything, including their core convictions, to the extent such a thing exists any more. The Swift Boat attacks in the 2004 election were so effective mostly because they provoked no reaction from Kerry -- no fury, no aggression, no unrestrained human conviction. When a response finally did come, it was pre-scripted, contrived and transparently empty, and that became the hallmark of the campaign.

Feingold's Censure Resolution had such resonance because it was something which came -- finally -- from conviction, from principle, from a political soul. Here is how Feingold described it, as summarized by Friedman:

Whether supported or passed or not, Feingold said, it's important for the history books. When people look back to see what happened here, and wonder if anybody stood up for our Constitution in the face of unprecedented disregard for it, via the illegal practice of spying without a warrant on American citizens on U.S. soil, it'll be right there that at least he and about five others in the Senate had the courage to stand up and say, "No, this is wrong."

Jane Hamsher wrote yesterday about an American Prospect article by John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira on closing the "identity gap" for Democrats, and as Jane argued, the central problem for the Democrats is not that independent and swing voters think that Democrats stand for nothing, but that core Democrats like Jane think that, too.

The desire, by itself, to put a stop to an administration that is plainly out of control will carry a political party only so far. At the moment, this Presidency is collapsing so fast and furiously that it is probably unnecessary, from a strategic perspective, for Democrats to articulate some overarching "vision." And even if they wanted to, their long-standing stagnation and belief in nothing would render them unable to formulate such a vision by November. Political principles aren't just cooked up overnight by some consultants, which is the point.

But what is critically important is that Democrats stand for something. It almost matters less what that "something" is than that they demonstrate they are capable of taking a stand even in the face of whiny, fearful warnings from their consultants. The Censure Resolution is still pending. The administration's blatant lawlessness -- exacerbated greatly by their recently intensified efforts to quash dissent, intimidate investigative journalists, and prevent disclosure of their wrongdoing -- is a serious threat to our country, and it is very difficult to see what possible justification exists for having Democrats continue to stand by, quiet and invisible, while all of this unfolds. More than anything else, that's what Democrats have become -- quiet and invisible.

UPDATE: The conservative group, Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances -- along with the libertarian group Liberty Coalition and the ACLU -- is sponsoring a press briefing tomorrow demanding that Congress take seriously the president's lawbreaking as part of the NSA scandal. According to the e-mail I received:

Is the NSA Spying Program Constitutional?

The National Security Agency’s program of warrantless wiretapping deserves a full and thorough inquiry by Congress. Please join the Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances and the Liberty Coalition in a conversation about the warrantless NSA spying program as well as current legislative proposals.

The speakers include:

Bob Barr
Former Republican Member of Congress Chairman of Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances

Bruce Fein
Constitutional Scholar- Former Associate Deputy Attorney General for President Reagan

Michael Ostrolenk
Co-Founder/National Director of the Liberty Coalition

Lisa Graves
ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel for Legislative Strategy
Former Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Policy under Attorneys General Ashcroft and Reno

When: Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Where: Rayburn 2226
Time: 2:15-3:15pm

If you have any questions please call Tsoghig Marieann Hekimian at 202-675-2337

As the President's approval ratings plummet towards truly embarrassing depths, and as the scandals mount, the administration is experiencing difficulty in sweeping the NSA scandal under the rug. Many predicted it would all be wrapped up and disposed of long ago. The fact that opposition continues to come from ideologically diverse groups reflects that what is at stake are not any ideological precepts or partisan interests, but the most basic American principles of government.

My Ecosystem Details