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.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Various items

(1) I am leaving this week to begin my month-long book tour, and my blogging may be light this week. I am going to try to blog as much as possible during the tour but I assume that with the extensive travel and all of the other obligations, I won't be able to blog nearly as frequently as usual. As a result, I have arranged for three superb guest bloggers to post here throughout June, as little or as much as they want: (i) veteran Guest Blogger Anonymous Liberal; (ii) Barbara O'Brien of Mahablog; and (iii) regular commenter Hume's Ghost, who also blogs at his own blog, DailyDoubt.

They are very different in their blogging style and approach to issues, but what they all have in common is that they think thoroughly about every issue before writing, and most importantly (at least to me), never spew predictable opinions reflexively or out of some partisan obligation. It's great for me, and for this blog's readers, to know that on the days I can't blog here, there will be high-quality and provocative posts.

Regarding the book, How Would a Patriot Act? debuted this weekend at #10 on the Washington Post's Washington area Best Seller list (under Paperback Nonfiction).

(2) I have a lot to say about the Supreme Court's 5-4 travesty yesterday in Garcetti v. Ceballos (.pdf), which severely limited the First Amendment protections available to public employees/whistleblowers when speaking in their "official capacity." I hope to post about this later today, but may not be able to until tomorrow. In the meantime, Marty Lederman has a typically thorough discussion of the legal issues relevant to the decision, and Jack Balkin has posted a broad analysis of its legal implications.

This is not as politically charged an issue as it might seem at first glance. This has been a messy doctrinal area in the Court's jurisprudence for some time now, and the issues the Court had to resolve don't really have a direct relationship to the whistleblower issues which have caused political controversy of late. And the ruling affects only First Amendment protections for whistleblowers, not statutory rights. Nonetheless, the instincts of the majority (Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy) to strip whistleblowers and other public employees of constitutional protection is significant, and is an arguably ominous sign of things to come . That's particularly true when it appears that this case would have gone the other way before Alito took O'Connor's seat. I will write more on this later.

(3) Last week, the Bush administration normalized diplomatic relations with Libya -- and is soon to remove them from the list of terrorist countries for the first time since 1979 -- despite the fact that that Libya's internal repression is among the worst in the world and it is about as far away from democratizing as a country can be. All of those pro-Libya actions are direct and glaring contradictions of our supposed foreign policy principle of only supporting countries which provide democracy and freedom to their citizens (although, purely coincidentally, Libya has developed superb relations with international oil companies).

In virtually every Middle Eastern country, we seem to be acting as contrary to our ostensible ideals as possible -- including our increased support for Gen. Musharraf in Pakistan despite his increasing stranglehold on that country's democratic processes, our strengthening alliances with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and our contempt for those governments which are democratically elected but not to our liking, including Hamas, Hugo Chavez, and even the government of Iran.

It's as though we think that Muslims -- whose improved view of the U.S. is allegedly the objective of all of our foriegn policy actions, including our occupation of Iraq -- won't notice the ever-widening gap between our pro-democracy rhetoric and our actions. Of course they notice. And now, even the administration's most vigorous neonconservative boosters are admitting, and complaining, that the administration seems to have given up on these pro-democracy goals, if they ever really had them in the first place:

But as the US struggles to assert itself on the international stage, the president’s most radical supporters now dismiss this as mere rhetoric, and traditional conservatives are questioning the wisdom of a democratisation strategy that has brought unpleasant consequences in the Middle East. . . .

“Bush killed his own doctrine,” they said, describing the final blow as the resumption of diplomatic relations with Libya. This betrayal of Libyan democracy activists, they said, came after the US watched Egypt abrogate elections, ignored the collapse of the “Cedar Revolution” in Lebanon, abandoned imprisoned Chinese dissidents and started considering a peace treaty with Stalinist North Korea.

More than anything else, our foriegn policy is just a horrendous, jumbled, incoherent mess -- actions in search of some post hoc, unifying rationale. We embrace the worst tyrants in China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Egypt; act with hostility to numerous democratically elected governments that we dislike; and then preach to the world that all of our actions, including our militarily aggressive ones, are geared toward the goal of spreading democracy and freedom around the world.

There are good, convincing, legitimate reasons why we should maintain alliances with undemocratic countries which nonetheless promote U.S. interests (including, for instance, a country's cooperation in tracking Al Qaeda activities, as Libya's intelligence service provides). Virtually every country makes its foreign policy decisions based on that self-interested calculus. But we are a country which has now loudly proclaimed that everything we do -- including invading soveriegn countries -- is justified by our need to bring democracy to the world. Once a country makes that the proclaimed centerpiece of its foriegn policy, acting in direct contradiction to it achieves nothing other than the destruction of national credibility and the failure of every claimed foreign policy objective.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Karl Zinsmeister should lose his White House job

Unsurprisingly, the national press appears to be on the verge of declaring that the fraud committed by new Bush appointee Karl Zinsmeister is really not all that serious, and, now that he has given a (plainly false) explanation for what he did, it is time to drop the whole unpleasant story and let him take his prestigious new job. Reflecting that mindset is this truly shoddy and one-sided piece of “journalism” from today's Washington Post, which presents a microcosm of so much that is defective with the national press.

To briefly re-cap what really ought to be a disqualifying event for Zinsmeister, the New York Sun broke the story this weekend that Zinsmeister was the subject of an article in the Syracuse New Times written by reporter Justin Park. The article was largely positive, but contained some politically inflammatory and risky quotes from Zinsmeister, including some comments which could actually be construed as pointed criticisms of the Commander-in-Chief. Zinsmeister wanted to publicize the article to his American Enterprise Institute readers, but obviously did not want anyone to see the quotes he had uttered.

So, rather than linking to the original article, Zinsmeister re-printed the article on his own site, but deleted or changed all of the quotes that he disliked or that were embarrassing, while misleading his readers into believing that he was printing the article as it originally appeared in the New Times. To describe Zinsmeister's conduct is to illustrate its impropriety.

Anyone who has ever been written about or quoted in a newspaper has had the experience of wishing -- for a whole slew of reasons -- that certain quotes or statements were expressed differently. But everyone knows that you can't take the article once it's published and then re-publish it by simply changing the parts you don't like. The most obvious ethical principles would prevent someone from that doing that. Really, who would do that? Making matters worse here, Zinsmeister was a Magazine Editor for the last ten years, so he obviously knows better than anyone that it's wrong to substantively change the content of someone's article in order to make it reflect better on him.

The New York Sun article over the weekend included a quote from a White House spokesperson claiming that Zinsmeister only altered the article to correct misquotations and other errors made by the reporter -- a plainly ludicrous excuse given that Zinsmeister never once claimed that the article contained any errors, but rather, sent e-mails to the reporter praising him for his professionalism and competence. That is so obviously inconsistent with believing that you were misquoted in serious and numerous ways.

What is going on is obvious. Having been caught in plainly unethical acts, Zinsmeister is incapable of simply accepting responsibility for what he did by admitting that he did it not because he was misquoted, but because the statements he made to the reporter were embarrassing to him, or did not express his ideas how he wanted them to be heard, and so he simply changed the quotes without letting anyone know that he was doing that. Instead, reflecting not just a lack of integrity but a total lack of character, Zinsmeister is now trying to defend himself by smearing the competence of the reporter, heaping all the blame on him in order to save himself.

While The New York Sun article contained some rather angry and persuasive responses from the reporter and the New Times -- which really make clear just how dishonest Zinsmeister is being by trying to blame the reporter -- the Washington Post article today inexcusably allows Zinsmeister to articulate his excuses for why he changed numerous quotes and other parts of the article that he posted free of any opposition or alternative claims. What makes the one-sidedness so indefensible is that Zinsmeister's excuse essentially entails smearing the competence and integrity of the reporter who originally wrote the article, and yet the Post article does not even bother to interview the reporter whom Zinsmeister is blaming or give his side of the story. Thus, Zinsmeister is allowed to make insultingly dishonest claims like this one free of refutation or challenge:

"Looking back, this is foolish," he said in a telephone interview Friday evening. Zinsmeister said he did it to correct the record while protecting a young journalist who had made mistakes. . . .

In other examples, he said he made changes to fix errors he believed the New Times reporter had made because of misunderstandings or truncated notes -- taken in an interview in a noisy restaurant. . . .

But Zinsmeister said he avoided asking for corrections at the time because "I think I would have gotten Justin in worse trouble if I moaned about it."

So, not only is this whole mess the fault of the sloppy, misquoting reporter, Zinsmeister actually performed a noble act. Sure, he could have complained about the misquotes or noted that he was misquoted when printing the article. But he would never want to harm the career of this "young reporter" by noting that he was misquoted (so instead, to protect his new job and his own reputation, he now impugns the reporter's basic quotation abilities in the pages of the Washington Post).

Shouldn't it obvious to the Washington Post Editor that if they are going to publish a story where a high-level Bush appointee heaps blame for his unethical conduct on a reporter, the reporter should be given the courtesy of being quoted and allowed to give his side of the story? That's especially true where, as here, the reporter vehemently denies Zinsmeister's claims and has very strong documentary evidence to support those denials, possibly including a tape recording of the interview. Did the Post even bother to contact Park to get his reaction to Zinsmeister's new attacks or to determine if a tape exists?

Worse, the article never once expresses even slight skepticism over the highly incredible excuses which Zinsmeister is peddling for why he did what he did. Readers who learned about this integrity scandal only from The Washington Post today would think that this was just a minor incident designed to correct some misquotations, and that Zinsmeister just handled the situtation "unartfully," to use Tony Snow's word of defense. Post readers would have no idea of what is really going on - that Zinsmeister is invoking plainly incredible claims to justify what he did which are denied by the reporter in question and contradicted by his own words at the time.

Nor is Zinsmeister entitled to any credit for acknowledging that the quote distortions were “wrong.” He admitted that because he had to. That conduct is intrinsically unethical and everyone knows it. And even then, the supposed acknowledgment of fault was constructed to belittle the importance of what he did. What Zinsmeister did wasn't "foolish," as he playfully put it. It was dishonest and wrong. And, where Zinsmeister has a real opportunity to choose to be truly honest about what happened -- by admitting the real reasons he did it - he instead chooses to lie about it and tries to smear the reputation of the reporter in the pages of the Washington Post.

Zinsmeister is not all that important. If he does not take this position, there will be some new AEI clone lined up ready to perform the duties. But what does matter is that the administration should finally be held to some level of integrity by the national press. Zinsmeister engaged in plainly wrongful and dishonest conduct. He only admitted it when he was caught. And now that he's caught, he is offering plainly incredible excuses at the expenses of someone else's career. How can that not disqualify him from a high-level position at the White House?

What really is going on here seems clear. Zinsmeister is one of those guys who has been around journalism and Washington forever. He is well-connected and well-liked by his good friends like Scott Johnson and Jonah Goldberg. He is one of the Beltway club. And, as a result, there is just no appetite among the national press for doing anything other than giving the most cursory and skewed attention to this story with the goal of resolving it quickly and ensuring it does not impede Zinsmeister's career. How else to explain the Post's decision to allow Zinsmeister to blithely heap all the blame on another reporter without even bothering to interview that reporter to get his side of the story?

Sunday, May 28, 2006

New Bush appointee caught changing and distorting his own quotes

Several days ago, the Bush administration announced that Karl Zinsmeister, the long-time Editor of the right-wing American Enterprise magazine, would become its new Domestic Policy Advisor. The appointment was celebrated by self-proclaimed personal friends of Zinsmeister such as Scott Johnson at Powerline and Jonah Goldberg, both of whom lauded his great intellect and integrity.

But an exposè today in The New York Sun documents rather compellingly that integrity does not exactly appear to be one of Zinsmeister's strong suits. In 2004, The Syracuse New Times published a profile and interview with Zinsmeister which contained some rather controversial and provocative quotes, as well as some disrespectful and critical quotes about the Commander-in-Chief. But when Zinsmeister re-published the New Times profile on the American Enterprise website, he fundamentally changed the controversial quotations in order to make it appear that he never said them. According to the Sun:

A magazine editor named to a top White House policy post, Karl Zinsmeister, altered his own quotes and other text in a published newspaper profile of him posted on the Web site of the magazine he has edited for more than a decade, the American Enterprise.

When Zinsmeister re-published the New Times profile on his website, he did nothing to indicate that he had changed the quotes and content. To the contrary, he misled his readers into believing that he was posting the original article:

The version of the story posted by the American Enterprise runs under Mr. Park's byline and states that it was published in the Syracuse New Times.

The editor of the original article, Molly English, pointed out the obvious:

She said it was unethical for Mr. Zinsmeister to post an altered version of the story without permission. "It's reprehensible, frankly," Ms. English said. "Once this is published, it's not his property. From that point in time, he can't just pick and choose."

All of the multiple examples of changed quotations cited in the Sun article make clear that Zinsmeister knew that his quotes would be politically damaging and so he wanted to alter them in order to reflect better on him. As but one example, Zinsmeister changed what he said that was critical of President Bush to instead make it appear reverent:

Mr. Zinsmeister, who has written three books based on his reporting trips to Iraq, also removed or reworded quotes that could be viewed as critical of the Bush administration or inflammatory to some in the Middle East.

The original article quoted Mr. Zinsmeister as saying, "[Bush] said, 'I'm gonna do something for history.' To say nothing of whether it was executed well or not, but it's brave and admirable. It got depressing to have to be [in the Middle East] every couple years like cicadas."

The version posted by the American Enterprise omits the suggestion that the war was poorly run, drops the insect metaphor, and substitutes nobler language. "[Bush] said, 'I'm gonna do something for history.' It's a brave and admirable attempt to improve the world," the second version said.

As another example: "Mr. Park also quoted the magazine editor as saying, 'I can't think of one Iraqi I met that I'm confident never lied to me.' Mr. Zinsmeister's version said he passed on the comment from 'one officer who'd been in Iraq for a full year.'" So, afraid of taking responsibility for what he said about the propensity for Iraqis to lie, Zinsmeister altered the article to make it seem like he was simply repeating what someone else had told him.

Much, much worse than these alterations -- and they are bad enough -- Zinsmeister caused a White House spokesperson to simply lie about why Zinsmeister made the changes:

In response to queries from The New York Sun yesterday, the White House said all of the changes were to correct errors in the August 2004 article, which was written by Justin Park and published in a weekly newspaper, the Syracuse New Times.

"These were corrections that were made due to misattributions or misunderstandings by the reporter that were cleaned up when they were reposted," a White House spokeswoman, Jeanie Mamo, said.

The claim that Zinsmeister was simply correcting misquotes is ludicrous on its face, since he never once claimed to the reporter or editor that he was misquoted in any way, let alone repeatedly misquoted in fundamental ways. To the contrary, after the story was published, he went out of his way to lavishly praise the reporter and the newspaper for the quality of the profile:

The New Times reporter, Mr. Park, said last night that he was "fairly certain" that he taped the interview with Mr. Zinsmeister, which the journalist said took place at a noisy restaurant. Mr. Park also said he was taken aback by the White House claim of inaccuracies, since Mr. Zinsmeister sent an effusive e-mail soon after the article appeared.

"I just read your story on line, and wanted to thank you for an extremely fair and thoughtful treatment," Mr. Zinsmeister wrote in an August 18, 2004, message provided to the Sun by Mr. Park.

Mr. Zinsmeister, an avowed conservative and staunch proponent of the war in Iraq, also expressed surprise at Mr. Park's approach, since the New Times is a left-leaning publication. "I really appreciate your professionalism and kindness. You wrote it straight up, which is the best and hardest kind of journalism. Let me know when I can next help out your journalism," the editor wrote.

"I'm sure he would have said something if he felt misquoted at the time," Mr. Park said yesterday.

Is there anything less credible in the world than Zinsmeister's claim - made through the White House spokesperson - that he altered these potentially embarrassing quotes because he was repeatedly misquoted, given that he not only never claimed he was misquoted, but sent e-mails praising the outstanding journalism evinced by the story? Nobody who was misquoted in such fundamental and unfair ways would thereafter send e-mails specifically praising the "professionalism" of the reporters and lauding the "fair and thoughtful treatment" they were given, let alone call the article "the best and hardest kind of journalism." All of that is self-evident.

Zinsmeister clearly changed his own quotes because he thought they reflected poorly on him, an incredibly unethical thing to do, especially since he misled people into believing that he was quoting the article itself. Now, when caught, he refuses to take responsibility for what he did, but instead begins offering up patently false explanations for why he did it, even going so far as trying to heap the blame on the supposedly sloppy and/or unethical practices of the reporter and editor who were responsible for the story -- all in order to save himself.

This kind of reprehensible behavior would completely disqualify Zinsmeister from working with any reputable organization which cared about honesty, integrity and truthfulness. That's the good news for him; his new job is clearly not in jeopardy with the Bush administration. He's probably already in line for a promotion.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

People who don't understand how America works

The United States Congress openly debated yesterday whether the federal government should begin imprisoning journalists who publish stories containing information which the Bush administration wants to conceal. At a House Intelligence Committee hearing, several Republicans expressly urged that our country start throwing reporters in jail:

The criticism focused on articles in The New York Times concerning a National Security Agency surveillance program and, to a lesser extent, on disclosures in The Washington Post about secret C.I.A. prisons overseas.

Some Republicans on the committee advocated the criminal prosecution of The Times. Their comments partly echoed and partly amplified recent statements by
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales that the Justice Department had the authority to prosecute reporters for publishing classified information. . . .

"I believe the attorney general and the president should use all of the power of existing law to bring criminal charges," said Representative Rick Renzi, Republican of Arizona.

Several members of the Committee pointed out that the U.S. is not a country which imprisons journalists for stories which they publish about controversial government actions:

Democratic members of the committee, while praising the role of the press in informing citizens, responded only indirectly to the comments concerning The Times. Representative Jane Harman, Democrat of California, said she was disturbed by Mr. Gonzales's statements.

"If anyone here wants to imprison journalists," Ms. Harman said, "I invite them to spend some time in China, Cuba or North Korea and see whether they feel safer."

This was the same Jane Harman who went on Meet the Press on February 12 and strongly implied that she favored prosecution of the Times for informing Americans about the warrantless eavesdropping program, leading many Bush followers to celebrate the fact that the ranking Democrat on the Committee made clear that she advocated prosecution of the Times. But perhaps between then and now, someone explained to Harman that while there are countries that imprison journalists for stories they write about the Government (Harman's examples of China, Cuba and North Korea are good ones), America isn't one of them.

National Review Contributing Editor Jonathan Adler this week wrote a very thorough article in NR explaining what ought not need explanation -- that these increasingly strident calls among "conservatives" to put journalists in jail are squarely contrary to the most fundamental American political values and traditions (emphasis in original):

Such a prosecution would be unprecedented, as the federal government has never criminally prosecuted a journalist for publishing classified information.

We do not mean to minimize the negative diplomatic fallout that Priest’s reporting [about the CIA's "black prisons"] might have caused. It is certainly possible that her stories made it more difficult for the United States to obtain the cooperation of foreign governments in the war on terror. Yet if this is the sort of injury that can trigger liability under the Espionage Act, then many reporters who have disclosed embarrassing, classified information are equally guilty. Just consider all of Bill Gertz’s stories in the Washington Times about the Clinton administration’s national-defense and diplomatic missteps. Were these stories criminal? . . . .

The Founding Fathers understood that a free and independent press is critical to self-governance and to the constitutional order they established. The Constitution states that Congress “shall make no law” abridging the freedom of the press. This mandate is clear and unmistakable. The press should be free to publish news reports without fear that Congress will criminalize those publications.

As one can say for so many core American political principles, the U.S. Government under 42 different Presidents has thrived and defended the nation for 220 years without the need to imprison journalists for the stories they publish, but the Bush administration is the first to claim that it has to dismantle these liberties because it is too weak -- and America is too weak -- to maintain national security unless we radically change the kind of country we are.

And, quite relatedly, we come to this story which claims, based exclusively on anonymous federal law enforcement sources: "Federal investigators say they have evidence that former Chicago street gang member Jose Padilla was a higher ranking member of Al Qaeda than first thought." The entire article is based on the anonymous claims of "federal authorities" -- i.e., those trying to imprison Padilla for life (and just incidentally, why would a newspaper grant anonymity to federal prosecutors to make allegations against a criminal defendant, all in order to publish a one-sided story?).

Among the crowd which has long been ready to string up U.S. citizen Jose Padilla without bothering to even charge him with a crime (literally based exclusively on the President's decree that he is A Terrorist), this story has created a lynching frenzy, somehow increasing the urgency to leave him in a black hole with no due process. Here is what Jeff Goldstein, one of the most intense enemies of American values, oozed out upon reading this story (emphasis added):

Wow. Just, like...wow . . .

Which, Christ, when I think how many earnest people, in advance of having all of the information, agitated on behalf of this guy’s “civil liberties”—civil liberties he had every intention of using to help wage war against the US (which is why we need to have a serious debate on both how it is best, legally, to handle home grown combatants, and how to use the military tribunal process)—I get that same foul taste in my mouth I used to get whenever I’d hear Wesley Clark talk about, well, everything, now that I think about it.

All the Government has to do is utter the words "Al Qaeda" and it's enough, literally, to cause some people to start swooning with glee and open-mouthed wonderment. Needless to say, multiple America-hating commenters at Jeff's blog expressed outrage that the U.S. Government finally charged Padilla with crimes after holding him for 3 1/2 years in solitary confinement based solely on the President's unreviewed accusations.

That's how this group of Bush followers thinks America is supposed to work. If you are a U.S. citizen, the President can unilaterally order you abducted and imprisoned; does not have to charge you with any crime; can block you from speaking with anyone, including a lawyer; can keep you incarcerated indefinitely (meaning forever); and can deny you the right to any judicial review of your imprisonment or any mechanism for challenging the accuracy of the accusations. And oh - while it would be nice if we could preserve all of that abstract lawyer nonsense about the right to a jury trial and all that, we're really scared that Al Qaeda is going to kill us, so we can't.

Here is what Antonin Scalia said in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld in explaining why the Constitution bars the Government from imprisoning U.S. citizens without a trial:

The very core of liberty secured by our Anglo-Saxon system of separated powers has been freedom from indefinite imprisonment at the will of the Executive. . . .

The gist of the Due Process Clause, as understood at the founding and since, was to force the Government to follow those common-law procedures traditionally deemed necessary before depriving a person of life, liberty, or property.

When a citizen was deprived of liberty because of alleged criminal conduct, those procedures typically required committal by a magistrate followed by indictment and trial. See, e.g., 2 & 3 Phil. & M., c. 10 (1555); 3 J. Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States §1783, p. 661 (1833) (hereinafter Story) (equating “due process of law” with “due presentment or indictment, and being brought in to answer thereto by due process of the common law”). The Due Process Clause “in effect affirms the right of trial according to the process and proceedings of the common law.” Ibid. See also T. Cooley, General Principles of Constitutional Law 224 (1880) (“When life and liberty are in question, there must in every instance be judicial proceedings; and that requirement implies an accusation, a hearing before an impartial tribunal, with proper jurisdiction, and a conviction and judgment before the punishment can be inflicted” (internal quotation marks omitted)).

As Scalia makes so clear -- but shouldn't need to -- if there is any defining American principle, it is that the President can't throw U.S. citizens in jail without charges and a trial. Since the 13th Century Magna Carta, not even the British King could do that. But there are virtually no American political principles left which are not being called into question, if not overtly attacked, by Bush followers. Prohibitions on torture, the right to a jury trial, the obligation of the President to obey the law, the right of the press to publish stories without criminal prosecution -- all of the values which have distinguished this country and defined who we are as a nation for the last two centuries are all being debated and assaulted.

What do you do with people who never learned that American citizens can't be imprisoned by Executive decree and without a trial, or that American journalists aren't imprisoned for stories they write about the Government's conduct? People like this plainly do not embrace, or comprehend, even the most basic principles of what America is.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Various items

(updated below)

A few items of note:

(1) As I posted a couple of days ago, I found the Democrats' embrace of Gen. Hayden's nomination as CIA Director to be indefensible and strategically inept. The reason isn't because there was a real chance to block the nomination; the Republican majority made confirmation all but inevitable. The reason for Democrats not to support the nomination was to avoid (accurate) lead paragraphs like this one, from a Reuters article today reporting on Hayden's confirmation by the full Senate by a vote of 78-15:

The U.S. Senate on Friday confirmed Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden as CIA director in a vote that gave a broad bipartisan endorsement to the architect of President George W. Bush's domestic spying program.

To put it mildly, it is difficult to listen to Democrats express solemn "concern" over the president's lawbreaking when the majority of those in the Senate just voted to install as CIA Director the principal symbol, advocate and "architect" of the President's illegal NSA programs.

(2) A couple of weeks ago, I posted about the vicious and hateful (though entirely unsurprising) character and patriotism attacks on Jack Murtha, all because he had obviously been apprized -- and then disclosed -- that the investigation into the deaths of Iraqi civilians in Haditha concluded that they were the result of cold-blooded, wholly unjustified murder by U.S. soldiers. Today, The New York Times confirmed Murtha's statements that the investigation had reached this conclusion. I won't bother noting the apologies owed to Murtha, but it is worth examining the significance of this story.

It is certainly true, as many pro-war advocates today have noted, that incidents of this type are inevitable in every war. And it is also true that the mere existence of incidents of this sort does not prove that the war is unjustified, since even the most justified wars have included soldiers engaging in gratuitously cruel, violent and outright criminal behavior. The killings are morally reprehensible but do not constitute direct evidence as to whether the war itself was, from the beginning, a justified war. That's all true enough.

But what incidents of this type do underscore is that wars are not something that are to be routine or casual tools in foreign policy. The outright eagerness and excitement for more and more wars that we see so frequently from some circles is not only unseemly and ugly unto itself -- although it is that -- but it is also so reckless and unfathomably foolish. Every war spawns countless enemies, entails incidents which severely undermine a nation's credibility and moral standing, ensures that the ugliest and most violent actions will be undertaken in the country's name, and, even in the best of cases, wreaks unimaginable human suffering and destruction.

Certain circles in our country see war as the first and only option for dealing with every country they dislike. They have no use for diplomacy, negotiations, containment, incentives, alliances -- that's all the girlified stuff of Chamberlain-like appeasement. Any measures short of war for dealing with Iran, for instance, are pure charade, all just pit stops along the way to the Glorious War. They see war as the only thing that works, the only option worth pursuing. They want war. It excites them, makes them feel strong and purposeful, and convinces them that they are the only ones with the resolute will to defend what is Right.

But incidents like these Haditha killings illustrate the moral bankruptcy and sheer stupidity of that mindset. Rational people believe in their gut that war should only be used genuinely as an absolute "last resort." But we have a lot of people in our country, some of whom are employed in and near the Oval Office, who see it as the first and only resort. To the extent that the cold-blooded, calculated murders of innocent Iraqi civilians illustrates the reprehensible folly of that approach, all the better.

(3) The dates and events for my book tour for How Would a Patriot Act? are starting to become somewhat clearer. The June 6 event at the University of Florida which I had previously talked about is not a public event, but they are trying to arrange an event on campus earlier that day for a seminar or book reading or something along those lines. If that happens, I will post the details as soon as I know them.

The multiple San Francisco events will be June 7-10, and I will post the details for each event when everything is confirmed. I will be at YearlyKos in Las Vegas from June 10-12 (on a June 10 morning panel), and at the Take Back America conference in Washington, DC from June 12-14. I am not sure of the dates when I will be in New York, but we have confirmed a June 17 book reading at 8:00 p.m. at the West Side YMCA in New York. The other cities on the tour that are confirmed are Boston, Philadelphia and (probably) Los Angeles. Others are still possible, and much of the schedule still depends on what media appearances get confirmed and when. I will continue to post dates as I have them.


(4) There are some interesting items in the roll call vote on Hayden's nomination (h/t Prof. Forland and EJ). Arlen Specter was the sole Republican voting against the nomination, signalling yet again (for whatever it's worth) that he's growing increasingly angry over the stonewalling he's encountering in his efforts to investigate the NSA eavesdropping program. Democratic Senators voting against the nomination included Clinton, Durbin and Obama. Democratic Senators voting in favor included Ried and Schumer.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Powerline: The Iran "yellow star" sham is true

(updated below)

The war-mongers who are pining for the next phase of their Glorious War of Civilizations -- regime change in Iran -- thought they hit the jackpot last week when the pro-War, Israel-centric National Post of Canada published a column by neoconservative Amir Teheri which claimed that the Iranian parliament had passed a new law mandating "separate dress codes for religious minorities, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians, who will have to adopt distinct colour schemes to make them identifiable in public." The warmonger pundits immediately began screeching how they found definitive proof that Iran is the New Nazi Germany -- a new law requiring that Jews wear yellow identifying strips on their clothing.

But the story was a complete scam, total fiction, and everyone -- including the National Post and the pro-Israeli groups which were promoting the story --now acknowledge that the story was false. Everyone, that is, except for the fact-proof fanatics at Powerline, who continue to insist that it's true.

As CNN reports, National Post has now categorically retracted the story and admitted that it's false:

A Canadian newspaper apologized Wednesday for an article that said Iran planned to force Jews and other religious minorities to wear distinctive clothing to distinguish themselves from Muslims. . . .

But the National Post, a longtime supporter of Israel and critic of Tehran, admitted Wednesday it had not checked the piece thoroughly enough before running it.

"It is now clear the story is not true," Douglas Kelly, the National Post's editor in chief, wrote in a long editorial on Page 2. "We apologize for the mistake and for the consternation it has caused not just National Post readers, but the broader public who read the story."

This article from Jewish Week -- headlined: "Anatomy of a Hoax: False story alleging special yellow insignia for Iranian Jews spurred by Wiesenthal Center's flawed confirmation" -- details how many pro-Israeli organizations (including AIPAC and the Simon Wiesenthal Center) pushed the story as hard as possible, while some exercised more caution. But the publication of the story by National Post, combined with the mindless and reflexive support of scores of neoconservative organizations and pundits intensely yearning for removal of the anti-Israeli regime in Iran, caused the false story to explode into the public dialogue. The Jewish Week article details the predictable fallout:

The ensuing media blaze was like a match thrown onto a tinderbox, starting with the National Post page one banner, headlined: "IRAN EYES BADGES FOR JEWS?" - followed within hours by blogs, wire services, radio reports, Rush Limbaugh and outraged press statements issued by Jewish groups carrying the news to millions.

And any doubt about the circles that spat up this false story are dispelled by this paragraph in that article:

Benador Associates, the public relations agency that placed the story with The National Post, is a boutique firm specializing in promoting neoconservative figures such as Taheri, Michael Ledeen, Richard Perle, Charles Krauthammer and others who supported the Iraq war and "regime change" in Iran now.

The same people who conjured up the cakewalks, Saddam's chemical stockpiles and mushroom clouds that led us into the Iraq disaster are now trying the same fraudulent tactics to induce Americans to get rid of the regime in Iran. But as the article details, all of those groups now recognize that the story was false. Indeed, the original newspaper publishing the story has not just retracted it, but said expressly that it is false.

But just as they continue to insist that Iraq had WMDs and elaborate contacts with Al Qaeda, Powerline is not going to abandon this claim just because every fact makes indisputably clear that it is false. No - they have a war to deceive people into, and nothing will take precedence over that. In an amazing post to which both Scott "Big Trunk" Johnson and John "Rocket" Hinderaker contribute, they insist that the crux of the story is true, and they even trot out their standard line by excoriating the "MSM" for covering up the story. Scott, for instance, says:

I am struck, however, by the lack of interest in the undisputed component of the law on which Taheri focused. Taheri reported that the the (sic) Iranian Majlis had adopted legislation that prescribed the clothing to be worn by Muslims . . .

Taheri also reported that the law "envisages separate dress codes for religious minorities, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians." It is the latter element of the law that generated the furor, but I have not seen any report taking issue with Taheri's account of the pending imposition of an Islamic dress code. If such a dress code were to become effective, religiously based noncompliance (assuming it is permitted) would identify the offenders as non-Muslims or infidels. Along with Reuters and the Daily News, the mainstream media have overlooked this apparently troubling consideration.

Displaying his only talent, Rocket then takes the deceit one dishonest step further and adds this:

As Scott notes, it is hard to see how Iran can regulate the clothing worn by Muslims without also regulating the clothing worn by non-Muslims, either explicitly or implicitly.

There simply is no law in Iran that has anything to do with mandating what non-Muslims should wear. It does not exist. And it never did. And everyone acknowledges that except for Powerline. From Jewish Week:

[Israeli expert on Iran, Meir] Javedanfar told The Jewish Week he spent "about 40 minutes" talking to sources in and outside of Iran and, more importantly, getting the text of the legislation off the Internet. His review of the extensive parliamentary debate of the bill, also available online, showed that such a proposal was not even part of the discussion.

Indeed, the law's text and parliamentary debate, available in English from the BBC Service, discloses no provision mandating that any Iranians will have to wear any kind of prescribed dress. It instead focuses on promoting "traditional clothing designs" using Iranian and Islamic patterns by Iran's domestic fashion industry and preventing "the import of clothes incompatible with cultural Islamic and national values." The law is meant to develop and protect Iran's clothing industry, Javedanfar said.

At this point, the only way to claim that Iran has passed a law regulating the clothing which non-Muslims must wear is by lying. But that's exactly what Powerline is claiming. And four months from now, and six months from now, when the debate intensifies over whether the American military should forcibly change Iran's government, Big Trunk and Rocket will be writing posts insisting that Iran has a law requiring Jews and Christians to wear identifying clothing, and they will link to the post they wrote today setting forth the "rationale" which proves that, and scores of other warmonger pundits and bloggers will link to that post when arguing, with increasing urgency, that Iran is the new Nazi Germany and that those who oppose an attack on it are a bunch of appeasers who never learned the mistake of Neville Chamberlain and who don't care if another Holocaust occurs.

Even the extremists who peddled this story now admit that it's false. Only Powerline continues to claim that it's true. Isn't that fairly definitively proof of the complete lack of credibility, integrity and honesty of TIME's Blog of the Year? There is no limit on what they are willing to fabricate in order to justify their defense of the administration and to push the country to war with Iran. But if this patently dishonest insistence on clinging to a plainly false story isn't enough to compel their removal from mainstream respectability, what would be?

UPDATE: Taylor Marsh, who has done some substantial original reporting on this story from her blog, has a detailed and very interesting post today exploring the question of who bears original and ultimate responsibility for the manufacture and distribution of this false story. Be sure to follow the links to Taylor's other posts where you can see the chronology of her impressive journalistic involvement in this story.

Specter and Feinstein propose a ban on funding for all eavesdropping outside of FISA

(updated below - and again)

A generally reasonable -- and potentially quite significant -- bill was jointly introduced last night by Senators Arlen Specter and Dianne Feinstein. The essence of the bill is to mandate that any and all eavesdropping on U.S. persons on U.S. soil fully comply with FISA (which is really another way of saying that the Bush administration is required to comply with the existing law called FISA), and it also bars the use of any federal funds for any eavesdropping programs which do not fully comply with FISA.

A detailed summary of the bill from Sen. Feinstein's office is here. These are three of the principal provisions:

• Re-state that FISA is the exclusive means by which our government can conduct electronic surveillance of U.S. persons on U.S. soil for foreign intelligence purposes;

• Prohibit the use of federal funds for any future domestic electronic surveillance that does not fully comply with the law; and

• Expressly state that there is no such thing as an “implied” repeal of FISA laws. In other words, no future bill can be interpreted as authorizing an exemption from FISA unless it expressly makes an exception.

Although there is a link to a .pdf of the actual bill on Feinstein's site, it doesn't work, so I have not yet been able to review the bill itself. But I should have a copy shortly (see UPDATE below).

The principal benefit of the bill is that it (a) eliminates the ludicrous claim that the AUMF implicitly authorized the administration to eavesdrop in violation of FISA and (b) expressly bars any future claim that Congress "implicitly" provided an exemption from FISA. The bill also liberalizes FISA's procedures to rectify the allegedly cumbersome warrant procedures -- including by expanding the warrantless window period from 72 hours to 7 days, streamlining the paperwork procedures, and easing the emergency eavesdropping requirements. These changes are designed to remove the excuses made by the administration as to why FISA is inadequate or excessively burdensome. The bill also requires that the full Senate Intelligence Committee be briefed on all eavesdropping programs.

A few observations about this bill:

(1) For better or worse, Feinstein and Specter carry significant influence with regard to these issues. Feinstein is viewed as a moderate, at least, on intelligence and defense issues, and Specter is a Republican. The fact that they have jointly sponsored a bill prohibiting eavesdropping outside of FISA and blocking the AUMF claim is going to be a serious obstacle in the effort to resolve the NSA lawbreaking scandal.

(2) The fact that Specter has now actually sponsored legislation to cut off funding for the warrantless eavesdropping program -- as he vowed a couple of weeks ago he would do -- is plainly significant.

(3) It goes without saying that the administration believes it has the right to violate this law. In terms of the president's theories of lawbreaking, this bill is no different than FISA -- given the premise that he has the power to eavesdrop on Americans however he wants, he will claim the power to break this law every bit as much as he claims he has the power to violate FISA. But if this bill were to pass, it would remove one of the two legal justifications the administration has -- namely, that the AUMF implicitly authorizes warrantless eavesdropping -- and force them to rely solely on their lawbreaking theories. It would also force them to find a way to fund any non-FISA eavesdropping activities notwithstanding a Congressional ban on such funding.

(4) The largest unresolved question is how this legislation would interact with the other proposed, still-pending FISA amendments sponsored by Sen. Specter, Sen. DeWine and others. This latest Feinstein/Specter bill merely requires that eavesdropping comply with FISA, whatever FISA might allow. It does not ban warrantless eavesdropping. Thus, if Sen. DeWine's legislation were enacted, and warrantless eavesdropping were expressly allowed by FISA, this Feinstein/Specter legislation would not actually block the warrantless eavesdropping program in any way.

It is impossible to get a real read on where Specter is at the moment with all of these issues. I don't think he knows. But this morning's Congressional Quarterly (subscription req'd) details just how far away the Congress is from agreeing to a legislative solution:

The new approach is at odds with Specter's earlier legislation that would require the administration to seek approval from the special court for the entire surveillance program, rather than case-by-case surveillance.

Specter, R-Pa., has been haggling with the other Republicans on the Judiciary Committee over changes to his earlier bill, which the committee plans to mark up Thursday.

The other Republicans, particularly Jon Kyl of Arizona, want Specter to strip out language requiring the administration to seek the FISA court's approval for the program. They also want to delete several provisions of the 1978 law, including language that mandated it to be the "exclusive means" to conduct surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes. They also want to make the deletions retroactive to when the 1978 law was enacted.

Specter has circulated several draft substitutes to his earlier bill along those lines, but it's unclear at best whether he will agree to the changes demanded by other Republicans to move his legislation out of committee.

The panel has two other NSA-related bills on its schedule. One measure (S 2455), by Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, would subject the NSA program to more congressional oversight and give the administration the option of seeking approval from the secret court for surveillance of particular targets. The other bill (S 2468), by Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., would allow people who believe they could be targets of NSA surveillance to go to federal court to stop it.

Meanwhile, Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., is busy working on his own measure regarding the surveillance program. Roberts intends to claim his
committee's jurisdiction over any measure that Specter's committee produces. Roberts has said Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., wants Roberts and Specter
to work out any differences over their bills themselves.

Ultimately, Specter and Feinstein agreed to this bill not knowing what the new FISA -- if there is one -- would ultimately permit. So, its real purpose seems to be to force a showdown with the administration over the president's obligations to obey the law, whatever the law might mandate. It does that by removing the administration's excuse that Congress allowed it to violate the law (with the AUMF), and by exercising the Congress' undisputed constitutional authority to cut off funding for any program that exists outside of FISA. It therefore forces the administration's hand by making it much, much more difficult for the administration to eavesdrop in violation of the law. The bill, at its core, is really an assertion of Congressional power to regulate eavesdropping on American citizens on U.S. soil, combined with a strategic effort to block the administration from ignoring the law in the future by removing most of its defenses for doing so, and by banning any funding of non-FISA eavesdropping.

To the extent that this bill brings us closer to the necessary (and, in my view, inevitable) showdown over the Bush administration's refusal to obey the law, I think it is a step -- perhaps a significant step -- in the right direction. And the bill clearly signals that we are still very far away from any sort of resolution of the NSA scandal, which, by itself, is cause for optimism. Despite the disappointing and baffling events of yesterday with regard to Gen. Hayden, I do think that the beaten down, humiliated Congress smells a little blood over at the White House, and this step, tentative and modest though it is, could signal an increased willingness on the part of the Congress finally to demand that it once again play some actual role in how our government functions.

UPDATE: Thanks to Rachel Perrone of the ACLU, who has e-mailed me a .pdf version of the actual bill. The summary on Sen. Feinstein's site is quite accurate and comprehensive, but the bill itself seems even stronger than the summary suggests. The very first provision emphasizes that FISA shall be the exclusive means for eavesdropping -- one of the provisions which Bush's most loyal Senate allies are most devoted to eliminating. It also requires fairly thorough briefing on all eavesdropping activities to the full Intelligence Committees of both the Senate and the House.

Additionally, the bill specifically contemplates a warrant procedure, i.e., that eavesdropping require the approval of the FISA court, so it would be very hard to reconcile this bill with, for instance, Sen. DeWine's bill allowing warrantless eavesdropping. This bill seems to signal that Sen. Specter is committed to prohibiting any eavesdropping without the approval of a FISA judge.

UPDATE II: Sen. Specter's statement regarding the bill is here. Characteristically, he includes a provision speculating that his own bill might be unconstitutional for daring to regulate the eavesdropping activities of the President. Sen. Specter is never going to change his behavior; it is too deeply engrained in his character. But the fact that this is a very positive development does not rely upon the strength of Sen. Specter's convictions, but upon the fact that there is serious resistance in the Congress to allowing the White House to force an easy resolution of this scandal which shields them from accountability for their past lawbreaking.

UPDATE III: An online .pdf of the Feinstein/Specter bill is here (h/t EJ).

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Any differences between Democrats in 2003 and today?

(updated below)

Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday essentially assured that President Bush's nominee to head the CIA, Gen. Michael Hayden, would not only be confirmed by the full Senate, but confirmed overwhelmingly. That's because a majority of the Democratic Committee members (along with, needless to say, all of the Committee Republicans) voted in favor of confirming Gen. Hayden:

The Senate Intelligence Committee strongly endorsed Gen. Michael V. Hayden on Tuesday to be the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency, with all but three members, all Democrats, voting to send General Hayden's nomination to the Senate floor.

The panel's 12-to-3 vote virtually guarantees that General Hayden will win confirmation by the full Senate, which is likely to vote on his selection before the end of the week.

Four committee Democrats joined all eight Republican members in endorsing the general. Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas and the panel's chairman, called General Hayden "a proven leader and a supremely qualified intelligence professional."

The committee's vice chairman, John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia, said General Hayden had shown "the necessary independence that is essential to restoring the C.I.A.'s credibility and stature."

Given the similarities, it sounds like Pat Roberts and John Rockefeller drafted their statements together, which is nice. Four Democrats -- Feinstein, Rockefeller, Levin and Mikulski -- voted for Hayden and then praised him lavishly. Three Democrats -- Feingold, Wyden and Bayh -- voted against him.

Although it's hardly surprising, this result is still rather extraordinary. Gen. Hayden ought to have been seen as the most defiant and inflammatory nominee possible for the President to have made. He was, after all, the Director of the NSA at the time it implemented its illegal warrantless eavesdropping program as well as its massive data-collection schemes, and he is a True Believer in the theories of presidential power which hold that the President has the right to violate the law. And he wasn't nominated to be the Agriculture Secretary, but the Director of the CIA -- probably the very worst position you would want someone to occupy with that history of surveillance lawbreaking and that system of beliefs regarding the rule of law.

But no matter. Thanks to the generous and always-accommodating Senate Democrats, this nomination will be trouble-free for the President. This series of events led John Cole yesterday to make this insightful observation:

While I miss not spending as much time reading blogs, writing as many posts, and commenting on other blogs, stepping back from it all has allowed for some clarity regarding the current political system. When I was immersed in blogs, I felt that the Democrats were having some success blocking the current administration, but when I look back, I was just fooled by the current game. The Hayden nomination is a perfect example.

When he was nominated, a few people had fits, a chorus of echoes emerged, and then there appeared to be a popular effort to block his nomination. And then time went by, and now it looks increasingly like he will be confirmed, as everyone has moved on to something else- “Look- a Rabbit!”- as everyone gets all worked up about the FBI raiding Rep. Jefferson’s office or whatever the issue du jour might be.

And if you look back on things, that is how it has been since the beginning of this administration- they do what they want, Democrats throw up an opposition that is of varying degrees of tepidness (did I just make that word up?), a few ‘maverick’ Republicans cross lines (briefly), and then the administration gets what they want.

Rinse and Repeat. . . . In short, while immersed in the blogosphere, you get the feeling that the political climate is changing, but if you step back and look at the big picture, it looks much more like the SSDD.

It is very hard to argue with that. There was already ample grounds for attacking the Hayden nomination when it was announced, and then, right in the middle of it, an all new, highly controversial, likely illegal NSA program was revealed for which he was responsible. But that was barely a speed bump in the harmonious, smooth sailing of his confirmation.

For all the talk of the weakened and impotent presidency and the split among Republicans, it is still virtually always the case that the President gets what he wants, and does so without much difficulty. The few times he fails to -- Harriet Miers, the Dubai Port deal, anti-torture legislation -- is because Republicans, not Democrats, take a stand against the White House.

But by and large, what happened yesterday with Gen. Hayden's nomination is exactly what would have happened in 2002 and 2003. Democrats are afraid to challenge the President due to their fear -- always due to their fear -- that they will be depicted as mean, obstructionist and weak on national security. And so, even with an unbelievably weakened President, and even with regard to the most consequential issues -- and can one doubt that installing Gen. Hayden as CIA Director is consequential? -- Democrats back away from fights, take no clear position, divide against each other, and stand up for exactly nothing.

It is quite possible that Democrats would not have been able to stop Gen. Hayden's nomination. It is true that they are still in the minority and thus are limited in what they can achieve legislatively. But that's really irrelevant. Gen. Hayden is a symbol and one of the chief instruments and advocates of the administration's lawlessness. He refused to say in his testimony even whether he would even comply with the law. Opposing his nomination is both compelled by a principled belief in the rule of law as well as justified by the important political opportunity to highlight this administration's lawbreaking. Sen. Feingold, as usual, shows how this works:

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

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

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

Yet again, Senate Democrats show that they have no more concern for the rule of law and for the excesses of this administration than Senate Republicans do. Due to their really pitiful passivity, they are every bit as much to blame for the excesses and abuses of the administration as the compliant Republicans are.

I've written before that, at least to me, the principal if not exclusive benefit of the Democrats taking over one or both of the Congressional houses in November is that it will impose some checks and limitations on the behavior of the administration and, specifically, will finally result in meaningful investigations into what has happened in our country and to our government over the last five years. But I have serious doubts about whether that would really happen.

After November, 2006, the presidential elections are not far away. The same paralyzing, stagnating, fatally passive Democratic voices who always counsel against standing up to the administration aren't going anywhere. It is not hard to imagine what they will be saying:

President Bush is a lame duck who is out in 2008, and so it doesn't matter what he got away with or what he did. Conducting investigations into these intelligence and ”anti-terrorist” scandals will be depicted as obstructionist and weak on national security, and will jeopardize our chances to re-take the White House and will cost us House and Senate seats. It is best to look forward, not to the past, and not be seen as conducting vendettas against the lame duck President. What matters is taking the White House in 2008 and so there is no reason to attack the President on these matters of the past.

Is there any doubt that the likes of Senators Feinstein, Rockefeller, Levin, etc. are going to follow that thinking, as they always do? I don't see how that can be doubted. I think Congressional Democrats will be more cautious and passive, not less so, if they take over one of the Congressional houses in 2006. People who operate from a place of fear and excess caution become even more timid and fearful when they have something to lose. The Democratic Congressional Chairs are going to be desperate not to lose that newfound power, and they will be very, very vulnerable to the whiny whispers of the consultant class that they should not spend their time and energy investigating this administration or vigorously opposing them on national security matters.

John Cole is absolutely right that Democrats have managed to change virtually nothing as a result of the collapse of the Bush presidency. That's because they think the same and behave the same as they did when they were getting pushed around by Bush as a highly popular “war president.” As a result, there is no reason to believe they will be any better than they are now (and have been for the past four years) if and when they take over one or both Congressional Houses. One could make a compelling case that they will be even worse.

UPDATE: Digby elaborates on several of the issues in this post and, in doing so, says this:

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

My reference (really, John Cole's reference) to the "blogospheric bubble" was based on the fact that events seem to change more radically than they really do if one is in the blogosphere and closely following every small event. If one read only the blogosphere, one would think that the Bush presidency is devoid of any residual power, but the Democrats' unwillingness to fight against the Hayden nominee illustrates that things have changed far, far less than one might think.

But I agree entirely with Digby about the blogosphere's impact and especially its potential to develop and exert much more influence. In fact, the only reason why I believe that things can change fundamentally is because of new mechanisms like the blogosphere which enable citizens to communicate directly with one another -- and work in concert with one another -- without having to rely upon the corrupt, soul-draining media and Beltway political institutions. If meaningful change is going to occur -- and I believe it will -- it will be because Americans find ways collectively to exert sufficient pressure to demand that they change -- not because our current broken institutions, including the Democratic Party, are suddenly going to be cleansed and transformed on their own.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Book issues

(updated below)

Several items regarding How Would a Patriot Act?:

(1) I can only laugh at the petulant complaints over at National Review and elsewhere that no liberal bloggers have reviewed or discussed Ramesh Ponnuru's anti-abortion screed, Party of Death. Kevin Drum summarized quite well many of the reasons why Ponnuru's book isn't the earth-shattering literary event which National Review, Ann Coulter and Peggy Noonan have been claiming that it is. Atrios and Ezra Klein add some thoughts to Kevin's argument.

Beyond that, though, it is hardly the case that right-wing bloggers lavish attention on books which advance arguments with which they disagree. Despite the fact that my book's blogger-based ascent to the top of the Amazon Best Seller List is itself a blogosphere story -- and was prominently featured as such by The San Francisco Chronicle and Publishers Weekly, among others -- not a single conservative blogger as much as mentioned the book in passing, let alone reviewed it. My book is a blogosphere book, and has sales far in excess of Ponnuru's book almost exclusively as a result of blogger promotion and blogospheric word of mouth. But if you only read right-wing and pro-Bush blogs, you would have no idea that the book even existed, because not a single one of them has even mentioned it, let alone reviewed it.

Approximately a month ago, my publisher e-mailed several conservative bloggers asking if they would be willing to review the book on their blog or elsewhere (and obviously offered to send a review copy of the book), and not a single one was willing to do so. Byron York did write an article in National Review on the book's pre-release marketing success, but York hadn't even read the book yet (because it hadn't been released) and said nothing about its content other than to dismiss it as "an indictment of George W. Bush of the sort that has become commonplace on the Left in the last few years."

Most right-wing blogs studiously ignore what takes place outside of their self-referential circle. I read the Corner almost every day and can't recall a single liberal book that was ever mentioned there even in passing, let alone reviewed -- not Crashing the Gate, not the books by Tom Tomorrow or David Sirota, not Eric Boehlert's recently released Lapdogs. To hear them complaining that liberal blogs aren't paying sufficient attention to Ponnuru's anti-abortion book is really just bizarre.

(2) Although the book tour has not started yet (it begins June 5 at the University of Florida, followed by various San Francisco events beginning on June 6, and then Las Vegas, Washington, New York, Boston and New York again - with several changes/additions possible), I have been doing one radio interview after the next almost on a daily basis, and Working Assets has begun actively promoting the book. As a result, the book has returned to the Top 100 on Amazon, and has risen to #2 on Powell's Best Seller List. The current goal for elevating the visibility of the book is to ensure that it debuts on The New York Times' Bestseller List, something which, according to those who understand these things, seems likely (though not certain) based on the book's selling trends.

(3) Over the next couple of days, Jennifer Nix of Working Assets is going to write posts on various blogs, including this one, suggesting ways for how those who are inclined to help promote the book can do so. How much of an impact the book can have is obviously a by-product of how much attention it receives, which, in turn, is determined by how well it sells. One way to begin is for those who have read the book to leave reviews on Amazon and other online retailers. Apparently, informative reviews -- especially those written by people who seem to have actually read the book -- can play a significant role in helping to promote the book.

UPDATE: Jennifer Nix has a post up at FDL documenting how the publishing industry looks at the blogosphere (not with great fondness, unsurprisingly). One of the FDL commenters, Tony Finnerty, provided a link for a Letter to the Editor he wrote, which was published by his local Nevada newspaper, regarding the new NSA data-collection progarm, in which he mentioned How Would a Patriot Act? In general, writing Letters to the Editor and particuarly Op-Eds in local newspapers is an under-utilized method for influencing public political discussions.

Snapshots of the U.S. under the Bush administration

Several articles and events over the past couple of days provide a thorough picture of what the U.S. is becoming, and has become, under the Bush administration:

Increasingly, there is simply no role for courts to review the President's actions, nor for citizens to challenge the legality and constitutionality of those actions. A month or so ago I wrote about the administration's rapidly increasing use of the "state secrets privilege" -- once a rarely invoked weapon used by the Government to prevent litigation from exposing critical national security secrets, but now something which the Bush administration routinely exploits to prevent any legal challenge to its behavior. As lawyer Henry Lanman details in Slate today:

Never heard of the "state secrets" privilege? You're not alone. But the Bush administration sure has. Before Sept. 11, this obscure privilege was invoked only rarely. Since then, the administration has dramatically increased its use. According to the Washington Post, the Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press reported that while the government asserted the privilege approximately 55 times in total between 1954 (the privilege was first recognized in 1953) and 2001, it's asserted it 23 times in the four years after Sept. 11. For an administration as obsessed with secrecy as this one is, the privilege is simply proving to be too powerful a tool to pass up.

The Bush administration has now invoked this doctrine in virtually every pending legal proceeding devoted to challenging the legality of the warrantless NSA eavesdropping program - all but assuring, yet again, that no court can rule on the legality of that program. The administration also just used the same tactic to compel dismissal of a lawsuit brought by Khalid El-Masri, a German citizen who alleges -- with the support of German prosecutors -- that the U.S. Government abducted him, drugged him, flew him to multiple different torture-using countries as part of the administration's "rendition" program, only to then release him after five months when the U.S. realized it had abducted the wrong person. There is no dispute about the accuracy of El-Masri's allegations:

This year, German investigators confirmed most of Masri's allegations, which have received extensive publicity in Europe.

In December, during a joint news conference with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Rice had admitted the mistake.

But no matter. The Bush administration believes that its actions -- like the court of the British King -- are above being scrutinized by some lowly federal court or subjected to principles of law intended only for plebeians. As courts almost always do, the Federal Judge in El-Masri's case deferred to the administration's "state secrets" claim and dismissed the lawsuit. The Bush administration used the same maneuver last year to compel "dismissal of a lawsuit by a Canadian citizen who claimed that he was taken to Syria by U.S. officials for detention and was tortured."

So the Bush administration goes around the world abducting other countries' citizens and torturing them. It then claims that the legality of its actions cannot be judged by anyone -- even American federal courts -- because American national security would be harmed if its actions were subjected to such review. Under the circumstances, it is so very difficult to understand why the rest of the world mocks, ridicules, and scoffs at the Bush administration's lectures to the world about principles of freedom and democracy, along with the administration's belief that it can even invade other countries around the world in order to impose what it understands to be "freedom and democracy."

Yesterday, President Bush gave a speech in Chicago on immigration and the "war on terror," and took questions afterwards. In response to a question about Venezuela and Bolivia (where the new leftist Government has begun nationalizing oil and gas resources, including breaking contracts with and expelling Latin American companies), the President issued this lecture to South America:

I am going to continue to remind our hemisphere that respect for property rights and human rights is essential for all countries in order for there to be prosperity and peace. I'm going to remind our allies and friends in the neighborhood that the United States of America stands for justice; that when we see poverty, we care about it and we do something about it; that we care for good -- we stand for good health care.

I'm going to remind our people that meddling in other elections is -- to achieve a short-term objective is not in the interests of the neighborhood. . . . I want to remind people that the United States stands against corruption at all levels of government, that the United States is transparent. The United States expects the same from other countries in the neighborhood, and we'll work toward them.

Thank you very much. I'm concerned -- let me just put it bluntly -- I'm concerned about the erosion of democracy in the countries you mentioned.

Who has less credibility to deliver these sermons to the world than George Bush? The stories of the U.S. abducting people, torturing them, and then blocking any judicial review of its behavior are read around the world. Photographs from Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib are ingrained in the minds of anyone around the world with a television set, as is the Bush administration's insistence that it is unbound by the Geneva Conventions and legal prohibitions on the use of torture. The threat by Alberto Gonzales over the weekend to imprison American journalists was reported prominently in international newspapers, as are stories of the U.S. Government eavesdropping on its own citizens in secret, the creation of secret Eastern European prisons, and the general lawlessness which has prevailed in this country since September 11.

In Brazil last week, an organized crime faction in São Paolo launched a wave of extremely violent, terrorist-like attacks on the city's police stations, banks, hospitals, and transportation systems, killing scores of police officers and creating havoc in that city for days. In response, the São Paolo Police engaged in what appears to be all sorts of reprisals against the gangs, including summary executions and indiscriminate killings of male youths in the gangs' principal neighborhoods.

The ensuing debate among Brazilians almost invariably emphasized the need to avoid giving into the emotional temptation to engage in extreme behavior, violate human rights, and abandon any principles of restraint in responding to the gang attacks. And, by far, the most commonly cited example of the dangers of those temptations is the manner in which the U.S. responded to the 9/11 attacks -- by torturing people, invading countries with no connection to the attacks, and generally abandoning the principles and values which had previously defined the country's sense of justice. When one wants to illustrate the hazards of abandoning all restraint in the face of an outrageous act, the U.S. is the example which now most readily springs to minds around the world.

As we lecture the world about the need for transparency and democracy, and as we continue to proclaim that our foreign policy is based principally on the objective of spreading our ideas about democracy to other countries -- even by military invasion, if necessary -- the U.S. has become a symbol of human rights abuses and anti-democratic measures around the world. We have squandered almost every molecule of moral credibility which we justifiably possessed for most of the 20th Century, particularly since World War II. In so many ways during the last five years, we have become a country which engages in those very practices which always characterized other countries, the ones we were grateful not to live in because they failed to protect the liberties and principles which defined the United States.

A detailed profile in this week's U.S. News & World Report of David Addington, Dick Cheney's top advisor who is a sightly more extreme version of John Yoo, provides the perfect snapshot which conveys why this has all happened:

Whether or not he became the de facto leader of the group, as some administration officials say, Addington's involvement made for a formidable team. "You put Addington, Yoo, and Gonzales in a room, and there was a race to see who was tougher than the rest and how expansive they could be with respect to presidential power," says a former Justice Department official. "If you suggested anything less, you were considered a wimp."

The crux of the Bush administration for the last five years has basically been a competition of contrived, cheap manliness where the winner is he who can wage the most aggressive and fundamental war on American principles of government which have defined our country since its founding. Vesting increased power in the Commander-in-Chief and compiling ever-increasing powers of secrecy have been the only two principles with any recognized value. Those most steadfastly loyal to those two objectives have flourished and consolidated power. As a result, the role of the judiciary and the Congress in our system of government has never been smaller, while the power of the President has never been greater. And the greatest enemy of the administration are checks and balances of any kind -- whether from Congress, the courts or the media.

Monday, May 22, 2006

What the WSJ and Instapundit really mean by "the Angry Left"

One could spend every day highlighting the contrast between the pious moral standards preached by many Bush supporters and the lowly character smears and political filth they peddle. But sometimes their hypocrisy is so severe that it makes one's head spin, and at least I have great difficulty ignoring it even when an argument can be made that it should be ignored.

This weekend, there was much petulant hand-wringing on the Right over the terrible breaches of etiquette and civility exhibited by the New School students against the great war hero John McCain. National Review's Rich Lowry, for instance, wrote multiple posts protesting the students' behavior, and decried their conduct as "amazing" and "incredible" because McCain is a "war hero."

Lowry sermonized against the student's conduct even though, as I pointed out in a post on Saturday, Lowry said nothing about the continuous mockery by the Bush campaign of war hero John Kerry's war wounds and military service, including the waiving of purple band-aids at the Republican National Convention, nor did Lowry condemn the ongoing attacks on the patriotism and courage of war hero Jack Murtha. And Lowry specifically defended the invocation of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein in commercials against wounded combat veteran Max Cleland, dismissing complaints about such attacks on Cleland's commitment to the nation's defense as mere "whining."

Lowry responded today to my post by claiming that I "kind of misse[d] the point" of his post. The "point," Lowry claimed, is that heckling someone during a speech is just "rank incivility," and should be condemned any time it's done. Rather than missing the point, that was the point I made -- that it's a completely perverse "civility" standard which holds that it's fine to attack a war hero's patriotism, impugn their allegiance to the country, question their courage, and mock their war wounds -- as Bush supporters routinely do -- but that it is somehow intolerable to heckle them while giving a political speech.

That is the same twisted form-over-substance preaching which causes mainstream journalists to overlook constant Right-wing accusations that "liberals" are subversive, mentally ill traitors who belong in prison -- nothing angry or uncivil about any of that -- but they find a vulgar word in an e-mail to be proof that the Republic is about to collapse because of the death of civility and the "Angry Left."

Pumping this theme further, The Wall St. Journal today published an Editorial helpfully explaining to Democrats that their behavior towards John McCain was going to cause them to lose more elections:

But the ugliness of the New School crowd toward Mr. McCain reveals the peculiar rage that now animates so many on the political left. Dozens of faculty and students turned their back on the Senator, others booed and heckled, and a senior invited to speak threw out her prepared remarks and mocked their invited guest as he sat nearby.

So, that's the behavioral standard that Bush followers are advocating. The greatest sin against civility is to boo someone while they give a political speech, and those who do that show that they are deranged and "angry" and are therefore acting at their own peril.

Last week, Democratic Rep. Lacy Clay of Missouri delivered the Commencement Address at the University of Missouri. Unlike McCain, who spoke in favor of the war, Clay spoke against the war. He also criticized The Commander-in-Chief. According to Gateway Pundit -- who describes the event with giddy celebration -- this is what ensued:

Representative Lacy Clay Jr. gave such a hate-filled speech last Saturday morning at the University of Missouri St. Louis campus that he had to stop three times during his talk because the boos from the crowd had drowned him out! But unlike Murtha, Lacy Clay needed security to escort him from the building after he was through with his Bush-bash!

So pro-Bush students heckled Rep. Clay's speech and were so disruptive that the Congressman actually needed security to escort him out of the building for fear that his physical safety would be endangered. Does that show that the Angry Right is deranged and is jeopardizing their chances to win elections? No, it shows the opposite. This incident also shows how deranged the Angry Left is.

According to Instapundit -- who cited the Gateway Pundit post and said that "a Hateful anti-war speech by Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO) . . . provokes a near riot" -- this episode "[s]eems to illustrate the point made in this WSJ editorial about the Democrats' penchant for self-marginalization and self-destruction." The WSJ Editorial to which Instapundit cited condemned the heckling and booing by the New School students of McCain's speech. But to Instapundit, that same Editorial also shows that Democrats are acting stupidly and angrily when they give commencement speeches and are heckled by Republican students to the point where they need security to be escorted out.

Gateway Pundit also points out how hateful Jack Murtha is, because he, too, has been giving anti-war speeches -- including at Commencement ceremonies -- where he forces Republican students in the audience to heckle, walk out and act disruptively. How come Rich Lowry wasn't decrying the terribly uncivil conduct towards war hero Jack Murtha? At least according to Instapundit's rationale, it's because it is the anti-war speeches themselves that are hateful -- not the student's understandable reaction -- and so the speech and the speaker are to blame for provoking the disruptive behavior of those patriotic pro-war students.

So, to re-cap the rules: (1) When a pro-war politician gives a pro-war speech as part of a graduation ceremony, and students in the audience heckle and boo him, that shows how Deranged the Angry Left is -- because they heckled a pro-war speech. (2) When an anti-war politician gives an anti-war speech as part of a graduation ceremony, and students in the audience heckle, walk out and even riot, that also shows how Angry the Left is -- because they "provoked a near riot" by pro-war students.

One last point that can't go unnoticed: part of the WSJ Editorial that Instapundit quotes warns that Democrats are going to be in big trouble because they are "sneering at our war heroes." That is almost too much hypocrisy to stomach, even for Instapundit. Who has "sneered at war heroes" more viciously and continuously than Bush supporters -- from Jack Murtha to John Kerry to Max Cleland to the war critic Generals? Sneering at war heroes was one of the principal tactics of the Bush re-election campaign and has been a reliable tool to attack and smear any war hero who speaks out against this administration.

Virtually on the same day, Bush followers are arguing that the Left is deranged and angry because: (a) they boo Republican commencement speakers and because (b) they cause Republican students to boo them and riot at commencement ceremonies. When the likes of Instapundit and the Wall St. Journal Editorial Board rail against the "Angry Left," what they mean are "people who oppose the war in Iraq and criticize the Commander-in-Chief." As long as Democrats remember that that description includes the vast majority of Americans, they should have no difficulty ignoring this pious hypocrisy, which always deceitfully masquerades as an oh-so-earnest effort to help Democrats do better in the upcoming election ("if only you would be more like Joe Lieberman and stop criticizing the war and the President, you wouldn't be perceived as so angry and you'd have a much better chance to win").

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