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.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Today's tour around the mind of the Bush follower

(updated below)

(1) Newt Gingrich argued yesterday that Republicans should remind the electorate that "Republicans are right to favor traditional American conservative social values, and the left is completely wrong to put San Francisco left-wing values third in line to be President by electing Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) to speaker of the House."

Nancy Pelosi's "San Francisco left-wing values":

"Upon graduation in 1962, she married Georgetown University graduate Paul Pelosi." "Pelosi and her husband, Paul Pelosi, a native of San Francisco, have five children: Nancy Corinne, Christine, Jacqueline, Paul and Alexandra, and five grandchildren."

Newt Gingrich's "traditional American conservative social values":

In 1981, Newt dumped his first wife, Jackie Battley, for Marianne, wife number 2, while Jackie was in the hospital undergoing cancer treatment. Marianne and Newt divorced in December, 1999 after Marianne found out about Newt's long-running affair with Callista Bisek, his one-time congressional aide. Gingrich asked Marianne for the divorce by phoning her on Mother's Day, 1999. [Source: New York Post, July 18, 2000, Newt's Ex Wife Aiming to Pen Book by Bill Sanderson, available on lexis].
Newt (57) and Callista (34) were married in a private ceremony in a hotel courtyard in Alexandria, Va. in August, 2000. . . .

"He famously visited Jackie in the hospital where she was recovering from surgery for uterine cancer to discuss details of the divorce. He later resisted paying alimony and child support for his two daughters, causing a church to take up a collection. For all of his talk of religious faith and the importance of God, Gingrich left his congregation over the pastor's criticism of his divorce."

The consistency in reasoning is at least impressive. Those who evaded military service during wars they cheered on are brave, courageous, resolute warriors. Those who fought for their country in combat are cowards and appeasers.

Those who repeatedly dump their wives for new and better versions, and run around engaging in the sleaziest and most unrestrained sexual behavior, are stalwart defenders of traditional American and Christian values. Those who stay married to their original spouse for their entire lives and raise a family together are godless, radical heathens who represent "San Francisco values" and seek to undermine the country's moral fiber and Christian traditions.

(2) Jeff Stein, the National Security Editor of Congressional Quarterly, has an Op-Ed in this morning's New York Times pointing out that a large percentage of the policymakers and Congressmen he interviews -- including those who make policy with regard to the Middle East -- lack the most basic understanding of the region, including basic facts such as the difference between Sunnis and Shiites. That gaping lack of knowledge does not, however, prevent them from forming extremely didactic views of that region and even advocating all sorts of policies up to and including wars.

As if to provide Stein with the most perfect illustration he could possibly imagine for his Op-Ed, Powerline's Paul Mirgenoff -- who opines on the Middle East as much as, if not more than, any other topic he writes about -- posted this little item yesterday (emphasis added):

Gosh, even after Iran?

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert opened the latest session of the Knesset by inviting Lebanese Prime Minister Saniora, the "moderate" whose army is supposed to help protect Israel from future attacks by Hezbollah, to enter into peace talks. According to the Jerusalem Post, Saniora rebuffed Olmert's offer within hours, promising that Lebanon would be "the last Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel."

Of course, the vast majority of Iranians are Persian, not Arab; their language is not Arabic, and Iran is not considered by anyone (other than Paul and similar warmongering types) to be an "Arab state." Iran is no more of an Arab state than Israel or China are. In fact, Iran's relationship to other Middle Eastern states is defined largely, if not principally, by the Persian-Arab distinction.

I don' t think it's necessary to become an expert in the history, culture and politics of the Middle East in order to form opinions on the basic policy questions our country faces. To the contrary, experts exist precisely in order to enable citizens to become informed on such questions and form meaningful opinions. And everyone can forget facts or make mistakes.

But if -- as Paul routinely does -- one is going to pompously opine to 80,000 people a day on grave matters involving war and peace in the Middle East -- and particularly if one is going to relentlessly spew warmongering rhetoric against numerous other countries -- it seems like the responsible thing to do to at least familiarize oneself with the most basic facts about the countries on whom war is being waged and the region for which radical and belligerent new approaches are being advocated.

What Paul's fact-free worldview seems to reflect is a widespread sense among many warmongers that people in the Middle East (outside of the Israeli borders) are all just part of one undifferentiated, expendable mass that we can deem, more or less, to be the Enemy on whom we can wage one war after the next without much regard for the consequences there. Subscribing to the simplistic and patently false belief that Muslims are all part of one gigantic, common network -- Saddam Hussein is the ally of Sheik Nasrallah who is the ally of Osama bin Laden who is the ally of Saudi princes who are the allies of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- is so misguided precisely because it blurs these critical distinctions -- all with the goal of creating one massive worldwide Enemy on which we must wage eternal and limitless war (see UPDATE below).

(3) Investigations and arrests of key Republican political operatives have become so numerous that they are genuinely difficult to keep track of, so it is understandable that many Bush supporters are so eager to find a Democratic scandal to enable them to argue some sort of balance. As understandable as that desire is, this Harry Reid "scandal" is predicated on some of the most irrational and misguided claims imaginable.

That's not to say that Reid did nothing wrong. Reid personally owned a parcel of land that he transferred as part of a sale to a limited liability corporation that he co-owned. It is true, as he acknowledges, that his disclosure forms were technically inaccurate in failing to report that transfer (the disclosure forms he filed continued to list Reid personally as the owner). Reid has the responsibility to ensure that those disclosure documents are accurate and it appears that they were not. But the inaccuracy was purely technical in nature, and not even arguably corrupt, since nobody can claim that reporting the transfer to the LLC would have revealed any information which Reid would want to hide.

The attempt to transform a technical inaccuracy into some sort of grand corruption scheme is dependent upon this incredibly misleading claim, as illustrated by Captain Ed:

Besides, the man made $700,000 in profits in 2004 on that one sale of land that, according to his disclosure statements, he didn't even own at the time.

The Washington Post article linked to above uses this same formulation, which has become the standard anti-Reid mantra: "The Associated Press reported last week that Reid gained the 2004 windfall even though he had not owned the property for the previous three years."

This claim is staggeringly misleading. One of the most basic instruments for how our economy functions is ownership of assets through legally created entities, such as corporations and partnerships. Particularly in closely-held entities (Reid co-owned the LLC with only one other individual), it is extremely common that when the entity sells an asset, the proceeds go to the shareholders or partners.

That happens every single day. One could ominously observe for every such transaction that "the shareholders made profits on the sale of assets that they didn't even own," and that would be technically true -- since it is the entity that owns the assets, not the individual shareholders or partners -- but to promote that description of a purely innocuous transaction with the intent to make it seem unusual or ominous is truly misleading.

One can argue, if one really wishes, about how serious of an infraction it was for Reid to fail to report the transfer of this land from his personal ownership to an LLC of which he was the co-owner. But the scandalmongers here know that that failure is marginal and unlikely to generate any interest. So, instead, they try to add a whiff of financial impropriety with this dark suggestion that Reid profited from the sale of property "he did not even own" -- even though that happens every day as one of the most basic features of how financial transactions are structured. It seems that the truly unethical behavior here is from those trying to promote this as some sort of serious scandal based on misleading rhetorical tactics such as this one.

UPDATE: Shortly after this was posted, Paul posted a "CORRECTION" to his "Iran is an Arab state" argument -- and then wrote a whole separate post -- and in both instances emphasized that he realized his error all on his very own ("when I woke up this morning I realized, with horror that . . . Iran is not an Arab nation").

As for the Reid matter, Doctor Biobrain points out in Comments that the proceeds received by the LLC from the sale of land are automatically deemed (for tax and accounting purposes) to be personal income to Reid, even if the proceeds remain in the LLC. By definition, profits received by an LLC are attributed to the individual LLC shareholders. To suggest that there is something untoward -- or even unusual -- about individual LLC shareholders receiving the profits from the sale of land owned by the LLC is itself dishonest, since not only are such transactions entirely common and proper, our tax laws are premised on the assumption that the beneficiaries of the profits generated by sale of an LLC-owned asset are the individual owners of the LLC.

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