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.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Bush administration and denial of habeas corpus and due process rights

In light of the environment in which we live -- not only how inept and authoritarian the Bush administration is, but also how rabid and blindly loyal their followers are -- it is hard to overstate how pernicious is the abolition of habeas corpus rights for detainees in U.S. custody:

New York Times, today:

The federal government agreed to pay $2 million Wednesday to an Oregon lawyer wrongly jailed in connection with the 2004 terrorist bombings in Madrid, and it issued a formal apology to him and his family.

The unusual settlement caps a two-and-a-half-year ordeal that saw the lawyer, Brandon Mayfield, go from being a suspected terrorist operative to a symbol, in the eyes of his supporters, of government overzealousness in the war on terrorism.

“The United States of America apologizes to Mr. Brandon Mayfield and his family for the suffering caused” by his mistaken arrest, the government’s apology began. It added that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which erroneously linked him to the Madrid bombs through a fingerprinting mistake, had taken steps “to ensure that what happened to Mr. Mayfield and the Mayfield family does not happen again.” . . .

“The days, weeks and months following my arrest,” he said, “were some of the darkest we have had to endure. I personally was subject to lockdown, strip searches, sleep deprivation, unsanitary living conditions, shackles and chains, threats, physical pain and humiliation.”

Despite doubts from Spanish officials about the validity of the fingerprint match, American officials began an aggressive high-level investigation into Mr. Mayfield in the weeks after the bombings. . . .

Using expanded surveillance powers under the USA Patriot Act, the government wiretapped his conversations, conducted secret searches of his home and his law office and jailed him for two weeks as a material witness in the case before a judge threw out the case against him.

Typical breathless television report at the time:

MAXINE McKEW: An American lawyer has been detained for alleged involvement in the Madrid train bombings.The fingerprints of Brandon Mayfield, a United States citizen who converted to Islam, have reportedly been found on materials related to the bombings.He can now be held indefinitely in the US without formal charges. Stephen McDonell reports.

STEPHEN McDONELL: When a series of bombs were detonated on Madrid trains in March, 191 commuters were killed and 2,000 injured.In Spain, 18 people have been charged in relation to the blasts, six with mass murder.Islamic fundamentalists are accused of carrying out the bloody attacks but now the list of suspects has stretched as far as the US.

Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield converted to Islam in 1989. He's tonight being held by US officials, suspected of involvement with the Madrid bombings.FBI agents raided his home, taking computer equipment and his wife's credit cards.

AURORA McCANN, WITNESS: It's horrifying, it's absolutely horrifying.

Charles Johnson, Little Green Footballs, May 7, 2004:

More information on the Oregon lawyer, a convert to Islam, who was arrested yesterday after his fingerprints were apparently found on a container related to the Madrid train bombings: Oregon Lawyer Arrested in Madrid Bombings. . . .

But if you really want the full scoop on Mayfield and his pernicious activities, the LGF lizardoids have unearthed a treasure trove of information in this topic: Madrid
Bombing Probe Reaches Portland
. Mayfield’s “mentor,” Tom Nelson, is a key figure in the International Solidarity Movement, and they are both heavily involved in pro-Palestinian groups.

Among the "treasure trove of information" uncovered by the "LGF lizardoids":

* Multnomah County Public Library in Portland: Home of the Iraqi Resistance Solidarity Network.

* Mr. Mayfield is the recipient of the "material witness" statute of the Patriot Act which means the government can hold him without charges, without representation similar to Jose Padilla.

* ... Tom Nelson, Portland Attorney and co-founder of Americans United for Palestinian Rights, who traveled in August to Palestine as part of an international (sic) ...

* Mayfield converted to Islam in 1989. He's also a former Army Officer. He's 37 years old.Do you suppose that Mayfield served in Gulf War I? Perhaps in Saudi Arabia with the arrested Wahabist financier Almoudi when a lot of the conversions were taking place?

* WOW! I've MET this guy! He came and talked to our club meeting in November 2001! At the time he was living in Newport, Oregon on the Coast. His wife is an Egyptian woman. He was here by invitation to tell us a little bit about Islam after the Trade Tower Attacks He spent most of his time explaining that Islam is a "religion of peace" and that "Islam" means submission. Of course, we also heard about how "jihad" is an internal struggle, etc, etc.

Charles Johnson, May 25, 2004 (even after the FBI released Mayfield and apologized):

Apologizing has become very fashionable for US government agencies; even the FBI is doing it now: FBI Apologizes to Lawyer Over Madrid Case. . . .

And his claim that he was “targeted because of his faith” seems to leave out the little inconvenient fact that he was linked to one of the chief defendants in the “Portland Seven” jihad group [ed: "linked" meaning he represented him as a lawyer in a child custody case], whose surviving six members pled guilty to all charges. In other words, with a fingerprint match and this connection, there was reason for suspicion; Mayfield wasn’t picked at random out of a list of Muslims.

Daniel Pipes, June 1, 2004, New York Sun:

But did U.S. law enforcement err in noting Mr. Mayfield 's identity? No, this was entirely appropriate. It would have been myopic to ignore Mr. Mayfield 's many connections to militant Islam and the global jihad, including:

* "He prayed in the same Bilal Mosque as did several individuals . . . who pleaded guilty in 2003 to conspiring to help the Taliban";

* While studying law at Washburn University in Kansas, Mr. Mayfield helped organize a branch of the Muslim Student Association, a group described by analyst Jonathan Dowd-Gailey as "an overtly political organization" espousing "Wahhabism, anti-Americanism, and anti-Semitism … and expressing solidarity with militant Islamic ideologies, sometimes with criminal results."

* Mr. Mayfield 's political profile fits that of many disaffected, America-hating terrorists: he strongly opposes the Patriot Act, inveighs against American foreign policy related to Muslim countries, and is "particularly angered," according to his brother Kent, by close U.S. relations with Israel. Mr. Mayfield speculates that the Bush administration knew in advance about 9/11 but chose to let the attacks go ahead so as to justify going to war. And on his release from custody, he compared the U.S. federal government to Nazi Germany.

New York Post Editorial, May 11, 2004 (sub. rq'd):

To hear acquaintances tell it, there is absolutely no way Brandon Mayfield could have had anything to do with the bombings in Madrid in March. . . .

Nonetheless, officials did the right thing by acting quickly. They need to get to the bottom of this case fast.

Yes, some of the evidence that's been made public so far seems circumstantial.

Mayfield is a convert to Islam who married an Egyptian woman. He attends a mosque frequented by some of the members of the Portland Seven, a suspected terrorist cell. And he defended one of its members, Jeffrey Battle, in a child-custody case; Battle later pleaded guilty to seeking to join the Taliban in 2001. . . .

Certainly, the idea of a Fifth Column here cannot be discounted, post-9/11. Several cells - the one in Portland; others in Buffalo and elsewhere - have been uncovered in the past few years.

Stephen Schwartz on David Horowitz's Front Page, titled "Our Internal Islamist Enemies", May 13, 2004:

While the attention of most Americans, and much of the Islamic world, has been focused on the scandal of American soldiers' conduct at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, other events signal a deepening and dangerous crisis for American society and its relationship to Muslims who live within the borders of the U.S.

One such development is the detention on Thursday, May 6, of Brandon Mayfield, a 37-year old lawyer from Portland, Ore., as a possible material witness or "person of interest" in the conspiracy to perpetrate the horrific Madrid metro bombings of March 11.

Mayfield, who became a Muslim after marrying an Egyptian woman in 1989, now joins the list of "new Muslims" (a term Muslims consider preferable to "convert") who have become notorious to Americans since the thin, bedraggled John Walker Lindh, barely out of his teens, was pulled from the battlefield of Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan late in 2001. A soldier in the Taliban, Lindh shocked an America that never before knew such types even existed. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Then came José Padilla, a former gang member and petty criminal in his early 30s, and an associate of various Islamic extremists, held as a "dirty bomb" plotter, and
therefore as an enemy combatant, for the past two years. . . . .

And now comes Mayfield, whose fingerprint may have been identified on a plastic bag containing detonators found in Spain after the atrocity there. Mayfield had
represented Portland Seven member Battle in a child custody case when the latter was arrested.

Mayfield's biography includes other troubling items. As a law student at Washburn University, in Topeka, Kan., he helped organize a branch of the Muslim Student Association of the U.S. and Canada (MSA), which was set up by agents of Saudi Arabia's official Islamic clerical establishment to propagate the extremist doctrines of Wahhabism. . . . .

As so often these days, media find ordinary Americans anxious to swear to the normality of Brandon Mayfield -- just as other reporters in other heartland communities found relatives and friends that sprang to declare the soldiers accused of abusing Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib to be nice people. However, Mayfield's relatives appeared awfully anxious to declare the case to have proven the USA Patriot Act a failure; their response was not exactly nonideological.

So, in addition to the botched fingerprint analysis, that was the "evidence" Bush followers continued to cite even after it was clear that Mayfield was completely innocent -- he converted to Islam, had an Egyptian wife, prayed at a "suspect" mosque, started a Muslim group in college, opposed the Patriot Act, criticized the Leader in harsh terms, represented an Islamic militant as a lawyer in a child custody case, believes that the U.S. is too closely aligned with Israel, and advocates for Palestinians.

Based on that, if they had their way, he would still be locked up, alongside Jose Padilla, waterboarded and kept nice and incommunacado where he belongs. And that is precisely what the Military Commissions Act allows, at least with regard to all foreigners and alien residents. And it remains to be seen what effect the Act will have on U.S. citizens.

An argument can be made that Mayfield was only exonerated because the Spanish government was objecting so vociferously to the accusations against Mayfield by the Bush administration -- accusations which were, of course, repeatedly brushed aside because they came from know-nothing, whiny, pro-terrorist-rights Europeans. Particularly in this climate, given the mindset of Bush officials and their followers, the very idea that this administration -- really, any administration -- ought to be trusted with the power to detain people forever with no judicial review is so heinous that no protest against it is really sufficient.

Rule of Law 101 and Neoconservatism

Last year, the Bush administration and the GOP-led Congress jointly created a 5-person, tootheless, subpoena-less "panel" to monitor how "civil liberties issues" are handled as part of the "war on terror." They handpicked five members and, after a year-long delay, Bush officials recently "briefed" them about the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program and all of the great privacy protections they say they provide when eavesdropping on American citizens in violation of the law.

In a shocking and completely unanticipated development, The Boston Globe reported yesterday that the handpicked "members say they were impressed by the protections." One of the panel's appointees in particular, former Clintonite and current neoconservative Lanny Davis, did what he has come to specialize in -- namely, attack Bush critics and lavish the Bush administration and its allies with the most obsequious praise possible so as to enable an illusion of "bipartisan" support (which is, needless to say, precisely why Davis was chosen for this august panel). Davis said:

If the American public, especially civil libertarians like myself, could be more informed about how careful the government is to protect our privacy while still protecting us from attacks, we'd be more reassured. . . .

The announcement by Lanny Davis that he and his fellow Republican panel members are impressed with the program's supposed "privacy protections" has caused a tidal wave of genuinely bizarre declarations of victory among various Bush followers, who seem to think that this is not only relevant to the NSA scandal, but dispositive of it. The list of celebrators includes Captain Ed and Jay Stephenson of StopTheACLU ("Now all of you…do you really think a little truth will get in the way of the tin foil hat wearing brigades like the ACLU and Glenn Greenwald?"), along with Rick Moran at RedState, who wrote:

I have spent much of the last two years on this site railing against the hysterical, exaggerated, and ultimately dishonest charges made by people like Glenn Greenwald and others that the Bush Administration was tearing apart the Constitution and trying to set up some kind of a dictatorship. . . .

Wonder where the public got "an underappreciation for the degree of seriousness the government is giving these protections...?" Couldn't be from leftist lickspittles like Greenwald et.al. who've spent much of the last 5 years trying to convince the American people that Adolf Hitler was in the Oval Office and Nazi gaulieters were staffing the Justice Department, could it?

Just thinking about the smug, self righteous louts who have hindered every single program, every single effort to protect the people of the United States by constantly raising the specter of Hitler and dictatorship makes me sick to my stomach.

It is truly astounding to watch people incapable of understanding the point that the reason it is wrong and dangerous for the President to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants is because doing so is against the law. Shouldn't that be a simple enough proposition that every functioning adult ought to be capable of understanding it? It doesn't mean that everyone has to agree with that proposition -- if people want to continue to cling to the theory that the President is unbound by the law concerning matters of national security, obviously they are free to do so.

But there is no excuse for failing to comprehend the objections to the President's behavior, particularly since the central objection is not all that complicated. To the contrary, it is what we all learn in seventh-grade civics.

One more time: the principal problem with the President's warrantless eavesdropping is not that he is abusing the secret eavesdropping powers he seized (that is something we do not yet know, because the Congress has not yet investigated that question). Instead, the "problem" is that the President is engaging in the very conduct which the American people, through their Congress almost 30 years ago, made it a felony to engage in, punishable by up to five years in prison -- that is, eavesdropping on Americans without judicial oversight.

Thus, even if Lanny Davis and the other Republicans on the panel think the President is using his illegal powers carefully, his conduct is no less illegal. Why is it necessary even to point that out? This has been the obvious and paramount point from the beginning, as I wrote in my book (at pages 25, 60) (emphasis in original):

The heart of the matter is that the president broke the law, deliberately and repeatedly, no matter what his rationale was for doing so. We do not have a system of government in which the president has the right to violate laws, even if he believes doing so will produce good results. . . .

The NSA eavedsdropping scandal, as its core, is not an eavesddropping scandal. It is a lawbreaking scandal . . .

Fortunately, several bloggers -- Anonymous Liberal, Gavin at Sadly, No and "meatbrain" -- have superb and comprehensive posts responding to this emerging Bush-follower-claim, thus sparing me the task of having to explain, yet again, what used to be the unremarkable premise that in our system of government, the President does not have the right to violate the law, no matter how well-intentioned he thinks he is when doing so. As A.L. put it:

In a system that operates according to the rule of law, what matters is what the law says, not what Lanny Davis or the other members of some meaningless ad hoc council think. The fundamental issue here is not what sort of privacy protections the NSA program does or does not provide; the problem is that the NSA program does not comply with the law. . . .

This prohibition is categorical, and the Bush administration has no legal justification for disregarding it, particularly in light of Hamdan, which was precisely on point.

This is a BIG DEAL. A constitutional system of government cannot tolerate a chief executive who operates outside of the law, even if, in doing so, he implements policies that Lanny Davis thinks are swell. There is no 'Lanny Davis exception' to the rule of law.

That enables me to focus instead on another aspect of this story which I think is vitally important. What made this story so enticing to Bush followers is that it was "Democrat" Lanny Davis who paid homage to the great and benevolent ways in which the Leader is protecting us, as though that lends the claim some sort of extra credibility. After all, Davis is a Democrat, and he says that the President is doing nothing wrong, so that settles the issue once and for all.

But as I've argued several times before, it is no longer the Democrat-Republican distinction -- nor the "liberal-conservative" dichotomy of the 1990s -- which is the accurate barometer for predicting the views someone has regarding the most important national security and foreign policy questions facing our country (which includes domestic surveillance and law-enforcement programs justified in the name of national security).

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, neoconservatism (defined here) has become the predominant ideology driving our government's policies in these areas, and it is the extent to which one embraces or rejects those views -- not whether one is a Democrat/Republican or "liberal/conservative" -- that is the real determinant for where one falls on the political spectrum, particularly with regard to matters of war, terrorism and related policies.

That is why "Democrat" Joe Lieberman's most vocal supporters were not "moderate" Republicans, but rather, the most extreme neoconservative Bush followers -- the Sean Hannitys and Michelle Malkins of the world. Just like Joe Lieberman, Lanny Davis (who was one of Lieberman's most vocal supporters) is a full-fledged neoconservative. The way he stays relevant is by offering himself up as the token Democrat who can always be counted on to defend the Bush presidency and attack Bush critics. Again, that is why he was chosen for this panel and it is why his extremely predictable praise for the President (as predictable as if his spot had been filled by Rush Limbaugh) is as meaningless as it is besides the point.

On the issues that matter most, the 9/11 attacks and the radicalism of the Bush administration have created a fundamental realignment in our political system. Ignoring that realignment by itself creates all sorts of misguided analysis.

This "pro/anti neoconservatism" realignment is what explains why former Reagan Justice official Bruce Fein and conservative Congressman Bob Barr are among the most eloquent Bush critics. It is why former Reagan official Jim Webb is a Democrat. And it is why Al Gore's 2000 Vice Presidential running mate, Joe Lieberman (and his comrades like Lanny Davis, or Joe Klein, Marty Peretz, and numerous other "liberal" war-and-Bush-supporting pundits), aren't, at least not in the way that the Bush administration wants to exploit the "Democratic" credentials of the Lanny Davis's to suggest that there is something surprising or meaningful about his support for the administration's policies.

Davis' support for the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program is no more surprising and no more meaningful than Michelle Malkin's support for that program would be, or Joe Lieberman's. On these issues, despite Davis' and Liberman's alleged "liberalism" on the "1990s issues," they are all one and the same. They embrace neoconservative principles -- both abroad and domestically -- and they are on the same political side, not the opposite side, of the Bush administration with regard to these issues. Clarity in political analysis requires a recognition of that realignment and an appreciation for what the Joe Liebermans and Lanny Davis's are, and what they are not.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Various items

(1) One of the favorite claims of Bush followers is that Jim Webb is going to be some sort of thorn in the side of Democrats based upon the myth that he is not a "real Democrat." It looks like half of that claim is correct -- he is going to be a thorn, but not in the side of Democrats. From The Hill:

At a private reception held at the White House with newly elected lawmakers shortly after the election, Bush asked Webb how his son, a Marine lance corporal serving in Iraq, was doing.

Webb responded that he really wanted to see his son brought back home, said a person who heard about the exchange from Webb.

“I didn’t ask you that, I asked how he’s doing,” Bush retorted, according to the source.

Webb confessed that he was so angered by this that he was tempted to slug the commander-in-chief, reported the source, but of course didn’t.

Webb's office, more or less, confirmed the report. It is difficult to fathom the hubris and self-indulgence required for someone to ask a parent of a soldier in Iraq how their son is doing only to then snidely tell the parent that the answer isn't what he wanted to hear.

(2) Whenever you think that Bush followers cannot descend any lower into un-American authoritarianism, they always prove you wrong. Congressman-elect Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress, has said that he will take his oath of office on the Koran rather than the Bible, since -- as a Muslim -- he happens to believe in the Koran and not the Bible. Dennis Prager has a column (cheered on by various extremists) insisting that Ellison "not be allowed to do so," arguing that "if you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress":

What Ellison and his Muslim and leftist supporters are saying is that it is of no consequence what America holds as its holiest book; all that matters is what any individual holds to be his holiest book.

Forgive me, but America should not give a hoot what Keith Ellison's favorite book is. Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible.

If you hadn't read that for yourself, wouldn't it be hard to believe that someone is actually arguing this? Prager is essentially asking: What has happened to America where now it seems that people can decide for themselves what books they will believe are holy? The viewpoint which Prager derisively attributes to the "Muslim and leftist supporters" of Ellison happens to be one of the core founding principles of the Republic: "it is of no consequence what America holds as its holiest book; all that matters is what any individual holds to be his holiest book."

James Joyner and Stephen Bainbridge both provide excellent rebuttals, including Joyner's pointing out the rather obvious fact that requiring elected officials to take their oaths on the Bible would constitute a textbook case of a "religious test" prohibited by Article VI, and would almost certainly violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment as well.

As always, it is the most basic constitutional principles -- which were previously beyond challenge -- that are placed in doubt by the most rabid Bush followers. And these attacks on our constitutional values are, with no sense of irony, waged in the name of defending "America."

(3) One of the oddest and most damaging aspects of our political discourse is that some of the most significant issues -- ones which have the greatest impact on our laws and government -- somehow become too controversial for mainstream political figures even to mention, let alone seriously debate. An orthodoxy arises which one cannot even question, let alone deviate from, while still maintaining political viability.

One such topic is the role which our commitment to Israel plays in shaping U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. But another equally significant topic is the rationale behind ongoing drug prohibition laws and the havoc those laws wreak on every level. As this post from McQ illustrates (h/t Mona), opposition to drug laws and their accompanying Draconian enforcement efforts (along with still more Draconian laws to enable enforcement) is a political position which finds considerable support across the ideological spectrum. Despite that, opposition to drug laws still remains strictly off-limits for any mainstream political figure. It is hard to see exactly what accounts for that dynamic.

In response to an article I wrote at Salon regarding the increasing support for Democrats among Mountain West libertarians (in the broadest and least doctrinal sense of that term), as well as the decidedly un-libertarian agenda of the current incarnation of the Republican Party, Radley Balko claimed that Democrats would never "waste any political capital" pursuing any items important to libertarians. Included on his list of important libertarian items were various issues relating to the nation's drug laws, along with similarly intrusive federal powers:

How about cutting off funding for the DEA's jack-booted marches into California's medical marijuana clinics? While you're at it, snip the purse strings for the agency's persecution of pain specialists, too. And remove the federal ban on scientific research into the possible health benefits of marijuana. Revoke the Internet gambling ban, or -- even better -- legalize online wagering to eliminate any ambiguity. Repeal federal asset forfeiture laws. Repeal the federal minimum drinking age and the national .08 blood-alcohol standard. De-fund the FCC's war on dirty words, and the DOJ's war on dirty pictures.

Personally, I would favor each of the items on Balko's list, as I have written before with regard to some of them (although most, if not all, of those items could never be enacted by Democrats in light of the presidential veto). Very preliminarily, my sense is that the staunchest opposition to repealing or even weakening the nation's drug laws -- and certainly to repealing various federal measures designed to enforce nationalized standards of "decency" -- would be predicated on moralistic/religious grounds, and would be found among "social conservatives" who dominate the Republican Party.

One could far more easily envision a Democratic politician advocating at least mild repeals of some drug laws than a Republican political official doing so, but it is hard to understand why this issue remains so politically radioactive in light of how glaringly irrational and destructive (on every level) the drug laws are. Is there really substantial support for anti-drug laws and aggressive federal enforcement of those laws among liberals? I doubt it, although, again, that is speculative.

But what does seem clear is that the greatest impediment, by far, to being able even to discuss the issue of drug prohibition is the moralistic opposition to drug usage coming from the "religious conservatives" on whom the Republican Party depends. Indeed, for most (though admittedly not all) issues involving excessive federal power and unwarranted federal government intrusion into the lives of American adults, it is the moralist social conservatives, along with their Republican comrades (the surveillance-happy and domestic-intelligence-hungry neoconservatives), who are responsible for those excesses.

UPDATE: The Washington Post reports a slightly different version of the Webb-Bush exchange:

"How's your boy?" Bush asked, referring to Webb's son, a Marine serving in Iraq.

I'd like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President," Webb responded, echoing a campaign theme.

"That's not what I asked you," Bush said. "How's your boy?"

"That's between me and my boy, Mr. President," Webb said coldly, ending the conversation on the State Floor of the East Wing of the White House.

How dare Jim Webb not answer the Leader's question exactly as it was asked.

The end of the Epic Harman-Hastings Drama

One last time (hopefully and thankfully) on the issue of the all-important Harman-Hastings "scandal," in response to some comments left to last night's post by a couple of Harman/Lieberman-supporting Republican bloggers:

It was obvious all along that (a) Hastings wanted the job, (b) the Congressional Black Caucus voiced mild and obligatory support for him, and (c) Pelosi had to proceed carefully so as not to trample on the sensibilities of her caucus when navigating the ambitions of various long-serving members.

Thus, Hastings' name was repeatedly floated by anonymous sources as a leading candidate -- likely by some who wanted to help Hastings get the job, likely from Harman's camp wanting to paint the impeached judge as her only real competition, likely from others with even less noble intentions wanting to harm Pelosi -- which, in turn, led to garden-variety Washington speculation and gossip about who would get this position. Idle chatter of this sort happens every day in Washington.

What transformed this mundane event from standard Washington chatter into a matter of virtual national obsession was that the media -- not followed by, but rather, as usual, led by, the right-wing propaganda machine -- concocted a towering scandal where none existed, based on a whole set of false and unsupported premises.

It was all based on the false claim that Pelosi had to choose between ranking-member Harman and "next-in-line" Hastings (which was false and based on a misunderstanding of how the Intelligence Committee operates), and that by rejecting Harman, it necessarily meant that Pelosi was going to appoint Hastings (which was also false and never supported by anything other than rank speculation, including in newspapers).

All of that, in turn, led to a tidal wave of vicious anti-Pelosi articles all based on the completely unsupported assumption that she was going to appoint Hastings to this position. She was repeatedly condemned as though she had already done so. Timothy Noah at Slate called her appointment of Hastings the "second strike" and based his demand that she be on "probation" upon her supposed support for Murtha and Hastings. And all of the depictions of Pelosi as a vindictive, inept, weakened leader (before she has ever started as Speaker) were based upon her "decision" to appoint Hastings as House Intelligence Chair.

This "story" was never anything more than an attempt to demonize and weaken Pelosi, as is readily apparent by simply observing who was fueling the whole drama. It was all invented by Bush followers who suddenly developed such an acute and earnest interest in which Democrat will lead that Committee, and then, as always, echoed by the Beltway media, which used one another's speculation as further "justification" to "report" this story.

Quite transparently, none of this ever had anything to do with "concern" over who will lead the House Intelligence Committee (which is why one searches in futility for all the in-depth media debates and analysis over the all-powerful Pete Hoekstra), but instead was all driven by the increasingly intense commitment to destroy Nancy Pelosi's ability to lead the House. It was all based on imaginary "facts" and assumptions that were completely unwarranted by the evidence, and fueled by the caricature that Pelosi is both inept and intent on destroying the Democratic Party. The entire Hastings-vs.-Harman contest was an illusory media drama from start to finish.

It's true that Hastings' name has been bandied about in many circles for some time as Harman's likely "replacement." And, sure, Pelosi and her staff are saying nice things about Hastings today (she would have loved to be able to appoint Hastings if not for that little impeachment problem) because Pelosi obviously has no interest in publicly humiliating him or offending him. Why would she? But she was never bound to appoint Hastings and there was never any evidence that she was committed to doing so.

This was simply designed as another lose-lose situation for Pelosi - either she appoints Hastings and shows she is unserious, or she does not appoint Hastings which shows, again, that she is so weak that she cannot even appoint the Chairmen that she wants. Anyone who even threatens to oppose prevailing Washington wisdom is subjected to this treatment, and there is going to be much more of this, and worse, once she actually starts.

UPDATE: Not that any more are required, but one should add to the pile of myths and falsehoods fueling this story the notion that Pelosi was "denying" Harman her natural and rightful place as Chair, or "demoting" her or pushing her aside. In fact, the House Intelligence Committee -- in addition to having unique non-seniority rules -- also has unique term-limit rules, limiting members to no more than four terms in a six term period.

Harman had met the term limits, and thus, rather than having some entitlement to become Chair, Harman was hoping that Pelosi would, in essence, break or waive the rules in order to appoint her. Pelosi did not go out of her way to "deny" Harman what would have been her rightful place, the central assumption of most of the anti-Pelosi commentary. The opposite is true: Pelosi would have had to invoke unusual steps in order to appoint Harman as Chair.

* * * * * *

The Democracy Now segment I was scheduled to do this morning regarding the House Intelligence Committee Chair position has been moved to tomorrow, to begin at the same time (roughly 8:20 a.m. EST).

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Alcee Hastings and the Glories of Conventional Wisdom

(updated below)

Stephen Bainbridge responded to yesterday's post I wrote about the media's vapid and inaccurate reporting regarding Nancy Pelosi's selection for House Intelligence Committee Chair. In his post, Bainbridge repeated the myth that opposition to Jane Harman implies support for Alcee Hastings. He even entitled his post "Harman or Hastings?" and said about my criticisms of Harman: "Whatever faults Harman may have, however, pale by comparision to those of Alcee Hastings."

Multiple other bloggers (and various commenters) responded to my post yesterday by continuing to insist that Pelosi should select Harman based on claims that Hastings is such an inappropriate choice, even though I expressly pointed out (as Pelosi herself made clear from the beginning):

There is no seniority on the Intelligence Committee, so Harman is not being "demoted" by being "denied" this seat. Hastings is not the "alternative," since Pelosi can choose anyone she wants and, as far as I know, has never said that the "alternative" to Harman is Hastings. The media has just invented this dichotomy in order to foster the drama of the Serious/Substantive v. Frivolous/Bitchy choice they have decreed is what Pelosi must navigate.

It really is astonishing to observe as the media fabricates some storyline out of whole cloth -- "Hastings v. Harman!" -- and then it just becomes ossified as an immovable and unexamined premise, especially among the most superficial, partisan and mindless pundits, even though it is based on nothing, or next to nothing.

In any event, perhaps this childish drama can now be retired since a report has emerged that Pelosi will not name Hastings as Chair. Apparently, she intended to inform him this week that he would not get the position, but instead he has removed himself from consideration. From Congressional Quarterly (via TPM Muckraker):

House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi was to meet with Rep. Alcee L. Hastings late Tuesday to close the door on his bid to become chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, a congressional aide said.

But Pelosi, D-Calif., has not yet decided who will get the job, according to the aide. . . .

Pelosi met with Harman two weeks ago to discuss the House Intelligence Committee chair job. There is little to suggest Pelosi will reverse her intention to replace Harman atop the panel.

The CQ article is subscription only, so I only know of the excerpt provided by TPM, which really doesn't say that Hastings removed himself from consideration. That claim comes from the headline provided by TPM's Justin Rood ("CQ: Hastings to Drop Bid for Intel Chair"). The excerpt only says that Pelosi planned this week "to close the door on his bid to become chairman."

Either way -- whether Pelosi "closed the door" on Hastings or he preemptively removed himself from consideration -- it seems clear that neither Harman nor Hastings will be the choice for House Intelligence Chair. Thus, as was extremely predictable, the entire media and blogosphere hysteria over this matter over the last two week, used primarily as a tool to smear Pelosi once the all-important Steny Hoyer Scandal ran its course, was based on nothing but fiction and imagination.

* * * * * * * *

I will be on Democracy Now with Amy Goodman tomorrow morning, beginning some time between 8:20-8:30 a.m. EST, to discuss the "controversy" of who will lead the House Intelligence Committee.

* * * * * * * *

To his credit, Professor Bainbridge responded to the comment I left at his site, with a new post recognizing that Pelosi need not select Hastings if she rejects Harman (this was before the CQ report was known). In it, he asks:

In any event, if not Harman, who? Greenwald comments "opposing Harman (as I have done) is not to support Hastings (as I have NOT done - quite the opposite)." Indeed, in an aside to a post attacking Harman, Greenwald did comment that "Alcee Hastings is one of the few House members who might be less desirable." Fair enough. But two questions remain: Will Greenwald explain why he thinks Hastings is "less desirable" and oppose Hastings in detail? Who does Greenwald think Pelosi should (or will) pick if not Hastings?

I attempted to respond at his site with a comment but was unable to do so, so I will post the response here:

The fact that Hastings and the CBC want him to get the job and have been lobbying for it doesn't mean that Pelosi is seriously considering appointing him to it.

There is much speculation that Rahm Emanuel did not challenge former CBC Chair James Clyburn as Majority Whip - instead Emaneul let him have that position and took the one below -- because allowing Clyburn to assume that important leadership position relieved Pelosi of the obligation to appoint Hastings as Intelligence Chair.

That satisfied the CBC. That's just speculation, but as Tom Maguire, among others, has noted, the CBC is decidedly lukewarm (at best) about its "demand" that Hastings get that position. Their advocacy for him appears cursory.

As the commenter above notes, Rush Holt would be an excellent selection and has been increasingly mentioned as a possibility, at least in blogospheric circles (Josh Marshall, for one, suggested him yesterday).

The third-ranking member currently (after Harman and Hastings) is Sylvester Reyes, who by all accounts is competent. He also opposed the war and is a member of the Hispanic Caucas, which has been pining for an important leadership role.

Either Holt or Reyes, and scores of other members, would be fine by me. The real point here is that the media has claimed - with no basis - that Pelosi is blocking Harman purely because of vindictive, personal, substance-free motives of the type typically attributed to women (it's a "cat fight" between two prima donnas) even though: (a) there is no basis for that claim and (b) there are plenty of substantive reasons why Pelosi would not want Harman to chair the Committee (I cited several yesterday).

Similarly, Pelosi is getting mauled on the ground that Hastings is such a horrible choice even though she obviously has not appointed him yet or even said anything to suggest that it's a real possibility.

Finally, since you asked, I oppose Hastings for the obvious reason -- I think his bribery impeachment (his acquittal in his criminal trial notwithstanding) ought to disqualify him from any important leadership role. He's also shown no particular expertise or even interest in intelligence issues, and I think it's vital that someone who is both willing and able to exercise aggressive investigative scrutiny and oversight over the administration be in that position. Neither Hastings nor Harman qualify.

All along, the issue -- at least to me -- was not so much who will be selected as House Intelligence Committee Chair, but rather, that the media has spent two weeks vilifying Pelosi for refusing to appoint Harman supposedly out of "personal" animus and attempting to appoint Hastings instead, even though: (a) there has never been any evidence that "personal" issues, rather than substantive objections, motivated Pelosi's opposition to Harman and (b) there was no evidence that she was planning to appoint Hastings. It was just all fabricated and repeated endlessly as though it were true, even though it was based on nothing.

Isn't that rather apparent now? Maybe Nancy Pelosi, who became Speaker of the House due to her own ingenuity and work, isn't such a stupid, confused, weak, inept little girl after all. Maybe it would make sense to allow her to actually start as Speaker before fueling a media swarm that denounces her as a failure.

UPDATE: TPM now reports, based on the CQ article, that it was Pelosi who made the decision not to appoint Hastings, not Hastings who withdrew. From Hastings' statement:

I have been informed by the Speaker-elect that I will not serve as the Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in the 110th Congress. I am obviously disappointed with this decision.

Pelosi never said she was even considering Hastings. All of the media reports suggesting otherwise were either based on pure speculation or, as Jay B notes in Comments, may well have come from the camp of Jane Harman, who was campaigning heavily for the position (perhaps too heavily) and easily could have created the myth that it was either her or the impeached Hastings whom Pelosi was considering. Either way, it's time for the oh-so-serious-and-responsible Beltway mavens as well as those desperate to smear Pelosi to find a new gossip item with which to depict Pelosi as a vindictive, unserious loser.

UPDATE II: My response to some of the comments to this post is here.

The next two years

In an excellent new New Yorker article, Jeffrey Toobin documents how Arlen Specter lambasted the Military Commissions Act as a tyrannical, unconstitutional, profoundly unjust atrocity, only to then, like the good boy that he is, cast his vote in favor of it. After his habeas corpus amendment failed, "Specter, visibly angry, left the Senate chamber. He told reporters that he thought the habeas ban was 'patently unconstitutional' and vowed to vote against the detainee bill." The next day -- the next day -- he voted in favor of it. That's just sad.

But one of the most glorious results of the midterm elections is that it has relegated former-Chairman Specter (such a nice-sounding phrase) to an inconsequential afterthought. The more important aspect of Toobin's article is that it provides an important and potent reminder that while it is nice that Democrats, rather than Bush-loyal Republicans, now control Congress, the people who occupy the White House don't think that matters because they believe -- literally -- that Congress has no power to restrain what they do.

One episode which Toobin recounts is that Lindsey Graham travelled with Dick Cheney's counsel, John-Yoo-copycat David Addington, to Guantanamo in 2002, and on the way back, Graham tried to convince Addington to "allow" Congress to enact legislation legalizing the administration's detention and interrogation practices (which, as of that time, had no legal authorization whatsoever). In other words, just like they wanted to do with the President's illegal warrantless eavesdropping program, Congress pleaded with the Bush administration after the fact to be permitted to pass legislation approving of what the President had ordered.

But the administration refused to allow Congress to authorize what they were doing because the administration wanted it to be as clear as could be that they could do whatever they wanted in the national security area (defined as broadly as possible) and that Congress had no role whatsoever to play -- even to rubber-stamp the Leader's Will:

The Bush Administration, believing that the treatment of the detainees was a matter that belonged under the exclusive control of the executive branch, was disdainful of attempts by Congress to address the issue. “I went down to Guantánamo with a group of senators shortly after it opened, and Dave Addington was also on the trip,” Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, recalled, referring to Vice-President Dick Cheney’s counsel, who has been a leading advocate in the Administration for a broad view of Presidential power.

“As we were flying back to the States, I pulled Dave aside on the plane and said, ‘You really need to come over and draft some legislation with us, and, if you do that, the Supreme Court will be much more likely to uphold what we do. It would be better to work in concert with each other when it comes to wartime decision-making about how you try and interrogate a prisoner.’

“I remember Dave had a copy of the Constitution he carried around with him,” Graham went on. “He took it out, and he said the Administration didn’t need congressional authorization for what it was doing. The President had the inherent authority to handle the prisoners any way he wanted. And I said, ‘ That may be a good legal argument, but it’s not a good political argument. The more united the nation, the better it is for everyone.’ But Dave said, ‘ Thanks but no thanks.’

On Sunday, the Boston Globe's Charlie Savage -- one of the country's few real "journalists" in the meaningful sense of that term -- documented Dick Cheney's decades-long obsession with vesting all power in a single authoritarian leader and rendering Congress almost completely impotent, nothing more than a symbolic body. One of the incidents which Savage described, one of which I was not previously aware, is that Cheney actually urged the first President Bush not to seek Congressional approval for the Persian Gulf War, arguing that the President had the power to start whatever wars he wanted regardless of whether Congress approved or not:

"I was not enthusiastic about going to Congress for an additional grant of authority," Cheney recalled in a 1996 PBS "Frontline" documentary. "I was concerned that they might well vote 'no' and that would make life more difficult for us."

Notice that, in Cheney's authoritarian mind, if Congress had voted "no" on the question of whether to declare war (or provide the President with the authorization to use military force), that would not have meant that they couldn't start the war. It just would have "made life more difficult" for them. As I have documented before, there is simply no question -- none -- that the Bush administration believes it has the power to initiate wars against other countries, such as Iran or Syria or anyone else, without having even a pretense of Congressional approval.

And starting wars isn't the only thing they believe they can do without Congressional approval. As a Congressman, Cheney was the ranking Republican in 1987 on the Committee investigating the Iran-Contra affair and, as Savage details, he expressly argued that the President had the power to ignore the Boland Amendments, the Congressional prohibition on the providing of support to the Nicaraguan contras, on the ground that Congress has no power to restrict the President's national security decisions. As Savage reports: "The 'committee issued a scathing, bipartisan report accusing White House officials of 'disdain for the law,'" which Cheney refused to sign.

Democrats replaced Republicans in Congress as a result of the midterm election but nobody has replaced Dick Cheney and George Bush. And they see Congress as irrelevant. The increasingly assertive defender of American values, the American Patriot Pat Leahy, explains in Toobin's article how Congress functioned for the last five years and what it reveals about the "character" of those who still rule the executive branch:

Specter’s own beliefs appear to have changed little over the years, but he has been forced to work in an environment in which the Republican Party, especially in Congress, has imposed ever-tighter discipline. “When Lyndon Johnson became Vice-President, he wasn’t welcome at Senate Democratic caucus meetings anymore, because it was for senators only,” Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, told me.

“But every Tuesday since Bush has been President it’s been like a Mafia funeral around here. There are, like, fifteen cars with lights and sirens, and Cheney and Karl Rove come to the Republican caucus meetings and tell those guys what to do. It’s all ‘Yes, sir, yes, sir.’ I bet there is not a lot of dissent that goes on in that room. In thirty-two years in the Senate, I have never seen a Congress roll over and play dead like this one.”

There are a lot of Democrats who, understandably enough, seem all excited about the great new policies and legislation they think they can enact now. And many people are equally excited (at least) about the Congressional investigations that are going to commence. But it is vital to keep at the forefront of our political discussions the fact that the Bush administration is composed of individuals who do not recognize the rule of law or the authority of Congress to do much of anything, and -- unless they are absolutely forced to do so, and it's unclear what that might include -- they are not going to comply with these things we used to call "laws" or with Congressional subpoenas and other mandates because they believe they do not have to. And they have said so expressly, time and again.

The rule of law is being made a mockery of every day by an administration that continues to eavesdrop on us without warrants even though there is still a law in place that makes doing that a felony punishable by five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The Yoo Theory of Presidential Omnipotence is still the official and embraced position of the executive branch. Neither it nor its adherents have gone anywhere.

And we still don't know whether the last two years of this administration will be driven by the broken, humbled, tired and drained President whom we saw the day after the elections, or by a more-than-ever embittered and contemptuous Cheney-led administration bent on more war-making and lawlessness. I think most people assume, quite correctly, that it will be the latter.

It is good to hear Democrats talking about their intentions to investigate and to exercise oversight and impose limits on the administration's behavior, but it is vital that they recognize that doing that is not going to happen easily. It will require some extremely contentious confrontations and very difficult fights to enforce the rule of law.

There are going to be all sorts of pressures placed on those who want to impose genuine limits on this President -- from the bipartisan/centrist fetishists in the media who will condemn such measures as shrill and extremist to threats and attacks from the administration's filth machine to Congressional Democrats eager to win Beltway approval by showing they are serious, sensible, responsible, etc. But there is no more urgent task than restoring the basic principles of our system of government, and it remains to be seen whether there are Democrats in Congress who are up to that Herculean task.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The media's sudden intense interest in the House Intelligence Committee

The New Republic's Michael Crowley last night noticed something about Jane Harman that has evaded most Beltway commentators, including those who have suddenly developed such a bizarre and uncharacteristic interest in the issue of who will lead the House Intelligence Committee:

In the debate over which Democrat should lead the House Intelligence Committe, Alcee Hastings has endured a lot of well-deserved scrutiny lately. But it's only fair to note that Jane Harman wasn't exactly a lantern in the darkness in the runup to the Iraq war:

"There's a strong intelligence case that Iraq has not destroyed its weapons of mass destruction and is building the capability to use them," said Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House intelligence committee. "There's a growing al Qaeda presence in Iraq, and I think the case can be made that there is a growing affiliation" between Baghdad and terrorist groups.

Growing al Qaeda presence? I knew that Harman supported the war. I hadn't realized quite how much bad intel she swallowed whole.

Harman has swallowed much more than just "bad intel" on Iraq. For instance, when it was revealed that the President was eavesdropping on Americans without warrants -- i.e. , in violation of the law -- Harman immediately became, far and away, the most prominent and vocal Democratic defender of the President's law-breaking, enabling Time Magazine to say this on January 3, 2006 -- just two weeks after the Times reported on the law-breaking, when impressions were still forming among Americans as to how grave of a scandal this was:

G.O.P. strategists argue that Democrats have little leeway to attack on the issue because it could make them look weak on national security and because some of their leaders were briefed about the National Security Agency (NSA) no-warrant surveillance before it became public knowledge.

Some key Democrats even defend it. Says California's Jane Harman, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee: "I believe the program is essential to U.S. national security and that its disclosure has damaged critical intelligence capabilities."

In February of this year, Harman went on Meet the Press and -- echoing the sentiments of the GOP Senate and House Committee Chairmen, Pat Roberts and Pete Hoekstra -- she again emphasized, proudly, her "support" for the President's NSA warrantless eavesdropping program ("The briefings were about the operational details of the program. I support the program, I’ve never flinched from that"). Worse, while defending the President's lawbreaking, she heaped blame on The New York Times for reporting on the Leader's illegal conduct, saying: ". . . the leak to The New York Times that triggered things—and by the way, I deplore that leak" and:

This is not a covert action program, this is a very valuable foreign collection program, and I’m—I think it is tragic that a lot of our capability is now across the pages of the newspapers.

All of that led her to declare how receptive she was to a criminal investigation into the Times for reporting this story:

If the press was part of the process of delivering classified information, I think there have to be some limits on press immunity. . . . Well, it’s not clear it was a whistleblower. You have to prove that first. No. The answer is if it’s protected under the whistleblower statute, then it’s protected. Goss in his op-ed said he was trying to protect whistleblowers, but these were despicable people going around the process.

So Harman has a history of defending the administration's illegal intelligence activities. She was among the most gullible and/or deceitful when it came to disseminating the administration's most extreme (and most inaccurate) intelligence claims to "justify" the invasion of Iraq. She supports the administration's efforts to criminally investigate, if not prosecute, journalists who reveal illegal intelligence activities on the part of the President (including illegal activities about which Harman knew but said nothing).

Given her position as ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, Harman was repeatedly used by the administration -- with her consent -- as a potent instrument to shield itself from scrutiny, by creating the "Responsible Democrat" (Harman, Lieberman) v. "Irresponsible Democrat" dichotomy and then arguing that they enjoyed bipartisan support from the Good, Sensible Democrats like Harman. That's why, just like Joe Lieberman, Harman's most vociferous defenders are the most extreme Bush followers and neoconservatives. It is their agenda whom she promotes (which is why they defend her).

In light of that history, why would anyone think that Nancy Pelosi should choose Jane Harman to be the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, a key position for exercising desperately-needed oversight over the administration's last two years of intelligence mischief and, as importantly, for investigating and exposing the administration's past misconduct? She instinctively supports, or at least acquieses to, the administration's excesses, and would be among the worst choices Pelosi could make.

Despite all of that, the mindless, petty Beltway media parrots continue to recite the adolescent-minded script that Pelosi is a vindictive, unserious and egomaniacal "girl" because she won't bestow Jane Harman with the Chair of the Intelligence Committee. To read this new column in U.S. News and World Report by Gloria Borger is like looking through a high-powered microscope at virtually every Beltway media disease. It is all there in its vapid, gory emptiness. Titled "The Lady of the House," it begins this way:

Women recognize that kind of smile: pasted, forced, painful. When it appears-say, to hide heartbreak or sadness-there's a natural sympathy, even admiration, for the spirit of the woman wearing it. But when the soon-to-be Madame Speaker emerged from a closed-door Democratic caucus recently wearing that anguished grin, there was none of that friendly sense of embrace. None whatsoever.

Instead, there was mostly this question: What was the woman thinking? That we would simply accept the toothy smile as evidence of her newfound comity with Steny Hoyer, the new majority leader whom she had just attempted to knock off? That we would think it was a good idea to make her maiden leadership power play-in supporting Jack Murtha over her foe Steny Hoyer for the job-an act of revenge instead of reconciliation? That the woman about to become the first female speaker of the House was smart to look like a girl eager to "get back" at the guy she didn't like?

All of this merely because Pelosi preferred one of her allies who agrees with her opposition to the Iraq war over someone who is not her ally and who spouts Washington establishment-ese on every issue, including the war. For the oh-so-critical position of House Majority Leader.

How, asks Borgor now, can Pelosi possibly recover from such a catastrophe and prove that she's not a silly girl and that she's not "acting like the second coming of George McGovern"? By appointing the pro-war, Washington Establishment-ese-spewing Jane Harman as House Intelligence Chair, of course:

Tacky. And divided on the best way to end the war. Pelosi has taken sides: She supports the Murtha withdraw-now scenario. And she's about to demote her more moderate fellow Californian, Jane Harman-denying her the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee, even kicking her off the panel. Why demote Harman?

If it's a policy dispute over the war, why not welcome Harman's voice-generally regarded as credible, even if it veers from the liberal line? If it's a personal dispute, get over it. Any member of the California delegation will tell you that the two women don't get along-and that both have probably been right over the years. But if you're speaker, why demean your exalted position by engaging in a publicly ugly, even tacky, fight? Particularly when the possible alternative to Harman is Alcee Hastings of Florida, once impeached by the Senate for ethical lapses.

This is all mindless, baseless mental garbage that Borger is spewing because all of the people like her are spewing the same thing. There is no seniority on the Intelligence Committee, so Harman is not being "demoted" by being "denied" this seat. Hastings is not the "alternative," since Pelosi can choose anyone she wants and, as far as I know, has never said that the "alternative" to Harman is Hastings. The media has just invented this dichotomy in order to foster the drama of the Serious/Substantive v. Frivolous/Bitchy choice they have decreed is what Pelosi must navigate.

At first I thought that the media's obsession with smearing Pelosi was some combination of its adolescent cravings for cattle-like demonization of the unpopular, loser Democrats, combined with the surprisingly (at least to me) strong and obvious discomfort with a woman being this politically powerful in her own right, not dependent upon appointments or derivative popularity from political spouses. And there is definitely a lot of that driving this chatter.

But now I believe that what is really responsible for this amazing obsession with undermining Nancy Pelosi before she even starts -- over matters as seemingly irrelevant (in the grand scheme of things) as Steny Hoyer and Jane Harman, no less -- is that institutionalized Beltway personalities fear a repudiation of the rotten system on which they depend and of which they are such integral parts.

They were so petrified by the possible rejection of Hoyer in favor of the anti-war Murtha because that would have been viewed by them as a repudiation of their brand of Serious Washington Centrism -- the disease which enabled the Bush administration and brought us this war. It would have meant that those who continue to prop up this war and this administration, either actively or passively, are going to suffer a loss of prestige and credibility. And that is exactly why it is so important to them that Jane Harman become House Intelligence Chair and why Pelosi's refusal to allow that will unleash even more hostility towards her.

There is nothing "credible" about Harman. Yes, she is smart and knowledgeable, but she has been wrong about everything that matters, particularly in the intelligence area. But she was wrong in exactly the same way that the Beltway geniuses and The New Republic and David Broder and Fred Hiatt were wrong. For that reason, they don't want her to be repudiated and rejected because that would constitute a repudiation and rejection of them. So they build up and glorify the "credible," responsible Harman because she represents them, and they hate Pelosi in advance for rejecting Harman for being wrong about everything because they feel rejected by that choice.

As a result, Pelosi and her opposition to Harman have to be belittled and removed from the substantive arena. Harman supported the most disastrous strategic decision in our nation's history and repeatedly defended the administration's worst excesses. That ought to be disqualifying on its face. But the Beltway media are guilty of the same crimes, so they want to pretend that Harman -- just like Steny Hoyer -- did nothing wrong and the only reason not to anoint her to her Rightful Place is because of petty, womanly personality disputes that have no place in the public arena.

For the same reason, they decree that Pelosi must prove that she's a "responsible" and serious leader. How does she do that? By embracing the Beltway establishment types, including those -- especially those -- who have been so wrong about so many things.

That's why the media has taken such an intense interest in the otherwise mundane matter of who will be House Majority Leader and House Intelligence Chair. Jane Harman, like Steny Hoyer, is the symbol of official Washington, the broken, rotted, corrupt Washington that propped up this war and enabled this administration in so many ways. Pelosi has to prove that she's one of them, or else suffer the consequences of being mauled and scorned.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The "centrist" position on the war in Iraq

This Washington Post article on the inner workings of the bizarrely revered Baker-Hamilton Commission is notable for several reasons, the first of which is that neoconservatives are stomping their feet and whining loudly because they feel that their Great Wisdom and Expertise are being unfairly ignored:

Neoconservatives, who supported and crafted much of the original Iraq strategy, say the panel was stacked against them. Michael Rubin, political adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority, resigned because he said he was a token.

"Many appointees appeared to be selected less for expertise than for their hostility to President Bush's war on terrorism and emphasis on democracy," Rubin wrote in the Weekly Standard. Baker and Hamilton "gerrymandered" the experts only "to ratify predetermined recommendations," he wrote. "Rather than prime the debate they sought to stifle it."

Only two of the 40 experts -- May and former CIA analyst Reuel Marc Gerecht -- are neoconservatives.

Seeking input from the neocons on how to solve the Iraq disaster would be like consulting the serial arsonist who started a deadly, raging fire on how to extinguish it. That actually might make sense if the arsonist were repentant and wanted to help reverse what he unleashed. But if the arsonist were proud of the fire he started and actually wanted to see it rage forever, even more strongly -- and, worse, if he were intent on starting whole new fires just like the one destroying everything and everyone in its path-- it would be the height of irrationality for those wanting to extinguish the fire to listen to what he has to say.

But more notable than the supposed exclusion of neocons (something that should be believed only once it is seen) is this claim about Washington-style balance and "centrism":

The panel was deliberately skewed toward a centrist course for Iraq, participants said. Organizers avoided experts with extreme views on either side of the Iraq war debate.

I'd really like to know what the excluded anti-war "extreme view" is that is the equivalent of the neonconservative desire for endless warfare in Iraq and beyond. The only plausible possibility would be the view that the U.S. ought to withdraw from Iraq, and do so sooner rather than later. What else could it be? Nobody, to my knowledge, is proposing that we cede American territory to the Iraqi insurgents, so withdrawal essentially defines the far end of the anti-war spectrum.

Is withdrawal -- whether incremental or total -- considered to be an "extreme view" that the Washington "centrists" have not only rejected but have excluded in advance even from consideration? That's what this article seems to suggest, and that would definitely be consistent with conventional Beltway wisdom -- that withdrawal is advocated only by the fringe radicals and far leftists (such as the individual whom Americans just knowingly installed as Speaker of the House).

There is nothing "centrist" about a Commission which decides in advance that it will not remove our troops from a war which is an unmitigated disaster and getting worse every day. It just goes without saying that if you invade and occupy a country and are achieving nothing good by staying, withdrawal must be one of the primary options considered when deciding what to do about the disaster.

Even if that is not the option ultimately chosen, a categorical refusal in advance to consider that option -- or to listen to experts who advocate it -- is not the work of a "centrist" body devoted to finding a solution to this war. If the Commission begins with the premise that we have to stay in Iraq and then only considers proposals for how to modify our strategy on the margins, that is anything but centrist. To the contrary, that is a close-minded -- and rather extremist -- commitment to the continuation of a war which most Americans have come to despise and want to see brought to an end.

Back in 2002, when the U.S. was debating whether to invade Iraq, those who opposed the invasion were, for that reason alone, dismissed as unserious morons and demonized as anti-American subversive hippies. Despite the fact that subsequent events have largely proven them to have been right, and that those who did the demonizing were the frivolous, unserious, know-nothing extremists, this narrative persists, so that -- even now, when most Americans have turned against this war -- the only way to avoid being an "extremist," and to be rewarded with the "centrist" mantle, is to support the continuation of this war in one form or another.

A desire to keep troops in Iraq even in the face of what is going on there may be many things, but "centrist" is not really one of them. Any Commission which commits itself in advance to keeping American troops fighting in Iraq for the foreseeable, indefinite future is itself "extremist" -- whether that term is seen as a function of public opinion or assessed on its own merits.

UPDATE: Via Greg Djerejian, who has all you need to know about Michael Rubin's melodramatic protest resignation from the Commission ("James Baker and Lee Hamilton, doubtless, must have been crushed--that the penetrating insights Rubin would have brought to bear are now lost forever"), here is the list of the 40 experts assembled by the Commission (h/t MD).

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The meaninglessness of tenure

(Updated below - Update II - Update III - Update IV - Update V)

Ann Althouse today:

I wonder how many people "recoil" at [Andrew] Sullivan's sanctimonious pronouncements about "Christianists." He's become so devoted to that word of his. Does he not notice how snide and hostile it feels even to people who are not fundamentalists?

Ann Althouse, February 21, 2006:

I wonder how the history books would read on the cartoons story if, by some crazy chance, fascistic Islamists win World War IV.

Ann Althouse, January 22, 2006:

This isn't meant to appeal to Islamists, who, the article suggests, would find these depictions wrong. But Mutawa has Western leanings (a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and an M.B.A. from Columbia University) and is trying to appeal to kids who feel an attraction to Western culture. Interestingly, Teshkeel has acquired Cracked magazine and plans to bring it back. Not for Arab Muslims, however, for Americans.

And then there is this, from her patron, Instapundit, on October 22, 2006: "Sounds bad. (Via Dan Riehl, who thinks this means that France's accomodationist (sic) policy regarding Islamists isn't working)." And on October 13, 2006: "And Grameen's efforts to empower women have made them very unpopular with Islamists, which is reason enough to applaud." And over and over and over -- they are always "Islamists," except when they are "Islamofascists," which is, in Reynolds' world, almost as often.

But yesterday, Reynolds also objected to Sullivan's use of the term "Christianist" (which is almost certainly why Althouse wrote about it today). This is what Reynolds said when complaining about Sullivan's use of that term to describe those individuals in Tennessee who lobbied to force the cancellation of a broadcast of a Madonna concert:

This whole "Christianist" thing is kind of silly, as episodes like this one illustrate. At best, it's a vapid book-marketing term, but it seems more like a variety of bigotry on its own account, and a pretty empty variety of bigotry at that.

That from someone who routinely -- meaning on a weekly basis, at least -- refers to whole groups of people as "Islamists" and "Islamofascists."

How odd that such "sanctimonious pronouncements" about "Islamists" are everywhere -- including coming out of Althouse's and Reynolds' own mouths -- yet "do[ they] not notice how snide and hostile it feels even to people who are not fundamentalists?" People like Althouse and Reynolds love to complain about the supposed religious hostility which exists towards Christians -- a whine triggered so easily that the mere use of the word "Christianist" is sufficient for us to be subjected to it -- because feeling persecuted is an insatiable need they have.

And their "evidence" for anti-Christian "bigotry" consists of nothing more than statements and sentiments that are indescribably benign and innocuous, especially compared to the hostility and scorn that spews forth from them towards "Islamists," "Islamofascists," and similar terms. In their world, referring to people who believe that the law should comport to their Christian religious beliefs as "Christianists" is "sanctimonious," "snide" and "hostile" "bigotry" -- even though they are people who use exactly the same terms, and (in Reynolds' case) much worse, to refer to Muslims.

We are now headed into the season where this type of petulant hypocrisy flows abundantly -- it is, after all, the Season of the War on Christmas -- and it's good to see these two nonpartisan, above-it-all, "swing-voter"/professors are getting such an early start on the persecution festivities.

UPDATE: Blue Texan has related analysis of the odd spectacle of self-proclaimed "libertarian nonpartisans" pledging their allegiance to a political party dominated by "social conservatives" who advocate the most un-libertarian policies imaginable. And in this instance, these "libertarian non-partisans" go even further and anoint themselves the defenders of those same "social conservatives" and loyally echo their petty cries of religious persecution.

UPDATE II: Ann Althouse responds and seems angry:

* Glenn Greenwald is such an idiot.

* Am I supposed to respond to this foolishness?

* Glenn, you moron, in case you didn't notice, Sullivan is mocking Mormons in general.

* . . . . you disreputable slimeball.

* And your writing is putrid.

* But I do love the pathetic jealousy of your post title.

And all of that is packed into a one-paragraph outburst.

As for the actual "response," Althouse now claims she doesn't object to the term "Christianist" in general (what she said originally was: "He's become so devoted to that word of his ["Christianist"]. Does he not notice how snide and hostile it feels even to people who are not fundamentalists?"). She now claims that she was only upset because "Sullivan is mocking Mormons in general" and "he shows a hostility toward ordinary religious people who aren't trying to bully their way around the political world."

But that's both incoherent and dishonest. It's incoherent because Sullivan's post which was supposedly "mocking" Mormons had nothing to do with the term "Christianist." Althouse's claim that that was the post to which she was referring when objecting to the term "Christianist" literally makes no sense at all, since Sullivan didn't use the term there.

Her response is dishonest because the post of Sullivan's which was about "Christianists" was not merely referring to ordinary religious people going peacefully about their business, but instead, was about a new poll which revealed that "53 percent of evangelical Christians would not even consider voting for a Mormon president" -- that would be Christians who would categorically refuse to vote for a political candidate solely because of his religion.

Sullivan was describing as "Christianists" people whose specific religion so dominates their political beliefs that they would refuse even to consider a candidate who is Mormon. And he was hardly "mocking" Mormons there; if anything, he was defending Mormons from the Christianists who would refuse to vote for them for political office simply because of religious differences.

To defend her attack on the term "Christianist," Althouse completely misrepresents Sullivan's use of the term (she falsely claims that he was using it to describe "ordinary religious people who aren't trying to bully their way around the political world"). Then again, Althouse gets to be a law professor at the University of Wisconsin so perhaps my seething "pathetic jealousy" over that fact is impeding my judgment.

UPDATE III: To Althouse's professorial critique, Glenn Reynolds adds that I am "extraordinarily lame," and then links to Althouse's outburst. He claims:

The problem with the term "Christianist" isn't that it adds "ist" to the end of a religion. It's that, by parallelling "Islamist," it is a deliberate attempt at conflating people who oppose gay marriage -- or, apparently, Madonna's schlocky posturing -- with people who blow up discos and mosques, and throw gay people off of walls.

Like his colleague Althouse, Reynolds is just making up arguments and then attributing them to Sullivan because he's otherwise incapable of responding and defending his attack on the term "Christianist."

That term "Christianist" -- like the term "Islamist" (but unlike the term "Islamofascist") -- does not remotely denote violence or terrorism, as Sullivan, who coined the term, has repeatedly made clear. It merely refers to those who view Christianity not merely as a religious doctrine to govern their personal and private lives, but far beyond that, as a set of beliefs to which secular law must conform when constraining others, such as this:

The Texas Republican Party's platform, which in 2004 contained this:

We pledge to exert our influence toward a return to the original intent of the First Amendment and dispel the myth of the separation of church and state.

Or the 2006 Texas GOP Platform which declares that "America is a Christian nation." Or those who believe in laws providing that American adults who have un-Christian sex in the privacy of their own homes will be arrested and imprisoned as criminals. Or those who want to outlaw private consensual activities among consenting adults -- including pornography and gambling -- solely because such activities violate Christian morality. Or those who believe that the Federal Government ought to intervene and take control of end-of-life conflicts being adjudicated by a state court judge because the judge, when faithfully applying state law, reaches an un-Christian result. Or those who believe that our Middle East policies ought to be governed by a desire for Rapture. Or those who would refuse to vote for a political candidate because he's a Mormon.

The Republican Party to which Reynolds and his readers are so loyal (while pretending not to be) is dominated by a contingent which believes that secular law should conform to Christian doctrine. Such individuals ("Christianists") are distinct from those who merely believe in Christianity as a matter of personal religious faith ("Christians"), and the notion that the use of the term "Christianists" somehow suggests a propensity to engage in terrorism or a willingness to use violence is pure fantasy which Reynolds simply made up to justify his baseless, petulant cries of persecution and "bigotry" over the use of that descriptive term.

UPDATE IV: What makes Althouse and Reynolds' claim here so particularly dishonest is that their ideological comrade, Hugh Hewitt, previously made the same argument -- that Sullivan's use of the term "Christianist" is "deeply offensive." Hewitt was just as petulant and hysterical as Reynolds was, labelling the term "hate speech." In response, Sullivan explained exactly what the term means and what it does not mean:

Christianity, in this view, is simply a faith. Christianism is an ideology, politics, an ism. The distinction between Christian and Christianist echoes the distinction we make between Muslim and Islamist. Muslims are those who follow Islam. Islamists are those who want to wield Islam as a political force and conflate state and mosque. Not all Islamists are violent. Only a tiny few are terrorists.

And I should underline that the term Christianist is in no way designed to label people on the religious right as favoring any violence at all. I mean merely by the term Christianist the view that religious faith is so important that it must also have a precise political agenda. It is the belief that religion dictates politics and that politics should dictate the laws for everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike.

That is not a complicated distinction. Are Althouse and Reynolds (and their like-minded comrade, Hewitt) really incapable of comprehending it? "Christians" (like "Muslims") are those who believe in the religion. "Christianists" (like "Islamists") are those who believe that their religious beliefs ought to shape politics and dictate the law. "Christian fascists" (like "Islamofascists") are those who believe in the use of violence and terrorism to achieve those goals. The term "Christianist" has nothing to do with violence, only with a desire to compel others to adhere to Christian religious views via the force of politics, state power, and secular law.

What seems to be guiding Althouse and Reynolds' hatred of the term "Christianist" is that it highlights a fact which they both are eager to ignore -- namely, that the political party to which they are so devoted is dominated by individuals who believe that their religious/Christian beliefs ought to dictate the American political process, shape secular law, and exploit coercive state power to constrain the choices of their fellow citizens.

UPDATE V: As Avedon points out in Comments, Tristero actually wrote about this topic back in June, 2003 in an excellent post which concluded: "In short, not only must we make a distinction between Islam, Islamism, and radical Islamism, I think it is important to distinguish between Christianity, Christianism, and radical Christianism."

Tristero made the same basic distinctions made by Sullivan, which Althouse, Reynolds and Hewitt are incapable of understanding (or unwilling to understand, though I think it's the former) -- namely, that Christians (like Muslims) can be divided into three groups: (1) those who believe in the religion ("Christians/Muslims"); (2) those who seek to have their religious beliefs dictate politics and law ("Christianists/Islamists"); and (3) those who are willing to use violence to enforce compliance with their religious beliefs ("Christian fascists/Islamofascists" - or "Christian terrorist"/"Muslim terrorist").

The Republican Party is dominated by those who belong to group (2) -- Christianists -- and to conflate that group with group (3) ("Christian terrorists") in order to discredit and mock the term "Christianists" (see Reynolds' "Update" for a particularly misleading example of that tactic) is nothing short of pure mendacity, driven by a desire to hide the fact that "Christianists" (along with their odd partners, the neoconservatives) now control and define the Republican Party.

My Ecosystem Details