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, January 09, 2007

Various items

I'm returning this week to my blog hiatus (which has been the worst-observed blog hiatus in history) because I'm close to finishing my book and would like to do so. So here are a few (relatively) brief, worthwhile items for the moment:

(1) Jonathan Weiler compiled a series of quotes from Charles Krauthammer throughout the 1990s demonstrating that even two full decades of fact-free warmongering will not result in even a minimal loss of prestige. It is worth noting how long neoconservatives have been agitating for war against Iran, as illustrated by this amazing quote from Krauthammer from 1993:

Iran is on the move and makes no effort to hide its ambitions. Last year, Iran expelled the United Arab Emirates from three strategic, jointly held islands in the Persian Gulf shipping lanes. When the Gulf Arabs protested, Iran responded with blunt warnings and bellicose threats, the latest only last weekend. The threats are backed by a massive Iranian armament program, both conventional and nuclear. . . .

The immediate aim is to destroy pro-Western regimes, to seize the Gulf and its weak oil-rich sheikdoms, and to eradicate that singular affront to Islam: Israel.

As is true with so many things (such as authoritarian theories that the President is more powerful than the law on all security-related matters), the 9/11 attacks were used by all sorts of extremist figures to "justify" and drag into the mainstream a whole array of fringe ideas which long pre-dated 9/11. Hence, we now debate whether the U.S. should bomb or otherwise attack Iran.

As Weiler also notes: "During 1998, Krauthammer invoked the nuclear threat Iran posed to America on several occasions. . . . From May 23 of that year, he conjured the specter of a 'small, but lethal barrage' from Iranian nuclear weapons. (I swear I'm not making this up)." The whole post illustrates not just the depths of Krauthammer's fictitious, war-urging commentary (that is well-known) but also its longevity.

(2) I listened to part of an interview with Al Gore earlier today in which Gore argued that the Internet and blogs are in the process of fundamentally changing the nature of political debate and dialogue in this country. Television has been overwhelmingly dominant in shaping public opinion, Gore argues, and because its attributes (corporate control, advertisement-dependence, reliance on an entertainment-format) preclude meaningful political discussions, our political debates have been vapid, substance-free and highly manipulative (and those who have exercised the most influence in that environment -- presumably television "journalists" and pundits -- have thrived because they excel at these empty tasks.

Gore contends that the Internet will make political debates far more substantive and will render the punditry world far more meritocratic, because online commentators are largely free of the constraints of television which ruin political debates, and because online political dialogue both permits and demands higher-quality arguments in order to persuade. I wish I had the time to write more about that argument, but I thought it was sufficiently interesting simply to pass it on for the moment (without necessarily endorsing all or even any of it).

And I should note that since I have no transcript and did not record the interview, my description of his argument is based on recollection and might be slightly infected with some of my own views.

(3) Eric Boehlert wraps up the full-scale humiliation suffered by right-wing blogs over the Jamil Hussein/AP "scandal," and in the process, makes some excellent points about how they function, what their objectives really are, and why it is important -- actually necessary -- to do the work to expose their complete lack of credibility and integrity. That work is not some sort of sideshow or diversion or distraction from "what really matters." They have a toxic effect on our political dialogue and how the media reports on political issues, and discrediting them (based on their own credibility-destroying conduct) is vitally important.

(4) Marty Lederman obliterates Joe Biden's truly frivolous claim that it would somehow be "unconstitutional" for Congress to cut off funding for an escalation of the war in Iraq, as opposed to a full-scale denial of war funding. Biden claims that such a measure would constitute "micro-managing of the war" and would therefore be an usurpation of the President's powers as Commander-in-Chief. It would obviously relieve Democrats of the responsibility to pursue that option if it were unconstitutional, but there is simply no remotely reasonable argument to suggest that it is.

The Democrats benefited greatly in the 2006 elections as a result of the public's anger towards Republicans for the disaster in Iraq. If that war is still ranging and failing in 2008 (as it inevitably will be) and voters continue to blame Republicans for it, that will almost certainly help Democrats, including the Democratic presidential nominee, even more. That creates an obvious political incentive on the part of Democrats to (a) have the war continue and (b) have it continue to be an exclusively Republican project ("Hey, Bush is the Commander-in-Chief, so there is nothing we can do about any of this except complain and hold hearings").

I honestly don't know if that is what is motivating 2008 presidential candidate Joe Biden (and I don't mean to imply coyly that it is), but presidential candidates are obviously more likely to find that temptation compelling. Whatever the case is, it is becoming increasingly perplexing and frustrating that some Democrats appear eager to allow Bush full rein to continue to pursue whatever policies in Iraq he thinks best, even as leading Democrats such as Pelosi seem genuinely committed to imposing real restraints.

UPDATE: In contrast to Joe Biden:

Sen. Gordon Smith, the Oregon Republican who came out against the Iraq war last month during an impassioned speech on the Senate floor, told CNN on Tuesday he thinks Sen. Edward Kennedy's bill requiring congressional approval for an increase in Iraq troops is "a good idea."

"The more the Congress can be involved in the decision making, the better -- and that is what the American people are asking for; they are going to hold us accountable then let's have the tools of accountability so we can be held responsible," Smith said.

After the last six years, no rational person would count on Congressional Republicans to do anything to oppose the Leader. But it is also true that the situation is different now. After the midterm elections, they no longer feel protected by Rove, and many of them may conclude that abandoning the President on Iraq is necessary to protect their political future. Fear of that sort tends to be the strongest -- even the only -- motivating force for many politicians.

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