Browsing the blog archives for June, 2006.

Dear Media, Part I: Diagnosis

big picture stuff, Bush Administration, News Media

Stranger of speaks for many of us:

Dear Media,

I hope you all enjoy lying in that bed you’ve made.

All those years of making excuses for George W. Bush’s ineptness, inadequacies, and illegalities have earned you absolutely nothing. You brushed aside his lack of experience and intellectual incuriosity in 1999 and 2000, mostly because you didn’t like Al Gore. Your behavior gave him a much better position from which to steal the 2000 election.

You bought the spin from Bush’s minions, ignoring the crisis that was taking place in Florida after the election. You believed every lie they came up with, from ‘The votes have been counted and re-counted and re-counted’ to ‘Al Gore is trying to steal the election,’ and you decided that letting Bush take office (in the most literal sense possible) was ‘best for the country.’

You papered over the fact that he was scared out of his mind on September 11, 2001 – to the point where he flew to Idaho to hide – in favor of painting him as a ‘resolute leader.’ You swallowed, hook, line, and sinker, every lie that came out of the White House in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq – in many cases embellishing the lies to make them sound more plausible. …

… And after all this, Bush and Cheney and Congress and Coulter and every wingnut pundit, whom you’ve coddled and accommodated every step of the way, show their appreciation how?

They want to muzzle you. They want to imprison you. They want to try you for treason.

Stranger links to an The American Prospect article about radio talk show host Melanie Morgan, who is the same raving loon who “debated” the SWIFT program with Al Sharpton on Monday night’s Hardball. TAP quotes Morgan suggesting that New York Times editor Bill Keller should be sent to the gas chamber for treason. She was more moderate on Hardball and was willing to reduce Keller’s sentence to 20 years behind bars.

To be a liberal in America today is to look at news media and despair. Sometime between the Watergate Era and today, the whole bleeping profession of journalism turned into the Right’s Pet Goat. The much compromised New York Times is Exhibit A. You’d think the Bush Administration would be grateful to the Times for its help with the WMDs scam. But no; the Times is now the ur-Goat.

The catastrophe that is contemporary American journalism is described in detail in Eric Boehlert’s new book Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush. I’m not going to repeat Boehlert’s arguments here; many of you know them, anyway. Instead, I want to look at the bigger picture of journalism and politics.

To see the bigger picture, you have to step back from political issues and parties, including our much-beloved debate on whether Democrats are hopeless. Instead, consider the political culture of the United States. I argue that our national political culture is so sick and contaminated that it no longer supports the democratic processes of politics and government. Sheer entropy has kept democracy lumbering along — it takes either a long time or a lot of force to stop a really big mass that’s been in motion for a while. But a political culture utterly inhospitable to rational political discussion, as ours has become, will shut democracy down eventually.

If we’re going to restore the United States to functionality as a democratic republic, our primary goal is to heal the national political culture. Otherwise, it won’t matter which party we support or how many elections we win, because the patient — democracy in America — will still be dying. But if we can heal the culture, the job of reforming other political institutions — like the Democratic and Republican parties — will be easier.

For example, many progressives have concluded it is pointless to support Democrats, because as soon as a Democrat gets inside the Beltway his spinal column is ripped right out of him. Time and time again, we’ve seen Democratic politicians make grand speeches to their liberal constituents, but once we get them elected they do little more than offer ineffectual objections to the ruling right-wing power juggernaut. And we’re all sick of this.

But I say that progressivism’s salvation will not come from any political leader or party, Democrat or otherwise. It will come from media reform. This is true because no matter who we elect, and no matter what progressive legislators might want to accomplish, they are helpless to do much until progessive policies have solid popular support. You build popular support for policies by talking about them to the American people. And for the past fifty years or so, that means being able to make your case in mass media, particularly television.

Now, tell me — when was the last time you watched a substantive, factual, civil discussion of progressive ideas on national television?

Take health care, for example. For years, we progressives have wanted some kind of national health care system, maybe single payer, maybe a combination of public and private systems, but something that would scuttle the bloated, failing mess we’ve got now. Many polls indicate that a majority of Americans are deeply concerned about health care in this country. Yet it is next to impossible to present progressive ideas about health care reform to the American public through mass media. Even on those programs allegedly dedicated to political discussion, as soon as a progressive gets the phrase “health care” out of his mouth, a chorus of rightie goons will commence shrieking about socialized medicine! And then the allotted ten minutes for the health care segment is up; go to commercial.

And that’s assuming a real progressive is invited on the program at all.

So even though a majority of the American people sense that something is wrong with our health care system, and think something needs to change, they never hear what the options are through mass media. Probably a large portion of American voters don’t realize that the U.S. is the only industrialized democratic nation with no national health care program. They never hear that, on a purely cost-benefit basis, we have about the worst health care system on the planet. All Americans ever hear is that Canada has national health care and that Canadians have to put their names on waiting lists to get services, and ain’t that awful? OK, but what about the thirty-something other nations with national health care systems that don’t have waiting lists?

Bottom line: The Right figured out how to use mass media to make its point-of-view dominant and shut out the Left. Thus, radical right-wing views are presented as “conservative” and even “centrist,” even though a whopping majority of the American public doesn’t agree with those views. Through media, the radical Right is able to deflect attention away from itself and persuade just enough voters that Democrats are loony and dangerous. And maybe even treasonous.

And if just enough voters aren’t persuaded — well, there are ways to deal with that, too. But media consumers aren’t hearing much about that, either.

Because media is the dominant political force of our time, media reform is an essential part of the cure. It’s not the only part — reform is required along many fronts — but without media reform, we’re bleeped.

So what’s this political culture thing? Genuine representative democracy is more than just elections, as explained in this Wikipedia article. It is a form of government in which “the ability of the elected representatives to exercise decision-making power is subject to the rule of law, and usually moderated by a constitution which emphasizes the protection of the rights and freedoms of individuals and minorities, and which places constraints on the leaders and on the extent to which the will of the majority can be exercised.”

In successful democracies, accountability to the people is critical. Therefore, government must be transparent except when national security requires secrecy, and in that circumstance some form of oversight of those acting in secret must be honored. It is also essential that a large majority of the people respect a social contract in the broadest sense of that term. And a fundamental part of that contract is the implicit agreement that protecting the integrity of the law, and of the institutions and processes of democratic government, comes before winning elections or enacting policies.

As explained nicely by the Wikipedia article linked above,

For countries without a strong tradition of democratic majority rule, the introduction of free elections alone has rarely been sufficient to achieve a transition from dictatorship to democracy; a wider shift in the political culture and gradual formation of the institutions of democratic government are needed. There are various examples, like in Latin America, of countries that were able to sustain democracy only temporarily or in limited form until wider cultural changes occurred to allow true majority rule.

One of the key aspects of democratic culture is the concept of a “loyal opposition”. This is an especially difficult cultural shift to achieve in nations where transitions of power have historically taken place through violence. The term means, in essence, that all sides in a democracy share a common commitment to its basic values. Political competitors may disagree, but they must tolerate one another and acknowledge the legitimate and important roles that each play. The ground rules of the society must encourage tolerance and civility in public debate. In such a society, the losers accept the judgment of the voters when the election is over, and allow for the peaceful transfer of power. The losers are safe in the knowledge that they will neither lose their lives nor their liberty, and will continue to participate in public life. They are loyal not to the specific policies of the government, but to the fundamental legitimacy of the state and to the democratic process itself.

Granted, these ideals have never been perfectly manifested in the American body politic. All human institutions are imperfect, and institutions that survive through many generations will go through cycles of corruption and reform. Often idealistic people will point to the corruptions and the many ways our nation has fallen short of its ideals and argue that the patient isn’t worth saving. I, however, take the Buddhist view that all compounded things are imperfect and subject to decay, but that’s how life is, and it’s our duty — to ourselves, our ancestors, and our descendants — to make the best of it. Not making the best of it is a bad alternative.

Although it’s never been perfect, once upon a time American political culture supported democratic processes, but now it does not. It does not because many of our civic institutions are controlled by right-wing extremists who do not respect the social contract or the values of democracy. Although they pay lip service to the legitimacy of the government and democratic processes, what drives them is the acquisition of power and the implementation of their extremist agenda by any means necessary. If rules must be broken and democratic processes subverted to achieve their goals — so be it.

Paul Krugman recognized what was happening and wrote about it in the introduction to his book The Great Unraveling. He explained that, throughout history, reasonable people accustomed to political and social stability have failed to recognize the danger of emerging radical movements — until the stability is lost. Ironically, Krugman says he came to understand this from reading Henry Kissinger’s Ph.D. thesis. As Krugman explained in a Buzzflash interview,

… reasonable people can’t bring themselves to see that they’re actually facing a threat from a radical movement. Kissinger talked about the time of the French Revolution, and pretty obviously he also was thinking about the 1930s. He argued that, when you have a revolutionary power, somebody who really wants to tear apart the system — doesn’t believe in any of the rules — reasonable people who’ve been accustomed to stability just say, “Oh, you know, they may say that, but they don’t really mean it.” And, “This is just tactical, and let’s not get too excited.” Anyone who claims that these guys really are as radical as their own statements suggest is, you know, “shrill.” Kissinger suggests they’d be considered alarmists. And those who say, “Don’t worry. It’s not a big deal,”are considered sane and reasonable.

Well, that’s exactly what’s been happening. For four years now, some of us have been saying, whether or not you think they’re bad guys, they’re certainly radical. They don’t play by the rules. You can’t take anything that you’ve regarded as normal from previous U.S. political experience as applying to Bush and the people around him. They will say things and do things that would not previously have made any sense — you know, would have been previously considered out of bounds. And for all of that period, the critics have been told: “Oh, you know, you’re overreacting, and there’s something wrong with you.”

The ascension of the radical right occurred over many years, and their takeover of government — a slow-motion coup d’état — happened gradually enough that most of us didn’t comprehend what was happening. America has been challenged by radicalism before, and always it has come back to the center soon enough. (And by “center” I mean the real center, where liberalism and conservatism balance, not the false “center” of today that would have been considered extreme conservatism in saner times.) I do not believe the coup is a fait accompli; the Right is not yet so secure it its power that it has dropped all pretense of honoring democratic political process. They’re still going through the motions, in other words. But this time I do not believe America will come back to the center unless a whole lot of us grab hold and pull at it. Hard.

How do we do that? First, we have to get our bearings and remember what “normal” is, which is going to be hard for the young folks whose memories don’t back back further than the Reagan Administration. Just take it from an old lady — what we got now ain’t normal.

Second, media reform, as I say, is essential, and will be looked at in more detail in Dear Media, Part II, which I hope to have up by tomorrow. I argue that media reform is essential to all other necessary political reform. Blogs and innovations in media technology may prove to be critical to this reform.

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Supremes Slap Bush; Heads Explode

Bush Administration

John O’Neill and Scott Shane report for the New York Times:

The Supreme Court today delivered a sweeping rebuke to the Bush administration, ruling that the military tribunals it created to try terror suspects violate both American military law and the Geneva Convention.

In a 5-to-3 ruling, the justices also rejected an effort by Congress to strip the court of jurisdiction over habeas corpus appeals by detainees at the prison camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

And the court found that the plaintiff in the case, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden, could not be tried on the conspiracy charge lodged against him because international military law requires that prosecutions focus on specific acts, not broad conspiracy charges.

Naturally, the three dissenters were Scalia, Thomas, and Alito. Roberts didn’t vote because he had ruled (in favor of the government) on the case as an appeals court judge last year.

“Noone ever elected Ginsburg, Breyer, Souter or Kennedy, nor should we want to let some number of aging inside the beltway lawyers assume the role of CIC,” says this rightie, in a fervent declaration of support for totalitarian rule. Another calls it “a huge political gift for President Bush” and predicts Bush and Congress will “override” the decision. I’m sure Republican operatives are cranking out “judicial activism” talking points even as I keyboard.

Other rightie reactions: “A victory for terrorists!“; “Can’t Try Them, So Fry Them!“; “Instrument of Surrender Signed by SCOTUS.”

And that’s without looking at Malkin, the nice doggie or the LGFers. I understand Malkin’s head spins around and vomits blood when these things happen.

For a more sober analysis, see Glenn Greenwald.

This decision illustrates just how critical is the current composition of the Supreme Court. The decision was really 5-4 (because Roberts already ruled in favor of the administration in the lower court). The Justice who wrote the majority opinion, John Paul Stevens, is 86 years old, and as Justice Blackmun once famously warned, he “cannot remain on this Court forever.” If the Bush administration is permitted to replace Stevens with yet another worshipper of executive power, the next challenge to the Bush administration’s theories of unchecked power could very easily result, by a 5-4 vote, in the opposite outcome.

Our nation hangs by a thread, and that thread is John Paul Stevens.


Congress can reverse almost every aspect of the decision as it specifically pertains to these military commissions. It could abrogate any treaties it wants. It could amend the UCMJ to allow military commissions with the rules established by the President. It has already stripped the Court of jurisdiction to hear future habeas corpus challenges by Guantanamo detainees, and could act to further strip the Court of jurisdiction in these areas. We will undoubtedly hear calls by Pat Roberts, John Cornyn, Jeff Sessions, Tom Coburn (and perhaps Joe Lieberman?) et al. for legislation which would accomplish exactly that.

Have I mentioned that it would be extremely beneficial to the nation if the Dems took back Congress this November?

Update: Just so you don’t have to click on the Nice Doggie’s site to see what he wrote, you can click here to see a screen capture.

Update update:
See also Scott Lemieux on Hamdan and on the Myth of Conservative Judicial Restraint.

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Bush Administration, Congress, Democratic Party, Republican Party

Last night President Bush, at a fundraiser in the suburbs of St. Louis, attacked Democrats for “waving the white flag of surrender” in Iraq, even though they haven’t. And he slammed media for exposing secret intelligence programs, even though they haven’t.

Peter Baker writes in today’s Washington Post:

Bush’s tone has turned tougher as he appears at more political events. At a Washington fundraiser this month, he said it was important that lawmakers “not wave the white flag of surrender” without asserting that any of them were actually doing so. In his appearance in this St. Louis suburb, he said directly that some Democrats want to surrender, adopting the more cutting approach of his senior political adviser, Karl Rove.

(Bush was in Missouri to raise money for Senator James Talent, a reliable Bush sycophant, who is closely trailing his Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill. Talent has three times the campaign war chest that McCaskill has, Baker writes, so please send McCaskill a donation if you can.)

Joan Vennochi writes in today’s Boston Globe that Bush is successfully changing the subject. Vennochi notes, first, that General Casey’s noble and sensible “withdrawal” plan is pretty much the same thing as the Democrats’ reckless and cowardly “cut and run” plan. Bush has downplayed this lack of distinction by saying troop presence would be “based upon conditions on the ground.” Which by now we all know means “based upon political expedience.”

But this week the White House seized upon the New York Times‘s story about the SWIFT program as their means for changing the subject. By stirring up unwarranted hysteria over the Times story, Bush is changing the subject of the nation’s political discourse away from Iraq (which is, um, not a happy place) to the preferred topics of terrorism and treason.

Bush condemned the report as “disgraceful,” administration officials piled on, and the political right joyously joined the chorus. Senator Jim Bunning, Republican of Kentucky, accused the Times of “treason.” The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times also reported on the financial tracking program, but most of the vitriol is aimed at The New York Times, whose parent company owns The Boston Globe. …

…Overreaching allowed the conservative news and talk show radio circuit to churn once again over what they label the left-leaning media. These patriots of the political right are constantly reminding us that US troops in Iraq are defending our liberty. Yet, they demonstrate amazing disdain for one critical piece of liberty those troops are defending — freedom of the press.

Overreaching also accomplished what it was supposed to accomplish. It turned attention away from Iraq and from Casey, his troop reduction plan and its conceptual parallel to the Democrats’ proposal.

Vennochi sites the Bryan Bender article on the actual non-secret status of the program.

At the Washington Post, Charles Babington and Michael Abramowitz echo Vennochi.

Senior administration officials say the president was outraged by articles in the New York Times and other newspapers about a surveillance program in which the U.S. government has tapped international banking records for information about terrorist financing. But his comments at a Republican fundraiser in a St. Louis suburb yesterday, combined with new moves by GOP congressional leaders, showed how both are working to fan public anger and reap gains from the controversy during a midterm election year in which polls show they are running against stiff headwinds. …

… Republican House leaders introduced a resolution yesterday condemning leakers and calling on the media and others to safeguard classified programs. … Republicans said the resolution will allow their members to register support for Bush’s anti-terrorism efforts and the anger that many feel toward news organizations. They said it also is designed to force House Democrats to stand with the media or Bush’s criticism of it — a choice many would prefer to avoid.

Democrats are drafting their own resolution but conceded the Republicans probably won’t let them vote on it. This is an example of why a Democratic majority in the House would be a good thing.

House Republicans are in full-tilt pander to the base mode. They’ve trotted out an “American values agenda” that’s a potpourri of every social wedge issue they could think of — guns, abortion, gay marriage, human cloning, flag burning, the Pledge of Allegiance, the Ten Commandments, plus some tax cuts. Gotta have those tax cuts.

“Family, faith, patriotism and hard work bind us together as Americans. Our laws should reflect those priorities,” said Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri.

Meanwhile, Democrats work on proposals to raise the minimum wage and a reform the Medicare prescription drug program designed to lower costs and close gaps in coverage, even though these items don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of passing as long as Republicans control Congress.

Now, if I were a Democratic political consultant I’d suggest that the Dems make an all-out effort to draw the distinction between them — serious about governing, working on real nuts-and-bolts issues like making Grandma’s prescription drugs a little more affordable instead of junk issues like flag burning and cloning, for pity’s sake. But that will be hard for the Dems to do, because too many of ’em are still voting with the bleeping Republicans. Arianna Huffington writes,

Yesterday’s Senate debate on flag desecration showed that Democrats are as clueless as ever about who they are and what they should stand for. Case in point, Hillary Clinton’s ongoing attempt to rebrand herself as a red state friendly DLC Dem by supporting a bill that would have criminalized flag desecration while still holding on to her liberal bona fides by voting against the Constitutional amendment banning it.

Are we all agreed that Senator Clinton will not be the Democratic nominee in 2008?

And it wasn’t just Hillary. Kerry, Biden, Boxer, Durbin, Kennedy, Leahy, Levin, Lieberman, Obama, and Shumer all also voted against the amendment but for the criminalization bill because, according to the Times, “Democrats who voted for the [bill] in effect bought themselves the right to claim that they had voted against flag desecration, potentially inoculating themselves against possible charges of lacking patriotism in a general election campaign.” In other words, they earned the right to declare that they actually voted against flag desecration before they voted “for” it (by voting no on the amendment). Yep, that’s exactly the kind of pragmatic thinking that “wins elections for Democrats”!

Naturally, Anne Kornblut at the New York Times turned this into a story about the “rift” in the Democratic party.

The divergent views of her position reflect a broader rift in the Democratic Party over whether the key to electoral success rests in winning over centrists or by drawing clear distinctions with Republicans by staking out unapologetically liberal positions.

I don’t think they’d have to stake out “unapologetically liberal positions”; I think they could make a distinction by staking out positions on real issues instead of phony ones. But they can’t do that if there’s no clear distinction to draw.

Zack Exley writes in The Huffington Post that the American people are being misunderestimated by both parties, and that people — even red state people — are ready to follow leaders who offer substance instead of sound bites.

It’s stating the obvious to say that Democrats have been triangulating themselves to death. However, I guarantee you that we will wind up doing it one more time if our candidates don’t make a quantum leap this cycle and present America with a big, credible, challenging way to save itself — on the environment, as well as other issues.

Of all recent presidential hopefuls, McCain does the best with that kind of rhetoric. “People want to work for something greater than themselves.” However, his free market dogma guarantees that he and all other Republicans of this era will always come up empty on specifics. And empty rhetoric doesn’t work in this area. People do yearn for something greater than themselves, but they are very good at sniffing out the difference between something worth real sacrifice and nice-sounding lines written by a Senate staffer.

I suspect Exley is right, although it’s hard for me to tell from here in New York what’s going on in the rest of America.

When I still lived in Missouri, for example, it seemed to me Missouri voters were more pragmatic than ideological. I remember back in the 1970s some “tax reform” interest group that was probably a front for something else got a referendum on the ballot that would have repealed sales taxes on food and drugs. This was about the same time that California voted in the infamous (and ruinous) Proposition 13 to cut property taxes, and “supply side” tax cut theories were the new new thing. But Missouri voters defeated the referendum by a wide margin, as I recall. They figured the reduction in revenue would either cause the state to go broke, or the state legislature would just raise taxes on something else. Leave well enough alone.

So, I think, even in the Rush Limbaugh Age there must be a lot of voters, even in red states, who are ready to listen to substantive ideas about how to make the government work again instead of fluff and nonsense about flag burning.

But in our current political culture, it would be just about impossible for those substantive ideas to ever reach the voters. As soon as any proposal comes out of a Democrat’s mouth, Republicans in Congress find a way to mock it, and then the entire VRWC echo chamber twists and spins the proposal to death, so that only a cartoon version of the proposal reaches the ears of voters. What happened to Rep. John Murtha’s redeployment proposal is a classic example. Thus, empty theatrics trump substance, time and time again.

Jonathan Alter has a plan.

Anyone who dares criticize President Bush’s Iraq policy is a “cut-and-run” Democrat. The White House’s object here is not to engage in a real debate about an exit strategy from Iraq; that would require acknowledging some complications, like the fact that Gen. George Casey, commander of the multinational forces in Iraq, believes it’s time to start bringing some troops home. The object is instead to either get the Democrats tangled up in Kerryesque complexities on Iraq—or intimidate them into changing the subject to other, less-potent issues for fear of looking like unpatriotic pansies.

These are the stakes: if Rove can successfully con Democrats into ignoring Iraq and reciting their laundry list of other priorities, Republicans win. It’s shameful that the minimum wage hasn’t been raised in nine years and that thousands of ailing Americans will ultimately die because of Bush’s position on stem-cell research. But those issues won’t get the Congress back for Democrats. Iraq can.

I suspect he is right.

You would think it would be the GOP running away from the war. Instead, in gamblers’ parlance, Republicans “doubled down” on Iraq. After the good news about Zarqawi’s death, they bet that by uniting behind Bush, they would shift the blame to the squabbling Democrats, even though the Democrats have no power at all to change—or even affect—policy on the ground. Rove’s notion is that strong and wrong beats meek and weak.

Ah, yes. President Bush is always wrong, but he’s wrong with such resolve we’re supposed to admire him for it..

It almost worked. It looked recently as if Democrats were so fearful of being cast as war weenies that they would change the subject. Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid & Co. held a press conference on the Democratic issues for the fall that barely mentioned Iraq. Hillary Clinton tried to focus on a lengthy list of worthy issues that, except for the mistreatment of veterans, had little to do with the war.

Yep, that’s our crew of spineless wonders in Washington. Yet Alter sees a ray of hope.

But then, some Senate Democrats got smart for a change. They recognized that the party out of the White House doesn’t need a detailed strategy for ending a war, just a general sense of direction. When Dwight Eisenhower ran for president in 1952, his plan wasn’t any more specific than “I will go to Korea.” When Richard Nixon was asked how he would end the Vietnam War in 1968, he said he had a “secret plan”—and got away with it. So now 80 percent of Senate Democrats are united behind something called the “Levin-Reed Amendment.” The details of it (begin withdrawal without a firm timetable for getting out completely; diplomacy with the Sunnis; purging the Iraqi military and police of bad guys) are less important than that they finally came up with something.

Of course parrying “cut and run” with “Levin-Reed” won’t suffice. But Sen. Joe Biden’s riposte to the GOP’s symbolic roll-call votes—”The Republicans are now totally united in a failed policy”—is a start. This isn’t rocket science. Unless things improve dramatically on the ground in Iraq, Democrats have a powerful argument: If you believe the Iraq war is a success, vote Republican. If you believe it is a failure, vote Democratic.

Dems, Alter says, should get up every morning, look themselves in the mirror, and say “It’s not about us. It’s about them.”

Go for it, Dems.

See also: Sidney Blumenthal, “House of Shame.”

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They’re even meeting in a casino. Register now and get a free copy of Hugh Hewitt’s book! Even better, don’t register now and don’t get a free copy of Hugh Hewitt’s book! Not registering is free, so that’s a win/win!

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Not Too Swift

Bush Administration, Congress, conservatism, News Media, War on Terror

Via Glenn Greenwald: Bryan Bender writes in today’s Boston Globe that, um, the program to track terrorists through financial transactions, was not exactly a secret secret.

News reports disclosing the Bush administration’s use of a special bank surveillance program to track terrorist financing spurred outrage in the White House and on Capitol Hill, but some specialists pointed out yesterday that the government itself has publicly discussed its stepped-up efforts to monitor terrorist finances since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks….

…a search of public records — government documents posted on the Internet, congressional testimony, guidelines for bank examiners, and even an executive order President Bush signed in September 2001 — describe how US authorities have openly sought new tools to track terrorist financing since 2001. That includes getting access to information about terrorist-linked wire transfers and other transactions, including those that travel through SWIFT.

“There have been public references to SWIFT before,” said Roger Cressey, a senior White House counterterrorism official until 2003. “The White House is overreaching when they say [The New York Times committed] a crime against the war on terror. It has been in the public domain before.”

Victor D. Comras , a former US diplomat who oversaw efforts at the United Nations to improve international measures to combat terror financing, said it was common knowledge that worldwide financial transactions were being closely monitored for links to terrorists. “A lot of people were aware that this was going on,” said Comras, one of a half-dozen financial experts UN Secretary General Kofi Annan recruited for the task.

“Unless they were pretty dumb, they had to assume” their transactions were being monitored, Comras said of terrorist groups. “We have spent the last four years bragging how effective we have been in tracking terrorist financing.”

Indeed, a report that Comras co-authored in 2002 for the UN Security Council specifically mentioned SWIFT as a source of financial information that the United States had tapped into. The system, which handles trillions of dollars in worldwide transactions each day, serves as a main hub for banks and other financial institutions that move money around the world. According to The New York Times, SWIFT executives agreed to give the Treasury Department and the CIA broad access to its database.

I can hear the righties now — the UN Security Council are traitors, too.

Dan Froomkin tells more:

SWIFT, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, is the international banking cooperative that quietly allowed the Treasury Department and the CIA to examine hundreds of thousands of private banking records from around the world.

But the existence of SWIFT itself has not exactly been a secret. Certainly not to anyone who had an Internet connection.

SWIFT has a Web site, at .

It’s a very informative Web site. For instance, this page describes how “SWIFT has a history of cooperating in good faith with authorities such as central banks, treasury departments, law enforcement agencies and appropriate international organisations, such as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), in their efforts to combat abuse of the financial system for illegal activities.”

(And yes, FATF has its own Web site, too.)

Yet yesterday press secretary Tony Snow said he was “absolutely sure” terrorists didn’t know about SWIFT. Sure.

As explained by Ron Suskind on Monday’s Hardball, some time back terrorist organizations deducted that their financial transactions were giving them away.

MATTHEWS: Well let me just tell you what you said. “Eventually not surprisingly,” and we‘re talking about electronic transfer surveillance, “our opponents figured it out. It was a matter really of deduction. Enough people got caught and a view of which activities had in common provides clues as to how they may have been identified and apprehended. We were surprised it took so long,” said one intelligence official.

So in other words, the bad guys figured out how we were catching them.

SUSKIND: Right, it‘s a process of deduction. After a while, you catch enough of them, they‘re not idiots. They say, “Well, we can‘t do the things we were doing.” They‘re not leaving electronic trails like they were.

Matthews was quoting from page 279 of Suskind’s new book, The One Percent Solution. If you start reading on the previous page, you see that Suskind was writing about all manner of “electronically traceable activities — from satellite phone calls to bank account withdrawals.”

And that’s largely how we managed, from early 2002 to late 2003, to know a great deal about al Qaeda, get a sense of who was connected to whom, and capture quite a few suspects, most of whom have vanished into overseas U.S. prisons or similar, maybe worse destinations inside Yemen, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, or Egypt. …

Eventually, and not surprisingly, our opponents figured it out. It was a matter, really, of deduction. Enough people get caught and a view of which activities they had in common provides clues as to how they have have been identified and apprehended.

“We were surprised it took them so long,” said one senior intelligence official. …

…The al Qaeda playbook, employed by what was left of the network, its affiliates and imitators, started to stress the necessity of using couriers to carry cash and hand-delivered letters. This slows the pace of operations, if not necessarily their scale, and that was, indeed, a victory. …

Incarnations of terror cells, meanwhile, were taking shape. Stealthy, diffuse, and largely unconnected to a centralized network, these were self-activated, often self-funded, and ready to download key operational guidance from an explosion of jihadist Web sites. There was no money to trace; no calls up and down the chain of command they needed to make

There’s been some speculation about why the White House doesn’t seem interested in going after who in government leaked the program to the New York Times. Maybe it’s because there was no leaker.

Yet the pile-on continues. The Hill reports that House Republicans leaders are expected to introduce a resolution condemning the New York Times for “leaking” information about the SWIFT program. Howie Kurtz concedes

President Bush calls the conduct of the New York Times “disgraceful.” Vice President Cheney objects to the paper having won a Pulitzer Prize. A Republican congressman wants the Times prosecuted. National Review says its press credentials should be yanked. Radio commentator Tammy Bruce likens the paper to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

Even by modern standards of media-bashing, the volume of vitriol being heaped upon the editors on Manhattan’s West 43rd Street is remarkable — especially considering that the Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal also published accounts Friday of a secret administration program to monitor the financial transactions of terror suspects. So, in its later editions, did The Washington Post.

That’s because this isn’t about national security. It’s about politics. Republicans are out to smear everybody who stands still long enough to get smeared in order to deflect public dissatisfaction away from themselves. And if GOP party operatives plus the usual useful idiots like Tammy Bruce keep repeating the story that media is the enemy, that will make future propaganda efforts sooo much easier. Although it’s not as if media were getting in the way of the propaganda catapults up to now.

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Stars in Their Courses

big picture stuff

I got into a disagreement with someone yesterday in a TAPPED comment thread on the matter of astrology. Astrology is in the blog buzz these days because someone discovered Jerome Armstrong once practiced political astrology (or still does, but is keeping quiet about it). A rumor that Jerome also used astrology to choose stocks is making the rounds, but this may not be accurate.

Billmon writes,

Not content with picking through Jerome Armstrong’s dirty laundry at the SEC — at a time when he is expressly forbidden from talking about the case — the werebunnies of Right Blogistan and TNR (is there a difference any more?) plus Mickey Kaus, who flunked out of wererabbit basic training, are having themselves a gay old time making fun of Jerome’s interest in astrology, which I gather he has used in the past to pick stocks, or forecast political trends, or both — I’m not clear.

Nor do I particularly want to be. I’m very familiar with the practice of forecasting financial price trends based on charts of what are essentially random numerical patterns. But on Wall Street they call this “technical analysis,” and they pay thousands of guys millions of dollars to practice the art — even though any number of scientific studies have shown that it works about as well as astrology. (If it did work, the technical traders would own the world by now.) So irrational behavior by an ex-stock picker doesn’t seem like much of a scoop to me.

Like I told the commenter at TAPPED, I don’t see the scandal. Practicing astrology may be stupid, or delusional, or crazy, or a great many other adjectives, but by itself I don’t consider it unethical. If, hypothetically, someone were selling financial advice and telling his clients that the advice was based on in-depth analysis of profits or discounted cash flow or some such, but he was really using astrology, that would be unethical. But if he’s upfront about the astrology thing, what the hell. You pay your money and you take your chances. I’ve heard of people who successfully choose stocks by taping the newspaper stock market section to a corkboard and throwing darts at it.

Once upon a time I couldn’t stand to hear anyone talk about astrology without jumping in and proclaiming how dumb it is. But now I am older and either wiser or more demented; take your pick. I have cleared my head of opinions and judgments. If someone tells me he decided not to take a plane flight because there was a Grand Cross over the airport at the time of departure, I no longer feel an urge to lecture him on his credulity. Likewise, if someone tells me he thinks astrology is bunk, that’s fine with me. Whatever.

I’ve never seen empirical evidence that astrology forecasts specific events, like plane crashes or election results, any better than flipping coins or throwing darts. But I’ve known a few people who were deeply into astrology and who were brilliant at using it to predict general trends. In these cases, I suspect the astrologer (consciously or not) uses star charts to jog intuition. In other words, interpreting star patterns might be helping the astrologer access something he already knows, or believes, at some sub-cognitive level.

Knowing something without knowing you know it isn’t as far-fetched as it might sound. Maybe you’ve had the experience of reading a book or hearing a lecture, when something you read or hear causes an understanding, or realization, to pop into the forefront of your brain. And you recognize that this little eureka had been in your head for a while, but it had been a fuzzy thing dangling at the edge of cognition that you’d overlooked. It took someone else’s words to give it clarity and bring it to your full attention.

Another example: These days we nearly always use the word myth as a synonym for fallacy, but myths, it is argued, can be interpreted allegorically as windows to the psyche, or guides to truths that defy articulation. “For the myth is the foundation of life; it is the timeless schema, the pious formula into which life flows when it reproduces its traits out of the unconscious,” Thomas Mann said. Dismissing myths because they aren’t historically or literally true misses the point of them.

I’ve come to appreciate that literalness and truth are not at all the same thing, but I’ve yet to be able to explain why that’s so to someone who doesn’t already get it. The ability to realize truth outside of language or conceptual knowledge seems to come naturally to some people but baffles others, possibly depending on how their brains are wired.

Back to astrology — does “believing in” astrology require believing that events here on earth are caused by the alignments of planets and stars many light years away? I don’t think so, but then just because something isn’t literally true doesn’t make it worthless. If interpreting a star chart — or reading tea leaves, or chicken bones, or the I Ching — causes someone to access depths of intuition he couldn’t get to otherwise, I say there’s some value in that.

And if all of this leaves you cold, that’s fine, but you don’t have to get hostile about it. Think of it as a harmless quirk, like saving gum wrappers or eating eggs with ketchup.

This forecast posted in December 2002 was linked to by Garance Franke-Ruta as a shocking example — she called it “Armstrong’s analysis of the causes of 9-11.” However, it’s not about the causes of 9/11. Rather, it’s about the subconscious impulses driving people, mostly President Bush, in a particular direction. The section subtitled “Bush, Republicans, and Varuna” proved to be accurate in many ways. However, I don’t believe it says anything that people weren’t already suspecting in December 2002 without using astrology. And whatever was going on with Pluto and Bush’s south node doesn’t seem to have tripped him up in the 2004 election.

On the other hand, these predictions for likely Democratic presidential candidates, also made in December 2002 by another astrologer, are pretty darn close — well, except for the Kerry section — and I don’t think these predictions could have been constructed from conventional wisdom in December 2002. This is either one amazing astrologer, or she opened the file last year and re-wrote the predictions. I can’t tell. But if this really is what the lady predicted in 2002, look for John Edwards to be a factor in 2008.

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Bank Shot

Bush Administration, criminal justice

Glenn Greenwald has published a post called ” The Bush lynch mob against the nation’s free press” that I recommend highly.

Much of the post discusses calls to prosecute the New York Times for treason because of its recent disclosure of the Bush bank-transaction-tracking program. There are a couple of points I want to add to Glenn’s post.

First off, let’s be clear about what is wrong with the Bush program. Last Friday Jonathan Turley appeared on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown show, and he explained it clearly (emphasis added):

OLBERMANN: Joining me now to assess just how much of a legal thing it is to do, constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley, law professor at George Washington University.

And we meet again on this subject.


OLBERMANN: E-mails, international phone calls, domestic phone calls, databanks of phone records, now bank records. Do you buy the legality of this newest one?

TURLEY: Well, it‘s comforting to know that somewhere in government, each of our lives is organized in a file, from your banking records to your e-mails. I can only hope you get a copy at some point.

But, you know, this raises the same type of questions. Most importantly, the absence of congressional authorization. You know, the president is allowed to enforce the laws, he‘s not allowed to make them. He requires authorization from Congress. This is a constant theme.

And when Secretary Snow says the American people expect us to do things like that, unfortunately, it‘s true that every single week we have a new massive databank or a new, you know, surveillance program being revealed that has not been approved by Congress.

OLBERMANN: Yes, he may have said something, he may have said more than he knew in using that phrase, they—people expect us to do this.

But there‘s one difference with this one, Jon. Some of the banks didn‘t know this was happening. The government‘s not just messing with its own citizens here, it‘s messing with business. And if anybody in this country believes in privacy, and I think they call it proprietary information, it‘s businessmen. Are they going to fight the government in a way that ordinary citizens could not?

TURLEY: You know, Keith, they might, because if you remember, if we go back a couple weeks to an earlier disclosed program, the telecom scandal, that we found out that various telephone companies were giving information, telephone numbers, by American citizens to the United States government. And the response was a considerable backlash. Many customers were not happy, particularly when they found out that one company said, No, said, This is not something you can do under the law, and told the administration, Show me your authority. And the administration simply refused to do so.

Now, you may see a similar backlash from these banks, and saying, you know, We have a business to do here, we have a system of laws. If you‘re going to have some type of massive program like this, then go to Congress, and let‘s talk about it. You can do it in a classified setting.

But in this case, all we know is that some members of the intelligence committees were informed. Under this law they‘re citing, AIEPA (ph), he was only supposed to use this authority for a brief time, in an emergency. He was then supposed to go back to Congress to get real authority. Instead, he just kept on mentioning it to the same oversight members, who did nothing about some of these other programs.

OLBERMANN: Tell me, lastly, here about the term with which we started this segment, the secret administrative subpoena, not even reviewed by a judge nor a grand jury. What‘s the secret administrative subpoena business?

TURLEY: Well, I think they‘re talking about national security letters, which is basically what it sounds like, a letter claiming national security. But the thing I love is that Secretary Snow and his associates have said, Look, we did have oversight. It wasn‘t Congress, it wasn‘t the court. We went out and hired a private company, and they did the oversight, they protected your civil liberties.

This is (INAUDIBLE) outsourcing the Constitution. We—it‘s something that is almost laughable that they believe oversight is that they looked at themselves and felt good about it, and then they hired a private company, and they pretty good too.

OLBERMANN: Well, if you have a low threshold for feeling good about yourself, I guess you can do that, you can get that from a company or from your own picture of yourself, no matter how distorted it might be in the mirror.

George Washington University law professor, constitutional law expert, Jonathan Turley, great thanks for joining us. And I‘m certain we‘re going to be talking about something like this again soon.

TURLEY: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Thank you, sir.

In sum, I don’t believe this is primarily a civil liberties issue, but more a breach of separation of powers issue. I bring that up because on last night’s Hardball I observed (until the channel was, mercifully, changed) Al Sharpton and some wingnut woman radio personality “debate” this issue, and neither one of them had a clue what he or she was talking about. Sharpton argued that the program violates civil liberties, and I suspect it probably does, but I don’t think we know enough detail to prove that it does. On the other hand, there’s no question the Bushies are in violation of usurping power the Constitution gives to Congress.

The other point is one that Glenn makes — that there is, actually, nothing in the recent news stories that terrorists didn’t already know. Last night on Hardball, before the atrocious Sharpton-Whozits debate, Chris Matthews interviewed Ron Suskind (bless him!), David Ignatius, and Evan Thomas on the finance-tracking program. The transcript isn’t up yet at the MSNBC site, but probably will be in the next couple of hours. Anyway, I gather from the converation that at least some of the “new” information published by the New York Times is also in Suskind’s new book, The One Percent Doctrine. I have only barely started reading it and haven’t gotten to that part yet, but I think the relevant section begins on page 141.

[Update: The MSNBC Hardball transcript is here. The interview with Suskind, Ignatius and Thomas is the first thing in the program. ]

Suskind et al. concurred that the terrorists have known about this program for a long time and have pretty much stopped using financial institutions to transfer money. These days the terrorists are mostly sending cash from here to there by way of couriers, they said. This has slowed them down a bit, but it isn’t stopping them.

For a whole lot more on this topic, read today’s Dan Froomkin column.

Update: Captain Ed misses the point. Again. Nobody is saying that the administration should not have been tracing terrorist financial transfers. (In fact, I am about 98 percent certain that the Clinton Administration tried to get a program like this going in the late 1990s, but Republicans in Congress shot it down. As I remember, Senator Phil Gramm of Texas, now retired, was instrumental in the shootdown.) The problem (and how many times does this have to be explained?) is that the Bushies are operating without proper oversight.


Update update: More from Jonathan Turley at Democracy Now!

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Billmon Calls It

blogging, Democratic Party, News Media

Great minds thinking alike

OK, so now I’ve given you all my disclaimers. But I still haven’t explained why I’m even talking about this stupid crap. The reason is what happened over the weekend: i.e. the major slime job in Newsweek, and David Brooks’ ridiculous column in the New Pravda. The campaign against Kos, which I’d originally dismissed as just another pissy TNR vendetta, is starting to look more and more like a coordinated effort: a Swiftboat operation. At the very least, it’s snowballing into a more systematic media attack on Left Blogistan, which makes it my fight as well as Kos’s.

I’m not suggesting Karl Rove (or some other GOP mastermind) is behind this, or even that there is some kind of cabal of neocon/dino democrat-leaning journalists orchestrating it. But the m.o. very much resembles the classic Swiftboat strategy: start some vague, unsourced allegations echoing in the blogosphere, then persuade your ideological allies in the corporate media to start firing on target — based on the flimsy excuse that “people are talking” about the “issue.” Rinse and repeat.

Exactly, although I still suspect that at least part of the pile-on is about discrediting candidates who are thought to be associated with Kos. The New Republic guys are buds with Joe Lieberman, after all …

This would actually be less ominous if the Rovians or their kind really were behind this. Political dirty tricks are nothing new, and we already know how the GOP and the right-wing blogs do their thing. In this case, however, it looks like Kos’s media critics have actually decided to go into the Swiftboating business themselves, instead of simply swallowing whatever regurgitated slop the political operatives and the “independent” advocacy groups drop into their gaping mouths.

The initial smear, after all, wasn’t incubated on just on any old blog, but on one tied directly to the apron strings of the Grey Lady herself — The New York Times, with another venerable publication, The New Republic, putting the echo in echo chamber. Then the mainstream jackals moved in, right on schedule. It does appear that somebody has been feeding driblets of derogatory information (including, apparently, a phony email) to sympathetic reporters. But if there are any political operatives involved (as opposed to journalists acting like political operatives) they’ve keep their tracks very well hidden. Call it the Immaculate Swiftboat.

Political operatives with a lot of buffers

This is something new, or at least different from what we’ve become accustomed to. I think it highlights the speed with which the lapdogs of the so-called liberal media are evolving (or I should say devolving) into the watchdogs of the political status quo — in this case, the ossified and increasingly dysfunctional status quo within the Democratic Party. Kos, and his blog allies and followers, appear to have touched an extremely raw nerve with tribunes of modern neoliberalism (like neoconservatism, but without the strength of its convictions.) …

… Maybe it’s just a coincidence that the media attacks started almost as soon as Yearly Kos ended, but I doubt it. Either all that favorable media coverage pushed the pretty boys at the TNR and the Times over the edge, or somebody, as they say in Godfather II, pushed a button.

As Billmon says, there are several layers of hypocrisy to dig through. And I’m saying some of that hypocrisy is coming from the Left. From the fresh-off-the-farm innocents, or hair-shirt purists, who thought the Warner party whiffed off too much money — as I explained in this comment, Warner is a rich guy, and by a rich guy’s standards that party was the equivalent of cooking hamburgers in the back yard — to the ideologues who complain because Kos is all about winning elections for Democrats and won’t consider third party candidates. As Billmon says, Kos has never pretended to be other than a Democratic Party activist. This is not a crime.

Billmon continues,

The thing is, despite all hyperventilating about corruption and conflict of interest, I still don’t understand what Kos is supposed to have done wrong. He and Jerome were partners in a political consulting business back in 2004 (Suellentrop, as we’ve already seen, dredged up every backstabbing piece of office gossip from the Dean campaign.) Jerome still does consulting work, Kos does not. Jerome has some sort of contract with the Warner campaign, Kos does not. Warner threw a big party at Yearly Kos, and Kos has written favorably of Warner’s presidential aspirations at Daily Kos (although I read Daily Kos fairly regularly, and it’s not as if Kos has turned the place into Mark Warner Central.)

And . . . what? Well, nothing, it appears. If the TNR blogswarmers or anyone else have any evidence that Jerome and/or Warner has been passing money to Kos under the table, they’ve yet to produce it. And I think it’s fairly safe to say that if they had such evidence, it would be all over the New York Times by now.

I’m not sure whose idea it is that we bloggers are supposed to be neutral as far as candidates or parties are concerned. We’re just citizens expressing opinions. Whatever candidates a blogger chooses to endorse are his business. You can agree or disagree, but if bloggers aren’t supporting candidates you like, start your own bleeping blog.

Second, there seems to be some kind of unwritten code that we bloggers are supposed to be untainted by money, and that if any of us ever accepts money for doing some kind of work related to politics we have “sold out.” I’m sorry, but I didn’t take a vow of poverty when I started blogging. As long as the blogger is transparent about the relationship — puts a notice on his blog that “I’m currently a paid consultant for so-and-so,” I don’t see what the big deal is.

I will tell you honestly that I have been putting out the word that I’m available if some advocacy organization or candidate needs a web writer or speech writer or something, because I am not wealthy and one of these days I will need some income. I wouldn’t work for a candidate or group I dislike — that would be selling out — but if I could get paid for helping a good candidate or cause, I’d be thrilled.

Billmon continues,

I’m no Washington political insider, but I spent enough time on the fringes of that world to know that consultants — including ones with names like Carville, Shrum, Begala and Greenberg — often go into partnerships together, often back the same candidates as their former partners, and sometimes speak favorably of candidates their former partners are working for, even when they’re not really on the same wave length ideologically. This is what the political reporters like to call pragmatism, and for some strange reason Newsweek hasn’t seen fit to brand it as a form of payola, until just now.

It’s an incestuous world, and (to me at least) a deeply repugnant one. But it takes a keener sense of ethics than I possess to see where Kos has transgressed the unwritten code that seems so visible to his media critics — particularly since (did I mention this fact before?) he has never claimed to be anything other than (let me repeat this slowly so even the half wits in Right Blogistan can understand) a D-E-M-O-C-R-A-T-I-C P-A-R-T-Y A-C-T-I-V-I-S-T. And Daily Kos is a web site for Democratic Party activists. Not a newspaper. Not a foundation. Not a think tank. What section of unwritten SCLM code of ethics forbids Kos from endorsing candidates that Jerome works for? Or, for that matter, that Kos works for?

Billmon goes on to say that when elements in media and government who complain that we are a leftie fringe or out of control or turning corrupt, what really worries them is that we’re an emerging power they can’t control. The current pushback against blogs is a signal that we’re arriving. And it’s going to get uglier before it gets better.

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Gassing Our Own People

Bush Administration, Iraq War

I hope you won’t mind my going back in time a bit, but lots of threads to the past are converging these days. Recently this post generated some comments about support given to Saddam Hussein in the 1980s by St. Ronald of Blessed Memory, even as Saddam was going through his “gassing the Kurds” phase. I was reminded of this episode again today. Murray Waas posts a lovely bit of writing at Huffington Post in which he explains why he dedicated himself to exposing the Reagan-Bush I support for Saddam and his war machine. He also speaks to why he is dedicating himself to exposing the lies and manipulations that got us into Iraq. Be sure to read it; it’s very moving.

Back to the gas: You’ll remember that in the weeks before the Iraq invasion, a hoard of operatives infested talk radio and cable news, babbling about how Saddam “gassed his own people,” meaning the Kurds, which was why we had to invade Iraq right now. A month before the invasion I wrote this piece for Democratic Underground about why the “gassing his own people” talking point fell way short of a casus belli. And in that I linked to this 1993 Los Angeles Times article by Douglas Frantz and Murray Waas about how Bush I secretly continued to build Iraq’s war machine after the gassing of the Kurds. Just nine months before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, President Bush I approved $1 billion in aid to Iraq. The Bush I Administration also provided Iraq with access to sophisticated “dual use” (military and civilian) technology, “despite emerging evidence that they were working on nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction.” Frantz and Waas uncovered

…a long-secret pattern of personal efforts by Bush — both as President and as vice president — to support and placate the Iraqi dictator. Repeatedly, when serious objections to helping Hussein arose within the government, Bush and aides following his directives intervened to suppress the resistance.

The reason for this, ostensibly, was that while Saddam Hussein might have been an odious little toad, he was an enemy of Iran, which after the fall of the Soviet Union had moved into the #1 spot on the Real Bad Places list.

But classified records show that Bush’s efforts on Hussein’s behalf continued well beyond the end of the Iran-Iraq War and persisted in the face of increasingly widespread warnings from inside the American government that the overall policy had become misdirected.

Moreover, it appears that instead of merely keeping Hussein afloat as a counterweight to Iran, the U.S. aid program helped him become a dangerous military power in his own right, able to threaten the very U.S. interests that the program originally was designed to protect.

Clearly, U.S. aid did not lead Hussein to become a force for peace in the volatile region. In the spring of 1990, as senior Administration officials worked to give him more financial aid, the Iraqi leader bragged that Iraq possessed chemical weapons and threatened to “burn half of Israel.” Nor did he change his savagely repressive methods. In the summer of 1988, for example, he shocked the world by killing several thousand Kurds with poison gas.

Even today, the Iraqi nuclear and chemical weapons programs carried forward with the help of sophisticated American technology continue to haunt U.S. and United Nations officials as they struggle to root out elements of those programs that have survived the allied victory in the Persian Gulf War.

I remember when Halabja was gassed, in March 1988. I remember especially the photographs of dead mothers, their arms wrapped protectively around their dead babies. At the time I did not understand what was going on. But I remember there was some movement in the Senate toward doing something about it. Senators Claiborne Pell, Al Gore, and Jesse Helms introduced legislation to impose sanctions on Iraq, and the Senate passed a Prevention of Genocide Act, unanimously, just one day after it was introduced.

But the Reagan White House vetoed the Act [lobbied against the Act so that it died in the House], and squelched any reprisals or sanctions against Saddam, and continued to shovel truckloads of money and technology to Baghdad. And President Bush I continued Reagan’s policies.

This part of the Franz-Waas article caught my attention:

What drove Bush to champion the Iraqi cause so ardently and so long is not clear. But some evidence suggests that it may have been a case of single-minded pursuit of a policy after its original purpose had been overtaken by events — and a failure to understand the true nature of Hussein himself.

Maybe Junior isn’t as different from Poppy as we had thought. Anyway, Saddam’s behavior was erratic and threatening, yet Bush I continued to treat him as if he were America’s Best Bud. I dimly remember hearing that when he invaded Kuwait, Saddam sincerely believed George Bush I wouldn’t mind.

And some of you will remember the glorious episode that occurred after the Persian Gulf War, in which President Bush I encouraged the Kurds to rebel against Saddam Hussein and then stood by while Saddam crushed the rebellion, ruthlessly. I believe some of the mass graves found in Iraq after the 2003 invasion — the ones that didn’t date to the Iran-Iraq War or the Persian Gulf War — held the bodies of Kurdish rebels.

In 2003, before the invasion, I remembered Halabja, and I remembered the crushed Kurdish rebellion. The righties who were fired up to to go war had never heard of these things before; they seemed to think the Kurds were still being gassed, and we had to invade quickly to rescue them. And after the invasion, whenever troops found a mass grave of Kurdish rebels, the righties would dance about and yell See? We told you Saddam was evil. But the mass graves were no surprise. The righties were always oblivious to the rest of the story, and wouldn’t listen, and wouldn’t believe us if they did listen.

But it strikes me now that all of the trouble surrounding Iraq going back 20 years resulted from Republican presidents being soft with a ruthless dictator. Appeasing, even. It’s a damn shame the Dems didn’t push that point through the Noise Machine years ago, because not doing so allowed the next generation of soft little Republican fatasses to portray themselves as hardened he-men warriors, even as they call Democrats “weak” and swift-boat any real warriors who dare oppose them.

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Swift Boating Murtha

blogging, elections, Republican Party

Over the past few days several bloggers, including Taylor Marsh and Bob Geiger, have discussed the recent swift-boat campaign against John Murtha.

Last week Sean-Paul Kelley of the Agonist reported that Murtha’s Republican opponent in the November elections, Diane Irey, has teamed up with some of the old “swift boat” crew to smear Jack Murtha. One of crewpersons, an operative named Amanda Doss, set up a web site called from which to spread smears. Kelley included Doss’s email address in his post.

Now Raw Story reports that Doss’s site went “live” early so that she could post some of the hateful email she received. Apparently she thought she was proving a point.

Well, says Taylor Marsh, they can post emails, and we can post emails. Taylor’s collection of fan mail from righties makes the notes Doss posted seem almost affectionate.

And I nominate this little beauty for the nasty prize.

However, I would like to gently suggest that one does not have to send abusive emails to people one does not like. And it is possible to express disagreement without calling the person with whom you disagree a bleeping bleeping bleep. I know I’m bucking conventional wisdom here, but I still think I’m right.

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