Good Advice From the Right

Scott Shane writes in the New York Times:

The Central Intelligence Agency withheld information about a secret counterterrorism program from Congress for eight years on direct orders from former Vice President Dick Cheney, the agency’s director, Leon E. Panetta, has told the Senate and House intelligence committees, two people with direct knowledge of the matter said Saturday.

Righties are leaping on the word of several people quoted in the article that the program was never “fully operational.” As far as they’re concerned, that means the whole thing is a non-issue. But of course, they lack the moral courage to face the issue.

The issue is that in the days after 9/11, the unidentified program was devised, and Cheney made the decision to conceal it from Congress, in violation of the law. Planning and training for the program began in 2001 and continued until this year, presumably when Panetta found out about it and shut it down. All we know about the program is that it did not involve domestic surveillance or interrogations. Even if the program was never fully operational, it was an ongoing activity that should have been reported at least to the “Gang of Eight” per the National Security Act of 1947, says Jonathan Turley.

Scott Shane continues,

In the eight years of his vice presidency, Mr. Cheney was the Bush administration’s most vehement defender of the secrecy of government activities, particularly in the intelligence arena. He went to the Supreme Court to keep secret the advisers to his task force on energy, and won.

A report released on Friday by the inspectors general of five agencies about the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program makes clear that Mr. Cheney’s legal adviser, David S. Addington, had to approve personally every government official who was told about the program. The report said “the exceptionally compartmented nature of the program” frustrated F.B.I. agents who were assigned to follow up on tips it had turned up.


Then, of course, there was the role played by that other guy in the Cheney Administration:

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Reports are that President Obama doesn’t want to “look back” at the crimes of the Bush Administration, because this would distract from the enormous domestic agenda he is trying to push through. There are reports that Attorney General Eric Holder may appoint a prosecutor to investigate torture ordered by the Bush Administration. I hope so, but I’m not going to hold my breath until he does.

So what is the “good advice from the Right,” per the title? I give you Reliapundit from THE ASTUTE BLOGGERS, a “global group blog” for people with damaged keyboards stuck in caps lock. Anyway, Mr. R says,



What we’re really dealing with is a steady drip of disinformation from the far-right “think tanks,” astroturf organizations and the various wingnut mouthpieces, scattering scare stories and lies about “socialized medicine” to frighten Congress and the American people from doing what needs to be done. I want the American people to know the truth about President Obama’s health care and energy proposals, but since it’s just about impossible to get the truth out over the screams and lies of the Right, maybe we should go the other way — pull a Karl Rove, as it were — and use investigations of the crimes of the Bush Administration to keep the Right busy so that actual work can get done. Kill two birds with one stone, as it were.

Related: In an absoluely stunning display of cognitive dissonance, one rightie proclaims “Dems Leak Secrets To Cover Pelosi’s Lies.” You can’t make this up.

Frank Ricci, Serial Plaintiff

It turns out that Frank Ricci of Ricci v. DeStefano fame is a serial lawsuit filer, the sort of guy the Right usually hoots at as being a “lawsuit abuser.” According to Dahlia Lithwick,

  • Ricci filed his first lawsuit against the city of New Haven in 1995 for failing to hire him as a firefighter. He was one of 795 candidates interviewed for 40 jobs, and he claimed New Haven didn’t hire him because he is dyslexic. That case was settled in 1997 when Ricci withdrew his lawsuit in exchange for a job with the fire department and $11,143 in attorney’s fees.
  • However, in 1997 Ricci left the New Haven fire department and went to work for Middletown’s fire department. He was dismissed from the Middletown job after 8 months. Ricci “appealed his dismissal, claiming that fire officials had retaliated against him for conducting an investigation into the department’s response to a controversial fire,” Lithwick says. The state Department of Labor cleared the Middletown FD of wrongdoing. The Hartford Courant record Ricci’s threats to sue the department, although he never did.
  • Lithwick writes, “Ricci also tried to discredit his former boss, Chief Bartolotta, by disparaging his professional credentials. His fight over access to Bartolotta’s professional training records was resolved between the two of them a week before the matter was slated to be taken up with the state Freedom of Information Commission.”
  • Eventually he was re-hired by the New Haven department, which he sued because he aced a promotion test but was not promoted.

My take on the test issue is that the New Haven fire department wasn’t fair to a lot of people, and while I don’t entirely disagree with the SCOTUS decision I don’t entirely disagree with the lower court decision, either. If you step back and look at the whole case, there are legitimate questions about how fair it was to experienced firefighters of any color to use a written [and oral] test as the entire criteria for promotion, for example. It’s one of those cases in which reasonable people can reasonably disagree.

However, Ricci does seem to be a hothead who is lucky to have had a job with the New Haven fire department at all. One suspects that a black firefighter with the same history of, um, contention with his employers might not have been hired back at New Haven and would now have a new career in the food services industry.

I’m surprised no one on the Right seems to have noticed that in some states that have passed strict “tort reform” laws, Ricci might not have been able to file the original suit against his employer.

Well, no, come to think of it, I’m not surprised at all. Righties have a wonderful gift for not connecting dots they don’t want to connect. But I think in some states that have passed “tort reform” laws, Ricci might have been forced into an arbitration system set up to favor the defendant. And we never would have heard of him, and now he’d have a new career in the food services industry. (If anyone knows anybody with some knowledge of state tort law, I’d love to hear from that person.)

Anyway, Lithwick writes,

Ultimately, there are two ways to frame Frank Ricci’s penchant for filing employment discrimination complaints: Perhaps he was repeatedly victimized by a cruel cadre of employers, first for his dyslexia, then again for his role as a whistle-blower, and then a third time for just being white. If that is so, we should all be deeply grateful for the robust civil rights laws that protect Americans from unfair discrimination in the workplace. I look forward to hearing Republican Sen. John Cornyn’s version of that speech next week.

The other way to look at Frank Ricci is as a serial plaintiff—one who reacts to professional slights and setbacks by filing suit, threatening to file suit, and more or less complaining his way up the chain of command. That’s not the typical GOP heartthrob, but I look forward to hearing Sen. Cornyn’s version of that speech next week as well.


Ricci is supposed to testify at Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing, which is absurd seeing that Sotomayor didn’t write an opinion on the lower court decision against Ricci. But Ricci is now the poster boy for reverse discrimination. He may find he has a new career McClatchy is reporting that People for the American Way are urging reporters to look into Ricci’s background and report on it. And, of course, the Right is whining about the politics of personal destruction, of which they are entirely innocent.

There is speculation that Frank Ricci could emerge as the new Joe the Plumber, now that even the Right seems bored with Joe the Plumber. If Ricci doesn’t fall on his face too badly at the hearings, start looking for “Palin-Ricci 2012” bumper stickers. All it takes is a grievance and a dream.

Eating Their Own

Or, the little tiny tent is shrinking, fast …

John Cornyn of Texas is reliably one of the most right-wing whackjobs in the Senate. He gets 100 percent approval ratings from National Right to Life, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Christian Coalition, plus he gets an “A” from the National Rifle Association. He gets zeros from NARAL, the Human Rights Campaign, the League of Conservation Voters, and the American Public Health Association.

Yet Sen. Cornyn was booed roundly at a “tea party” held over the weekend in Texas. He wasn’t right-wing enough for the partiers.

Cornyn was booed at the start and close of his remarks, which assailed actions in Washington; there were no boos while he awarded a Purple Heart to a Copperas Cove resident injured in Iraq in 2006.

“You’re the problem,” a crowd member hollered.

Another crowd member yelled that Cornyn voted for the initial federal bailout of Wall Street approved by Congress last year, the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

I take it from the comments to the article linked above that Sen. Cornyn also is involved in a patent reform bill that Phyllis Schlafly has denounced. He has also supported a bill that would allow deported illegal aliens to return to the U.S. as guest workers, or something.

Governor Perry was there, also.

Perry drew scattered boos, notably from crowd members aware of his advocacy of toll roads to relieve traffic congestion.

I don’t know about you, but I had to sit and let that sink in for a while.

The tea parties are something like right-wing jacobins, except they lack a Robespierre to give them philosophical cohesiveness. They want to send everyone who isn’t pure enough for them to la guillotine, just because.

The Drama Queen Exits, Stage Right

melodrama2Speculative reasons why Sarah Palin is resigning as governor of Alaska:

Mark Halperin has ten possible reasons she might have resigned, most of them focusing on a possible presidential bid.

Brad Friedman thinks some major scandal might be about to break that could involve indictments.

Update: Once again, some things snark themselves.

California: The First Domino?

Gary Kamiya has a great piece at Salon called “Californians are sinking themselves.” He makes a similar argument I have made in the recent past, that while California’s politicians are the ones directly responsible for the fiscal mess its in, the ultimate responsibility is with the citizens of California. Kamiya catalogs the causes of the state’s governmental dysfunction, and adds,

Yet as their state prepares to go over the cliff, California’s citizens seem weirdly oblivious, or resigned, or numb. Like inhabitants of a corrupt third-world country who have utterly lost faith in their government and in politics itself, or ostriches sticking their heads in the sand, Californians are behaving as if the whole thing is out of their control. Or even that it isn’t happening at all.

The immediate problem is that a minority extremist right faction is able, because of the supermajority requirement, to prevent California from governing itself. But of course, that’s the problem everywhere, isn’t it?

The extremist right hijacked government by exploiting weaknesses in government designed to prevent tyranny. As I wrote recently in “The U.S. as a Failed State,” the result of the Right’s undermining of legitimate, representative government has been the slow takeover of government by oligarchic special interests. Something like that happened in California, too, by exploiting the initiative process.

The initiative process was originally passed by voters in 1911 to circumvent the power of the oligarchic railroad trusts by restoring direct democracy. And it still offers citizens a chance to take control of important issues. But it has gone out of control, abused by powerful interests who hire people to collect signatures and ram through bills that no ordinary citizen can be expected to comprehend. By sidelining elected officials, it achieves the worst of both worlds: It gives ordinary citizens, who lack requisite expertise, institutional memory and accountability, too much power, and then forces legislators to clean up their mess — except that because of ideological gridlock and the supermajority requirement, they can’t.

What the Right can’t get is that tyranny doesn’t come from government; it comes from the concentration of power. It makes no real difference whether the concentration is public or private. When power is concentrated in government, private interests become its puppet. When power is concentrated in private hands, government becomes its puppet. Either way, the people lose.

The U.S. federal government was set up so that power would be diffused through the three branches and among Washington and the states, and in this way power in government wouldn’t concentrate in any one place and become too strong for citizens to control.

But in their monomaniacal quest to destroy government in the name of “liberty,” the Right left government vulnerable to takeover by non-governmental powers that are not answerable to citizens at all. By fighting a phantom tyranny they have gone a long way toward creating a real one.

Of course, for some, especially for the wealthy extremists who bankrolled the Movement, this was the plan all along. But I don’t think the enormous majority of the tools who show up for “tea parties” and Palin rallies have any idea they are, in effect, begging for dictatorship.

The results of the last two national elections show us that a majority of U.S. citizens want progress, and they want functional government is that responsible to them and which can address issues in a way that makes a difference in their lives. Watching the helpless flopping about in Washington has tried even my faith in American democracy. In spite of their minority status, in spite of the fact that a crushing majority of Americans disagrees with their agenda, the Right still is dictating policy. I’m beginning to wonder if our form of government can survive at all.

The U.S. as a Failed State

The often-brilliant George Monbiot asks at The Guardian, “Why do we allow the US to act like a failed state on climate change?” Following a useful analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the Waxman-Markey climate bill, he says,

Even so, I would like to see the bill passed, as it at least provides a framework for future improvements. But why do we expect so little from the US? Why do we treat the world’s most powerful and innovative nation as if it were a failed state, rejoicing at even the faintest suggestion of common sense?

And then he says,

You have only to read the comments that follow this article to find out.

Bravo, Mr. Monbiot! He correctly anticipated that the comments would feature some prime American wingnut apologia.

Thanks to the lobbying work of the coal and oil companies, and the vast army of thinktanks, PR consultants and astroturfers they have sponsored, thanks too to the domination of the airwaves by loony right shock jocks, the debate over issues like this has become so mad that any progress at all is little short of a miracle. The ranking Republican on the House energy and commerce committee is Joe Barton, the man who in 2005 launched a congressional investigation of three US scientists whose work reveals the historical pattern of climate change. Like those of many of his peers, his political career is kept on life support by the fossil fuel and electricity companies. He returns the favour by vociferously denying that manmade climate change exists.

A combination of corporate money and an unregulated corporate media keeps America in the dark ages. This bill is the best we’re going to get for now because the corruption of public life in the United States has not been addressed. Whether he is seeking environmental reforms, health reforms or any other improvement in the life of the American people, this is Obama’s real challenge.

Also at The Guardian, Michael Tomasky writes,

You might wonder, as many American liberals wonder: OK, we’ve elected probably the most progressive president in decades, and Democrats have big majorities in both houses of Congress. In addition, the Republican party is at a historic low point. So why can’t the Democrats get more done? Why is Barack Obama so timid?

I’m not sure I agree with his answer:

The answer has less to do with Obama’s DNA than with our constitution’s. The GOP may be a laughing stock nationally, the last redoubt of high-profile mistress-shaggers and witless pit bulls with lipstick, but that has absolutely no bearing on its level of power in Washington. Congress was designed so that minorities can wield power well out of proportion to their number if they stick together.

We’ve been through times in the fading, distant past in which the federal government accomplished remarkable things done in spite of itself. Speaking as a history nerd, I don’t know when Washington has been more helplessly dysfunctional than it is now, except maybe for the stretch of years just before the Civil War. Not a cheerful thought.

As Tomasky says, the federal government was set up the way it was with the prevention of tyranny in mind.

Our founders were concerned first and foremost with the potential for authoritarian tyranny, since there was a lot of that afoot in those days. So they built a system of divided government, compulsively concerned with checks and balances so that few actions could be taken quickly.

True. But the terrible irony that you will never ever not in a million years get a conservative or libertarian to admit is that this very weakness now is allowing a different sort of tyranny to emerge. We, the People, no longer have anything to say about our own country. It’s all in the hands of corporations and lobbyists. The result is a loss of genuine political liberty, the loss of government by the consent of the governed, as surely as if Congress had been taken over by a military junta.

Tomasky concludes:

Today’s liberals need to give more thought and devote more energy to this problem than they do. When progressive legislation is weakened, as the emissions bill was last week, most people just reflexively chalk it up to a presidential failure of will. And sure, to some extent, Obama is perhaps too quick to seek compromise.

But the more pressing issue — and the hidden one that most big-time pundits don’t write about — is how messed up Congress has become. This is on the brink of becoming a disaster for this country. Reforming Congress, something we call a “process” reform rather than an actual matter of “substance”, is something most liberal interest groups don’t give much thought to. But today, process is substance — or is killing it. Obama and the advocacy groups that support his goals need to grasp this and do something about it, or the whole agenda will sink into the quicksand down the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

I think this is exactly right. Although I agree that President Obama is too quick to seek compromise, he’s not the real problem. The real problem is that the U.S. really is on the brink of being a new kind of failed state.

Alternative Universes

In his column today Paul Krugman writes that the congresspersons who opposed the climate bill last week are traitors to the planet. And he added,

But if you watched the debate on Friday, you didn’t see people who’ve thought hard about a crucial issue, and are trying to do the right thing. What you saw, instead, were people who show no sign of being interested in the truth. They don’t like the political and policy implications of climate change, so they’ve decided not to believe in it — and they’ll grab any argument, no matter how disreputable, that feeds their denial.

Well, yes. No one denies the science behind global climate change is hard to grasp. The very fact of calling it “global warming” even is a problem since it doesn’t mean the globe is getting uniformly warmer, a point lost on the wingnuts who celebrate as vindication every time some part of the planet is unseasonably cool.

It’s an article of faith among the wingnuts that there is a vast underground of scientists who believe global climate change is a hoax, and their beliefs are somehow being suppressed by a minority of powerful scientific uber-lords who are using the global warming issue to create a socialistic one-world government.

In fact, not only do the overwhelming majority of earth scientists think that global climate change is real, 97 percent of climatologists say humans play a role. The biggest doubters are petroleum geologists — wonder why? — and meteorologists, who are not especially knowledgeable about long-term climate trends.

Reactions to Krugman’s column reveal much about peoples’ inner craziness. Libertarians, for example, are less afraid the planet will become inhabitable than they are afraid Krugman will line them up against a wall and have them shot. See also some meathead at the American Enterprise Institute — “Is Paul Krugman Inciting Violence?“)

Others think that not to give the tiny minority of scientists who deny global climate change at least as much credibility and debate time (more, actually) than the majority is denying free speech, or the right to dissent, or some such thing.

Of course, the Right is accustomed to being thus catered to by media. As Krugman himself once said, “If Bush said that the world was flat, the headline on the news analysis would read ‘Shape of Earth: Views Differ’.”

The one thing they absolutely will not allow themselves to admit is that climate changes might be the real danger. Not Paul Krugman, not liberals, not even climatologists. If Steven Spielberg were to cast them in a film, they’d be the mayor wanting to keep the beach open (until the shark attack) or the investment lawyer worried about profits and PR (until eaten by a T Rex).

Pathological Narcissism and the American Way

“He should point out this is not just an Iranian issue. This is an American issue.” This is John McCain, from the Rachel Maddow clip below. To me, this encapsulates the entire problem with the Right’s approach to foreign policy.

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On the clip Chris Hayes of The Nation said,

“In the long mythology of neoconservatism there’s a notion that Reagan single-handedly brought down the entire Soviet Empire because he said ‘tear down this wall,’ and somehow if you are, like, really willful and chest thumping that the world will sort of bend to your will. … There’s a tremendous pathological narcissism on behalf of people like McCain and [Lindsey] Graham, that everything revolves around the U.S. and revolves around our own, kind of, preening moral self-satisfaction, and it’s actually, it’s really destructive. I mean, if the president were doing what they wanted him to do, we would see things get worse in Iran, worse for the dissidents and protesters. It’s very hard to excuse.”

Of course, in a sense what’s going on in Iran is not just an Iranian issue; it’s the world’s issue. On the other hand, this is very much an issue the Iranian people need to work out for themselves, without outside interference.

And all manner of people keep saying that bellicose rhetoric from America is exactly what Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei want, just as an American invasion of a Muslim country was exactly what Osama bin Laden wanted. The chuckleheads on the American Right are so easily manipulated it isn’t funny.

Today there is much self-righteous chest-thumping on the Right about bloodshed in the streets of Tehran. The chest-thumpers are, for the most part, the same crew who has been calling for bombing of Iran for years. They wail about the martyred Neda Agha-Soltan, but if Ms. Agha-Soltan had been killed by an American bomb or drone she would have been, to them, collateral damage and not given a moment’s thought.

A rightie reading this might accuse me of “blaming” America. No, I’m saying America needs to not do things that are blameworthy. It’s my country, right or wrong, but as a patriot I feel it’s my duty to nudge it toward the right and away from the wrong.

Zombies of the Twilight Zone

On the same day we learn that Dan Froomkin was fired from the, WaPo runs separate op eds by Paul WolfowitzPaul Wolfowitz, mind you — and Charles Krauthammer. They both argue that President Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing and should more forcefully and directly come out in support of the demonstrating Iranians.

Jonathan Chait:

President Obama has taken a cautious tone toward the demonstrators in Iran, with his stated reason being that more open support would discredit their cause. This strikes me as a sensible position. The revealed preferences of both sides suggest a mutual belief that an American embrace would hurt the protestors. The regime is trying (so far, without much success) to tie the demonstrators to the U.S., and the demonstrators are embracing the symbolism of the Iranian revolution (the color green, chants of “Alluah Akbar,” and so on) in order to demonstrate their patriotism and mainstream cultural status.

… What’s remarkable to me is that those on the other side refuses to rebut it. Today’s Washington Post op-ed page has two more columns lambasting Obama for failing to embrace the demonstrators. Today’s offerings are by Charles Krauthammer and Paul Wolfowitz. Neither one of them even mentions, let alone answers, Obama’s argument for why embracing the demonstrators would be counterproductive.

What’s remarkable to me is that Wolfowitz and Krauthammer have the chutzpah to be seen in public, never mind offer opinions on foreign policy, never mind actually get those opinions published in a major newspaper. Taking foreign policy advice from the likes of these two is like hiring Napoleon as a consultant for your Russian land invasion. Worse, actually, since I suspect Napoleon was smart enough to learn from mistakes and might have had some useful ideas.

Gary Kamiya wrote this week,

Like Rasputin, the unhinged “Mad Monk” whom they sometimes seem to have adopted as an intellectual role model, the neoconservatives who brought us the Iraq war refuse to die. Although they have been figuratively stabbed, poisoned, shot, garroted and drowned, they somehow keep standing, still insisting that history will vindicate George W. Bush’s glorious crusade. In a world governed by the Victorian moral code conservatives claim to uphold, they would be shunned, shamed and forbidden to appear on television or write Op-Ed columns. But because Beltway decorum apparently requires that disgraced pundits be given a permanent platform to bray their discredited theories, the rest of us are condemned to listen to their ravings.

I would argue that they haven’t been “figuratively stabbed, poisoned, shot, garroted and drowned,” or at least, not nearly enough. Major media (e.g., the Washington Post) still treats these zombies with respect, as if their opinions had credibility. Amazing.

I also want to point out, as others have, that the same neocons and their followers who are cheering for the demonstrators now (and may I say I am cheering for them, also; they are a genuine inspiration) have been urging us to bomb the smithereens out of Iran lo these many years. Do they not now see that they were wrong? That sometimes it’s wiser to stand back and let events take their course than to force an outcome with death and destruction?

Probably not. In 2005 the neocons couldn’t say enough about the glorious Cedar Revolution and the brave people of Lebanon. In 2006 the Cedar Revolution was quickly forgotten when Israel decided to initiate a military adventure into Lebanon, an action that by some miracle killed only Hezbollah Supporters, according to the Right Blogosphere at the time.

Of course, as Kamiya suggests, the real purpose of neocon bleatings now is not to offer any real advice on foreign policy. It is to undermine the Obama Administration. Period.