Archive for February 13th, 2006

Guess who I saw this weekend?

My favorite Senator, Mr. Conrad Burns!

That’s right. If it’s one thing that I like about Montana is that everything is smaller in scale. As a result, it’s easier to become involved in the community. I know my neighbors. And not only do I know my local town council member, she baby-sits for us occasionally. And every once in a while I stumble into my state’s junior senator.

You see, his Missoula office is in the Florence building in downtown Missoula, which also houses the Children’s Museum where I generally take the kids on cold, rainy Saturday mornings. This Saturday was no exception. And there he was in the lobby of the building surrounded by a group of – sycophants? staff members? (Actually, I could have sworn my very liberal city mayor was there…)

So what did I do? Did I charge over and demand an explanation about his association with Jack Abramoff? Did I demand his resignation? Did I at least shout “Fire Burns”?

H*ll, no. I hustled the kids out of the building and thought about writing this post.

Here’s what I thought: why is the fool running for re-election?

Recently Burns put out a new commercial (it’s on the sidebar), attacking his attackers over the Abramoff scandal. (Remember this is the man who took the most directed money in Congress from Abramoff and his clients, and who allegedly changed his votes on the Senate floor in exchange.) It’s quite audacious:

… I’m not going to stand here and let the Democratic Party of Montana play politics with my reputation. Those partisan Democratic ads are just that. Politics. The worst kind of politics. Montanans deserve better. I’ve worked in and around stock yards all my life. Those attack ads, they’re just a big bunch of you know what. Plus they’re paid for by the same Democrats that took money from Jack Abramoff clients. He’s the guy that ripped off his Indian clients for millions and lied to anybody and everybody. I don’t know who Abramoff influenced, but he never influenced me.

It's amazing how he can stare into the camera and lie like that. It makes my hair stand on end, it's so creepy.

(For details on the extent of Burns’ corruption, check out Left in the West’s Burns’ links, The Billings Gazette, or my own humble Burns post…)

Why would any sane person want to attract attention to himself when there’s so much evidence piled against him? Surely the Republican Party wants us all to forget about Abramoff, not let itself embroiled in a he-said-she-said shouting match the party can’t win.

I think the GOP wants to abandon Burns.

Let’s face it, they need a fall guy for Abramoff, someone to indict and convict so they can say, “well he was the guy who took money from Jack,” and let the animus fall squarely and solely on that sucker’s head, diverting attention away from the fact that Abramoff’s illicit dealing was one of the foundations of the party’s current power grab. And who better than some hick Senator with low poll ratings who nobody’s ever heard of and who sits on a bunch of low-level and relatively unimportant committees – come on! Chairman of the “Interior & Related Agencies”? That’s Bureau of Indian Affairs! What group do Republicans care about less than African Americans? That’s right: injins!

If Burns resigns the only people rejoicing more than Montanans would be the RNC. Burns’ resignation would allow a new conservative candidate free from the whiff of scandal run in a very conservative state. They could also crucify the Senator, let him dangle once he’s out of government and powerless to retaliate.

Only he won’t back down. He knows his only chance to stay out of jail is to win another term in the Senate. Republican Party be d*mned.

I, for one, celebrate Burns’ brash decision to fight. It’s only going to cause him grief. He can’t win an election under such close national scrutiny. He’s creating an excellent opportunity for a Democrat to win the state’s second Senatorial seat.

Run, Conrad, run.

In an effort to distance himself from the Abramoff scandals, Burns recently attempted to give $110,000 – “made up of contributions from Abramoff, his associates and his tribal clients” – to Native Americans in Montana.

They rejected the money.

In recognition that much of the money distributed by Abramoff had been siphoned from Native Americans, Burns had tried to give the money to Indians in his home state. However, a meeting Tuesday evening of the Montana Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council rejected Burns' donation…

…tribal officials familiar with last night's vote said that they did not want to appear to have "bailed out the senator." They described the offer from Burns as being "tainted money."

Burns' cozy relationship to Jack Abramoff is exemplified in his instrumental role in getting the Michigan Saginaw Chippewa tribe a 2002, $3-million-dollar construction grant – over the objections of the Department of the Interior and within two months of receiving $75,000 in campaign donations from Abramoff’s tribal clients.

The Saginaw Chippewa tribe is hardly a group that lacks resources: it is the financial beneficiary of Michigan gaming laws, and individual tribal members each earn $70,000 a year off the proceeds of gambling.

Oh yeah: at least two Montana tribal schools also qualified for the grants.

Burns’ justification for acquiring the grant for an out-of-state tribe over the needs of his own constituents?

Burns spokesman James Pendleton said…the senator pushed for the school program because he supports education. Even if Montana's two qualifying schools don't use the construction grants, they indirectly benefit because the grants free up more federal construction dollars for all tribal schools, he said.

Er…huh?

In the meantime, Burns needs to unload $110K fast. Readers, please help the Senator by making suggestions as to where he can put his money.

All hat and no cattle.

Yesterday on The Stranger’s blog, “Slog,” staff writer Josh Feit posted an apparently ill-thought-out plea to left-wing bloggers: ”Why Democratic Blogs Undermine Democrats’ Chances of Regaining Power.” In it, Feit writes,

Too often, Democratic blogs are bona fide public brainstorming and public strategy sessions. Democrats are cultivating and honing their ideas in public—for everyone to see, especially Republicans…

[snip]

The key to the Republicans’ success at overthrowing the established order of the ‘70s and ‘80s was this: In the ‘70s and ‘80s, the Heritage Foundation and Norquist et al, operated below the radar screen. The Democratic establishment was largely unaware of the right-wing thought machine, the right-wing hand wringing strategy sessions, and all the Republican brainstorming. And so, in 1994, the conservatives were able to take Clinton, seemingly by surprise, and unveil an ideology that they’d been stoking and cultivating quietly for years. And, in 1994, they successfully ended the era of liberalism that had dominated this country since about 1970.

In comparison, today, the Democrats do their brainstorming and hand wring and strategizing out in the open. They do it on the blogs. It’s all right there for the Republicans to see. This is why the Democratic blogs, as good as they make us feel, are jeopardizing a successful liberal revolution. Democrats do too much plotting out loud.

My first reaction was that I was facing another so-called “moderate” Democrat urging his fellow liberals not to “politicize” politics. You know what I mean: “the Lieberman Effect.” Among some members of the Democratic Party, there’s a shame regarding liberal ideology, as if they believe what the right-wing spinsters say about the left and feel the only way to win national elections is to hide our beliefs.

But then Emmet O’Connell nailed it in the comments:

That Republicans were insular over-all in their rise to power pre-1994 is a good reason to not be insular now. If politics is a zero-sum football type game where you adopt the other side's game plan, then I don't want to play.

Politics is about being involved, it's about being engaged. It isn't about closing doors and keeping conversations out. While some of what goes on online is a "shout to flame" process, the internet is a conversation.

Lets keep it out there.

Feit also misses the important role of blogs, which can be found in Peter Daou’s fascinating essay on Salon, “The Triangle: Limits of Blog Power,” a must read for any blogger. According to Daou, the way blogs can be influential in today’s political arena is as part of a “triangle.” The other two legs are the political establishment and traditional media.

…[B]log power on both the right and left is a function of the relationship of the netroots to the media and the political establishment. Forming a triangle of blogs, media, and the political establishment is an essential step in creating the kind of sea change we’ve seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina…Simply put, without the participation of the media and the political establishment, the netroots alone cannot generate the critical mass necessary to alter or create conventional wisdom.

[snip]

Bloggers can exert disproportionate pressure on the media and on politicians. Reporters, pundits, and politicians read blogs, and, more importantly, they care what bloggers say about them because they know other reporters, pundits, and politicians are reading the same blogs. It’s a virtuous circle for the netroots and a source of political power. The netroots can also bring the force of sheer numbers to bear on a non-compliant politician, reporter, or media outlet. Nobody wants a flood of complaints from thousands of angry activists. And further, bloggers can raise money, fact-check, and help break stories and/or keep them in circulation long enough for the media and political establishment to pick them up.

Recently, Daou checked in with a progress report on how well this triangle is working:

A flurry of activity among bloggers, online activists, and advocacy groups is met with ponderously inept strategizing by the Democratic leadership and relentless — and insidious — repetition by the media of pro-GOP narratives and soundbites…

Daou goes on to show how his “triangle” broke over the NSA scandals and the Alito confirmation hearings. He concludes:

This, then, is the reality: progressive bloggers and online activists — positioned on the front lines of a cold civil war — face a thankless and daunting task: battle the Bush administration and its legions of online and offline apologists, battle the so-called “liberal” media and its tireless weaving of pro-GOP narratives, battle the ineffectual Democratic leadership, and battle the demoralization and frustration that comes with a long, steep uphill struggle.

But is the triangle so broken? Enter Gore's stirring MLK-day speech! As digby reported:

Al Gore has become the conscience of the Democratic Party. Following the lead of the new media, and the blogosphere in particular, he just laid out the case as to how the invertebrate Republican congress has sold out its constitutional duty to a president who sees himself as above the law and why this poses an unprecedented threat to our constitution.

(The rest of the post is also a must-read, as is the speech transcript.) Gore’s speech – dead on, addressing the fear-mongering of Republican leaders and fearful reaction of their followers – propped up the second leg of the triangle. Of course traditional media outlets failed to run with the story. It should be front-page news, but wasn’t.

Still, this shows that Feit is insane for believing liberal bloggers should shut up. Who else would speak out?

You decide!

In a recent editorial against wire-tapping critics, Kristol writes,

No reasonable American, no decent human being, wants to send up a white flag in the war on terror. But leading spokesmen for American liberalism – hostile beyond reason to the Bush administration, and ready to believe the worst about American public servants – seem to have concluded that the terror threat is mostly imaginary. It is the threat to civil liberties from George W. Bush that is the real danger.

Yikes! Kristol implies that concern for civil liberties must imply a disregard for terrorism. Um…can’t we both protect our civil liberties and fight terror? Kristol:

These liberals recoil unthinkingly from the obvious fact that our national security requires policies that are a step (but only a careful step) removed from ACLU dogma.

Of course, this fact is so obvious, it doesn't need explaining. (And you won’t find an explanation for it in this editorial.)

Still, if you strip away the rhetoric and false reasoning, Kristol's point is that it's necessary to suspend some civil rights to catch terrorists. An interesting (if not overused) argument that naturally begs some proof. Don't hold your breath. The closest Kristol gets to provide proof is this quote from General Hayden, deputy director of national intelligence:

"This program has been successful in detecting and preventing attacks inside the United States."

How obtaining warrants from FISA, which only requires that an application occur within 72 hours after the wiretap has started, and which generally rubberstamps all requests, would impede the program is not explained.

That the details of the program are top secret does, unfortunately, prevent an average citizen (i.e., you or me) from corroborating the facts, but Hayden’s rank should cow us into submission. He is, after all, a general, and you’re not.

This should be enough evidence for any reasonable person, implies Kristol, but still – and reluctantly stooping to address liberal arguments – he plows right into the issue that the FISA court provided all the necessary structures to obtain warrants for the wiretaps conducted by the NSA.

Was the president to ignore the evident fact that FISA's procedures and strictures were simply incompatible with dealing with the al Qaeda threat in an expeditious manner? Was the president to ignore the obvious incapacity of any court, operating under any intelligible legal standard, to judge surveillance decisions involving the sweeping of massive numbers of cell phones and emails by high–speed computers in order even to know where to focus resources? Was the president, in the wake of 9/11, and with the threat of imminent new attacks, really supposed to sit on his hands and gamble that Congress might figure out a way to fix FISA, if it could even be fixed? The questions answer themselves.

First, Kristol offers not a single piece of evidence to back his claims, but obliquely refers to another article instead. He then goes on to further his argument with a set of rhetorical questions whose very premises are corrupt.

If you’re not retching over your keyboard, you, like me, may be wondering how this crap reaches national prominence. Written with less expository skill than found in your typical college composition essay – using rhetorical questions to make points, offering no evidence to back up his assertions, relying on bias and prejudice in his readership, using slander instead of argument to discredit opposing ideas – this is pure garbage. But remember, this guy has his own magazine! He appears regularly on national news programs! He’s considered an architect of conservative thought!

But wait! It gets better.

Back in the 1980s, when I was living in Johannesburg and reporting on apartheid South Africa, a white neighbor proffered a tasteless confession. She was "quite relieved," she told me, that new media restrictions prohibited our reporting on government repression. No matter that Pretoria was detaining tens of thousands of people without real evidence of wrongdoing. No matter that many of them, including children, were being tortured-sometimes to death. No matter that government hit squads were killing political opponents. No matter that police were shooting into crowds of black civilians protesting against their disenfranchisement. "It's so nice," confided my neighbor, "not to open the papers and read all that bad news."

What th – ?? In an attempt to mock liberal "hysteria," which forces us to compare the Bush administration to repressive regimes like South Africa, he seems to argue for the leftists.

Why…yes! Now that you mention it, there are remarkable similarities between apartheid South Africa and the Bush administration! Let's see…"detaining tens of thousands of people"…the legal and immigrant aliens of Middle East descent here in the US, and an untold number of Iraqis in Iraq…check. "…Without real evidence of wrongdoing…": double check. "No matter that many of them, including children, were being tortured – sometimes to death": check (detainees under 18 exist at Guantamano). "No matter that government hit squads were killing political opponents…": contractors are notorious in Iraq for this stuff, check. "No matter that police were shooting into crowds of…civilians protesting against their disenfranchisement…": how many did US troops kill firing into protests during the early part of the occupation? Check.

And Kristol's neighbor, the white woman who was glad new media restrictions were placed on newspapers so that no bad news would appear, who is she supposed to be? The liberals? Or the right-wing Bush supporters who organize fabricated question-and-answer sessions with the Great Leader?

So, is Kristol an idiot, "A foolish or stupid person," or a charlatan, "A person who makes elaborate, fraudulent, and often voluble claims to skill or knowledge; a quack or fraud"?

I wish we could have honest, open debate about these issues. A fella can dream, can't he?

In a WaPo Op-Ed piece, “Vital Presidential Power” (reg req'd), neo-dolts Bill Kristol and Gary Schmitt create an example of when a president might need to circumnavigate judicial oversight. There’s a terrorist with a cell phone containing U.S. numbers, but there’s no evidence to support a warrant to wiretap those numbers. After all, the administration would need to provide …"probable cause to believe" that the target is an agent of a foreign power or a terrorist.

Yet where is the evidence to support such a finding? Who knows why the person seized in Pakistan was calling these people? Even terrorists make innocent calls and have relationships with folks who are not themselves terrorists.

Indeed.

In this world view – at distinct odds with the Constitution – it’s better to violate the rights of the innocent than to let the guilty go unwatched. Of course, according to Kirstol/Schmitt, we’re at war, so anything goes. But are we at war? Declaring war is a prerogative reserved for Congress, not Bill Kristol and Gary Schmitt.

Ultimately, the real question is passed over by these idiots. We all agree that, if used wisely and in the interests of the country and its people, unchecked power would be helpful to combat terror. But should we trust this president – or any president – not to abuse such sweeping powers?

I’m with the architects of the Constitution: no.

So Bob Woodward was involved in Plamegate, too. It turns out a “senior Bush administration official” told him Plame’s identity and status as CIA operative in mid-July, 2003, before Novak’s infamous column outing Plame appeared.

That Woodward was at the center of the leak scandal didn’t stop him from going on Larry King a number of times and attacking Fitzgerald.

Talking Points thought Woodward sitting on the info wasn’t a huge deal, because he never wrote a story about it. Should he tell us everything he knows? A reader later commented that, yes, it was a big deal, because he had just written a book about it!

Woodward was about to publish (or had just published) a book purporting to give an accurate picture of the lead up to the invasion of Iraq. The fact that Woodward kept all of this secret under these circumstances just destroys his integrity as a journalist.

The Coffee House recalls a 1996 Didion essay on Woodward’s journalistic techniques, highlighting the "disinclination of Mr. Woodward to exert cognitive energy on what he is told." Digby, of course, labels Woodward a willing tool of the administration.

Whatever motivations Woodward had for sitting on this info, his reputation – forged as an intrepid journalist revealing the lies and ensuing cover up of a crooked President – is now tarnished as a compromised journalist participating in the lies and ensuing cover up of a crooked President. Full circle, I guess.

Power is seductive. Just look at Ariana Huffington, red-hot critic of Judith Miller’s cavorting with top administration officials. After just one dinner with Ahmad Chalabi, she writes a puff piece on his clothes and demeanor, forgetting to actually ask him anything substantial.

From the beginning I suspected that Plamegate would be as big or a bigger scandal for mainstream media than for the administration. A number of us suspected from the beginning that the Bush administration fabricated evidece in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq. We also knew that — contrary to right-wing propaganda — the media is inherently conservative. But what we didn't know is how complicit the top names in the industry were with the Bushies.

Lost amid the hubbub of Washington scandals, SCOTUS nominations, natural and man-made disasters, Iraq deaths, and a dozen other sordid, fetid Republican-created messes is an increasing tension with Syria over the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. There's been a UN resolution over the mess, some concern from the Lebanese media that

…"U.N. May Sanction Invasion of Syria if it Fails to Cooperate on Hariri's Probe," [according to] Naharnet on the eve of the Security Council vote. Naharnet is the English language news site of An Nahar, one of Beirut's most popular newspapers. While U.S. officials repeatedly denied the U.N. resolution would lead to military action, the Christian-owned, anti-Syrian paper was not assured."

Bush, of course, in his usual completely untrustworthy style, assured us all that war with Syria would be the "last resort." (Of course, we all know by now that a military invasion of Syria is part of the neocon plan.)

"War should be the last resort." It's almost a cliché, isn't it? But what does it mean? And why does this worn-out axiom hold true?

Believe it or not, there are Realpolitik reasons for waiting to go to war. Because war is expensive (both in human life and in dollars), because someone always loses in a war (and it might be you), war should be an extreme option and the last step of diplomacy. (Isn't there a Bismark quote about that?) But the threat of war can also be useful. If a nation is acting against our national self-interest, it can be useful to posture and threaten war to settle issues diplomatically and favorably to us.

But when you're at war, you can't raise the stakes. You are at war. There's nothing more you can do. There's no threatening, no diplomacy. And meanwhile, soldiers and civilians die, infrastructure is destroyed and must be rebuilt, the costs rise, and political and economic pressures mount.

Does anyone seriously think we will invade Syria? I don't. Not with a war grinding away in Iraq, a war that's already unpopular. Not with the Bush administration under attack and weakened politically at home. Not with already huge budget deficits. If the U.S. opts to invade Syria, almost certain disaster would follow. It could be the end of the economic and political well-being of our nation.

Syria knows this. Other countries know this. They know the U.S. is engaged in a ceaseless, ugly war in Iraq. They know our army and economic infrastructure can't handle multiple, simultaneous wars. Not that I think Syria is a real threat, but what about other countries that see the U.S. back down against Syria and decide to pursue political agendas that run contrary to our interests?

The irony is that the invasion of Iraq was supposed to have the opposite effect. According to the neocons, the Iraqi invasion would serve as a warning to the rest of the world. If you don't do it our way, we'll roll the tanks in, your people will rejoice and embrace American democracy, and the world will be safer. Instead, other nations now know we can't pursue war as an realistic option.

America's continuing struggle in Iraq has made us weak.

The local weekly, the Missoula Independent ran an article a couple of weeks ago, called "The Future of Journalism." It's a hopeful sort of story, highlighting several young journalists from different areas of the media, and implying that the future of journalism lies in their hands.

Yet I see no publishers or media conglomerate owners among their ranks. We know what that means. These kids will either conform to the party line or be cast off.

Dan Rather, in an emotional speech at Fordham School of Law this September, claimed there was a "New Journalism Order," a culture of fear in the newsroom. In his speech, Rather argued that pressure from media conglomerates combined with competition from 24-hour cable channels has created timidity in the mainstream media.

Also, as an article in the LA Weekly says:

If big media look like they're propping up W's presidency, they are. Because doing so is good for corporate coffers – in the form of government contracts, billion-dollar tax breaks, regulatory relaxations and security favors.

The CEOs of GE and Time-Warner are devout Republicans. And, as Summer Redstone, head of Viacom (parent of CBS) admitted:

…while he personally may be a Democrat, 'It happens that I vote for Viacom. Viacom is my life, and I do believe that a Republican administration is better for media companies than a Democratic one.'

Opposed to the mainstream media are the weekly independents and blogs. But how much longer will they remain free of corporate control? Already "independent" weeklies are being bought up by corporations: Village Voice Media, Inc., which owns the Voice, Seattle Weekly and the LA Weekly, is owned by Goldman Sachs, whose employees donated $301,225 to Bush's 2004 campaign.

Surely the blogs are not far behind. There is already rumbling in the mainstream media about the irresponsible nature of blogs – sure, Malkin is an easy target, and we might agree that she is an idiot, a hate monger, and thoroughly evil…but isn't that the point? It's always been the fear of fringe radicals that has spurred the curtailing of civil liberties. If the Federal Elections Commission is considering whether a blog's linking to a candidate's website should be subject to regulation, if the WaPo suggested that the Internet's freedom enables Al Qaeda to operate, how long do you think it will be before this golden age of blogging will come to a screeching halt?




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