Freedom from Blog

Don't call it a comeback . . . .

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Up and Coming Republicans

For the latest outing of an "up and coming" icon of the right, you gotta see this post by Max Blumenthal on Republican darling Matt Sanchez. Warning -- those who are squeamish about seeing photos of male porn stars with big membra virilia should not click on Blumenthal's links!

Sanchez, like Coulter, like Dinesh D'Souza... knows exactly what he is doing. As a member of a marginalized group, flatter the white male, Republican establishment, make outrageous claims while hiding behind your marginalized status, and laugh all the way to bank as a Republican porn star.

I advise Sanchez in his upcoming book to proclaim he's been cured of homosexuality and that he's found God and country. The Republicans eat up that kind of repentant fellatio.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

One Lo-o-o-ong Week, Almost Over

I'm limping to the finish line of the work week tonite--I have tomorrow "off," although that means grading papers and a few other urgent tasks--with just the Con Law class to go. I have to say, I'm not sure I have the energy tonight.

This week I've also fallen off the "book a week" mark, pretty badly. I don't see how I'm going to squeeze a book in. Hmm.

No real point in any of this. Anyone out there had a nice week?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Mercenary Armies

From a military-history perspective, I think one of the most pernicious developments during the Republican Revolution has been the GOP's push to "privatize" various aspects of the US military, and in particular granting big government contracts to outfits like Blackwater USA for the purpose of providing "security forces", i.e., mercenaries.

Anyone with even the most cursory sense of history knows that mercenary armies have been notoriously ineffective or dangerously disloyal fighting forces who do little more than undermine the morale of regular enlisted soldiers. In fact, the case can be made that a mercenary army is an extremely strong indicator of a sick democracy, given that the bedrock of good democratic or republican forms of government throughout history has been a citizen-army that solely swears allegiance to, and fights for, a country while under the control of multi-party government institutions, not one that is the instrument of private individuals, or of a small circle of individuals, or of a single party. I don't think there is any reasonable doubt that Blackwater's soldiers of fortune, many of whom make six-figure incomes, are way too close to a narrow circle of Bush administration officials within the GOP and that they are not under sufficient government scrutiny. As such, there's a great potential for serious and long-lasting mischief here well beyond the dangers of cozy and costly contracts. Congress should nip this GOP policy in the bud ASAP.

For a recent story on the dangers of Blackwater mercenaries in Iraq, see here. While I think I may have heard the tail-end of a report on this topic last week on NPR, I think it fair to say that the lords of the MSM don't seem to be much interested in putting their reporters on this beat – at least I haven't seen much on it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Gordon Strikes Again

Gordon is once again pushing the bogus Iranian arms supply story in the NYT this morning. Now we're supposed to be convinced that this isn't being ginned up because the US has long suspected Iran was supplying arms. Of course Gordon still has only government sources without independent verification so it's Instant White House Text Messaging Reporting once again.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Um, Yeah

On whether Abu Gonzalez is even a barely sharp knife in the drawer, Stuart Taylor says:

Gonzales was plucked by then-Gov. Bush of Texas from a big law firm where he was a relatively undistinguished partner. As the governor's counsel, he sent Bush superficial memos that cleared the way for executions of more than 50 death-row inmates by dismissing their clemency petitions, while sometimes ignoring evidence of ineffective counsel, mitigating circumstances, and even possible innocence. His 20-some judicial opinions as a Bush appointee on the Texas Supreme Court were unimpressive, as have been his public performances as White House counsel and attorney general. People outside the administration who have tried to engage him in serious discourse about complex issues sometimes come away shocked by the superficiality of his knowledge and the shallowness of his analysis.

Link. Btw, not sure how long that link will work, but at least for the next few days.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


So, yesterday I drove down to Charlottesville to attend the Virginia Festival of the Book with old friend Curat Lex. We saw a panel on The Wire with writers George Pelecanos, D.C.-area mystery writer, and David Simon, moderated by Laura Lippman, Baltimore-area mystery writer. The panel was great, although Simon's contempt for his audience was palpable--the sign of a real artist.

Then we went to the book room, where we talked to some authors, including other mystery writers, Heather Webber and J.B. Stanley, who post on this blog.

Then we went to a reception at the president of UVa's house on Carr's Hill. There we met Bill Rhoden, sports columnist for the New York Times and author of a new book on the issue of race and sports--Forty Million Dollar Slaves.

It was a great day. Lots of fun. Interesting people.

One reflection: There are so many books in the world. So many writers.

Don't Agree

With everything in this Jon Chait column, like when he suggests that Democrats act like Republicans. Hasn't he ever noticed the fundamental difference b/w the parties? It's almost impossible to prevent Democrats from forming circular firing squads, but Republicans will march off a cliff (e.g., global warming) like lemmings.

But still, it's good to see something like this making it into print, in a major U.S. newspaper:

The truth is more complicated — and more depressing: A small number of hard-core ideologues (some, but not all, industry shills) have led the thinking for the whole conservative movement.

Your typical conservative has little interest in the issue. Of course, neither does the average nonconservative. But we nonconservatives tend to defer to mainstream scientific wisdom. Conservatives defer to a tiny handful of renegade scientists who reject the overwhelming professional consensus.

National Review magazine, with its popular website, is a perfect example. It has a blog dedicated to casting doubt on global warming, or solutions to global warming, or anybody who advocates a solution. Its title is "Planet Gore." The psychology at work here is pretty clear: Your average conservative may not know anything about climate science, but conservatives do know they hate Al Gore. So, hold up Gore as a hate figure and conservatives will let that dictate their thinking on the issue.

Meanwhile, Republicans who do believe in global warming get shunted aside. Nicole Gaudiano of Gannett News Service recently reported that Rep. Wayne Gilchrest asked to be on the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio refused to allow it unless Gilchrest would say that humans have not contributed to global warming. The Maryland Republican refused and was denied a seat.

Reps. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) and Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), both research scientists, also were denied seats on the committee. Normally, relevant expertise would be considered an advantage. In this case, it was a disqualification; if the GOP allowed Republican researchers who accept the scientific consensus to sit on a global warming panel, it would kill the party's strategy of making global warming seem to be the pet obsession of Democrats and Hollywood lefties.

The phenomenon here is that a tiny number of influential conservative figures set the party line; dissenters are marginalized, and the rank and file go along with it. No doubt something like this happens on the Democratic side pretty often too. It's just rare to find the phenomenon occurring in such a blatant way.

You can tell that some conservatives who want to fight global warming understand how the psychology works and are trying to turn it in their favor. Their response is to emphasize nuclear power as an integral element of the solution. Sen. John McCain, who supports action on global warming, did this in a recent National Review interview. The technique seems to be surprisingly effective. When framed as a case for more nuclear plants, conservatives seem to let down their guard.

In reality, nuclear plants may be a small part of the answer, but you couldn't build enough to make a major dent. But the psychology is perfect. Conservatives know that lefties hate nuclear power. So, yeah, Rush Limbaugh listeners, let's fight global warming and stick it to those hippies!

He even uses the term hippies.

Friday, March 23, 2007

A Cultural Exchange

Last night at dinner I had this exchange with an Italian, “So what do you think about the Italian government of Prodi trading 5 Taliban for 1 Italian and then being taken to the woodshed by the Bush administration because of it?”

Without missing a beat she replied, “Well, 1 Italian is worth 5 Taliban and Americans are never traded because they aren’t worth anything.”


Thursday, March 22, 2007


The Hammer has been the subject of conversation on this blog of late. Take a look at this great exchange between Chris Matthews and Tom Delay. Delay actually argues that because he wrote that Dick Armey was both "blind with ambition" and "drunk with ambition" that when asked why he wrote "drunk with amibition" he can say, "No, I wrote 'blind with amibition'". It's just so emblematic of the Republican way of talking about reality. Just deny reality, even if it's what you yourself f---ing wrote in black and white. And then when that doesn't work, come up with a lame excuse -- "I don't have my [reading] glasses on."

You don't need a pair of spectacles to see this guy is a LIAR.

Standing Strong

I'm not sure I understand the Administration's choice to take on the Democratic Congress over the sworn testimony of Rove, Miers, etc. To force subpoenas, and then resist them, will just magnify the underlying story. And the underlying story was a purely elite, inside-the-Beltway scandal that was (1) hard for Administration critics to explain and (2) easy for GOP flaks to talking-points to death. Now, the Administration has decided to fight this "partisan fishing expedition," "no show trials" battle . . . against "the truth and the whole truth."

If I were a member of the Republican party in Congress, I would be looking at the clock. It's almost April 2007. In less than two years, chances are there will be a Democratic president. Do you want to go on television and argue that the White House does not have to obey congressional subpoeanas? The GOP took a very different position on this in the Clinton years. But why highlight the shift for all and sundry?

There are only two explanations for "Standing Strong."

First, the Administration just doesn't believe that it is accountable to anyone. Second, the Administration really has something to hide, something that Rove et al. would be forced to lie about, or to reveal, if under oath.

Politically, neither of these inferences help the GOP.

What am I not seeing?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Codex 1.0

Here we witness a monk's frustration with the switch over from papyrus 10.0 to codex 1.0. Plus ça change...

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Has anyone else been noticing Tom DeLay popping up on their television as a political pundit? He was on Beat It this weekend, and he's on the Today show this morning to talk about the U.S. attorney firings.

Now, I don't have anything against former members of Congress seeking gainful employment. Not even when the former member in question is nothing other than a partisan hack. But when that former member is currently under indictment on corruption charges, that's something else. One wonders what the NBC News crowd is thinking . . . .

What happens when DeLay gets sentenced? Does NBC put a television camera in his cell as Camp Fed?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Today's Confessional

This is the second Gitmo confession story in the last week. Any bets that:

1. The redacted texts have been doctored to give a false impression.

2. The confessions aren't worth shit (tortured men will say anything).

3. Most of the redacted bits of these confessions are old and have only now been released for political reasons.

4. The reason they have been recently released is to send the not-so-subtle message that without AG Gonzalez being willing to look the other way on torture, Habeas Corpus and the Geneva Conventions, these confessions would not have happened.

I must confess that I never cease to be amazed at the Bush administration's well-oiled agitprop machine.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Fields of Fire by James Webb

So the book for this week is Sen. Jim Webb's "classic novel of the Vietnam War"--that's how it's blurbed on the cover of the Naval Institute Press edition, i.e., this book is actually published by the Navy. I'm about two-thirds of the way through. This is Webb's first novel, published in 1978. But I've read enough to say that Webb is a very gifted writer. What I'm most impressed with is how Webb is able to describe and explain a whole cast of characters, either through actions or through backstory character sketches interspersed in the narrative. Throughout the novel the point-of-view shifts from the Webb alter ego, Lt. Hodges (from Kentucky, which is like SW Virginia), to "Snake," a hard-ass black NCO, to Marine lifers like the platoon's sergeants, Austin and Gilliland, to grunts like Cannonball (another black character) and "Senator," a Harvard dropout volunteer. (I think it's richly ironic that there's a character in Webb's first book nicknamed "Senator.") Each of his characters really comes alive, and they are drawn sympathetically, even the ones with flaws (i.e., all of them). Webb is really skilled in that aspect of novel-writing, that is, the ability to see things from multiple perspectives and to tell a story from those perspectives.

Highly recommended. But I wanted to quote from one of Webb's characters, Sgt. Gilliland, on the war. Remember, Webb wrote this in 1978. Here goes:

"It ain't what happens here [in Vietnam] that's important. It's what's happening back there. Shit, Lieutenant, you'd hardly know there was a war on. It's in the papers, and college kids run around screaming about it instead of doing panty raids or whatever they were running around doing before, but that's it. Airplane driers still drive their airplanes. Businessmen still run their businesses. College kids still go to college. It's like nothing reaaly happened, except to other people. It isn't touching anybody except us. It makes me sick, Lieutenant."

Gilliland moodily lit another cigarette. "We been abandoned, Lieutenant. We been kicked off the edge of the goddamn cliff. They don't know how to fight it, and they don't know how to stop fighting it. And back home it's too complicated, so they forget about it and do their rooting at football games. Well, fuck 'em. They ain't worth dying for."

It's always dangerous to read a character's speech as representing the author's views. But to the extent that this was a common perspective of Vietnam grunts, well, then Webb's decision to run for the Senate, as an anti-war Democrat, makes a whole lot of sense.

Update: OK, I've finished the book. Didn't see a lot of that coming. Webb builds an interesting plot in the last half of the book, and ends the book with a great ironic twist. Highly recommended.

Btw, the last chapter is about anti-war protesters. Webb was an angry Vietnam vet in the 1970s.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Janet Reno

She was one hell of an attorney general, no? I don't have anything to add to that thought. She would occasionally rankle me with her independence, but that's a feature, not a bug, as they say.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Fear of a Black Planet

Well, maybe not a whole planet, but how about a black District of Columbia? The D.C. vote in Congress has moved one step closer to coming into being.

I refuse to be satisfied with a House vote, especially one to be offset with another seat in UtGOPah. I want two senators. I want to bumrush the World's Greatest Deliberative Body. Because until that happens, democracy is a joke in my town--Washington City.

Fight the Power.

Way to go O-HI-OOO

No, this isn’t about Buckeye basketball. It’s been a busy week, if not year, for scandals, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that the US press and progressive blogosphere for the most part ignored the conviction on January 24, 2007 of two Cuyahoga County poll workers for rigging a recount of the 2004 election – a recount that may have given Kerry Ohio and thus the White House. A few days ago they were sentenced to 18 months and the judge is quoted as saying, "I can't help but feel there's more to this story." Well at least their sentencing was picked up by a major British source.



Frances posts on the story that John Edwards really wanted to vote against the Iraq war but that his consultants told him that that would not be a wise move, politically. Here's my take on this . . . .

Many, many people think that they can manipulate events, strategize, game the system, say the right words at the right moment and carry the day. And sometimes, one can. But not usually. Because the world is complex. One can only see so much of it, and one's vision is almost useless looking forward. (Hindsight may be 20/20, but foresight?) Actions almost always have unanticipated consequences. Moreover, things change--one's preferences, one's feelings, the feelings and attitudes of others. Things happen in the world. So words and positioning only get one so far. This is all too abstract . . . need a concrete example . . . .

Take the Iraq war vote in October 2002. Now, no one in October 2002 could have known what would happen if the United States invaded Iraq, and this goes for both those of us who were more or less right--like me--and folks who were disastrously wrong--like Darth Cheney and El Presidente. Now, a strategic politician in that position can try to guess where the war and public opinion on it will be in, say, two years, four years, and position herself correctly. That's what one pays consultants to help one do--although, all too often, the consultants take over and are no longer advising but running the show, by threatening dire consequences if their advise is not followed. But my point is that no one can ever know how a war is going to turn out, know with any certainty. There are so many variables--variables that the current administration seems to just be dealing with.

Instead of trying to predict the (politics of the) future, a politician might decide whether, in any given situation, the proposed policy is "right." Now, that will require taking into consideration the possible consequences of the policy, which are, again, difficult to predict. But to return to the war vote . . . when the policy on the table is the invasion of a country that is, at best, and I'm exaggerating, a marginal future threat to the United States, and one believes, in one's own mind, that that is the wrong choice (I'm looking at you, Edwards) . . . don't throw the conscience away so quickly.

Here's the political advantage of what I'm suggesting (which is, simply, to do what you think is right and let the chips fall where they may). One can always explain a vote, even one shown, in retrospect, to have been short-sighted, as having been motivated by conscience. "It was a matter of principle."

But it's very, very hard to explain a vote based not on principle but on trying to game the future. You know who I mean.


So every week I get a "traffic meter" report on visits to FFB. In its history, slightly over 12,000 total visits. It's a low traffic blog, obviously. But the traffic meter report for last week reports an average of only one visit a day, for total seven for the week. That doesn't seem possible, as I usually look at the site once a day, from work, to see if anyone has posted anything, and there have been a few comments this week.

Or maybe I'm kidding myself and no one actually checks in here any more.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Passive Aggressives

President Bush acknowledged today that "mistakes were made" in the US Attorney political purge. You gotta love aggressively employing those passive constructions, particularly when the grammatical subject is the pseudo-contrite word "mistakes" rather than a living, sentient being. How many times have we seen the Bush administration cloud over its malfeasance behind this rhetorical ploy? It's a culpa without a mea, which is nothing other than a culpa nulla.

Today's Must Watch

I highly recommend this old video clip of John Stewart putting Paul Begala and Fucker, I mean Tucker, Carlson of CNN's Crossfire into his cross hairs. Begala had the good sense to mostly keep his mouth shut and take a beating, but Carlson, being the little twit that he is, flounders in his attempts to make come backs. And then he gets his ass whupped even more, with comments on his bow ties to his dick-head personality. Priceless.


They Were Paying These People

Not that any of this is surprising, but doesn't this story make the case that the Democratic party needs a completely new stable of foreign policy advisors?

Shrum's book, "No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner," provides an account of Edwards' private discussions leading up to the decision. The Associated Press obtained excerpts from uncorrected galley proofs of the book to be published June 5 by Simon & Schuster.

Shrum writes that Edwards, then a North Carolina senator, called his foreign policy and political advisers together in his Washington living room in the fall of 2002 to get their advice. Edwards was "skeptical, even exercised" about the idea of voting yes and his wife Elizabeth was forcefully against it, according to Shrum, who later signed on to John Kerry's presidential campaign.

But Shrum said the consensus among the advisers was that Edwards, just four years in office, did not have the credibility to vote against the resolution and had to support it to be taken seriously on national security. Shrum said Edwards' facial expressions showed he did not like where he was being pushed to go.

Edwards spokesman Jonathan Prince said the only people who influenced Edwards' vote were his wife and foreign policy experts who worked under President Clinton and argued that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. That turned out not to be true.

Here you have the "politicals" giving the unbelievably stupid political advice that Democratic presidential candidates needed to give President Bush authorization to go to war in Iraq. If the war had gone well, having voted for it would not have made it easier for a Democrat to win in '04. Bush would have won in a walk. (After all, the war was a disaster in '04, and he won anyway.) But if the war went badly, the Democratic candidates would have ownership of it or look like flip-floppers. (Which they did.) And that was the political advice.

Meanwhile you have Clinton foreign policy advisors giving their imprimatur to the weak, tendentious case that the administration was making about Saddam's WMD. How could Democratic foreign policy experts have been this stupid? The evidence for nuclear WMD just wasn't there; it never was. And even if you thought Saddam had some chemical or biological weapons (after all, the US had given him some), why is this a reason to invade the country rather than step up inspections? Why did invading Iraq ever look like a reasonable course of action on the policy merits?

If this isn't an ironclad case for a party purge, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Leonidas: "We Should Not Condone Immoral Acts"

Looks like General Pace has stepped in it, by saying that "homosexual acts between individuals" (as opposed to homosexual acts between groups?) are immoral, and that that is the reason the military should exclude gays. Gay and lesbian activists are arguing that Pace's personal views of morality are not a legitimate basis for government policy. But if that's true, then what can the legitimate basis for Don't Ask Don't Tell, be?

I disagree with that policy, of course. And I don't want to post on it, so to speak. I wanted to make a connection to the number one movie in the country, 300. Saw it on Sunday, with some friends. I suspect that I enjoyed it less than just about anyone in the theater. It's greatest flaw--it's hyper-militarism. As I am becoming increasingly anti-militaristic, as the hyper-militarism of our own society comes into sharper and sharper focus (for me). So I reacted very strongly to the movie's celebration of the Spartans' violent warrior ethic. (Btw, I hope Paul sees the movie so he can give us an expert commentary on how silly the movie is.)

But as many others have pointed out, this movie's over-the-top celebration of male beauty makes it, well, pretty gay. Even while the movie's characters express homophobic sentiments, as when Leonidas, the Spartan king, refers disparagingly to the "boy lovers" of Athens.

It seems like our hyper-militaristic leaders, like Pace, share more than their bellicosity with Leonidas. (I doubt Pace has six-pack abs.) Also, remember that Leonidas is famous for getting his men slaughtered.

What Next?

So this U.S. Attorney scandal is growing at an unbelievable pace. It actually looks like the President, the White House counsel, the Attorney General, and at least one U.S. senator were involved in an effort to put political pressure on U.S. Attorneys in general and to remove "less cooperative" U.S. Attorneys from office. And the "lack of cooperation" was in . . . bogus voting fraud cases, not to mention prosecutions of Republican corruption.

Just a few days ago, I didn't think that Gonzalez would resign--he's too close to Bush. Today I'm not so sure. The question is whether members of Congress push back. At this point, between the abuse of national security letters and the U.S. Attorneys scandal, there's really no plausible argument that the A-G hasn't lied to congressional committees. Under divided government, this seems like something the A-G, the DAG, etc. can't get away with. (If the GOP was still in charge, I think Gonzalez would get away with this, btw.) Staffers are starting to fall on their swords. Can the principals be far behind?

But that's not what I wanted to post on. My question is, literally, What Next?

We now know that this Administration electronically spied on U.S. "persons," and lied about it. They abused at least one section of the USA PATRIOT Act, and lied about it. They have OK'ed torture and "extraordinary rendition." They have turned a blind-eye to the actual conditions and treatment of returning wounded vets, while pounding the drum on "Support the Troops." They crossed the line is politicizing law enforcement, especially in trumped-up voting fraud cases against the opposition.

The GOP has seen it's number two in the House indicted and the VP's chief of staff convicted of four felony counts. At least two other powerful members of the GOP congressional power structure were forced to resign and are now in federal prison.

This is not politics as usual, folks. There is always corruption, but this much, at this high a level (did I mention the number three at the CIA?) . . . even a jaded cynic like me has trouble with this.

But what don't we know? I'm always of a mind that we, the General Public, don't know the worst of it. If we know all of this, what is it we don't know?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

I Beg Your Pardon?

Bill Kristol was doing his usual Sunday morning schtick on Fox News Sunday, this time begging the President to pardon Scooter because his conviction means that Fitzgerald's charge that there "is a cloud over the VP, a cloud over the WH" will continue to have some traction in the press. Actually he goes so far as to claim that "Fitzgerald will keep repeating that there’s a cloud over the White House." This is so rich, given that Fitzgerald has bent over backwards not to make gratuitous comments to the press about the case (as far as I know he's only spoken to reporters twice – once when he announced Libby's indictment and a second time after Libby was convicted). Maybe the press will keep repeating it, but Fitzgerald won't.

The larger issue is how the Republican party maintains a sort of media fun-house of smoke and mirrors that hides all the incestual relationships between conservative magazine publications, think tanks, main stream media outlets such as Fox News, and Republican politicians and their staff such as Libby. To wit, Bill Kristol is the founder and editor of The Weekly Standard, which is funded and published by News Corporation. Of course News Corp. is the parent company of Rupert Murdoch's Fox News.

Bill Kristol is also the founder and Chairman of the Project for the New American Century, to which Scooter Libby and his boss Dick Cheney are members and founding signatories. The Project for the New American Century receives funding primarily from the Bradley Foundation. The Bradley Foundation also gives a lot of money to another bastion of Neoconservative ideology, the American Enterprise Institute which shares a building with PNAC. Rupert Murdoch sits on the Advisory Board of AEI, and also gives money to it. Many Fellows at AEI are also tied to PNAC and vice versa. Of course it was the Neoconservatives who argued the need to remove Saddam from power before 9/11 and used 9/11 as an excuse to do so, cooking the books on WMDs. And when Joe Wilson pointed out they had manipulated the intelligence on WMDs, Dick and Scooter orchestrated outting his wife, who was a CIA NOC, in revenge. As a part of the investigation into outting Plame, Scooter lied to the prosecutor about his role in this affair and got convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice and now his friends go on Fox News and press for his pardon and fling baseless accusations at the prosecutor.

In essence, then Fox News Sunday is merely a store front to sell the Neoconservative movement to which Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney, Bill Kristol and Rupert Murdoch belong. Furthermore, when one of their own is convicted of perjury and obstructing justice, they can then use their media empire to call for his pardon and vilify the prosecutor, all the while hiding behind the mask of "fair and balanced" journalism. If this isn't a new form of Fascism folks, it's a close as it can be without being the genuine article.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

Imperial Presidency, Episode II: Attack of the Nixon Clones

This is from the late Arthur M. Schelsinger, Jr.'s 1973 classic, The Imperial Presidency:

The theory, so dominant and persuasive in the years after the Second World War, that a foreign policy must be trusted to the executive, went down in flames in Vietnam. Who could say, for example, that the National Security Council had been all that much wiser in this melancholy period than the Senate Foreign Relations Committee? One after another the traditional arguments in favor of presidential supremacy--unity, secrecy, superior expertise, superior resources of information, decision, dispatch--turned out to be immensely overrated. Vietnam discredited executive control of foreign relations as profoundly as Versailles and mandatory neutrality had discredited congressional control.

Unity? This had been a strong argument in the 1790s when the State Department consisted of Thomas Jefferson and half a dozen clerks. But unity was an illusion in the vast and refractory executive branch of the 1970s . . . . The best way to frustrate a rival agency was often through a well-placed leak. Expertise? The test of expertise was in the judgments it produced; and no episode in American history had been more accompanied by misjudgment, misconception, and miscalculation than the war in Vietnam. Information? The newspapers and magazines proided far more accurate information about the progress of the war . . . than Top Secret cables from Saigon. . . .

What remained was the mystical assumption that the Presidency was more likely to be right than the Congress. But no one could argue this with much conviction after Vietnam. Presidential supremacy in foreign affairs had worked well enough when the electoral process sent men of intelligence, restraint and constitutional sensitiity to the White House. But, as Americans understood in the 1970s more vividly than ever before . . . the electoral process was not infallible. And . . . when a President got the bit between his teeth, it was impossible for a foreign-policy bureaucracy, however expert, to stop him and improbable that Congress, given its disabilities, would choose to do so.

Emphases mine. If you want your mind blown, insert the word Iraq for Vietnam, Baghdad for Saigon, and 2000s for 1970s. And I agree with Harry Reid (I think it was Harry) who recently said that Iraq was an even greater foreign policy blunder than Vietnam. So say it with me: "Expertise?" Say it mockingly. "No episode" indeed--not until Episode Two, attack of the Nixon Clones.

And remember, one of Darth Cheney's goals was to restore executive power to its Nixonian levels. To undo the post-Vietnam backlash. Ironically, his actions may trigger an even bigger backlash (I hope). As Princess Leia once said to Grand Moff Tarkin, "the more you tighten your grip, the more systems will slip through your fingers."

Friday, March 09, 2007

The English-Speaking Alliance

I ran across this article detailing a recent gaggle of "Historians" at the WH, including Andrew Roberts. Lest we forget to acknowledge the real principalities and powers behind the veil of reality, Roberts reminds us that unlike Churchill Bush still has God on his side and His truth is still marching on.

Roberts's money adivce to the Prez, in keeping with his new book A History of English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900:
Lesson four: Cling to the alliance of the English-speaking peoples. Although many nations have joined the coalition in Iraq and Afghanistan, troops from Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are doing the heavy lifting.

He also advises that we "not set a deadline for withdrawal" from Iraq.

Hmmm. I wonder how this alliance of English-speaking peoples is doing in Iraq these days in light of the fact that we should not set a deadline for withdrawal? While Canada and New Zealand aren't doing any lifting in Iraq, there's always our greatest ally Britain. Yes, yes, we can count on Britain staying in Iraq for us. And then there's Australia. Yes, we can be sure that all of Australia's 550 troops are there for us in the long run too.

I don't know about you, but this gets me all choked up,
this earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world...

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Wars Past and Present: Head Games

So, hearing a lot lately, especially on ABC, home network of Bob Woodruff, that traumatic brain injury, or "TBI," is the "signature" wound of the Iraq clusterfuck. (Although on tv news, it's never described as a "clusterfuck," and often the talkingheads call these "injuries" instead of wounds, for some unknown reason.)

Here's my question. We know that TBI happens because of explosions and that it's difficult to diagnose, or, at minimum, the current military medical regime is not coping very well with the problem. But past wars certainly had their share of explosions, if not exactly IEDs. So clearly, some soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines suffered from TBI in past wars and went undiagnosed. I'm thinking here of the stories of the guy from down the block who went off to war but, after he came back, "was never the same." Or: "Something happened to Uncle Fred in the war. He came back another person." This is anecdotal, but I think that this not that uncommon with veterans. How many of the Vietnam vets sleeping on the streets tonite were never the same after the war?

I think that we usually understand this as an experiential change--combatants see things, do things, that "change them," i.e., change who they are. But it's also possible that some of these guys who "were never the same" were actually wounded. The change, in other words, was not experiential but physical. I don't know a lot about PTSD, but it seems to me that this is an experiential concept--not an actual physical change to the brain. And as the brain changes, the person(ality) changes.

I saw a story on ABC tonight--Bob Woodruff reporting--about such a guy. His armored personnel carrier got blown ten feet in the air and he took one to the skull. Diagnosed with TBI, his wife described him as a "different person." But fifty years ago, eighty or ninety years ago, wouldn't this have been chalked up to "shell shock" or "battle fatigue"? Isn't it possible that this guy's wounds would have been invisible to his contemporaries? It took Army doctors two full years to diagnose this as TBI, as it was. If this guy had been at Pusan, or Tarawa, or the Argonne . . . this would never have been understood.

Some readers of this blog know that I'm inherently skeptical of the grandiose claims of "cognitive science." But this strikes me as one place where thinking about the physical nature of the mind makes a lot of sense.

Oh, and then there's this.

Nice Takedown

Ezra gives it to the prissy one.

Obama Inevitability Watch, Pt. 2

Yes. Two great grafs:

Senator Clinton's struggles are visible in her repeated efforts to recalibrate her positions on major issues--adding a little muscle each time but always a step or two behind public opinion. A year ago, she was still straddling the gut question of withdrawing from Iraq. Now she wants action in ninety days. She is molting a little, but still sounds more comfortable as a hawk.

The demands for an apology on her original go-to-war vote is not the point. It reflects a deeper suspicion that Hillary is as cynical as Bill on the fundamental matter of warmaking. One recalls Bill Clinton's scolding advice to Democrats after they lost the 2002 Congressional elections. People, he said, would "rather have someone who is strong and wrong rather than somebody who is weak and right."

Now, my embrace of cynicism is all-embracing, if that makes sense. But this does seem to be a problem, no?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.

"Scooter" is a pretty good name for a prison bitch. But why do I doubt he'll be doing any hard time?

One of my favorite wingnut talking-points is that there's no underlying crime in this case. Oh, you mean like in Bill Clinton's "perjured" Paula Jones deposition? "Erm. . . no, THAT was a serious crime, much more grave than smearing a whistleblowing ambassador by knifing the CIA cover of his wife while she was heading up the search for WMDs in the Middle East. This is just a 'policy disagreement' between the VP and the CIA." OK then, that settles that.

If you listen to Fitzgerald, it's pretty clear that he decided that there was, in fact, an underlying crime. But it was less the individual leaking than it was the orchestration of the leaks. Rather than focusing on Libby, Rove, Armitage, etc., the prosecutor recognized that Dick Cheney was the man behing the entire scheme, but he didn't think he could actually convict him without Libby's testimony. The jury obviously wanted such charges; their spokesman said as much and expressed some disappointment that all they got was a "fall guy." So Fitz is holding out the possibility of a sentencing deal if Libby flips. I won't hold my breath. Libby is waiting on a pardon, and he's almost guaranteed to get one. After which, he'll go on to be a right-wing martyr, turning treason into fat green on the fascist lecture circuit alongside Chuck Colson, G. Gordon Liddy, and Ann Coulter. The "Rule of Law" All-Stars.

If, miraculously, word of these proceedings has reached Jose Padilla in his sensory-deprivation dungeon, he should consider a new legal strategy. Register as a Republican.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Just now, on the news, Kelly O'Donnell said (almost verbatim): "'Scooter' Libby . . . the highest ranking White House official to be convicted of a crime since the Reagan era and Iran-Contra." Hmm. Maybe all that longing for Reagan at the CPAC last weekend will find some satisfaction in the verdict . . . or not. Probably not.

Dan Balz says "Libby likely will pay a significant price for what happened in the summer of 2003 as the administration saw its Iraq policy under serious attack for the first time. But his is part of a much larger story that is still being written as the country wrestles with the most unpopular war since Vietnam."

But who will write that story?

Monday, March 05, 2007


The conservative answer to Wikipedia is here!. I await the entry on how George Bush's rewriting of the Constitution was actually the result of God hurling a bolt of lightning at it.

BTW: If they really wanted to be conservative, they would have spelled it Conservapaedia.


Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Giuliani Wedge

Been thinking a lot about Giuliani lately. On Faux News Sunday, General Kristol said that whichever GOP front-runner emerges will have to "make a deal" with the GOP conservative base that, whatever his personal views, he will subscribe and adhere to the views of the conservative base. The bad general seemed to think that Giuliani could do that.

But then on "This Weak," I heard George F. Will--who introduced Giuliani at the CPAC, but was still allowed to comment on the race on ABC!--say that Giuliani would have an advantage in states like California (the California GOP primary) because his views are more moderate. But can Giuliani run two campaigns simultaneously? In more conservative states, he runs a conservative, "I am with you," campaign, but in Blue-er states he runs a pro-choice, more tolerant campaign? And that would have to be done simultaneously--the primaries would be at the same time, or at least very compressed together.

What I'm hearing is that the Giuliani campaign is saying one thing to ideological conservatives and another to GOP operatives, who may not be as hard-line on lots of issues. It sounds to me like Giuliani is thinking he can say one thing in South Carolina and another thing in California, one thing in Texas and another in New Jersey (and New York). That would work, if it weren't for tv, the Internet, and, um, the opposition.

The R-Word

The R-Word, of course, is recession. Greenspan raised this in a non-public address this week--like the man can say the R-word and it not get out! Today on The McLaughlin Group McLaughlin's prediction was that the U.S. economy would be in recession in November 2008. He then asked whether that helps Hillary.

The correct answer is that it helps B.O., sir.

Btw, I was talking to a co-blogger, and we agreed that, were the next election to take place either during or just after an economic slowdown--not sure it has to be a "technical" recession, so long as it is perceived as a downturn--and with 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq . . . that the GOP should stop worrying about the White House and start worrying about Congress. Also, we speculated how low Bush's numbers could dip.

[Not hoping for a recession, not that that needs to be said. Can't afford it, personally, in "full disclosure." Can't really afford another sell-off on Wall Street, really.]

No, I Really AM Cheerful!

General Kristol continued his conservatives are cheerful campaign today on Faux News Sunday. Or maybe it should be called the "conservatives are cheerful, dammit!" campaign. The funny thing on FNS was that the bad general objected to when Nina Easton referred to divided, unhappy conservatives--and she said "we are divided," not they. WE are divided. Not Kristol. He's unified. And cheerful, dammit. I. Can't. Hear. You.

Btw, Easton also said that her husband works for McCain. "Full disclosure," I respect that. But she was included on the "power panel, even though she is married to someone working for McCain. Can't the Faux folks find a fourth panelist (Juan was missing) who isn't married to a GOP operative?

Black Enough

Well, I guess Barack Obama is black enough to give one of the most amazing, kick-ass civil rights speeches in recent years--which he did this afternoon in Selma, Alabama. It was a long meditation on "the Joshua Generation," the generation that Moses' generation (i.e., MLK's) led to the Promised Land but had to go on themselves--and to lead and make the Dream a reality. I'm not familiar enough with civil rights oratory to know if this is a common trope, but even if it is, the way Obama made it his own was really moving. The congregation was definitely responsive, too, especially when he spoke about the need for resolve, fortitude, discipline, and black self-reliance. I thought that he hit all the right notes, connecting to the movement and to religion--if he's not actually religious, he can sure use the language of religion like he is.

Also watched HRC's speech from the nearby Baptist church. Not bad, but not great, either. And B.O.'s speech was great. HRC should have stayed away--I think that the comparisons are going to hurt her more than her absence ever would have.

The rumor is that Congressman John Lewis--who got his skull cracked open in the Selma march--was set to endorse Obama but that a call from WJC made him pull back. Both Obama and HRC mentioned Lewis in their speeches today. Looks like the Lewis primary is a big one this year. Because if B.O. is black enough for John Lewis, he's black enough for anybody, no?

It's too early to tell, but I wouldn't be surprised if the speeches today go down as defining events in the Democratic primary this cycle.

Flogging Brooks: an Addendum

OK, OK, dead horse alert. Here's a follow-up to my post last week on David Brooks's bizarre reading of Rousseau and Hobbes, a reading driven more by identity-crisis angst and wingnut cliche than coherent analysis. Brooks tried to blame American optimism about the possibilities of remaking Iraq on Rousseau and the hippies, while suggesting that sage conservatives, endowed with a "tragic" sense, needed to reclaim a little Hobbesian cynicism. In his self-congratulatory haze, Brooks never paused to admit who it was that actually invaded and who it was that protested, recognizing on some level that such an admission would surely explode his argument into bits. Brooks, conservative punditry's very own suicide bomber.

In my earlier critique, however, I left out a salient point. If you actually read Rousseau and Hobbes, it isn't hard to figure out which one would be more likely to endorse a hubristic Iraq invasion: Hobbes, hands down.

Recall that, for Hobbes, international relations is an ongoing "state of nature" since there is no common authority above nations to secure the peace. And Hobbes makes it very clear that in the state of nature, you have a right to kill anyone (or attack any nation) you deem a potential threat. He's not just talking self-defense or "pre-emptive" war, he's talking "preventive" war in the Bushie sense. As Hobbes writes in Leviathan's pivotal Ch. 13, "And from this diffidence of one another, there is no way for any man to secure himselfe, so reasonable, as Anticipation; that is, by force, or wiles, to master the persons of all men he can, so long, till he see no other power great enough to endanger him" (1985, 184).

The contrast with Rousseau is striking. In the Dedicatory Epistle to the city of Geneva that opens his Second Discourse, the supposedly Pollyanna Switzer writes:

I would not have wished to live in a newly instituted republic, however good its laws might be, for fear that. . . the State would be subject to be disturbed and destroyed almost from its birth. For freedom is like those solid and rich foods or those hearty wines, which are proper to nourish and fortify robust constitutions habituated to them, but which overpower, ruin, and intoxicate the weak and delicate who are unsuited to them. Once people are accustomed to masters, they are no longer able to do without them. If they try to shake off the yoke, they move all the farther away from freedom because, mistaking for freedom an unbridled license which is its opposite, their revolutions almost always deliver them to seducers who only make their chains heavier (1964, 80).

Sounds like a good summary of post-invasion Iraq. So democratic populism owns a lot better "tragic" sense than does authoritarian individualism, even if you look back three centuries. I'm starting to think that "conservative intelligencia" is an oxymoron.

Idiocracy & Today's Papers

Evidence of idiocracy is coming fast and furious this morning.

1. Number Three beat me to the punch on this one. But thought I'd share this statistic from from Stephen Prothero's new book, Religious Literacy: "Nearly two-thirds of Americans endorse the simultaneous teaching of creationism and evolution in public schools." But "fewer than half of us can identify Genesis as the first book of the Bible." I'd like to know more about the people who don't know Genesis but want creationism taught, but I'm afraid of them.

2. A second article: "Married couples with children now occupy fewer than one in every four households -- a share that has been slashed in half since 1960 and is the lowest ever recorded by the census. . . . The working class and the poor, meanwhile, increasingly steer away from marriage, while living together and bearing children out of wedlock." Not that I care about living in sin, but this is depressing. For some very confusing reason, sociologists have concluded that the poor and working class have come to see marriage as a "luxury good" that they can't afford. I just don't get this. Where's the economic logic in that? How can you afford kids but not marriage? Marriage is cheap, even if living together is cheaper! But kids are expensive! I can think of lots of cultural explanations for the pattern, but I don't see how economic thinking can make sense of it.

Faith of Our Fathers

There's a review of a new book on religious illiteracy in the Post this morning. Worth a read. From the first paragraph: "Americans are . . . the most religiously ignorant people in the Western world. Fewer than half of us can identify Genesis as the first book of the Bible, and only one third know that Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount."

So, religiosity in the United States often consists of vague religious sentiments, not grounded in any specific doctrine or church. This is not news, but it is interesting to think about.

For example, in class last week I covered the school prayer cases. What's interesting to me is how controversial school prayer is, when what is at issue in most of the cases are bland, non-sectarian prayers that should be more offensive to believers than non-believers. For example, the prayer that started it all in Engel v. Vitale: "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country." But people get outraged when public expressions of watered-down, non-sectarian theism are prohibited. Why? Well, apparently, those bland, watered-down expressions are religion for many, many people who count themselves as believers and even "persons of faith." Thus:

Approximately 75 percent of adults, according to polls cited by Prothero, mistakenly believe the Bible teaches that "God helps those who help themselves." More than 10 percent think that Noah's wife was Joan of Arc. Only half can name even one of the four Gospels, and -- a finding that will surprise many -- evangelical Christians are only slightly more knowledgeable than their non-evangelical counterparts.

One final point: The American people are an easy mark. Survey their levels of political/cultural/scientific knowledge, and you quickly discover that most people don't know shit. But somehow the world goes on. Schumpeter said something about this, I believe.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Black Donnellys

Hard to believe, but there may be a new show this year even better than Friday Night Lights. I just happened upon the first episode of NBC's The Black Donnellys Thursday night, and it was really great. Of course, maybe having never seen The Sopranos (lacking HBO as I do), I fail to recognize that this is so much old hat. But it sure seemed fresh to me.

On the surface, the story appears pretty simple: four "Black-Irish" brothers in NY--hot-headed, gimply-legged Jimmy, good kid Tommy, bad luck Kevin, and pretty boy Sean--struggle with each other and their neighborhood in a life of mid-level mob thuggery. So its the Sopranos, but younger, prettier, and Irish. Except that the whole story is told in flashback by a pathological liar, "Joey Ice Cream," a friend of the Donnellys who's being interrogated by the police. So, much like in The Usual Suspects (one of my all-time favorite movies), you never really know what to believe or who to trust. Paul Haggis, who created the show after winning back-to-back Oscars for producing Million Dollar Baby and Crash (he also wrote the screenplay for Letters from Iwo Jima), has said that the original title was The World According to Joey Ice Cream, but that NBC nixed it. The show's got some great twists and turns, alongside a dark sense of humor. Mrs. TMcD was similarly impressed. Also seriously stressed out. I've seen just one episode, and I'm hooked.

Catching Mitt

Caught the tail end (or is that "fag" end) of Mitt Romney's speech today to the American Conservative Union on C-Span. Holy underwear, Batman! Curat Lex might be right. This guy may be just loathsome enough to get the nomination.

I've long considered the principle of "bet on evil" a good guide to sports and politics: the Yankees, the Lakers, the Cowboys, the Blue Devils, the Bushes, etc. In the race for '08, Mitt has just upped the ante. Here's his theme: victory through strength! How much V for Vendetta has he been watching, and exactly who was he rooting for? Romney declared that the "first principle" of conservatism is strength, a word he repeated over and over. He argued that conservatism was committed first and foremost to the idea that America was the world's sole superpower, and that we must be prepared to do anything and everything necessary to maintain that status against the alien hordes. His biggest ovation followed a screed against those who speak foreign languages. To call this pandering is to insult panderers. I've heard the rest of the speech was pretty juicy too. Must have been, if it immediately led neo-fascist Ann Coulter to give him her endorsement. Maybe we should call him "Schmitt" Romney.


Friday, March 02, 2007


Really? Is this an eighth grade phys. ed. class?

White-armed Hera

After so many recent pseudo stories of great archaeological discoveries, like this recycled one of Jesus' family tomb, it's nice to see a real find announced such as the discovery of the statue of Hera for the temple of Zeus at Dion (major site that sits below the snowy peaks of Mount Olympus). If you're ever at the underrated and generally ignored archaeological site of Dion, the taverna across the street from the museum is highly recommended, having served a lone traveler a mean dish of pastitzio one cold but sunny December afternoon, thus demonstrating that xenia still lives.


The Whole World Smiles with You

General Kristol of the Kristol-McCain-Cheney wing of the Forever War party has a new column in Time entitled--I shit you not--"Why Republicans are Smiling."

But I wanted to focus on only one element of the bad general's "argument." He writes, about Congress: "Mitch McConnell's performance as Senate Republican leader has also--for the first time in a long while--given Republicans a congressional leader worth rooting for as he outmaneuvers the Democrats in their efforts to put Congress on record against Bush's Iraq policy." Another interesting case of a GOP opinion leader throwing the recently deposed GOP congressional leadership under the bus? Yes, it looks like it. Turns out, all those years that you and I were thinking that DeLay was a corrupt hack, that Hastert was a joke, that Frist was not ready for primetime . . . turns out, we were right. Hell, even General Kristol couldn't "root for" those clowns.

Now, of course, Kristol, his magazine, his colleagues, they flacked for the clowns for years. But the truth comes out.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Will the Giuliani Surge Last?

The latest polls on the GOP nomination suggest that we should no longer refer to McCain as the "frontrunner." Not when Giuliani has 44% compared to McCain's 21%, and when McCain has lost about one-quarter of his support in the same poll in about a month. Also, it's time to stop covering "the Mormon candidate" as a top tier candidate, not when he's polling four percent.

The meme I keep hearing is that GOP voters want a "strong" candidate and that Giuliani is "strong." I also hear that, at the same time, they don't want someone too close to the Iraq clusterfuck--but someone who supports the surge. McCain is "too close," Giuliani has some distance from all that (for now).

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I still don't see how many GOP voters can get behind a pro-choice, gay-friendly, three-marriages, ethnic Northeasterner. Which means that someone will emerge as the anti-Giuliani. OK, but who? Could be Gingrich. If he's included in the polling question, he polls almost as strong as McCain (15% to 21% in the latest poll).

That Gingrich might emerge as a major candidate in this race indicates, I think, how played out the GOP is at this point.

Worse than Anna Nicole

One trend in mainstream "news" coverage that I find disturbing is the overbearing emphasis on weather-related stories. This has been really prevalent this winter. Many, many stories on "severe" weather, but lots of these stories are just about snow and cold. News flash, folks, it's winter. It gets cold, in much of These United States, and there will be a few significant snow storms. It's just not clear to me how snow storms are the lead story on the "Today" show over and over again.

Of course, people are interested in the weather. But it should stay in its legitimate place in the line-up, which is after the hard news, before sports. The back page of the Metro section, not the front page.

I know, I know, I'm just being a cranky old man.