Saturday, May 06, 2006

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/06/2006 03:35:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Friday, May 05, 2006

To criticize or not to criticize?

On AmericaBlog, John Aravosis asks:
Some friends on the Hill recently asked me if the liberal blogs could lay off their attacks on Democratic members of Congress until after the election. The idea being that we need to keep promoting a public image of Dems good/Republicans bad, and that any criticism of Dems hurts our image and only helps detract attention from the Republicans' increasing number of failings.

It's an interesting question. Is it time to sit back and shut up and hold our tongue?

The answer is clearly: it depends. What's the general political situation? Who's the Democrat? How loyal to the party and progressive has that Democrat been? What's the strength of that Democrat, against what kind of Republican opposition? How important to us is the office that Democrat holds? What's the issue involved, and how important is it to us?

As Mimikatz says, "Is it true? ... Is it helpful? ... Is this a good time to say it?"

There are behaviors that make perfect sense in one set of circumstances that are totally counterproductive in another. Bipartisanship makes sense if both sides are drawn to it and have a shared desire to solve problems and do the best for the country, but none whatsoever when one side is taking advantage of the other, or generally screwing them over. Letting defectors get away with their lack of party loyalty makes sense when your party is firmly ensconced in power, it makes no sense at all if you're trying to defeat the other guys, who are the ones well in place.

I've been screaming about this for a while (for instance here, but more recently here), that Democrats in DC continue to behave as if they were still the ones calling the shots, or that most Republicans give a damn about policy and passing needed legislation -- it just isn't true anymore, because the rules have changed, and the Democrats (for the most part) haven't changed their tactics and strategy to reflect that.

On the other hand, the liberal blogosphere tends to behave as if one Democrat more or less won't make any difference, and, in the present circumstances, that just isn't true either. One more Congressperson or Senator in our caucus could be the difference between starting to undo the damage this country sustained, or the country continuing to hurt.

So if you're going to criticize a Democrat, you'd best be absolutely damn sure that doing so won't result in another Republican in office, which we need like a shotgun blast in the gut. This is not an abrogation of anyone's right to criticize, it merely means that if we're actually interested in making things better, and not just in whining about the horrible state of things, we've got to adjust our behavior to reflect that.

I agree with Chris Bowers that critics of the blogosphere from the Media and Political Establishments see themselves as adults and us as teenagers (or even wayward children), and that this is unwarranted, but if that's so, then we need to behave like adults, keep our ultimate goal in mind, and temper our criticism accordingly.

[via MyDD, adapted from my comment there]

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/05/2006 12:19:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Emperor and the Blogger

I came across the little parable the other day (I'm not sure which blog linked to it -- it might have been Eschaton).

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/04/2006 11:22:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Straw - camel - back

[updated below]

I've finally had enough of this particular bozo, so I'm adding the Washington Post's supposedly "liberal" columnist Richard Cohen to my little list. Georgia10 has the reason why.

He never would be missed.

Addenda: My list is, of course, neither comprehensive nor definitive, and is rather haphazardly assembled, so it's not surprising that I've missed some people. Correcting one egregious oversight, I've added Christopher Hitchens to the list.

Long overdue.

Update (5/10): On Truthout, William Rivers Pitt takes down wanker extraordinaire Richard Cohen:
Why the anger? It can be summed up in one run-on sentence: We have lost two towers in New York, a part of the Pentagon, an important American city called New Orleans, our economic solvency, our global reputation, our moral authority, our children's future, we have lost tens of thousands of American soldiers to death and grievous injury, we must endure the Abramoffs and the Cunninghams and the Libbys and the whores and the bribes and the utter corruption, we must contemplate the staggering depth of the hole we have been hurled down into, and we expect little to no help from the mainstream DC press, whose lazy go-along-to-get-along cocktail-circuit mentality allowed so much of this to happen because they failed comprehensively to do their job.

George W. Bush and his pals used September 11th against the American people, used perhaps the most horrific day in our collective history, deliberately and with intent, to foster a war of choice that has killed untold tens of thousands of human beings and basically bankrupted our country. They lied about the threat posed by Iraq. They destroyed the career of a CIA agent who was tasked to keep an eye on Iran's nuclear ambitions, and did so to exact petty political revenge against a critic. They tortured people, and spied on American civilians.

You cannot fathom anger arising from this?

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/04/2006 01:40:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



About 10 days ago I posted about the search for the best way to describe what the Democratic party stands for. My contribution was:
Fairness, progress and prosperity, because we're all in this together.

Paul Waldman has a nice piece on Tom about what he believes is the core belief of progressives, and it's similar to mine:

Progressives believe we’re all in it together.

This proves once again that yada da dada de dada...

(Waldman has a related post on MyDD as well.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/04/2006 01:26:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Two to go

Two nice links from Eliot Gelwan at Follow Me Here:

Addenda: Let me add this quote I lifted from FMH recently:

There is no excuse for ignorance, but even less for knowledge without action.
Anonymous patient of Dr. Eliot Gelwan
quoted on Follow Me Here (4/16/2006)

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/04/2006 12:43:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Having one's cake...

I'm not sure I've seen anyone comment on the political genius of the strategy of allowing Congress to pass whatever it wants, and then neutering the legislation with signing statements and non-enforcement, which is that it allows the folks in Congress (especially the Representatives, who need to be re-elected every two years) to appear to be responsive to the needs and desires of their constituents, while at the same time, in actuality, via the mechanism of selective enforcement, servicing the wants of the various Republican core clienteles, even if those wants are diametrically opposed to the intent of the legislation.

It really is a brilliant strategy (if totally unconstitutional) but also somewhat fragile: to continue to succeed, it needs to take place out of sight.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/03/2006 09:34:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


No, you can't do that

About all those Bush signing statements he's fond of attaching to legislation: wouldn't it be nice to be able to take the issue of their legal standing to the Supreme Court and have it decided?

Legislative history obviously has a place in determining what the intent of a law passed by the legislature is, but the opinion of the President about the law, while interesting politically, historically and socially, shouldn't have any force legally. The President has a definite role to play in shaping legislation, but that ain't it. His role is to influence the legislation before it's passed, and in signing or vetoing it afterwards -- what he thinks about it once it's law is , or should be, legally irrelvant.

And it would be nice to get that settled, but we can't, thanks to all the fine folks who caved on Alito and helped Bush to assemble a Supreme Court that's as likely to support his blatantly unconsitutional contentions as to shoot them down.

Thanks once again, folks for another splendid result of engaging in business as usual in a terribly unusual time.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/03/2006 05:51:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


W. P. E. (2)

Nice to have some more confirmation. AP:

If his presidency ended now, Republican George W. Bush would go down in history as a failure, according to a majority of college history and political science professors surveyed nationwide.

And, 67 percent of the 744 professors responding to the survey conducted by Siena College's Research Institute said they doubted Bush "has a realistic chance of improving his rating" during his remaining time in office.

You'll recall the report that many historians consider Bush to be perhaps the Worst President Ever.

[via The Carpetbagger Report]

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/03/2006 05:38:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



Earlier this week, I attended a production meeting for an annual benefit event that I've stage managed for 24 of the last 26 years, the Manhattan Theatre Club's Spring Gala. I first did the show in 1981, and, thinking about that, I was curious to remember what was going on back then. A quick trip to the Wikipedia page for 1981 brought to my attention these selected events of that year:

  • Ronald Reagan takes office as President, replacing Jimmy Carter. Immediately after, as had been previously negotiated, the Iranian Hostage Crisis ends when the 52 Americans who had been held for 444 days were released.

  • Walter Cronkite does his last evening news broadcast for CBS, after a run of 19 years.

  • Bill Haley dies.

  • Paris Hilton is born.

  • Reagan is shot by John Hinckley, Jr.

  • The first launch of the space shuttle Columbia takes place.

  • Maya Ying Lin's design is selected for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC.

  • Bob Marley dies.

  • Pope John Paul II survives an assassination attempt.

  • The Centers for Disease Control reports five cases of a rare form of pneumonia in Los Angeles, the first recognized cases of AIDS.

  • Natalie Portman is born.

  • A strike shuts down Major League Baseball, cancelling 713 games.

  • The Hyatt Regency walkway collapses in Kansas City, killing 114.

  • Israel bombs PLO headquarters in Beirut.

  • MTV is launched.

  • Reagan fires over eleven thousand striking air traffic controllers, breaking their union.

  • Roger Federer is born.

  • The IBM-PC computer is introduced.

  • Reagan appoints the first female to the US Supreme Court, Sandra Day O'Connor.

  • Anwar Sadat is assassinated. He is replaced by Hosni Mubarak.

  • William Holden dies.

  • The Iran-Contra scandal is initiated: Reagan's National Security Council staff coordinates shifting profits from the secret sales of armaments to Iran to fund rebel forces fighting a leftist government in Nicaragua, against the specific order of Congress.

  • Natalie Wood dies.

  • Britney Spears is born.

  • The first modern suicide car-bombing takes place against the Iraqi Embassy in Beirut

Obviously, I've left out a lot of stuff: births, deaths, political and natural events all over the world, but, still it's interesting to see the ways that things are the same, and the way they're different. The Middle East is a powder-keg both then and now, but the U.S. isn't involved in a major war anywhere in the world in 1981. Personal computers are just starting their intrusion into our everyday lives, and AIDS is only barely on the radar. A Republican administration sees no problem in disregarding laws passed by Congress when it decides it wants to, and takes the first modern steps toward breaking organized labor.

I'm not particularly nostalgic for that time, I don't think, but I also don't recall it being quite as fraught as is our current time. That surely could be selective memory on my part, I guess, but I can't imagine that in 26 years, if I'm still alive (and can still remember anything) I'll look back on the Bush Era without a great deal of pain about what we were forced to go through. (I'm hopeful that, at that future time, the Bush Damages will have finally been repaired.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/03/2006 04:02:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The inside story

Once again, Digby is my man person; he speaks for me:
I have been following politics for a long while and, believe it or not, by temperament I'm fairly low key. (Some might say I'm dead inside.) I was a fervent 70's reformer and a strong anti-Reaganite, but even then I can't say that I was particularly rabid in my beliefs. It was never my personal style to be a bombthrower.

I suspect that many others who are engaged in the netroots like me became radicalized in their 30's and 40's by a Republican Party that started to behave as an openly undemocratic institution. Why so many of these establishment Democrats and insider press corps aren't exercised by this after what we've seen, I can't imagine. Perhaps they just can't see the forest for the trees. This past decade has not been business as usual.

History has many examples of societies that enabled radical political factions to dominate, through inertia, cynicism or plain intimidation. It happened in Europe in the 25 years before I was born and almost destroyed the whole planet. I know it's unfashionably hysterical to be concerned about such things, but I have never believed that America was so "exceptional" that it couldn't happen here.

The stakes are incredibly high. Without the cold war polarity, the US has bigger responsibilities than ever. And instead of behaving like a mature democracy and world leader, we have been alternating from adolescent tabloid obsessives to playground bullies. This is serious business.

The center-left blogosphere may sound overwrought, but in fact it is a rational, clear-headed response to what has been happening --- and continues to happen as this country's political establishemt fiddles and fulminates about civility.

This is as good a time as any to say something I've been meaning to say for a while: for me, personally, one of the worst consequences of the right-wing take-over of the Republican party, and the Republican take-over of the Federal government is the amount of vitriol and near-hatred the terrible things they have done to this country have provoked in me.

I didn't used to despise so many people before as I do now, and I really dislike it that I do. Not that I don't believe that my feelings aren't justified -- I think they're very justified -- but such levels of vitriolic unhappiness are basically unnatural to me.

Back in Nixon's day, I really thought he was awful, but I didn't feel about him as intensely as I do about Bush and Cheney and DeLay and Lott and Coulter and Harris and too, too many others. I thought Nixon was a bad man, an unprincipled and dangerous man, but I didn't necessarily think that everyone around him was bad (although many surely were) and my level of dislike didn't work its way up to the really visceral disgust that I have for Bush and company, the kind of revulsion that twists your gut and keeps you up at night and causes you to ask your doctor for something to ease the tension.

It's terrible feeling this way, and, frankly, I don't think it's my fault. I didn't want to hate them like this, they made me hate them by doing all the terrible things that they do, and by continuing to do those kinds of things, and by the continuing revelations of even more things they're doing and intend to keep doing.

And to add to it, I'm fully aware that statements very similar to these were made by the anti-Clintonistas to justify their unwarranted hatred of Bill Clinton -- the difference being, of course, that their "facts" have turned out to be mostly fantasies (some of them quite sick), and our facts are based in the bitter reality we wake up and face every morning: meaningless deaths in an unprovoked and unnecessary war, the continuing erosion of civil liberties in favor of centralized authoritarianism, an economy that keeps on "getting better" all the time without helping everyday people thrive, or even just get through their lives, and so on and so on and so forth, the familiar litany of death, destruction, retrenchment and rollback caused by Bush and Cheney and their policies and programs.

There seems to be no end to it -- we've still got years of the Bush administration to go, and no end to their misdeeds in sight. The chances of taking back Congress are certainly better than they once were, but I'm not buying into the hope quite yet, since I couldn't stand to have it dashed again by the brutal reality of yet another thuggish Republican victory.

So, please, excuse me when I rant, and pardon me when my intense repugnance for the brigands who have hijacked our country gets the better of me. I know that I shouldn't feel these feelings, but I can't help myself -- I've been pushed into a corner and kicked in the gut one too many times.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/02/2006 10:25:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Cato: Bush's power surge

The libertarian Cato Institute has published a new study by Gene Healy and Timothy Lynch, Power Surge: The Constitutional Record of George W. Bush:
With five years of the Bush administration behind us, we have more than enough evidence to make an assessment about the president's commitment to our fundamental legal charter

Unfortunately, far from defending the Constitution, President Bush has repeatedly sought to strip out the limits the document places on federal power. In its official legal briefs and public actions, the Bush administration has advanced a view of federal power that is astonishingly broad, a view that includes
  • a federal government empowered to regulate core political speech—and restrict it greatly when it counts the most: in the days before a federal election;

  • a president who cannot be restrained, through validly enacted statutes, from pursuing any tactic he believes to be effective in the war on terror;

  • a president who has the inherent constitutional authority to designate American citizens suspected of terrorist activity as "enemy combatants," strip them of any constitutional protection, and lock them up without charges for the duration of the war on terror— in other words, perhaps forever; and

  • a federal government with the power to supervise virtually every aspect of American life, from kindergarten, to marriage, to the grave.

President Bush's constitutional vision is, in short, sharply at odds with the text, history, and structure of our Constitution, which authorizes a government of limited powers.

In general, I'm not the world's biggest fan of libertarianism, (see, for instance here) especially as espoused by the Libertarian party, since it refuses to recognize that corporate power will inevitably overwhelm individual liberties if left unchecked by the countervailing force of governmental regulation (in other words, Libertarians see the real danger of Big Government, but cannot, because of their ideology, see that Big Business is equally dangerous), but I think we see here much of the core common ground between libertarianism and liberalism.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/02/2006 09:25:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


One thousand days

A thousand days is just about how much time is left in George Bush's presidency. (Actually, there are 995 days left as of today -- his term runs until January 20, 2009.)

Just to give you a comparison, John F. Kennedy was in office just 1037 days.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/02/2006 05:18:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, May 01, 2006

The root of The Blackout

[updated below]

I think that a primary cause of the obvious attempt to downplay, or even ignore, the Colbert speech at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, is that the Political and Media Establishments approach the Colbert performance on the assumption that the Correspondents Dinner is a time for light-heartedness, playful ribbing of the powers the be, with the powerful responding in kind, poking fun at themselves -- and that's a legitimate point of view in normal times, when the status quo reigns, there's peace in the land, and people are doing OK for themselves. What the mainstream media (and much of the opposition party as well) seems to be unable to understand is that these are not normal times, these are dire circumstances, and because of that, Colbert's routine was supremely appropriate.

After all, you've got an administration that's relentlessly moving us away from democracy and towards a (semi-elected) dictatorship, you've got one party in control of the entire mechanism of government, the degrading of checks and balances to almost nothing, a war begun on the basis of lies and deceit that's going nowhere except towards inevitable failure, with the specter of another one to be ginned up whenever it's politically expedient to do so, you've got an economy that's been pre-rigged for the benefit of big corporations and the rich and powerful while wages stagnate and gas prices soar, and you've got a government that seems determined to fail as often and as publicly as possible to undermine the public's trust. That's not normal times, in my book that's dire circumstances, and requires an entirely different norm of behavior.

That the media obviously doesn't see that is a very significant part of the problem. That, at this late date, they're still willing to shill for the status quo by covering up inconvenient and unpleasant truths, and can't bring themselves to see the chaos that's been unleashed doesn't bode well to me for things to change anytime soon. You have to wonder what, exactly, it will take for them to see the darkness that surrounds us.

Update: Welcome to those coming over from The Moderate Voice -- please stay a couple of minutes and take a look around unfutz.

Just to be clear about one thing, I don't think there was a deliberate conspiracy of the type where media bosses sit around the table, or talk to each other by phone, and decide to blackout the Colbert routine -- that would be ludicrous. I don't even think there was a "conspiracy" in the narrow and technical legal sense, where one part of the web of conspirators doesn't know what the other part is doing. No, if there was a "conspiracy" it was totally in a metaphorical sense, and it was prompted by the attitudes and beliefs of those who run the mainstream media and shape the Conventional Wisdom. Colbert's routine breached the norms of behavior for those folks who patrol the boundaries of the status quo, and so, as a matter of etiquette as much as anything else, it was ignored.

More thoughts on Colbert here and here.

Addenda: Thank you Stephen Colbert

Update: On his Salon blog, Scott Rosenberg makes the same points I made in my reply to Nathanael's comment:
Evaluating this event on laugh-meter scores is absurd -- it's just one more way of marginalizing and dismissing what actually happened that night. Just for a moment, Colbert brought a heavily sheltered President Bush face to face with the outrage and revulsion that large swathes of the American public feel for him and what he has done to our country. He did so at an event in which a certain level of jovial kidding is sanctioned, but he stepped far beyond. His caricature of a right-wing media toady relied on irony, and irony rarely elicits belly laughs, but at its best, it provokes doubt and incites questions. The ultimate goal of Colbert's routine was not to make you laugh but to make you think; it aimed not to tickle but to puncture.

In that sense, those observers who have criticized Colbert for being rude to the president are absolutely right. As I wrote yesterday, the performance was a deliberate act of lese majeste. That means it was meant to pop the balloon of protective ritual around Bush and let reality in, so we can see him -- along with those in the press who have been complicit with him -- for what he is.

Inside the Beltway, humor is supposed to be disarming, "humanizing." Ever since Richard Nixon appeared on "Laugh-in" and said "Sock it to me!," suggesting that he was not quite the conservative gorgon that he seemed to be, politicians have wanted to use comedy as a prop in their own campaigns of self-promotion. But that's a late-20th-century degradation of comedy. There's an older tradition -- stretching back to the commedia dell'arte and beyond, into the medieval court and its "all-licensed" fools -- in which the comic seeks the discomfiture of the powerful.


So now we have the sad spectacle of the media desperately puffing air back into the popped balloon of the president's dignity, pretending that nothing happened. The Bush impersonator was funnier! cry the pundits. Colbert bombed! Well, they can sneer all they want about whether or not he slayed 'em in D.C. Out here in the reality-based community that increasingly encompasses the American electorate, Colbert hit his targets. And they will never look quite the same.

[Thanks to Jo Ann]

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/01/2006 09:30:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Some pictures need no caption

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/01/2006 06:11:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


President dissed at dinner

Prompted by a comment on Josh Marshall's site, I was going to write this myself, but had to pause to pick up my son from school. Commmenter theorajones did it for me in a response on Political Animal.

Apparently, not all incidents where comedians skewer a sitting President at the White House Correspondents' Dinner are considered by the media to be equal:
When Imus gave the Clintons a hard time [at the 1996 dinner], it was VERY well publicized.

Here is a link to no fewer than FOUR articles on it in the NY Times alone (one of which cites the "flash flood of publicity" Imus created with his remarks).

Not only were his comments widely reported and widely repeated, I remember people saying he'd only done it b/c he was emboldened by a simmering resentment that the "heartland" felt toward Clinton. Which is outright hilarous when you compare Clinton's approval ratings to Bush's. And it does lead me to wonder why no reporter suggested Colbert's dramatic monologue was likewise emboldened by the people's simmering dissatisfaction?

In Washington, it appears the Democratic Presidents' coverage is shaped mostly by their detractors, and the Republicans' is shaped mostly by their supporters. For both Presidents, only occasionally does reality become too obvious to ignore and influence the reporting more than these two other forces.

It's amazing to compare, on every level, Imus's fallout to Colbert's.

Peter Daou and Chris Durang on the Colbert Blackout. Michael Scherer in Salon on the performance itself.

Update: More thoughts on the Great Blackout of 2006 here.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/01/2006 05:02:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Running out

Multi-tasking can create some strange mental associations. Surfing the blogs and thinking about Karl Rove testifying in front of the grand jury for the fourth or fifth time, while watching Max von Sydow interrogate George Segal in The Quiller Memorandum on TCM, while at the same time trying to stop the broken top of my laptop with the two broken hinges from falling down or falling over while I type, for some reason brought to mind the scene in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in which Jim Prideaux (Ian Bannen) talks to George Smiley (Alec Guiness) about being interrogated by the Russians:
"You don't break exactly, you just run out of stories to tell."

I think the same kind of thing happens with the public and politicians: it's not so much that they hit a tipping point and all of a sudden have a revelation that causes them not to trust a politician, it's more that they just gradually stop believing, stop caring, and run out of trust. Although the polls of Bush's approval rating may never go much lower than where they are now, or perhaps a few points lower, I think the public has stopped believing in Bush, stopped caring about what he says, and they no longer trust him, or his cohorts.

Erratum: Corrected the name of the character who spoke the quoted line.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/01/2006 04:55:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Heinlein saw clearly

On Talk to Action Lorie Johnson takes a look at Robert Heinlein's take on relgion and politics in America. The post quotes Heinlein, from Revolt in 2100, originally published in 1953:
As for the second notion, the idea that we could lose our freedom by succumbing to a wave of religious hysteria, I am sorry to say that I consider it possible. I hope that it is not probable. But there is a latent deep strain of religious fanaticism in this, our culture; it is rooted in our history and it has broken out many times in the past. It is with us now; there has been a sharp rise in strongly evangelical sects in this country in recent years, some of which hold beliefs theocratic in the extreme, anti-intellectual, anti-scientific, and anti-libertarian.


Could any one sect obtain a working majority at the polls and take over the country? Perhaps not - but a combination of a dynamic evangelist, television, enough money, and modern techniques of advertising and propaganda might make Billy Sunday's efforts look like a corner store compared to Sears Roebuck. Throw in a depression for good measure, promise a material heaven here on earth, add a dash of anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, anti-Negroism, and a good large dose of anti-"furriners" in general and anti-intellectuals here at home and the result might be something quite frightening - particularly when one recalls that our voting system is such that a minority distributed as pluralities in enough states can constitute a working majority in Washington.

Read the rest here.

[via A Rational Being]

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/01/2006 04:29:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Where's the eats?

Operating in the real world as a great power is not a business for the overly fastidious. But if you are going to use the argument that making a successful geopolitical omelet requires breaking eggs, you'd better have something edible to show for all the shattered shells lying around.
Anatol Lieven
"Depose and Conquer"
New York Times Book Review (4/16/2006)

[A review of Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq by Stephen Kinzer]

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/01/2006 03:14:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Bush getting gas

From an article in the New York Times about gas prices, this county-by-county map:

Compare that to this county-by-county map of the 2004 election (the so-called "purple map":

I'm not saying they're exactly the same, but they are clearly some interesting correlations. This may have something to do with it, from Pollkatz:

Update: A Rational Being notices the same suggestive pattern.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/30/2006 11:25:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Rx: Shut them down

[updated below]

Charlie Savage, reporting in the Boston Globe:
President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.

Among the laws Bush said he can ignore are military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration services problems, ''whistle-blower" protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research.

Legal scholars say the scope and aggression of Bush's assertions that he can bypass laws represent a concerted effort to expand his power at the expense of Congress, upsetting the balance between the branches of government. The Constitution is clear in assigning to Congress the power to write the laws and to the president a duty ''to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Bush, however, has repeatedly declared that he does not need to ''execute" a law he believes is unconstitutional.

Former administration officials contend that just because Bush reserves the right to disobey a law does not mean he is not enforcing it: In many cases, he is simply asserting his belief that a certain requirement encroaches on presidential power.

But with the disclosure of Bush's domestic spying program, in which he ignored a law requiring warrants to tap the phones of Americans, many legal specialists say Bush is hardly reluctant to bypass laws he believes he has the constitutional authority to override.

Far more than any predecessor, Bush has been aggressive about declaring his right to ignore vast swaths of laws -- many of which he says infringe on power he believes the Constitution assigns to him alone as the head of the executive branch or the commander in chief of the military.

Many legal scholars say they believe that Bush's theory about his own powers goes too far and that he is seizing for himself some of the law-making role of Congress and the Constitution-interpreting role of the courts.

Phillip Cooper, a Portland State University law professor who has studied the executive power claims Bush made during his first term, said Bush and his legal team have spent the past five years quietly working to concentrate ever more governmental power into the White House.

''There is no question that this administration has been involved in a very carefully thought-out, systematic process of expanding presidential power at the expense of the other branches of government," Cooper said. ''This is really big, very expansive, and very significant."

For the first five years of Bush's presidency, his legal claims attracted little attention in Congress or the media. Then, twice in recent months, Bush drew scrutiny after challenging new laws: a torture ban and a requirement that he give detailed reports to Congress about how he is using the Patriot Act.

Bush administration spokesmen declined to make White House or Justice Department attorneys available to discuss any of Bush's challenges to the laws he has signed.

Instead, they referred a Globe reporter to their response to questions about Bush's position that he could ignore provisions of the Patriot Act. They said at the time that Bush was following a practice that has ''been used for several administrations" and that ''the president will faithfully execute the law in a manner that is consistent with the Constitution."

But the words ''in a manner that is consistent with the Constitution" are the catch, legal scholars say, because Bush is according himself the ultimate interpretation of the Constitution. And he is quietly exercising that authority to a degree that is unprecedented in US history.

Bush is the first president in modern history who has never vetoed a bill, giving Congress no chance to override his judgments. Instead, he has signed every bill that reached his desk, often inviting the legislation's sponsors to signing ceremonies at which he lavishes praise upon their work.

Then, after the media and the lawmakers have left the White House, Bush quietly files ''signing statements" -- official documents in which a president lays out his legal interpretation of a bill for the federal bureaucracy to follow when implementing the new law. The statements are recorded in the federal register.

In his signing statements, Bush has repeatedly asserted that the Constitution gives him the right to ignore numerous sections of the bills -- sometimes including provisions that were the subject of negotiations with Congress in order to get lawmakers to pass the bill. He has appended such statements to more than one of every 10 bills he has signed.


The courts have little chance of reviewing Bush's assertions, especially in the secret realm of national security matters.

''There can't be judicial review if nobody knows about it," said Neil Kinkopf, a Georgia State law professor who was a Justice Department official in the Clinton administration. ''And if they avoid judicial review, they avoid having their constitutional theories rebuked."

Without court involvement, only Congress can check a president who goes too far. But Bush's fellow Republicans control both chambers, and they have shown limited interest in launching the kind of oversight that could damage their party.

''The president is daring Congress to act against his positions, and they're not taking action because they don't want to appear to be too critical of the president, given that their own fortunes are tied to his because they are all Republicans," said Jack Beermann, a Boston University law professor. ''Oversight gets much reduced in a situation where the president and Congress are controlled by the same party."

Said Golove, the New York University law professor: ''Bush has essentially said that 'We're the executive branch and we're going to carry this law out as we please, and if Congress wants to impeach us, go ahead and try it.' "

Bruce Fein, a deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration, said the American system of government relies upon the leaders of each branch ''to exercise some self-restraint." But Bush has declared himself the sole judge of his own powers, he said, and then ruled for himself every time.

''This is an attempt by the president to have the final word on his own constitutional powers, which eliminates the checks and balances that keep the country a democracy," Fein said. ''There is no way for an independent judiciary to check his assertions of power, and Congress isn't doing it, either. So this is moving us toward an unlimited executive power."

Constitution? We don't need no stinking Constitution!

Jacob G. Hornberger objects:

No one can deny that we now live in a country in which the ruler has the omnipotent power to send the entire nation into war on his own initiative. To use the president’s words, when it comes to declaring and waging war against another country, he’s the “decider.”

It wasn’t always that way. The Constitution brought into existence a government in which the powers to declare war and wage war were vested in two separate branches of the government. While the president had the power to wage war, he was prohibited from exercising it without a declaration of war from Congress.

The idea behind the Constitution itself was that a free society necessarily entails restrictions on the power of the government, especially its ruler.

Yet we now live in a nation in which the president has the omnipotent power to ignore all constitutional restraints on his power. That might not be the way the president and his legal advisors put it, but that is the practical effect of what they are saying to justify his powers. They effectively claim that the Constitution vests the president – as military commander in chief during the “war on terrorism” – with such extraordinary powers that he is able to ignore restraints on his powers imposed both by the Constitution and by Congress.

No restraints on declaring and waging war against other nations. No restraints on the power to secretly record telephone conversations of the American people. No restraints on the power to kidnap and send people into overseas concentration camps for the purpose of torture and even execution. No restraints on the power to take Americans into custody as “enemy combatants” and punish them – even torture and execute them – without due process of law and jury trials.

If all that isn’t dictatorship, what is?

This is a large part of the damages I keep referrring to, the ineffable harm that's been done to us by Bush and Cheney, the first Yoo Doctrine Presidency. It's up to us to insure that there won't be others.

We'll see what happens as a result of all the corruption investigations current ongoing, whether they will break the back of the right-wing control of the Republican Party, but, given the care and effort that's been put into gaining that control, I rather doubt that will be the case. Slightly more likely, and possibly the best thing that could happen for us, is that the Republican Party will die, and be replaced by a new, and more moderate center-right coalition party. If the Democratic Party is able to regain power between now and 2008, they really should start thinking in terms of doing everything possible to help that implosion happen.

Certainly, it would be a mistake for the Democrats to blithely return to a policy of business-as-once-usual bipartisan cooperation, which would only help to allow those people who've been responsible for shutting out the Democrats to stay in power. It'll be hard for those who have been around for a long time, and remember when it was possible to work across the aisle to get things done, but the Democrats, if they regain power, ought to consider shutting down the Republican Party as much as possible, just totally starve them -- not in retribution (although that would certainly be deserved), but because the Republican Party has, in fact, become an outlaw organization, opposed to the precepts of the Constitution, and profoundly un-American in its philosophy and actions.

Republicans who consider themselves moderates, and who don't subscribe to the ideology of usurping the Constitution which now animates their party, ought to get out now, or be subject to the same prescription. A moderate who's with us when we don't need them is a useless thing, not worthy of having our contempt withheld.

I'm surely aware that charges such as these are very strong, but the situation we're in is, in fact, dire, and getting worse. Over a thousand days to go, too much time.

[Thanks to BayWife and Peggy]

Update: Glenn Greenwald:

It is not uncommon for a President to refrain from executing a law which he believes, and states, is unconstitutional. Other Presidents have invoked that doctrine, although Bush has done so far more aggressively and frequently. But what is uncommon - what is entirely unprecedented - is that the administration's theories of its own power arrogate unto itself not just the right to refrain from enforcing such laws, but to act in violation of those laws, to engage in the very conduct which those laws criminalize, and they do so secretly and deceitfully, after signing the law and pretending that they are engaged in the democratic process. That is why the President has never bothered to veto a law -- why bother to veto laws when you have the power to violate them at will?

I have pointed out many times before that scandals which harm or bring down a presidency do not develop overnight. Americans have to really be persuaded that there is serious and deliberate wrongdoing in order to demand that meaningful action be taken. But that is clearly starting to happen, and the Globe and Charlie Savage should be congratulated for that rarest of acts -- journalists who are fulfilling their journalistic purpose by informing Americans as to what this government really is doing.


At what point does this country begin to recognise that we are in the midst of a constitutional crisis?


Something is very wrong with our political system. And part of what is wrong is the political press corpse who are so insular and socially embedded with the players that they can't see how this looks to us rubes outside the beltway.

I'm grateful that at least some reporters are coming around on this story. It's long overdue (although I suspect that the administration's antipathy for unapproved leaks might have something to do with it) But you really have to wonder why they were so rabidly and openly anti-Clinton, to the point of trying to affirmatively help the Republicans drive him from office, while this time trying to extract promises that the Democrats won't hold Bush accountable for anything he has done.

Today we are in a real constitutional crisis and it seems the press are only belatedly beginning to focus. And, once again, the American people are way ahead of these elitist snobs who always seem to misjudge what they really care about.

Both Digby and Greenwald mention Stephen Colbert's scathing routine at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, and what Billmon has to say about it is right on point:

Like its upscale sibling, the annual Gridiron Club dinner, the White House Correspondents dinner is a ritual designed, at least implicitly, to showcase the underlying unity of our Beltway elites. It's supposed to demonstrate that no matter how ferocious their battles may appear on the surface, political opponents can still gather in the same room and break bread, with the corporate media acting as the properly neutral host. It's a relic of the good old days of centrism and bipartisan log rolling ("the end of ideology"), visible proof that in the American system, there may be enemies, but there are no mortal enemies. And so we last night we had Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame sitting at one table, Karl Rove at another, and no knives were drawn.

The light entertainment at these events is also supposed to reflect the same spirit of forced good cheer, to the point where even matters of deadly seriousness -- things that in other countries might cause governments to fall -- are treated like inside jokes, as with Shrub's looking-for-the-missing-WMDs-under-the-couch routine. Ha ha ha. We're all friends here!

The underlying message, never stated or even acknowledged, is that there are no disputes that can't be resolved within the cozy confines of our "democratic" (oligarchic) system. Friends don't send friends to jail -- or smash their presses or abolish their political parties or line them up against the wall and shoot them.

The problem is that the tissue of this particular lie has been eroding ever since the Clinton impeachment, if not before, and is now worn exceedingly thin. It's becoming harder and harder to conceal the ruthlessness of the struggle for power, or ignore the consequences of losing it.

There were people at last night's dinner who really could end up in jail -- depending on Patrick Fitzgerald's theory of the case and/or the results of the next two elections. Things have been done over the past five years that can't be undone; crimes committed that can't be uncommitted. If Colbert faced a tough crowd last night, it was probably because so many of them understand that the Cheneyites and the Rovians really are rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenberg, and that if the airship goes down in flames their own window seats are going to get pretty toasty. Jobs are at stake. Careers could be at stake. For all we know lives could be at stake.

So this is what I've been writing (for instance here), and the reason I took the step of suggesting that if the Democrats gat back into power they ought to treat the Republicans like pariahs, an outcast party:

The rules have changed.
There are some Democrats in power who seem to get it, that it's not the same-old same-old they've been used to, but others are clearly clueless, and need some serious education about what's been done to them, and to us.

Update: Jack Balkin:
Bush has already adopted President Nixon's view that if the President authorizes something, it isn't illegal, despite what the text of the law says. Now Bush has taken the converse position that if the President doesn't agree with legislation, even legislation that he signs, it isn't law. Together, these two attitudes are deeply corrosive of the Rule of Law and move us down the path to a dictatorial conception of Presidential power-- that is, the conception that the President on his own may dictate what is and what is not law, rather than the President merely being the person in constitutional system entrusted with faithful implementation and enforcement of the law.

And to think we worried about the "Imperial Presidency" under Nixon. Little did we know that was just a dry run for the real thing, the Yoo-Doctrine Imperium.

Update: Greenwald has further thoughts in a comment:

That has been one of the most eye-opening aspects of having this blog - when you point out that the President is violating various laws, his defenders will come and argue that the laws he is violating aren't very good laws - as though the President should be able to unilaterally break whatever laws he doesn't like and then argue afterwards that the laws he violated were bad laws.

Thus, the President is going to violate the Patriot Act's reporting provisions because those reporting provisions shouldn't have been in that law. It's truly amazing how commonplace that argument has become - they don't seem to realize that they are endorsing a form of authoritarian anarchy by defneding it.

I'd say that many defenders at the blog-comment level aren't aware of it, but that the Big Boys who defend it at the Mainstream Pundit Level and above completely understand what it is they're supporting.

Update: More thoughts on Colbert here and here.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/30/2006 10:38:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


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