Saturday, April 18, 2009

How Big a Hack is The Politico's Mike Allen?

In his blog post for today's Salon, Glenn Greenwald gives The Politico's Mike Allen about as bad a journalistic drubbing as you'll ever see.

The initial stimulus to the controversy was Greenwald's criticism of Allen for letting a Bush administration figure make anonymous criticisms of Obama.

But Allen's hackery wouldn't be worth noticing if he had just stopped there. But Allen wrote in a reply to Greenwald that the still anonymous Bush official had e-mailed him an incendiary criticism of Obama without even asking for anonymity. At that point, Allen asked the Bush official if he could quote the e-mail and the Bush official declined because it would make him look bad to be so critical of our very popular president.
According to him, all Bush officials other than Karl Rove and Dick Cheney are too cowardly to criticize Barack Obama on the record -- "They have new careers, and they know it’s a fight they’ll never win. He’s popular; they’re not; they get it" -- so what is a poor reporter like him to do other than agree to anonymity?

What are they scared of? Is criticizing Obama going to keep them from getting jobs with the Republican Party? Apparently agreeing that he didn't want to make the Bush official look "so" bad, Allen let the e-mail be quoted anonymously. In other words, Allen had a "story" of an incendiary e-mail from a former high official in the Bush administration and deluted the story because he felt sorry for the guy.

Give me a break!

But it gets worse. Allen had to write this little gem in his reply to Greenwald (Quoted from Greenwald's Salon post):
I figured that readers could decide whether the former Bush official’s comments sounded defensive or vindictive. . . . So at the bottom of the Axelrod story, I tacked on an ellipsized excerpt of the former Bush official’s quotes, removing several ad hominem attacks on Obama. I quoted less than half of the comment and took out the most incendiary parts -- a way to hint at the opposing view without giving an anonymous source free rein.

Let me translate this into a plainer version of the King's English. Seemingly still feeling sorry for the former Bushie, Mike Allen redacted more than "half of the comment and took out the most incendiary parts" as a way to make the Bush official look like less of an asshole. That way, the "readers could decide whether the former Bush official's comments sounded defensive or vindictive" because he himself had edited out all the material that made the vindictiveness of the Bush official obvious.

I guess my title was misstated. A real hack would have left in the juicy parts of the Bush official's comments as a way to titillate the reader. Mike Allen was so invested in protecting this Bush official that he couldn't bring himself up to the hack level.

What an embarrassment!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Inside Steve Bradbury's Crime Against Humanity

Tonight, I was reading in one of the recently released torture memos, the May 10, 2005 memo from Steven Bradbury to John Rizzo, Deputy General Counsel of the CIA entitled "Techniques That May Be Used in the Interrogation of High Value Detainees."

I'm not a lawyer but it seems obvious that Bradbury's memo is itself a crime against humanity in that it authorizes waterboarding, hosing people down, sleep deprivation, stress positions, enclosed spaces, and other forms of torture for suspected terrorists.

According to Bradbury, Congress defines torture in this manner:

In defining the federal crime of'torture, Congress required that a defendant "intend to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering," and Congress narrowly defined "severe mental pain or suffering" to mean "the prolonged mental harm caused by" enumerated predicate acts, including "the threat of imminent death" and "procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality."

Torture is also listed as a "crime against humanity" under Article 7(1) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. In this sense, Bradbury's memo would be a crime against humanity because it authorizes and justifies the use of practices that fall under the legal definition of torture.

As Bradbury describes them within the memo, the CIA's "intensive" interrogations obviously fall within the definition of torture as "inflicting severe physical or mental pain or suffering" on suspected terrorists. Despite Bradbury's arguments to the contrary, causing "severe mental pain or suffering" is the manifest intent of all those interrogation techniques.

Two points.

What I found chilling about Bradbury's justifications of these techniques is that they took the reader "inside" the carrying out of American war crimes. There was a tremendous amount of detail about how Americans tortured prisoners and almost no balancing information about the background of 9-11, the need for information, or any information actually obtained from the prisoners. It was all war crimes all the time.

The second point is that the entire rhetorical force of Bradbury's document was geared toward creating sympathy for the torturers. In this sense, Bradbury's memo was equivalent of an insider's "how to" manual for mob hits, drug murders, lynchings, and other heinous crimes in that it sought to get the reader to identify with extremely horrible acts.

As a result, Bradbury's whole document conveyed a fetid, rotting sensation of trafficking in sweat, pain, and despair. I have to admit that I'm not a good enough writer to convey my whole sense of disgust with Bradbury's memo. I guess the bottom line was that it made me embarrassed to be a human being let alone an American.

That Catchy New Republican Slogan: *%#@ the Republican Party

Matt Cooper argues in Talking Points Memo that the Republicans should let Al Franken be seated out of their own self-interest. That's because the Republicans have failed to find a viable target for their attack-dog politics and Franken is an inviting target.
Franken is arechetypical Republican villain. His name has such an infuriating effect on the GOP that he could be just what they need in an age where the villains are lame. Franken, a friend of mine who I like a lot, is, O'Reilly aside, is I think a basically temperate and smart guy despite his role as a provocateur and comedian. He really didn't give the GOP much to work with in the 2008 campaign; they had to dig up his comedic past to really nail him. But he's the perfect foil for Republicans and conservatives. If Coleman wins, Republicans will have one more senate vote but they will have lost the kind of Democrat they instinctually love to hate.
Despite the left credential that comes from working with TPM, Cooper is basically an out-of-touch mainstream media guy. When was the last time that anyone remembers the Republican Party leadership acting in its own self-interest. As the various versions of conservatism have become less and less popular, Republican leadership on all levels has been ever more adamant about appealing to their shrinking activist base. While promoting the surge policy in Iraq, Dick Cheney was emphatic that "We didn't get elected to be popular. We didn't get elected to worry about the fate of the Republican Party." Now "Fuck the Republican Party" has practically become the mantra of everybody associated with the Republican Party.

In other words, the Republican leadership is not going to give in or compromise on Al Franken--or anything else.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Tea Parties: A Bottom Line

Success vs SUCCESS. I have to admit that I wasn't as put out as a lot of left-wing people by all the anti-Obama tea parties. Street theater is not exactly the most effective politics in the world, but I've done some ineffective street politics myself and it's certainly a lot better than joining a militia, going on a killing spree in a liberal church, or pulling a Rich Poplawski and ambushing a bunch of cops.

So, I was glad to see the tea parties happen and I think everybody on the left should be glad to see people on the right have such a healthy and harmless outlet for their views.

There's a certain way in which the numbers tell the story of the tea parties. I've seen estimates of 2,000 anti-Obama tea parties and claims that 184,000 people attended. Estimates for the largest crowds were for 4,000 and came from Cincinnati and Lansing, Michigan. Only a few hundred attended in Boston. There weren't any tea parties announced for my home town of Morehead, KY.

And there's some significance to the lack of a tea party here.

I wouldn't discount the tea party turnout at all. All in all, getting 100,000 people to do anything in politics is very good. Certainly, the tea parties were a success.

However, it's useful to measure the success of the tea parties against the appeal of Barack Obama. My town of Morehead, KY has a population of about 11,000 when the college is in session. If Barack Obama showed up completely unannounced to speak in Morehead, he would draw more than 4,000 people to a speech just on word of mouth. Obama is far more popular than Bill Clinton but Clinton drew a crowd of about 4,000 to a 2008 campaign speech on one day's notice. Actually, six hundred people gathered when Clinton stopped at a Dairy Queen in Flemingsburg, KY (population, 3,000) on his way to Morehead.

And Obama only won this relatively liberal county in the very red, rural, state of Kentucky by 500 votes. Just think how many people Obama would draw in urban areas like Boston, New York, Philly, or Miami if he came to an event that was as much anticipated or highly publicized as these tea parties. The numbers would be in the tens if not the hundreds of thousands.

It's a sad fact of conservative life. Even when they have successful events, they're still dwarfed by the charisma and popularity of Barack Obama.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

It Looks Like Newt's Gearing Up for 2012

The right-wing magazine Newsmax has an article today on a possible Newt Gingrich presidential candidacy in 2012.
Gingrich has managed to keep himself in the public eye since leaving the House, but the blitz of public appearances in recent months is reminiscent of the run-up to 2007, when he toyed with a presidential run only to abandon it before the primaries began. Now, some are speculating that the former congressman from Georgia is laying the groundwork for a White House bid in 2012.
Why not?

Newt's smart, he has a lot of big ideas (just ask him), and he's good at identifying issues that play well for Republicans. Gingrich was behind the "Drill Here, Drill Now" slogan that temporarily played well for Republicans during the 2008 campaign. Newt is also popular with activists and would be the most prominent candidate of the conservative wing of the Republican Party. Of course, conservative activists found out in 2008 that they're not a majority of the Republican Party when they couldn't defeat John McCain. But Gingrich doesn't need a majority. He might be expected to pull down as much as 30-35% of the primary vote and that would be enough to win the early states comfortably and nail down the nomination by February or March of 2012.

I'm sure Gingrich has already made this calculation. That's why he's "out there hustling" according to Grover Norquist and also why he's on "nearly every Republican short list" for the 2012 nomination.

Newt's main weakness is that non-conservatives dislike him. In 2007, his unfavorability ratings were over 40% and were up as high as 56% during the 1995 budget debacle. Of course, that means that the Obama camp isn't exactly shaking in their boots at the thought of running against Gingrich. But it need not matter in running for the Republican nomination. Like George Bush, Gingrich is popular among Republicans despite unpopular with everybody else. Moreover, it's not like Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal, or Mark Sanford have all that much appeal themselves.

Gingrich wouldn't have much chance of beating Obama in a general campaign, but he would be a viable "bridge" candidate until the next generation of Republicans is ready for serious presidential bids.

Do I hear a "Run, Newt, Run" chant?

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Religious Right Wasn't Winning in the Eighties Either

James Dobson has gotten a lot of belated attention for saying that the religious right had lost the culture wars in his farewell address to the staff of Focus on the Family.

James Dobson, 72, who resigned recently as head of Focus on the Family - one of the largest Christian groups in the country - and once denounced the Harry Potter books as witchcraft, acknowledged the dramatic reverse for the religious Right in a farewell speech to staff.

“We tried to defend the unborn child, the dignity of the family, but it was a holding action,” he said.
“We are awash in evil and the battle is still to be waged. We are right now in the most discouraging period of that long conflict. Humanly speaking, we can say we have lost all those battles.”

The religious right definitely knows losing. Having been born in the lost battle of Southern white evangelicals against racial integration, the religious right has lost its battles over school prayer, abortion rights, popular culture, and gay civil rights. They're still fighting a rearguard actions against gay marriage rights and teaching evolutionary theory to high school students. However, people like Dobson sense that they're failing there as well.

And they are.

That's why Dobson claims we're "awash in evil." He thinks that the ability of women and gay people to live freely, the fact that kids can go to school without being forced into religious exercises, and the teaching of contemporary science are all manifest evils. It's hard to see much difference between Dobson's opinion of America and Osama bin Laden's. They both think we're a decadent, evil country.

But Dobson consoles himself that the religious right did make progress during the 1980's.
The battles that we fought in the Eighties now, we were victorious in many of those conflicts with the culture, trying to defend righteousness, trying to defend the unborn child, trying to preserve the dignity of the family and the definition of marriage. We fought all those battles and really it was a holding action.
But that's nonsense. The religious right wasn't winning in the 1980's either. Yes, Ronald Reagan got elected, but the religious right wasn't able to "preserve the dignity of the family" against pre-marital sex, divorce, drug use, rebellious children, or any of the other phenomena of sixties cultural turmoil. College students didn't have any problem getting high, getting laid, and then going out and campaigning for Reagan. Moreover, the right of American women to get abortions was just as broad at the end of the eighties as it was at the beginning.

Kids weren't praying very much in public schools either.

But the real defeat for the religious right was on the issue of gay rights. After the initial panic over AIDS and the founding of gay advocacy groups, American society began a long, steady march toward fully recognizing the civil rights of gay people.

As was the case with the civil rights movement, bigots like James Dobson made it an ugly, vindictive, and often brutal battle. But the progress has been steady. People can now live openly as gay people who would have once felt constrained to remain closeted. Gay people can work in a lot of professions from which they were previously excluded and gay people are able to live much more openly in places like Morehead, KY or my home town of Waverly, NY.

That doesn't mean that there isn't a lot of homophobia, discrimination, and violence for gay people out there. I recently heard a terrifying and heartbreaking story about a young woman whose mother attacked her with a knife when she came out.

But more than enough progress has been made that even James Dobson can see that the side of bigotry, discrimination, and unprovoked violence is going to lose.

It's just that religious right was losing in the 80's as well as the 50's, 60's, 70's, 90's, and 00's. They've just always been losing.

Conservatives and the Authentic Obama

One of the things I found as a Hillary supporter during the Democratic primaries was that it is very difficult to get a handle on Barack Obama. Obama initially had cache on the left because of his early opposition to the war, but he also had a magic with moderate Democrats that I had a hard time understanding. Obama never quite fit the usual dichotomies. To give one example, when Obama started running, he was a relatively young guy for a presidential level politician and he played around with generational themes of displacing baby-boomers like Hillary (and myself). But I also view Obama as having a stern, fatherly quality that especially came through in talking about issues of responsibility. That makes him seem old in a way that Bill Clinton or George Bush will never be old.

So what was Obama, the young up and comer or the fogie waiting to get old. I never came up with an answer and the question seemed somehow awkward and irrelevant.

Not that anybody else did any better. Tons of ink were spilled by smart writers like Debra Dickerson trying to figure out whether Obama was not black enough, too black, or whether and how blackness figured into Obama's personal and political equation.

They got nowhere for the same reason I got nowhere. For some not quite definable reason, the black/not black dichotomy dichotomy wasn't applicable when applied to Barack Obama and there wasn't a good substitute for that dichotomy in thinking about Obama in relation to race.

Conservatives are having an even harder time nailing down Obama's personality and it's not just a matter of failing to attach the usual pejoratives to him. Obama definitely hasn't had a moment where he reveals the "weakness" that right-wingers see in all non-conservatives. Apparently, Obama did not kowtow to the Saudi king. He didn't show weakness with the Somali pirates. He hasn't backed down on Timothy Geithner's weird hybrid approach to the bank bailout either.

And this has left some political conservatives wondering if there is any real core to Obama. According to Rex Murphy of the Toronto Globe and Mail:
Of the many speeches Mr. Obama has made, which one has said to you this is him? This is the irreducible, essential Barack Obama - this is why he's in politics. You will find it a frustrating challenge: His statements blur into one another, no one speech distinguished by the authentic charge of words spoken from the deepest part of himself . . .

What are the most important issues for Mr. Obama? What are the cornerstone beliefs of this new President? What does he have "within which passes show"? He glides from one part of his mammoth agenda to the other, smooth, cool and charming all the way. But his effortless equanimity poses the question: If it were another agenda, a contrary agenda even, would he glide equally smooth, cool and charming over it? I don't think we know. He doesn't offer any real affective clues.
Having written about Obama's "cool androgyny" myself, I've experienced Murphy's uncertainty in dealing with Obama's "smooth, cool and charming" personality. Conservatives have a special problem with this though. The right has a taste for a politics of big, showy gestures that both reveal the core beliefs of a political actor and define the nature of a political moment. For conservatives, the biggest moment of Ronald Reagan's presidency was the gesture of calling on Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall." By doing so, Reagan defined both himself as an authentic conservative and champion of freedom and the real nature of the U.S./Soviet conflict at the end of the Cold War.

George Bush was forever in search of this kind of "perfect gesture" and tried to demonstrate his own authentic personality a number of times. His post-9-11 appearance with a bullhorn in New York, the "either you're with us or against us" speech, and all of the "dead or alive" and "mission accomplished" prattle were attempts for Bush to provide illumination concerning the inner Bush and the true nature of the war on terror.

None of it worked, but conservatives have a hunger for this kind of showy authenticity. This is one of the factors behind the Fred Thompson boomlet in 2007 and a big reason why conservatives were ultimately able to unite behind John McCain even though they thought he was a phony.

If there's anything McCain is good at, it's revealing his "authentic self" in dramatic ways.

With Obama, conservatives are always going to be very frustrated because he avoids using the bully pulpit of the presidency as a way to reveal his true nature.

As somebody who likes to have a grasp on people in leadership, I share that frustration.

But ultimately, the difficulty of pinpointing Obama's personality is a good thing. It means that all of us can focus on the extent to which his policies and actions measure up to the current demands of his position. It's somewhat of a mixed bag with me. I'm highly favorable toward Obama's foreign policy and domestic agenda in relation to health care, energy, and education, disagree with the Obama administration's policies on secrecy and the legal culpability of the Bush administration and am up in the air on the bank bailout. At the same time, I think Obama's doing a great job of measuring up to the full demands of the presidency in the post-Bush era. Given the tremendous damage the Bush administration did to American prestige and the governing capacity of the federal bureaucracy, the Obama administration has had to act on a large number of fronts at once and they've done an admirable job of stopping up many of the holes in the dykes.

And I suspect that one of the reasons Obama is doing so well is that he doesn't feel much of a need to show off his "authentic self."