Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Saturday, October 25, 2008

  Yet more evidence that McCain's judgment is suspect

Various reports about dissension within the stumbling Republican presidential campaign continue to trickle out. Anonymous insiders are whispering to reporters that relations between John McCain and Sarah Palin are growing ever more tense because of her "rogue" behavior. The tensions between the McCain and Palin factions probably go beyond standard-fare precriminations (as the principals to an impending political disaster seek to pin the blame on each other ahead of time). Repeatedly during the last month, as the Republicans' chances of victory grew dimmer, Palin has second-guessed McCain's decisions in public and contradicted his stated positions. Whether she's complaining that McCain pulled his funds out of Michigan, or pushing to expand the campaign's over-the-top attacks against Barack Obama's character, Palin appears to be intent on positioning herself so as to deflect all blame for the upcoming defeat back onto McCain. In other words, with an eye toward bolstering her own career Palin no sooner got the VP nomination than she broke faith with a man who'd wanted to be her political mentor ("I can't wait to introduce her to Washington!").

But the really curious thing is this: Why in the world does Palin's behavior come as a surprise to McCain? Or rather: What does McCain's failure to foresee it tell us about his personal judgment?

I'd have said that, given her record in Alaskan politics, it was pretty darned obvious that she'd take the first opportunity to kick McCain to the curb.

Are there any of Palin's political patrons whom she hasn't turned against as soon as it became expedient to do so? From the start of her political career, that has been her signature.

After the then mayor of Wasilla, John Stein, helped her to gain a seat on the town council, she contested his re-election in a bizarrely divisive race. Among other things, Palin spread vile rumors against Stein and his wife. Palin also turned against several of her other allies in Wasilla, such as councilman Nick Carney and the chief of police, Irl Stambaugh, whom she quickly fired without apparent cause. And Palin is notorious for her callous treatment of another early supporter from Wasilla, Alaska Senate President Lyda Green, who has since become one of Palin's strongest critics in Juneau.

Palin continued this relentless rise to power at the level of state politics. For example, she immediately kicked to the curb another powerful patron, former state Rep. Victor Kohring, as soon as he was charged in a corruption investigation. She was a big time beneficiary of Governor Frank Murkowski's patronage until she chose to run against him, at which point she discovered very publicly that she was opposed to his record of patronage. Palin also exploited an alliance with Senator Ted Stevens right up until he was indicted in 2007, when she turned on him as well.

These are just the most famous cases in which Palin tossed overboard a series of patrons as soon as it would benefit her career to do so. By always portraying herself as a courageous reformer against entrenched corruption, Palin has sought to mask her duplicity in lining up powerful patrons only to push them aside when they threatened to stand in her path.

"I had a hand in creating Sarah, but in the end she blew me out of the water," [John] Stein said, sounding more wearily ironic than bitter. "Sarah's on a mission, she's an opportunist."

According to some political observers in Alaska, this pattern -- exploiting "old-boy" mentors and then turning against them for her own advantage -- defines Sarah Palin's rise to power. Again and again, Palin has charmed powerful political patrons, and then rejected them when it suited her purposes. She has crafted a public image as a clean politics reformer, but in truth, she has only blown the whistle on political corruption when it was expedient for her to do so. Above all, Palin is a dynamo of ambition, shrewdly maneuvering her way through the notoriously compromised world of Alaska politics, making and breaking alliances along the way.

"When Palin takes credit for knocking off the old-boy network in Alaska, it drives me crazy," said Andrew Halcro, an Anchorage businessman and radio talk show host who ran against her in the 2006 GOP primary race for governor. "Sarah certainly availed herself of that network whenever it was expedient."

All of this was well known in Alaska when John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate. If he had vetted her with any diligence, McCain should have foreseen that she'd remain a loyal ally only as long as it served her career.

That is to say, if John McCain has any ability at all to read other people's characters.

The truth, I think, is that McCain's judgment simply is lousy. Just about the last kind of running mate any candidate needs in a close and difficult race is a back-stabber. Besides, McCain prizes loyalty very highly, whereas Palin isn't loyal even to her family members (in race in 2002 she endorsed a woman running for mayor against Palin's own mother-in-law). That McCain ever took a chance on a person like Palin strongly suggests he simply failed to perceive what is glaringly obvious about her character.

We've seen any number of instances of McCain's poor judgment in the past, from demanding an invasion of Iraq (and other Middle Eastern countries) to embracing George Bush's failed policies, to taking creepy idiots and lobbyists like Randy Scheunemann as his closest advisers. But the fact that the McCain camp is stunned now to find Palin "going rogue" is possibly the clearest evidence yet that John McCain's judgment is just appallingly bad.

crossposted at

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Friday, October 24, 2008

  Blogging and expertise

A crazy story has reached its predictable outcome. Today the Republican staffer working in Pittsburgh has recanted her story that a black mugger carved a "B" in her face with a knife after taking exception to her McCain bumper sticker. She made it up.

The details were scarcely credible, and in any case I could tell immediately from my own personal expertise that her story was false. That's nothing remarkable in itself, but it does underline something about blogging that can't be emphasized too often.

Reporters working in the traditional media sometimes bring a particular expertise to the job, but that's not always the case. Many are generalists who have neither the time nor inclination to become expert in any fields. A great deal of reporting is done by people who are barely competent to weigh in on the issues in question, much less control for the biases of their informants. That's rather painfully obvious in particular with political reporting. There's a reason why political reporting tends to focus on process and image rather than substance; why as Pew reported yesterday the majority of news reports about the presidential race are framed in terms of who's winning. To reporters who don't understand much about complex issues (e.g. healthcare), or how government works, or what voters are really concerned about, it seems on the face of it much easier to focus on process. And that is partly because few reporters realize how little they understand the nuts and bolts of running a campaign.

So blogging is a communications revolution in large part because it gives people from every background a chance to contribute their expertise to the national dialogue. Traditional media reporters could not possibly replicate that range of expertise. For all their myriad faults, bloggers have vastly expanded the media's base of information and competencies.

As for my own contribution to this tawdry scandal, I decided yesterday not to make it public. Rather than accuse Ashley Todd of lying about a purportedly brutal attack, I prefered to wait until she admitted to what was a transparent deception.

However, to state the matter briefly, the evidence was in the (reversed) letter-form carved on her cheek. I could tell it was done in a mirror - rather than from above by an attacker - because the bottom loop was carved after the top loop. My doctoral research happens to have been on ancient Greek inscriptions, which involved studying how block letters are cut. The letter "B" is an unusually difficult letter to carve and is always done from top to bottom...sometimes creating the awkward letter-form seen in the photo of the fake-victim's face. It's a bizarre expertise to have, and the first time I've ever drawn on it as a blogger, but the episode drove home to me again how important expertise as such can be.

Anyway, I wanted to make a further point. This underlines another luxury that bloggers have that greatly differentiates us from traditional media reporters and pundits. Corporate media types are on a treadmill, to some degree at least; they're obliged to keep churning out material even if they have nothing insightful to say, or can't complete enough research to write intelligently, or just don't wish to address a topic at all.

Bloggers, however, can simply refrain from posting if they have nothing important or new or useful to say. And incidentally, to be candid, I wish that a few more bloggers would avail themselves of the luxury of remaining silent occasionally. It has the potential to make what they do say seem much more worthwhile paying attention to.

crossposted at

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

  McCain campaign: shameless And incompetent

At The Atlantic Joshua Green adds an important new twist to the Palin "Accessorama" story broken yesterday by Jeanne Cummings. The RNC's September filings with the FEC show that they employed a personal shopper to acquire Sarah Palin's expensive new wardrobe.

But it gets worse. The PS was one Jeff Larson, a notorious Republican operative, a protege of Karl Rove, and one of the last people McCain would want to be linked to in news stories as he tries to portray himself as a new kind of Republican reformer. Larson's firm FLS Connect was behind the infamous robocalls in South Carolina in 2000 that smeared John McCain and doomed his campaign. FLS also is responsible for the nasty robocalls smearing Obama, which are drawing such bad publicity for McCain this week.

Add to that the fact that Larson stands accused of renting an apartment in DC at a steep discount to GOP Sen. Norm Coleman. Larson's wife works in Coleman's office in Minnesota. That's one of several tawdry corruption scandals swirling around Coleman that threaten his re-election. Another allegation against Coleman: that he accepted expensive clothing as a gift from a Republican backer, businessman Nasser Kazeminy. Snazzy duds seem to be an accepted perk among a certain class of Republican office-seekers.

Anyway, the McCain campaign should have had the sense to keep a sleazy operative like Larson away from their guy or at least make sure their ties to him did not become public. And yet, the RNC uses him unnecessarily as Palin's personal shopper and then names him in an FEC filing. It's both shameless and incompetent...the twin hallmarks of the McCain campaign throughout this year.

Joshua Green highlights the point that it's a basic question of competence for a presidential campaign to obscure any connections with unseemly political operatives:

What’s so incompetent about this from a political tradecraft perspective is that both parties ordinarily take the easy precaution of making sure such embarrassing material isn’t obvious to reporters, which they do by routing the payment through a law firm or consultant. Here they neglected to do so.

What McCain's campaign has done during this summer and fall is raise the very same kinds of doubts that Hillary Clinton's campaign raised during last winter and spring. Clinton's campaign organization showed itself to be supremely, and surprisingly, incompetent at really basic things - like managing its budget; identifying the states it needed to compete in, implementing a plan for each, and opening offices there; keeping surrogates under control; and identifying a coherent and consistent message for their candidate to present.

McCain's campaign since he won the Republican nomination battle has raised similar doubts about their competence. Funny, both Clinton and McCain have tried to defeat Barack Obama by portraying themselves as the more seasoned candidate while casting Obama as a lightweight. And yet Obama's campaign has been consistently competent at carrying out the campaign fundamentals, whereas McCain and Clinton both have looked like they were flying by the seats of their pants.

crossposted at

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Monday, October 20, 2008

  Out of the Past

If we want to see anything like real transformation in Washington, we won't assume that a Democratic victory in November will achieve it. We'll have to continue to demand change from the next administration and fight for it. Joe Biden nearly admitted as much on Sunday when he asked voters to "gird [their] loins" to pitch in with a task that'll be "like cleaning the Augean Stables". Meanwhile, Barack Obama gave us a clear demonstration that the problem we'll face is a status-quo-plus during the next four years. Today Obama said he plans to make a discredited former member of the Bush administration a top adviser or even an official in his own administration. Predictable, yes, and perfectly depressing. To judge by the foreign policy advisers he has surrounded himself with, it doesn't really seem to matter how thoroughly any of Washington's hawks have been discredited by their support in the past for disastrous policies and for George W. Bush, or by events of the last 8 years. If voters want an end to all that, they're going to have to demand it. Now would be a good time to start making that known, before the policy landscape has been carved up by discredited ghosts out of the past.

Here is the AFP:

Former secretary of state and US military leader Colin Powell would serve as an advisor to a Barack Obama administration, the Democratic presidential candidate said Monday.

"He will have a role as one of my advisers," Obama told NBC in an interviewed aired Monday. "He's already served in that function, even before he endorsed me."


"Whether he wants to take a formal role, whether there's something that's a good fit for him, I think is something that he and I would have to discuss," Obama said.

While I'm not surprised by the move, never the less it's depressing as all hell. Powell has never acknowledged that the invasion of Iraq was illegal, unnecessary, and fundamentally a blunder of both military and foreign policy; nor that he played a crucial role in selling it to the US public; nor that he tried to pawn demonstrably false allegations off in his infamous UN speech. In fact as he made clear on Meet the Press just yesterday, Powell still refuses to come clean or to hold himself accountable for the disaster he helped to create.

MR. BROKAW: I want to ask you about your own role in the decision to go to war in Iraq. Barack Obama has been critical of your appearance before the United Nations at that time. Bob Woodward has a new book out called "The War Within," and here's what he had to say about Colin Powell and his place in the administration: "Powell ... didn't think [Iraq] was a necessary war, and yet he had gone along in a hundred ways, large and small. He had resisted at times but had succumbed to the momentum and his own sense of deference--even obedience--to the president. ... Perhaps more than anyone else in the administration, Powell had been the `closer' for the president's case on war."

And then you were invited to appear before the Iraq Study Group. "`Why did we go into Iraq with so few people?' [former Secretary of State James] Baker asked. ... `Colin just exploded at that point,' [former Secretary of Defense William] Perry recalled later. `He unloaded,' Former White House Chief of Staff] Leon Panetta added. `He was angry. He was mad as hell.' ... Powell left [the Study Group meeting]. Baker turned to Panetta and said solemnly, `He's the one guy who could have perhaps prevented this from happening.'"

What's the lesson in all of that for a former--for a new secretary of state or for a new national security adviser, based on your own experience?

GEN. POWELL: Well, let's start at the beginning. I said to the president in 2002, we should try to solve this diplomatically and avoid war.

Solve what exactly? The refusal of Hussein to admit to having weapons programs he didn't actually have?

The president accepted that recommendation, we took it to the U.N. But the president, by the end of 2002, believed that the U.N. was not going to solve the problem, and he made a decision that we had to prepare for military action.

Bush continued to say until March of 2003 that he was looking to avoid war and to back UN inspections in Iraq. After Hussein had permitted inspectors to search for weapons, what was the problem that could possibly be "solved" by going to war?

I fully supported that. And I have never said anything to suggest I did not support going to war. I thought the evidence was there.

If true, a clear disqualification for Powell to be offering future presidents advice. Even I, without the benefit of high-level briefings, could see there was no adequate evidence for the charges that Bush and Cheney were leveling.

And it is not just my closing of the whole deal with my U.N. speech. I know the importance of that speech, and I regret a lot of the information that the intelligence community provided us was wrong.

In other words, Powell still disavows responsibility for the "facts" he vouched for.

But three months before my speech, with a heavy majority, the United States Congress expressed its support to use military force if it was necessary.

Never mind that Congress was fed misleading information, war simply wasn't necessary except by the convoluted logic that it became necessary because Bush wanted to go to war.

And so we went in and used military force. My unhappiness was that we didn't do it right. It was easy to get to Baghdad, but then we forgot that there was a lot more that had to be done. And we didn't have enough force to impose our will in the country or to deal with the insurgency when it broke out, and that I regret.

Finally some "regret" for Powell, though not any responsibility as such. And what he regrets is not having started an illegal war, killed myriad innocent Iraqis, wrecked their country and ruined America's standing in the world while provoking increased hatred in the Middle East. Powell merely regrets that we didn't do all that "right".

MR. BROKAW: Removing the weapons of mass destruction from the equation...

GEN. POWELL: I also assure you that it was not a correct assessment by anybody that my statements or my leaving the administration would have stopped it.

Shorter Powell: I just went along for the ride because I knew the brakes were nonfunctional.

MR. BROKAW: Removing the weapons of mass destruction from the equation, because we now know that they did not exist, was it then a war of necessity or just a war of choice?

GEN. POWELL: Without the weapons of mass destruction present, as conveyed to us by the intelligence community in the most powerful way, I don't think there would have been a war. It was the reason we took it to the public, it was the reason we took it to the American people to the Congress, who supported it on that basis, and it's the presentation I made to the United Nations. Without those weapons of mass destruction then Iraq did not present to the world the kind of threat that it did if it had weapons of mass destruction.

Shorter Powell: The President's fear-mongering is no longer operative. That load of blather serves as a useful reminder that this "ambitious man with a weak moral compass" first gained notoriety for his double-talk during the Vietnam War.

MR. BROKAW: You do know that there are supporters of Barack Obama who feel very strongly about his candidacy because he was opposed to the war from the beginning, and they're going to say, "Who needs Colin Powell? He was the guy who helped get us into this mess."

GEN. POWELL: I'm not here to get their approval or lack of approval. I am here to express my view as to who I'm going to vote for.

Brokaw's question is entirely to the point, given the likelihood that Obama will want to give the (still) discredited Powell a job after receiving his endorsement. Who does need, or more to the point want, Colin Powell?

And for that matter, Brokaw also pointed out that some might consider Powell's opinion of the candidates to be pretty worthless.

MR. BROKAW: ...We'd like to share with our audience some of what you had to say about the two men who are at the top of the administration. At the convention in 2000, this is Colin Powell on President Bush and Dick Cheney at that time.

(Videotape, July 31, 2000)

GEN. POWELL: Dick Cheney is one of the most distinguished and dedicated public servants this nation has ever had. He will be a superb vice president.

The Bush/Cheney team will be a great team for America. They will put our nation on a course of hope and optimism for this new century.

(End videotape)

MR. BROKAW: Was that prophetic or wrong?

GEN. POWELL: It's what I believed. It reflected the agenda of the new president, compassionate conservatism. And some of it worked out.

That pretty much speaks for itself about the worth of Colin Powell's opinions and advice. Shame that Obama is already looking to tie himself publicly to the unrepentant Powell.

Obama admitted that he had asked Powell to hit the campaign trail on his behalf, but Powell refused.

"You know, I won't lie to you. I would love to have him at any stop he wants to participate in," Obama said.

crossposted at

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Friday, October 10, 2008

  Iago demands Cassio come clean: "It's a question of character"

Speaking to a townhall in Venice, California this morning, Iago made his sharpest attacks yet on Cassio's integrity and truthfulness. Iago also continued to call into question his rival's experience and preparation to lead during these troubled times. And for the third day in a row, Iago cast doubt on Cassio's description of his associations with a former radical, Roderigo, who belonged to the violent Cypriot Liberation Army three decades ago. At the same time Emilia told the audience once again that Cassio was "palling around with Muslim extremists".

Roderigo has never renounced his youthful activities, though friends insist his image has been rehabilitated since that time by his civic and charitable work in his parish, which neighbors Cassio's parish. This spring Desdemona also tried to make an issue of Cassio's earlier associations with Roderigo, but with limited success.

Cassio for his part spoke today at an import-export trade meeting in Corinth, Mississippi. He repeated once again what he has said several times, that Roderigo was little more than an acquaintance when they worked together on the board of a charitable hospital for orphans of lost seafarers. In April, Cassio described Roderigo's past actions as "detestable".

The townhall in Venice today was in an angry mood, with several people interupting Iago to shout that Cassio is a "traitor" and a "liar". Finally in response to a direct question about Roderigo, Iago said "We don't care about an old washed-up pirate and his wife. That's not the point. The point is Cassio said he was just a guy in the sestiere. We need to know that's not true. We need to know the full extent of the relationship because of whether Cassio is telling the truth to the people or not. That's the question."

The townhall audience pressed Iago over and over to take a harder line in public against what they called Cassio's dishonesty and astounding ability to evade scrutiny for his past actions and "associations". Iago replied to one man:

"It is not honesty in me to speak
What I have seen and known. You shall observe him,
And his own courses will denote him so
That I may save my speech."

Later he added that "guiltiness will speak, though tongues were out of use." The townhall audience clearly was not satisfied. Several demanded to know when Iago would confront Cassio directly with their charges of "terrorism". Said one impassioned supporter to loud applause, "Honest Iago, it's absolutely vital that you take it to Cassio, that you hit him where it hurts," adding "we have all of these shady characters that have surrounded him." Iago promised that he would do so, implying that he planned to confront Cassio at the final debate in Athens, Georgia.

"For I will make him tell the tale anew,
Where, how, how oft, how long ago and when
He hath and is again to cope [Roderigo]."

"Cope", meaning to "meet with", is an archaic word little used by politicians these days other than Iago.

Today Iago also released another attack ad calling Cassio "too risky" and intoning that "the issue is Cassio's judgment and candor". But somewhat incongruously, the ad also returns to Iago's claim that Cassio is skilled at rhetoric but lacks sufficient real-world experience to lead the war against Islamic extremism, whereas Iago has many years of service in the military.

Cassio's spokesman Gratiano described Iago's attacks on his integrity as a mark of desperation as Iago slips in popularity. "Iago's behavior this summer has been increasingly erratic. Even though the military situation has improved recently, we remain mired in an expensive war that is also contributing to severe economic problems at home. The people are not going to be distracted by these baseless attacks on Cassio's character. They realize that we need to restore our finances, protect our currency, and expand our markets overseas – on which our continued prosperity depends. This election is going to be decided on the issues that voters care about, and meanwhile Iago is dragging his campaign down into the canals."

crossposted at

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

  A mash note from Charles Keating to John McCain

A blog at the Moonie-owned Washington Times has a revealing document from March 1986 showing the extremely close relationship between Charles Keating and then Representative John McCain. That was a year before McCain as a new Senator attended two meetings intended to pressure bank regulators to go easy on Keating's failing bank.

McCain wrote warmly and with deference to Keating about a small matter, and Keating scrawled his response on the letter and sent it back, showing a good deal of familiarity with McCain. In fact, Keating implied that the two of them were practically married to each other.

Here is a jpg of the letter, written on House stationary (perhaps inappropriately) and dated March 5, 1986.

McCain opens with "Dear Charlie" and briefly describes a mix up in which a letter was accidentally sent to Keating identifying him as a member of McCain's Senate campaign finance committee. Then McCain adds:

As you know, I am deeply appreciative of your friendship and support over the years, and I would not want to do anything which would offend you. Please accept my apology, and be assured that there will be no future repetition of this kind.

I will look forward to seeing you soon.

Keating's scrawled response on the letter reads:

John Senator,

Don't be silly. You can call me anything write anything or do anything. I'm yours till death do us part.


When the Keating-Five scandal broke, McCain's defense became that Keating was a constituent and McCain had just made an inquiry to bank regulators on his behalf as he would have done for any other constituent. I have to wonder, however, whether all his other constituents in Arizona are on a first-name basis with McCain, or indeed feel bound personally to McCain until death do they part?

crossposted at

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  Whistleblowers expose truth of illegal NSA eavesdropping on Americans

Today ABC reports that the NSA warrantless surveillance program is every bit as far-reaching as critics have always predicted it would turn out to be. Independently of each other, two whistleblowers from the military assigned to help with the spying since 2001 have described it as obnoxious in the extreme. The revelations will be detailed in Jim Bamford's latest book on the NSA, The Shadow Factory, to be published next week. The whistleblowers say that telephone calls back home of Americans living or serving in the Middle East are listened to and recorded willy nilly - without any regard for their content or whether the victims of the spying present any sort of threat of terrorism. Among the victims of spying were military personnel stationed in Iraq, journalists, and humanitarian workers. Even intimate calls to spouses were recorded (and passed around among those monitoring them, who treated the program as if it were a lark).

When the illegal spy program was exposed, George Bush and members of his administration, including the former head of NSA Michael Hayden (now CIA Director), denied that it involved calls made by Americans overseas. Bush declared on May 11, 2006:

I authorized the National Security Agency to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations.

In other words, if al Qaeda or their associates are making calls into the United States or out of the United States, we want to know what they're saying.

...the privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities. We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans. Our efforts are focused on links to al Qaeda and their known affiliates.

Unsurprisingly that turns out to be false. It's worth emphasizing that the Bush administration's denials turned out to be false right across the board: that the NSA eavesdrops upon purely domestic calls; that the NSA uses a "driftnet" rather than targeting a narrow group of suspected terrorists; that the NSA was storing vast amounts of data from domestic surveillance and poring through it with data-mining programs in the manner of the prohibited Total Information Awareness.

Say hello to Big Brother.

Here's part of the ABC report, which should be read in full:

"These were just really everyday, average, ordinary Americans who happened to be in the Middle East, in our area of intercept and happened to be making these phone calls on satellite phones," said Adrienne Kinne, a 31-year old US Army Reserves Arab linguist assigned to a special military program at the NSA's Back Hall at Fort Gordon from November 2001 to 2003.

Kinne described the contents of the calls as "personal, private things with Americans who are not in any way, shape or form associated with anything to do with terrorism."

She said US military officers, American journalists and American aid workers were routinely intercepted and "collected on" as they called their offices or homes in the United States.

Big Brother is in full denial...while reading over your shoulder:

A spokesman for General Hayden, Mark Mansfield, said: "At NSA, the law was followed assiduously. The notion that General Hayden sanctioned or tolerated illegalities of any sort is ridiculous on its face."

The director of the NSA, Lt. General Keith B. Alexander, declined to directly answer any of the allegations made by the whistleblowers.

Congress should do more than demand answers from Michael Hayden. It should ensure that he is put on trial for perjuring himself in testimony before Congress in May of 2006 in which he insisted the surveillance program was legal; said the NSA abided by the standard of "probable cause" when determining whether to intercept calls, while employing a standard of "reasonableness" (this was of course a nonsensical contradiction); and denied that it intercepted calls by Americans abroad or was anything other than "narrowly focused" on al Qaeda and terrorist organizations.

But, then, Congress also should have impeached George Bush when the illegal spying became public knowledge. This is not the first time an NSA whistleblower has told the Senate that the NSA is conducting illegal surveillance.

Unfortunately, the spineless Senator Jay Rockefeller is in charge of investigating these latest revelations of illegal activity. Rockefeller led the charge earlier this year to grant telecoms retroactive immunity for helping the Bush administration with the illegal spying, thus ensuring that civil lawsuits against the telecoms would never succeed in exposing the truth of what the surveillance has actually entailed. Craven Democrats in Congress share some of the blame with Republicans for permitting this lawlessness to continue.

crossposted at

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  Lindsey Graham promises to obstruct an Obama presidency

On Friday, Senator Lindsey Graham declared that he would do his utmost to obstruct anything Barack Obama might try to achieve if he's elected president. It was unnoticed by bloggers, pundits and the national media, and I owe this information to Robert in a comment here at unbossed. Graham told the Charleston Post and Courier that he would serve out another full term in the Senate because he was needed there either to help a McCain presidency or undercut an Obama administration.

Like other McCain surrogates, such as Sen. Joe Lieberman, Graham frequently praises the bipartisan efforts of Senators McCain and Graham while belittling Senator Obama's ability to build consensus across party lines. Here we see as clearly as possible why they're so convinced that Obama won't be able to work with Republicans in Congress. The GOP intend to make it impossible. It's the same scorched earth strategy, in concert with the same extremist rhetoric of demonization, that the GOP adopted in 1992 with their policy of undermining the presidency of Bill Clinton at all costs.

Here is Graham proudly promising to undercut Obama:

If Lindsey Graham isn't with John McCain, there's a good chance he's representing him on the TV talk shows, in the Wall Street bailout talks or at the vice presidential debate.

But South Carolina's senior senator said that doesn't mean he'd follow McCain to the White House...

"If John McCain is president, I will be one of the people representing him, and if Barack Obama is elected, I will fight him tooth and nail," Graham said. "I think whatever talent I have is best utilized in the Senate."

Just three weeks ago in the Moonie-owned Washington Times Lindsey Graham offered this paean to bipartisanship generally and John McCain's record specifically. It's also proudly on display at McCain's campaign website:

McCain campaign surrogate Sen. Lindsey Graham, though, said the numbers [i.e. the percentage of cross-party co-sponsors that the bills of McCain and Obama have attracted] expose a difference between the two candidates.

"The number - 55 and 13 - probably shows that one has been more desirous to find common ground than the other...

Bipartisanship is a frequent issue on the campaign trail, with the McCain camp and surrogates such as Mr. Graham arguing the standard is how often someone takes leadership on an issue in defiance of his own party - a measure by which Mr. Obama falls short and Mr. McCain clearly excels...

Mr. Graham said it was unfortunate people weren't recognizing their work with Mr. McCain.

"What you've got now is, you've got some people who are afraid to recognize John's bipartisanship because of the nature of the election," Mr. Graham said.

Mr. Graham has teamed up with Mr. McCain on some of his most contentious bills, including the immigration and campaign-finance fights, and said they both have "the scars to prove" they were in the fights.

"I have experienced the price that's been paid to help John do some difficult things since 2004," he said.

In other words, for Lindsey Graham bipartisanship is praiseworthy when Democrats join Republicans. But working across party lines in the opposite direction is both insignificant when achieved and (to judge by his Post and Courier interview) an abomination to contemplate. What is remarkable is not Graham's hypocritical embrace of obstructionism for its own sake, but his candor.

For a generation Republicans in Congress have made it their guiding principle to do their "utmost" to block Democrats from achieving any goals or passing any major initiatives whenever they hold the White House or majorities in Congress. And true to form, almost as soon as they lost both houses of Congress in the 2006 elections, the remaining Republicans adopted the policy of obstructing all Democratic legislation. In April 2007 Senator Trent Lott called it a "strategy of obstructionism" and crowed that it was "working" for Republicans. By July of 2007, Republican obstructionism had grown so manifest that Margaret Talev of McClatchy reported Republicans were on a record setting pace in their use of filibusters during the 110th Congress. There now have been almost twice as many cloture votes in the Senate during this Congress than in the last (Republican-dominated) Congress. Of course filibusters are just the most obvious measure of obstructionism, most of which goes on behind the scenes unreported. The main achievement of Republicans under the new Democratic majorities has been to undermine Democrats' efforts to achieve something.

That's why it surprises and dismays me that some Democrats, Senator Obama being a leading example, continue to believe that it's possible to work with the modern Republican Party to advance a reform agenda. It hasn't been possible for a generation, and Senator Graham just announced that he'll try to do to Obama what Republicans did to Bill Clinton when he entered office – fight him at every step just for the sake of undermining him.

Obama will need a super majority of Democrats to get reforms enacted. Let's hope that if elected, Obama quickly recognizes the need to circumvent the traditional Republican sand-bagging that's in store.

crossposted at

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

  Federal judge rules that prisoners' detention at Guantanamo is unconstitutional

A federal court has for the second time in a little over three months delivered a stunning rebuke of the US government's justification for detaining suspects without trial at Guantanamo Bay prison. The first case concerned a single Uighur prisoner, Huzaifa Parhat, who brought suit under the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 for a habeas-like court review of his own detention at Gitmo. Today's ruling concerns all the Uighurs held at Guantanamo.

The Bush administration's outlandish imprisonment of Uighurs at Guantanamo, at the behest of China, has been the weakest of weak points for its policies there. The US government admits that the Uighurs have never engaged in attacks or conspiracies against the US. It has held the Uighurs without charge for some 7 years at Gitmo merely as a favor to the Chinese as they attempt to crush dissent in the Uighur region of western China. The Bush administration has claimed for a few years that it would like to release the remaining Uighur prisoners from Gitmo but cannot find any countries willing to accept them.

In June of 2008 the DC Court of Appeals ruled on Parhat's case. It rejected with brutal sarcasm the findings of one Combatant Status Review Tribunal that had declared there was sufficient evidence against Parhat to continue holding him indefinitely at Guantanamo. The Appeals Court mocked the government's reliance upon hearsay and unvetted evidence at CSRTs, as well as its claims of secrecy in withholding evidence. The Court declared that the allegations needed to be proven and not simply assumed to be true. Therefore it ordered the administration either to release Parhat or hold a new hearing and attempt to actually prove its charges against him.

As a result, the US decided not to retry Parhat and to stop treating him as an enemy combatant. Later it did the same with another 4 Uighur prisoners, and then in late September with the remaining 12 Uighurs.

The June ruling was devastating because it pinned the Bush administration down over its reckless disregard for due process.

It was the first time a court has reviewed the military's decision-making and considered whether a detainee should be held. The ruling provides guidance to federal district judges, who are about to begin reviewing dozens of such cases now that the Supreme Court [in the Boumedienne decision] says detainees can challenge their detention in federal court.

Today's ruling by federal judge Ricardo Urbina went even farther in condemning Bush's policies of indefinite detention without trial. It is arguably the strongest rebuke yet of the government's lawlessness.

The hearing was initiated by lawyers for five of the seventeen Uighur prisoners, who argued that the government had inadequate evidence against the men to keep detaining them. Bush administration lawyers had argued in response that US courts have no power to order the release of prisoners held at Guantanamo. Originally today's hearing was supposed to concern whether the court had the authority to order their release.

In this case, Urbina had only two options: leave the Uighurs at Guantanamo Bay or order them released into the United States.

Justice Department lawyers have argued in court papers and at hearings that only the president has the authority to allow the men into the country. They also said the judge is barred from ordering their entry if they have ties to terrorist groups.

But judge Urbina accepted the Uighurs' argument that they're friendly toward the United States. He emphatically rejected the argument that courts have no power to uphold the habeas rights of prisoners just because the president wants to hold them under his own say so. Urbina frankly declared Bush's policies to be unconstitutional, and decided that instead of ruling merely on the question of jurisdiction, or narrowly on the five original plaintiffs, he would order the immediate release of all 17 Uighur prisoners.

A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the Bush administration to immediately release 17 Chinese Muslims who have been held for seven years at Guantánamo Bay, and to allow them to stay in the United States, because they are no longer considered enemy combatants.

The ruling, handed down by Federal District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina, marked the first time that any United States court rejected government arguments and ordered the release of detainees from Guantánamo Bay, an American naval base in Cuba, since the detention center there opened in 2002.


“I think the moment has arrived for the court to shine the light of constitutionality on the reasons for the detention,” he said.

The Washington Post adds:

Urbina said in court that he ordered the release "because the Constitution prohibits indefinite detention without cause." He added, "The separation of powers do not trump" the prohibition against holding people indefinitely without trial.

A sweeping ruling and a magnificent victory for due process in the US. The Justice Department asked for a stay of his ruling, which Urbina rejected. The Uighurs, he said, had been held long enough and the Bush administrations' defense strategy had been to drag out proceedings in order to delay the day of justice for these prisoners.

"All of this means more delay," he said, "and delay is the name of the game up until this point."

That is in line with the Supreme Court's stunning ruling this summer in the Boumediene case, which famously argued that “the costs of delay can no longer be borne by those who are held in custody.” So Urbina orded the US government to produce the 17 Uighurs in his court on Friday so that he could release them. Then DOJ lawyer John O'Quinn played what he thought was his Executive-powers trump card.

O'Quinn said the legal ramifications from the order are complex and that he wants time to consult with officials from the Department of Homeland Security. Under existing U.S. law, immigration authorities may be forced to take the Uighurs into custody shortly after they arrive in the United States, O'Quinn said. The Justice Department alleges they have ties to a group that has been designated a terrorist organization by the government.

"I won't take that kindly," Urbina said. Threats by Bush's lawyers don't seem to work any longer.

The judge reacted angrily, saying he did not want the detainees molested by anyone in the government, in what he called an urgent matter.

“There was a pressing need to have these people, who have been incarcerated for seven years — to have those conditions changed,” Judge Urbina said.

Urbina added that DOJ and Homeland Security officials will get a chance at an Oct. 16 hearing to weigh in on whether and how the Uighurs should be monitored. But by the end of the week, the 17 men should be released in the custody of DC area Uighurs.

Since large numbers of habeas reviews are already underway for Guantanamo prisoners, today's ruling by Urbina will probably exert great influence in the dismantling of George Bush's obscenity at Guantanamo.

crossposted from Never In Our Names and

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Monday, October 06, 2008

  Crash McCain

Ralph Vartabedian and Richard A. Serrano of the LA Times have examined unclassified military records concerning John McCain's multiple crashes while he was a naval aviator. It could hardly be clearer that McCain was known as a reckless pilot; he admits that he was clowning around and "flying too low" over Spain in 1961 when he flew into electrical wires. But the thing that stands out the most are the false excuses he gave for two incidents, which McCain blamed on mechanical malfunctions. In each case, investigators subsequently rejected McCain's story. Lying to military investigators is arguably an even more serious offense than screwing around with expensive aircraft. The Times deserves credit for exposing McCain's record.

He was able to get away with such behavior and retain his wings because, as a son and grandson of admirals, he led a charmed life in the Navy. Even as a midshipman at the Naval Academy, the rules simply didn't apply.

His grandfather's name and his father's forbearance brought McCain a charmed existence at Annapolis. On his first trip at sea — to Rio de Janeiro aboard the USS Hunt — the captain was a former student of his father. While McCain's classmates learned the ins and outs of the boiler room, McCain got to pilot the ship to South America and back. In Rio, he hobnobbed with admirals and the president of Brazil.

Back on campus, McCain's short fuse was legend. "We'd hear this thunderous screaming and yelling between him and his roommate — doors slamming — and one of them would go running down the hall," recalls Phil Butler, who lived across the hall from McCain at the academy. "It was a regular occurrence."

When McCain was not shown the pampering to which he was accustomed, he grew petulant — even abusive. He repeatedly blew up in the face of his commanding officer. It was the kind of insubordination that would have gotten any other midshipman kicked out of Annapolis. But his classmates soon realized that McCain was untouchable. Midway though his final year, McCain faced expulsion, about to "bilge out" because of excessive demerits. After his mother intervened, however, the academy's commandant stepped in. Calling McCain "spoiled" to his face, he nonetheless issued a reprieve, scaling back the demerits.

Indeed, McCain finished fifth from the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy. He should never have received one of the coveted aviation billets because graduating midshipmen get to select among available career paths according to class rank. If he were not born to the naval aristocracy, McCain would have ended up counting machine screws at some supply depot. Instead, he was handed the most prized career path and then permitted for years to carry on with antics that would have gotten another pilot grounded, or worse.

Which brings me back to the lies he told to cover up his crashes. According to the documents reviewed by the Times, McCain blamed his first crash into Corpus Christi Bay in March 1960 on an engine failure that investigators were able to prove didn't occur.

While he has contended that the engine quit, investigators collected extensive evidence indicating otherwise. Cockpit instruments that froze on impact showed the engine was still producing power. When water quenched the exhaust stack, it preserved a bright blue color, showing that the engine was still hot. And an aviator behind McCain reported that the engine was producing the black smoke characteristic of Skyraiders.

Investigators determined that McCain was watching instruments in his cockpit that indicated the position of his landing gear and had lost track of his altitude and speed.

The report concluded: "In the opinion of the board, the pilot's preoccupation in the cockpit . . . coupled with the use of a power setting too low to maintain level flight in a turn were the primary causes of this accident."

McCain's aviation career did not end there, however. A year and a half later he nearly destroyed another plane by flying through electrical wires. We don't know what excuse if any McCain was able to offer. His career did not end.

Then in 1965 he bailed out of a plane over Virginia's eastern shore. He said that there'd been an explosion in the engine and the plane lost power. Investigators found otherwise:

In a report dated Jan. 18, 1966, the Naval Aviation Safety Center said it could not determine the cause of the accident or corroborate McCain's account of an explosion in the engine. A close examination of the engine found "no discrepancies which would have caused or contributed to engine failure or malfunction."

The report found that McCain, then assigned to squadron VT-7 in Meridian, Miss., had made several errors: He failed to switch the plane's power system to battery backup, which "seriously jeopardized his survival chances." ...

Edward M. Morrison, a mechanic for VT-7 who is now retired and living in Washington state, said that the plane McCain checked out that day had just been refurbished and that he knew of no engine problems.

A third crash should have ended McCain's career, particularly after another uncorroborated claim of mechanical failure. It didn't. Instead, somebody intervened to change the investigators' findings:

About two weeks after issuing its report, the safety center revised its findings and said the accident resulted from the failure or malfunction of an "undetermined component of the engine."

The vagueness of the new finding, and the timing of the revision, suggests that an order was sent down the chain of command as McCain faced a potentially devastating review of his performance. So it looks like John McCain lied repeatedly about his failures and in at least one case got others to lie to cover up for his lies.

It's remarkable that McCain now has the gall to run for president on the slogan of 'putting country first'. Even more, that he wants voters to judge him based on his character, honor, and integrity.

Back in the summer of 2000 I wrote an op-ed about how George W. Bush and Dick Cheney had handled the selection of Bush's running mate. I thought it showed decisively that both men believe the normal rules just don't apply to them. And behold, that's exactly the kind of administration they've given us. John McCain's entire record tells me that he has a similar attitude toward following the rules and holding himself accountable. In his military record, that attitude is especially stark.

For all the nonsense that was tossed around four years ago about John Kerry's honorable record of service, it's amazing how little serious investigation we've seen from journalists of John McCain's troubled record in the military.

crossposted at

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

  Pew documents the anti-Obama bias of elderly whites

During the past week I've been mildly amused at the consternation expressed by so many pundits that the public overwhelmingly and quickly identified Obama as the winner of the first presidential debate.

As the conservative Ross Douthat complained yesterday:

I saw the debate as an evening in which the policy differences between the two men were muted, and McCain was able to steer the conversation around, again and again, to his experience and record, which on paper is easily his biggest advantage over Obama. If this election were being decided on the candidates' resumes alone, independent of ideological considerations or the state of the country, McCain would win in a walk, and so a debate in which he kept Obama on the defensive and flaunted his experience at every turn seemed, to me at least, like a best-case scenario for the McCain campaign.

It continues to amaze me how poorly some high-profile political commentators understand politics. The electorate doesn't vote for presidents based on their resumes, as a few moments reflection on recent history would show. Nor do voters necessarily reward candidates who keep attacking their rivals or who return repeatedly to the same talking points.

How is it possible for anybody following this election closely to have failed to notice that McCain himself has cast it as a referendum on Barack Obama's suitability? That McCain sought to paint Obama in extreme terms as naive, ignorant, and lacking any relevant experience? So by McCain's choice it was going to come down to whether or not Obama appeared to be those things when voters got a good look at him during these debates. It would have taken really extreme ineptitude on Obama's part to make McCain's caricature seem credible. Instead, Obama demonstrated within the first few minutes of the first debate that, far from being a nitwit, he's actually well informed and competent. It didn't really matter what McCain had to say at that stage about particular issues. He'd gambled everything on his ability to trivialize the national debate and now lost badly.

The denouement to McCain's risky strategy has been in the cards for at least 4 months. How could anybody fail to see that Obama would gain by rising above McCain's highly exaggerated charges?

All that is by way of introduction to a result of the debate that I did not entirely expect. The latest Pew survey has a wealth of interesting demographic information about voter attitudes toward McCain, Obama, and their running mates. I commented earlier today about one trend that continues as expected: voters are increasingly underwhelmed with Sarah Palin's readiness. Around half of voters, and half of Independents, now say she's unqualified to be president. Her unfavorable ratings are way up during the last two weeks among nearly every demographic except Republicans...and voters over 65 of age.

Which brings me to the results that I find most striking in the Pew survey. Obama lost ground during the last two weeks almost alone among older voters, especially older white voters. The debate had almost no effect on their attitudes toward Obama even though nearly every other demographic was impressed with his performance.

How impressed? His 2% lead over McCain in mid-September grew to 7% by Sept. 29. Obama made significant gains in a range of positive attributes voters associate with him as well as in assessments of his leadership on various issues.

Much of this has to be attributed to the debate. Obama made essentially no gains in his ratings since mid-September on these issues among voters who did not watch the debate. But among those who did see the debate, he made considerable gains across the board. McCain, by contrast, made no gains among debate-watchers.

However there's a glaring demographic distinction to be made. When debate-watchers were asked whether the two candidates did an excellent/good job, younger voters gave Obama double-digit leads. But voters over 65 gave Obama only a 1% lead over McCain.

That's reflected in their voting intentions. Obama made gains during the last two weeks among nearly every other demographic (including Republicans), or at least just about held steady. However he lost a very significant 6% of his already small support among elderly whites (now 28% for Obama, 54% for McCain). There's no other comparable group where Obama lost this much ground during the last two weeks – except among people earning less than $30K per year. But the latter still support Obama overwhelmingly.

I'd be interested to know what others think is going on. More than two-thirds of the elderly watched the debate. What if anything about the debate left older whites so much less impressed with Obama, especially given the untenable caricature of him that McCain has been peddling all summer? And why, if they thought Obama and McCain performed about as well in the debate, did Obama lose so much ground among them?

This could be a question of different voters caring more about different issues, though the numbers are so far outside the mainstream that it looks more like a case of voters seeing developments through a rigid filter – such as the white evangelical voters who, unlike nearly everybody else, still believe overwhelmingly that Sarah Palin is "well qualified" to be president.

As for the counter-intuitive attitudes of elderly whites, it's hard to avoid the inference that racism played a role. But perhaps religious beliefs were involved. This group also was singular in another respect – Sarah Palin's favorable/unfavorable numbers actually improved for her during this period among voters over 65. Given how badly she's stumbled in public, that's pretty counter-intuitive as well.

crossposted at

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