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6/23/2004

CSM has an article that closely parallels Kevin Drum's post on Political Animal.
Compare Dante Chinni's piece:

There are numerous examples, but one of the best is Cheney's comment on "Meet the Press" last September. "If we're successful in Iraq," he said, "we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11."

Parse that carefully and you'll see he is 100 percent correct. If the US brings a stable democracy to Iraq, it will strike a blow at "the heart" of "the geographic base" of Islamic terrorism: the Middle East. But the wording, if you will, leads the reader or listener to more dramatic conclusions, particularly when the "9/11" is added in there. They are led toward the idea that Iraq and Al Qaeda are working together.
Now Drum:
If we're successful in Iraq...we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11.

To see how this is technically defensible, let's break it down:
  • Who attacked us on 9/11? Al-Qaeda.
  • Where do they operate from? Various places in the Middle East and Central Asia.
  • What's the geographic base of that region? Arguably, Iraq is dead center.
Each phrase, then, is technically accurate. Taken as a whole, though, it's obvious that his intent was to imply that Iraq was a primary base for al-Qaeda's activities, which is clearly untrue.
I appreciate that repetition is necessary to get the message across, but maybe we should diversify our examples.

New New York Review

The July 15 New York Review is out. As usual, it has several must reads, and several other interesting articles. The three real must reads are: Anthony Lewis, Making Torture Legal; Stephen Kinzer, Will Turkey Make It?; and Marcia Angell, The Truth About Drug Companies. I will update when they are available on line.

Other articles discuss Israel, Ben Franklin/Gordon Wood, the Warsaw Uprising, Southern race history, and Henry James.

Media Motivations

The establishment media is scared of the right, afraid of the charge of bias. The refs have been worked, reduced to a teeball umpire afraid of the violent, overzealous fans in the stands.

Speculation: The venom directed at Clinton is the result of a profound feeling of impotence, psychological displacement of the worst sort. Afraid to take an outraged stance against the Bush administration's corruption of the law, the establishment realizes it has rolled over and shown its belly. It no longer believes it has authority to comment on matters of public concern.

So it lashes out where it can. Like a man after a fight with his boss, the media comes home and yells at its wife and children. It won't express outrage against the Bush administration's public corruption - so it condemns Clinton's private. Who cares about policy?

The problem is that the right spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the 90s claiming Bill Clinton's private foibles were a reflection of the mores of the Democratic Party. They destroyed the remnants of any dichotomy between public and private. The Post's attacks on Clinton look like private criticisms, but they are profoundly public: they help George W. Bush, and his flacks know it.

Projection

As I read the crescendo to opprobrium directed at Bill Clinton, I am tempted to laugh, a hysterical, plea for sanity. Andrew Sullivan says, in psychoanalyzing Clinton's rationale for getting a blowjob from Lewinsky:

So the real answer has to be either that he simply couldn't control his impulses (in which case he opens up the question of whether he was too psychologically damaged to carry such immense responsibility); or that he had become drunk with his own power and felt he could get away with anything (which raises the question of whether he was ethically capable of leading the United States).
Is it really so hard to fathom why a middle aged man might accept a blowjob from an available twenty-something? It might not be the most intelligent thing Clinton ever did, but surely it is not a deep mystery?

Unlike, say, the forces motivating the Bush administration. Clinton's fecklessness related to cheating on his wife - deplorable, but personal. George W. Bush's has related to war: life and death, misery and destruction, deficits and debt. Sullivan thinks Clinton may have "become drunk with his own power and felt he could get away with anything;" George W. Bush gets the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense to write legal memos saying exactly that. Bush wants power, and has enlisted our institutional gatekeepers in his effort to acquire it. Contrasting the two, I can't stop thinking about yesterday.

Similarly, the Washington Post, in a fit of unwitting parody, revisits its mid 90's hysteria.
Yet Mr. Clinton's new book, "My Life," is also part of a long effort on its author's part to deny, and not just breeze over, his profound disrespect for the law when it inconvenienced him.
The impeachment proceedings certainly showcased plenty of "profound disrespect" for the law: the media establishment and the entire Republican party signed onto an effort by extremists to commandeer the full authority of government investigatory apparatus to destroy a legitimate President. Investigations motivated by partisan animus corrupt the law more than anything Clinton could ever have imagined.
The matters leading to impeachment aren't the only ones where Mr. Clinton veers from the nonfiction category. The tangled real estate investments that became known as Whitewater merited investigation, and the inquiry produced numerous convictions. The campaign finance scandal involved substantial questions as well. Mr. Clinton dismisses as "ridiculous," for example, the "implication . . . that I had been selling overnights in the White House to raise money for the DNC," insisting that "I would never have used the White House in that way." This from the man who scrawled on a proposal from his chief fundraiser, Terry McAuliffe, outlining the plan to entertain contributors at the White House: "Yes, pursue . . . get other names at $100,000 or more, $50,000 or more . . . Ready to start overnights right away."
Whitewater did merit investigation - as a Savings and Loan scandal unrelated to the Clintons. That is what is was, after all, and that is what all of the convictions related to. None of them implicated the Clintons, and it is patently dishonest for the Post to imply that they did.

The Post's evidence for wrongdoing in the fundraising "scandals" is fucking ridiculous. Bill Clinton allegedly scribbled something on a napkin - George W. Bush produced a thousand pages of formal legal memoranda. Bush invites his fundraisers, people that "fuck grandma Millie" to the table to craft policy, with smoking gun evidence on both energy policy and Medicare policy. Even granting that Clinton sold sleepovers - who the hell cares?

I wanted to cancel my subscription to the Post. My girlfriend wouldn't let me.

Cass Sunstein

I like Cass Sunstein, quite a bit even. He is a unique player in legal liberalism, the type of actor we need to shift from a position to a movement. That said, he isn't known for the originality of his legal theory, or the depth of his reasoning, though he is certainly no slouch in either area. He is instead known for his breadth of knowledge and the clarity of his writing. He is incredibly prolific, and a valuable popularizer of ideas.

If you want to make a legal liberal argument, it is a safe bet that Sunstein has already made it, and made it well (and will have healthy citations to where it originated).

So in Sunstein's first post at the Volokh conspiracy, available here, I initially thought he was referring to Stephen Holmes, with whom he wrote The Cost of Rights.

I would be interested in getting professor Sunstein's reaction to Holmes' recent broadside against Bush administration foreign policy.

6/22/2004

State-Driven Terrorism

Bryan Burrough, The Path to War, Vanity Fair May 2004 (much of it posted here):

But to Feith, Luti, and their traveling companions, it also seemed that a war on terror could not end with Afghanistan. "Obviously we had Afghanistan in our minds straightaway," Luti says. "That was our immediate concern. But we also thought we had to learn about the terrorist networks, how they connected to the states."
This sort of blinkered thinking shows the real weakness of hiring only ideologues and hacks: their inability to rethink their positions when confronted with new evidence. For a decade, right wingers at AEI, led by Mylroie and Wolfowitz et al., have claimed that stateless terrorists threats were overblown, or indeed, impossible - al Qaeda couldn't have attacked the WTC in 1993 without a state sponsor. Despite a complete lack of non-fantasy evidence linking al Qaeda with Iraq, the administration couldn't imagine a stateless threat, and acted accordingly.

In an era of globalization, where national sovereignty encounters new hurdles every day, imagining stateless threats shouldn't be hard to do. Yet they couldn't, and we are left with a failed Afghanistan and a failing Iraq. Matt Yglesias has more on this failing.

The right-wing assault on media objectivity is incoherent on its face. The value of objectivity is dependent on, and derived from, a structural conception of society that originated in the progressive movement of the early 20th century. Historically, an "objective and professional" media contrasts not just with the partisan presses that were ubiquitous in the first century of our country's history, but also with the government, and to other less public-interested institutions.
The right rejects this vision of objectivity and professionalism: the role of the media isn't to serve as a counterpoint to anything, but to disseminate unfiltered information from other sources. Or at least, that is the depiction of the press that undermines the conservative charge of "liberal bias." The depiction that underlies their practice – talk radio and Murdochism – is anything but. There, advocacy is the Holy Grail.
There are three major forces pushing an agenda in the world of ideas: conservative media, corporate media, and government media. Conservative media has pretensions to objectivity, but they are admittedly mere cover. Corporate media, which should be limited to paid advertising, has obvious power in the market. Government media has its own set of biases. The role of an objective media should be to provide a counterpoint to these three institutional behemoths: to give voice to opinions not favored by market forces. It is supposed to be a marketplace of ideas, not just a market.
The media should have a bias: in favor of views with no major financial backers. They shouldn't serve as a simple conduit for paid flacks and hacks, presented as "he said/she said." In this respect, the nascent avowedly liberal media organs – Air America, Salon, the Progress Report, blogs, etc. – are in some ways more objective than the media establishment. They are certainly better at ensuring a healthy competition of ideas.

Brent Cunningham, Rethinking Objectivity, COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW July/August 2003

In his 1979 book Deciding What's News, the Columbia sociologist Herbert Gans defined what he called the journalist's "paraideology," which, he says, unconsciously forms and strengthens much of what we think of as news judgment. This consists largely of a number of "enduring values" -- such as "altruistic democracy" and "responsible capitalism" -- that are reformist, not partisan. "In reality," Gans writes, "the news is not so much conservative or liberal as it is reformist; indeed, the enduring values are very much like the values of the Progressive movement of the early twentieth century." My abortion story, then, came from my sense that what was happening violated my understanding of "altruistic democracy." John Laurence distills Gans's paraideology into simpler terms: "We are for honesty, fairness, courage, humility. We are against corruption, exploitation, cruelty, criminal behavior, violence, discrimination, torture, abuse of power, and many other things." Clifford Levy, a reporter for The New York Times whose series on abuse in New York's homes for the mentally ill won a Pulitzer this year, says, "Of all the praise I got for the series, the most meaningful was from other reporters at the paper who said it made them proud to work there because it was a classic case of looking out for those who can't look out for themselves."

This "paraideology," James Carey explains, can lead to charges of liberal bias. "There is a bit of the reformer in anyone who enters journalism," he says. "And reformers are always going to make conservatives uncomfortable to an extent because conservatives, by and large, want to preserve the status quo."

6/21/2004

Summary of Abu Ghraib

THE FILE: PRISON ABUSE The San Francisco Chronicle provides a helpful reference to the torture scandals. It has blurbs on most of the key actors, and links to most of the key documents.

Go Guido!

AUDIENCE GASPS AS JUDGE LIKENS ELECTION OF BUSH TO RISE OF IL DUCECalabresi is known as a moderate law and economics theorist. He is not a radical by any stretch of the imagination.

Iraq Language

This piece in yesterday's Washington Post got less attention than it deserves: GOP uber-pollster has a new set of linguistic tools for framing the Iraq debacle.

With voter anxieties about Iraq shadowing this year's campaign, pollster Frank Luntz has some advice for fellow Republicans: Mind your language.

Luntz, according to a strategy paper that fell into the hands of Democrats, says minor changes in language used by politicians can lead to major differences in voter perceptions -- turning a potential liability into an asset.

Among his suggested talking points, in the nine-page section on Iraq and terrorism:

* It's not the war in Iraq -- it's the war on terror. "You will not find any instance in which we suggest that you use the actual word 'preemption' or the phrase 'the War in Iraq' to communicate your policies to the American public. To do so is to undermine your message from the start," it said. "Your efforts are about 'the principles of prevention and protection' in the greater 'War on Terror.' "

* Remember: better there than here. " 'Prevention at home can require aggressive action abroad' is the best way to link a principle the public supports with the policies of the Administration," it said. " 'It is better to fight the War on Terror on the streets of Baghdad than on the streets of New York or Washington.' "

* Don't forget the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. " '9/11 changed everything' is the context by which everything follows. No speech about homeland security or Iraq should begin without a reference to 9/11."

* Don't forget Saddam Hussein. " 'The world is a better place without Saddam Hussein.' Enough said."

* And don't forget the troops. "Nothing matters more than Americans in the line of fire," it said. "Never, ever, EVER give a speech or issue a press release that makes no mention of our troops."

In an e-mailed response, phrasemaker Luntz declined to comment on his paper.
Frank Lutz has one purpose: getting Republicans elected, and making sure they stay that way. He has no interest in truth, and his talking points prove it.

This document should give a shock to the media system. We are struggling now with the spectacle of Bush parsing his words, attempting to claim the benefit of the ambiguity produced by his inability or unwillingness to use the English language. This memo is an instruction sheet to Republicans that want to perpetuate the revisionist stories of the lead up to war. We can't let them:
  1. We should fight terrorists that threaten us, not anyone that has ever communicated with terrorists.
  2. Iraq did not threaten us. Our invasion of Iraq was not part of any war on terrorism. By putting the country at risk of becoming a failed state, the White House has created a new front in the war. The more failed states, the more breeding ground for terrorism, the less safe we are.
  3. 9-11 did not change everything. Things like our respect for human rights and our treatment of detainees were the strengths al Qaeda despised us for before 9-11. They should have been our strengths after 9-11.
  4. The world is a better place without Saddam Hussein, but America is not a safer country.
  5. Troops are humans, not toys to be played with. They deserve as much protection as we can give them, especially when it is as easy as armored humvees and working body armor. They deserve good medical treatment, adequate pay, and reliable benefits. Above all, they deserve competent leadership.

 

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