Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Lisa's Commission

I have just finished reading Rev. Jim Wallis' God's Politics and it has been an inspiration. It's hard for many to find hope in this highly charged political environment, but Wallis manages to convey hope almost effortlessly, with a little help from his friends.

He closes with the story of Lisa Sullivan, an African American street organizer from a working class family in Washington, D.C. Lisa earned a PhD. from Yale, then returned to work with "forgotten children of color," as Wallis puts it. At age forty, Lisa died of a rare heart ailment. A close friend of Wallis', she was on the board of his "Sojourners" magazine.
Lisa's legacy is continuing though countless young people who she inspired, challenged, and mentored. But there is one thing she often said to them and to all of us that has stayed with me ever since Lisa died. When people would complain, as they often do, that we don't have any leaders today, or ask “Where are the Martin Luther Kings now?” - Lisa would get angry. And she would declare these words: "We are the ones we have been waiting for!" Lisa was a person of faith. And hers was a powerful call to leadership and responsibility and a deep affirmation of hope.
May we all heed that call of encouragement. We are the ones we have been waiting for!

Monday, May 29, 2006

Three-card Monte

Paul Krugman's column today in the Times points up how challenging it is to deal with adveraries when "the other side doesn't play by any known rules."

Dr. James Hansen, a climate scientist at the center of the global warming debate, appears in "An Inconvenient Truth," the new film on that subject by former Vice-President Al Gore. Krugman notes that Hansen presented scientific evidence for global warming before the Senate in 1988, and his predictions have held up since. Still, the energy industry funded a "smear campaign" to distort his research conclusions and portray them as unreliable. Krugman says plainly, "He was Swift-boated."

Sen. John Kerry knows that technique too well. A Times piece on Sunday detailed his post-campaign research to refute charges against his military record raised in the Swift Boat Veterans' $30 million smear effort. The Times reports that "naval records and accounts from other sailors contradicted almost every claim they made." Not that the "Swifties" cared.
"The mantra was just 'We want to set the record straight,' " Mr. Hayes [an early member of the group] said this month. "It became clear to me that it was morphing from an organization to set the record straight into a highly political vendetta. They knew it was not the truth."
I once wrote a column submitted with the working title, "Heads, I win. Tails, you lose." The headline writer went with, "Soldiers are straightforward about Iraq, while White House deals us a Catch-22." Whatever.

The column observed how slyly GOP operatives rig the debate in their favor:
Earlier in January, Vice President Cheney dismissed those who suggest that overthrowing Saddam Hussein simply “stirred up” terrorists, saying, “They overlook a fundamental fact: We were not in Iraq on Sept. 11, 2001, and the terrorists hit us anyway.” (In case you missed the connection Cheney repeatedly denies making, Saddam = Osama = Sept. 11.)

The president weighed in too, admonishing critics to “debate responsibly when American troops are risking their lives overseas.” Debating a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq might “embolden” terrorists (read, put troops at risk).

Let’s review: a) Those concerned about emboldening terrorists lack the resolve to put troops at risk against already emboldened terrorists; and b) Those hoping to minimize the risk to troops irresponsibly put troops at risk by emboldening already emboldened terrorists.

It’s like watching close-up magicians at the Magic Castle. This trick is called: “Heads, I win. Tails, you lose.” Wanna see it again?
This verbal Three-card Monte has become standard operating procedure on the right, something Glenn Greenwald highlighted in a similar way last week in the context of what the Wall Street Journal's editorial page claims is the "the peculiar rage that now animates so many on the political left" and threatens their success at the polls. (And we didn't think they cared!)

National Review's Rich Lowry (like the Journal) decried the "rank incivility" in evidence when war hero Sen. John McCain's commencement address at the New School was "heckled by left-wingers."

Greenwald responded:
Lowry said nothing about the continuous mockery by the Bush campaign of war hero John Kerry's war wounds and military service, including the waiving of purple band-aids at the Republican National Convention, nor did Lowry condemn the ongoing attacks on the patriotism and courage of war hero Jack Murtha. And Lowry specifically defended the invocation of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein in commercials against wounded combat veteran Max Cleland, dismissing complaints about such attacks on Cleland's commitment to the nation's defense as mere "whining."

... it's a completely perverse "civility" standard which holds that it's fine to attack a war hero's patriotism, impugn their allegiance to the country, question their courage, and mock their war wounds -- as Bush supporters routinely do -- but that it is somehow intolerable to heckle them while giving a political speech.
When Democrat Rep. Lacy Clay of Missouri spoke at UM St. Louis' commencement, he included comments against the war and the president. As conservative blogger Gateway Pundit put it:
Representative Lacy Clay Jr. gave such a hate-filled speech last Saturday morning at the University of Missouri St. Louis campus that he had to stop three times during his talk because the boos from the crowd had drowned him out! But unlike Murtha, Lacy Clay needed security to escort him from the building after he was through with his Bush-bash!
In essence, the UMSL students behaved as any normal, God-fearing, patriotic real Americans would. "Hate-filled," of course, being in the eyes of the partisan (read the speech for yourself). Greenwald observes:
So pro-Bush students heckled Rep. Clay's speech and were so disruptive that the Congressman actually needed security to escort him out of the building for fear that his physical safety would be endangered. Does that show that the Angry Right is deranged and is jeopardizing their chances to win elections? No, it shows the opposite. This incident also shows how deranged the Angry Left is.


So, to re-cap the rules: (1) When a pro-war politician gives a pro-war speech as part of a graduation ceremony, and students in the audience heckle and boo him, that shows how Deranged the Angry Left is -- because they heckled a pro-war speech. (2) When an anti-war politician gives an anti-war speech as part of a graduation ceremony, and students in the audience heckle, walk out and even riot, that also shows how Angry the Left is -- because they "provoked a near riot" by pro-war students.
If there is any rule extant at all among the Macchiavellis of the right, it's "Heads, I win. Tails, you lose." Is it any wonder Americans have come to distrust the confidence men responsible for Iraq, Katrina relief, Social Security privatization, the budget, domestic spying, etc.?

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Amnesty, you mock me

(updated below)

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) was just on Meet the Press discussing the illegal immigration issue, the latest "crisis" requiring precipitous government action, an election-year crisis conveniently timed to distract America from failures in Iraq, the last "crisis" that demanded America act before thinking.

I'm waiting for the MTP transcript to see how many times he used "amnesty." However you consider resolving the immigration issue -- punishment, enforcement, a pathway to citizenship -- those in the House insisting on making felons of illegal Mexican immigrants want to drive "amnesty" into our brains with a ball peen hammer until we submit. Amnesty is a bad word. It's bad. Amnesty is the new "liberal," a scarlet "A" to hang around the necks of opponents.

Amnesty, you mock me.

It's like the Saturday Night Live bit with John Malkovich as a melancholy 18th century royal:
Lord Edmund: You mock me! [ chases her out ] And I will NOT be mocked!! [ pauses in anger ] The insolence and bold affrontary! [ walks forward, never suspecting that his Servants are imitating his walk in a fit of mockery behind his back ] She was mocking me, was she not?

Servant #1: Oh, yes, your Lord. [ Servant #2 mocks Lord Edmund behind his back as Servant #1 speaks ] I was crimson with rage and egregious impertinence of her bold ignorance! [ to Servant #2 ] Would you promise?

Servant #2: Oh, yes.. [ Servant #1 mocks Lord Edmund behind his back as Servant #2 speaks ] ..the brazen audacity of her tongue was surpassed only by her derisive hauture!


Lord Edmund: [ chases him out ] I will not be mocked!! [ walks around, as the Servants continue to mock him ] I grow weary.. [ looks out the window ] The moon is out. I say, the moon is out, and yet it is day. The moon mocks me.. and I will not be mocked!

Servant #1: Yes, yes! The crescent moon lets its lunar contempt be seen for what it is - a brazen canopy of affrontary! Thomas?

Servant #2: Oh, yes, yes, of course! The impudence of the moon's bold audacity!

Lord Edmund: [ walks away, as the Servants mock him behind his back ] I will retire now to my chamber, where there are only my bed and my dreams to mock me. [ exits room ]

[ the Servants starts mimicing Lord Edmund's every expression ]

Servant #2: "I will not be mocked!"

Servant #1: "You mock me!"

Servant #2: "I will not be mocked!"

Servant #1: "You mock me!"

Servant #2: "I will not be mocked!"

Servant #1: "You mock me!"
If only we could have Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey follow these guys around and mimic "amnesty, amnesty" behind their backs, and on camera.


Sensenbrenner's Senate foil in this MTP illegal immigration debate was Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE). Let's see how many times the amnesty talking point came up.

The scores are now in:

Sensenbrenner 16
Hagel 9

Friday, May 26, 2006

"We don't care how they do it up North"

Two complementary posts today about American tribal identities and how "identity politics" trumps issues for most Americans.

Chris Bowers at MyDD writes:
Over the past year and a half, I have slowly developed an argument that the electorate is, in general, non-ideological, not interested in policy, and generally unmoved by the day-to-day minutia of political events that, within the blogosphere, are treated as cataclysmic events. Sure, most people hold general political beliefs, but in general national voting habits are motivated by something else--something more basic. As we look for ways to motivate voters in November, we need to remember the powerful role that identity plays in political decision-making. As progressives, we shrug off concepts such as the "battle of civilizations," but if you look closely at demographic data, maybe it is a battle of civilizations taking place after all. We may very well be living in an era of identity politics. Who knows, maybe every era of American politics is an era of identity politics.

Motivating voters and pulling off a landslide election will require a gut-level change of attitude about the two parties among millions of Americans. For all of the great policies everyone will suggest Democrats to run on this fall, ultimately winning will be based just as much on how Americans view their identity in relation to the image of the two coalitions as anything else. We need to avoid falling into the wonk trap of assuming that people are motivated by policy details. It is the identity, stupid. We need to explore ways to motivate voters for progressive causes with that in mind.
Digby concurs, noting in particular the south's strong cultural identity:
It's just a fact that the south has a very strong regional identity of its own. And I don't think the rest of the country is quite like it. That divide has been with us since the beginning and it far transcends any mommy/daddy party dichotomy.

I watched the country music awards the other night and saw what looked like a typical bunch of glammed up pop stars like you'd see on any of these awards shows. Lots of cowboy hats, of course, but the haircuts, the clothes, the silicone bodies were not any different from any other Hollywood production. But the songs were not. There are plenty of Saturday night honky tonk fun and straightforward gospel style religious and patriotic tunes. But there is a strain of explicit cultural ID that wends through all of them.

Gretchen Wilson and Merle Haggard's song "Politically Uncorrect" perfectly captures the sense of exceptionalism and specialness of southern culture:
I'm for the low man on the totem pole
And I'm for the underdog God bless his soul
And I'm for the guys still pulling third shift
And the single mom raisin' her kids
I'm for the preachers who stay on their knees
And I'm for the sinner who finally believes
And I'm for the farmer with dirt on his hands
And the soldiers who fight for this land


And I'm for the Bible and I'm for the flag
And I'm for the working man, me and ol' hag
I'm just one of many
Who can't get no respect

Politically uncorrect

(Merle Haggard)
I guess my opinion is all out of style
(Gretchen Wilson)
Aw, but don't get me started cause I can get riled
And I'll make a fight for the forefathers plan
(Merle Haggard)
And the world already knows where I stand

Repeat Chorus

(Merle Haggard)
Nothing wrong with the Bible, nothing wrong with the flag
(Gretchen Wilson)
Nothing wrong with the working man me & ol' hag
We're just some of many who can't get no respect
Politically uncorrect
(Merle Haggard)
Now that's identity. I emphasized the "can't get no respect" part because I think that's key, as I have written many times before. The belief that these ideas are particular to this audience, that they stand alone as being politically incorrect and are "out of style" for holding them, is a huge cultural identifier. And it's held in opposition to some "other" (presumably someone like me) who is believed not to care about any of those things --- particularly the welfare of the common man.
And that, friends, is what Republican flacks mean when they say Democrats "don't get it." Criticisms like that stick because there's some truth to them.

As much as liberal activists read and inform themselves, many can't let go of the notion that the truth (their truth) will set men free. They fixate on pet issues and insist that every voter should hold them as dearly as they do. It doesn't work that way. Some don't want to be "set free."

It's like some vegatarian zealot insisting that eating meat is immoral, but who never tried to survive an arctic winter eating only veggies. That's a temperate zone vanity, born of being able to survive easily on fruits and vegetables delivered year-round thanks to a vast network of asphalt-based roads and fleets of diesel-burning trucks. Moose and caribou eaters in arctic climes might think vegetarians have a death wish.

Not every southern issue is about freeing the slaves, and those who insist upon cultural sensitivity should try promoting it by showing some. The "otherness" of southern culture is a point of pride, as stated in the iconic southern bumper sticker that thumbs a nose at know-it-all yankees (and the rest of the country), "We don't care how they do it up North."

The sooner southern Democrat activists learn to show the same cultural sensitivity for their football- and NASCAR-loving neighbors that they'd show for more exotic foreign ex-pats, the sooner they'll win back southern voters and stop being tagged as the "other" themselves.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

How about a little fire, ScareRove?

This morning the New York Times' Frank Rich jazzed on The Da Vinci Code and its owners, Sony Corporation, for conning religious conservatives into promoting the film for them. Sony offered them web space to vent their displeasure at the film, creating controversy and interest Sony expects will drive up receipts.

It's a ploy reminiscent of the biennial gays, guns and God scare fest the Republican leadership whips up each cycle to provoke its hardcore base into contributing money and being good campaign foot soldiers. The GOP's interest in them and these issues fades just as soon as the polls close, until the next cycle. Rich elaborates:
Nowhere is this game more naked than in the Jack Abramoff scandal: the felonious Washington lobbyist engaged his pal Ralph Reed, the former leader of the Christian Coalition, to shepherd Christian conservative leaders like James Dobson, Gary Bauer and the Rev. Donald Wildmon and their flocks into ostensibly "anti-gambling" letter-writing campaigns. They were all duped: in reality these campaigns were engineered to support Mr. Abramoff's Indian casino clients by attacking competing casinos. While that scam may be the most venal exploitation of "faith" voters by Washington operatives, it's all too typical. This history repeats itself every political cycle: the conservative religious base turns out for its party and soon finds itself betrayed. The right's leaders are already threatening to stay home this election year because all they got for their support of Republicans in the previous election year was a lousy Bush-Cheney T-shirt. Actually, they also got two Supreme Court justices, but their wish list was far longer. Dr. Dobson, the child psychologist who invented Focus on the Family, set the tone with a tantrum on Fox, whining that Republicans were "ignoring those that put them in office" and warning of "some trouble down the road" if they didn't hop-to.
Actually, I listened to Focus on the Family on November 5, 2004, three days after the presidential election. Dobson was already spouting that line: the Republicans had better not yank away that football this time, or there would be hell to pay come the next presidential election, if not sooner.

Too bad Dobson's not Catholic. He could be their patron saint of empty threats.

Rich goes on to: a) knock the GOP some more while they're down, b) poke fun at Democrats for buying into the "moral values" polls and setting up a Democratic Faith Working Group in the House, and c) predict the end of "the cynical Rove strategy of exploiting faith-based voters."

There may be something to Rich's prediction, but not because the GOP's base has wised up. Rove's cyclical (as well as cynical) strategy of getting them hopped up on adrenaline over wedge issues may be about to explode in his face.

This year the GOP's political fashion necessity is illegal immigration, the wedge issue they hope will fire up the base and distract the rest of the country from the debacles the Bush administration has made of Iraq, Katrina, the budget and pretty much everything else it has touched. Since early last year (at least) there has been an effort to make illegal immigrants the latest culture wars bogeymen, just in time for the mid-terms. Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Nick Coleman described it this way in December 2005:
Wonder what’s behind the sudden debate over “illegal” immigrants? Listen to a retired accountant from Lake Crystal, Minn., named Pat Peoples. It turns out the demagoguery is not so sudden. It has been in the works for months.

Last February, after answering a random phone survey, Peoples was invited to take part in a focus group discussion of political issues in Mankato. The group was made up of a cross-section of voters from southern Minnesota. Taxes, gambling and sports stadiums — all being debated at the time in St. Paul — were discussed.

But there was more on the agenda at this mystery meeting, which was sponsored by a group that gave each participant a lunch and $20, but which would not identify itself.

The woman moderator, who said she was from Maryland, wanted very much to talk about immigrants. The participants already had discussed any issues they were concerned about, except the war in Iraq. There would be no talk about Iraq, the woman said. But up to that point, no one had mentioned immigration, much to the annoyance of the moderator. So she prodded the group to complain about immigrants.

“I haven’t heard anybody talk about immigration,” Peoples, an independent, recalls her saying. “Anybody have a problem with the illegal aliens coming in?”

The group’s response to the question was “a deafening silence,” Peoples says. But the woman pushed harder, listing some of the complaints she said she had heard in other states where she had conducted focus groups. Still, no one obliged her. Instead, Peoples mentioned the immigrant workers in a nearby town, praising them for how hard they seem to work.

Not the correct answer. Someone was paying money for this. They wanted problems.

“She shut me off,” Peoples recalls. “Then she said, ‘Aren’t you having problems here?’ ”


“There was no reason for this to be brought up,” Peoples says. “I think someone was trying to find an issue that will antagonize people and get them riled up so they come out and vote, without offering a solution.”

Peoples has perfectly described how demagoguery works: Exaggerate a problem; exploit the manufactured resentment at the polls; offer no solutions to address a problem without creating an even larger one.

Who sponsored the Mankato focus group is still a mystery. But there is no mystery why politicians try to capitalize on a destructive strategy. And it will be a tragedy if they succeed.
This story jibes with my experience. Last October, the Raleigh-based Civitas Institute, a conservative think tank ("we're non-partisan," wink-wink), held a series of seminars across the state to discuss/promote upcoming issues. Illegal immigration was featured as a campaign-worthy issue headed for number one with a bullet. If the public didn't seem angry yet, stay tuned.

Well, the GOP prefers its base angry and has done its work too well this time. Now that they've made immigration issue number one, the president seems unable to satisfy the far right with his guest worker program and national guard troops on the border. His prime-time speech last week was dissected by the far right. They want fences, deportations and real punishment. They are not of a mood to be placated by "amnesty," and look to be turning on their leaders.

The emotional "high" they get from fighting the culture wars may be addictive. Like church services where congregations come expecting their preacher to whip them up into an emotional fervor and deliver a cathartic release, anything less feels empty. The old wedge issues (gays, abortion, etc.) and old leaders have lost some of their zing and no longer satisfy. Now the culture warriors need stronger stuff, and the mobs are gathering pitchforks, scythes and torches to stop the alien menace. The GOP had best not get in their way.

Karl, you play with fire long enough and you get burned.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Truth or Consequences

Surfed over to Digby's site this evening and found a lively debate on whether (should they win back one or more branches of Congress this fall) Democrats should call for investigations into Bush administration malfeasance.

I'm sympathetic to the notion that if Democrats take back Congress, they should simply focus on their own agenda, a positive one, and not on Bush. Set their own course, as it were.

But I keep coming back to something President Bill Clinton said on "The Daily Show" in 2004. Jon Stewart asked him why we keep seeing Swift Boat-style attacks. Clinton had also noted the "black baby" whispering campaign against Sen. John McCain in South Carolina in 2000.
STEWART: Is it - has it gotten to the point - do you believe that politics has gotten so dirty and so - that these kinds of tactics have become so prevalent - that this is the reason half the country doesn't vote, or, this is the reason we don't get, maybe, the officials that we deserve?

CLINTON: No, I think people do it because they think it works.

STEWART: That's it. Simply a strategy?

CLINTON: Absolutely. And as soon as it doesn't work, they'll stop doing it...

CLINTON: Look what they did to Max Cleland in Georgia. Here Max Cleland left two legs and an arm in Vietnam and in 2002 they ran ads against him. Again he was being opposed by a man who, like me and the President and the Vice-President, did not go to Vietnam. They ran ads comparing Max Cleland to Saddam Hussein, because he didn't vote for the Homeland Security Agency exactly as the President had drafted it. And they treated him like a traitor.

Y'know why he didn't vote for it? Because the bill removed all civil service protections from 170,000 federal employees who had nothing to do with your security. So he [said] "I didn't leave half my body in Vietnam to come home and strip 170,000 people of their job rights just for a cheap election year issue. But, they beat him with it and until we stop them, they'll keep doin' it.

(Loud cheers and clapping.)
So maybe it's time to stop them. For their own good, too. Aren't Republicans the ones who believe "consequences" are instructive and necessary for raising responsible children? (Applying “the board of education to the seat of learning,” right?) Doesn't it seem like a firm application of their own disciplinary theories would only be appropriate and in keeping with their values?

Without suffering "consequences" they'll just keep on misbehaving and never grow into mature, responsible, self-regulating adults. Isn't that how it works?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The 1% solution

Lance at BlueNC has begun reading up on the the problem of the uninsured in America, gleaning things he'll be "quoting at cocktail parties for months to come," while worrying that "it won't make a lick of practical difference."

Speaking for the 45+ million. I lost my insurance about 3 yrs ago after being laid off. I'm now making some cash, but as a contract worker, i.e., no bennies. So do I attempt to get private insurance at premium rates? What if I'm denied due to some preexisting condition (you're screwed), or I can, but at rates I will not be able to bear during the next out-of-work stint? Heck, I don't have time even to fill out the four-page medical history, I'm working such long hours. (You know, doing that responsible citizen thing.) Welcome to Bushworld.

The corporate-based model for health care is irredeemable. The corporation looks out for the corporation. Period.

When are Dems gonna start reminding voters that we believe we are all in this together, that America is only as strong as the weakest link, that alone we are, each and every one, one illness away from ruin. There, but for the grace of God, etc.

Why do we celebrate the soldier's ethic of "You watch my back; I watch yours" in films, but dismiss it as socialism in the civilian sector?

Why do Republican politicians like the president tell voters that digitizing medical records could shave 20% off the cost of the average person's medical care, yet they put their weight behind tort reform that experts say might save less than 1%?

They favor the 1% solution because they are the party of the 1% and not of the rest of us.

Monday, May 15, 2006

"One of the darkest eras in American history"

Intelligence historian Matthew Aid in Salon:
The fact that the federal government has my phone records scares the living daylights out of me. They won't learn much from them other than I like ordering pizza on Friday night and I don't call my mother as often as I should. But it should scare the living daylights out of everybody, even if you're willing to permit the government certain leeways to conduct the war on terrorism.

We should be terrified that Congress has not been doing its job and because all of the checks and balances put in place to prevent this have been deliberately obviated. In order to get this done, the NSA and White House went around all of the checks and balances. I'm convinced that 20 years from now we, as historians, will be looking back at this as one of the darkest eras in American history. And we're just beginning to sort of peel back the first layers of the onion.

"Double super secret background"

The precedent-setting "state secrets" case from 1953 is United States v. Reynolds. In 1948 an Air Force B-29 crashed near Waycross, Georgia while testing secret electronic equipment. An engine fire had precipitated the breakup of the aircraft as the thirteen men onboard attempted to bail out. Only four survived.

Widows of three civilian passengers who died sued for compensation, believing the government negligent. Military officials argued that release of the Air Force crash report for the trial would compromise national security (though they offered to provide the survivors for examination). The Supreme Court agreed and ruled in the government's favor without itself ever examining the documents. The widows reluctantly settled for a lesser amount than they had originally won in the lower courts.

Justifying the need for secrecy at the time, Air Force Secretary Thomas K. Finletter wrote:
"The airplane . . carried confidential equipment on board and any disclosure of its mission or information concerning its operation or performance would be prejudicial to this Department and would not be in the public interest."
A series by Matt Katz on the families' efforts to find out the truth is available online from the South Jersey Courier-Post, entitled "State Secrets." It explains:
... the decision effectively established a new law, granting the military unprecedented power to conceal documents that it says can compromise national security. It is considered the most important case on the "state secrets privilege," and essentially allows the military to keep documents secret from anyone, even from federal judges.
Jump ahead fifty years.

After the birth of her first son, Judith Loether began wondering about her father, Albert Palya, an RCA engineer from Hadden Heights, NJ, the son of Austrian immigrants, and about the accident that had taken his life when she was only days old.

In 2000, Loether stumbled across run by Michael Stowe, an aviation history buff who has collected over 100,000 declassified military airplane accident reports. Decades' worth. Loether ordered a copy of the 220-page declassified report on the B-29 crash that killed her father. She spent months poring over it.
"It was just wrong. It's not the American way," Loether says today, barely concealing her anger.
The accident report laid out the details,
Failure to follow procedure. Failure to carry out special safety orders. Pilot error. These were the causes identified by the Air Force - all evidence that could have been used 50 years ago to support the claims of negligence.
Among other findings the Courier-Post series reports:
● Two Air Force orders calling for changes in the exhaust system - "for the purpose of eliminating a definite fire hazard" - were not complied with. The fire began in the exhaust system.

● An Air Force order requiring the inspection of rivets was ignored. Loose rivets may have been a factor in the crash.

● The plane needed "more than the normal amount of maintenance." It had been out of commission because of technical problems 97 of the 189 days before the crash.
There was slight mention of the classified testing program, Project Banshee, the kind of information routinely blacked out today in documents released through the Freedom of Information Act, signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966.
Last November, Brown [the families' lawyer] took the case to the Supreme Court with a highly unusual petition charging that fraud was committed upon the court five decades earlier. In the petition, the three families sought $1.14 million, the $55,000 difference, adjusted for inflation, between the original court award and the money the families received in the final settlement.

The petition argued the Air Force intentionally suppressed the crash secrets.

"When it found it could not protect them based on truth, it determined to resort to the lie that they contained, and might compromise, military secrets," the petition says.
The Supreme Court refused to hear their case.

Further details of their ongoing legal battle are available here, here, and here (the Third Circuit's judgment from September 2005).

The precedent having been set, United States v. Reynolds has been cited over 500 times in the years since, according to the Courier-Post, including 19 times in the Supreme Court. The Nixon administration invoked Reynolds in the 1974 Watergate case. Two weeks ago, the Bush administration invoked the state secrets privilege to quash the Electronic Frontiers Foundation's class action lawsuit against AT&T.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

"It's Deja Vu All Over Again"

Olmstead v. United States (1928), the landmark government wiretapping case.

Roy Olmstead and his associates ran a liquor business during the prohibition period. The government built its case against him based upon warrantless wiretaps on his home and business telephones. Olmstead et. al. contended that the use of the wiretaps violated their rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against them. The decision was later reversed by Katz v. United States in 1967.

History best remembers Olmstead for the dissenting opinion of Justice Louis Brandeis:
The makers of our Constitution ... sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. They conferred, as against the government, the right to be let alone-the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men. To protect that right, every unjustifiable intrusion by the government upon the privacy of the individual, whatever the means employed, must be deemed a violation of the Fourth Amendment.


It is, of course, immaterial where the physical connection with the telephone wires leading into the defendants' premises was made. And it is also immaterial that the intrusion was in aid of law enforcement. Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government's purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.


Decency, security, and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of the criminal law the end justifies the means-to declare that the government may commit crimes in order to secure the conviction of a private criminal-would bring terrible retribution. Against that pernicious doctrine this court should resolutely set its face.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Call it what it is: Un-American

This administration didn't swear oaths to the Unified Executive Theory. They swore oaths -- and promptly forgot them -- to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Including the 4th Amendment, which the president's nominee to head the CIA, former NSA chief, General Michael Hayden, doesn't seem to have read lately. From the National Press Club, January 23:
QUESTION: Jonathan Landay with Knight Ridder. I'd like to stay on the same issue, and that had to do with the standard by which you use to target your wiretaps. I'm no lawyer, but my understanding is that the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution specifies that you must have probable cause to be able to do a search that does not violate an American's right against unlawful searches and seizures. Do you use --

GEN. HAYDEN: No, actually -- the Fourth Amendment actually protects all of us against unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: But the --

GEN. HAYDEN: That's what it says.

QUESTION: But the measure is probable cause, I believe.

GEN. HAYDEN: The amendment says unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: But does it not say probable --

GEN. HAYDEN: No. The amendment says --

QUESTION: The court standard, the legal standard --

GEN. HAYDEN: -- unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: The legal standard is probable cause, General. You used the terms just a few minutes ago, "We reasonably believe." And a FISA court, my understanding is, would not give you a warrant if you went before them and say "we reasonably believe"; you have to go to the FISA court, or the attorney general has to go to the FISA court and say, "we have probable cause." And so what many people believe -- and I'd like you to respond to this -- is that what you've actually done is crafted a detour around the FISA court by creating a new standard of "reasonably believe" in place in probable cause because the FISA court will not give you a warrant based on reasonable belief, you have to show probable cause. Could you respond to that, please?

GEN. HAYDEN: Sure. I didn't craft the authorization. I am responding to a lawful order. All right? The attorney general has averred to the lawfulness of the order.

Just to be very clear -- and believe me, if there's any amendment to the Constitution that employees of the National Security Agency are familiar with, it's the Fourth. And it is a reasonableness standard in the Fourth Amendment. And so what you've raised to me -- and I'm not a lawyer, and don't want to become one -- what you've raised to me is, in terms of quoting the Fourth Amendment, is an issue of the Constitution. The constitutional standard is "reasonable." And we believe -- I am convinced that we are lawful because what it is we're doing is reasonable.
Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
So General, sir, your reasonable search still requires a warrant backed by probable cause.

A signal intelligence (sigint) specialist who checked in with back in December took a slightly different view from the general's:
"It's drilled into you from minute one that you should not ever, ever, ever, under any fucking circumstances turn this massive apparatus on an American citizen," one source says. "You do a lot of weird shit. But at least you don't fuck with your own people."
Another America-hating Democrat, obviously.

Incidentally, Americablog already has your tee shirts and mugs printed up:

Now Spying on Americans

Friday, May 12, 2006

He's French. What does he know?

Chapter IV



DESPOTISM which by its nature is suspicious, sees in the separation among men the surest guarantee of its continuance, and it usually makes every effort to keep them separate. No vice of the human heart is so acceptable to it as selfishness: a despot easily forgives his subjects for not loving him, provided they do not love one another. He does not ask them to assist him in governing the state; it is enough that they do not aspire to govern it themselves. He stigmatizes as turbulent and unruly spirits those who would combine their exertions to promote the prosperity of the community; and, perverting the natural meaning of words, he applauds as good citizens those who have no sympathy for any but themselves.

Thus the vices which despotism produces are precisely those which equality fosters. These two things perniciously complete and assist each other. Equality places men side by side, unconnected by any common tie; despotism raises barriers to keep them asunder; the former predisposes them not to consider their fellow creatures, the latter makes general indifference a sort of public virtue.

Despotism, then, which is at all times dangerous, is more particularly to be feared in democratic ages...

- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Kremlin

(updated below)

Matthew Yglesias at The American Prospect puts the USA Today piece in its broader perspective:
FUN WITH SURVEILLANCE. Turns out the NSA, with the collaboration of every phone company except Qwest, is monitoring all of our calls -- not to listen in to what's being said, but simply to gather data about the calls and draw inferences from that. It's important to link this up to the broader chain. One thing the Bush administration says it can do with this meta-data is to start tapping your calls and listening in, without getting a warrant from anyone. Having listened in on your calls, the administration asserts that if it doesn't like what it hears, it has the authority to detain you indefinitely without trial or charges, torture you until you confess or implicate others, extradite you to a Third World country to be tortured, ship you to a secret prison facility in Eastern Europe, or all of the above. If, having kidnapped and tortured you, the administration determines you were innocent after all, you'll be dumped without papers somewhere in Albania left to fend for yourself.
UPDATE: Growing up, these were the kinds of behaviors we learned to associate with tyrannical regimes. Government surveillance was the sort of thing adults warned us kids would happen if the United States ever fell to communism.

Now eat your cereal.

They were wrong. It's the kind of thing that happens when Americans are too busy acquiring stuff and figuring out how to pay for it to tend the garden of democracy and defend it from the neighborhood bullies and vandals. I left it unattended for too long, and now look.

And patriotism? They were wrong about that too. If this is what it feels like to be a patriot locked in a struggle for your heritage and your country, it has little to do with uplifting music and light spirits. It's more about righteous anger, fierce determination and a set jaw.

They can all hear us now

Even before the Justice Department used the "state secret privilege" to kill off the class action lawsuit against AT&T over violations of telecommunications laws and laws guarding customers' privacy, I've been wondering which other telecoms might be involved. This morning, USA Today has the scoop.
The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.
"I'm telling you the truth, I'm lying."
In defending the previously disclosed program, Bush insisted that the NSA was focused exclusively on international calls. "In other words," Bush explained, "one end of the communication must be outside the United States."

As a result, domestic call records — those of calls that originate and terminate within U.S. borders — were believed to be private.

Sources, however, say that is not the case. With access to records of billions of domestic calls, the NSA has gained a secret window into the communications habits of millions of Americans. Customers' names, street addresses and other personal information are not being handed over as part of NSA's domestic program, the sources said. But the phone numbers the NSA collects can easily be cross-checked with other databases to obtain that information.
Qwest Communications seems to be the lone holdout, the one with enough concern for the legal liabilities involved or for its customers to to decline in the face of pressure from the government.
Trying to put pressure on Qwest, NSA representatives pointedly told Qwest that it was the lone holdout among the big telecommunications companies. It also tried appealing to Qwest's patriotic side: In one meeting, an NSA representative suggested that Qwest's refusal to contribute to the database could compromise national security, one person recalled.

In addition, the agency suggested that Qwest's foot-dragging might affect its ability to get future classified work with the government. Like other big telecommunications companies, Qwest already had classified contracts and hoped to get more.

Unable to get comfortable with what NSA was proposing, Qwest's lawyers asked NSA to take its proposal to the FISA court. According to the sources, the agency refused.

The NSA's explanation did little to satisfy Qwest's lawyers. "They told (Qwest) they didn't want to do that because FISA might not agree with them," one person recalled. For similar reasons, this person said, NSA rejected Qwest's suggestion of getting a letter of authorization from the U.S. attorney general's office. A second person confirmed this version of events.
FISA might not agree with them. Ergo, break the law.

The Boston Globe asked recently, which other laws does the Bush administration claim to uphold with its fingers crossed behind its back?
President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.

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

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Wild-eyed radicals

Spent the weekend immersed in politics.

Met Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas at a book signing for "Crashing the Gate" in Asheville, NC.

Markos pans Hillary Clinton's presidential chances in today's Washington Post for being decidedly un-Deanlike:
We didn't back him [Dean] because he was the most "liberal" candidate. In fact, we supported him despite his moderate, pro-gun, pro-balanced-budget record, because he offered the two things we craved most: outsider credentials and leadership.

And therein lie Hillary Clinton's biggest problems. She epitomizes the "insider" label of the early crowd of 2008 Democratic contenders. She's part of the Clinton machine that decimated the national Democratic Party...

Afraid to offend, she has limited her policy proposals to minor, symbolic issues -- such as co-sponsoring legislation to ban flag burning. She doesn't have a single memorable policy or legislative accomplishment to her name. Meanwhile, she remains behind the curve or downright incoherent on pressing issues such as the war in Iraq...

The last thing we need is yet another Democrat afraid to stand on principle.
Coincidentally, we spent the rest of the weekend in a Dean spin-off, the Democracy for America Training Academy learning how political campaigns work. Among the lefty activists in attendance were some of the wild-eyed, foaming-at-the-mouth radicals of conservative legend: a grandmother from north of Hickory, NC who is running for the state house of representatives; the pro-life Democrat county chair of Henderson County; and the couple who spends weekends canvassing and repairing playgrounds in their mostly Republican county (in which most elected offices are now held by Democrats thanks to their efforts).

Will these America haters stop at nothing?

Jury duty on Tuesday.

I highly recommend the DFA training course.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Checking your creds

Finished reading Kos' book, Crashing the Gate over the weekend. Was struck by how hard he hits single-issue groups. It's a reprise of his post on the topic.
One of the key problems with the Democratic Party is that single issue groups have hijacked it for their pet causes. So suddenly, Democrats are the party of abortion, of gun control, of spottend [sic] owls, of labor, of trial lawyers, etc, etc., et-frickin'-cetera. We don't stand for any ideals, we stand for specific causes. We don't have a core philosophy, we have a list with boxes to check off.

So while Republicans focus on building an ideological foundation for their cause, we focus on checking off those boxes on the list. Check enough boxes, and you're a Democrat in good standing.

Problem is, abortion and choice aren't core principles of the Democratic Party. Rather, things like a Right to Privacy are. And from a Right to Privacy certain things flow -- abortion rights, access to contraceptives, opposition to the Patriot Act, and freedom to worship the gods of our own choosing, or none at all.

Another example of a core Democratic principle -- equality under the law. And from that principle stem civil rights, gender equity, and gay rights. It's not that those individual issues aren't important, of course they are. It's just that they are just that -- individual issues. A party has to stand for something bigger than the sum of its parts.

We have confused groups that are natural allies of the Democratic Party for the party itself. And the party has ceded way too much power, way too much control, to those single issue groups.
He takes them to task for being too myopic to work collaboratively for a friendlier political environment that would lift their boats along with many others, too dogmatic about defending their turf to support any candidate not doctrinaire enough about their issue as they'd like.

Kos cites as one alternative the case of Dem. Governor Schweitzer in Montana. He won without being saddled with the baggage some single-issue group endorsements bring. He rejected requests to fill out the questionnaires by which they test a candidate's orthodoxy, and hence worthiness, to merit their endorsement and financial support.

The questionnaire approach reminds me of the tactics of some streetcorner evangelists. When they ask, "Have you accepted Jesus as your personal savior?" it's a trick question.

If you say no, they are going to try to save your soul (as an unbeliever, a waste of your time, presumably). And when Christians say yes, they still want to save your soul because you're not one of them, so they don't believe you. The encounter becomes a Twenty Questions-like game of "Flush out the Unbeliever." Answer in the affirmative and ...
Really, that's wonderful!
How did it happen? (Let's see if your alibi checks out.)
When did it happen? (You may be a backslider.)
Where do you go to church now? (If you're not one of ours, you still need saving; you're not doing it right.)
When were you Baptized? (If you don't remember, GOTCHA!)
And was it Total Immersion?
Rather than approving candidates based on similar "check box" orthodoxy, activists ought to be supporting candidates based upon who best represents their general principles and the common good, not through a pet cause litmus test. If we think being beholden to special interests is a bad thing, then it's also a bad thing when they're our special interests.

Principles are broader, more durable, and easier for the general, non-activist public to get behind. We just need to learn how to speak in terms of them.

Practice, practice.