I’ve heard this week’s crisis in financial markets as an economic 9/11. I agree completely, and think the analogy can be extended beyond just a generic catastrophic event. Republicans have done a great job of casting the attacks as completely out of the blue and unknowable. They have also adopted the unfathomably bizarre reasoning that the President has done a great job protecting us ever since the first 3,000 Americans were murdered on his watch. (This is the same tactic that allows them to claim The Surge - accompanied by an assassination and ethnic cleansing campaign - worked while ignoring the much larger strategic failures that surround it.) But as I’ve written previously there was plenty of warning before the attacks for those with eyes to see. Some in the intelligence community were desperately trying to get this lazy, indifferent administration’s attention when the red flags started popping up. The event was foreshadowed well in advance, and the biggest failures came at the very top. As then, so now. Plenty of people have been warning for years about the hazards (via Blue Girl) posed by the Republicans’ unwavering commitment to deregulation and toothless oversight. It was obvious that dismantling the structures erected to enforce a certain modest degree of prudence and good practice was not all about streamlining Byzantine procedures, modernizing the financial industry to compete in the modern global marketplace or any of that happy horseshit. It was not about creating a Randian paradise of unfettered capitalism, but unleashing the instant-gratification attitude that controls the mental six year olds on Wall Street. We created an environment that rewards the absolutely worst behavior. We knew it, the results were easy to predict and we could see it coming from a long way off. Let’s not even start with how no one could have known, or that spending some time on an autopsy is politicization - especially when the right was only too happy to politicize it when it worked for them.
And a trillion dollars is a lot of fucking money.
And please - spare me the wailing about how conservatism cannot fail, only be failed. When you postulate that government is evil you will necessarily view abuse of it as a virtue if not a moral imperative. And lofty claims of fiscal probity can self-evidently not survive extended contact with Washington, D.C. We have now conclusively seen that its claims and objectives are not practical and are essentially impossible to implement in the real world. Communism suffered the same crisis of idealism and now is on the ash heap. Time for conservatism to join it.
No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post
Over the weekend I watched a clip of Real Time with Bill Maher and was astonished by a comment from Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund (transcript below). The panel was discussing Sarah Palin’s apparent ignorance of the Bush Doctrine, and the subject turned to how knowledgeable Palin was in general. Maher brings up the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (Sarbox) as an example. Fund rejects even asking her about it, saying “Do you want to run a trivia contest or do you want to run a campaign?”
This was a remarkable thing to say for several reasons. First and foremost, Fund writes for one of the premier financial media outlets in the world! Isn’t legislation that puts noteworthy new regulations on business - itself a real novelty over the last generation - somewhere beyond Jeopardy territory? Furthermore, Sarbox is not just squarely in the wheelhouse of his supposed area of expertise, it is one of the best known pieces of legislation in the past ten years. I know I tend to be in the “political junkie” category but I think a member of a major party ticket should know at least as much about major legislation as I do.
The same is true of the Bush Doctrine. It has been much discussed in the last week; the hastily developed party line is that it actually is some kind of fascinating, multifaceted, unknowable metaphysical construct. (If true it would be the first evidence of foreign policy complexity from the Administration.) But even before all the renewed attention I think expecting a candidate to have at least an interested observer’s level of knowledge of it is reasonable. To get a sense of roughly what kind of knowledge “reasonable observer” level implied I decided to give myself an impromptu civics quiz. Since Sarbox has not been in the news recently (just like the Bush Doctrine hadn’t) I challenged myself to give an extemporaneous explanation of it from only my existing understanding of it - no news reports, Googling, Wikipedia, etc. Here’s what I came up with:
Sarbanes-Oxley is the law passed in the wake of the corporate accounting scandals of the early 2000’s. Designed to tighten reporting requirements and insure accountability via CEO signatures on SEC filings, it was intended to prevent the kind of creative accounting that led to the meltdown of Enron, WorldCom and other high profile companies.There are some quibbles with it - I neglect to mention it does not apply to privately held companies, for instance (but they don’t file with the SEC, right?) - but basically I’m happy with it. The point is, I was able to give a decent summary of a big piece of legislation based on having followed the news at the time. I probably could have done the same with the Bush Doctrine, at least mentioning the right to preemptive war based on gathering threats. These are not obscure events, they certainly are not trivia, and it is reasonable to expect anyone running for high office to be conversant in them. Again: Conversant. Not expert, just able to describe their basic outlines.
But John Fund and many others on the right are not engaging in these debates in good faith. Maher even points that out later in the show, telling Fund to his face that he thinks he is lying because he is too smart to believe his own dissembling. The dominant conservative philosophy of our time is a belief in a ruling class of elites. In practice it prefers for citizens to be ignorant of the most basic elements of policy, and nonparticipants in the process of governing. On the heels of the different tactics I highlighted last week to keep voters from actually voting Fund’s comments were a revelation. He represents those who have shaped our bellicose foreign policy and forcefully pushed for an unregulated, laissez faire economic state of nature.
They prefer undemocratic forms and seek to discourage the diffusion of knowledge. They want for us to be incurious about disastrous policies or abdications of responsibility, to dismiss our most important policies as trivia. They want for us to not ask questions even when thousands of our fellow citizens are sent to die in a faraway land, or when the financial industry melts down as it has this week. They want for us to not pay attention, or to not care. They don’t want high information voters or low information voters. They want no information, and no voting. They resent our attempts to influence our nation’s direction. They want to be left alone to shape the country as it best suits them, for us to take our lumps and theirs as well. They want for us to not bother.
Excerpt of Real Time with Bill Maher from September 12, 2008. From roughly 4:11-5:09. Cross talk, repeated words and applause not included.
BILL MAHERReturn to main text.
Let’s ask Sarah Palin about Sarbanes-Oxley. What would she say about that? “I shot one the other day. It had horns.” Do you think she knows what Sarbanes-Oxley is?
Do you want to run a trivia contest or do you want to run a campaign?
Is that trivia? Wait a second. When you’re running to live in the White House is it trivia? That’s what I mean - this bothers me. This “I’m a snob because I want to judge the intelligence level of someone who seeks the White House”? That makes me a snob? This is not American Idol. It’s not a beauty pageant, even though her answer sounded like a beauty pageant.
I went back and watched the tapes from the primaries. When something like Sarbanes-Oxley or the Bush Doctrine was introduced in those debates, they were given in context and the candidates were told what they were in reference to. Because this is not something that you’re supposed to remember off the top of your head.
That is such unbelievable bullshit!
No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post
Special “Vote Suppression/Disenfranchisement” edition:
- In Michigan (via):
The chairman of the Republican Party in Macomb County, Mich., a key swing county in a key swing state, is planning to use a list of foreclosed homes to block people from voting in the coming election as part of the state GOP’s effort to challenge some voters on Election Day.
- In Mississippi (via):
[F]ormer Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, a Democrat, has been running close to Senator Roger Wicker, a Republican, in the polls. Mr. Wicker was appointed to the seat by Governor Barbour in late December after Trent Lott stepped down. Mississippi election law clearly states that federal elections must go at the top of ballots. And the secretary of state, Delbert Hosemann, plans to list the state’s other Senate race — incumbent Thad Cochran is running far ahead of his Democratic challenger, Erik Fleming — where it belongs, right below the presidential contest. But Mr. Hosemann argues that because the Wicker-Musgrove race is a special election to fill the remainder of Mr. Lott’s term, he is free to place it at the bottom, below state and county races.
- In Florida:
State elections officials will resume enforcement of a controversial state law that requires Floridians to have their identification match up with a state or federal database in order to register to vote. Secretary of State Kurt Browning sent notice to the state’s 67 supervisors of elections on Friday that the 2006 law, which has been on hold for the last year pending court rulings, would take effect again Sept. 8. The result is that voters whose identification doesn’t match with state files on Election Day will be given a provisional ballot and two days to prove their identity for their ballot to count. Voting rights activists, who had unsuccessfully challenged the constitutionality of the law, blasted the decision, saying it allows the state to rely on what they consider error-prone databases in the month before voter registration ends on Oct. 6. “This 11th-hour decision is an ill-advised move to apply a policy the state has never enforced in its current form, at a time when registration activity is at its highest”, said Alvaro Fernandez of the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project, a plaintiff in the case along with the NAACP and the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition.
- In Wisconsin (via):
A state election official said today a lawsuit by Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen would affect more than 1 million voters, four times as many voters as the Department of Justice had estimated. Also today, critics accused Van Hollen - a Republican serving as the state co-chair of John McCain’s presidential campaign - of filing the suit for partisan gain and trying to purge legitimate voters from poll lists.
- Ohio appears to be lining up some suppression:
The National Voter Registration Act prohibits any state from purging names from the voting rolls within 90 days of an election. The law doesn’t, however, preclude mass partisan challenges on or shortly before Election Day - known as voter caging - based on the same returned envelopes from state-sponsored mailers like the ones in Ohio and others going out across the country.
- Washington D.C. is using voting machines that are exhibiting some…unusual behavior (via) (by the way, we need to start calling bullshit on the “it wouldn’t have changed the outcome” argument):
These are voting machines made by Sequoia Voting Systems, whose systems have failed in many recent elections. Their Edge touch-screen system, with its Verivote paper-trail printer, was featured in a video released this week by the UC Santa Barbra Computer Security Group. The video from the scientists at UCSB offers step-by-step instructions on how a single person can hack such a voting system, in about two-seconds, resulting in a county-wide flipped election that even a full post-election hand count of the systems paper trails would not reveal.
- Indiana now has the Supreme Court’s blessing to go ahead with its new voter ID. Let’s review what kind of criminal scum it worked its magic against on the first time out:
A dozen nuns and an unknown number of students were turned away from polls Tuesday in the first use of Indiana’s stringent voter ID law since it was upheld last week by the U.S. Supreme Court. The nuns, all residents of a retirement home at Saint Mary’s Convent near Notre Dame University, were denied ballots by a fellow sister and poll worker because the women, in their 80s and 90s, did not have valid Indiana photo ID cards.
Digby has since updated the Wisconsin situation, suggested how this all may have been coordinated from the Justice Department, shown how the American media (motto: As Useless As Tits On A Bull) was not only scooped on the story by the BBC but studiously ignored it afterwards, and offered to be a point of contact for all vote-related appearances of impropriety in a single wonderful post. And yes, Ohio Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner should be making more of an effort to educate people on the additional wrinkles in absentee voting and bending over backwards to accommodate what appear to be good faith mistakes. Aside from the fact that it’s the right thing to do (which is sufficient), all it takes is a single instance of invalidated ballots on the left for conservatives to start screaming “it’s all politics!” The overwhelming pattern is for Republicans to try lots of different methods to prevent voters from voting. These are not to be euphemistically called “challenges.” They are attempts to subvert the proper functioning of our democratic process. Doing so erodes the public’s faith in it and casts doubt on the legitimacy of those selected by it. Those who engage in it are traitors.
A while back (sorry, couldn’t dig up any links) Avedon had a series of posts on the importance of counting every vote. It’s a measure of how socialized I’d become to the brave new world of unauditable electronic voting (recounts using the same machine that provided the initial count is like repeatedly hitting the “=” button on a calculator) that I thought a manual sample of the vote would be an acceptable cross check on the vote. Avedon, if you’re reading this - I was wrong; you were right to insist on the manual counting of every single vote. If you have those posts handy you might want to start linking to them again, and please keep reminding us of why - especially when elections approach.
If you are not yet a card-carrying member of the ACLU here is a good reason to sign up:
The ACLU filed the first legal challenge to the constitutionality of the FISA Amendments Act Friday, criticizing the law as a infringement of U.S. residents’ right to privacy….”The FISA Amendments Act allows the mass acquisition of Americans’ international e-mails and telephone calls,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. “The administration has argued that the law is necessary to address the threat of terrorism, but the truth is that the law sweeps much more broadly and implicates all kinds of communications that have nothing to do with terrorism or criminal activity of any kind. The Fourth Amendment was meant to prohibit exactly the kinds of dragnet surveillance that the new law permits.”Pound the pavement and man the phone bank for your candidate of choice, but send your money to these folks. When the next July 9th comes around you know they’ll be on the right side.
Sarah Palin: Theory of unitary executive applies to governors too:
An Alaska state investigation into Gov. Sarah Palin’s firing of her public safety commissioner is turning into a power struggle between the state’s executive and legislative branches.She’s as bad as the current crew. Want four more years of that, folks?
The current crew. Remember them? Sure you do (via):
Months before the Bush administration ends, historians and open-government advocates are concerned that Vice President Cheney, who has long bristled at requirements to disclose his records, will destroy or withhold key documents that illustrate his role in forming U.S. policy for the past 7 1/2 years. In a preemptive move, several of them have agreed to join the advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington in asking a federal judge to declare that Cheney’s records are covered by the Presidential Records Act of 1978 and cannot be destroyed, taken or withheld without proper review….The goal, proponents say, is to protect a treasure trove of information about national security, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, domestic wiretapping, energy policy, and other major issues that could be hidden from the public if Cheney adheres to his view that he is not part of the executive branch. Extending the argument, scholars say, Cheney could assert that he is not required to make his papers public after leaving office.Words fail.
The current crew. Remember them? Sure you do (via):
The administration of President George W. Bush has over its seven and one half years to date exercised unprecedented levels not only of restriction of access to information about federal government’s policies and decisions, but also of suppression of discussion of those policies and their underpinnings and sources. It continues to refuse to be held accountable to the public through the oversight responsibilities of Congress. We have been made less secure as a result and the open society on which we pride ourselves has been undermined and will take hard work to repair.Actually, words don’t fail: These people simply, flat-out do not believe in America as described in its founding documents and practiced by its citizens from 1776 until 2000.
The Bush administration still is resisting a congressional subpoena seeking testimony from former White House counsel Harriet Miers on the firing of nine federal prosecutors in 2006, taking the unprecedented executive privilege battle to the U.S. Court of Appeals. A three-judge appeals court panel – two Republican judges and one Democrat – granted the White House a stay of a lower-court order that would have required Miers to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday. The judges set deadlines this week for submitting arguments in the case. The administration’s continued resistance to permitting the testimony – even in the face of a July 31 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge John Bates, who called the White House position “entirely unsupported by existing case law” – shows how President George W. Bush can thwart congressional oversight with delaying tactics.That motto I mentioned above for the American media? Applies to Congress too.
Lambert pointed me to a speech by Obama this week where he said “There should be no conflict between keeping America safe and secure and respecting our Constitution.” He appears to only have been so quoted by a wire service I no longer recognize, so you can either take my word for it or track it down yourself. I will happily link to a Washington Post story (via) of the same speech:
“My position has always been clear: If you’ve got a terrorist, take him out,” Obama said. “Anybody who was involved in 9/11, take ‘em out.” But Obama, who taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago for more than a decade, said captured suspects deserve to file writs of habeus [sic] corpus. Calling it “the foundation of Anglo-American law,” he said the principle “says very simply: If the government grabs you, then you have the right to at least ask, ‘Why was I grabbed?’ And say, ‘Maybe you’ve got the wrong person.’” The safeguard is essential, Obama continued, “because we don’t always have the right person.”It is pretty astonishing that anyone needs to make these basic points, and actually attempt to persuade people of their correctness. I hope he keeps hitting it, and if he wins I hope he acts on it.
The Justice Department now wants to be able to investigate you as though you were a terrorist (via the Nightowl)
Ben Franklin must be rolling in his grave.
The U.S. Justice Department unveiled proposed new rules on Friday for FBI investigations, changes a civil liberties group criticized for giving agents powers to investigate Americans without proper suspicion. In its first major change in years, the Justice Department proposed a consolidated set of guidelines for domestic FBI operations, seeking to apply the same rules for criminal and terrorism cases, and for collecting foreign intelligence. The guidelines were first adopted in the 1970s following disclosures that the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover had run a widespread domestic surveillance program that spied on civil rights activists and political opponents….The American Civil Liberties Union expressed concern the rewritten rules had been drafted in a way to allow the FBI to begin surveillance without factual evidence to back it up. It said that under the new guidelines, a person’s race or ethnic background could be used as a factor in opening an investigation, a move the ACLU believes will institute racial profiling as a matter of policy. ACLU Washington legislative director Caroline Fredrickson said, “Agents will be given unparalleled leeway to investigate Americans without proper suspicion, and that will inevitably result in constitutional violations.” Anthony Romero, the ACLU’s executive director, said, “Issuing guidelines that permit racial profiling the day after the 9/11 anniversary and in the midst of a historic presidential campaign is typical Bush administration stagecraft designed to exploit legitimate security concerns for partisan political purposes.”
Carol Rosenberg on the latest from Guantánamo:
Canadian captive Omar Khadr’s terror trial won’t go forward as scheduled on Oct. 8, a military judge said Thursday. He did not set a new trial date. Army Col. Patrick Parrish disclosed the delay in pretrial hearings while attorneys at the war court argued over what evidence would be available to the defense at trial. At issue, in part, is whether the judge will order the government to fund and authorize independent mental health experts working for the defense to meet with Khadr at the prison camps. A military panel, including an Army psychiatrist, certified Khadr competent to stand trial. But Khadr refused to cooperate with the team, in part because they were American military officers…Lawyers want a retired Army brigadier general, who is a psychiatrist, and a New York psychologist, who has worked with victims of torture, to meet with Khadr with an eye toward mitigating factors at trial. “The evidence suggests that the accused was involved in an incident in 2002, was severely injured, has been held in custody since then and was 15 years old at the time of the alleged offenses,” the judge said. “I think those circumstances alone merit some consideration about assistance. These are a fairly unusual set of circumstances that you don’t find in the other cases.” Moreover, Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler said this week that the Canadian has refused to speak with his attorneys and wants “expert assistance to help bridge that gap.” Khadr, now six-foot-two with a full beard, has grown to adulthood behind the razor wire of Camp Delta and appeared oblivious to the proceedings around him Thursday as he sat in the tribunal chamber.Rosenberg and the Herald have done a magnificent job covering the gulag of our time. They even have a section of their site dedicated to it.
Reality check from Juan Cole:
The Surge was a dirty war. It was a vast effort at identifying, finding and assassinating the leaders of the Sunni Arab resistance…Crowing about the success of Surge wouldn’t look so pretty if you were actually celebrating an assassination campaign.
Last week Charles wrote:
As a general rule, I don’t ask for any credit…because all I usually do is aggregate news. Sometimes I do analysis of the kind that engages special talents, but rarely. It’s people like Lindsay Beyerstein and Amy Goodman who do the real journalism, putting their bodies, their liberty, and occasionally their lives on the line so that others can know what happened.Which I thought of when I read (via) this about the media:
They fill this new role through the methods storytellers have always used to tell stories: the repetition of certain key themes and characters, which creates continuity between one day’s events and the next and helps the audience understand which parts to pay attention to.Reporting a story is obviously the first and most difficult step, but those of us who care about these issues can play an important role as well. We can highlight and continually remind our readers of the ones that matter most to us. Otherwise those who find them inconvenient will be happy to see them make brief, unheralded appearances and disappear without a trace. “Mere” aggregation matters, too. None of us should quickly dismiss it. Speaking of which….
UNPACKING JANE: From pp 225-6:
A measure of the pro-administration mood occurred inside the New York Times, where Carlotta Gall, a British stringer based in Afghanistan, filed a story on February 5, 2003, about the deaths of [falsely accused and innocent taxi driver called] Dilawar and another Afghan detainee….Her story, [media analyst Eric] Umansky found…was “the real deal. It referred to homicide. Detainees had been killed in custody. I mean, you can’t get much clearer than that”….Eventually, the paper finally ran the story, buried on page fourteen. “If it had run on the front page, it would have sent a strong signal not just to the bush administration but to other news organizations” [NYT investigative editor Doug] Frantz said.Identifying the important stories and keeping them alive matters too.
No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post
Tuesday marked the ten year anniversary of Independent Counsel (IC) Kenneth Starr sending the report of his investigation to the House. The deafening silence on the occasion speaks volumes. Why haven’t Republicans marked it with great ceremony and made sure everyone had the chance to recognize their heroic defense of the Rule Of Law? Going to such great lengths and taking such extreme measures to attempt to rein in the rampant criminality of the Clinton administration had to have been a truly selfless act of public service, no?
Of course not. The fact that the right so studiously ignores mentioning anything about it is an implicit admission that it was a shrill, undignified, hyperpartisan snipe hunt that was undertaken out of pure spite. At this point no one seriously argues impeachment was warranted. It did, however, showcase one of emerging strategies by the GOP: Hopelessly politicize everything to do with government, and thereby render it useless. Grover Norquist’s goal of drowning it might not have been realized, but it functions as poorly as if it had. Citizens increasingly do not expect it to act in their interest, and even question its ability to function in that capacity.
The IC law is as clear an example as you could ask for. Giving the legislature the power to delegate authority to an IC sounds like a good idea in principle. I understand the argument that Congress should not be delegating anything, but engaging in investigations directly. On the other hand it makes sense to be able to have someone outside the normal pressures of constituents and lobbyists to follow leads wherever they go. You could argue that the Democrats abused the statute and allowed Lawrence Walsh to go overboard with the Iran-Contra investigation, but again look at the circumstances. Congress forbade the Reagan administration from funding the Contras, so Reagan simply bypassed Congress and set up a shadow foreign policy - and one that involved selling weapons to the same people that had taken Americans hostage just a few years earlier. To me, that is exactly the kind of lawbreaking and abuse of power that an IC ought to be thoroughly examining.
The Republicans instead implemented a perverse concept of equivalence: When Democrats controlled Congress they had an IC running investigations, so logically when Republicans take over they get to have their own - regardless of merit. By the time Starr was finished everyone was perfectly happy to let the authorization lapse. There is an argument for reauthorization but in the current environment it would just repeat the cycle: Creation - politicization - cynicism - obsolescence.
Some people peg the problem back to 1988 and Lee Atwater’s Willie Horton/pledge of allegiance brand of content-free campaigning, but to be fair we have a long history in that regard. I trace it to Newt Gingrich, possibly the single most damaging figure in American politics for the last twenty years. He started out simply as a back bencher, but the 1994 elections put him into an actual leadership role - and he was entirely unequipped for it. Remember, he campaigned not just on the Contract With America but on a list of words for his GOP colleagues to use while campaigning (and “‘sick,’ ‘pathetic,’ ‘bizarre,’ ‘traitors’ and ‘corrupt’ were some of the choicest”). He also compared Democrats to then-notorious child murderer Susan Smith. It went beyond making fun of foibles, focusing on trivial patriotism narratives or using anecdotal evaluations of policy. Instead he resorted to wholesale attacking the fundamental decency of an entire party by using the crudest terms and vilest comparisons. Unfortunately, becoming Speaker of the House did not moderate his behavior, and he continued to indulge in temper tantrums and breathtaking hypocrisy as though he was still doing nothing more than thunder before an empty chamber.
The undeniable success of his unrepentant demonization set the tone for what was to follow. Karl Rove would not have succeeded without Gingrich’s precedent . And when his ideological cousins made it to the White House there was nothing left to hold back the worst excesses of their approach to governance. We have had the great misfortune of living in a time when the party in power believes that every tactic is acceptable and every event - even the most traumatic ones - are fodder to be used in the pursuit of electoral advantage. And we also have a perpetually timid opposition party that refuses to assert itself. Our system can deal with one but not both. Nothing can force restraint on the former or stiffen the spine of the latter. So until this entire generation of leadership is replaced, discussions on the working of government - on the relative value of a proposed reauthorization of the IC statute, for example - will necessarily be purely academic.