That's some catch, that Catch-22

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

So look, the administration decides it has the right to spy on anyone whenever it feels like it, for whatever reasons it feels like. That position has no constitutional support, but a federal appeals court rules that the only people with a right to protest this in court are those who can demonstrate a material interest in the case. Thing is, the policy is conducted in secret -- remember they are "secret wiretaps" -- so the only people who have a material interest aren't allowed to know about it.

Pretty nifty, huh?

This is how a people loses its liberties, and to these bozos -- it's almost too terrible to think about. (I mean, imagine what a loser you have to be for George W. Bush to call you "Fredo.")

In re, Libby: Byron York seems to have things exactly wrong here. In the first place, look at this high-level proof he trots out for his argument that Bush has lost his base:

"Bush fatigue has set in," declares one plugged-in GOP activist.

"We're ready for a new president," says a former state Republican Party official in the South.

"There was affection," opines a conservative strategist based well beyond the Beltway, "but now they're in divorce court."

What's next? " 'I'm really disappointed in him,' said the guy who cleans the pool over at Bill Buckley's." ...

If Bush is so over, why are these people -- not one of whom appears to have the slightest influence with anyone, from what we can glean from York's description -- so afraid to give their names or even significant identifying characteristics?

This part is more to my point, however: York argues that Bush "gave himself the worst of all worlds in the case of Libby, Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff. By commuting Libby's prison sentence -- as opposed to pardoning him outright -- for perjuring himself to CIA leak investigators, Bush outraged his Democratic opposition while leaving his base vaguely disappointed."

Actually, Bush did just fine with Libby's commutation. He bought Libby's silence about the crimes that may have been committed inside the Vice President's office, both moral and legal. As Josh Marshall pointed out, a pardon would have cost Libby his right to take the Fifth. But not a commutation.

York seems to think Bush cares about the base, about conservatism, about anything but Bush. Where's the evidence for that? Everyone who has ever trusted the man has been burned. (Cheney doesn't count. Cheney is Bush.)

But here is the wrongest part of all. "So now the president has 18 months left in office, and they won't be quiet ones. Absent the committed backing of his party, he will be forced to exercise power based not on his political clout but rather on the authority the Constitution gives the office of the president: He is commander in chief. He can veto bills. He can issue pardons. And that's about it."

Young Ezra Klein's analysis is considerably more compelling. Here he writes:

There are generally a couple democratic checks on a president's power: his desire to retain political capital with Congress in order to pass legislation; his need to retain popularity in order [to] more effectively advocate for his agenda; and his wish to improve the fortunes of his party and ensure the ascension of his vice-president.

Bush is constrained by none of those. He has largely given up on passing legislation through Congress, preferring instead to focus on those portions of his agenda that require relatively little in the way of congressional involvement -- notably the continuation of the Iraq War, where Democrats would effectively need a veto-proof majority to stop him.

When he does go through Congress, he's been attaching "signing statements" to direct courts to interpret the legislation in a way contrary to the text and favorable to the president. This has so enraged some senators that Republican Arlen Spector [sic] is now sponsoring legislation to stop it.

Bush has embraced this descent into unpopularity, eschewing even a hint of compliance with public preferences for withdrawal, or even drawdown, in Iraq. His vice-president isn't running to succeed him, and as the immigration debacle proved, he's grown uninterested in the future of the Republican Party.

All of which means he is completely free. Save for impeachment, he is utterly liberated from the natural democratic checks on executive behavior. There is nothing that congressional Democrats or the electorate can take from him that he has not already taken from himself. And, perversely, that gives him extraordinary freedom of movement. Not on all issues -- he will never fix Medicare or solve the immigration crisis. But on Iraq, he is virtually untouchable. And in the arrogation of power to the executive -- a longtime Bush and Cheney obsession, which ranges from secret wiretapping without FISA approval to the commutation of Libby's sentence -- there is nothing standing before their consolidation of authority.

Right on, Brother Ezra, and scary as hell....

Meanwhile, I finally got around to reading the whole Pulitzer Prize-deserving/wish-it-had-been-written-four-years-ago Post Cheney series. Here's the two quotes that stuck with me (and put me in mind of a Vulcan mind-meld...):

1) [Edward P. Lazear, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers], who is otherwise known as a fierce advocate for his views, said that he may argue a point with Cheney "for 10 minutes or so" but that in the end he is always convinced. "I can't think of a time when I have thought I was right and the vice president was wrong."

2) R. Glenn Hubbard, Bush's former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, said of Cheney: "I'd have conversations with him that were at a level of detail that those with the president were not."

Just as scary in its own way ....

If you have Times Select, and you read this Maureen Dowd column, it's hard to believe it appears in a major newspaper, much less that people in the profession admire this kind of thing.

It's hard to pick up what's most offensive about it, but for starters, there's this:

After Mr. Edwards told George Stephanopoulos that "The Trial of Socrates" by I. F. Stone was "a wonderful book," Bob Novak jumped on him, claiming that he had chosen a book by a "radical" journalist "identified as a covert Soviet agent."

Why is Ms. Dowd repeating this slander of a dead man by the despicable Novak without comment? Stone was never "identified as a covert agent." And unlike Novak, he never went around purposely blowing the cover of CIA agents, endangering their lives and their operations either.

This line: "Especially not if you've got such a fabulous haircut to show off," is pretty bad too, of course, but it's really in the category of the above.

Holy Bruce Wayne, Batman: Here's my Question of the Day: Has anyone ever actually seen James Kirchick and Marty Peretz at the same time and the same place? And if so, which one was pulling the strings on the other?

From TomDispatch:

Starting from the recent spate of reports on noncombatant deaths from U.S. and NATO air attacks in Afghanistan, Tom Engelhardt considers how the military and the media have dealt with the increasing use of air power in both Afghanistan and Iraq. When civilians are killed -- the tagline in most pieces is: "including women and children" -- this is invariably presented as an "incident," often isolated, an "accident," or a "mistake" (a matter of mistargeting or of an "errant" bomb). Such casualties are, of course, referred to as "collateral damage."

After reviewing the course of the American air wars in Afghanistan and Iraq these last years, Engelhardt explores why none of the words normally used in our media reports apply to air power, which, since World War II, has been the American way of war. The rise in noncombatant deaths in Afghanistan, he suggests, "gains extra importance from what it signals about the future of Iraq. Afghanistan is, in a sense, the maimed, defeathered canary in the mine of American air-power." He then explores why the latest administration plans for (partial) withdrawal from Iraq, if put into effect, will mean an increase in air strikes and civilian casualties.

In the process, he brings up various subjects that usually go unmentioned in our world, including the ways in which air power might be considered a form of armed racism -- and the modern version of military barbarism, one that Americans simply do not recognize as such. Engelhardt concludes, in part:

Ours is a callous and dishonest way of thinking about war from the air (undoubtedly because it is the form of barbarism, unlike the car bomb or the beheading, that benefits us). It is time to be more honest. It is time for journalists to take the words "incident," "mistake," "accident," "inadvertent," "errant," and "collateral damage" out of their reportorial vocabularies when it comes to air power. At the level of policy, civilian deaths from the air should be seen as "advertent." They are not mistakes or they wouldn't happen so repeatedly. They are the very givens of this kind of warfare.... If we want to "withdraw" from Iraq (or Afghanistan) via the Gates Plan, we should at least be clear about what that is likely to mean -- the slaughter of large numbers of civilians "including women and children." And it will not be due to a series of mistakes or incidents; it will not be errant or inadvertent. It will be policy itself. It will be the Washington -- and in the end the American -- consensus.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Mark Richard
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio

Dear Altercation,

MB from Jackson, Mississippi revives one line of American journalism's institutional defense against charges of political slanting, which is to say that American journalists aren't liberal, but even if they appear to be, it's because they see more of life and its realities, which dictate a liberal policy response.

I don't think Altercation wants to sponsor this view. For one thing, it's a mirror of the right-wing argument that links economic success with intelligence and awareness. For another, it runs up against the inconvenient truth that many occupational categories - the Army (and veterans, and military families), the police, the border patrol, firefighters - tend to be, historically, more politically conservative than the average voter, and that these are groups which cannot easily be accused of being sheltered from unpleasant 'reality'.

Beyond that, the argument assumes that 'reality' consists entirely of 'social problems' to be solved, and (like most journalism itself) has somewhat of an urban bias - you know, 'reality' is grittiness and crime and AIDS on the mean streets, and so on. I think this is a narrow way to look at the world, almost as narrow in its way as a stereotypically happy-face suburban existence. Everyone's slice of experience is 'authentic'. Someone taking care of an Alzheimer's patient knows as much about stress and pain as an AIDS care-giver. I've known a few journalists, and they tend to be generalists by necessity who parachute in and out of where a lot of people, including Republicans, actually live, like emergency rooms and construction sites, and marketing cubicles.

It would be useful if rigid partisans of both parties could be reminded occasionally that Republicans as well as Democrats have died face down in the mud -- in defense, however imperfectly managed, of the freedoms and safety and property of members of the party opposite.

Eric replies: For the record, we don't "sponsor" views here. We just print them and let people make own their own minds.

Name: Bob Rothman
Hometown: Providence, RI

Eric,

Your correspondent Stephen Carver was mistaken about the Texas death row inmate Bush refused to pardon. She was white. Nevertheless, his point remains. Bush did not grant a single pardon or commutation to any death row inmate as governor -- 150 were executed, included 57 who requested commutations.

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL

Eric --

Thanks for the link to Rauchway's analysis of FDR's recent critics. I was at the induction of FDR to the Museum of Broadcast Communications held on Monday at Roosevelt University's Auditorium Theatre in Chicago. The event coincided with the anniversary of FDR's acceptance of the Democratic nomination in which he unveiled the New Deal. The festivities were a bit uneven but certainly interesting. Jonathan Alter's account of FDR was the most interesting (Dean Broder's was mostly a nostalgic trip to his Depression era Chicago boyhood). Alter made the compelling claim that FDR saved capitalism, something that Shlaes and taxphobe Norquist just don't get.

Robert Vaughn gave a dramatic reading of the core of Roosevelt's speech to the convention, which in many of its points paralleled the progressive critique of the Bush administration. Indeed, Vaughn had to stop to compose himself because the applause lines were so synchronistic even he broke character with a knowing smile. Lest anyone missed the point, Anna Roosevelt, FDR's granddaughter and Eleanor look-alike, accepted the award noting that if her grandfather were here today to accept he'd say what he said in that speech in 1932. Social justice doesn't go out of style.

Name: Janet Ward
Hometown: Atlanta

"Everybody's MISUSED him; ripped him off and abused him."

Please change it. I know Charlie would want you to.

Name: Eric
Hometown: Escondido

Just a little quote from George Mason to put it all in perspective, "the President of the United States has the unrestrained Power of granting Pardon for Treason; which may be sometimes exercised to screen from Punishment those whom he had secretly instigated to commit the Crime, and thereby prevent a Discovery of his own guilt."

Name: gene kelly
Hometown: Living in Houston (home is Kentucky)

If the writer was talking about Karla Faye Tucker, she was a white woman. Songwriter/Playwright Steve Earle wrote a great play about it. (I was honored to watch it with the then head of the Tennessee Coalition Against State Killing) Before I saw the play, I told Steve's then girlfriend (who played Karla) that Steve should retell the story of (then) Gov Bush's laughing at her and mocking her request (he said plea) to commute her sentence. She didn't cry or beg, just asked for him to let her serve her God and the other women in the Texas prison. The story was told by Tucker Carlson, not the most liberal writer in the world. I am sure that Karla forgave him. I am still having trouble forgiving him for that and WAY more.

Name: Mike Bultemeier
Hometown: Bolingbrook, IL

I read an article on MSNBC.com (via Newsweek) on Friday that reflected poll numbers regarding how the general public feels about voting for black or female presidential candidates.

According to the article, 92% of the respondents said they would vote for a black candidate, but only 59% said that the country was ready for a black president. Also, 86% of the respondents said they would vote for a female candidate, but only 58% said that the country was ready for a female president. These numbers seem reasonable enough and are actually quite encouraging, considering that similar polls reflected much lower numbers in the recent past. But...

Later in the day, the same article got top billing on the MSNBC.com home page as a picture of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama framed a headline that read:

"MIXED MESSAGE - Poll: Most willing to vote for black or female president but say country isn't ready"

Last I checked, 58-59% is still a majority. What, they can't craft a headline that reflects the actual poll results? Whatever it takes to get you to follow the link, I guess...

Name: Eric
Hometown: Chapel Hill, NC

Prof. A --

I may be a bit simpleminded but I don't understand the White House's argument that having to testify to Congress would keep their employees from offering "candid advice." Why would I want a government official to give the President advice that he or she would not want me to find out about? Isn't open government better? If more people had been willing to speak in public earlier, we might not be in Iraq right now. What am I missing?

Name: Lou Cabron
Hometown: San Francisco, CA

Journalist Debbie Nathan tears into the government for justifying the Patriot Act with prosecutions of child pornography cases, and accuses Alberto Gonzales of using the issue to divert attention from the U.S. Attorneys scandals, here:

"When the Department of Justice puts this stuff out, nobody makes a peep, because this country, this culture, is so ready to believe anything that the government says about child pornography..." She notes journalists are legally prohibited from investigating government claims that it's a multi-billion dollar industry, and uses the word "panic" to identify a specific cultural phenomenon, which she first witnessed covering the infamous McMartin trial.

That experience gave her a remarkably clear perspective, and she now says that "...this is the last frontier of authority for the Department of Justice."

Name: Bob Tallman
Hometown: Crestwood, KY

The House should investigate, build a record for impeachment, and if sufficient (if?), lay this record before the voting public prior to November 2008. Incumbent Republican candidates should have to, in light of this official record, defend their continued support of President and VP over the Constitution (which they are sworn to uphold). In this way the "politics" of impeachment is handed over to voters and not Democratic legislators, Republican incumbents are forced during the campaign to defend the indefensible, and trial in the Senate can take place during the period Jan 3, 2009, through Jan. 19, 2009, with the newly-elected, enhanced Democratic majority having received the public's approval to remove Bush and Cheney from office.

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