Archives For: Keepers

Meep Meep Watch

Apr 1 2014 @ 2:32pm

Yesterday, an ABC/WaPo poll registered a “new high” for Obamacare support:

ACA Support

The Fix summarizes the poll numbers:

Overall, 49 percent support and 48 percent oppose the health-care law in the new poll, hardly changed from January (46-49 support-oppose) but clearly better than November, when 40 percent expressed support and 57 percent were opposed.  The growth in support has been concentrated among those who “somewhat” support the law, with strong opponents still outnumbering strong supporters by a 36 to 25 percent margin.

Democratic support has surged to a record-tying 76 percent, jumping 11 percentage points since January to the highest level since March 2010, immediately after the law was passed. Currently at 78 percent , Republican opposition has outpaced Democratic support by double digits in nearly every poll over the past two years, but in the latest survey they are within three percentage points.

Other polls are not-so-encouraging, which is why the poll of polls shows little movement. But Allahpundit wonders whether this is the start of a trend:

Specifically, what if it’s true that the law has become a bit more popular with Democrats now that it’s kinda sorta in range of its original goal of seven million enrollments if you squint real hard and ignore things like nonpayment of premiums and the age mix of America’s many new O-Care risk pools? The better the polling gets, especially among independents, the more reluctant some Republicans in Congress will be to support full repeal later.

Last fall, I argued that Obama’s presidency, already historic in significant ways, would become as influential as Reagan’s if two things happened: if the ACA stuck and American entered an era of near-universal healthcare; and if the negotiations with Iran led to an end of sanctions and a controlled Iranian nuclear capability. Both would be generational game-changers – one in domestic policy, the other in foreign affairs. I’ve also long argued that Obama’s entire presidency makes no sense if you try and judge it by its ability to spike the polls in any given news cycle.

So where are we? Too soon to tell on Iran. But after a clear, self-inflicted disaster – the website’s debut – we’ve seen a classic Obama pattern. The fail is replaced by a dogged, persistent, relentless attempt at repair. I’d argue that the competence behind the repair of the site and the revival of the ACA’s fortunes has been as striking as the original incompetence. And we do not and should not judge a president by his mistakes; the critical judgment is in how he responds to those mistakes. As Dick Cheney might put it, the results speak for themselves:

In 2017 there will be, according to the CBO, 36 million Americans newly covered by ACA through exchange policies or Medicaid. That’s a huge number of voters. You have to live in Foxland to think that any great number of these will see themselves as victims of coercion rather than beneficiaries of a terrific entitlement. The second reason comes from the ramshackle, Heath Robinson (Am.E: Rube Goldberg) nature of the Act. This makes it so hard to understand what is going on. More important, it means that any remotely feasible replacement will also be hugely complicated. Simple repeal and reversion to the status quo ante will be as as unacceptable to the electorate as single-payer.

Worse, the Republicans are now in the position of nit-picking, cold-water dousing and general negativity that tends not to wear well over time. Once again, it seems to me, they have misjudged this president’s long game.

Read On

Toward A Reckoning On Torture

Apr 1 2014 @ 12:17pm


So we are approaching the moment when we will have some measure of understanding of the scale and breadth and severity of the war crimes authorized by the last administration. We don’t – infuriatingly – have the full Senate Intelligence Committee report on the Bush-Cheney torture program, but we are beginning to get clues and assessments from people who have actually read the report. That means we should be careful in jumping to conclusions. But, so far, we’re seeing why the CIA has done all it possibly can to keep their war crimes hidden from public accountability.

That avoidance of accountability was not just to the American people, but also to their representatives. The report, we’re told, shows how the CIA deliberately conflated intelligence breakthroughs secured by ethical intelligence work and by torture. Here’s one example:

One official said that almost all of the critical threat-related information from Abu Zubaida was obtained during the period when he abuse184_3.jpgwas questioned by Soufan at a hospital in Pakistan, well before he was interrogated by the CIA and waterboarded 83 times. Information obtained by Soufan, however, was passed up through the ranks of the U.S. intelligence community, the Justice Department and Congress as though it were part of what CIA interrogators had obtained, according to the committee report.

“The CIA conflated what was gotten when, which led them to misrepresent the effectiveness of the program,” said a second U.S. official who has reviewed the report. The official described the persistence of such misstatements as among “the most damaging” of the committee’s conclusions.

This is not terribly surprising. Once a constitutional republic has decided to adopt torture, the gravity of the decision makes it a necessity for those inflicting it to prove it worked. But of course, it doesn’t work – which leads to lies and misrepresentations to insist that it did. In turn those lies help perpetuate the torture. In almost all torture regimes, this tight epistemic closure is routine.

There are also hints and guesses of further barbarism. We find, for example, that torture methods well-documented in the Bush-Cheney war on terror can be combined for particular sadism. And so freezing prisoners to near-hypothermia is documented elsewhere in the war, as is waterboarding. But these can be put together! Hence:

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Et Tu, Josh?

Mar 31 2014 @ 1:02pm

Every now and again, it’s perhaps worth revisiting the entire definition of journalism. In my view, it is writers and editors attempting to tell the truth about what’s happening in the world to readers every day or more frequently. A journalistic institution that lasts builds a trust between its editors and readers so that no one is in any doubt about the sincerity of the enterprise, its freedom from outside interference, or its integrity as a form of communication.

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 6.29.44 PMMy concern with “sponsored content” in vast swathes of online media – from the New York Times to Time Inc. and Buzzfeed – is simply that, by deliberately blurring the distinction between advertising and editorial, it must necessarily undermine this integrity and cast a doubt over that trust. It violates the core integrity of any journalistic institution to treat the prose of commercial interests as the equivalent of the prose of editors and writers – or to blur the lines between the two, by presenting commercial speech in extremely similar formats to editorial speech.

Am I being too purist? All I can say is that my position was once held by every journalistic institution you can think of only a few years ago. Back then, advertising was a revenue model that was self-explanatory, clearly differentiated from any article, and if it could in any way be confused with an article would have the word “Advertisement” attached to it. It was also assumed that the editor would know no specifics of the advertiser. The reader of a magazine knew that what appeared in its pages was written entirely by journalists and guided by editors. That is not purism. It is the basic ethical code of journalism as we have known it for decades.

And so we come to the deeply depressing news that Josh Marshall’s TPM has joined the throng. In introducing the series – a completely new step for TPM – Josh didn’t address the obvious glaring issue. Instead he wrote a post that doesn’t sound like him, and in fact reads like a p.r. press release:

Today I’m really excited to announce that we’ve launched a very cool new section to our popular Idea Lab vertical called Idea Lab: Impact, which is being sponsored by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. I’ve wanted to take Idea Lab in this direction for some time. Idea Lab focuses science, cutting edge technology, the tech industry and the economics, policy and politics that surrounds those issues and sometimes on the gizmos we all use everyday. Idea Lab: Impact will have a different focus. How is science and applied technology affecting real human lives?

I.e. “The Data Sharing Effort To Cure Cancer.” Which was the first article in the new “vertical”. Which was written by a Phrma corporate flak.

On Friday, Josh responded to some brutally effective takedowns by Henry Farrell (it’s worth reading the entire debate, including the comments where Josh participated). His argument is that these are advertisements and are clearly labeled as such, but include text like an article because, well, er:

Our advertisers are policy focused and thus tend to have more complex arguments. They’re not just selling soap or peanut butter. There’s only so much of those arguments you can fit into a picture box or a video. They want room to make fuller arguments, lengthier descriptions of who they are and what they do, as you would if you were writing an editorial – in text, going into detail.

But they could do all that in a traditional advertisement: in their own font, attached to a real article, in their own color, with their own branding. We’d all know what it is. But this is not what Josh has offered them. He has offered them the appearance of being an article in TPM, and that offer is precisely and solely what makes sponsored content ads worth more than the others. If it were clearly an ad, that w0uld defeat the purpose of the enterprise, which is to blur that difference. So there is something inherently corrupting and unethical about this arrangement.

To quote E.B. White, stating the obvious, when discussing mere sponsorship of an article written by a journalist in Esquire in 1975:

Read On

Manipulated For The Greater Good?

Mar 27 2014 @ 11:37am

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Nitsuh Abebe pulls the curtain back on Upworthy’s editorial process. On the site’s mission:

Much of Upworthy’s content does feel like reality TV. A lot of it also feels like advertising. This isn’t an accident; the site’s built, tactically and deliberately, to appeal to what skeptics once called the lowest common denominator. Its choices are the ones you’d normally associate with a race to the bottom—the manipulative techniques of ads, tabloids, direct-mail fund-raising, local TV news (“Think This Common Household Object Won’t Kill Your Children? You’d Be Wrong”). It’s just that Upworthy assumes the existence of a “lowest common denominator” that consists of a human craving for righteousness, or at least the satisfaction that comes from watching someone we disagree with get their rhetorical comeuppance.

In some respects, Upworthy does represent a slight paradigm shift in the constantly churning world of writing and the web. It’s really about producing writing or visuals or videos that people want to share. Their contribution to the evolution of the web, like Buzzfeed’s, is honing and finessing and mastering the tricks and techniques of getting people to share Upworthy items on their Facebook pages. One reason so many of the posts are indeed shared, as the piece points out, is not just the very catchy formulaic headlines (already expiring from over-use) but, more importantly, that they are not strident or edgy or in any way discomfiting. That way, the posts can be attached to a Facebook feed as a way of expressing your identity, of solidarity with the disadvantaged, of the appearance of caring. It really is a beautiful circle, designed, of course, to make shitloads of moolah at some point by dominating the sharable content that has become much of our common reading material.

But here’s the thing: is crafting “content” for sharing the same thing as writing or journalism? Here’s my basic test.

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The NYT just ran a piece on the apparent disfavor the word now has among some homosexuals. I have a pretty good guide to figuring out what to do with such a question which is to check out what GLAAD is saying and believe the opposite. As a writer, there are few things that piss me off more than being told which words I can and cannot use. Fuck that shit. (See? It’s good to have a blog.)

The impulse, sigh, is political:

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or Glaad, has put “homosexual” on its list of offensive terms and in 2006 persuaded The Associated Press, whose stylebook is the widely used by many news organizations, to restrict use of the word. George P. Lakoff, a professor of cognitive science and linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, has looked at the way the term is used by those who try to portray gays and lesbians as deviant. What is most telling about substituting it for gay or lesbian are the images that homosexual tends to activate in the brain, he said. “Gay doesn’t use the word sex,” he said. “Lesbian doesn’t use the word sex. Homosexual does.”

“It also contains ‘homo,’ which is an old derogatory,” he added.

But I like the term “homo”! I use it all the time – about myself and others, although I also often use “fag” as well. The gay thought-police would be aghast, but the intent is what matters. Mine is mostly benign. Mostly. But mainly, one great legacy of the gay community has been our love of freedom, especially of speech. For centuries and decades, the right to free speech was our only truly secure constitutional right. We were always about enlarging what was sayable, rather than restricting it. Banning “homosexual” also reeks of insecurity. We are not so tender we cannot handle a clinical, neutral term, or even a slur or the re-appropriation of a slur. “Queer” was one such reclamation, although that’s much more pointed than “homosexual” and certainly doesn’t reflect how I feel about my orientation. There’s nothing queer about being horny and falling in love or lust or getting married. They’re among the most common activities known to humankind. But I sure don’t mind others using it – and more and more heteros want to call themselves “queer” too. But my main objection to getting rid of “homosexual” is that we would lose a not-too-easily replaced non-euphemism.

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Religious Belief And Bigotry

Mar 24 2014 @ 12:04pm

Supreme Court Hears First Amendment Case On Protests At Military Funerals

One of the many great things about blogcations is they take you away for a while from the frenetic day-to-day pace of opinion. You get to see some of the debates with a little more clarity a few steps out of the fray. So here’s a small addendum to the argument about whether all those opposed to marriage equality are ipso facto bigots, which seems to be the position of various writers out there.

One obvious objection is that the word bigotry is far too crude to define the vast array of feelings, ideas, arguments or mere ignorance that can lie behind opposition to gays getting married. Using the term “bigotry” or, even worse, the hideous propaganda term “hate”, just doesn’t do justice to the range of human reaction to profound social change. To make an obvious point – around a third of Americans have changed their minds on the subject in the last decade and a half. Bigots, by definition, are not open to such shifts in opinion. You can’t reason someone out of something they didn’t use reason to get into. So a third of previous opponents were persuaded. Not harangued, persuaded. Of course, as time goes by, that makes the remaining residue of opponents more likely to be bigoted overall. So how to tell if that’s truly the case with those who are left?

There are two basic reasons behind religious objections to marriage equality. The fundamentalist Protestant one is simply Biblical. Gay sex is outlawed in Leviticus and Romans. The test for bigotry here, it seems to me, is consistency. The fundamentalist has to account for her choices about which Biblical verses she takes seriously today. Does she follow all of Leviticus? So why not the death penalty for gays? And why is she eating shrimp? Does she regard marriage as a realistic, short-term concession to human nature before the End Times, as Paul did? It’s not hard to see if consistency is at work here. If the only sins a fundamentalist wants outlawed relate to gay people, then we’re talking prejudice. If a fundamentalist has no objection to divorce, but wants gays outside of marriage, we’re talking very selective sins. True Biblical consistency – not politicized cafeteria fundamentalism – is quite hard to sustain in modernity.

Equally, the Catholic position – that all sex outside procreative marital monogamy  is immoral -  requires consistency.

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The Smearing Of Ryan As A Racist

Mar 14 2014 @ 3:21pm


One of the worst traits of some left-liberals is their easy resort to calling those who disagree with them bigots or racists or worse. There are some sites on the web that seem almost entirely devoted to patrolling the discourse for any sign of sin. This one’s a homophobe; this one’s a racist; so-and-so said this and that could be – shock! – prejudiced. It can sometimes be a way to avoid engaging arguments rather than tackling them. And so, on cue, Paul Ryan is taking heat for these remarks:

We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.

He noted that “Charles Murray or Bob Putnam over at Harvard – those guys have written books on this.” Cue liberal freakout. Josh Marshall focuses on the citation of Murray:

When you start off by basing your arguments around the work of Charles Murray you just lose your credibility from the start as someone actually interested in addressing poverty or joblessness or really doing anything other than coming up with reasons to cut off what little assistance society provides for its most marginalized members or, alternatively, pumping up people with racial resentments against black people and giving them ersatz ‘scholarship’ to justify their racial antipathies.

That’s because Murray’s public career has been based on pushing the idea that black urban poverty is primarily the fault of black people and their diseased ‘culture.’ Relatedly, and more controversially, he has argued that black people are genetically inferior to white people and other notional races with regards to intelligence. Yes, that last part should be crystal clear: Murray is best known for attempting to marshal social science evidence to argue that black people are genetically not as smart as white people.

Sigh. Josh seems to be arguing that Murray blames all resilient urban black poverty on culture …. and then blames it all on genes! Pick one canard, would be my advice. And the truth is: in The Bell Curve, Murray was concerned about the role of genes and environment in the resilient IQ differentials among different ethnic groups, as anyone who actually read his book (I did, most liberals wouldn’t) would know. As Screen Shot 2014-03-14 at 11.32.05 AMfor the notion that Murray is useless in actually attempting to help urban poverty, has Josh ever heard of the book Losing Ground? It was the key text for the Clinton welfare reforms of the 1990s – which even Obama now concedes he dismissed too easily.

And it is simply untrue that Murray has argued that “black people are genetically inferior to white people and other notional races with regards to intelligence.” Murray’s work specifically insists that there are countless African-Americans with higher IQs than countless whites and Asians and Hispanics. (He has recently focused his efforts on white poverty as well – which would seem to disprove some of Josh’s claims.) It’s just that the bell curve (which was the title of the whole fricking book) starts at a slightly different place for different racial groupings – something that drives blank slate liberals nuts with cognitive dissonance. Years later, the differentials still exist. Why do you think there are de facto quotas to prevent brainy Asians from dominating the Ivy League? But of course, nothing drives ideologues nuts like reality.

One more thing: I’m sure Murray has gotten used to this distortion of his work. But it still strikes me as outrageous that a scholar like Murray is subjected to being called a racist of the worst sort and a dishonest scholar – simply because the resilient data support his core point, and because he dares to cite genetics. (It’s an old and great line that liberals believe nothing is genetic but homosexuality, while conservatives believe everything is genetic except homosexuality. For my part, it seems pretty damn obvious that almost all human behavior is a function of both – and the interaction between them.)

Josh goes another round:

Read On

If there has been one consistent feature of the Obama years, it has been the resilience of a ferocious opposition and its simultaneous, accumulating irrelevance. That can always change, of course. Another shellacking in the mid-terms and a bungled presidential race, and we could be looking at serious attempts at rollback. But so far, even as critics and opponents have thrown wrench after wrench into the administrative and legislative churn, some core changes look set to endure. The drawdown in “defense” has not produced the kind of popular revolt the neocons would prefer – and has support among key factions of the Republican party. A slightly higher tax hit for the rich was effectively endorsed in Dave Camp’s tax reform proposal. The massive increase of investment in solar and wind energy will not be soon undone – alongside the fracking revolution. And, as we’ve seen in Crimea and Syria, public appetite for a hegemonic, interventionist foreign policy is close to non-existent.

But obviously the core domestic achievement of the president – the expansion of healthcare to the working poor – is the main event. The repeal of it has been the prime cause for the GOP since 2010. They hope to win the mid-terms on it. And yet, as a new Bloomberg poll reveals, the actual key elements of the law garner widespread popular support:

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Even on the mandate, the verdict is pretty even.

Now it may be that a Republican alternative, which does its best to meet these same goals, could be fashioned. But if it is, and if it is somehow wrestled into law, aren’t the key reforms above still in place? And isn’t that a victory for Obama after all? Added to this is a majority emerging that wants to see the current law as the basis for further reforms:

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When 64 percent of Americans want to see the law fixed or left alone, you have the recipe for long-term resilience.

Has this dented in any way Republican fury at the law? Not so far as you can see from the messaging being unveiled for the midterms, where repealing the law is front and center in the campaign. Karl Rove may be prescient in noting that Obamacare may not be sufficient to win back the Senate – in part because it’s not as potent an electoral ploy as populist hostility to big banks. But his party doesn’t seem inclined to listen.

My own view is that this entire debate over the last few years reveals a core truth about our current politics. One party has taken a ruthlessly pragmatic approach to governing, while the other has taken a ruthlessly rhetorical approach to opposition.

Read On

Is Obama A Phony On Torture?

Mar 13 2014 @ 12:21pm


I’m dismayed – and somewhat sickened – by the continuing passivity of the president on one of the most important issues the country faces: accountability for the gravest crimes under international law in the first decade of the 21st Century. This is a president who was propelled to two victories in part by those of us who saw the Cheney torture program as an indelible stain on this country that had to be exposed and expunged. And many of us were sympathetic to the difficulty a newly-elected president would be in – if he truly attempted to do right by history. To launch a gut-wrenching investigation into a government agency that remains responsible for our collective security is not something a president should do lightly when assuming the office. As so many presidents have noted over the years, the CIA is powerful enough to wreck a presidency if it tries hard enough – and the rancor may have consumed an administration as it was confronting the worst economic crisis in almost a century. And Obama desperately needed good intelligence to prevent another terror attack, which would have given the pro-torture right yet one more rhetorical point in favor of their disgusting and useless form of prisoner abuse.

But it’s now 2014. The one sliver of hope we have that the war crimes of the past can be accounted for and recovered from is the Senate Intelligence Committee’s thorough investigation of the matter. And yet the very possibility of the report being made public is now in jeopardy, as a result of the CIA’s stonewalling, harassment and obstruction of the Senate’s vital work. And yet the president still sits there, like a potted plant, refusing to put any serious pressure on the CIA to stop its stonewalling and get the report out. Yesterday, he gave the same spiel about his revulsion at torture and his desire to get the report declassified:

He said he was “absolutely committed” to the Senate investigation of the Bush-era practices, and planed to declassify the report as soon as it was finished. “In fact, I would urge them to go ahead and complete the report and send it to us and we will declassify those findings so that the American people can understand what happened in the past and that can help guide us as we move forward,” Obama said.

Wha-wha-wha-what? The Senate Committee completed the report fifteen fricking months ago! The only reason it has not been declassified and published is because the CIA has been engaged in aggressive stonewalling and obstruction – to the point at which Diane Feinstein was forced to denounce her beloved spies on the Senate floor this week. The president should not be telling the Senate Committee to finish their report (which they did over a year ago), but the CIA to quit the harassment of a committee’s vital work.

Then we discover that the White House has not actually fully cooperated with the Senate Committee:

The White House has been withholding for five years more than 9,000 top-secret documents sought by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence for its investigation into the now-defunct CIA detention and interrogation program, even though President Barack Obama hasn’t exercised a claim of executive privilege. In contrast to public assertions that it supports the committee’s work, the White House has ignored or rejected offers in multiple meetings and in letters to find ways for the committee to review the records, a McClatchy investigation has found.

We’re told this has to do with sorting out executive branch privileges. Please. No executive branch privileges should be used to conceal the truth of what happened in such a grave matter. Obama has already refused to hold anyone accountable for the torture of the past – violating what’s left of the Geneva Conventions which he is constitutionally required to enforce. Now he’s so milque-toast about even accountability he’s withheld over 9,000 documents from the committee whose work he allegedly supports.

For a long time, I’ve given Obama the benefit of the doubt on this issue. It seems to me that that now has to end.

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The Marriage Equality End Game

Mar 12 2014 @ 12:39pm

I confess once again to being a little sideswiped by the sudden uptick of momentum in national support for marriage equality. I shouldn’t be. It was perfectly clear three decades ago that the arguments for equality were much stronger than the arguments against. And key debating points have been seriously and consecutively won, culminating in the logical devastation of the case against marriage equality in the Prop 8 trial.

But what I under-estimated, I think, was Pew Marriagethe personal dynamic. Simply put: it’s extremely hard to oppose marriage equality when you know someone who is gay. It requires you to hold a position that clearly treats the human being in front of you as inferior – or at least it sure can feel that way. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a reasoned, theological argument that gays should be denied equal treatment under the law. It simply means that even if you hold that principled position, you will increasingly feel like an isolated asshole with gay friends, family members and colleagues. And few actively want to be an asshole. I think that’s in part what fuels Rod Dreher’s passion. He’s a decent guy, and it anguishes him to think others will think he isn’t. He’s a humane person who nonetheless has to come off as inhumane to almost any gay person and many straight ones.

But when people resolve the struggle between theory and the human person – and it’s only resolved by embracing the whole person, including her sexual orientation – the denial of equality can seem increasingly outrageous. No straight person would ever acquiesce to the idea that he or she does not have a right to marry. Such a denial seems redolent only of slavery’s evil treatment of African-Americans. And who can really demand that another human being never experience love, commitment and intimacy? And so, over time, the country is sorting itself into two camps: most everyone in one camp, and older, white evangelicals – who have often never met a gay person – in the other. Which means a huge headache for the GOP.

Nora Caplan-Bricker summarizes the latest from Pew:

The study found 69 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds support same-sex marriage, versus 54 percent of people overall. Unsurprisingly, young people who lean Democrat favor gay marriage the most heavily; 77 percent are pro. But the most interesting data is on the other side of the aisle, where 61 percent of 18- to 29-year-old Republicans say they support legal marriage for same-sex couples—a 39-point gap over Republicans 65-and-over.

So we’re wrong to focus on seniors as such. In fact, senior support for marriage equality has recently seen some of the sharpest increases of any age cohort. It’s the old and Republican who increasingly seem isolated. Allahpundit notices the Democratic generational convergence:

The most striking numbers there, actually, are how small the differences are between various Democratic age groups. It’s an astounding consensus to have 18-year-old and 65-year-old Dems both above 60 percent support and within 15 points of each other on a practice that was barely on the cultural radar 20 years ago. Makes me wonder how many senior-citizen votes the GOP picked up over the last decade as the 65+ demographic sorted itself out. And how many younger votes it lost.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown wonders why young, gay-friendly Republicans stay with the party:

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Finally, Dianne Feinstein – not exactly a radical critic of the surveillance state – is pushed to the Senate floor to expose the CIA’s unauthorized obstruction of the Senate’s inquiry into their torture program:

She nails the CIA under John Brennan as being contemptuous of Congress and demands to know why they haven’t responded to her inquiries:

This is a remarkable, unprecedented speech – an open accusation from a respected Senator that the CIA has illegally spied on the Congress, done its utmost to prevent the truth about the torture program coming out, and has been engaged in stone-walling and misinformation and deliberate “intimidation” of Senate staffers tasked with the huge task of finding out what happened. The full text of DiFi’s remarks are below. They’re meticulous and damning about the CIA’s actions under director John Brennan – so damning, I’d argue, that the president has to ask himself if this man can be trusted to follow the constitution and the law. I urge you to read the entire speech. It’s one for the history books.

Feinstein reminds us that the Senate investigation began after the news broke that the CIA had destroyed tapes of its torture sessions – over the objections of the Bush White House Counsel and the Director of National Intelligence. The CIA insisted that the tapes’ destruction was not obstruction of justice because there were countless other records of the torture sessions. So the Senate Committee convened an inquiry into those other cables and documents. Here’s what they found:

The resulting staff report was chilling. The interrogations and the conditions of confinement at the CIA detention sites were far different and far more harsh than the way the CIA had described them to us. As result of the staff’s initial report, I proposed, and then-Vice Chairman Bond agreed, and the committee overwhelmingly approved, that the committee conduct an expansive and full review of CIA’s detention and interrogation program.

At the very beginning, then, the CIA – in the person of Jose Rodriguez – was destroying video evidence of its war crimes. Brennan’s subsequent shenanigans with the Committee – and attempt to sue back in retaliation after being exposed as spies on their very over-seers – is utterly of a piece with this pattern of concealment. Through all the details of this battle, that has to be kept in mind. The CIA’s actions are bizarre – unless you understand the gravity of the war crimes they committed and illegally and unconstitutionally concealed from the Congress. And it seems they sure do, as their own internal Panetta report – the smoking gun Feinstein says the CIA itself provided to the Senate – confirmed. Hence the bottom line from DiFi:

I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution, including the speech and debate clause. It may have undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities or any other government function. … The CIA’s search may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act as well as Executive Order 120003, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance.

Brennan this morning said that “nothing could be further from the truth.” And yet this is how Feinstein says she found out about the illicit spying on the committee’s staffers:

On January 15, 2014, CIA Director Brennan requested an emergency meeting to inform me and Vice Chairman Chambliss that without prior notification or approval, CIA personnel had conducted a “search” — that was John Brennan’s word — of the committee computers at the offsite facility. This search involved not only a search of documents provided to the committee by the CIA, but also a search of the ”stand alone” and “walled-off” committee network drive containing the committee’s own internal work product and communications.

According to Brennan, the computer search was conducted in response to indications that some members of the committee staff might already have had access to the Internal Panetta Review. The CIA did not ask the committee or its staff if the committee had access to the Internal Review, or how we obtained it.

Instead, the CIA just went and searched the committee’s computers.

So either Brennan or Feinstein isn’t telling the truth. Then there’s this passage from the speech that got me to sit up straight:

As I mentioned before, our staff involved in this matter have the appropriate clearances, handled this sensitive material according to established procedures and practice to protect classified information, and were provided access to the Panetta Review by the CIA itself. As a result, there is no legitimate reason to allege to the Justice Department that Senate staff may have committed a crime. I view the acting general counsel’s referral as a potential effort to intimidate this staff—and I am not taking it lightly.

I should note that for most, if not all, of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, the now acting general counsel was a lawyer in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center—the unit within which the CIA managed and carried out this program. From mid-2004 until the official termination of the detention and interrogation program in January 2009, he was the unit’s chief lawyer. He is mentioned by name more than 1,600 times in our study.

Think about that for a moment. A man who was once the lawyer for the torture unit is now the lawyer for the CIA as a whole! A man deeply invested in war crimes is now the designated point man for “intimidating” the Senate staff. If that alone doesn’t tell you how utterly unrepentant the CIA is over its past, and how determined it is to keep its actions concealed, as well as immune to prosecution, what would?

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Joe McGinniss, RIP

Mar 11 2014 @ 1:24pm


Joe McGinnis was responsible not only for several books that are rightly understood as landmarks of journalism – he was also the case study of arguably the most famous essay about journalism, Janet Malcolm’s “The Journalist and the Murderer.” He was a deeply curious and ferociously independent writer, compelled by the minutiae of the human comedy and riveted by the depths  of human tragedy. I think of him as some kind of eternal, unstoppable foe for Roger Ailes, whose media campaign for Nixon in 1968 presaged so much of what was to come – and still reins supreme – at Fox News. And yet Ailes and Joe were extremely close friends their entire lives and Joe would defend him – if not his network or politics – tenaciously as the years went by. That was how Joe was. Once he loved you, he loved you. And I was blessed by some of that love.


It’s not an exaggeration to say that Joe – at the tender age of 26! – transformed political journalism with The Selling Of The President, the legendary expose of the cynicism of media optics in presidential campaigns – and, by the by, a lovely, ornery rebuke to the magisterial tomes of Theodore H White, as Ann Althouse notes. And the first thing to say is that the man could write. He couldn’t write a bad sentence. His narratives powered along; his prose as clear as it was vivid; his innate skill at telling a story sometimes reaching rare moments in non-fiction when you’re lost in what is, in effect, a factual novel.

But what I truly treasured about Joe – and I came to love him even though we only met a couple of times – was his dogged imperviousness to his peers or to establishment opinion. If he smelled a story, he would dig in, obsessively recovering its human truth. If others thought the story was irrelevant or non-existent, it wouldn’t affect him. His motivation, as it was with his first book, was to peel back the layers of image and propaganda and spin to reveal the reality. He did this with Jeffrey McDonald. And he did it with Sarah Palin.

Of course, we bonded over the former half-term governor. He reached out to me when I was wildly exposed among journalists for refusing to believe her stories at face value. And what we bonded over was not a mutual revulsion at her politics. What we bonded over was the abject failure of the American press to say what had to be said about this preposterous, delusional maniac plucked from deserved obscurity by John McCain to be a heartbeat away from a potential presidency.

Her candidacy was a total farce; a disgrace; an outrage to American democracy; an appalling act of cynicism. Joe saw the creation of this media figure as a continuation of the Ailes recipe for optic politics, and he was appalled as so many mainstream outlets nonetheless insisted on taking this joke seriously.

So he went to do what others wouldn’t: to find the real truth about Palin, and he came closer than almost anyone.

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The Christianist Closet?

Mar 10 2014 @ 4:49pm

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In an angry rant, Dreher accuses me of being “smug and naive” when talking about the crosses that marriage equality opponents have to bear under the “new McCarthyism”:

It’s very, very easy for the self-employed Andrew, who is on the power-holding side of this cultural equation, to demean as “delicate and insensitive” people who face real and significant professional consequences for their religious dissent.

What I find so fascinating about Rod’s deployment of the “you’re too privileged to have a say” argument is that it’s exactly the same debating point once leveled at me by gay leftists. When I basically told gay people to stop thinking of themselves as victims and start thinking of themselves as equal citizens – one part of the case for putting military service and the right to marry at the forefront of the movement – there were howls of derision. But I remain convinced that the only way to escape the victim-trap was to transcend it. And that’s really my advice to Christianists: Get over yourselves and get on with your lives. Rod claims I am blind to terrible discrimination:

Sullivan’s complaint is disingenuous. I hear all the time from religious conservatives in various fields — in particular media and academia — who are afraid to disclose their own beliefs about same-sex marriage because most people within those fields consider opposition to SSM to be driven solely by hatred.

Earlier this year, I had a conversation with a man who is probably the most accomplished and credentialed legal scholar I’ve ever met, someone who is part of this country’s law elite. The fact that I can’t identify him here, or get into specifics of what he told me, indicates something important about the climate within law circles around this issue. On this issue, he lives in the closet, so to speak, within his professional circles, and explained to me why it has become too dangerous to take a traditionalist stand in law circles, unless one is prepared to sabotage one’s career.

Hand me the world’s tiniest violin. If someone is fired for his religious beliefs, he can sue (which is more than can be said for gay people fired for their orientation in many states). The rest is truly spectacular whining. There are always going to be social pressures that favor or disfavor certain views. What about a gun control enthusiast in rural Texas? Or a pro-choicer in Mississippi?

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Rand Paul, The GOP, And The Young

Mar 10 2014 @ 12:53pm

Molly Ball captures the atmosphere at CPAC during Rand Paul’s speech:

Though CPAC draws right-wingers of all stripes, from Oliver North to Santorum to a guy on stilts in a Ronald Reagan costume, it is increasingly dominated by libertarians, a combined result of their passionate engagement in movement politics and the discount rates the conference offers to college students. That makes it, for Paul, something of a hometown crowd. On Saturday, he won the conference’s straw poll in a landslide. The enormous ballroom at the convention center in the Washington suburbs was crammed with an audience of thousands for his speech on Friday, which Paul devoted exclusively to civil-liberties issues.

Jonathan Coppage recaps the speech:

Paul castigated a progressive majoritarianism run amok, whose free-floating definition of legitimacy puts all minorities at risk, whether the racial minorities persecuted in generations past, or minorities of ideas at risk in the present day. He made frequent reference to his fight against the security state’s overreaches, and insisted upon the imperative importance of specific warrants and open, free trials instead of general warrants and secret determinations of guilt. Finally, Paul closed on a muscular message rejecting the gradualist’s insistence on a hesitant program of changes, telling the CPAC crowd that their job is not to minimize liberty lost, but to maximize liberty.

I find myself wanting Paul to go the distance in the 2016 primaries. No, that’s not because I want Clinton to win (if she’s the Democratic nominee). It’s because Paul would facilitate a younger demographic for Republicans, and that can only be good – for the GOP and the rest of us.

Perhaps the most crippling disadvantage the GOP now has is its dependence on seniors for political clout. We know just how divergent Screen Shot 2014-03-10 at 12.38.49 PMtoday’s generations are – to such an extent that they are effectively foreign countries to each other. 61 percent of Millennials are white, compared with over 80 percent for the pre-boomers – creating an entirely different rite of passage into adulthood. 26 percent are married, compared with 65 percent of pre-boomers and 48 percent of boomers. Millennials have far less trust in institutions, including political parties, and on social issues, Millennials are far more libertarian than their elders: marriage equality is simply a given for them, and legalizing weed a no-brainer.

On current trends, the GOP has close to no chance of winning over this demographic unless it loses its discomfort with non-whites and gays, if it pledges a re-run of George W Bush’s foreign policy, if it keeps championing the war on drugs, or the surveillance state. The widening generational gap between the parties is already unprecedented in modern times. And one segment of the voters is dying, and the other is gaining strength. Unless the GOP manages to find a way to re-brand itself with the next generation, it is facing an existence on life-support – and each pandering message to the Fox News demo will only serve to alienate Millennials.

Rand Paul is one answer to this. If he were to run against the archetypal boomer, Hillary Clinton, around the themes of individual liberty at home and non-interventionism abroad, he could immediately put the GOP on the Millennial side of this generational struggle. Even if he were crushed by Clinton, the GOP’s image would be re-made in a way much more attractive to the under-30s.

His main problem, it seems to me, is racial.

Read On

Has The World Never Changed?

Mar 7 2014 @ 3:27pm

I understand that’s a ridiculously broad question, but it arises from a ridiculously broad analysis:

Obama says Putin is on the wrong side of history and Secretary of State John Kerry says Putin’s is “really 19th-century behavior in the 21st century.” This must mean that seeking national power, territory, dominion — the driving impulse of nations since Thucydides — is obsolete. As if a calendar change caused a revolution in human nature that transformed the international arena from a Hobbesian struggle for power into a gentleman’s club where violations of territorial integrity just don’t happen.

Is it possible things are just a little bit more complicated than that? It could be that the impulse for national power, territory, dominion is now not obsolete, but simply much more attenuated now than it once was (and that argument is easily compatible with Kerry’s phrase). And the case for that is pretty strong. I mean: if nations have one driving impulse – “seeking national power, territory, dominion” – and if the record shows no change or evolution in this eternal truth, how do we explain huge tranches of recent history?

war2012Why on earth, for example, would European countries pool sovereignty in the EU? How could they be deluded into thinking that giving up “national power” could be a good thing? And why, for that matter, would this arrangement remain attractive to other countries as well, not least of which Ukraine? Why on earth did the US invade and conquer Iraq only to leave it a decade later? Why did we not seize the oil-fields with our military might to fuel our economy? What was Krauthammer’s hero, George W Bush, doing – singing hymns to human freedom rather than American hegemony?

Why, for that matter, have military incursions into other countries become rarer over time? Why has the level of inter-state violence in human affairs declined to historically low levels?

The answers to that question are, of course, legion, and I’m not trying to settle the debate here. I’m just noting that if the classic aims of territory acquisition and dominion never change, Krauthammer has a lot of explaining to do.

Even with Putin, I think it’s worth noting that his current Tsarist mojo is not exactly triumphalist. Krauthammer concedes as much:

Crimea belonged to Moscow for 200 years. Russia conquered it 20 years before the U.S. acquired Louisiana. Lost it in the humiliation of the 1990s. Putin got it back in about three days without firing a shot.

So this is less like Hitlerian aggression and more like a sad attempt to re-seize one tiny portion that was part of Russia proper far longer than it was “lost”. More to the point, Putin “got it back” only in the wake of Ukraine deposing its democratically-elected, Russophile leader in a violent, popular putsch. Yes, if your contention is that the desire for territory/dominion/power is “obsolete,” you’re a fool. But if your contention is that this impulse plays a much less critical role in international affairs than in almost all previous periods in human history, you’d be merely making an empirical observation.

The truth is that global interdependence – the immensely complex and proliferating global economy that vastly expanded as communism collapsed under the weight of its own lies – clearly mitigates the classic impulse that Krauthammer approves of. It doesn’t abolish it – but it shapes it.

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