Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Tuesday, January 19, 2010 8:36 pm

Odds and ends for 1/19

He got that nickname the old-fashioned way: Blogger Ben Shapiro betrays such staggering ignorance of how the world and people work that he was long ago dubbed “The Virgin Ben.” He has branched out into writing about cinema for know-nothing blogger blowhard Andrew Breitbart’s Big Hollywood site, and his virgin effort there suggests that he has never so much as held hands in a movie theater, either. (Tintin has better snark on this subject than I do.)

Dead. Bank. Walking: Citi lost $7.6B in 4Q2009. It should have been nationalized a year ago.

Why does Lisa Murkowski hate clean air and her own constituents’ villages?: On Wednesday, the Senate will vote on a measure sponsored by Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican who is the leading beneficiary of utility-industry political contributions, to gut the Clean Air Act. Murkowski’s bill was written by two staffers she hired away from lobbying positions with the utility industry.

You know all those YouTube clips from the movie “Downfall” that have Hitler raging about everything from subprime mortgages to “The Tonight Show”?: The director of “Downfall” loves ’em. It makes me happy to know that.

So far the good guys are winning: Blogger Marcy Wheeler, herself a lawyer, says the plaintiffs’ attorneys in Perez v. Schwarzenegger are outlawyerin’ the attorneys for the defendants (i.e., gay-marriage opponents). She also says science is winning, which is even better news.

More from Marcy: “Call me crazy, but …”: The FBI, between 2002 and 2006, illegally collected more than 2,000 U.S. telephone-call records. “Call me crazy,” Marcy says, “but since we know the FBI and NSA were illegally wiretapping organizations like al-Haramain in 2004, you have to wonder whether this was an attempt to clean up poison fruit from earlier, even more illegal surveillance.” OK, Crazy Lady, yes, we do have to wonder this. But only ’til the forthcoming Inspector General report proves it, I suspect. UPDATE: IG report here (306pp .pdf); as of early 1/21, I haven’t read it.

Some of the best and worst of local-TV journalism, all in one clip. (h/t Neill McNeill on FB) Contrast with this, on an arguably far more serious subject.

Racism is dead. OK, maybe not. (Warning: If you read the comments under that column, your brain cells that die will not be replaced.)

Public service: Alan Wolfe reads Game Change so you don’t have to. Bonus: He concludes that the DFHs are right.

Public screwing: The Charlotte Observer lays off more people. Memo to newspapers: You can’t cut your way out of this crisis. Memo to commenters: It ain’t the bias, it’s the advertising, and, oh, by the way, I’d really like a 7.0 earthquake to take out your house tonight while leaving your neighbors’ untouched, you self-righteous jackasses.

Shorter James Kunstler: Reality will not ignore YOU (Where have I heard that before?): “… reality doesn’t care what anybody believes, or what story they put out.  Reality doesn’t ‘spin.’ Reality does not have a self-image problem.  Reality does not yield its workings to self-esteem management. These days, Americans don’t like reality very much because it won’t let them push it around. Reality is an implacable force and the only question for human beings in the face of it is: what will you do?”

RIP: Carl Smith and Kate McGarrigle.

Have they found a real, live (dead) chupacabra?: Nah. But it sure looked like one.

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Friday, January 8, 2010 11:26 pm

Odds and ends for 1/8

Wellnow. AIG, Tim Geithner and PricewaterhouseCoopers could all be in trouble. I don’t know much about PwC, but as far as the other two go, trouble couldn’t happen to a more deserving pair. Unfortunately for Democrats, AIG and Geithner are now their problem, as at least some recognize.

And regarding Geithner, etc., this Republican says “amen”: Says “washunate”: “If we [Democrats] don’t clean house, Republicans eventually will. … We are at the bizarre point now where situations that should be case studies for everything that’s wrong with the crony capitalism of the Reagan-Bush era are being turned into defend-the-ramparts or remember-the-Alamo entrenchment by Democratic leaders.”

NO MASterCard!: Consumer borrowing plunged by a seasonally adjusted all-time record $17.5 billion in Novemer.

Freemasonry unveiled!: And it’s not nearly as entertaining as Dan Brown would have us believe.

Evidence that Teh Sm4rt Kid2 aren’t going into journalism: Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter suggests that President Obama meet personally with Dick Cheney to tell him to STFU ask him to stop bad-mouthing administration terrorism policy. Pshyeah. The only reason Obama should meet personally with Dick Cheney is to personally clap him in irons and haul his war-criminal ass off The Hague. (“Clap him in irons.” I love that phrase. So pirate.)

Jackassery unveiled!: The manager and assistant manager of Maricopa County, Ariz., will testify before a federal grand jury against Joe Arpaio, the unrepentantly abusive, bigoted thug currently occupying the office of sheriff.

People ask me why I think private, for-profit health insurers are a mistake: This is one reason why.

As she has done in the past on Republican apologists for Plamegate, Marcy Wheeler is laying a hurting on the Obama administration’s main academic apologist for its health-care reform plan.

Another hold on Ben Bernanke, this one from Byron Dorgan, at least until Bernanke opens the Fed’s books. Good! So good, in fact, that Teddy Partridge thinks we should replace Geithner with Dorgan. More background on Dorgan here. Remember, Dorgan is not only the person who said it would take us less than a decade to regret repealing Glass-Stegall, he’s also the guy who was warning us of the dangers of “too big to fail” — in 1974.

Love’s Labors Lebowski’ed: Nance (actually, strictly speaking, some of Nance’s commenters) and others have been bugging me for years to see The Big Lebowski. And it’s not that I don’t want to, but I just haven’t had, or made, the opportunity. But it now appears that I’m going to have to rent it or something just so that I can fully enjoy this.

Another fight the Obama team appears likely to try to back down from: ‘Net neutrality. At some point, some presidential candidate is going to have to openly run against corporate lobbyists (and win by about 20 million popular votes, so that there’s no question about a mandate), or else there will never be the political will to put these weasels back in their cages.

Shorter Ellen Malcolm, departing head of the pro-choice lobbying group Emily’s List, as channeled by Jane Hamsher: “Every single person we elected [to Congress] is determined to vote for the biggest setback to abortion rights in my lifetime, and I don’t want to be here and eat s— for it from big donors when it happens.”

And, finally, yes, I’m probably going to have to watch this: (OK, Vimeo had a trailer for the new “A-Team” movie up today that looked really, really cool, but it has been taken down.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009 9:52 pm

Another swing-and-a-miss in New York … and I ain’t talking baseball.

On Saturday, The New York Times published this story:

WASHINGTON — When Justice Department lawyers engaged in a sharp internal debate in 2005 over brutal interrogation techniques, even some who believed that using tough tactics was a serious mistake agreed on a basic point: the methods themselves were legal.

Previously undisclosed Justice Department e-mail messages, interviews and newly declassified documents show that some of the lawyers, including James B. Comey, the deputy attorney general who argued repeatedly that the United States would regret using harsh methods, went along with a 2005 legal opinion asserting that the techniques used by the Central Intelligence Agency were lawful.

Only here’s the thing: The Times based its story in significant part on memos from Comey that actually show the opposite with respect to combining various forms of, as the phrase goes, enhanced interrogation techniques. Go on and read ’em yourself; it won’t take long.

What they actually show, among other things, is that both Comey and another Justice official, Pat Philbin, were raising serious concerns about the analysis that led to the conclusion that torture was legal; that Vice President Dick Cheney was putting pressure on Justice to provide legal cover — and to do it quickly; that Comey personally told then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez that the combined-effects memo “would come back to haunt him and the Department.” (Gonzalez even agreed with Comey that that memo was unacceptable as written.)

Comey also writes:

[Ted Ullyot, then chief of staff to Gonzalez] asked if I felt like I had had the chance to adequately air my views with the AG. I told him I had, so much so that the AG had agreed with me, which left me puzzled about the need to send the opinion now.

I told him that the people who were applying pressure now would not be there when the [   ] hit the fan. Rather, they would simply say that they had only asked for an opinion. It would be Alberto Gonzalez in the bullseye. I told him that my job was to protect the Departmwnt [sic] and the AG and that I could not agree to this because it was wrong.

Constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald provides more detailed analysis of how the memos undermine the Times’ thesis rather than supporting it.

So does Marcy Wheeler, a former federal prosecutor, at Firedoglake. One thing she finds in the memos that the Times somehow did not is that ” … the May 10, 2005 authorization to use combined techniques was designed to give legal cover for something that had already happened.” She also provides additional analysis, particularly in this post, although even someone not overly familiar with either Washington politics or the law can look at the plain meaning of the memos and understand that the Times article does not accurately represent their contents.

In particular, she points out that although the Times says Comey said individual torture techniques were “legal,” Comey in fact makes clear that he believes only that they do not violate one particular U.S. statute (which was all he actually was asked about). He specifically emphasizes that he is not considering whether they might violate the Geneva Conventions or the UN Convention Against Torture.

Here’s Greenwald’s summary:

It’s worth noting that all of the officials involved in these events — including Comey — are right-wing ideologues appointed by George Bush.  That’s why they were appointed.  The fact that Comey was willing to go along with approval of these tactics when used individually — just as is true of his willingness to endorse a modified version of Bush’s NSA warrantless eavesdropping program in the face of FISA — hardly proves that there was a good-faith basis for the view that these individual tactics were legal.

But the real story here is obvious — these DOJ memos authorizing torture were anything but the by-product of independent, good faith legal analysis.  Instead, those memos — just like the pre-war CIA reports about The Threat of Saddam — were coerced by White House officials eager for bureaucratic cover for what they had already ordered.  This was done precisely so that once this all became public, they could point to those memos and have the political and media establishment excuse what they did (“Oh, they only did what they DOJ told them was legal”‘/”Oh, they were only reacting to CIA warnings about Saddam’s weapons”).  These DOJ memos, like the CIA reports, were all engineered by the White House to give cover to what they wanted to do; they were not the precipitating events that led to and justified those decisions.  That is the critical point proven by the Comey emails, and it is completely obscured by the NYT article, which instead trumpets the opposite point (“Unanimity at DOJ that these tactics were legal”) because that’s the story their leaking sources wanted them to promote.

What’s most ironic about what the NYT did here is that on the very same day this article appears, there is a column from the NYT Public Editor, Clark Hoyt, excoriating the paper for having published a deeply misleading front page story by Elizabeth Bumiller, that claimed that 1 out of 7 Guantanamo detainees returned to “jihad” once they are released.  That happened because Bumiller followed the most common method of modern establishment reporting:  she mindlessly repeated what her government sources told her to say.  As Hoyt put it:

But the article on which he based that statement was seriously flawed and greatly overplayed. It demonstrated again the dangers when editors run with exclusive leaked material in politically charged circumstances and fail to push back skeptically. The lapse is especially unfortunate at The Times, given its history in covering the run-up to the Iraq war.

That is exactly what Shane and Johnston did with these Comey emails.

The first three rules of journalism are 1) follow the money, 2) follow the money and 3) follow the money. Rule No. 4 is: Always read the documents. The NYT article reads as if the people who wrote it didn’t read them. I don’t know whether that’s because, as Greenwald supposes, the reporters were merely parroting what their sources were telling them, or whether something else was going on. But the Times blew this one badly, as anyone who looks at the e-mails him/herself can plainly see.

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