June 2008

Thanks to one Roy Edroso, and a post titled:


It’s not knowing how something works that’s important. It’s being aware of it:

You don’t necessarily have to use a computer to understand, you know, how it shapes the country. … John McCain is aware of the Internet.


This is going to be so much fun:

With all that stacked against him, the only road that could take McCain to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is the low road, one of the few pieces of infrastructure left in good repair by President Bush. His father paved it against Michael Dukakis, George W. Bush repaved it running against John Kerry, and the GOP repainted the dotted line in now-Senator Bob Corker’s 2006 contest with Harold Ford. The path to success for McCain is to make the election a referendum on his opponent, by working in silent concert with 527 groups and media outlets such as Fox News to pursue character assassination, guilt by association, and, most of all, the effort to paint Obama as different, foreign, unlike “us,” and dangerous (and did I mention that he’s black?). [...]

Under other circumstances, such simple turns of phrase might mean little. But these aren’t other circumstances. Barack Obama has been the target of a concerted smear campaign that tells a consistent story: that he is a Muslim, that he attended an anti-American madrassa as a child, that he refuses to put his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance, that he took his oath of office to the Senate with his hand on the Koran, and that he hates Israel. Beginning in late 2006, conservative talk show hosts and commentators like Ann Coulter were calling him “B. Hussein Obama,” images on the Internet were morphing Obama into Osama, and commentators were raising questions about his patriotism.

These subterranean messages took a substantial toll. When I was doing focus groups with swing voters in the early winter, nearly half of every group we met with would either assert confidently or wonder aloud whether Obama was a Muslim or didn’t believe in the Pledge of Allegiance.


  • Phil Carter misunderstands objections to telecom immunity. The point of lawsuits against the telecommunications industry is not to punish them for the misdeeds of the government, it is to compel them to testify against the government, something which they are not otherwise going to be especially eager to do.
  • Legal analysis outsourced to Marty Lederman and David Kris, here, here, here, and here.
  • Barack Obama’s current stand on the bill is: he supports it, with the immunity provision removed. The word ‘filibuster’ does not appear in his statement, nor in the statements of any of the core anti-immunity bloc. However, Obama had previously vowed to filibuster any bill with such a provision. Unless he’s going to flip-flop on that promise, then, this bill as written will have to go through the filibuster of the Democratic nominee. I’m just telling you what he’s been telling me.
  • I’m not sure what Michael Cohen is going on about here:

    Seriously, Greenwald and others need to get a grip. You want to disagree with those Democrats who supported this bill, fine – I’m not here to tell you that you’re wrong. But to suggest that progressives should then raise money to lessen the Democratic majority in Congress and subsequently ignore the fact that the only reason we are even having this debate is because of the lawless practices of George Bush; well if you think this is a good idea, you need to have your head examined.

    Tell Grover Norquist how this doesn’t work. Tell the Service Employees International Union. Greenwald et al are targeting 3 House Democrats – Steny Hoyer, who has spearheaded this and all previous attempts to get a Republican-friendly FISA bill through the House (and who also happens to suck generally); Chris Carney, who is sort of a mini-Steny (and who is, ironically enough, being heavily funded by the SEIU); and John Barrow, who is facing a serious primary challenge. Hoyer’s not going to lose ever, so this is mostly posturing; Carney might lose to a Republican; and Barrow might lose in solidly Democratic district to a much more solid Democrat. You could argue about the specifics here – my money is going to primary challenges exclusively – but, in a year where the Democrats seem certain to pick up 10-20 House seats, it seems like the perfect time to cut some dead weight. Comparing this to Ralph Nader’s continuing work on behalf of Republicans, as Cohen does, is ridiculous.

    That’s tactics. People who, like Cohen, object to this on grounds of partisan solidarity need to consider that party loyalty flows both ways. Forget pissing on the grassroots voting hoi polloi: this “compromise” FISA bill, like the earlier (and even more objectionable) Protect America Act, passed the House with essentially unanimous Republican support and over the objections of most House Democrats. Believe it or don’t believe it, the vote breakdowns don’t lie. The House Democratic leadership has repeatedly allowed votes on bills which are opposed by a substantial majority of their caucus, and are hugely popular with the same people who are otherwise trying to ensure that your party’s agenda fails. If you want to avoid primary challenges and other reprisals, don’t undercut your own party.

  • I know I sound like a broken record, but it would be nice if someone would at least acknowledge that the Cold War is over, the Soviet Union is kaput, and so the whole national security justification for secret FISA courts and NSA wiretaps actually no longer exists. I’m open to arguments that current technologies, etc., means that the government needs expanded surveillance powers – it’s not my preference, but I don’t think I’m qualified to propose policy here. But it would be so nice if someone could relate it to the real world of the present day, rather than trying to make me believe that bearded religious nutters living in caves are more cunning and sophisticated than the Soviet Union. (Yes, the 9/11 hijackers did manage to escape the detection of the Bush administration. So did a class 5 hurricane.)
  • Has anybody done a comparison between US gov’t surveillance powers and those of other governments, especially Western Europe? It would provide some context for the non-immunity parts of the bill.
  • Tim Russert: still dead. We’ll keep you posted as this story develops.

The bill.  EFF doesn’t like it.  The ACLU doesn’t like it.  Greenwald has more round-up.  Kagro X games it out.  The Dodd is opposed; Feingold is opposed; Dodd and Feingold are opposed (we do note that the word ‘filibuster’ does not appear); while Barack Obama, #1 Democrat, is silent.

The point of telecom immunity is to protect the Bush administration – and those in Congress who enabled them – from having to answer for what they have done.  There’s no other good reason for it.

Henry Waxman is shrill:

The Honorable Claude M. Kicklighter
Inspector General
U.S. Department of Defense
400 Army Navy Drive
Arlington, VA 22202-4704

Dear Mr. Inspector General:
I am writing to seek your assistance in investigating potentially thousands of criminal cases involving fraudulent contracts in Iraq.
On May 22, 2008, your deputy, Mary Ugone, testified before the Oversight Committee and released a report assessing the Defense Department’s oversight of billions of dollars in procurement expenditures in Iraq. The primary finding in the May 22 report was that the Defense Department “did not maintain adequate internal controls over commercial payments to ensure that they were properly supported.” The report estimated that $7.8 billion out of a pool of$8.2 billion in commercial payments “did not meet all statutory or regulatory requirements. Of this amount, the report estimated that $1.4 billion in commercial payments “lacked the minimum documentation for a valid payment, such as properly prepared receiving reports, invoices, and certified vouchers” and thus “do not provide the necessary assurance that funds were used as intended.
You arrived at these estimates using a sampling methodology. Specifically, the report examined 702 transactions worth $1.5 billion. It found that 40 transactions worth $6.9 million complied with contracting statutes and regulations, while 662 transactions worth $1.3 billion did not. The sample was selected to be representative of the larger pool of more than 180,000 transactions worth approximately $8.2 billion that was the subject of your report. During your examination of the 702 transactions worth $1.5 billion, you identified 28 transactions worth $35 million that appeared to involve criminal misuse of taxpayer funds.
According to the report:

Ineffective internal controls could create an environment conducive to fraudulent activity or improper use of funds. We referred 28 vouchers totaling $35.1 million to the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) for potential follow-up because of their support deficiencies; the unusual nature of the transaction; or because they pertained to payees of interest to DCIS.
Your report did not estimate the extent of potentially criminal transactions outside of the sample you examined. My staff, however, has done this extrapolation. Among the transactions you examined, approximately 4% resulted in criminal referrals. When this percentage is applied to the entire pool of 180,000 transactions, it appears that there may be more than 7,000 potential criminal cases involving more than $190 million in federal spending that have not been identified. This is an astounding amount of potential criminal fraud.
In subsequent discussions with Committee staff, officials from your office have confirmed that the projected number and value of criminal cases in the unexamined pool of transactions is substantial and merits further investigation. They have also informed my staff that since the Oversight Committee’s May 22 hearing, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service has launched a new effort to review additional transactions for potential criminal activity. According to your staff, DCIS is now working with the Defense Finance and Accounting Service to scrutinize thousands of additional transactions over the next several months.
This new initiative is welcome. During the course of the Iraq war, however, the Defense Department has repeatedly failed to take reports of waste, fraud, and abuse seriously. This was demonstrated once again when the Department failed to acknowledge the critical problems highlighted by your report and refused to send Pentagon officials to testify voluntarily at the Oversight Committee’s May 22 hearing. It is difficult to have confidence that the Department will take adequate steps to address the full magnitude of the potential criminal fraud.
I therefore request that your office assess the extent of potential criminal fraud in the expenditure of D.S. funds in Iraq. I also request that you make recommendations to the Defense Department and Congress on the steps needed to identify, investigate, and prosecute cases of criminal conduct involving the expenditure ofD.S. funds in Iraq and to recoup any missing funds for the taxpayer.
I thank you and Ms. Dgone for your cooperation with the Committee and your efforts on
behalf ofD.S. taxpayers. If you have any questions about this request, the Committee staff
contact is David Rapallo at (202) 225-5420.
Henry A. Waxman



The two-star general who led an Army investigation into the horrific detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib has accused the Bush administration of war crimes and is calling for accountability.

In his 2004 report on Abu Ghraib, then-Major General Anthony Taguba concluded that “numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees.” He called the abuse “systemic and illegal.” And, as Seymour M. Hersh reported in the New Yorker, he was rewarded for his honesty by being forced into retirement.

Now, in a preface to a Physicians for Human Rights report based on medical examinations of former detainees, Taguba adds an epilogue to his own investigation.

The new report, he writes, “tells the largely untold human story of what happened to detainees in our custody when the Commander-in-Chief and those under him authorized a systematic regime of torture. This story is not only written in words: It is scrawled for the rest of these individual’s lives on their bodies and minds. Our national honor is stained by the indignity and inhumane treatment these men received from their captors.

“The profiles of these eleven former detainees, none of whom were ever charged with a crime or told why they were detained, are tragic and brutal rebuttals to those who claim that torture is ever justified. Through the experiences of these men in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, we can see the full-scope of the damage this illegal and unsound policy has inflicted –both on America’s institutions and our nation’s founding values, which the military, intelligence services, and our justice system are duty-bound to defend.

“In order for these individuals to suffer the wanton cruelty to which they were subjected, a government policy was promulgated to the field whereby the Geneva Conventions and the Uniform Code of Military Justice were disregarded. The UN Convention Against Torture was indiscriminately ignored. . . .

“After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.”

Today’s lead editorial in the Washington Post: Michael Gerson fumes that Al Franken uses bad words, and insinuates that he may engage in marital relations without closing his eyes. Gentilité, Comité, Civilité!!

You may think you are aware of all internet traditions. O RLY? Following on the success of Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, The Traditional Internet Preservation Society invites you to celebrate Internet Traditions Awareness Week, and help preserve our valuable internet traditions.

See also, and, and, and, and.

There’s a blog.

Easterbrook (or at least a competent summary of his work), June 2008:

The odds that a potentially devastating space rock will hit Earth this century may be as high as one in 10. So why isn’t NASA trying harder to prevent catastrophe?

As Brad DeLong points out, this is utter bullshit, at least for any non-bullshit values of “potentially devastating” and “may be as high as.” Let’s consider the bullshittiness of this claim a little more. Easterbrook is panicked by the thought that maybe-once-a-century event like Tunguska could occur over the negligible percentage of Earth’s surface which is covered by dense cities. He writes:

The blast had hundreds of times the force of the Hiroshima bomb and devastated an area of several hundred square miles. Had the explosion occurred above London or Paris, the city would no longer exist.

A comparable destructive energy can be expected from a good-sized hurricane or typhoon, which have a tendency to strike coastal areas, a popular location for cities. Of course, this energy would be spread over a much greater area and time than would an asteroid/comet impact, making it a less concentrated destruction – but, therefore, that much more likely to hit inhabited areas. Or, if you don’t like that analogy, you can also get a much larger, and similarly rapid, yield from an 8.0+ earthquake, of which we get about one a year. Localized disasters of this sort happen hundreds or thousands or times more frequently than similarly-powerful asteroid/comet impacts, and yet somehow we don’t characterize them as the deadliest threats ever.

Sure, who knows? Maybe I’ll get hit by an asteroid on my way to work tomorrow. Maybe a new volcano will erupt under my bed tonight. Maybe everybody name their kids “Sharky” and they’ll all grow up to be pool hustlers and civilization will collapse. Maybe a wide variety of shit that, while not strictly impossible, is still not worth peeing your panties over. Fucking obviously.

Later we segue from merely enormously unlikely events like Tunguska-in-Paris to absolutely absurdly improbable events, of the sort which would “would likely end life on Earth.” Obviously, the chance of this happening is essentially nil, as life has existed on Earth without interruption for billions of years. There have been extinctions of large numbers of species in Earth’s history – we have an idea of when they happen, and how big they are – and some of them may have been precipitated by some kind of catastrophic extraterrestrial impact. How does this threat compare with the expected results of human-caused climate change?

The widely-accepted science on global warming, much like the highly speculative situations Easterbrook is fantasizing about, would have similar effects on the planet – mass extinction, starvation, disease, and massive physical destruction. According to a 2004 study in Nature, mid-range estimates for global warming could cause the extinction of 15-37% of all plant and animal species. The last extinction event which even approaches this magnitude was 33.5 million years ago, which may or may not have had something to do with some kind of extra-terrestrial impact. Sixty-five million years ago we have a mass extinction likely caused by the impact of one (or many fragments of an) asteroid, wiping out perhaps 30% of all species. Before that, we have to go back 200 million years. So, a survey of the last 200 million years tells us that at most we have extinctions from all causes on the order expected from global warming every 60-70 million years. (This may be too generous, as – according to this graph – the rate of extinctions appears to decrease over time. I dunno.) In other words: Gregg Easterbrook is an idiot.

Bringing up global warming and Easterbrook compels us again to remind everyone what a horrible liar he has been on this subject for decades. Remember, this is a person who claimed two years ago, when he magnanimously decided to accept the scientific consensus on this subject, that:

When global-warming concerns became widespread, many argued that more scientific research was needed before any policy decisions. This was hardly just the contention of oil-company executives. “There is no evidence yet” of dangerous climate change, the National Academy of Sciences declared in 1991.

Easterbrook, like Fred Hiatt, has a way with ellipses. From the report in question:

The panel finds that, even given the great uncertainties in our knowledge of the relevant phenomena, greenhouse warming poses a potential threat sufficient to merit prompt responses.

Followed by an entire chapter recommending immediate policy responses, all of which Gregg Easterbrook tries to disappear to cover is own gullible idiocy. He continues:

My own contrarian 1995 book about environmental issues, A Moment on the Earth, spent 39 pages reviewing the nascent state of climate science and concluded that rising temperatures “might be an omen or might mean nothing.” Like others, I called for more research.

Defending your opinion by citing your own opinion is a novel defense, admittedly, though it might be more convincing were the book not replete with howlers. But now, throwing his contrarian sangfroid to the wind, he is screaming that the federal government should spend billions to protect us from a “threat” which materializes once every few tens of million years, if ever. (Not like the money isn’t being wasted already, but still.) Huh. It’s almost as if he’s still trying to change the subject.

… People may wonder why I call people like Hiatt and Easterbrook “idiots” rather than “liars”. It’s because I am confident they don’t do their own work. Gregg Easterbrook has never read any report on climate change, and Fred Hiatt will never crack the cover of any intelligence report. They just don’t care enough. They are provided with pre-cherry picked excerpts by right-wing operatives selfless volunteer research assistants, tie this pre-packaged “research” together with their own prose, and present it as their own boldly truthful work. Nobody is stupid enough to make these mistakes by accident, and no liar would be brazen enough to cite a source which clearly contradicts them. They are like the kid in school who bases his book report on the Hollywoodmovie, and then, when he discovers that Hamlet doesn’t actually take place in New York City, frantically tries to cover his tracks. They are small, lazy, contemptible and very, very stupid people; and, unfortunately, they can be very destructive to our discourse. I believe that NASA should spend all its time building space lasers which can completely destroy every word these people write the moment they write it. Optionally, they should be ridiculed and abused until they are fired.

An admirable use of the Russert Gambit.

« Previous PageNext Page »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 25 other followers