Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

July 2, 2008

The Obama FISA Fiasco

Filed under: politics — Tags: , , , , , — codesmithy @ 9:16 am

Keith Olbermann gave a “Special Comment” on Monday encouraging Obama to do the right thing on FISA.  Olbermann’s suggestion to try to strip immunity, vote for the bill when that fails, then promise a full criminal investigation if Obama were to become president is a rather ineffectual gesture as Olbermann describes in his comment.  Olbermann is correct when he says it frees telecoms from civil, not criminal prosecution.   However, Glenn Greenwald points out the glaring flaw in the analysis.

That the FISA bill only immunizes telecoms from civil but not criminal liability isn’t some mystical discovery generated by John Dean’s Talmudic examination of the fine print, but rather, is something that was crystal clear and known to everyone for a long time. Indeed, from the start, the Bush administration only proposed, and telecoms only sought, immunity from civil — not criminal — liability. That’s because criminal prosecution would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, and beyond that, Bush could and likely will simply pardon telecoms from prosecution before he leaves office (nobody who has watched the last seven years would believe that Bush would be deterred because pardons are deemed by courts to be technical admissions of some level of guilt, and those asserting that pardons can’t be issued until there are charges brought simply don’t know what they’re talking about).

Immunizing telecoms from civil liability will ensure that the vast lawlessness of the Bush Administration is never aired in a court of law.  They have already knowingly broke the law.  We already know that they have a vast array of legal opinions from the likes of John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales that basically say the president can do what ever he wants in a commander-in-chief capacity.  The executive branch has turned any congressional oversight into a complete and utter farce.  This is precisely because Congress is unwilling to use the one tool they have for curtailing an out of control presidency: impeachment.

That said, it is not the case that the legal opinions of the presidential advisers are law.  In fact, they are most likely intended to shore up plausible deniability, to give the president fall guys.  The facade of legality only last as long as the doctrines are tacitly accepted and unchallenged.  Their true test is within a court of law.  There is no doubt in my mind that they will crumble under judicial scrutiny.  The legal opinions were always just pretense.  This is precisely why the Bush administration is so keen on getting the civil lawsuits dismissed.  With a pardon it is just he said, she said, Bush will come up with something lame like: “I don’t want to see members of my administration having to defend their actions in order to protect our nation.  I know they did the right thing under difficult circumstances.”  And that will be it.  Dismissing civil liability is giving Bush a trump card.  Is Olbermann really going to be that surprised if and when the president plays it?  THE DEMOCRATS ONLY GAVE IT TO HIM!  IT WAS ONLY WHAT HE OBVIOUSLY PLANNED ALL ALONG!  After all this time, does Olbermann really believe Bush cares what the public thinks of him?

Of course, there is Obama’s stance in the whole matter.  Krugman did a good job summing the current problems with the Obama agenda.  Obama might actually be centrist.  However, the one attribute I thought Obama had that Clinton lacked was moral courage.  The ability to stand by a principle and unabashedly defend it.  Clinton seemed too willing to compromise principal to meet some political end, which I felt was particularly displayed in her attempt to get the Michigan and Florida delegates seated.  So, even if Clinton had better policy papers, I thought Obama would be more effective in actually implementing something.

Telecom immunity is one of those issues that has no constituency outside of K Street.  Congressional oversight has proven itself to be a complete failure because punishment is off the table.  I want this administration judged in a court of law.  Any other issue is largely irrelevant.  What is the point of enacting new provisions when the president wasn’t following the old ones?  Really, what good does that do?

For a campaign that seems to be planning on continuing popular support as part of their fund-raising strategy, Obama surely demonstrates his willing to bite the hands that feeds him.  This isn’t to say Obama is worse than McCain.  However, a lot of my enthusiasm for his candidacy has certainly dissipated to a degree.  If his fundraising drops, he shouldn’t be wondering why.

June 18, 2008

FISA: Not This Again

Filed under: politics, protest — Tags: , , , — codesmithy @ 8:42 am

Glenn Greenwald writes about Steny Hoyer’s back room dealing to enable telecom amnesty.

Keith Olbermann had a special comment about the matter back in February.

As is usually the case, I’ve eventually come around to Olbermann’s use of terminology.  There is increasingly no other way to describe our government other than fascist.  Back in February, I thought the word was too much of a distraction.  However, as the 5-4 decision to restore Habeas Corpus demonstrates, we are only hanging on by a thread.  5-4, think about what that means.  Four judges on the Supreme Court endorse the notion that the leader can jail a person without any charge, indefinitely.  Their dissent isn’t based on any constitutional principle but rather the chilling belief that placing our complete trust in the executive leader is the only way to keep us safe.  Their utter contempt for the legal system which they are a part of is palpable.  So I ask this not the least bit rhetorically: how would a fascist argue differently?  Can anyone demonstrate a tangible difference in the thinking beyond the superficial?

Next comes Steny Hoyer, working to ensure if the glorious leader told you to break the law, then it is legal.  As Glenn Greenwald shows, Hoyer argued for the rule of law when it applied to Libby and now stands opposed to it.  That rank corruption and cynicism is only exceeded by his seeming plan to vote against the legislation once he feverishly ensures there are enough votes to guarantee its passage.

The only way to change this behavior, including but not limited to lying about the role they are playing, is to make them pay a political cost.  With an election closing in, this is the best time to affect change.  The plan to run an advertising campaign against Hoyer seems to be as good of a tactic as any.  Complaining about Hoyer on a blog is fine, but injecting something into the mainstream media via advertising is sure to get notice, not just from Hoyer, but from all the people like him.  Please consider donating some money to Act Blue for the campaign.  This isn’t a democrat versus republican issue, it is a people versus the fascists issue.  Do you want the government secretly spying on you without warrants?  Do you want the leader to be able to throw you in jail without charge indefinitely?  Do you want those who break the law to be able to get away with it if they are politically connected?  One set of laws and rules for us, another set for our rulers?  Unless you do something about it, your tacit answer to all those questions is yes.

$5?  Is that really going to break the bank?

Here are some quotes to ponder while you decide:

Eternal vigiliance is the price of liberty.

Freedom isn’t free.

June 16, 2008

The Disquieting Keith Olbermann

The New Yorker has a piece called “One Angry Man: Is Keith Olbermann changing TV news?” by Peter J. Boyer. In itself, the title tacitly embraces the right-wing caricature of Olbermann: he is angry. The piece never fully examines the reasons why Olbermann is angry, just the fact that he is. With the deliberate removal of context, one is left to conclude that Olbermann is irrationally angry. It focuses on what he said, not the context with which he said it. It only focuses on the most shallow aspects: can you believe that Olbermann told the president of the United States of America to “Shut the hell up?” That is outrageous!

The context of Olbermann is that there is little doubt that George W. Bush and his agents broke the law. Bush already commuted the sentence of Lewis “Scooter” Libby. It was the recommendation of James Madison that any President caught using his power in such a fashion should be impeached. Dennis Kucinich presented 34 other articles which can be read in summary here. So it is worth reflecting on the journalism surrounding another President worthy of impeachment: Richard M. Nixon.

As Hunter S. Thompson put it in “He Was a Crook:”

Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism — which is true, but they miss the point. It was the built-in blind spots of the Objective rules and dogma that allowed Nixon to slither into the White House in the first place. He looked so good on paper that you could almost vote for him sight unseen. He seemed so all-American, so much like Horatio Alger, that he was able to slip through the cracks of Objective Journalism. You had to get Subjective to see Nixon clearly, and the shock of recognition was often painful.

It is that subjective substance that Olbermann puts back into the news. The objective model of journalism works on the heuristic that the truth lies somewhere in between two adversarial actors. This is the same sensibility that is the basis for our justice system. The system is not perfect however. Along with adversarial debaters, there are the independent analysts that the news sources rely upon. News about the Pentagon Military Analysts program received a virtual blackout from the mainstream news media, but shows how journalism can be sock-puppeted.

Another consequence is that when there exists a bipartisan consensus, certain issues never get discussed at all. For example, there is a largely bipartisan project to erode the civil liberties of Americans. Democratic leadership just does not see it in their interest to defend civil liberties or to hold corporations who broke the law at the order of the president accountable for their crimes.

Arianna Huffington also lodges the complaint that it leaves equal time for lies in her book “Right Is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe.”

The baffling inability of the mainstream media to cull consistently bad sources of information is as astounding as their inability to recognize their own fault in being too deferential to their sources.  There are rare exceptions as Glenn Greenwald documents but many remain mystified, including those who appear on MSNBC.

Finally, there is the final fault that is clearly on display in this piece, no linking to more in-depth information about each of the episodes.  Is the Boyer giving a fair summarization of the episodes he describes?  It isn’t easy to find out.  Gore Vidal calls us the United States of Amnesia.  I believe one of the reasons for this is because modern news isn’t directly linked to prior episodes, so people can’t see the larger narrative.   This is despite of the fact that the technology is readily available.

So, as we watched this radical rise of the unitary executive, the proper question is not: why was this one man so angry?  It is: why weren’t there more people like him?

June 3, 2008

New York Post Goes After Olbermann

Filed under: media, politics — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 9:16 am

The Rupert Murdoch owned New York Post ran a story about Keith Olbermann’s personal corporation, Olbermann Broadcasting Empire, Inc. owing $2,269.50 in back taxes.  This is part of a larger feud between Olbermann and O’Reilly which the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz has documented.

The “story” itself is largely a string of ad hominem attacks.  However tasteless, and petty that may be, where the piece crosses the line is by listing where Olbermann lives down to his apartment number.  Olbermann already chastised Mike Stark for resorting the tactics that the New York Post employs and tacitly enables.  Is there really no low Murdoch-owned media will not stoop to?

February 21, 2008

The Unmaking of a Maverick?

Filed under: politics — Tags: , , , — codesmithy @ 9:56 am

The New York Times published an article called “For McCain, Self-Confidence on Ethics Poses Is Own Risk” where they highlight a relationship McCain had with a female telecom lobbyist Vicki Iseman. Keith Olbermann breaks it down about as well as anybody. I doubt if we will see a Kenneth Starr-esque investigation of the matter, nor a soiled blue dress as evidence, so I doubt this will go much further than suspicion.

However, aides were convinced that they were having a romantic relationship, and while they could be wrong, it demonstrates a degree of intimacy that I find disconcerting regardless of whether or not they were intimate in private. However, given McCain’s personal history and circumstances, there is a good chance that they were.

  1. Iseman was 31-33 at the time
  2. McCain was 62-63 at the time
  3. McCain has admitted to having extramarital affairs before

Again, I don’t really want to focus on speculation, but rather the facts. Ms. Iseman, a female telecom lobbyist “had been turning up with him at fund-raisers, visiting his offices and accompanying him on a client’s corporate jet.” That is exactly the type of influence-peddling, corrupt environment with corporate-interested lobbyists that ought to be avoided. This is exactly the type of corruption McCain is supposed to be against, yet he apparently wallowed in it until aides noticed the problem.

John McCain is the only remaining member of the Keating 5. A scandal where an obvious tit-for-tat relationship existed between five senators who pressured the Federal Home Loan Bank Board’s chairman Edwin Gray to ease up on their investigation of Charles H. Keating Jr. after the collapse of Lincoln Savings and Loan Association in exchange for over $1.3 million in campaign contributions.

Everybody has their personal vices and faults. However, we need to look past the myth and see the larger personal narrative here. McCain is no maverick reformer. He is the literal embodiment of a beltway insider. To the degree that McCain believes himself to be a maverick, so much the hazard for all of us, because that would mean he believes himself to be immune or above the influences the rest of us would feel in compromising situations and is not inclined to avoid them. His past faults would all be viewed as one-offs, issues that he has put behind him, and that is the exact problem. He would be incapable of the types of self-reflection needed to compensate for past mistakes, and would instead charge right in to new disasters. We can see this behavior in McCain’s reaction to the New York Times article:

It is a shame that The New York Times has lowered its standards to engage in a hit-and-run smear campaign. John McCain has a 24-year record of serving our country with honor and integrity. He has never violated the public trust, never done favors for special interests or lobbyists, and he will not allow a smear campaign to distract from the issues at stake in this election.

Americans are sick and tired of this kind of gutter politics, and there is nothing in this story to suggest that John McCain has ever violated the principles that have guided his career.

Look at the cognitive dissonance: “there is nothing in this story to suggest that John McCain has ever violated the principles that have guided his career” and “it is a shame that The New York Times has lowered its standards to engage in a hit-and-run smear campaign.” If there is nothing in the article to suggest McCain has ever violated the principles that have guided his career, then how has The New York Times engaged in a hit-and-run smear campaign? I’m not trying to be dense here. I’m just saying, either the article suggested that McCain violated his principles or The New York Times is not engaged in a hit-and-run smear campaign. However for McCain, both are true, the New York Times is engaged in smearing him and there is not even the suggestion of anything being wrong, even descriptions of his relationship with Ms. Iseman. It is proof of the lack of self-reflection, even in his campaign’s reaction to the piece.

McCain’s particular relationship with the telecom industry is also of immense importance considering the current “Catch-22” scenario happening in the courts regarding the telecom industry’s role in helping the government illegally spy on Americans. Keith Olbermann and Jonathan Turley explain. It will be up to the next president to clean-up the mess that George W. Bush leaves behind. It is extraordinarily evident that a vote for McCain would represent more of the same in almost every conceivable dimension. In the final analysis, McCain is as much of a maverick as Bush was a decider.

February 15, 2008

Keith Olbermann FISA Special Comment for 2/14/08

Filed under: politics — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 2:25 pm

Keith Olbermann had a special comment on efforts to revise FISA and President Bush’s role.  Some portions are repeated from a previous comment.  I don’t want to get too hung-up on the word fascism.  Fascism, in American politics, has become a caricature and a pejorative term.  A term thrown out at political enemies at seemingly trivial disagreements.

However, it is increasingly difficult to describe what is happening in American politics without invoking the illustrative and disastrous example from the past.  When a Supreme Court Justice defends the use of torture as an interrogation tactic, what is the substantive difference?  How can due process exist if the judicial system will torture you until you confess?  What good is the protection against self-incrimination before trial if the state can torture you beforehand and use it against you?

Telecom immunity, torture, contempt of oversight, these are all symptoms of a common theme: the glorious leader can do no wrong.  However, if the last seven years has taught us anything is that the leader is wrong, about a great many things, quite often.  What do we call it then when these leaders and their enablers blatantly and knowingly violate the law?  They may insist they did it for a good reason and act demonstrably hurt when we have the nerve to question their integrity.  However, we are not going to get anywhere by capitulating and looking for a fundamental change of heart.  There are two things we need to do.  One, call a spade a spade.  Two, stop being afraid every time George W. Bush says “boo!”  Keith Olbermann displayed both of these qualities in his special comment tonight.  It is time that more of the people in positions of power, especially in the opposition party, consistently showed the same qualities.

January 27, 2008

The Economic Stimulus Package

Filed under: economy, politics — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 1:48 pm

Crooks and Liars has video of Keith Olbermann talking with Rachel Maddow about the economy and the stimulus package.  For a little bit of perspective, Market Watch has an article about the economic stimulus package of 1929.  I don’t consider myself a gloom and doom person about the economy in general.  I’m certainly not cheering for a crash.  However, I do think that the United States has made some policy decisions that are going to come back and bite us.

The first one is not having a balanced budget and a huge, hamstringing debt.  This constrains actions the government can take to get us out of recession and the new malaise of the 21st century.

The second one is “The War on Terror” and more specifically, the war in Iraq.  The reconstruction of Iraq has to be one of the worst debacles in history.  Their economy is wrecked, and it probably won’t get fixed until the United States leaves.  Until the United States pulls out, or changes policy towards the country’s reconstruction (which I find even more unlikely), Iraq will continue to be a waste and a money pit.

The third reason is energy policy.  Even beyond issues like whether or not the rapid burning of fossil fuels will affect the climate of the planet, the United States continues to be a very energy intensive society.  A lot of economic development was put into strip malls, suburbs, etc.  These are poised to be the ghost-towns of the new century.  Energy is going to get a lot more expensive, not cheaper.  This has major repercussions on transport, processing, and manufacture of goods.  What it will feel like is stagflation.  Cost of living goes up, wages won’t keep pace.

Those are some of the underlying fundamentals.  This basic unpreparedness is reflected in the United States’ current account balance of -$747 billion.  Personally, I have nothing against a negative current account balance, merely the magnitude and how the money is getting used.  There are times when a negative current account balance makes sense.  It is indicative of a country that is building versus a country that is saving.  However, that is not what we are seeing.  The United States is not a country that is borrowing money to make infrastructure improvements.  We are a country that is borrowing money to buy that gas-guzzling truck, that extra pair of fancy shoes, or that big screen T.V.  In short, luxury items that depreciate in value and have no expected return on investment.  We’ve been borrowing money to finance a lifestyle.  A lifestyle that it is becoming increasingly clear, we cannot maintain.

Bush’s economic stimulus package is nothing more than an overt act of class warfare.  Another crisis to try to cram through another round of tax cuts, the majority of benefits going to the wealthy.

I’m with Rachel Maddow on this, the best way to help out the economy is to spend money on infrastructure.  Although, the most useful would be those that help us transition to a greener economy.  However, doing so must work within our long-term goals and objectives.  As long as we have a massive deficit and ballooning debt, fueled by disastrous wars and borrowed money to support a lifestyle we cannot afford and has no future, we are merely deluding ourselves thinking that any economic stimulus package will help in averting disaster.  Doing something, even the right thing, may hurt more than it helps if we don’t fix the big picture also.

November 6, 2007

Keith Olbermann’s Special Comment: The Levin Revelation

Filed under: impeachment, politics — Tags: — codesmithy @ 11:12 am

Crooks and Liars has video of Keith Olbermann’s special comment on the Levin revelation on waterboarding and the conspiracy to silence his findings.  I wouldn’t go as far as Olbermann did to suggest that the Bush administration tortures people for the cynical purpose of inventing fictional terror plots.  However, I will concur with his conclusion that torturing people causes a perpetuation of the torture bureaucracy for the very reasons Olbermann lays out.  There is no doubt the President has exploited those fears to achieve his own ends.  Proving motive is hard, in addition to being irrelevant.  What is clear is that this President needs to be impeached, he is unfit to run this country.  However, I agree with Kuchinich that Cheney needs to go first.

This President didn’t have to be a war President.  He chose to be a war President.  Not only have we had to endure this nightmare presidency for almost 7 years now, but I do believe we are on the stage of what could be World War 3.  Bush professes to want to prevent it.  I think what he is planning to do will cause it.  Pakistan is in turmoil.  There are tensions between Turkey and the Kurd region of Iraq.  Much of this is blowback from the U.S. interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq.  That is not to say that the United States is totally to blame, but we’ve potentially opened up a can of worms.  An intervention in Iran could have much larger consequences.  This has the potential to get completely out of hand.

Nevertheless, this President has consistently abused his power in ways the American public was not aware of in the 2004 elections.  An election he narrowly won.  But, given this new evidence, Congress needs to stand up.  This could be the longest year, and there is still the potential to go from bad to worse.  If there is a way to do it, I’m sure Bush will find it.

October 17, 2007

SCHIP and Smears

Filed under: politics — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 8:31 am

Crooks and Liars has a video of the discussion between Keith Olbermann and Paul Krugman about the right-wing attacks against Graeme Frost and Bethany Wilkerson. There are various things about the current SCHIP legislation that I don’t like, such as, I don’t think it should be funded solely through an increase in the cigarette tax. However, the reason for this is simple, cutting taxes or at least maintaining the status quo is a central tenet of the modern Republican party. The core lesson they took away from George H. W. Bush’s defeat in 1992 to Clinton is that a Republican should never raise taxes as shown by the whole “Read My Lips” debacle. Therefore, the only tax increases Republicans will accept are on so-called “sin” taxes, or those that punish a minority of people. The strategy works because the right-wing pundits wax ecstatic about it. It feeds into their whole mythology that Democrats want to tax various “freedoms” into non-existence and establish a nanny-state. I have to wonder if temporary compromises to obtain bipartisan support but a clear loser to single issue voters (who quickly forget where the money goes but are reminded daily of the cost) allows some battles to be won but makes the war that much harder to win.

As for this battle in particular, throwing 4 million children currently without health insurance under the bus because Republicans refuse any other type of tax increase is unsatisfactory. While the new SCHIP legislation is not perfect, I also recognize that it is that way for a reason; to get some of the more reasonable Republicans to come along although the implacable elements will still complain.

As an instrument of public policy, SCHIP works. The fact that it works is evidenced perfectly by Graeme Frost and Bethany Wilkerson. Frost suffered horrible injuries in an automobile accident, and because of SCHIP he was able to get the medical care he needed and his family didn’t go completely bankrupt in the process. The same is true for Bethany Wilkerson who was born with a heart condition. As Sicko explored, medical costs are the number one reason for bankruptcy in America and it happens even if you have health insurance.

Many pundits claim that the children shouldn’t have been used as political pawns. I generally respect that point of view. For example, I think children should be kept out of pro-life or pro-choice rallies. They don’t have enough life-experience and perspective to really know what their views on the issue are and shouldn’t be paraded about as if they do.  This line of thinking also applies to a number of other issues. However, for SCHIP, Graeme Frost has a right to talk about it, because he was directly affected by the legislation. He is the human being behind the statistic. If, the right, wants to pull out a child that was a recipient of the SCHIP program and was somehow wronged by it, that is also fair. It would also have been a valid criticism if the Frosts were “living-it-up” so to speak. However, outright lying about them is not acceptable and the act of publishing their home address crosses the line of decency and some would argue basic humanity.

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