Public Nuisance

Random commentary and senseless acts of blogging.

The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Thursday, December 22, 2005
In looking at the "Fact Sheet" put out by the RNC to justify President Bush's jihad against civil liberties, I couldn't help noticing that some points seemed to be a trifle misleading or simply odd.

Unreliable information put out by the RNC? Hey, I'm as shocked as you are. I assume it was a simple mistake made by an obscure staffer, who by now has surely realized his error and probably feels just awful about it. I just hope the poor guy hasn't been fired. But, since it's possible that in the press of new events mistakes can be overlooked even by organizations as dedicated to integrity as the RNC, I thought I might help them by pointing out some of the problems.

The first statement made is that "Presidents Bill Clinton And Jimmy Carter Both Authorized Search/Surveillance Without Court Orders". In support of this claim Executive Orders 12139 (Carter) and 12949 (Clinton) are cited. The citation from Carter is downright deceptive. Here is the RNC quotation given in full followed by the cited passage from the actual text:

President Jimmy Carter: "[T]he Attorney General Is Authorized To Approve Electronic Surveillance To Acquire Foreign Intelligence Information Without A Court Order ..."

Pursuant to Section 102(a)(1) of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1802(a)), the Attorney General is authorized to approve electronic surveillance to acquire foreign intelligence information without a court order, but only if the Attorney General makes the certifications required by that Section.

This would seem to be the warrantless wiretaps referred to frequently in recent discussions of FISA, allowing the government to tap first and get permission later. The language here is a bit confusing, since section 1802 athorizes, "electronic surveillance without a court order under this subchapter to acquire foreign intelligence information for periods of up to one year" while 1801 states "with respect to any electronic surveillance approved pursuant to section 1802(a) of this title, procedures that require that no contents of any communication to which a United States person is a party shall be... retained for longer than 72 hours unless a court order under section 1805 of this title is obtained..." It appears that the warrantless search can continue for up to a year, provided that no American's communications are intercepted. What is clear is that Carter's order is intended to implement FISA and cannot be reasonably construed to permit surveillance otherwise barred by law.

The same is essentially true of Clinton's order, with the exception of the fact that it specifically allows for physical searches, while the original FISA anticipated only electronic surveillance. But Clinton refers several times to relevant sections of FISA and, while he is broadening the scope of allowed searches, doesn't appear to be modifying the procedures. Clinton subsequently requested, and got, amendments to FISA which explicitly allowed for physical searches under the existing FISA framework.

The RNC also quotes Byron York as claiming that Clinton asserted the same "inherent powers" that Bush does. As ThinkProgress has noted, this claim deliberately misconstrues Clinton's position.

The next section goes on to assert that Democrats were kept informed about the surveillance activites and are only complaining now. In a fairly standard device, an article from a major newspaper (the LA Times in this case) is quoted, seeming to indicate that the media is contradicting Democratic positions, when actually they're just quoting a GOP spokesliar who is attacking Democrats.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS): "For The Nearly Three Years [Rockefeller] Has Served As Vice Chairman, I Have Heard No Objection From Him About This Valuable Program ... Now, When It Appears To Be Politically Advantageous, Sen. Rockefeller Has Chosen To Release His 2 1/2 -Year-Old Letter. Forgive Me If I Find This To Be Inconsistent And A Bit Disingenuous."

What exactly is the argument being made here? Nobody disputes the authenticity of the letter Rockefeller wrote years ago, the very day he was briefed, expressing strong concerns about the program. Apparently because Rockefeller expressed those concerns to people actually responsible for the program rather than to somebody who felt no concern about the program in question and could have done nothing to stop it if he had, Senator Roberts concludes that Rockefeller must not have meant it.

There's more fun in the following quote. I reprint the section which appeared in the talking points in italics, with the remainder of the sentence from the actual article in bold

Roberts [Said] That As Recently As Two Weeks Ago, Rockefeller Had Expressed To Cheney His 'Vocal Support' For The Surveillance, a claim Rockefeller denied.

Another quotation cited to 'prove' that Democratic leaders in Congress were kept fully informed comes from a NY Times article for which you need no more than the headline, "Spy Briefings Failed to Meet Legal Test, Lawmakers Say" to guess, correctly, that the full article carries a message rather distinct from the brief citation given.

The final section discusses intelligence failures prior to 9/11. Two subjects are discussed, the failure to track 9/11 terrorists Hazmi and Mihdhar and the investigation of Moussaoui.

In the former case, the problem was not that the US government lacked sufficient information to identify Hazmi and Mihdhar as potential terrorists, it was that this information wasn't shared among appropriate agencies. This was made clear in the 9/11 Commission report itself:

In the 9/11 story, for example, we sometimes see examples of information that could be accessed-like the undistributed NSA information that would have helped identify Nawaf al Hazmi in January 2000. But someone had to ask for it. In that case, no one did. Or, as in the episodes we describe in chapter 8, the information is distributed, but in a compartmented channel. Or the information is available, and someone does ask, but it cannot be shared.[Final Report, 13.3]

THe final section is on the failure to fully investigate Moussaoui prior to 9/11. On this matter the noted counterterrorism expert Bill Kristol is quoted, followed by an excerpt from the 9/11 Report:

The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol: Remember Moussaoui? Remember August 2001? The FBI Wanted To Go To The FISA Court To Get Surveillance Capabilities Based On What They Found On His Computer, And The Justice Department Decided No. Now, The Patriot Act Did Not Change That Standard Of FISA ...

Oh my, where to begin? First, as the very next passage makes clear, Kristol is wrong on the facts.

9/11 Commission Report: "The Agents In Minnesota Were Concerned That The U.S. Attorney's Office In Minneapolis Would Find Insufficient Probable Cause Of A Crime To Obtain A Criminal Warrant To Search Moussaoui's Laptop Computer.Agents At FBI Headquarters Believed There Was Insufficient Probable Cause. Minneapolis Therefore Sought A Special Warrant Under The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act To Conduct The Search ... FBI Headquarters Did Not Believe This Was Good Enough, And Its National Security Law Unit Declined To Submit A FISA Application." ("Final Report Of The National Commission On Terrorist Attacks Upon The United States," The 9/11 Commission Report, 7/22/04)

The FBI had Moussaoui in custody on an immigration charge. They weren't seeking permission to conduct surveillance, they wanted to physically examine his hard drive. (This would have been done using the Clinton expansion of FISA.) Why was there a problem in obtaining a FISA warrant to search the computer? A paragraph of the Report hidden by that ellipsis make this very clear:

To do so, however, the FBI needed to demonstrate probable cause that Moussaoui was an agent of a foreign power, a demonstration that was not required to obtain a criminal warrant but was a statutory requirement for a FISA warrant. The case agent did not have sufficient information to connect Moussaoui to a "foreign power," so he reached out for help, in the United States and overseas.

FISA was written during the Cold War, and aimed primarily at intelligence activities of the Warsaw Pact nations. It was a faulty tool against terrorism because it was designed only to address persons acting as agents of foreign powers. This weakness of FISA no longer exists; Congress has amended to Act precisely to make it more effective against terrorists who may not have connections to foreign powers. (This law will lapse if the Patiot Act isn't renewed, but like many other provisions, it could be made permanent at any time if detached from more controversial provisions.)

Kristol is right in saying, "The Patriot Act Did Not Change That Standard Of FISA", but right in a way that is narrow and highly misleading. According to the DOJ, "Investigators' ability to use FISA's investigative tools to pursue individual terrorists intending to commit acts of international terrorism was added after the USA PATRIOT Act but was tied to the Act's sunset provision..." So that standard has been changed, although Kristol would rather you didn't know. Under current law, agents would be able to obtain a warrant for Moussaoui's computer without exercising any 'inherent authority' to act lawlessly.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
The Unified Theory of Republican corruption is still evasive, but getting closer: Texas prosecutor Ronnie Earle has now subpoenaed records of Brent Wilkes, the man who bribed Randy Cunningham, as well as Perfect Wave, a company controlled by Wilkes. Actually. Perfect Wave appears to be a front more than a company - there seems to be no evidence it has actual products or clients.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Bush is placing his right to order wireless surveillance largely on his implicit powers as commander in chief. As he stated in yesterday's press conference:

Now, having suggested this idea, I then, obviously, went to the question, is it legal to do so? I am -- I swore to uphold the laws. Do I have the legal authority to do this? And the answer is, absolutely. As I mentioned in my remarks, the legal authority is derived from the Constitution, as well as the authorization of force by the United States Congress.

Several lawyers and actual experts have weighed in on the question of whether the statutory authorization claim is valid. Short answer: dubious, at best. But it's useful to look at the Constitution and examine how broad the President's basic powers are.

We have grown used to the Imperial Presidency, which exercises sweeping authority over foreign policy. Most of us can't remember any other time. But what is striking when you go back to the original text is how limited the president's Article II powers really are.

The authorization passed after 9/11 is the closest the Congress has come to a formal declaration of war since 1941; even before that I don't believe the Congress has ever passed a declaration except at the request of the current President. But the tradition of the President requesting a declaration of war isn't found in the Constitution, which grants the power exclusively to Congress.

The President does have power to negotiate treaties, but they have no legal force until approved by the Senate. And the President cannot name Ambassadors without the advice and consent of the Senate, except for temporary appointments made when the Senate is in recess. (That power has been abused by Bush and previous Presidents to make appointments any time Congress leaves town, even if only for a few days.)

The only power in foreign affairs that the President can exercise entirely on his own is to "receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers".

The President doesn't even have a clear Article II right to control the Executive departments. He chooses (with the Senate) their senior personnel and "may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices". It is perhaps this phrase, rarely cited, that shows most clearly the vast gulf between the modern Presidency and the Founders's intent. It seems distinctly unimpressive, making the Presidency less like an imperial office than a teacher asigning homework. And yet it was spelled out in the Constituion; feeble as it is, it must have seemed to those who wrote this a significant branch of the office's authority. Article II doesn't even give the President explicit authority to issue orders to Executive officers; that authority implicitly came in when the President established the right to dismiss (also not granted in article II) as well as hire.

Of course the President is made Commander in Chief of the armed forces and the state militias when in federal service, but that power is still highly qualified. Congress is given exclusive authority to raise funds for the military, with the explicit provision that such funds may not cover more than two years, a limitation explicitly made on no other expenditures.

Congress is granted other powers which make it plain that Congress is expected to exercise extensive authority over the military. These include:
  • To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
  • To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
  • To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
  • To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

Nothing is less likely than that the Founders would ever have viewed the military as the private plaything of the President, to control free of Congressional influence. Blocking the power to maintain a standing army under the King's personal control was at the center of the crisis that led to the English Civil War in 1640. The Founders looking at Europe in the late 18th Century would have seen many examples, starting with their ally France, of how unfettered executive control over a standing army could drive an entire nation into slavery.

Returning to the 21st Century, the Bush administration, which is so famously dedicated to an Originalist interpretation of the Constitution, seems to be remarkably uninterested in following it's own prescription. In only one of many Bush claims of neo-monarchic powers, the Bybee memo, a DoJ attorney asserted that:

In the circumstances of the current war against al Qaeda and its allies, prosecution under Section 2340A [banning torture] may be barred because enforcement of the statute would represent an unconstitutional infringement of the President�s authority to conduct war....

Even if an interrogation method arguably were to violate Section 2340A, the statute would be unconstitutional if it impermissibly encroached on the President�s constitutional power to conduct a military campaign. As Commander-in-Chief, the President has the constitutional authority to order interrogations of enemy combatants to gain intelligence information concerning the military plans of the enemy. The demands of the Commander-in-Chief power are especially pronounced in the middle of a war in which the nation has already suffered a direct attack. In such a case, the information gained from interrogations may prevent future attacks by foreign enemies. Any effort to apply Section 2340A in a manner that interferes with the President�s direction of such core war matters as the detention and interrogation of enemy combatants thus would be unconstitutional."

Never mind the explicit comstitutional provisions which give Congress extensive authority over the armed forces, including the capture of prisoners, and the sweeping grant of the right to "make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers". The President does what he wants and is empowered, under this theory, to ignore the laws.

The Founders didn't trust executive authority, and used Article I to bind it in two fundamental ways: the right of the Congress to enact laws which the President is required to "take care... be faithfully executed" and Congressional authority over expenditures. Along with his express disregard for law, Bush has also ignored Congress's other major check, when he used money specifically appropriated for Afghanistan to prepare his war against Iraq. And, oh yes, he's asserted the power to arrest American citizens and hold them for long periods, perhaps indefinitely, without charges or judicial oversight. If the President really can behave in this way, the anti-Federalists were right and the position is essentailly that of an elected monarch.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
One rather consistent rule regarding dirty Republicans is that they travel in groups. So I decided to do some research on the invaluable Open Secrets site to see who else was involved with Brent Wilkes, aka co-conpirator number one. Wilkes and other executives in his several corporate entities have been making substantial contributions to many other Republicans than Duke Cunningham. Naturally, receipt of these legal donations isn't evidence that they have also been receiving bribes such as those Cunningham was convicted for.

ADCS contributions were always to Republicans, generally to House members from Southern California. Almost all were incumbents, although Maria Garcia's unsuccessful attempt in 2002 to unseat Robert Filner (D - Chula Vista) was an exception. Several committee chairmen got ADCS money, and large amounts went to Tom Delay. The largest beneficiary who was neither a Southern Californian nor a member of the House leadership seems to have been John Doolittle (R - Auburn). Mr Doolittle's extensive ties to Jack Abramoff are the subject of this recent article in his local paper, but the article doesn't discuss Doolittle's ties to co-conspirator number one. The Senator who got the most, although the sums involved were relatively modest, was Lindsey Graham (R - SC).

Although it helped to be local, ADCS beneficiaries also held strategic comittee seats like Jerry Lewis (Chair, Appropriations Committee), and Ken Calvert (Armed Services Committee). Cunningham and Doolittle sat on the Appropriations Committee.

The various people associated with ADCS and Wilkes's other ventures gave directly to the politicians and to PACs that the Open Secrets website lists them as controlling, including American Prosperity (Cunningham), Superior California Fed Leadership Fund (Doolittle), and Americans for a Republican Majority (Delay). The PACs have increased activity dramatically in recent years. For instance, in the 1998 cycle Doolittle's SCFLF raised only $3644; in 2004 it raised $496,941 with significant help from ADCS, at least two other San Diego area corporate sugar daddies (HST and Pure-o Tech), and several Indian tribes which were associated with Abramoff/Scanlon. The tribal contributions started several months before Doolittle's wife began working for Abramoff.

An odd chapter in this is the large number of donations made to ADCS from people affiliated with Wilkes's other business fronts, Group W and Wilkes Corporation. Most of those who listed these employers for contributions to ADCS also were executives in ADCS who listed it as an employer for direct donations to Republican candidates. That included Arnold Borromeo, Joel Combs, Cliff Rittel, and Paul Smithers, among others. ADCS contributore also included 5 members of the Wilkes family. Most payments to ADCS were made in unusual amounts: on 6/30/05 Larry Wilkes, Robert Wilkes, and Robert Williams all sent exactly $2307; on 11/25/05 12 contributions were made, 10 of them for exactly $576 apiece.

  • Joel Combs of Poway, 2000 - 2004 gave $45,459, all apparently to Republicans except for $10,959 to ADCS, including $9500 to Cunningham, $6000 to Dolittle, and $6000 to Tom Delay.
  • Brent and Regina Wilkes donated $139,306 since 2000, including $13000 to Duke, $25000 to Delay, $25000 to the NRCC, and $15000 to Doolittle.
  • Arnold Borromeo of San Diego gave $13,575 including $5000 to Duke.
  • Paul Smithers of Poway donated $22875, including $6500 to Duke and $8075 to ADCS.
  • Mike Williams of Fairfax gave at least $26,800, including $10000 for Duke.
  • Carlos Daniel Campos donated another $5000 to Duke along with $2920 to ADCS.
  • Edith Magruder of South Riding, VA, $1000 for Doolittle.
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Jeff Birnbaum's article yesterday on corruption came in for some justified criticism, but found an unlikely defender in Kevin Drum.

The article pretty clearly deserves the attack. For instance, look at the statement that "No fewer than seven lawmakers, including a Democrat, have been indicted, have pleaded guilty or are under investigation for improper conduct such as conspiracy, securities fraud and improper campaign donations." Sounds so much nicer than "Six Republicans and one Democrat", doesn't it.

Birnbaum necessarily mentions the Abramoff/Scanlon investigation, but they are referred to as a "public relations executive" and a "lobbyist"; the considerable history each has of Republican activism is ignored, as is the fact that Scanlon once worked for Delay, who is, of course, mentioned.

This isn't "pathologically balanced" as Kevin would have it, it's just an RNC press release. And that should hardly be surprising from Birnbaum, who has been an RNC hack disguised as a reporter for years. In 2000, Birnbaum was also writing about money and politics but, since he was writing about Al Gore, he took no similar precautions to emphasize the bipartisan nature of the problem. The theme of the article, patently absurd but good enough to pass muster in 2000, was that since Gore had in the past written thank you notes to Maria Shia, who illegally solicited donations after his speech in 1996, he must have known about and approved her illegal activities. That barely even qualifies as an argument, and it's weaker still if you bring up the contrary evidence, which Birnbaum of course ignored. This article seems to be no longer available on a free page, but it was taken apart at the time by (of course) Bob Somerby.

The fact that clowns like Brinbaum are still getting their RNC talking points published as news is a problem that Josh Marshall is right to emphasize and Kevin is wrong to dismiss. But then Kevin, like the New York Times, is hardly "the current state of the art in human perfectibility". (I'm starting to suspect, however, that Josh Marshall just might be.)
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
I spent most of today as well as much of the past few days in my persona as a grass roots activist instead of one of the internet's quieter shouters. Working on the No on 74 - 77 campaign, the news that was coming in during the day was mostly not good. In heavily blue Alameda, the turnout was lighter than expected. But we stayed at it and, at this point, it looks like our work paid off.

The current summary: 76 - 80 have all been defeated. 73 (parental notification), 74 (teacher tenure), and 75 (union busting) are too close to call but all trailing currently with 60% counted. Most of the vote still to come in will come from the blue counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, and LA. But since there are also significant portions of Orange and San Diego unreported, a loss is still possible. It looks so close that we won't know for sure on 73 and 75 until pretty much the whole state reports. 74 is doing worse and is extremely likely to lose. You can get the word first here.

With the good guys winning in VA and NJ, and Arnold hovering between partial and complete defeat, it's been a good day overall. We've also had a victory for gay rights in Maine and defeat of a 'Democratic' turncoat in Minnesota. Dark spots include defeat of reform initiatives in Ohio and the loss of Donna Frye for Mayor of San Diego.

Update: Now at 84% counted and looking better and better. I think we can now officially write off 74 as a loser. 73 & 75 are trending in the right direction. There are no remaining votes to come in from Orange; not many from San Diego. Alameda and LA will furnish most of the remaining votes. I'd be pretty seriously surprised at this point if anything passes.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
There seems to be nothing except guesswork that's new in today's stories on the Plame investigation, one day short of the rumored date for a public announcement.

It is a question why Fitzgerald has held off this long. With the dueling leaks and rumors, the whole show is reminiscent of a sort of multi-player form of the Prisoner's Dilemma. One point to remember about the Prisoner's Dilemma: the more players there are, the better for the police. Every prisoner has to worry about any other prisoner implicating him; even the ones who can't implicate him directly may start a chain reaction by turning, causing others who no longer have a viable defense to turn and implicate new players. Every prisoner also knows that the other prisoners can figure this out, so each is under more pressure than they would be in the classic 2 person Dilemma. Fitzgerald may well be deliberately stretching out this phase to see what reaction he gets from potential defendants. Certainly he's getting reactions in the form of leaks by various attorneys and spinners for different factions. He may very well also be getting reactions behind closed doors from defendants preparing to deal.
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
Josh Marshall has pointed out an interesting new article on the Plame investigation. There are several points of interest, but what most strikes me is that it does reveal new information about Plame's role in arranging for Wilson's trip. The keyy portion quotes one Bill Harlow who was, in July 2003, in press relations in the CIA.

Harlow, the former CIA spokesman, said in an interview yesterday that he testified last year before a grand jury about conversations he had with Novak at least three days before the column was published. He said he warned Novak, in the strongest terms he was permitted to use without revealing classified information, that Wilson's wife had not authorized the mission and that if he did write about it, her name should not be revealed.

Harlow said that after Novak's call, he checked Plame's status and confirmed that she was an undercover operative. He said he called Novak back to repeat that the story Novak had related to him was wrong and that Plame's name should not be used. But he did not tell Novak directly that she was undercover because that was classified.

THere has been a lot of speculation on what role Plame played in arranging the trip, most of it uninformed. This is what happens when you're dealing with the CIA; plenty of people are willing to speculate, but they don't know what they're talking about. This seems by far the best evidence we have on the question; it comes from a named source, who was actually in the CIA in a position to know what went on, and he is stating on the record that what he says in this interview largely repeats statements he has already made under oath.

Harlow clearly says that the White House spin on the trip was false. He, "warned Novak, in the strongest terms he was permitted to use without revealing classified information, that Wilson's wife had not authorized the mission", then, "called Novak back to repeat that the story Novak had related to him was wrong". The story Novak related to him was, presumably, the story he had gotten from the White House and printed a few days later in his infamous column: "Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report." That Plame instigated the Wilson trip was and remains the official Bush spin. To find it in its purest form we go as usual to noted spokesperson for untreated mental illness, Ann Coulter: "Wilson was sent to Niger by his wife, not by the CIA and certainly not by Dick Cheney."

What was Plame's role in the trip? We still don't know the answer. There appears to have been some, which was probably minimal. We should remember that this question is not and never really has been relevant. It's one of many quite unimportant talking points that have been tossed out by Bush surrogates to hide the basic reality of their indefensible conduct. What happened was that Wilson's article launched a White House offensive, "the White House responded with twin attacks: one on Wilson and the other on the CIA, which it wanted to take the blame for allowing the 16 words to remain in Bush's speech". The Bush media strategy violated truth and common decency; that was just another day at the office. In this case it probably also violated the law due to carelessness with vital national security information.

The point was to hide the underlying lie that was used to bring us into Iraq in the first place. Ari Fleischer illustrated it well in one of his last gaggles before he left Washington to spend more time lying to his wife: "A greater, more important truth is being lost in the flap over whether or not Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa. The greater truth is that nobody, but nobody, denies that Saddam Hussein was seeking nuclear weapons. He was pursuing numerous ways to obtain nuclear weapons."
Saturday, July 23, 2005
And Speaking of Voldemort

The new Harry Potter is looking so far like a mild disappointment. Not that it's actually bad by any means, but it does seem to be a step down from Rowling's extremely high standards. The start was quite slow and, if I weren't already committed to the series, I would probably have given up on it. In general it's been quite easy to put the book aside for a few hours and focus on something else, a feat that required absolutely heroic efforts for the last few volumes.

Although I've only read about 1/2 so far, I've already figured out (over 100 pages ago) the pretty obvious answer to what Rowling presumably intends to be a major mystery: [almost certainly correct spoiler alert] the 'Half Blood Prince' must be Voldemort. A brilliant sorcerer, a half blood obsessed with pure blood lines, an expert in hexes and jinxes, plus Harry's father, who is already known to have known Voldemort at Hogwarts, used the spell he invented - it all fits. And since Hermoine is supposed to be very smart, she already suspects the Prince, and Harry is telling her about his sessions with Dumbledore, why doesn't she have at least an inkling of this? Has obsessing over Ron knocked down her IQ by that much? [/spoiler alert]

The rumor line has it that Dumbledore will be killed off in this book, and that is looking plausible. Harry has identified himself so much with Dumbledore that to follow the classic arc of a hero's development, he has to lose his mentor so he can face Voldemort alone in the final battle of volume 7. The other plausible candidate for the big sleep is Snape. An early chapter gives the appearance that he has gone back to the Death Eaters and is secretly working against Dumbledore. I think that's a red herring and Snape will give final proof of his loyalty, either in this book or the next, with a heroic death. But if Rowling is following the pattern from the last book, she'll have Harry go through a loss that will be genuinely painful for him, and that could hardly be Snape.

Read the book anyway, not that the 20 million or so who read the last one need me to tell them that. A below average book by Rowling is still better than most fantasy writers can manage at their very best.
Global warming has been a recorded reality for a few decades now, and a very strong one just lately across almost the entire country. Las Vegas and Denver have, in the past few days, tied their records for highest temperature ever recorded. The recent heat wave has been remarkable in its duration, but even moreso in scope, stretching from Boston through the Southeast and Southwest (the hardest hit area) to the Pacific coast.

But one part of the US remains untouched by global warming: the SCLM. I don't have either the resources or the inclination to fully monitor the nightly broadcasts, but I heard at least 4 heat wave stories last week with global warming not mentioned once. And stories like these on the network news sites follow the same pattern. The networks also note as an interesting coincidence that, after one of the worst years for hurricanes on record in 2004, 2005 may well be worse. Publication of a recent study indicating that global warming will increase the strength of hurricanes led to a few stories, but on the whole, warming seemingly is becoming the Voldemort of climate coverage, the plan to deal with increasingly obvious affects apparently being to never mention it and hope it goes away.
Saturday, July 16, 2005
One of the odder excuses used the GOP smearstorm to defend Karl Rove has been the name defense: supposedly Rove simply said that Joe WIlson's wife worked for the CIA, without specifying her name.

This is a rather weak claim logically, and, as Matthew and others have pointed out, it doesn't seem to be a defense at all under either the IIPA or the Espionage Act. So why make such a fuss over it? My guess is that it's really pre-emptively establishing a defense against charges of perjury, obstruction of justice, or both. Rove probably made statements to either the Grand Jury or to investigators than can be parsed as truthful if you pretend that there's some significant distinction between identifying Plame and using her name.
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
Falling Star

A new poll coming out today will show that Arnold Schwarzenegger's popularity in California has plummeted. This is partly due to his recent insistence on calling another special election for new ballot measures. The election will cost the state, which continues to run in deficit, at least $40 million, probably much more, and has 2 to 1 opposition in the poll.

Full numbers aren't yet available, but some info can be found here. This video reports that the current approval number is 37%. Although the Legislature as a whole has even lower numbers, voters by 44% to 33% say they generally would support it in conflicts with the Gropenator.
Saturday, June 18, 2005
A Goode Deal

Following up on the previous post concerning Virgil Goode and MZM, this site has some info on what MZM has gotten for its generosity. I doubt that this is the complete story by any means; the ROI for this kind of 'gift' is usually higher.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
The Munificent Seven

Josh Marshall has a story up on Talking Points concerning the impressive generosity of MZM, the defense contractor owned by Wade Mitchell, towards Rep Virgil Goode(R-VA).

Josh has, however, missed part of the story - at least $18,000 worth. If you look at all Goode's donations from this year, you find that the entire amount, $48,625, appears to come from MZM. Seven checks for $2,000 each were written by women who appear to be wives of MZM executives. All seven women share the name and home town of an MZM exec who donated the $2,000 max, and all contributions were made in the same 3/2 - 3/11 time frame as the others.

The munificent seven are: Cynthia Bragg (MD), Jane T Flowers (MD), May I James (NC), Donna Harrell (TN), Robin Berglund (VA), Sharon Capra (VA), Jeneane King (VA).

At least two of these women, King and Bragg, also gave $2000 to Goode in the 2004 cycle.

It's still unclear what MZM gets in return for all this generosity. But they've given 100% of the donations he has received so far this year. I'll bet, at the very least, they get their calls returned real quick.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Sure, It's a Train, But...

There's light at the end of the tunnel.

The Pink Panther Elephant

The Guardian points out that Democrats recently failed to cut off funds for the continuing investigation of Henry Cisneros. Although Cisneros copped a plea in 1999, more time (and money) have been spent on the investigation since then than before. The rough timeline of this story is as follows:

  • 1987: Cisneros, then Mayor of San Antonio, begins an extramarital affair with Linda Jones, then Linda Medlar. He gives her money for living costs and her daughter's college expenses.
  • 1988: Cisneros admits affair and doesn't seek re-election.
  • 1990: Jones begins to record conversations with Cisneros without his knowledge.
  • 1991: Cisneros reconciles with his wife and ends relationship with Jones. He continues to send her money.
  • 1992: Cisneros is under consideration for a cabinet position in the incoming Clinton administration.
  • 1993: Cisneros lies about payments to Jones during his FBI background check. He is approved by Senate as Secretary of HUD.
  • 1994: Cisneros cuts off payments to Jones. Jones hires attorneys. By her own admission, she subsequently edited the tapes to remove her own demands for money and threats to expose Cisneros.
  • 1995: Cisneros settles a suit from Jones charging that he reneged on agreements to provide financial support. Special Counsel begins investigating Cisneros's statements to FBI. David Barrett is appointed as Independent Counsel. Jones, who also lied to FBI, is given immunity and cooperates with prosecutor.
  • 1996: Cisneros leaves HUD. Barrett discovers that the tapes, which Jones has represented as original, are doctored and obtains warrant to search Jones's home.
  • 1997: Jones is indicted for conspiracy, false statements to the Cisneros prosecution, and bank fraud. Cisneros is indicted for conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to FBI.
  • 1998: Jones pleads guilty to 28 felonies, is sentenced to 3 1/2 years.
  • 1999: Jones is again working with Barrett in hopes of winning early release from prison. Cisneros pleads guilty to 1 misdemeanor count, agreeing to pay a fine but serve no jail time or probation. Cisneros becomes the first and only Clinton administration official convicted of criminal charges for acts related to their federal service. The Wash Post story on the plea bargain states it, "end[s] a wide-ranging independent counsel investigation that lasted more than four years and cost more than $9 million."
  • 2001: Cisneros is pardoned by Bill Clinton.
  • 2005: Investigation continues. Cost is now up to $21 million. Barrett states that, "the probe would continue another 10 months but [he] could not guarantee it would end then." There have been no indictments since 1999, and no clear statement of what Barrett has been investigating for the past 6 years.

Finder's credit for this story goes to skippy.

Sunday, June 12, 2005
Kevin Drum recently suggested that the reason the Downing Street Memo has been relatively overlooked by the media is that it is old news. Everybody already knows that Bush had decided on war long before the invasion took place. Frank Rich said precisely the same thing last week on Al Franken, where he was given a far more sycophantic intro than he actually deserves.

No doubt this is true. It would also explain why the press gave so little coverage to the Monica Lewinsky story. After all, by 1998, it was clear to everybody that Bill Clinton was pretty much a cad in his private life. One more instance didn't tell us anything we didn't already know. And that's why the story was ignored, however much rightists wanted it to get bigger play.

Oh, wait - it didn't actually happen like that. One excuse after another gets hauled out, and we continue for some strange reason to take them seriously. The press went after Clinton agressively? Well, that's the natural relationship of the press to power, and after all it's healthy. The press doesn't dare challenge George Bush? Look, it's an intimidating setting and nobody wants to just attack the president in a crisis. The press repeatedly told outright lies about Al Gore? Well, he was uniquely unpleasant and unsure of himself - even though he'd spent most of his life in Washington and nobody noticed these traits until 1999. Of course stories about Bush committing insider trading at Harken Energy aren't going to be covered - they're too complicated and unsexy. Naturally the media won't write about Jeff Gannon - way too sleazy. It would invade Gannon's privacy, and we all know how much the media respects privacy.

The punditocracty and the corporate media wants very much for us to believe the excuses they throw out, one after another, for their Republican bias. I suspect that they want, even more, to believe themselves. After all, the people dominating today's media, in their 40s and 50s, are largely a generation inspired by Woodward and Bernstein. They went into journalism with visions of protecting the downtrodden and uncovering the truths hidden by corrupted power. It can hardly be pleasant to admit that they have become the power they once dreamed of fighting, with no higher causes than keeping the taxman away from their high 6 and 7 figure incomes, and a devotion to hiding any truth that might endanger the authority of tax cutting Republicans.
Friday, June 10, 2005
Deep Threat

The revelation of the identity of Deep Throat last week brought on some very interesting reactions from rightist commentators. One was the open identification with Richard Nixon. It used to be that rightists didn't really want to have anything to do with Nixon. After all, not only was he disgraced, but he was far from even being a proper Republican in modern terms. He helped create the EPA and OSHA, and put forward unsuccessful proposals for universal health coverage and a national minimum income. But that no longer stops righties from claiming him as a martyr, destroyed by the evil Liberal Media (which, in his time, really existed) and vile Democrats. The overwhelming evidence that he was actually guilty of numerous crimes doesn't either, but that shouldn't surprise anybody familiar with the modern right.

Ben Stein is perhaps the nuttiest Nixon defender, managing to make Mark Felt and Bob Woodward personally responsible for the genocide in Cambodia. It's a theory that makes a sort of sense, as long as you ignore the fact that Nixon had a great deal to do with destabilizing Cambodia in the first place, along with the fact that there was nothing any President could have done in 1975 to prevent the victory of the Khmer Rouge.

Another columnist writing from Bizarro World is Gary Aldrich. One clue to his location can be found here: "Let�s review what was happening in our country during the Nixon presidency: entire cities were being burned to the ground, and banks and universities bombed, while hard-Left Marxist radicals like Bernadine Doran called for 'Revolution!' even as they stuffed cash into their pockets that had been funneled to them by the Soviet Union." On this planet no entire cities burned to the ground, and the Weathermen, although certainly a nasty outfit, were pathetically small and incompetent, never received Soviet money, and incidentally never had a leader named Bernadine Doran.

In these fantasies Mr Aldrich is on his own, but for another flight of imagination he matches what many other Nixon apologists have said. "Claims that 'there was only one thing that Mark Felt could do' seem especially hollow when you consider that there was always a legal way available to this cabal. There is a third branch of government on Capitol Hill called the U.S. Congress, who at that very time was gleefully sharpening their knives, salivating at the chance to impeach a detested president." This standard theme of Felt's attackers deserves a more detailed answer.

Both houses in 1972 did have Democratic majorities, but there was little eagerness to go after Nixon aggressively. The most obvious committees for an investigation of Executive abuses, the Judiciary Committees, were headed by James Eastland (Senate) and Emmanuel Cellar (House), both friends of Nixon with very little loyalty to their own parties. (Cellar would have been unlikely to run a serious impeachment investigation, but his loss in the 1972 Democratic primary to insurgent Liz Holtzman paved the way for the much less pro-Nixon Peter Rodino, recently deceased, to become the new House Judiciary Chairman and oversee impeachment hearings.)

One committee did go after Watergate. The House Banking Committee chaired by Wright Patman, knowing that some funds used by the burglars had been laundered through a Mexican bank, tried to employ Felt's famous advice to "follow the money". The staff requested subpoenas on eight witnesses, and the witness list shows that the staff had made significant progress: John Kitchell, Maurice Stans, Jeb Magruder, Robert Mardian, John Dean, Hugh Sloan, John Caulfield, and Fred Larue. Most were then completely unknown, but every one was in fact significantly involved in Watergate.

On October 3, the committee met and voted 20 - 15 not to issue subpoenas. Every Republican voted no, joined by some Dixiecrats, and apparently some Democrats who had ethics problems of their own that were threatened with exposure. They were given cover by a letter sent from the Justice Department, but actually instigated by Dean, that claimed the hearings would interfere with the ongoing investigation, although Patman had deliberately left out the 5 burglars, Hunt, and Liddy, who were the only targets of the criminal inquiry. Nixon was actively involved in blocking the Banking Committee; he told Haldeman on September 15, "All Republicans boycott all Committee hearings after the Conventions - will hamstring them."

That ended the only attempt to hold Congressional hearings between the break-in and the election. Congress never did get around to holding hearings until the cover up had largely unraveled. On April 30, 1973, Nixon announced the resignations of Haldeman, Erlichman, and Attorney General Richard Kleindienst, and the firing of John Dean, who was giving the Special Prosecutor testimony that directly implicated Nixon. The famous Ervin Committee held its first public hearings on May 17. The televised hearings did Nixon endless political damage, but they revealed only one new fact of real importance - the existence of the tapes.

So Felt's decision to work with Woodward rather than going to Congress, made only a few days after the break-in, was correct. Congress wasn't eager to investigate Nixon before the election; after his landslide victory, they were even less interested. If the cover-up hadn't come apart in Judge Sirica's court and the pages of the Post, Congress would almost certainly never have acted.
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
Celebrity Blogging

I'm thrilled to hear that Paris Hilton is engaged. And it's just so cute that her fiance has the same first name that she does. But really, isn't this guy a little old for her?

Thank goodness that we have the fearless tribunes of the liberal media to warn us when evildoers threaten. Anne Applebaum comes through today, picking up her pen to fight back against a terrible injustice related to American detention practices against suspected terrorists.

What is it that has our fearless crusader so irate? It isn't the practice of rendition, sending prisoners who have never recieved judicial proceedings to other countries so they can be tortured. It isn't the fact, well explained by Juan Cole, that the very existence of the Guantanamo prison, outside US territory in a legal no man's land, was designed as an assault against the rule of law. Applebaum probably is well aware that over 100 people have died in US custody, and that at least 27 of these deaths were ruled to be homicides by our own medical examiners, but in her outrage over a far greater offense, this fact is never mentioned in her column. She understands that people disappear into this system for years, never charged with any crime, unable to contact family or lawyers, without any legal rights, but this is a secondary problem. She is also aware, and does mention, that the legacy of torture, disappearances, and lawlessness perpetrated under Bush is angering millions of Muslims formerly friendly to us, and is more likely to cause than prevent future terrorist attacks.

Like the heroic truthseeker she is, Applebaum has brushed aside all these minor distractions to write a column which focuses squarely on the true outrage: Amnesty International actually used a Naughty Word in describing this system. The use of that Naughty Word has entirely discredited all information in their report, although Applebaum certainly doesn't point to any inaccuracies, and nobody else seems to. Why, any report using that wicked Naughty Word (although it seems the Bad Word wasn't used in the report itself, but in a press release) is so irrelevant that the Bush administration won't even have to pick out a few Sergeants and Privates to throw to public opinion, and what a tragedy that is.

Sleep well America. Your press corps may no longer care about freedom, corruption, or the rule of law, but they stand ready to protect you from naughty words, runaway brides, and weird over the hill pop stars.
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
Coo Coo Coo Choo, Mrs Robinson

The great Anne Bancroft, Mrs Mel Brooks in real life but eternally Mrs Robinson to movie lovers and all Baby Boomers, is dead at 73.

Monday, May 23, 2005
One phenomenon that I will never comprehend - or, using the more technically correct term, grok - is people standing in line for weeks or longer to see the latest SF blockbuster movie. I went to the new Star Wars on the day it opened, which is something of a personal tradition. I prepared myself for some lines; in fact, I had to wait behind exactly one person, then bought my tickets and went in. So why stand in line for weeks when others who don't can get the same tickets? Is your life really that short of things to do?

And the film? More or less as others have reviewed it: a good movie that could have been great if the dialogue were better. Not up to the first trilogy, but substantially better than the other two prequels. The ending segues nicely to a setup of the original trilogy, although no explanation is or could be given for the fact that Obi Wan Kenobi chooses to hide himself and the infant Luke on Anakin's home planet.