Saturday, November 22, 2008

On 'The End of the Civil War'


Do the new electoral changes we’ve seen this month portend the end of a particular tyranny of the minority?

Richard Nixon’s infamous ‘southern strategy’ was the beginning of a cynical era of politics in which the good of the country was mortgaged for the benefit of a single political party, perhaps even for the benefit a single politician. More than any other act in the past 40 years, the southern strategy has been the cause of the politics of division in the US by necessarily dividing the American South from the rest of the nation – cementing the South’s secessionism and seething regional resentment among conservative whites.

And more than any other act, this rancid strategy has been the source of the South’s regressive nature, reputation for ignorance and nativist anger.

As a native of the South, I am often struck by the incongruity between a people so deservedly noted for their hospitality and friendliness who are, contradictorily, so angry with the rest of the country. Mitigating factors are the continued migration of ‘other’ Americans into the South’s urban centers. This dilution, combined with a sustained drive to register new African-American voters, pose real threats to Republican hegemony over the region.

For the South, the legacy of losing a war is that absolute certainty is valued more than rational thought. This comes from the dissonance that it could not be possible that one’s forefathers fought valiantly for a cause that was, despite modern revisionist rationalizations, morally wrong.

Transcending race is at least an intellectual, if not a spiritual, enlightenment. Inevitably, if the intellectual culture of the South does not encourage this type of transcendence, someone else from somewhere else will. Thus the protectionist’s objective is not to educate toward a transcendence of race, it is to nurture a pre-existing resentment of those – today’s ‘intellectual elites’ -- who would advocate for it. Most of the white Civil Rights activists, for example, could be explained as college students indoctrinated by academic elites and sent to undermine the southern way of life.

Which is a repeated cycle to the white conservative southerner: ‘Others’ (predominantly northerners) ‘invade’ the region to force another way of life on a culture thus perceived as under threat.

A spark of resentment requires only oxygen to blaze. Nixon understood this from the perspective of a shrewd political outsider recognizing an opportunity to capitalize on the backlash against the Civil Rights Act.

George W. Bush and Karl Rove understand it as insiders. Their famous base of evangelical support was stoked with a victimization strategy that those same elites were attacking more than just a way of life – they were seeking to destroy the southern white conservative’s very religion with the theory of evolution and same-sex marriage.

In the wake of these perceived threats, this ‘culture war’, Bush has subordinated governance to moral certainty – bafflingly to the rest of the country, even to the point of total loss. This, to those like him, is the heroic Way of the South.

The rest of the country, who by and large do not see their way of life as under constant siege, politically marginalized the South this month. After dominating American politics for more than forty years, the South finds itself marching in a direction opposite the rest of the electorate.

Yet holding fast to your certainty, even (or especially) in the face of defeat and devastation is the embodiment of regional nobility. Isn’t that why town squares all over the South prominently display statues of confederate soldiers, heroically facing north?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Posting Suspended!

Wordcruncher has left the country...literally. As we have just relocated to Europe, we'll be quite busy with other pursuits for the time being. Please feel free to drop us an email at wordcruncher@gmail.com. We may launch another blog to update everyone on the move, but for now...no posting, as you can well see...

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Perfect Political Storm: The Crime at the Eye

You may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all the time.

- Generally attributed to Abraham Lincoln (undocumented). Also attributed to P.T. Barnum.

…here comes a raging rush of people with torches, and an awful whooping and yelling, and banging tin pans and blowing horns; and we jumped to one side to let them go by; and as they went by I see they had the king and the duke astraddle of a rail -- that is, I knowed it WAS the king and the duke, though they was all over tar and feathers, and didn't look like nothing in the world that was human -- just looked like a couple of monstrous big soldier-plumes.

…We asked some stragglers about it, and they said everybody went to the show looking very innocent; and laid low and kept dark till the poor old king was in the middle of his cavortings on the stage; then somebody give a signal, and the house rose up and went for them.

- Mark Twain

There are times when one senses a moment of historical importance is at hand. Such a moment is upon the American political narrative.

The perfect storm has been raging at sea and is headed directly for the American political landscape. It roils with crime, espionage, intrigue, propaganda, patsies, corruption, revenge, conspiracy and deceit. It threatens a direct hit that would bring a revolutionary type of upheaval, a death to the status quo. It fuels endless speculation about when and where it may hit. It may even just spin furiously, but harmlessly, at sea.

But there is no doubt that it is there.

At the eye of the storm is the central crime or crimes committed when Valerie Plame’s CIA status was leaked to the media; the seriousness of the crime(s) fuels the entire storm.

While the grand jury investigation into the outing of a CIA officer has been admirably prosecuted without leaks, we do know the legal opinions of the judges who refused to lift contempt of court charges against Time’s Matthew Cooper and The New York Times’ Judith Miller, thereby ordering the reporters to testify to the grand jury:

In February, Circuit Judge David Tatel joined his colleagues’ order to Cooper and Miller despite his own, very lonely finding that indeed there is a federal privilege for reporters that can shield them from being compelled to testify to grand juries and give up sources. He based his finding on Rule 501 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, which authorizes federal courts to develop new privileges “in the light of reason and experience.” Tatel actually found that reason and experience “support recognition of a privilege for reporters’ confidential sources.” But Tatel still ordered Cooper and Miller to testify because he found that the privilege had to give way to “the gravity of the suspected crime.”

Judge Tatel’s opinion has eight blank pages in the middle of it where he discusses the secret information the prosecutor has supplied only to the judges to convince them that the testimony he is demanding is worth sending reporters to jail to get. The gravity of the suspected crime is presumably very well developed in those redacted pages. Later, Tatel refers to “[h]aving carefully scrutinized [the prosecutor’s] voluminous classified filings.”

Some of us have theorized that the prosecutor may have given up the leak case in favor of a perjury case, but Tatel still refers to it simply as a case “which involves the alleged exposure of a covert agent.” Tatel wrote a 41-page opinion in which he seemed eager to make new law -- a federal reporters’ shield law -- but in the end, he couldn’t bring himself to do it in this particular case. In his final paragraph, he says he “might have” let Cooper and Miller off the hook “[w]ere the leak at issue in this case less harmful to national security.”

Tatel’s colleagues are at least as impressed with the prosecutor’s secret filings as he is. One simply said “Special Counsel’s showing decides the case.”

All the judges who have seen the prosecutor’s secret evidence firmly believe he is pursuing a very serious crime, and they have done everything they can to help him get an indictment.

Once the CIA had conducted an internal investigation into the crime(s) and referred the case to the Department of Justice, it was seriousness of said crime(s) that prompted Attorney General John Ashcroft to recuse himself (though not before notifying the White House first) and empower a special counsel with full prosecutorial leverage to investigate any other crimes or circumstances. As Deputy Attorney General James Comey said at the Department of Justice press conference announcing Mr. Fitzgerald’s appointment as special counsel:

I have today delegated to Mr. Fitzgerald all the approval authorities that will be necessary to ensure that he has the tools to conduct a completely independent investigation; that is, that he has the power and authority to make whatever prosecutive judgments he believes are appropriate, without having to come back to me or anybody else at the Justice Department for approvals. Mr. Fitzgerald alone will decide how to staff this matter, how to continue the investigation and what prosecutive decisions to make.

If the narrative of history were like a novel (and we know it is often that and more; why else would truth be stranger than fiction?) there would be no better foreshadowing of this climactic chapter than Hurricane Katrina, in which floodwaters horribly drowned New Orleans and cleansed American eyes of the false image of its leadership.

The levee of public trust has been breached, and Republican halls of power are taking on water. What impact will a direct hit from this grand jury investigation, and subsequent prosecutions, have? The question may significantly -- perhaps even historically -- alter no less than the president’s administration, the Republican leadership, the intelligence communities and the media.

Like coastal residents, key players in the unfolding drama are even hunkering into defensive positions, preparing for impact. “Former White House aids” are leaking stories selling vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis Libby up the river. The Washington Post reports that the administration is considering staff changes and that, ever mindful of image over substance, Republicans are bracing for the real danger:

Senior GOP officials are developing a public relations strategy to defend those accused of crimes and, more importantly, shield Bush from further damage, according to Republicans familiar with the plans.

Meanwhile, the thunder rolls and the tide swells. Who and what will be washed away? Who and what will be washed clean?

Monday, October 17, 2005

Houseguests

No posts until Thursday as I show some international houseguests around my city.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Welcome AMERICAblog readers!

Thank you for stopping by, fellow fans of John Aravosis. And a big thank you to John for allowing us to promote our "small " blogs.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Rats! The End of the Myth of Rove

The item that I think will carry the most impact when it comes to Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation into the Valerie Plame leak is the CIA damage assessment report, which will detail the damage done to any CIA assets as a result of the leak. It was this report that, I believe, carried the heft to force then-Attorney General John Ashcroft -- a client of Senior Presidential Advisor Karl Rove’s political consultancy -- to recuse himself from the case.

Of course, we know nothing about the report. Not a word of it has leaked. We know that Valerie Plame worked for Brewster-Jennings & Associates, a CIA front organization that was used to infiltrate organizations attempting to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Not only did Chicago Tribune columnist Robert Novak “out” Valerie Plame as a CIA operative, he also exposed the front organization in an interview with CNN, in which he stated, “Wilson's wife, the CIA employee, gave $1,000 to (Vice President Al) Gore and she listed herself as an employee of Brewster-Jennings & Associates. There is no such firm, I'm convinced."

All of Mr. Rove’s lawyer’s public tap dancing, any smearing of the special prosecutor and any other damage control methods will be unable to counter the potential damage done to CIA assets. We should all hope no one was hurt or killed as a result of the leak but someone, perhaps more than one, may have suffered such a fate as a consequence.

If Mr. Rove’s career isn’t similarly damaged, at least one result will be the death of the Myth of Rove.

Karl Rove isn’t the political genius the right thinks he is, nor is he the strategic mastermind the left fears (and craves). The secret to his success is a desire for absolute power, a weakness for strength that could be a Shakespearean character’s tragic flaw. His downfall will repeat one of history’s oldest lessons: Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Mr. Rove may or may not be the pillar upon which much of today’s Republican Party rests. Yet when one examines his hold on power, it appears that a mighty vacuum will need filling. Many have believed that Vice President Dick Cheney is the real force behind the throne. As the shepherd of the neo-cons, Mr. Cheney has influenced -- and severely damaged -- American foreign policy. Meanwhile, Mr. Rove’s acolytes populate congress, the Supreme Court and the media.

They aren’t hard to identify. The most common traits are a lack of intellectual curiosity, a fierce loyalty to the White House and an ego that craves positions of power and prominence. Combine these three traits and you have an easily manipulated pawn.

Intellectual curiosity begets a tendency to debate thoughtfully; this is unacceptable when the White House has legislation it wishes to push through without public knowledge (Mr. Cheney’s energy policy, the PATRIOT Act, the Medicare bill and FCC deregulation, to name a few). A fierce loyalty to the White House is required to stifle dissent within the ranks. People who aren’t fiercely loyal tend to squawk (Senator John McCain and the recent military appropriation bill’s torture amendment), publish books (former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill) or testify before independent panels (former security czar Richard Clarke). They cause problems.

Better to have someone who owes his position to Mr. Rove. Often, these positions were attained using another valued Rovian tactic, character assassination. Anyone who remembers the Swift Boat slanders need look no further for an example (but just in case, there’s the Max Cleland and the John McCain smears, plus more here).

This isn’t genius. These are the lessons in dirty tricks – affectionately termed “rat-fucking” by Richard Nixon’s operatives – that Mr. Rove learned from Donald Segretti. His way is to dive deeper into the dumpster than anyone else.

Mr. Rove reached his zenith of power after the 2002 elections, which ushered many of his loyal troops into positions of leadership in congress. At the moment, his hold on power is tenuous -- as is the structure upon which it rests. If Mr. Rove is indicted, he faces the delicious irony of having rat-fucked himself.

UPDATE: I couldn't resist adding this eloquent comment from Billmon, writing about the Harriett Miers and conservative movementarians squabble:

The Rovian game plan is, in all its essentials, the same sleazy blend of double speak, half-truths, non sequiturs, demagogic appeals and knees-to-the-groin smears that were used to sell the invasion of Iraq.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Silence Of The New York Times Is Deafening

One of the difficulties inherent with being a journalist is that frequently, one must write on a subject from a largely uninformed view as though one were an expert. That is, often journalists are required to be “an inch deep and a mile wide.”

It is rare enough when journalists are able to report on a subject about which they are the undisputed experts; namely, journalism itself. It is rarer still when a newspaper finds itself as an actor in the landmark political events of our time.

So why won’t The New York Times report on itself?

By journalistic obligation -- indeed, because of the newspaper’s status, for the integrity of the profession itself -- the Times must reveal what it knew and when regarding its and its reporter Judith Miller’s role in the Valerie Plame leak that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is investigating.

The Times has made many statements about this, ranging from the promise of a full disclosure to essentially stating the paper would publish an account when it felt good and ready. Perhaps there are justifiable legal reasons for the Times’ reticence. If so, why not tell us?

One senses something much larger is going on here, perhaps something bigger than even the Times itself. Bigger even than the Times’ role in disseminating weapons of mass destruction propaganda which it knew to be, at best, questionable. In the run-up to the Iraq invasion, Ms. Miller’s dubious reporting created a self-perpetuating echo that rang throughout the American media: “The New York Times reported that…”

It was an echo the Bush administration used as part of its masterful but dastardly manipulation of the Iraq debate. The administration’s war hawks would leak a story to Ms. Miller regarding aluminum tubes, for example, to be published on a Sunday morning. Administration officials -- Vice President Dick Cheney, to name one -- would then fan out to the Sunday chat shows using the Times story as corroboration: “Just this morning, the New York Times reported on aluminum tubes…”

It is embarrassing enough for a media outlet to be duped into advancing a partisan agenda. Perhaps in the rush not to be scooped, the Times may have let slip their usual standards of fact-checking. The paper itself admitted as much, apologizing for six stories -- four of which were written by Ms. Miller, but oddly, not singling out the reporter herself (as it had done in the Jayson Blair fiasco).

In so doing, the Times is protecting itself in a way that would make any senate whitewash committee proud. Journalists should certainly know that the cover-up is almost always worse than the crime. If the Times won’t publicly investigate itself -- committing the unpardonable journalistic sin of letting other papers scoop it on its own story -- others certainly will.

The larger question we deserve to see answered from all of this is: Was there a quid pro quo between “big media” and the administration?

In referring to the Iraq campaign in September of 2002, White House Chief of staff Andrew Card told the Times, "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August." The Bush administration knew full well that the most critical battle for Iraq was the battle of public opinion.

Members of the administration -- led most notably by Mr. Cheney -- had envisioned a war with Iraq as far back as 1997. Had this been made public knowledge in a full and open debate on Iraq in 2002 and early 2003, the battle of public opinion may well have been lost; investigative journalists for the major media outlets could use this stated objective as a premise, investigating each of the administration’s claims about Iraq in this context.

It was absolutely critical to throw the media off the scent.

Which brings us to the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) deregulation hearings. Under cover of the successfully launched Iraq war, the FCC, led by Michael Powell, attempted to push through deregulation laws that would allow further media consolidation. As Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) put it at the time:

A majority of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) intends to ratify a sweeping plan to weaken or eliminate rules that limit the size and power of media companies. Among other things, the FCC's three Republican commissioners hope to revoke the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule, which prevents a company from owning a newspaper and a TV station in the same market, and to significantly increase the number of TV stations one company can own.

With virtually no one paying attention, it was thought that Mr. Powell would be able to enact the law with no debate:

Before the FCC voted to lift the media ownership limits in June 2003, Powell refused to make public the 250-page FCC document that justified the move, convening only one hastily assembled public hearing on the media rules change. The Center for Public Integrity notes that during the months leading up to the vote, Powell and his commissioners held 71 off-the-record meetings with broadcast industry executives, while only meeting five times with public advocates.

Fortunately, in a triumph of democracy, this abominable act was exposed and opposed to by interest groups on the left and the right (one of the rare moments when groups such as the National Rifle Association and the American Civil Liberties Union agreed and joined forces). While it passed in committee, congress defeated the measure and in January of this year, the FCC at long last quietly gave up on the campaign.

But note the timing: June 2003, less than three months after the invasion of Iraq began. What was discussed in those “71 off-the-record meetings”? How many of these meetings were with, say, executives of the New York Times?

So: Was there a quid pro quo, positive war coverage in exchange for increased profits? The public has the right to know. But don’t bet on reading about it in the Times.