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The LiberalOasis Blog
The daily view from the oasis

February 18, 2005 PERMALINK
Media, Again, Ignore Negroponte's Record
Because Dems Don't Raise It
(posted Feb. 18 1:15 AM ET)

"I should have raised my voice louder than I did," [Sen. Tom] Harkin says about opposing [John] Negroponte's nominations. "I've been amazed at how this individual -- from what he did in Central America, where under his watch hundreds of people disappeared -- has moved up. He falsified reports and ignored what was happening."

Harkin adds: "I feel a certain sense that I let people down because I haven't kept on this guy."
-- W. Post, 6/21/04, after Negroponte was named Ambassador to Iraq

Harkin shouldn’t be too hard on himself. It’s not like he got a lot of help from his fellow Dems.

But seeing Negroponte go from human rights abuser to UN ambassador to Iraq ambassador to now, Director of National Intelligence, should serve as a lesson.

When you don’t keep up consistent, principled opposition against people with bad records, you won't be able to stop them when you really need to.

(For more on Negroponte’s disturbing record, see the 5-part Baltimore Sun series, the NY Review of Books, The Nation’s David Corn, the Council of Hemispheric Affairs, Bill Press, SourceWatch and Common Dreams.)

You won't hear much about that record today.

You won't hear anyone make David Corn’s point:

He has been credibly accused of rigging a human rights report that was politically inconvenient. This is a bad omen.

The fundamental mission of the intelligence community is to provide policymakers with unvarnished and valuable information-even if it causes the policymakers headaches.

But there's reason to believe that Negroponte did the opposite in tough circumstances.

If that is the case, he would not be the right man to oversee an intelligence community that needs solid leaders who are committed to truth-finding.

Because if the Dems don’t make those kinds of arguments, the mainstream media lazily takes that as a sign that any criticism is strictly fringe and not worth repeating, let alone exploring.

And Dems were mostly praising Negroponte yesterday, if at times restrained.

Of course, Negroponte has had Dem apologists for some time, as he is seen as a pragmatist (some say Machiavellian) and not an ideologue.

Dem foreign policy gurus Richard Holbrooke and Tony Lake have been close to him for years.

And at the Senate hearing about his nomination for UN Ambassador, Sen. Joe Biden, then Chair of the Foreign Relations Cmte, made excuses for Negroponte’s actions in Honduras.

But more importantly, Dems gave Negroponte near unanimous support on the floor of the Senate for his last two ambassadorships.

So how they could they justify bringing up criticisms now?

Without any new reports of troubling actions, it would look nonsensical to suddenly oppose him. The groundwork was not laid.

Now, we will have no choice but to watch Negroponte glide through the Senate for his latest promotion.

And merely hope his Machiavellian approach will lead to him to provide good intelligence on terrorist plots, and not politicized intelligence that fits his boss’ predetermined agenda.

February 17, 2005 PERMALINK
Bush Grasping For A Lifeline
(posted Feb. 17 1:15 AM ET)

We're seeing a mini-media frenzy over the notion that Bush suddenly opened the door to “raising taxes” in the form of lifting the cap on the wages subject to Social Security taxes.

(Currently, nothing over $90,000 is taxed.)

But this is not really news.

In December, Chief of Staff Andy Card and Treasury Sec. John Snow played the same cagey game Bush did this week, implicitly leaving the option open by refusing to directly answer questions about it.

However, the political dynamic is different now than then.

Polls not only show that Bush is clearly struggling to sell his plan, but also that the prospect of lifting the cap is more popular than you’d might expect.

So by re-floating this trial balloon, Bush can test if he could win support from the Democratic “Fainthearted Faction” without losing too much conservative support.

For example, Fainthearted Faction member Sen. Kent Conrad says he could support partial privatization if the plan wasn’t financed by “massive borrowing” or “drastic benefit cuts.”

Bush would like to know if the additional revenue from lifting the cap would allow him reduce the borrowing enough, and scale back the cuts enough, to win over Conrad and the few other Dems like him.

But we didn’t see any Fainthearted Dems publicly embrace the trial balloon right away.

Whereas leading House right-winger, Mike Pence, said on NBC Nightly News yesterday that conservatives would consider it an “enormous tax increase” and would “oppose” it.

Which raises the question, even if Bush managed to pick off a few Dems with a move like this, would he lose too many conservatives as a result?

Of course, it would be far better not to have to find out the answer to that.

Dems should realize that Bush is scrambling to salvage his pet issue, specifically because he is boxed in by Dem unity.

He is desperate enough to even consider sullying his rep, and the party’s rep, as tax cutters, in order to get out this box.

He is looking for a lifeline. And there is no reason to give him one.

(For more on the pros and cons of lifting the cap, check out these past posts from Nathan Newman and The Decembrist.)

February 16, 2005 PERMALINK
PlameGate Exposes The Real Media Bias
Themselves
(posted Feb. 16 2 AM ET)

It’s a good development that a federal appeals court has said the NY Times’ Judith Miller and Time’s Matt Cooper need to answer grand jury questions about PlameGate.

While there are more appeals to be had, and the two may opt to go to jail instead giving helpful information, at least there’s some forward movement in this painstakingly slow investigation.

But an unfortunate by-product of this ruling will be the high decibel whining from some media types about how this will restrict their rights and quiet confidential sources.

Journos have already learned the value of a talking point, parroting the NY Times’ company line, bemoaning the possible jailing of Miller “for an article that was never published”.

Howard Kurtz, of the W. Post and CNN, said yesterday that the ruling is “a chilling decision for the press because Judy Miller didn't even write a story about this”.

Fox News’ Fred Barnes chimed in: “Miller never wrote anything about the CIA agent … [Patrick Fitzgerald is a] classic runaway prosecutor. He’s not dealing with the heart of the matter, he’s dealing with a capillary.”

But the fact that Miller never wrote about Valerie Plame doesn’t make the ruling “chilling” nor does it make Fitzgerald overzealous.

It’s wholly irrelevant to the issue at hand.

Because this isn’t about punishing reporters for what they write or don’t write.

It’s about punishing people in the government who compromised our national security.

If Miller has info that can help solve the crime, it doesn’t matter if she used that info in a story or not. She is legally obliged to cough up the info.

It’s not Special Counsel Fitzgerald who is pursuing the capillary. It’s folks in the media who are waving a capillary as a red herring to obscure what’s at the heart of the case.

But why should we expect any different?

If there is any bias in the media, it’s a bias in favor of themselves and their self-importance.

PlameGate has been mainly a back-page story in its 18-month life.

The mainstream media didn’t bat an eyelash when Plame’s name was revealed.

(It was The Nation’s David Corn that first recognized that a crime may have been committed.)

And when Dubya was compelled to retain a lawyer to handle the case, there was no Clintonesque feeding frenzy.

(John Dean was left to provide insight in an online column.)

But now that two reporters face contempt charges, the story is hot copy.

The story about the media, not the story about Plame.

The vast majority of PlameGate stories since August have been focused on the media’s constitutional rights, while the media still has done little investigative work on the case itself.

Of course, these days, the media does little investigative work, period.

Today’s W. Post story says:

The expressed concern that the decision will drive confidential sources underground -- and leave the public more in the dark about the inner workings of its government.

Can the public be any more in the dark about the inner workings of government?!

We are bombarded daily by “confidential sources” who are nothing more that Administration puppet masters spoon-feeding reporters who prize their access more than ferreting out truth.

It is LiberalOasis’ bet that if there’s anything that real confidential sources are afraid of, it’s not being burned by a reporter.

It’s being smeared by unnamed “senior administration officials” with the help of compliant scribes in the Fourth Estate.

And maybe, if someone in the Bush Administration actually pays a price for outing Valerie Plame, the real confidential sources in the inner workings of government will poke their heads out.

Hopefully, there will be a few reporters who aren’t worried about losing access that will be willing to listen to them.

QUICK HIT

Most Inane Pundit Analysis Of 2005

It’s only February, but it may be hard to top this one all year. From Mort Kondracke on Fox News, regarding PlameGate special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald:

It’s possible that … Fitzgerald is determined … he may, for all I know, want some other job higher up in the Administration, if he really pursues this case and gets to the bottom of it, and sets a record as being the first person to ever come up with a leaker, and is going at this regardless of whether there is a law broken or not.

February 14, 2005 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted Feb. 14 1 AM ET)

Three of the Sunday shows featured Dem vs. GOP head-to-heads over Social Security, giving us a chance to see how the debate is progressing.

(Rep. Charlie Rangel vs. Sen. Chuck Grassley on Meet The Press, Sen. Dick Durbin vs. Sen. Rick Santorum on Face The Nation, Sen. Kent Conrad vs. Sen. Judd Gregg on This Week.)

The verdict?

The debate is becoming extremely complicated.

Little agreement on basic facts. Wonky jargon galore. Stat after stat after stat blurring together.

Who gets the upper hand in this dynamic, as the debate becomes more arcane?

LiberalOasis would argue that the Dems come out ahead.

As the debate becomes increasingly hard to follow, people will inevitably tune out.

With the Dems achieving early unity, the GOP needs to generate public enthusiasm in order to pressure enough Dems to betray their party.

They can’t do that if people throw their hands up in frustration, after politicians prove unable to explain things clearly, and the media fail to sort out facts from distortions.

This is usually a problem that Dems suffer from.

Dems usually are the ones trying to build things, like government initiatives.

While the GOP is usually talking about tearing things down, slashing programs and tax revenue streams.

And it’s inherently harder to build than destroy.

In this case, the GOP wants to destroy Social Security, but they have to build up something to replace it with.

There’s no easy way to sound bite that. You have to get into details.

And when was the last time the GOP had to get into the details of anything? This is not their strong suit.

The GOP problem is compounded by their lack of unity, which was on display yesterday.

Gregg and Grassley, chairs of the Senate Budget and Finance committees respectively, both were floating tax hikes and benefit cuts – not the Bush message.

On ABC’s This Week, Gregg tried to float them using convoluted language:

...There is a way to do Social Security in a bipartisan manner. It does, in my opinion, have to include personal accounts because that what’s young people need...

...But it also has to adjust the benefit structure for my generation and probably has to affect the tax burden that is out there.

(By the way, Gregg turns 58 today, part of the 55-and-over “generation” that isn’t supposed to have their benefits touched in any way, according to Bush.)

On NBC’s Meet The Press, Grassley dared to argue that Bush is willing to back tax hikes.

When asked if he was “confident” that Bush would sign a bill that, as Grassley has previously suggested, would include “some benefit reductions and tax increases for the next generation,” Grassley simply said “yes.”

Though he later contradicted himself and confused the issue by treating such steps as something to avoid:

What Democrats like to do is wait until the last minute, until there's really a crisis out there ... And then you not only increase taxes, you also reduce benefits.

While Gregg and Grassley were trying to prepare people for some pain, over at CBS’ Face The Nation, Santorum was testing out new ways to pretend there won’t be any pain.

For example, he tried to avoid the word, “borrow,” when talking about trillions of dollars in transition costs, instead saying the GOP plan is to “pre-fund” private accounts.

This did not fly, as Time’s Karen Tumulty responded:

What you refer to, Senator Santorum, as pre-funding these accounts essentially blows a hole as much as $2 trillion in the budget.

Santorum then tried to argue that the costs wouldn’t be so bad anyway, offering this head-spinner:

When we take the money that's now going into the Social Security system and put it into these personal retirement accounts, a lot of this money is going to be invested in, guess what, government bonds.

The very same government bonds that are now being held by Social Security.

That's not a net cost to the federal government. That money comes back into the Social Security trust fund.

We could make sure that it does.

Yes! We’re going to create private accounts that take money out of what Bush believes is a nonexistent trust fund, then force you to put it back in the same nonexistent trust fund, and magically, you’ll get a better return on your money. Genius!

Having pointed out the disarray among the GOP, LiberalOasis does not want Dems to crow too much.

Because the Dems on the Sunday shows weren’t in sync either.

Durbin, the Senate Minority Whip, pretty much had his messages down (see video at Crooks and Liars).

But Rangel seemed to be winging it (though as James Wolcott notes, gleefully so), leaving the audience without a clear sense of what the Dem argument is.

And worse, Conrad’s comments drove him dangerously close to Talking Points Memo’s Fainthearted Faction.

(Conrad had some kind words for privatized accounts, but said he wouldn’t back anything that relied on heavy borrowing, which in all likelihood will keep him from truly breaking rank.)

Now, Dems can be fuzzy on their messages and still prevail, as long as they stay unified and the GOP fails to rally the public by getting tripped up on details.

But if the Dems don’t use this confrontation to clearly communicate their beliefs, not only regarding retirement security but on the role of government in general, they may not get as much political mileage out of killing privatization as they think.

When the GOP killed Bill Clinton’s health care, they used the moment to make a larger case that Clinton wanted government to interfere with their lives for the worse.

That made it more than just a one-day political victory.

It’s not evident that Dems are thinking that far ahead yet.

The Blog Wire
Tracking the liberal blogosphere

Informed Comment dissects the final Iraqi election results

Sirotablog: "Eighteen Democrats this week voted with all Republicans to restrict Americans rights to collectively file class action lawsuits. Now, I understand the Republicans voting for this ... But 18 Democrats?"

DNC: A Message From Chairman Dean

The Left Coaster: Bush Waits Until Late Friday To Release Specific Cuts In Children's and Law Enforcement Programs

The SEA-EAT Blog has information about resources, aid, donations and volunteer efforts for victims of the SE Asian tsunami

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