Friday, December 01, 2006


Free speech, failed speakers and the delusion of grandeur

Keith Olbermann responds to Newt Gingrich’s comments about free speech
By Keith Olbermann
Anchor, 'Countdown'CountdownUpdated: 8:49 p.m. ET Nov 30, 2006

Here, as promised, a special comment about free speech, failed speakers and the delusion of grandeur.

“This is a serious long-term war,” the man at the podium cried, “and it will inevitably lead us to want to know what is said in every suspect place in the country.”

Some in the audience must have thought they were hearing an arsonist give the keynote address at a convention of firefighters.

This was the annual Loeb First Amendment Dinner in Manchester, N.H. — a public cherishing of freedom of speech — in the state with the two-fisted motto “Live Free Or Die.”

And the arsonist at the microphone, the former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, was insisting that we must attach an “on-off button” to free speech.

He offered the time-tested excuse trotted out by our demagogues since even before the Republic was founded: widespread death, of Americans, in America, possibly at the hands of Americans.

But updated, now, to include terrorists using the Internet for recruitment. End result — “losing a city.”

The colonial English defended their repression with words like these.

And so did the slave states.

And so did the policemen who shot strikers.

And so did Lindbergh’s America First crowd.

And so did those who interned Japanese-Americans.

And so did those behind the Red Scare.

And so did Nixon’s plumbers.

The genuine proportion of the threat is always irrelevant.

The fear the threat is exploited to create becomes the only reality.

“We will adopt rules of engagement that use every technology we can find,” Mr. Gingrich continued about terrorists, formerly communists, formerly hippies, formerly Fifth Columnists, formerly anarchists, formerly Redcoats, “to break up their capacity to use the Internet, to break up their capacity to use free speech.”

Mr. Gingrich, the British “broke up our capacity to use free speech” in the 1770s.

The pro-slavery leaders “broke up our capacity to use free speech” in the 1850s.

The FBI and CIA “broke up our capacity to use free speech” in the 1960s.

It is in those groups where you would have found your kindred spirits, Mr. Gingrich. Those who had no faith in freedom, no faith in this country, and, ultimately, no faith even in the strength of their own ideas, to stand up on their own legs without having the playing field tilted entirely to their benefit.

“It will lead us to learn,” Gingrich continued, “how to close down every Web site that is dangerous, and it will lead us to a very severe approach to people who advocate the killing of Americans and advocate the use of nuclear and biological weapons.”

That we have always had “a very severe approach” to these people is insufficient for Mr. Gingrich’s ends.

He wants to somehow ban the idea.

Even though everyone who has ever protested a movie or a piece of music or a book has learned the same lesson:

Try to suppress it, and you only validate it.

Make it illegal, and you make it the subject of curiosity.

Say it cannot be said, and it will instead be screamed.

And on top of the thundering danger in his eagerness to sell out freedom of speech, there is a sadder sound, still — the tinny crash of a garbage can lid on a sidewalk.

Whatever dreams of Internet censorship float like a miasma in Mr. Gingrich’s personal swamp, whatever hopes he has of an Iron Firewall, the simple fact is, technically they won’t work.

As of tomorrow they will have been defeated by a free computer download.

Mere hours after Gingrich’s speech in New Hampshire, the University of Toronto announced it had come up with a program called Psiphon to liberate those in countries in which the Internet is regulated.

Places like China and Iran, where political ideas are so barren, and political leaders so desperate that they put up computer firewalls to keep thought and freedom out. The Psiphon device is a relay of sorts that can surreptitiously link a computer user in an imprisoned country to another in a free one.

The Chinese think the wall works, yet the ideas — good ideas, bad ideas, indifferent ideas — pass through anyway.

The same way the Soviet bloc was defeated by the images of Western material bounty.

If your hopes of thought control can be defeated, Mr. Gingrich, merely by one computer whiz staying up an extra half hour and devising a new “firewall hop,” what is all this apocalyptic hyperbole for?

“I further think,” you said in Manchester, “we should propose a Geneva convention for fighting terrorism, which makes very clear that those who would fight outside the rules of law, those who would use weapons of mass destruction, and those who would target civilians are in fact subject to a totally different set of rules, that allow us to protect civilization by defeating barbarism …”

Well, Mr. Gingrich, what is more “massively destructive” than trying to get us to give you our freedom?

And what is someone seeking to hamstring the First Amendment doing, if not “fighting outside the rules of law”?

And what is the suppression of knowledge and freedom, if not “barbarism”?

The explanation, of course, is in one last quote from Mr. Gingrich from New Hampshire and another from last week.

“I want to suggest to you,” he said about these Internet restrictions, “that we right now should be impaneling people to look seriously at a level of supervision that we would never dream of if it weren’t for the scale of the threat.”

And who should those “impaneled” people be?

Funny I should ask, isn’t it, Mr. Gingrich?“I am not ‘running’ for president,” you told a reporter from Fortune Magazine. “I am seeking to create a movement to win the future by offering a series of solutions so compelling that if the American people say I have to be president, it will happen.”

Newt Gingrich sees in terrorism, not something to be exterminated, but something to be exploited.

It’s his golden opportunity, isn’t it?

“Rallying a nation,” you might say, “to hysteria, to sweep us up into the White House with powers that will make martial law seem like anarchy.”

That’s from the original version of the movie “The Manchurian Candidate” — the chilling words of Angela Lansbury’s character, as she first promises to sell her country to the Chinese and Russians, then reveals she’ll double-cross them and keep all the power herself, waving the flag every time she subjugates another freedom.

Within the frame of our experience as a free and freely argumentative people, it is almost impossible to conceive that there are those among us who might approach the kind of animal wildness of fiction like that — those who would willingly transform our beloved country into something false and terrible.

Who among us can look to our own histories, or those of our ancestors who struggled to get here, or who struggled to get freedom after they were forced here, and not tear up when we read Frederick Douglass’s words from a century and a half ago?: “Freedom must take the day.”

And who among us can look to our collective history and not see its turning points — like the Civil War, like Watergate, like the Revolution itself — in which the right idea defeated the wrong idea on the battlefield that is the marketplace of ideas?

But apparently there are some of us who cannot see that the only future for America is one that cherishes the freedoms won in the past, one in which we vanquish bad ideas with better ones, and in which we fight for liberty by having more liberty, not less.

“I am seeking to create a movement to win the future by offering a series of solutions so compelling that if the American people say I have to be president, it will happen.”

What a dark place your world must be, Mr. Gingrich, where the way to save America is to destroy America.

I will awaken every day of my life thankful I am not with you in that dark place.

And I will awaken every day of my life thankful that you are entitled to tell me about it.

And that you are entitled to show me what an evil idea it represents and what a cynical mind.

And that you are entitled to do all that, thanks to the very freedoms you seek to suffocate.


The Tom Friedman disease consumes Establishment Washington

by Glenn Greenwald

Someone e-mailed me several days ago to say that while it is fruitful and necessary to chronicle the dishonest historical record of pundits and political figures when it comes to Iraq, I deserve to be chastised for failing to devote enough attention to the person who, by far, was most responsible for selling the war to centrists and liberal "hawks" and thereby creating "consensus" support for Bush's war -- Tom Friedman, from his New York Times perch as "the nation's preeminent centrist foreign policy genius."

That criticism immediately struck me as valid, and so I spent the day yesterday and today reading every Tom Friedman column beginning in mid-2002 through the present regarding Iraq. That body of work is extraordinary. Friedman is truly one of the most frivolous, dishonest, and morally bankrupt public intellectuals burdening this country. Yet he is, of course, still today, one of the most universally revered figures around, despite -- amazingly enough, I think it's more accurate to say "because of" -- his advocacy of the invasion of Iraq, likely the greatest strategic foreign policy disaster in America's history.

This matters so much not simply in order to expose Friedman's intellectual and moral emptiness, though that is a goal worthy and important in its own right. Way beyond that, the specific strain of intellectual bankruptcy that drove Friedman's strident support for the invasion of Iraq continues to be what drives not only Tom Friedman today, but virtually all of our elite opinion-makers and "centrist" and "responsible" political figures currently attempting to "solve" the Iraq disaster.

In column after column prior to the war, Friedman argued that invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam was a noble, moral, and wise course of action. To Friedman, that was something we absolutely ought to do, and as a result, he repeatedly used his column to justify the invasion and railed against anti-war arguments voiced by those whom he derisively called "knee-jerk liberals and pacifists" (so as not to clutter this post with long Friedman quotes, I'm posting the relevant Friedman excerpts here).

But at the same time Friedman was cheering on the invasion, he was inserting one alarmist caveat after the next about how dangerous a course this might be and about all the problems that might be unleashed by it. He thus repeatedly emphasized the need to wage the War what he called "the right way." To Friedman, the "right way" meant enlisting support from allies across Europe and the Middle East for both the war and the subsequent re-building, telling Americans the real reasons for the war, and ensuring that Americans understood what a vast and long-term commitment we were undertaking as a result of the need to re-build that country.

Only if the Bush administration did those things, argued Friedman, would this war achieve good results. If it did not do those things, he repeatedly warned, this war would be an unparalleled disaster.

Needless to say, the Bush administration did none of the things Friedman insisted were prerequisites for invading Iraq "the right way." And Friedman recognized that fact, and repeatedly pointed it out. Over and over, in the months before the war, Friedman would praise the idea of the war and actively push for the invasion, but then insert into his columns statements like this:
And so I am terribly worried that Mr. Bush has told us the right thing to
do, but won't be able to do it right.

But: Despite the Bush administration's failures to take any of the steps necessary to wage the war "the right way," Friedman never once rescinded or even diluted his support for the war. He continued to advocate the invasion and support the administration's push for war -- at one point, in February, even calling for the anti-war French to be removed from the U.N. Security Council and replaced by India, and at another point warning that we must be wary of Saddam's last-ditch attempt to negotiate an alternative to war lest we be tricked into not invading -- even though Friedman knew and said that all the things that needed to be done to avert disaster were not being done by the administration.

Put another way, these are the premises which Friedman, prior to the invasion, expressly embraced:

(1) If the war is done the right way, great benefits can be achieved.
(2) If the war is done the wrong way, unimaginable disasters will result.
(3) The Bush administration is doing this war the wrong way, not the right way, on every level.(4) Given all of that, I support the waging of this war.

Just ponder that: Tom Friedman supported the invasion of Iraq even though, by his own reasoning, that war was being done the "wrong way" and would thus -- also by his own reasoning -- create nothing but untold damage on every level. And he did so all because there was some imaginary, hypothetical, fantasy way of doing the war that Friedman thought was good, but that he knew isn't what we would get.

To support a war that you know is going to be executed in a destructive manner is as morally monstrous as it gets. The fact that there is some idealized, Platonic way to fight the war doesn't make that any better if you know that that isn't what is going to happen. We learn in adolescence that wanting things that we can't have -- pining for things that aren't real or possible -- is futile and irrational. To apply that adolescent fantasy world to war advocacy is the hallmark of a deeply frivolous and amoral person.

And it is exactly that sickness that is still -- almost four years later -- the most pervasive syndrome when it comes to our war debates. Greg Sargent and Atrios, among others, have been documenting one instance after the next of serious, sober political "leaders" who (a) recognize that our current course is a failure, (b) acknowledge that no real alternative exists, but nonetheless (c) lack the courage and integrity to advocate withdrawal. John McCain is the worst and most glaring example, as he expressly argues:
(1) It is immoral to stay in Iraq if we don't send in more troops.
(2) We are not going to send in more troops.
(3) I oppose withdrawal and think we should stay in Iraq.

Friedman himself continues to play the same repugnant game, arguing: (1) If we don't do X, we should not stay in Iraq; (2) X is impossible or unrealistic; (3) I do not advocate withdrawal. David Frum has made the same argument -- we will lose in Iraq and create far worse damage if we don't send more troops, which we don't do; nonetheless, we must remain in Iraq.

The reason for this is as transparent as it is despicable -- "withdrawal" is a prohibited belief in Establishment Washington. You can pretty much advocate any course of action other than that. Why is the Baker Commission filled with people who supported this invasion in the first place? Shouldn't it be dominated by -- or, at the very least, be substantially composed of -- people who opposed the war from the beginning, i.e., the people who demonstrated foresight and wisdom and judgment?

Establishment Washington is concerned right now with only one thing - saving their own credibility and reputation. The reason why The Washington Post's David Igantius said recently that Chuck Hagel was "right about Iraq and other key issues earlier than almost any national politician, Republican or Democratic" -- even though Hagel favored the invasion and many "national politicians" opposed it from the beginning -- is because the Washington Establishment still thinks that those who opposed the war from the beginning don't count, that they're still the unserious, know-nothing losers who should be ignored.

Howard Dean is still a leftist lunatic who is "soft" on national security, as are the Congressional Democrats who voted against the war resolution. Tom Friedman and John McCain and Condoleezza Rice and Charles Krauthammer are the credible, serious foreign policy geniuses.

It is not merely the case that having been pro-war doesn't count as a strike against anyone. That is accurate. But far worse, the opposite is also true. It is still the case in Establishment Washington that having been pro-war in the first place is a pre-requisite to being considered a "responsible, serious" foreign policy analyst. And having been anti-war from the start is the hallmark of someone unserious. The pro-war Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden are serious national security Democrats but Russ Feingold, Nancy Pelosi and Jack Murtha are the kind of laughable losers whom Democrats need to repudiate.

Establishment Washington really is not interested in how to end this horrendous and despicable debacle we unleashed in Iraq. They are not interested in how to maximize U.S. interests. They are only interested in how to find a way to bring this disaster to some sort of slow resolution that looks as though it is a respectable and decent outcome -- anything that makes it seem like it wasn't a horrendous mistake in the first place. That is what the Baker-Hamilton Commission is about and it's what all of these Beltway analysts are doing by endorsing these premises:
(1) Things in Iraq are disastrous and our current policy there is a total failure.
(2) Our troop presence is not improving the situation; things have gotten steadily worse.
(3) There may be goals that, if theoretically met, would improve things, but those goals can't and won't be met -- either because we lack the resources or because they are just not achievable.
(4) No matter what, we absolutely cannot begin withdrawing, and those who want to do so are radical and unserious.

So what is being done now is exactly what Tom Friedman did before the war -- we continue to endorse a policy (staying in Iraq) even though we consciously know that no good can come from it and that it will produce nothing but bad results, and we justify that based on the fantasy that we could, in theory, improve things. Tom Friedman is a morally bankrupt narcissist whose only devotion is to the self-love of his own genius. He emphatically advocated the war beforehand but included every caveat possible so that, no matter what happened, he could claim to have been right, which is exactly what he has been doing.

But tragically, there is nothing unique about Tom Friedman. What drives him is the same mentality that enabled the administration's invasion of Iraq and, so much worse, it is the mentality that is keeping us there and will keep us there for the indefinite future. We stay in Iraq in pursuit of goals we know are fantasies, because to do otherwise requires the geniuses and serious establishment analysts to accept responsibility for what they have done -- and that is, by far, the most feared and despised outcome.

The invasion of Iraq was a huge mistake. But the behavior of our political and media leaders after that, and now, reveal that they are not just bereft of judgment but entirely bereft of character.

UPDATE: In comments, J makes an insightful and important point about people like Friedman who always think that their particular criticism of the administration, the war and other similar matters defines the outermost limit of what constitutes acceptable, responsible and permissible dissent. To be unserious, irresponsible, shrill, etc., means to transgress the limits definitionally established by their views.

UPDATE II: Hilzoy, via e-mail, directs my attention to this article from TAP's Harold Meyerson regarding pundit responsibility for Iraq, in which he says:
“I have to admit I’ve always been fighting my own war in Iraq,” Friedman wrote in the summer of 2003. “Mr. Bush took the country into his war.” Was it too much to ask the nation’s most important foreign-policy journalist to focus on Bush’s war -- particularly because, well, it was Bush, and not Friedman, who was president?It's amazing enough that people like Tom Friedman failed to understand that point. But what is more amazing still -- and truly both infuriating and tragic -- is that they still don't seem to be able to digest it.


Alberto Gonzales Can’t Name A Mistake He’s Made

Today on CNN’s Situation Room, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was asked if he could think of a single mistake he’s made during his service to President Bush during the last six years. He couldn’t do it.

Gonzales told Wolf Blitzer, “I think that you and I would — I’d have to spend some time thinking about that.” He added, “Obviously I’ve made some recommendations to my client. Some of those recommendations have not been supported in the courts. In hindsight, you sometimes wonder, well, perhaps, perhaps the recommendation should have been something different.”

Full transcript:

BLITZER: Looking back on the decisions that you’ve made, at the White House, now at the Justice Department, anything jump to mind? Anything that you deeply regret, a decision that you made?

GONZALES: Oh, I think that you and I would — I’d have to spend some time thinking about that. Obviously I’m not going to say that I am perfect and that I’ve been perfect in doing my job. Obviously I’ve made some recommendations to my client. Some of those recommendations have not been supported in the courts. In hindsight, you sometimes wonder, well, perhaps, perhaps the recommendation should have been something different.


Used Car Salesman


Spin City






Decider House Rules


Bush Hates Dogs and Children


Caged Heat

Thursday, November 30, 2006


U.S. Will Pay $2 Million to Lawyer Wrongly Jailed


WASHINGTON, Nov. 29 — The federal government agreed to pay $2 million Wednesday to an Oregon lawyer wrongly jailed in connection with the 2004 terrorist bombings in Madrid, and it issued a formal apology to him and his family.

The unusual settlement caps a two-and-a-half-year ordeal that saw the lawyer, Brandon Mayfield, go from being a suspected terrorist operative to a symbol, in the eyes of his supporters, of government overzealousness in the war on terrorism.

“The United States of America apologizes to Mr. Brandon Mayfield and his family for the suffering caused” by his mistaken arrest, the government’s apology began. It added that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which erroneously linked him to the Madrid bombs through a fingerprinting mistake, had taken steps “to ensure that what happened to Mr. Mayfield and the Mayfield family does not happen again.”

At an emotional news conference in Portland announcing the settlement, Mr. Mayfield said he and his wife, an Egyptian immigrant, and their three children still suffered from the scars left by the government’s surveillance of him and his jailing for two weeks in May 2004.

“The horrific pain, torture and humiliation that this has caused myself and my family is hard to put into words,” said Mr. Mayfield, an American-born convert to Islam and a former lieutenant in the Army.

“The days, weeks and months following my arrest,” he said, “were some of the darkest we have had to endure. I personally was subject to lockdown, strip searches, sleep deprivation, unsanitary living conditions, shackles and chains, threats, physical pain and humiliation.”

Fingerprint examiners at the F.B.I. erroneously linked Mr. Mayfield to the terrorist bombings in Madrid through a mistaken identification of a print taken from a plastic bag containing detonator caps that was found at the scene of the bombings. The bombings, on March 11, 2004, killed 191 people and left 2,000 injured in the deadliest terrorist attack in Europe since World War II.

Despite doubts from Spanish officials about the validity of the fingerprint match, American officials began an aggressive high-level investigation into Mr. Mayfield in the weeks after the bombings. The fact that he had represented a terrorism defendant in a child-custody case in Portland spurred further interest in him. Using expanded surveillance powers under the USA Patriot Act, the government wiretapped his conversations, conducted secret searches of his home and his law office and jailed him for two weeks as a material witness in the case before a judge threw out the case against him.

The settlement includes an unusual condition that frees the government from future liability except in one important area: Mr. Mayfield is allowed to continue a lawsuit seeking to overturn parts of the Patriot Act as a violation of the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

Several legal experts said they considered the settlement significant because of the public apology and the substantial payment.

“You almost never see something like this,” said Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project, a legal clinic in New York City. “It’s extraordinary, but the harm caused him was extraordinary. What I really think it speaks to is just how clearly the U.S. government crossed the line when it went after Mayfield.”

Suzanne Spaulding, a former lawyer with the Central Intelligence Agency who specializes in national security law, said that the terms of the settlement allowing Mr. Mayfield to continue his lawsuit over the Patriot Act were also significant.

“You’ve got to think that the Justice Department did not want to make that concession,” she said. “That and the two million dollars are further evidence that they were vulnerable and that he clearly had some significant leverage in these negotiations.”

Justice Department officials said they were confident that the legal foundation of the Patriot Act, including the surveillance and search provisions challenged by Mr. Mayfield, would hold up in court.

Although the F.B.I. has acknowledged serious missteps in the case, an investigation by the Justice Department inspector general released this year concluded that the government did not misuse its expanded counterterrorism powers under the Patriot Act and that Mr. Mayfield’s Muslim faith was not the reason he was initially investigated. Still, Mr. Mayfield continued to assert Wednesday that he and his family were a target “because of our Muslim religion.”

“Our freedom of religion in this country is a sacred right,” he said, “and the exercise of one’s beliefs in a lawful manner should never be a factor in a government’s investigation of any citizen.”

In Washington, the settlement was applauded by Representative John Conyers Jr., the Michigan Democrat who is expected to become the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in January.

“The Mayfield case cries out for checks and balances on what has been, at times, an overzealous pursuit of innocent Americans,” Mr. Conyers said. “I am heartened that Mr. Mayfield has received this small measure of justice.”

Brian Libby contributed reporting from Portland, Ore.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Have A Walker Texas Ranger Christmas

by Hunter

There are some days where the Rapture seems closer than others. Not because of any particular Biblical sign, mind you, but simply because of some ephemeral, wafting scent through the air, a scent that seems to convey stupidity like nothing else, and which seems to hint that the end must surely be near, because the human race reached apogee with the invention of tempered safety glass, and it's been all downhill since then.

In this case, that particular scent of apocalypse smells like a mix between weak pot and strong battery acid, which is pretty much exactly what I would expect a World Net Daily commentary by Chuck Norris -- yes, that Chuck Freaking Norris, the commentary in this case about how to keep Christmas holy via your shopping habits -- to smell like.

The National Retail Federation, the largest retail trade association, is projecting only a 5 percent increase in Christmas season sales over last year, to the tune of $457.4 billion. That compares with last year's 6.1 percent increase. [...]

What alarms me most, however, are not any economic forecasts, but the progressive disappearance of retail Christmas terminology.

What ever happened to ''Christmas?"

Dude, it's f@$#ing November. If someone in retail did wish me a "Merry Christmas" on November twentysomethingeth, I'd probably have to give them a roundhouse kick to the mistletoe just out of personal spite.

But just out of morbid curiosity, how many people here believe that Chuck Freaking Norris keeps close tabs on the doings of the National Retail Federation and their holiday retail forecasts?

I enjoy giving and receiving Christmas gifts as much as anyone else, though I prefer those presents that build up mind, body and spirit, like the educational gifts found at or the fitness and other items found at our online store (the proceeds of which go to benefit our Kick Start program).

I want to challenge corporate management, private businesses, and the American public to keep the word ''Christmas'' in their displays and advertisements, rather than replacing it with any generic ''holiday'' language.

This is truly advice worthy of both Christmas and Chuck Norris. Among the products available to educate you and build your mind, body and spirit is a Christmas Tree Comma Baby Jesus auto magnet, and a erudite tome from Tom Tancredo on how the Mexicans are coming to steal your job and marry your daughter.

If we don't stop the decline of Christmas language now, imagine what the yuletide will be like in a few years: full of ''holiday'' trees, ''holiday'' gifts, ''holiday'' wreaths, ''holiday'' dinners, ''holiday'' music, and ''holiday'' church services. Come to think of it: we're almost there!

Zing! Yes, I think this is what it must be like to get your intellectual ass kicked by Chuck Norris. It's pretty much the same as getting your intellectual ass kicked by someone from National Review, except it has more of a "grandpa's letters to the editor" quality and less of a "I have more money than God, so do what I say" quality. Or maybe it's like getting your intellectual ass kicked by a surly duck. I know I'm feeling something, here, I just can't pin it down.

I can't do it. I have lost my will to live. I can't keep breathing oxygen in a world in which Chuck Freaking Norris takes time out from pretending to beat the crap out of make-believe car thieves and drug runners on the Hallmark Channel in order to lecture me about my Christmas shopping habits, and get preemptively pissed off that someone, somewhere, might accidentally blurt out the too-New-Year's-encompassing "Happy Holidays", thus necessitating a Very Jesus Asskicking.

You see, this is why I have lost all hope of ever being able to take "conservatism" seriously again. Listening to Newt Gingrich lecture anybody about marriage was the start. Hearing wingnuts everywhere bitch about Hollywood celebrities having the audacity to speak their mind, while simultaneously pondering whether or not to hurriedly change the Constitution of the United States in order to give Arnold "Give Me a Break, I Married A Kennedy" Schwarzenegger a shot at the presidency -- that was pushing the edge. And don't get me started on Saint Rudy, Bill Bennett, Pat Robertson, John Bolton, Rick Santorum, Mark Foley, Ted Haggard, or anyone who ever opined that we just needed a few more months in Iraq and then everything would turn around -- for sure, this time!

I suffered for a long time at the notion that one of the pillars of conservative "intellectual thought" was a guy whose most significant recent claim to the mantle was playing a Smart Guy on a Comedy Central game show. Hey, here's a question for you -- anyone have an idea for how to get us the hell out of Iraq after a neoconservative fiasco that has left hundreds of thousands of dead and no actual real-world plan for either occupation or exit? Bueller? Bueller?

But having Chuck Norris tell me how to celebrate the holiness of Christmas by buying cheap remaindered crap from a wingnut website while threatening all those that oppose him via stern e-mails -- that's pushing the envelope of what the higher spirits of this world should be willing to allow.

It's all a deadly game, I'm beginning to believe. They're trying to kill us, via the ongoing institutionalizing of dumbfuckery that would, in a just and holy world, be reason for institutionalizing someone, not presenting them with column inches to fill.

Oh, but there's a special November Christmas bonus to all this, because I'm on sale this week, and because the enemies of all that is light and airy and slightly cinnamonish with a little cream on the top and where did you get these place settings by-the-way do not take time off from wankery, not for the Holy Days of post-Thanksgiving low low prices or for anyone else, not in this kingdom or the next. No sooner am I lectured by Walker Texas Ranger on how Baby Jesus requires you to buy wingnut crap from then I find myself backed into sanity's ill-painted corner by one of the true stars of wingnut welfare, Ben Shapiro. Good ol' Ben, you see, has just gotten around to freaking out about what the rest of the wingnutosphere has been freaking out about for days -- Ay-Rabs. On Planes!

Would you let your child take this flight?

You are sitting in the concourse of an airport, preparing for your flight, when out of the corner of your eye you spot six Arab men praying loudly in Arabic.

"OK," you say to yourself, "that's a bit disquieting. But praying isn't terrorism."

You glance at your watch. It's time to board the plane. Sure enough, there's the boarding announcement. Suddenly, you hear the six Arab men chanting loudly. "Allah! Allah! Allah!"

And so on.

Now, anyone with the mental acuity of dolphin-safe canned tuna might notice the one thing these Arab bastards weren't accused of doing, in Ben's heart-palpitating tale of drama and Bourne Identity-style intrigue -- anything wrong. They prayed (as Muslims are required to do at multiple intervals throughout the day), sat down (not all in a group, because getting seats together as a group on an airplane requires some magical power over time and space that no airline employee this side of Thundarr, Lord of Booking has ever been able to master), and two asked for seatbelt extenders because, um... maybe they have fat asses, like 90% of the rest of America. Or maybe they were planning on using them to flagellate any apostates wanderering down the aisle, how the hell should I know?

No, the entire chickenhawk brigade has been peeing down their pantlegs in collective fear because of six guys being brown while praying. My God! Seatbelt extenders! They're the nunchucks of the airline safety equipment world! What new menace will threaten us next -- are we soon to be facing world jihad over insufficient legroom? And what about the SkyMall catalog -- did those Arab bastards buy anything, or does Chuck F-cking Norris have to deck their Satanic, Christmas-hating halls, seatbelt nunchucks or no seatbelt nunchucks?

I swear, I'm nine-tenths of the way to just getting on an airplane, taking my pants off, and strangling some guy with them. Not because I have any great urge to strangle people on airplanes, but simply because from then on, nobody will be allowed to wear pants on planes. And the chickenhawk brigade will paint visions of a glowing, safe, pantsless future, and everyone will feel a hell of a lot safer until I strangle the next poor bastard with the elastic from my underwear.

Ben, get your chickenshit, vapors-having, race-baiting, flag-waving, porn-"researching", pasty-white wingnut ass over to Iraq, so that one of the soldiers there can come home. If the threat to America is so great that we have to start rationing both praying and the seatbelt extenders, surely it's about time you put your cowardly ass on the line for one measly fun-filled tour in the land that wingnuts built. If, that is, you can manage to get there without freaking out and fragging the first brown officer you run across because you thought the shiny buttons on his uniform might be tiny mind-control devices or something.

Chuck -- get over it. I'm sure, at some point, some sorry bastard is going to wish you "Happy Holidays", and it's not because they hate Jesus or are working to undermine Christianity or are trying to goad you into swiftly crushing them with your muscular, National Retail Association-quoting "intellect." It's just a damn expression that everyone uses to mean "the holidays". You know, Christmas, New Year's, Sacrifice A Small Child For Satan Eve -- the whole panoply between December 24th and January 1. My very Christian family says it all the time, usually right alongside "Merry Christmas", and not once has any one of them suffered through the mental anguish of trying to decide whether or not they should be offended at themselves for treating themselves with such contempt for themselves. If this is the greatest threat to your well being, then truly you've reached a pinnacle of isolated self-absorption that even young Ben there would be hard-pressed to master. Hell, why don't you tell us what you'd do to them nasty Arabs, and give Ben the cushy humvee patrol through Santa's Strife-Torn Village for a while? I think that boy could use the candy cane break, he's cracking up from the strain of so many ethnic people taking scheduled business trips.

I'm always torn, on posts like this. On one hand, why the hell would anyone call attention to Farah's Faucet -- the true dregs of the right, the places we all go to laugh at? Of course they're idiots, they've been hand picked to be idiots. Hell, Ben over there was raised in a test tube from his larval state for the express purpose of someday blooming into full idiocy. He doesn't have the rich genetic legacy of a Jonah Goldberg, truly one of the heirloom varieties in the wingnut vegetable garden, but hell -- Ben could probably at least be a speechwriter for Tom Tancredo one day, if Duncan Hunter or Xenu don't get his ass under contract first.

But on the other hand, if they're going to wave Chuck Norris in my face like a Christmas ham, there's simply no way to ignore the awe-inspiring, Rapture-hastening craptacularness of something like that. It's like dressing up like a giant strip of beef jerky and jumping into the bear habitat at the local zoo -- you can hardly blame the bear for wanting a sweet piece of that action, can you?

So Merry Freakin' Wingnut Christmas to the lot of them. Now, are you folks going to buy something from that SkyMall catalog, or do you want Baby Jesus to die?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Gingrich: We must restrict free speech online to stop terrorists from destroying an American city

by John Aravosis

Go to Russia or Tehran if you hate freedom this much. I have had it with Republicans who hate America, who hate our freedoms, who hate what this country stands for, and who think that the only way to save our freedoms from the terrorists is for us to destroy those freedoms first. Honestly, how do these scaredy-cat, quaking-in-their-boots, America-haters even dare call themselves patriotic Americans? They are terrified of their own shadow, these Republicans.

Interestingly, and incredibly stupidly, Gingrich made this announcement at a freedom of speech dinner in New Hampshire. That's a bit like declaring that we all need to eat more veal at a PETA rally in San Francisco.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich yesterday said the country will be forced to reexamine freedom of speech to meet the threat of terrorism.

Gingrich, speaking at a Manchester awards banquet, said a "different set of rules" may be needed to reduce terrorists' ability to use the Internet and free speech to recruit and get out their message.

"We need to get ahead of the curve before we actually lose a city, which I think could happen in the next decade," said Gingrich, a Republican who helped engineer the GOP's takeover of Congress in 1994.
We already lost a city, Newt. It's called New Orleans. And it was your party, the Republicans, who lost it. You were more concerned about furthering some neo-con agenda abroad than actually protecting Americans at home.


The "Center" of What, Exactly?

by David Sirota

"If a lefty solution works, that's great," Kevin Drum writes today about proposals to fix our country's problems. "But sometimes it doesn't, and if a wonky centrist solution works better, then that's what we should rally around." I guess I agree with this in theory, but forgiving my annoyingly obsessive focus on the issue of "centrism" for a moment, ask yourself: what are all these people who worship "centrism" using as a reference point for the "center?" Put another way, sure, the center can be terrific, but it can also be horrible. It all depends on what you are aiming to be at the center OF.

That's really the problem with the term - and with Washington's definition of it. "Centrism" as defined in the political dialogue today means "being at in the middle of elite opinion in Washington, D.C." But if you plot this "center" on the continuum that is American public opinion, you will find that it is nowhere near the actual center of the country at large. The center of elite Washington opinion is ardently free trade, against national health care, opposed to market regulation, for continuing the Iraq War, and supportive of the flattest tax structure we've had in contemporary American history. That center is on the extreme fringe of the center of American public opinion, which is ardently skeptical of free trade, for universal health care, supportive of strong market regulations, insistent that the war end soon, and in favor of making the tax system more progressive.

This is not some conspiracy theory I'm putting forward here - it's all out in the open, proved by public opinion data readily available to anyone who looks for it (I wrote an article on this for the Nation with some of it a few years back). I've long hoped for a day when the media references to the "center" meant the center of the United States of America, not merely the center of K Street, the National Press Club Building, The Palm at Dupont Circle and Fox News's Capitol Hill studio green room. Perhaps that's too wishful.

So what to do? Well, for starters, when you hear anyone use the term "center" or "centrist" - whether it is me, Kevin Drum or some Washington blowhard - start getting yourself used to immediately asking: the center of what exactly? Because when you answer that question, you will really see where the purported believer in "centrism" is coming from.

Second, stay focused on the real center in your political work. For example, in my work with the Progressive States Network, we have developed a truly centrist agenda, in that it represents positions that are widely supported by most Americans. Now, I know that reporters and lobbyists will look at the Progressive States Network's agenda and say its "leftist" - but it is only to the left of THEM, not of the country.

Finally, as I point out in the lead editorial of the just-released edition of In These Times, we should embrace the Era of Populism, and stop focusing on trying to change the attitudes of those in Washington who have a direct interest in trying to preserve the status quo. We will never be able to convert those people, because their livlihoods depend on a pay-to-play to play politics that deliberately distorts the definition of "center" in order to justify an agenda that sells the rest of us out. With the rise of blogs, the netroots and the new people-powered media, we don't need the Old Media filter as much as we used to - we can speak directly to people.

Everyone knows where the center of America really is. As progressives, we must find the focus that lets us hone in on that center and ignore all the noisy misinformation that is designed to take our eye off the ball.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


Science Teachers’ Organization Refuses To Accept Copies of Inconvenient Truth

In tomorrow’s Washington Post, global warming activist Laurie David writes about her effort to donate 50,000 free DVD copies of An Inconvenient Truth (which she co-produced) to the National Science Teachers Association. The Association refused to accept the DVDs:

In their e-mail rejection, they expressed concern that other “special interests” might ask to distribute materials, too; they said they didn’t want to offer “political” endorsement of the film; and they saw “little, if any, benefit to NSTA or its members” in accepting the free DVDs. …

[T]here was one more curious argument in the e-mail: Accepting the DVDs, they wrote, would place “unnecessary risk upon the [NSTA] capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters.”

As it turns out, those supporters already include “special interests,” including Exxon-Mobil, Shell Oil, and the American Petroleum Institute, which have given millions in funding to the NSTA. And while the NSTA showed no interest in helping educators get copies of Al Gore’s movie (which scientists gave “five stars for accuracy“), it has distributed oil industry-funded “educational” content, like this video produced by the American Petroleum Institute

The first line of “Fuel-less”: “You’re absolutely not going to believe this, but almost everything I have that’s really cool comes from oil!” (Watch a video clip.) As Laurie David notes, an API memo leaked to the media in 1998 explains the motivation behind such videos: “Informing teachers/students about uncertainties in climate science will begin to erect barriers against further efforts to impose Kyoto-like measures in the future.”


The Last Man Standing

With the neocons in disarray, Elliott Abrams may be their best hope for keeping President Bush onboard.

By Michael Hirsh and Dan Ephron

Dec. 4, 2006 issue - It's been a rough season for neoconservatives, the group that has dominated U.S. foreign policy since the attacks of September 11. They've been largely run out of the Bush administration, beset by infighting, and mocked by a foreign-policy establishment that hailed their power just a few years ago. Last month was particularly brutal. They looked on helplessly as Democrats took both houses of Congress. They had to grit their teeth when President Bush met with Washington dealmakers James Baker and Lee Hamilton, whose bipartisan group is charged with extricating America from the mess the neocon-influenced policy created in Iraq. Then, insult to injury: they watched their cold-war nemesis in Central America circa 1986, Daniel Ortega, rise again to be president of Nicaragua.

The neocons are reeling, but they're not dead yet. A few stalwarts are digging in their wing-tips. And there's already a small backlash against the backlash. At the State Department, supposedly the bastion of realism, some officials are sounding defiant. "There are a lot of people throughout the ranks who believe in the democracy agenda," says one senior official who would only discuss policy issues anonymously. "If the result of the Baker report is that we have to make any deal necessary ... to get out of Iraq, I don't think that's going to fly." Their hopes, and the hopes of neocons everywhere, may rest on the shoulders of Elliott Abrams, the number-two official at the National Security Council—who remains in charge of promoting democracy in the Middle East, a linchpin of the neocon agenda.

Abrams, who declined an interview request from NEWSWEEK, has his work cut out for him. A Harvard-trained lawyer, Abrams handles the Middle East, though not Iraq. Earlier this year, Abrams pushed for an $85 million expansion of TV and radio programming beamed into Iran to gently promote regime change. Now, toppling the mullahs might be off the table. The same goes for the policy of pushing reforms on Arab allies like Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, who has kept a key opposition figure in jail for more than 11 months and scaled back rights. Michael Gerson, who served until recently as Bush's speechwriter (and who is now a NEWSWEEK contributor), says Abrams must be troubled by the swing. "People who support the democracy agenda are deeply concerned that Mubarak is significantly backtracking," Gerson says. And Abrams has to cope with the fallout of his push for Palestinian elections—the rise of Hamas, and the breakdown of the peace process. But Abrams has one powerful advantage. "Bush has enormous regard for him," says a senior administration official who would not speak about their relationship on the record. "One, because he knows Elliott is keeper of the flame. And also, he's the only one who doesn't draw any attention to himself." (Abrams has been somewhat press-shy ever since he admitted to withholding information from Congress about the Iran-contra affair two decades ago; he was later pardoned.)

The biggest dogfight is still ahead: whether to cut a deal with regimes like Iran, North Korea and Syria. Bush's approach has been to counter threats from oppressive regimes by trying to change them. Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and the punditocracy's best-known neocon, says it's hard to imagine the president turning his back on all that. "I think Bush is the last neocon in power," he says. "The truth is, it was always Bush."

Kristol acknowledges the neoconservatives are turn-ing on each other. Francis Fukuyama, the "End of History" sage, has broken with the neocons publicly and believes that they are discredited. Richard Perle, the former Pentagon adviser, now says he probably wouldn't have invaded Iraq at all (Perle refused to talk to NEWSWEEK). Kristol dismisses what he calls the "confessional mode" of his old friend Perle. But Kristol also believes the infighting is natural. "Every intellectual group, every political group, goes through a period of mini crackup and reassembles in slightly different ways," he told NEWSWEEK. "For a group that's discredited, an awful lot of people are spending an awful lot of time discrediting us." Kristol's allies are looking to Abrams to pick up the pieces.



U.S. Finds Iraq Insurgency Has Funds to Sustain Itself

BAGHDAD, Nov. 25 — The insurgency in Iraq is now self-sustaining financially, raising tens of millions of dollars a year from oil smuggling, kidnapping, counterfeiting, connivance by corrupt Islamic charities and other crimes that the Iraqi government and its American patrons have been largely unable to prevent, a classified United States government report has concluded.

The report, obtained by The New York Times, estimates that groups responsible for many insurgent and terrorist attacks are raising $70 million to $200 million a year from illegal activities. It says $25 million to $100 million of that comes from oil smuggling and other criminal activity involving the state-owned oil industry, aided by “corrupt and complicit” Iraqi officials.

As much as $36 million a year comes from ransoms paid for hundreds of kidnap victims, the report says. It estimates that unnamed foreign governments — previously identified by American officials as including France and Italy — paid $30 million in ransom last year.

A copy of the seven-page report was made available to The Times by American officials who said the findings could improve understanding of the challenges the United States faces in Iraq.

The report offers little hope that much can be done, at least soon, to choke off insurgent revenues. For one thing, it acknowledges how little the American authorities in Iraq know — three and a half years after the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein — about crucial aspects of insurgent operations. For another, it paints an almost despairing picture of the Iraqi government’s ability, or willingness, to take steps to tamp down the insurgency’s financing.

“If accurate,” the report says, its estimates indicate that these “sources of terrorist and insurgent finance within Iraq — independent of foreign sources — are currently sufficient to sustain the groups’ existence and operation.” To this, it adds what may be its most surprising conclusion: “In fact, if recent revenue and expense estimates are correct, terrorist and insurgent groups in Iraq may have surplus funds with which to support other terrorist organizations outside of Iraq.”

Some terrorism experts outside the government who were given an outline of the report by The Times criticized it as imprecise and speculative. Completed in June, the report was compiled by an interagency working group investigating the financing of militant groups in Iraq.

A Bush administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed the group’s existence. He said it was led by Juan Zarate, deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism, and was made up of about a dozen people, drawn from the C.I.A., the F.B.I., the Defense Intelligence Agency, the State Department, the Treasury Department and the United States Central Command.

The group’s estimate of the financing for the insurgency, even taking the higher figure of $200 million, underscores the David and Goliath nature of the war. American, Iraqi and other coalition forces are fighting an array of shadowy Sunni and Shiite groups that can draw on huge armories left over from Mr. Hussein’s days, and benefit from the willingness of many insurgents to fight with little or no pay. If the $200 million a year estimate is close to the mark, it amounts to less than what it costs the Pentagon, with an $8 billion monthly budget for Iraq, to sustain the American war effort here for a single day.

But other estimates suggest the sums involved could be far higher. The oil ministry in Baghdad, for example, estimated earlier this year that 10 percent to 30 percent of the $4 billion to $5 billion in fuel imported for public consumption in 2005 was smuggled back out of the country for resale. At that time, the finance minister estimated that close to half of all smuggling profits was going to insurgents. If true, that would be $200 million or more from fuel smuggling alone.

For Washington, the report’s most dismaying finding may be that the insurgency now survives off money generated from activities inside Iraq, and no longer depends on sums Mr. Hussein and his associates seized as his government collapsed. American officials said that as American troops entered Baghdad, Mr. Hussein’s oldest son, Qusay, took more than $1 billion in cash from the Central Bank of Iraq and stashed it in steel trunks aboard a flatbed truck. Large sums of cash were found in Mr. Hussein’s briefcase when he was captured in December 2003.

But the report says Mr. Hussein’s loyalists “are no longer a major source of funding for terrorist or insurgent groups in Iraq.” Part of the reason, the report says, is that an American-led international effort has frozen $3.6 billion in “former regime assets.” Another reason, it says, is that Mr. Hussein’s erstwhile loyalists, realizing that “it is increasingly obvious that a Baathist regime will not regain power in Iraq,” have turned increasingly to spending the money on their own living expenses. The trail to these assets “has grown cold,” the report adds.

The document says the pattern of insurgent financing changed after the first 18 months of the war, from the Hussein loyalists who financed it in 2003 to “foreign fighters and couriers” smuggling cash in bulk across Iraq’s porous borders in 2004, to the present reliance on a complex array of indigenous sources. “Currently, we assess that these groups garner most of their funding from petroleum-related criminal activity, kidnapping and other criminal pursuits within Iraq,” the report concludes.

One section of the report is dedicated to the role played by “sympathetic donors,” including Islamic charities and nongovernmental organizations. It says that “intelligence reporting” indicates that only 10 to 15 of the 4,000 nongovernmental groups support terrorist and insurgent groups, but that those few take advantage of lax Iraqi regulation to divert funds to insurgent and other armed groups and, in some cases, “to provide cover for insurgent recruitment and the transport of weapons and personnel.”

The possibility that Iraq-based terrorist groups could finance attacks outside Iraq appeared to echo Bush administration assertions that prevailing in the war here is essential to preventing Iraq from becoming a terrorist haven, as Afghanistan became under the Taliban. But that suggestion was one of several aspects of the report that drew criticism from Western terrorism and counterinsurgency experts working outside the government who were given the outline of the findings.

While noting that the report appeared to reflect a major effort by the administration to learn more about the murky world of insurgent financing in Iraq, the experts said the seven-page document appeared to be speculative, at least in its estimates of the funds available to the insurgent and terror groups. They noted the wide spread of the estimates, particularly the $70 million to $200 million figure for overall financing, the report’s failure to specify which groups the estimates covered and the absence of documentation of how authors had arrived at their estimates.

While such data may have been omitted to protect the group’s clandestine sources and methods — the document has a bold heading on the front page saying “secret” and a warning that it is not to be shared with foreign governments — several security and intelligence consultants said in telephone interviews that the vagueness of the estimates reflected how little American intelligence agencies knew about the opaque and complex world of Iraq’s militant groups.

“They’re just guessing,” said W. Patrick Lang, a former chief of Middle East intelligence at the Defense Intelligence Agency, who now runs a security and intelligence consultancy. “They really have no idea.” He added, “They’ve been very unsuccessful in penetrating these organizations.” He said he was equally skeptical about the report’s assertion that the insurgent and militant groups may have surpluses to finance terrorism outside Iraq. “That’s another guess,” he said.

“A judgment like that, coming from an N.S.C.-generated document,” he said, is not an analytical assessment as much as it is a political statement to support the administration’s contention that Iraq is a central front in the war on terrorism. “It’s a statement put in there to support a policy judgment,” he said.

Several analysts said that, except for the possibility that Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia might be transferring money to Qaeda factions elsewhere, the assertion that insurgent money might be flowing out of the country was doubtful considering the single-minded regional focus of most of the militants operating here.

Dr. Magnus Ranstorp of the Swedish National Defense College, an author of extensive studies of the Iraqi insurgency, said he doubted Iraqi groups were ready to finance terrorism outside the country. “There’s very little evidence that they’re preparing to export terrorism from Iraq to the West,” he said. “I think it’s much too early for that.”

The document tracing the money flows acknowledges that investigators have had limited success in penetrating or choking off terrorist financing networks. The report says American efforts to follow the financing trails have been hamstrung by several factors. They include a weak Iraqi government and its nascent intelligence agencies; a lack of communication between American agencies, and between the Americans and the Iraqis; and the nature of the insurgent economy itself, primarily sustained by couriers carrying cash rather than more easily traceable means involving banks and the hawala money transfer networks traditional in the Middle East.

“Efforts to identify key financial facilitators, funding sources and transfer mechanisms are yielding some results, but we need to improve our understanding of how terrorist and insurgent cells interact, how their financial networks vary from province to province or city to city and how they use their funds,” the report says. It also says the United States must help the Iraqi government “to excise corrupt officials from its law enforcement and security services and its ministries” and “to prevent smuggled Iraqi oil from being sold within their borders.”

Another challenge for the United States, the report says, was to persuade foreign governments to “stop paying ransoms.” It gives no details, but American officials have said previously that France paid a multimillion-dollar ransom for the release in December 2004 of two French reporters held hostage by an insurgent group. Italy, these officials have said, paid ransoms on at least two occasions, in September 2004 for the release of two women, both aid workers, and in March 2005, a reported $5 million for the release of Giuliana Sgrena, a journalist for the Rome newspaper Il Manifesto.

Several American security consultants, all former members of government intelligence agencies that deal with terrorism, said in interviews that the ineffectiveness of efforts to impede the revenues to the insurgents was reflected in the continuing, if not growing, strength of Iraq’s militants. “You have to look at what the insurgency is doing,” Mr. Lang said. “Are they hampered by a lack of funds? I see no evidence that they are.”

Jeffrey White, a defense fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, also a former Middle East analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency, agreed. “We’ve had some tactical successes where we’ve picked off a financier or whatever, but we haven’t been able to unravel a major component of the system,” he said. “I’ve never seen any indication that they’re strapped for cash, never seen any indication that they were short on weapons.”

He said the insurgency had demonstrated tremendous regenerative properties. “The networks fix themselves, they heal themselves,” he said. He pointed to the success of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia in withstanding the loss of hundreds of combatants and dozens of major leaders. “They keep coming back,” he said, “and I think the same thing has happened to the financial system.”

Reporting was contributed by Mark Mazzetti from Washington and James Glanz from Baghdad.


Hail to the chief

Dick Cheney's mission to expand -- or 'restore' --the powers of the presidency

ANN ARBOR, MICH. -- In July 1987, then-Representative Dick Cheney, the top Republican on the committee investigating the Iran-contra scandal, turned on his hearing room microphone and delivered, in his characteristically measured tone, a revolutionary claim.

President Reagan and his top aides, he asserted, were free to ignore a 1982 law at the center of the scandal. Known as the Boland Amendment, it banned US assistance to anti-Marxist militants in Nicaragua.

"I personally do not believe the Boland Amendment applied to the president, nor to his immediate staff," Cheney said.

Most of Cheney's colleagues did not share his vision of a presidency empowered to bypass US laws governing foreign policy. The committee issued a scathing, bipartisan report accusing White House officials of "disdain for the law."

Cheney refused to sign it. Instead, he commissioned his own report declaring that the real lawbreakers were his fellow lawmakers, because the Constitution "does not permit Congress to pass a law usurping Presidential power."

The Iran-contra scandal was not the first time the future vice president articulated a philosophy of unfettered executive power -- nor would it be the last. The Constitution empowers Congress to pass laws regulating the executive branch, but over the course of his career, Cheney came to believe that the modern world is too dangerous and complex for a president's hands to be tied. He embraced a belief that presidents have vast "inherent" powers, not spelled out in the Constitution, that allow them to defy Congress.

Cheney bypassed acts of Congress as defense secretary in the first Bush administration. And his office has been the driving force behind the current administration's hoarding of secrets, its efforts to impose greater political control over career officials, and its defiance of a law requiring the government to obtain warrants when wiretapping Americans. Cheney's staff has also been behind President Bush's record number of signing statements asserting his right to disregard laws.

A close look at key moments in Cheney's career -- from his political apprenticeship in the Nixon and Ford administrations to his decade in Congress and his tenure as secretary of defense under the first President Bush -- suggests that the newly empowered Democrats in Congress should not expect the White House to cooperate when they demand classified information or attempt to exert oversight in areas such as domestic surveillance or the treatment of terrorism suspects.

Peter Shane, an Ohio State University law professor, predicted that Cheney's long career of consistently pushing against restrictions on presidential power is likely to culminate in a series of uncompromising battles with Congress.

"Cheney has made this a matter of principle," Shane said. "For that reason, you are likely to hear the words 'executive privilege' over and over again during the next two years."

Cheney declined to comment for this article. But he has repeatedly said his agenda includes restoring the presidency to its fullest powers by rolling back "unwise" limits imposed by Congress after the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal.

"In 34 years, I have repeatedly seen an erosion of the powers and the ability of the president of the United States to do his job," Cheney said on ABC in January 2002. "I feel an pass on our offices in better shape than we found them to our successors."

Cheney's ideal of presidential power is the level of power the office briefly achieved in the late 1960s, the era of what historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. called the "imperial presidency."

Early in the Cold War, presidents began invoking national security to seize greater power from Congress. This concentration of authority peaked under President Richard Nixon, who famously asserted that "when the president does it, that means it's not illegal." But Watergate reawakened Congress, which passed new laws to regulate presidential power.

Cheney was a close observer of that era. He landed his first job in the federal government in 1969, when Donald Rumsfeld hired him as an assistant at the Office of Economic Opportunity. The antipoverty agency, set up by Congress during the Johnson administration, was unpopular among conservatives, and Rumsfeld's and Cheney's job was to help Nixon impose greater political control over the office.

A chief target was the agency's legal aid program, headed by Terry Lenzner. Now a private investigator, Lenzner said in a recent interview that the White House pressured him to fire lawyers who filed class-action lawsuits on behalf of the poor. But Lenzner said he could not fire them because of the way Congress had written the agency's statute.

"I was being told, 'You have to put a stop to this, you have to control these lawyers,'" Lenzner recalled. "But I said that 'If I do what you want me to do, it will violate the law.'"

The orders to fire lawyers, Lenzner said, came from other White House aides, not Rumsfeld or Cheney personally. Still, in November 1970, Rumsfeld summoned Lenzner to his office, and, with Cheney at his side, fired Lenzner because he was unwilling to follow orders.

In August 1974, Nixon resigned rather than face impeachment by Congress. The new president, Gerald Ford, asked Rumsfeld to be his White House chief of staff, and Rumsfeld again made Cheney his deputy. A year later, Rumsfeld became secretary of defense, and Cheney replaced him as Ford's top aide.

In his new role, Cheney was exposed to national security issues from the perspective of a White House that wanted to preserve secrets in the face of congressional demands for more openness. Soon after Rumsfeld and Cheney took on their new posts, Congress passed a bill to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act. The bill allowed judges to review classified documents to determine if they were being shielded for political purposes.

In October 1974, Ford vetoed the legislation, telling Congress that the bill "would violate constitutional principles." Congress, however, overrode his veto, and lawmakers soon threatened to impose further limits on presidential power.

In December 1974, The New York Times reported that the CIA had engaged in an illegal domestic spying program for two decades, tapping phones, opening mail, and breaking into homes of antiwar protesters. The article, by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, prompted a congressional uproar.

In a memo to Ford, obtained at the Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor, Mich., Cheney urged the swift creation of a presidential commission to investigate the CIA. Cheney wrote that doing so was "the best prospect for heading off congressional efforts to further encroach on the executive branch."

Ford created the commission, but Congress moved in anyway. A Senate committee chaired by Idaho Democrat Frank Church began demanding access to secret documents. But Cheney soon saw a chance to convince the public that investigating intelligence operations was dangerous and unwise.

In May 1975, Hersh wrote an article discussing how US submarines eavesdropped on the Soviet Union's undersea cables. Fearing that the article had damaged national security, Cheney pushed the idea of indicting the reporter using the 1917 Espionage Act.

Making an example out of Hersh, Cheney wrote, would "create an environment" that might intimidate both the press and Congress. "Can we take advantage of it to bolster our position on the Church Committee investigation? To point out the need for limits on the scope of the investigations?" Cheney wrote. The idea, however, was scrapped to avoid attracting the Soviets' attention to Hersh's article.

The next spring, after revelations that the National Security Agency had monitored the phone calls of American civil rights and antiwar activists, Congress drafted legislation to require warrants for domestic surveillance. Cheney's allies, including Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and then-CIA director George H.W. Bush, opposed such a bill as a derogation of presidential power. But Ford decided not to fight it.

Congress passed the warrant requirement as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 -- the same law that the Bush-Cheney administration later bypassed with its warrantless wiretapping program.

After Ford lost the 1976 presidential election to Jimmy Carter, Cheney returned to Wyoming and in 1978 won a seat in Congress, where he specialized in intelligence matters. During the Iran-contra hearings, Cheney failed to convince a majority of his colleagues that the Reagan administration was justified in ignoring the Boland Amendment, but he moved quickly to block new congressional encroachments on what he saw as a president's exclusive turf.

When the Senate passed a bill forcing presidents to notify Congress of all covert operations within 48 hours, Cheney led a successful fight to defeat the bill in the House. He argued that Congress was prone to leaks and had no authority to force the commander-in-chief to share information about covert operations.

"The 48-hour bill would 'get back' at President Reagan by tying the hands of all future presidents," Cheney wrote in a May 1988 Wall Street Journal column. "That approach will achieve nothing useful."

The next year, Cheney became defense secretary under President George H.W. Bush. In his new position, Cheney again pushed for an expansive view of presidential power -- most dramatically in late 1990, when Cheney urged Bush to launch the Gulf War without asking Congress for authorization.

For all major overseas wars from 1789 to 1950, presidents obeyed the constitutional provision giving Congress alone the power to declare war. But in Korea and Vietnam, Presidents Truman, Johnson, and Nixon defied this constraint. They asserted that the commander-in-chief had "inherent" power to take the country to war on his own.

Seeking to restore its constitutional role, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution in 1973, requiring presidents to consult Congress when sending troops into battle.

After Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Bush sent 500,000 US troops to Saudi Arabia. As they prepared to attack the Iraqi forces, Cheney told Bush that it was unnecessary and too risky to seek a vote in Congress.

"I was not enthusiastic about going to Congress for an additional grant of authority," Cheney recalled in a 1996 PBS "Frontline" documentary. "I was concerned that they might well vote 'no' and that would make life more difficult for us."

But Bush rejected Cheney's advice and asked Congress for a vote in support of the war. The resolution passed -- barely. Had Congress voted no, Cheney later said, he would have urged Bush to launch the Gulf War regardless.

"From a constitutional standpoint, we had all the authority we needed," Cheney said in the 1996 documentary. "If we'd lost the vote in Congress, I would certainly have recommended to the president that we go forward anyway."

As the Gulf War proceeded, Cheney fought with Congress on other fronts. After civilian Pentagon lawyers clashed with military attorneys over the handling of any bodies contaminated by biological weapons, Cheney asked Congress to change the law to place all military attorneys under the control of civilian political appointees. Congress rejected Cheney's proposal. But in March 1992, Cheney's deputy issued an administrative order defying the expressed will of Congress.

At the same time, Cheney was thwarting Congress by refusing to issue contracts for the V-22 Osprey, a plane that was plagued with technical problems. Cheney opposed the V-22 program, but Congress appropriated funds for it.

By refusing to issue contracts, Cheney revived a Nixon-era tactic of "impounding" funds -- refusing to spend money for programs that he didn't like. Congress had passed a law in 1974 to ban impoundment. Cheney, who later said he believes the anti-impoundment law unconstitutionally infringes on executive power, ignored it.

But Congress forced Cheney to back down in July 1992, when his top assistant, David Addington, was nominated to be the Pentagon's general counsel and came before a Senate confirmation hearing.

"How many ways are there around evading the will of Congress? How many different legal theories do you have?" Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, thundered at Cheney's aide.

"I do not have any, senator," said Addington. He was confirmed only after promising that the Pentagon would restore the military lawyers' independence and issue V-22 contracts as quickly as possible.

Cheney left government after Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992, but he returned as a deeply influential vice president eight years later. His aide Addington became a dominant member of the administration's legal team, and together, Cheney and Addington made the assertion of sweeping executive powers a hallmark of George W. Bush's presidency.

One of Cheney's first acts as vice president was to convene an energy policy task force, inviting energy company lobbyists to suggest a package of tax breaks and other incentives for their companies.

When Congress and watchdog groups requested his task force's records, Cheney successfully fought a court battle to keep them secret, arguing that presidents needed greater power to solicit candid advice. The decision gutted the Federal Advisory Committee Act, a 1972 law in which Congress tried to require such policymaking to be subject to public scrutiny.

After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, military lawyers objected to the administration's assertion that a president has the power to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects outside the restrictions of the Geneva Conventions. In response, the administration renewed Cheney's attempt to put military lawyers under the control of civilian appointees.

Citing a need for secrecy, the administration also erected new roadblocks to Freedom of Information Act requests, restricted access to historic presidential records, and threatened to prosecute journalists who published classified information using the 1917 anti-spying law -- the same idea Cheney toyed with in 1975.

In signing statements and legal memos, the administration, with Cheney and Addington as its driving force, has repeatedly used the war on terrorism to advance the idea that the president has vast "inherent" authority to bypass laws enacted by Congress. Even when Congress voted, a week after the 9/11 attacks, to authorize the use of military force against Al Qaeda, the administration quickly seized the moment to lay down its marker.

"[Congress cannot] place any limits on the president's determinations as to any terrorist threat, the amount of military force to be used in response, or the method, timing, and nature of the response," the Justice Department asserted in a September 2001 memo solicited by the White House. "These decisions, under our Constitution, are for the president alone to make."

The following year, the administration drew up secret legal opinions informing military and CIA interrogators that the president has the power to authorize them to violate laws banning torture.

"In order to respect the president's inherent constitutional authority to manage a military campaign against Al Qaeda and its allies, [the anti-torture law] must be construed as not applying to interrogations undertaken pursuant to his commander-in-chief authority," said an August 2002 memo, which was leaked to the media only after the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib came to light.

Then, in December 2005, The New York Times revealed that the administration was wiretapping Americans' international phone calls and e-mails without warrants, violating the 1978 surveillance law.

Three days later, Cheney sat down with reporters and laid out his belief "in a strong, robust executive authority." Bypassing the warrant law, he asserted, was "consistent with the constitutional authority of the president."

Cheney also indicated that he hopes to establish further precedents for the expansion of presidential authority. Listing other statutory constraints on presidential power, he said they "will be tested at some point." When Cheney was asked whether he believed that the pendulum of executive power had swung back far enough in the direction he desired, or whether it needed to swing back further, he demurred.

"I do think that to some extent now, we've been able to restore the legitimate authority of the presidency," he replied.

Charlie Savage is a reporter in the Globe's Washington bureau. E-mail

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