Monthly Archives: September 2008

State Control over the Economy, Part I: JPMorganChase & Washington Mutual

Attention today (Monday September 29, 2008) has been focused on the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., which made a “show vote” against “socialism” and government bailout of the financial industry.  Yet everyone over the age of 6 knows that today was just partisan showmanship, and that Congress will rescue the starving billionaires and “small timers” (i.e. mere millionaires) on Wall Street as surely as they will vote themselves a pay raise sometime in the next few years and create more exemptions for fraud or acts of oppression committed by government officials.  No one in the Republican leadership or the 94 Democrats who joined them in voting down the Republican President’s bill admitted that it is GEORGE W. BUSH’S America, the nightmare of corporate welfare and immunity for financial sleight of hand artists, largely envisioned by Daddy George H.W. and implemented by and under William Jefferson Clinton, which is collapsing.  Populism will blame Wall Street, but it was Bill Clinton’s repeal of the Glass-Steagal Act in 1999 and all the concommitant removal other “brakes” places on the rampage of international bankers on cocaine which has led to the current meltdown.  Why is it that we are amazed at the puppet theatre played out in Congress today?  The members on both sides of the aisle are actually clamouring for yet MORE government intervention because we have repeatedly voted for the worst of the worst of both Republicrat and Democan Parties over the past two decades.  The Republican leadership made it pretty clear that the ONLY reason Bill 3997 failed today was because Nancy Pelosi opened her mouth and said a few semi-rational and coherent things about the effects of deregulation and greed on the collapse of the most insane paper-money manufacturing scheme (securitized mortgages) in the history of the world.  But until SECURITIZED MORTGAGES ARE EITHER ABOLISHED or fully regulated like ALL OTHER SECURITIES in this country, the exponentially increasing risks will continue to pile up. 

As of the present moment, I think that insufficient attention has been played to the government’s intervention in the collapse of Washington Mutual.  Late Thursday night, an incredible thing happened: Washington Mutual made known to the government that it was on the verge of collapse, and OVERNIGHT the government brokered a takeover of Washington Mutual whereby 100% (or something very close) to the government insured deposits, loans, credit card accounts, and other “assets” of Washington Mutual were transferred to JPMorganChase while 100% (or something very close) of the corporate liabilities (i.e. equity shares and bonds, implying UNSECURED obligations of the bank) were declared WORTHLESS. $1.8 BILLION in financial manipulation OVERNIGHT. 

Where is the “wall of separation between government and the private sector these days?”  Since when, in a non-Communist, non-Fascistic economy, can the government in effect order a merger of two major businesses without shareholder consent or litigation of any kind?  This is called a “Command and Control” or “Fiat” economy.  Nothing of this level of dictatorial efficiency was ever achieved or implemented in Nazi Germany, the U.S.S.R., or anywhere else to the best of my knowledge.  The Kings of England up through William of Orange, Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Tse-Tung all had more constituencies with whom to contend and negotiate than the financial authorities who merged these two gigantic banks—which happen to be the greatest single offenders in the whole securitized “mortgage backed equity/collateral backed obligation” debacle.  The lack of discussion or any widespread dissemination of information regarding the details or the mechanisms of the Washington Mutual/JP Morgan Chase “overnight shotgun marriage” last week was just a prelude to the “show trial” in Congress today, where amateur actors tried to pretend that Congressional approval of the bailout is all but pro forma. 

The Great Leader GWB will, within a few days, achieve the complete reimbursement of his buddies in high finance if he has to do so by (hush-hush) executive orders—I have no doubt of that.  What I wonder is whether Ron Paul or anybody else on the House Floor was thinking how completely content-free the debate really was, and how pointless the show of posed opposition to the implementation of something close to pure communism in the financial sector.  IF the Federal government can, without comment, by mere announcement merge JPMorgan Chase and Washington Mutual OVERNIGHT in one week, there is really no meaningful limit to what the Government and and will do, given a week or two, with or without rubber-stamped congressional approval. 

So in short, to those of you who were in favor of the Bill 3997 bailout, I say, “be of good cheer, Big Brother will take care of you whether the Puppet Actors in Congress approve it outloud today, tomorrow or never.”  To those of you who think that Congress struck a blow for economic integrity and allowing the free markets to take care of their own greatest leaders’ failures, I would say: look at JPMorganChase and Washington Mutual merger that took place without application to the Antitrust Division of the DOJ, the Federal Commerce Commission, or anyone else, and tell me that it makes any difference what Congress does.  Look at all the dozen or so mergers of the past couple of weeks and tell me that there is a rule of law or free market economy at work here.  Where were the shareholder votes necessary to approve these mergers?  Where were the bids and white knights and marketplace speculation?  ALL of these things have been suppressed and coopted by the government to hide the failures of the corporate-communistic policies of the past 20 years.  Had the free market or even free discussion of these issues been allowed, all the truth about who is responsible for the present state of affairs, and who authorized the exemption of securitized mortgages from securities fraud regulation (and even private civil litigation complaints or demands concerning such securities fraud).  

Free Market Capitalism is dead.  Socialism is managed by and for the primary benefit of the operators and managers of the major financial corporations.  Even the small private shareholders in financial institutions can be wiped out NOT by the Market but by the Government, in a moment, in twinkling of an eye—but without any trumpets…..

Restoration of Religious Freedom to Churches? (news item)

Ban on Political Endorsements by Pastors Targeted


Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 8, 2008; Page A03

CHICAGO — Declaring that clergy have a constitutional right to endorse political candidates from their pulpits, the socially conservative Alliance Defense Fund is recruiting several dozen pastors to do just that on Sept. 28, in defiance of Internal Revenue Service rules.

The effort by the Arizona-based legal consortium is designed to trigger an IRS investigation that ADF lawyers would then challenge in federal court. The ultimate goal is to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out a 44-year-old ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship.

“For so long, there has been this cloud of intimidation over the church,” ADF attorney Erik Stanley said. “It is the job of the pastors of America to debate the proper role of church in society. It’s not for the government to mandate the role of church in society.”

Yet an opposing collection of Christian and Jewish clergy will petition the IRS today to stop the protest before it starts, calling the ADF’s “Pulpit Initiative” an assault on the rule of law and the separation of church and state.

Backed by three former top IRS officials, the group also wants the IRS to determine whether the nonprofit ADF is risking its own tax-exempt status by organizing an “inappropriate, unethical and illegal” series of political endorsements.

“As religious leaders, we have grave concerns about the ethical implications of soliciting and organizing churches to violate core principles of our society,” the clergy wrote in an advance copy of their claim obtained by The Washington Post.

The battle over the clergy’s privileges, rights and responsibilities in the political world is not new. Politicians of all stripes court the support — explicit or otherwise — of religious leaders. Allegations surface every political season of a preacher crossing the line.

What is different is the Alliance Defense Fund’s direct challenge to the rules that govern tax-exempt organizations. Rather than wait for the IRS to investigate an alleged violation, the organization intends to create dozens of violations and take the U.S. government to court on First Amendment grounds.

“We’re looking for churches that are serious-minded about this, churches that understand both the risks and the benefits,” Stanley said, referring to the chance that they could lose their coveted tax-exempt status or could set a precedent.

Stanley said three dozen church leaders from more than 20 states have agreed to deliver a political sermon, naming political names.

“The sermon will be an evaluation of conditions for office in light of scripture and doctrine. They will make a specific recommendation from the pulpit about how the congregation would vote,” he said.

“They could oppose a candidate. They could oppose both candidates. They could endorse a candidate. They could focus on a federal, state or local election.”

Such endorsements are prohibited by a 1964 amendment to the Internal Revenue Code (passed at the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the South) that says nonprofit, tax-exempt entities may not “participate in, or intervene in . . . any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office.”

In a Sept. 3 letter to two United Church of Christ pastors in Ohio who are organizing the challenge to the ADF, Stanley appealed to them, “as one Christian brother to another,” to abandon their criticism. He asserted a “constitutional right to speak freely from the pulpit” and said IRS rules “stifle religious expression.”

Former IRS lawyer Marcus S. Owens, however, opposes the ADF’s strategy and its legal reasoning. Working with the Ohio-based clergy, he contends that the Supreme Court would be unlikely to overturn appellate court rulings on the issue or a related precedent of its own.

Owens also criticizes ADF and its lawyers for “actively advising churches and pastors that they should violate the tax law and offering to explain how to do that. The tax system would be shut down if you allowed attorneys to counsel people on how to violate the tax law.”

Owens, a former director of the IRS office that regulates tax-exempt organizations, will ask the tax agency to investigate ADF lawyers for “this flagrant disregard of the ethical rules.” He is joined by former IRS commissioner Mortimer M. Caplin and Cono R. Namorato, who headed the office of professional responsibility at the IRS until 2006.

The two Ohio pastors, the Rev. Eric Williams and the Rev. Robert F. Molsberry, have called for hundreds of clergy to preach on Sept. 21 about the value of the separation of church and state.

Joe Conn, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, calls “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” a “stunt” that is part of an effort by the religious right to build a church network that will “put their candidates into office. It’s part of the overall game plan.”

“This is an extraordinarily reckless scheme that they are promoting,” Conn said. “The federal tax law is clear. Churches are charitable institutions that exist to do charitable things. That does not include politics. Political groups do politics.”

The Alliance Defense Fund is a legal consortium that considers itself the antithesis of the American Civil Liberties Union. It spends more than $20 million a year to underwrite legal battles and train lawyers to push the country in socially conservative directions.

Founded in 1994 by Christian conservatives including James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family and William R. Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, the ADF has challenged same-sex marriage initiatives, stem cell research and rules that limit the distance protesters must keep from abortion patients. It helped the Boy Scouts ban gay Scout leaders.

Defining its latest mission, the ADF declared that pastors have “too long feared” the loss of tax exemptions.

“We’re not encouraging any congregation to violate the law,” Stanley said. “What we’re encouraging them to do is exercise their constitutional right in the face of an unconstitutional law.”

Is the 1st Amendment Dead? Does anyone care? It’s more fun to think about John Edwards’ silly affair, or John McCain’s silly choice for Veep, or the Democrat’s silly notion that Barack Obama represents change, when he voted for FISA and Real ID and every other repressive measure on the books….

Sunday Aug. 31, 2008 11:46 EDT

Federal government involved in raids on protesters

(update below)

As the police attacks on protesters in Minnesota continue — see this video of the police swarming a bus transporting members of Earth Justice, seizing the bus and leaving the group members stranded on the side of the highway — it appears increasingly clear that it is the Federal Government that is directing this intimidation campaign. Minnesota Public Radio reported yesterday that “the searches were led by the Ramsey County Sheriff’s office. Deputies coordinated searches with the Minneapolis and St. Paul police departments and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

Today’s Star Tribune added that the raids were specifically “aided by informants planted in protest groups.” Back in May, Marcy Wheeler presciently noted that the Minneapolis Joint Terrorist Task Force — an inter-agency group of federal, state and local law enforcement led by the FBI — was actively recruiting Minneapolis residents to serve as plants, to infiltrate “vegan groups” and other left-wing activist groups and report back to the Task Force about what they were doing. There seems to be little doubt that it was this domestic spying by the Federal Government that led to the excessive and truly despicable home assaults by the police yesterday.

So here we have a massive assault led by Federal Government law enforcement agencies on left-wing dissidents and protesters who have committed no acts of violence or illegality whatsoever, preceded by months-long espionage efforts to track what they do. And as extraordinary as that conduct is, more extraordinary is the fact that they have received virtually no attention from the national media and little outcry from anyone. And it’s not difficult to see why. As the recent “overhaul” of the 30-year-old FISA law illustrated — preceded by the endless expansion of surveillance state powers, justified first by the War on Drugs and then the War on Terror — we’ve essentially decided that we want our Government to spy on us without limits. There is literally no police power that the state can exercise that will cause much protest from the political and media class and, therefore, from the citizenry.

Beyond that, there is a widespread sense that the targets of these raids deserve what they get, even if nothing they’ve done is remotely illegal. We love to proclaim how much we cherish our “freedoms” in the abstract, but we despise those who actually exercise them. The Constitution, right in the very First Amendment, protects free speech and free assembly precisely because those liberties are central to a healthy republic — but we’ve decided that anyone who would actually express truly dissident views or do anything other than sit meekly and quietly in their homes are dirty trouble-makers up to no good, and it’s therefore probably for the best if our Government keeps them in check, spies on them, even gets a little rough with them.

After all, if you don’t want the FBI spying on you, or the Police surrounding and then invading your home with rifles and seizing your computers, there’s a very simple solution: don’t protest the Government. Just sit quietly in your house and mind your own business. That way, the Government will have no reason to monitor what you say and feel the need to intimidate you by invading your home. Anyone who decides to protest — especially with something as unruly and disrespectful as an unauthorized street march — gets what they deserve.

Isn’t it that mentality which very clearly is the cause of virtually everyone turning away as these police raids escalate against citizens — including lawyers, journalists and activists — who have broken no laws and whose only crime is that they intend vocally to protest what the Government is doing? Add to that the fact that many good establishment liberals are embarrassed by leftist protesters of this sort and wish that they would remain invisible, and there arises a widespread consensus that these Government attacks are perfectly tolerable if not desirable.

During the Olympics just weeks ago, there was endless hand-wringing over the efforts by the Chinese Government to squelch dissent and incarcerate protesters. On August 21, The Washington Post fretted:

Six Americans detained by police this week could be held for 10 days, according to Chinese authorities, who appear to be intensifying their efforts to shut down any public demonstrations during the final days of the Olympic Games. . . .

Chinese Olympic officials announced last month that Beijing would set up zones where people could protest during the Games, as long as they had received permission. None of the 77 applications submitted was approved, however, and several other would-be protesters were stopped from even applying.

On August 2, The Post gravely warned:

Behind the gray walls and barbed wire of the prison here, eight Chinese farmers with a grievance against the government have been consigned to Olympic limbo.

Their indefinite detainment, relatives and neighbors said, is the price they are paying for stirring up trouble as China prepares to host the Beijing Games. Trouble, the Communist Party has made clear, will not be permitted.

Would The Washington Post ever use such dark and accusatory tones to describe what the U.S. Government does? Of course it wouldn’t. Yet how is our own Government’s behavior in Minnesota any different than what the Chinese did to its protesters during the Olympics (other than the fact that we actually have a Constitution that prohibits such behavior)? And where are all the self-righteous Freedom Crusaders in our nation’s establishment organs who were so flamboyantly criticizing the actions of a Government on the other side of the globe as our own Government engages in the same tyrannical, protest-squelching conduct with exactly the same motives?

Just review what happened yesterday and today. Homes of college-aid protesters were raided by rifle-wielding police forces. Journalists were forcibly detained at gun point. Lawyers on the scene to represent the detainees were handcuffed. Computers, laptops, journals, diaries, and political pamphlets were seized from people’s homes. And all of this occurred against U.S. citizens, without a single act of violence having taken place, and nothing more serious than traffic blockage even alleged by authorities to have been planned.

A man whose sister was one of those arrested at one of the raided houses in Minneapolis yesterday emailed me a photograph of her and her friend who was also arrested — Monica Bicking (r.) and Eryn Trimme — and he wrote this:

They are still in custody. I’ve been told that the police have 36 hours to charge her, and that 36 hours starts after the labor day holiday, so they only have to charge her sometime Wednesday. It seems unlikely that they’d do anything to expedite her or Eryn’s release.

They were then planning to actually board up her house for unspecified “code violations”, but apparently her neighbors were very vocal, and the police ended up agreeing not to do anything so long as the front door was fixed by 6pm (the front door they’d busted in).

Heres is the extraordinary blog item I linked to yesterday from Eileen Clancy, one of the founders of I-Witness Video — a NYC-based video collective which is in St. Paul to document the policing of the protests around this week’s Republican National Convention, just as they did at the 2004 GOP Convention in New York. Clancy wrote this as a plea for help, as the Police surrounded her house and (before they had a search warrant) told everyone inside that they’d be arrested if they exited the home:

This is Eileen Clancy . . . The house where I-Witness Video is staying in St. Paul has been surrounded by police. We have locked all the doors. We have been told that if we leave we will be detained. One of our people who was caught outside is being detained in handcuffs in front of the house. The police say that they are waiting to get a search warrant. More than a dozen police are wielding firearms, including one St. Paul officer with a long gun, which someone told me is an M-16.

We are suffering a preemptive video arrest. For those that don’t know, I-Witness Video was remarkably successful in exposing police misconduct and outright perjury by police during the 2004 RNC. Out of 1800 arrests, at least 400 were overturned based solely on video evidence which contradicted sworn statements which were fabricated by police officers. It seems that the house arrest we are now under and the possible threat of the seizure of our computers and video cameras is a result of the 2004 success.

We are asking the public to contact the office of St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman at 651-266-8510 to stop this house arrest, this gross intimidation by police officers, and the detention of media activists and reporters.

That sounds like what it was: a cry for help from a hostage. Hours later, the Police finally obtained a search warrant — for the wrong house, one adjacent to the house where they were being detained — and nonetheless broke in, pointing guns, forced them to lay on the floor and handcuffed everyone inside (and handcuffed a National Lawyers Guild attorney outside). They searched the house, arrested nobody, and then left.

Any rational person planning to protest the GOP Convention would, in light of this Government spying and these police raids, think twice — at least — about whether to do so. That is the point of the raids — to announce to citizens that they best stay in their homes and be good, quiet, meek, compliant people unless they want their homes to be invaded, their property seized, and have rifles pointed at them, too. The fact that this behavior is producing so little outcry only ensures, for obvious reasons, that it will continue in the future. We love our Surveillance State for keeping us safe and maintaining nice, quiet order.

UPDATE: A Professor at the University of Minnesota who lives in the neighborhood where one of the homes was raided yesterday sent photographs he took which rather conclusively demonstrate federal involvement in these raids:

And Feministing has the video — here — of the scene yesterday where journalists were detained, along with an interview with the homeowner whose house was raided.

— Glenn Greenwald

Saturday Aug. 30, 2008 12:44 EDT

Massive police raids on suspected protestors in Minneapolis

[updated below (with video) – Update II – Update III – Update IV]

Protesters here in Minneapolis have been targeted by a series of highly intimidating, sweeping police raids across the city, involving teams of 25-30 officers in riot gear, with semi-automatic weapons drawn, entering homes of those suspected of planning protests, handcuffing and forcing them to lay on the floor, while law enforcement officers searched the homes, seizing computers, journals, and political pamphlets. Last night, members of the St. Paul police department and the Ramsey County sheriff’s department handcuffed, photographed and detained dozens of people meeting at a public venue to plan a demonstration, charging them with no crime other than “fire code violations,” and early this morning, the Sheriff’s department sent teams of officers into at least four Minneapolis area homes where suspected protesters were staying.

Jane Hamsher and I were at two of those homes this morning — one which had just been raided and one which was in the process of being raided. Each of the raided houses is known by neighbors as a “hippie house,” where 5-10 college-aged individuals live in a communal setting, and everyone we spoke with said that there had never been any problems of any kind in those houses, that they were filled with “peaceful kids” who are politically active but entirely unthreatening and friendly. Posted below is the video of the scene, including various interviews, which convey a very clear sense of what is actually going on here.

In the house that had just been raided, those inside described how a team of roughly 25 officers had barged into their homes with masks and black swat gear, holding large semi-automatic rifles, and ordered them to lie on the floor, where they were handcuffed and ordered not to move. The officers refused to state why they were there and, until the very end, refused to show whether they had a search warrant. They were forced to remain on the floor for 45 minutes while the officers took away the laptops, computers, individual journals, and political materials kept in the house. One of the individuals renting the house, an 18-year-old woman, was extremely shaken as she and others described how the officers were deliberately making intimidating statements such as “Do you have Terminator ready?” as they lay on the floor in handcuffs. The 10 or so individuals in the house all said that though they found the experience very jarring, they still intended to protest against the GOP Convention, and several said that being subjected to raids of that sort made them more emboldened than ever to do so.

Several of those who were arrested are being represented by Bruce Nestor, the President of the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers’ Guild. Nestor said that last night’s raid involved a meeting of a group calling itself the “RNC Welcoming Committee”, and that this morning’s raids appeared to target members of “Food Not Bombs,” which he described as an anti-war, anti-authoritarian protest group. There was not a single act of violence or illegality that has taken place, Nestor said. Instead, the raids were purely anticipatory in nature, and clearly designed to frighten people contemplating taking part in any unauthorized protests.

Nestor indicated that only 2 or 3 of the 50 individuals who were handcuffed this morning at the 2 houses were actually arrested and charged with a crime, and the crime they were charged with is “conspiracy to commit riot.” Nestor, who has practiced law in Minnesota for many years, said that he had never before heard of that statute being used for anything, and that its parameters are so self-evidently vague, designed to allow pre-emeptive arrests of those who are peacefully protesting, that it is almost certainly unconstitutional, though because it had never been invoked (until now), its constitutionality had not been tested.

There is clearly an intent on the part of law enforcement authorities here to engage in extreme and highly intimidating raids against those who are planning to protest the Convention. The DNC in Denver was the site of several quite ugly incidents where law enforcement acted on behalf of Democratic Party officials and the corporate elite that funded the Convention to keep the media and protesters from doing anything remotely off-script. But the massive and plainly excessive preemptive police raids in Minnesota are of a different order altogether. Targeting people with automatic-weapons-carrying SWAT teams and mass raids in their homes, who are suspected of nothing more than planning dissident political protests at a political convention and who have engaged in no illegal activity whatsoever, is about as redolent of the worst tactics of a police state as can be imagined.

UPDATE: Here is the first of the videos, from the house that had just been raided:

Jane Hamsher has more here, and The Minnesota Independent has a report on another one of the raided houses, here.

UPDATE II: Here is the video we took from the second house as the raid was occurring. We were barred from entering but spoke with neighbors outside as well as with Bruce Nestor, the President of the Minnesota Lawyer’s Guild, regarding these raids:

Over at FDL, Lindsay Beyerstein spoke with the property owner whose house — the fourth one we now know of — was being raided while the raid was in progress, and Lindsay has details here (“About an hour and a half ago 20 to 30 heavily armed police officers surrounded the house. One of my roommates said ‘I want to see a warrant’ and she was immediately detained”). Meanwhile, Indy Media of Twin Cities — an association of independent journalists in the area — just told me that several of their journalists have been detained while trying to cover these raids. Their site, with ongoing updates, is here.

The Uptake also has several reports of the various raids, including video of the raid at the property whose owner Bernstein spoke with as the raid occurred. That video includes an interview with a lawyer from the National Lawyer’s Guild who was detained and put in handcufffs, explaining that the surrounded house is one where various journalists are staying. Additionally, a photojournalist with Democracy Now was detained at that house as well. So, both journalists and lawyers — in addition to protesters — have been detained and arrested even though not a single violent or criminal act has occurred.

UPDATE III: FDL has the transcript of part of my discussion about these raids with the National Lawyer Guild’s Minnesota President — here.

The Uptake has this amazing video interview with the Democracy Now producer who was detained today. As the DN producer explains, she was present at a meeting of a group called “I-Witness” — which videotaped police behavior at the 2004 GOP Convention in New York and helped get charges dismissed against hundreds of protesters who were arrested. The police surrounded the St. Paul house where they were meeting even though they had no warrant, told them that anyone who exited the house would be arrested, and then — even though they finally, after several hours, obtained a warrant only for the house next door — basically broke into the house, pointed weapons at everyone inside, handcuffed them, searched the house, and then left. Here is a blog post from one of the members of I-Witness asking for help during the time when they were forced to stay inside the house (see the second post — it reads like a note from a hostage crying out for help). This is truly repugnant, extreme police behavior designed to intimidate protesters, police critics and others, and it ought to infuriate anyone and everyone who cares about basic liberties.

UPDATE IV: More here, including on the Federal Government’s role in these raids.

— Glenn Greenwald

Thursday Aug. 28, 2008 10:35 EDT

What’s missing from the Democratic convention?

(updated below – Update II – Update III)

As one would expect them to be, virtually all of the prime-time speeches at the Democratic Convention have been — from a rhetorical perspective — very well-crafted and well-delivered. Bill Clinton’s speech, in particular, deserves all the plaudits it is receiving, both in terms of content and delivery. But as competent, well-executed and even dramatic as the Convention has been, at least as striking is what has been missing.

First, there is almost no mention of, let alone focus on, the sheer radicalism and extremism of the last eight years. During that time, our Government has systematically tortured people using sadistic techniques ordered by the White House; illegally and secretly spied on its own citizens; broken more laws than can be counted based on the twisted theory that the President has that power; asserted the authority to arrest and detain even U.S. citizens on U.S. soil and hold them for years without charges; abolished habeas corpus; created secret prisons in Eastern Europe and a black hole of lawlessness in Guantanamo; and explicitly abandoned and destroyed virtually every political value the U.S. has long claimed to embrace.

Other than a fleeting reference to such matters by John Kerry in a (surprisingly effective) speech which most networks did not broadcast, one would not know, listening to the Democratic Convention, that any of those things have happened. Even our unprovoked and indescribably destructive attack on Iraq, based on purely false pretenses, has received little attention. Those things simply don’t exist, even as part of the itemized laundry list of Democratic grievances about the Bush administration. The overriding impression one has is that the only things really wrong during the last eight years in this country are that gas prices are high and not everyone has health insurance. Those are obviously very significant problems, but they are garden-variety political issues which don’t begin to capture the extremism that has predominated in this country under GOP rule, and don’t remotely approach conveying the crises on numerous fronts the country faces.

It’s certainly true that the purpose of these Conventions are principally political, and it thus makes perfect sense that Democrats are choosing to focus on the issues they think will help win them the election. The desire that they do anything else is both unrealistic and misguided. During the television show known as the Convention, they should devote the bulk of their efforts to the concerns most voters have, and all polls demonstrate that those concerns are chiefly grounded in economic insecurity.

But even while acknowledging those realities, the Democrats, as a result of these omissions, are largely guilty of doing what they typically do: appearing listless and amorphous by standing for nothing other than safe and uncontroversial platitudes. The loudest reaction Bill Clinton provoked last night was when he proclaimed, in passing and without elaboration, that Obama is “ready to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” So much of the case against the Bush administration — much of what has fueled high-level Democratic energy to remove the GOP from power — has been driven by the GOP’s radical transformation of the core political values of the country, trampling on the Constitution and overtly embracing policies that are completely anathema to how Americans perceived of their country.

Republicans often use their Conventions as an opportunity not just to feed voters what they want to hear but to induce them to see the world the way the GOP wants them to see it. Even if it’s true that the voters who Democrats are targeting care little about these issues — and that’s a precarious assumption — the Convention is still an opportunity to persuade them why they should care and, at the very least, to fuel Democratic resolve to win and to demonstrate to non-core-Democratic voters that there are political values that Democrats actually “stand for.” They’ve done very little of that. The virtual nonexistence of these issues in the key Convention speeches, the failure even to take a stand on virtually any of it, seems to be as much of a political failure as it is a failure on the merits.

More politically damaging still is the absence of any truly stinging attacks on John McCain. Even Joe Biden’s speech — billed as the “attack dog” event — almost completely avoided any criticisms of McCain the Person, who will emerge from the four days here as a Wonderful, Honorable, Courageous Man — a friend to Democrats and Republicans alike — who just happens to be wrong on some issues. The Republicans will spend the next four days mercilessly ripping Barack Obama’s character to shreds, as they did to John Kerry in 2004. Just recall a few of the highly effective and deeply personal assaults on Kerry from the featured GOP speakers in 2004:

Rudy Guiliani:

* [Kerry] even, at one point, declared that himself as an antiwar candidate. And now he says he’s a pro-war candidate. At this rate, with 64 days left, he still has time to change his position four or five more times!

* Maybe — maybe this explains John Edwards’ need for two Americas: One — One — One — One where John Kerry can vote for something and another one where he can vote against exactly the same thing.

* Remember — Remember just a few months ago, John Kerry kind of leaked out that claim that certain foreign leaders who opposed our removal of Saddam Hussein prefer him. Well, to me that raises the risk that he might well accommodate his position to their viewpoint.

Dick Cheney:

* Even in this post-9/11 period, Senator Kerry doesn’t appear to understand how the world has changed. He talks about leading a “more sensitive war on terror,” as though Al Qaeda will be impressed with our softer side. He declared at the Democratic Convention that he will forcefully defend America — after we have been attacked. My fellow Americans, we have already been attacked, and faced with an enemy who seeks the deadliest of weapons to use against us, we cannot wait for the next attack.

*Senator Kerry denounces American action when other countries don’t approve — as if the whole object of our foreign policy were to please a few persistent critics. In fact, in the global war on terror, as in Afghanistan and Iraq, President Bush has brought many allies to our side. But as the President has made very clear, there is a difference between leading a coalition of many, and submitting to the objections of a few. George W. Bush will never seek a permission slip to defend the American people.

* Senator Kerry also takes a different view when it comes to supporting our military. Although he voted to authorize force against Saddam Hussein, he then decided he was opposed to the war, and voted against funding for our men and women in the field. He voted against body armor, ammunition, fuel, spare parts, armored vehicles, extra pay for hardship duty, and support for military families. Senator Kerry is campaigning for the position of commander in chief. Yet he does not seem to understand the first obligation of a commander in chief — and that is to support American troops in combat.

* On Iraq, Senator Kerry has disagreed with many of his fellow Democrats. But Senator Kerry’s liveliest disagreement is with himself. His back-and- forth reflects a habit of indecision, and sends a message of confusion. And it is all part of a pattern. He has, in the last several years, been for the No Child Left Behind Act — and against it. He has spoken in favor of the North American Free Trade Agreement — and against it. He is for the Patriot Act — and against it. Senator Kerry says he sees two Americas. It makes the whole thing mutual — America sees two John Kerrys.

Zell Miller:

* No one should dare to even think about being the Commander in Chief of this country if he doesn’t believe with all his heart that our soldiers are liberators abroad and defenders of freedom at home. But don’t waste your breath telling that to the leaders of my Party today. In their warped way of thinking America is the problem, not the solution. They don’t believe there’s any real danger in the world except that which America brings upon itself through our clumsy and misguided foreign policy.

* And no pair has been more wrong, more loudly, more often than the two Senators from Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy and John Kerry. Together, Kennedy/Kerry have opposed the very weapons systems that won the Cold War and that are now winning the war on terror. . . . This is — This is the man who wants to be the Commander in Chief of our U.S. Armed Forces?! U.S. forces armed with what — spitballs?!

* For more than twenty years, on every one of the great issues of freedom and security, John Kerry has been more wrong, more weak, and more wobbly than any other national figure. As a war protester, Kerry blamed our military. As a Senator, he voted to weaken our military. And nothing shows that more sadly and more clearly than his vote this year to deny protective armor for our troops in harms way, far-away.

George Bush:

* To be fair, there are some things my opponent is for. (Laughter.) He’s proposed more than two trillion dollars in new federal spending so far, and that’s a lot, even for a senator from Massachusetts. (Applause.) And to pay for that spending, he’s running on a platform of increasing taxes — and that’s the kind of promise a politician usually keeps. (Laughter.)

* My opponent recently announced that he is the conservative — the candidate of “conservative values,” which must have come as a surprise to a lot of his supporters. (Laughter.) There’s some problems with this claim. If you say the heart and soul of America is found in Hollywood, I’m afraid you’re not the candidate of conservative values. (Applause.) If you voted against the bipartisan Defense of Marriage Act, which President Clinton signed, you are not the candidate of conservative values. (Applause.) If you gave a speech, as my opponent did, calling the Reagan presidency eight years of “moral darkness,” then you may be a lot of things, but the candidate of conservative values is not one of them. (Applause.)

The GOP’s attacks on Kerry in 2004 were mocking, scornful, derisive, demonizing and deeply personal — in speech after speech — and they were also highly effective. They weren’t the slightest bit deterred by the fact that Kerry was a war hero who was wounded multiple times in Vietnam while George Bush and Dick Cheney. . . . weren’t. Has there been anything remotely approaching those attacks on McCain by any of the prime-time Democratic speakers?

The GOP assaults on Barack Obama will be — have already been — even more vicious and personalized, which means by the end of their Convention next week, John McCain will be, by all accounts, an honor-bound, principled and courageous patriot (who, at worst, is wrong on some issues), while Barack Obama will be some vaguely foreign, weak, appeasing, super-ambitious, exotic, empty-headed, borderline un-American liberal extremist. Democrats seem to be banking on the fact that the agreement which most Americans have with their policy positions, along with widespread dissatisfaction with the current state of things, will outweigh the effects of this personality war — a war which they, yet again, have allowed to be one-sided.

UPDATE: Rather presciently, Blue Texan made very similar points, in similar form, last Friday, before the convention even began.

UPDATE II: From the current article on CNN’s website (h/t Jim White):

Barack Obama will directly attack John McCain and George W. Bush in his speech accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, according to excerpts released by the campaign.

He will condemn the “failed presidency of George W. Bush” and criticize McCain on the environment and energy. . . .

Obama will seek to tie McCain to Bush, hammering home a theme the Democrats have been sounding throughout their convention in Denver.

“John McCain has voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time,” Obama will say.

“What does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush was right more than 90 percent of the time? I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready to take a 10 percent chance on change.”

We’ll see how sharp the attacks are and how effective they end up being. A partial transcript of the speech is here.

UPDATE III: Whatever else one might want to say about it — and, as speech-giving goes, I think it was superb — Obama’s speech was, by far, the most sharply critical of both Bush and McCain and was extremely effective in those criticisms.

— Glenn Greenwald

Tuesday Aug. 26, 2008 11:50 EDT

Warnings to Russia from Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham

(updated below)

John McCain’s two most loyal supporters and most influential foreign policy advisers, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham, have an Op-Ed in The Wall St. Journal today proclaiming that “Russia’s invasion of Georgia represents the most serious challenge to this political order since Slobodan Milosevic unleashed the demons of ethnic nationalism in the Balkans.” Just as their neoconservative comrade, Fred Hiatt, does in today’s Washington Post, Lieberman and Graham demand that the U.S. expend vast resources and assert itself both militarily and politically in order to thwart the New Russian Menace (“This means reinvigorating NATO as a military alliance, not just a political one . . . The credibility of Article Five of the NATO Charter — that an attack against one really can and will be treated as an attack against all — needs to be bolstered. . . .The Georgian military should be given the antiaircraft and antiarmor systems necessary to deter any renewed Russian aggression”).

The painful absurdity of hard-core warmongers who supported the invasion of Iraq (and, in Lieberman’s case, advocating we do the same to Iran and Syria) parading around as defenders of the “political order” is too self-evident, and by now too common, to merit much comment. But this warning from the neoconservative duo about the folly of imperialistic Russian policies is really a sight to behold:

In the long run, a Russia that tries to define its greatness in terms of spheres of influence, client states and forced fealty to Moscow will fail — impoverishing its citizens in the process. The question is only how long until Russia’s leaders rediscover this lesson from their own history.

To recap: the U.S. is going to impede Russian aggression, re-build and protect Georgia, revitalize the military strength of NATO, and restore peace and order to Europe. We’re going to stare down the Hitlers of Iran (also in the Post today, Lieberman comrade — the super-tough-guy and Iran obsessive Micheal Rubin — lashes out at Joe Biden for “blinking on Iran” and being “Tehran’s favorite senator”). We’re going to re-build, occupy and safeguard Iraq for decades if necessary. We will single-handedly promote Israel’s interests and view each of its enemies and its wars as our own. We’re also going to get much tougher on China, just like Russia:

A John McCain presidency would take to a more forceful approach to Russia and China, according to senior foreign policy advisers to the Republican candidate. . . .

Robert Kagan, who wrote much of the [foreign policy] speech delivered [by McCain] in Los Angeles, told the Daily Telegraph: “Russia will loom large for both Europe and the US, and John McCain has been ahead of the curve and has seen this coming down the road. . . .While continuing a “multi-faceted approach” to Beijing, [McCain foreign policy adviser Max] Boot said the US needs “to be forthright on their human rights abuses and not shrink from condemning what they are doing in Tibet for example, or from trying to help Chinese dissidents to stay out of jail”.

And we’re going to do all that while cutting taxes further. But remember: it’s Russia, bulging with cash from oil exports, that better realize — for their own good — that its efforts “to define its greatness in terms of spheres of influence, client states and forced fealty to Moscow will fail — impoverishing its citizens in the process.”

The foreign policy team exerting chief influence over John McCain is truly more extremist — in a purer and more deranged form — than the foreign policy team of the Bush administration. They’re not only the most extremist faction in American political life, but also the most delusional. These aren’t just the people who led the U.S. to war in Iraq — though they are that — but they’re also the ones who actually believe that the Bush administration has been far too meek in its assertion of U.S. military force and too passive in its interference in the affairs of other countries. They want to accelerate — massively intensify — virtually every one of the polices that has brought the U.S. to such disgrace and near ruination over the past eight years. There is nothing “moderate” or “centrist” about any of them. John McCain is the Candidate of Bill Kristol and Joe Lieberman and John Bolton for good and clear reasons (including in Georgia): he’s the best and most devoted instrument to advance their militaristic agenda.

Is there any real discussion of any of that? Hardly. Here’s the trite soap opera pablum and royal court intrigue which, instead, dominates our media’s campaign coverage:

Riveting. Being in Denver has meant that I’ve been in the proximity of the herds of establishment media figures for the first time, to actually hear what they say and how they conduct themselves off camera, and it’s all exactly the same. The only topics they’re capable of thinking about are the same ones they chatter about on the TV — is Obama Making a Mistake by speaking in the stadium because the heartland Americans (who they know and understand so well) will think he’s too big for his britches? What Must Hillary Do? How will Michelle Play in the Bowling Alleys? To say it’s bereft of substance is to understate the case dramatically.

Digby was on some “media vs. bloggers” panel yesterday with Newsweek‘s Jonathan Alter and the Post‘s Chris Cilizza and — after Alter ranted that bloggers, to cite Digby’s summary, “have a psychological condition called ‘disinhibition’ — like Alzheimers patients” (as contrasted with the extreme psychological health and balance displayed by Alter when he demanded, in an article excerpted at length by Digby, that the U.S. Government torture people) — this is what happened:

Ari Melber asked the pertinent question about how a reporter can possibly fail to call out illegal and immoral acts like wiretapping and torture for what they are, under some misguided definition of objectivity or neutrality. Cilizza answered the question honestly, admitting that they don’t do a good job of it.

When Cilizza said “they don’t do a good job of it,” what he was referring to was “reporting on and covering what the Government of the U.S. actually does.” If they don’t do that well, what do they do well? And Cilizza is right — they don’t do a “good job” of that because they don’t do it at all (along those lines, Jerry and Joe Long have a super-concise and appropriately acerbic post on just some of the media’s Convention behavior that is quite worth reading).

John McCain himself, and especially those who whisper foreign policy wisdom in his ear, have long had a lengthy list of New Enemies We Must Confront in the World — beyond those we’re already fighting. They not only want to add China, but now especially Russia, to that list, without the slightest concern for the severe degradation they have already imposed on the U.S. military and America’s economic security (but, Lieberman and Graham warn, Russia will go bankrupt if they have a 10-day border skirmish with a neighboring state). But infantile calls for Standing Tall in the Face of American Enemies and Not Blinking is still the definition of Seriousness in American political discourse, and the pure derangement and extremism that lies at the heart of this McCain foreign policy mentality will thus continue to go largely unexamined.

UPDATE: I’ll be the guest tonight for an online chat from 6:30-7:30 pm EST on the convention, hosted by The Art of the Possible. To register for the chat, you can go here, and the chat itself will be here.

— Glenn Greenwald

Monday Aug. 25, 2008 11:15 EDT

AT&T thanks the Blue Dog Democrats with a lavish party

(updated below (with video added) – Update II)

Last night in Denver, at the Mile High Station — next to Invesco Stadium, where Barack Obama will address a crowd of 30,000 people on Thursday night — AT&T threw a lavish, private party for Blue Dog House Democrats, virtually all of whom blindly support whatever legislation the telecom industry demands and who also, specifically, led the way this July in immunizing AT&T and other telecoms from the consequences for their illegal participation in the Bush administration’s warrantless spying program. Matt Stoller has one of the listings for the party here.

Armed with full-scale Convention press credentials issued by the DNC, I went — along with Firedoglake’s Jane Hamsher, John Amato, Stoller and others — in order to cover the event, interview the attendees, and videotape the festivities. There was a wall of private security deployed around the building, and after asking where the press entrance was, we were told by the security officials, after they consulted with event organizers, that the press was barred from the event, and that only those with invitations could enter — notwithstanding the fact that what was taking place in side was a meeting between one of the nation’s largest corporations and the numerous members of the most influential elected faction in Congress. As a result, we stood in front of the entrance and began videotaping and trying to interview the parade of Blue Dog Representatives, AT&T executives, assorted lobbyists and delegates who pulled up in rented limousines, chauffeured cars, and SUVs in order to find out who was attending and why AT&T would be throwing such a lavish party for the Blue Dog members of Congress.

Amazingly, not a single one of the 25-30 people we tried to interview would speak to us about who they were, how they got invited, what the party’s purpose was, why they were attending, etc. One attendee said he was with an “energy company,” and the other confessed she was affiliated with a “trade association,” but that was the full extent of their willingness to describe themselves or this event. It was as though they knew they’re part of a filthy and deeply corrupt process and were ashamed of — or at least eager to conceal — their involvement in it. After just a few minutes, the private security teams demanded that we leave, and when we refused and continued to stand in front trying to interview the reticent attendees, the Denver Police forced us to move further and further away until finally we were unable to approach any more of the arriving guests.

It was really the perfect symbol for how the Beltway political system functions — those who dictate the nation’s laws (the largest corporations and their lobbyists) cavorting in total secrecy with those who are elected to write those laws (members of Congress), while completely prohibiting the public from having any access to and knowledge of — let alone involvement in — what they are doing. And all of this was arranged by the corporation — AT&T — that is paying for a substantial part of the Democratic National Convention with millions upon millions of dollars, which just received an extraordinary gift of retroactive amnesty from the Congress controlled by that party, whose logo is splattered throughout the city wherever the DNC logo appears — virtually attached to it — all taking place next to the stadium where the Democratic presidential nominee, claiming he will cleanse the Beltway of corporate and lobbying influences, will accept the nomination on Thursday night.

The only other media which even attempted to cover the AT&T/Blue Dog event was Democracy Now — they were also barred from entering. I was on Democracy Now with Amy Goodman this morning to discuss what happened. They put together a 5-minute video montage, including our efforts to enter the event and interview the guests, which they broadcast before my segment. The video and my segment can be seen and/or heard here — it begins at the 1:00 mark. A transcript will be posted shortly.

Jane Hamsher also filmed some of what transpired, and Salon has created our own video of last night, including the efforts by the private security teams and Denver Police to prevent us from standing on public property to interview the arriving members of Congress and AT&T executives and lobbyists. That will be posted shortly. There’s nothing unusual about this event — other than that it was more forcibly private than most and just a tad more brazenly sleazy. The democracy-themed stagecraft inside the Convention is for public television consumption, but secret little events of this sort are why people are really here. Just as is true in Washington, this is where — and how and by whom — the business of our Government is conducted.

UPDATE: Here is the video from last night’s festivities, with our attempt to interview various attendees and interactions with the private security forces and Police — filmed by Jane Hamsher and edited by Salon‘s Caitlin Shamberg:

UPDATE II: The transcript for the Democracy Now segment I did this morning, preceded by the video they produced, is now here.

— Glenn Greenwald

Sunday Aug. 24, 2008 11:34 EDT

Joe Biden and the political establishment’s overriding goal

(updated below – Update II)

Writing in a New York Times blog yesterday, Clinton pollster Mark Penn hails the selection of Joe Biden as “a smart and successful choice” and says this:

From Al Gore on, the role of the vice president seems to have fundamentally changed. It used to be where the winner parked the loser or some other figure that he wanted to neutralize. Now, with the centralization of government power in the White House, the vice president has become essentially a Cabinet head. Indeed, the last two vice presidents have had real portfolios and responsibilities, second only to the president.

That we live in a country characterized by “the centralization of government power in the White House” — exactly what the Constitution was designed to prevent — is now so self-evident that it’s not even debated or contested any longer. A virtually omnipotent President is just an assumed fact of American political life, and the reason that there is such a fixation on the personality and “character” traits of the presidential candidates is because Our President is now, in essence, our Emperor, empowered unilaterally to do everything from attacking other countries to acting outside of and above the law. As Penn’s analysis illustrates, our political establishment isn’t bothered by that at all, but instead, just tacitly accepts it as the natural and desired state of things.

That, among many other things, is what makes David Ignatius’ column in The Washington Post this morning so unbelievably absurd that it’s hard to believe it’s not satire. Ignatius believes that one of the principal problems in American politics is that Democratic Congressional leaders are too partisan and belligerent and uncooperative, and have been so intent on waging war against George Bush and the GOP that they have prevented the country from getting anything done. Seriously, that’s what he — and much of the political establishment — actually thinks: that Congress has been too assertive and bellicose in flexing its power:

As the Democrats assemble in Denver, there’s an odd dissonance to the party. The star of the show is “Mr. Cool,” Barack Obama, the ultra-charismatic senator who landed on the national stage as if from outer space — seemingly untouched by the usual racial and political scars — promising a new era of bipartisanship and national healing.

But the supporting cast is a collection of red-hot politicians I’ve come to think of as the Get-Even Gang — led by the party’s congressional leaders, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. They made their names clawing and battling against Karl Rove’s Republicans, and they are partisan politicians to the bone.

The partisanship of the congressional leadership has been a virtue for Democrats, up to a point. By being as tough and unyielding as their GOP rivals, they won back control of Congress. But they haven’t done much with their majorities these past two years, beyond bashing President Bush. . . .

As an extra-credit assignment before this week’s convention, I’ve been reading the books recently published by congressional leaders. And I must say, these are not works that rank with the political novels of Anthony Trollope. The titles — Pelosi’s “Know Your Power” and Reid’s “The Good Fight” — sound almost pugilistic. They reveal the mind-set that has made these leaders such effective partisan brawlers. . . .

These old-fashioned Democrats don’t just oppose Republicans; they actively dislike them . . . . Pelosi and Reid rose to leadership positions during the hyper-partisan years of Republican control of Congress, and it shows. They are the people who refused to be Swift-boated, DeLay-ed or otherwise crushed by the Republican attack machine. They attacked back and were as vengeful as the Republicans. . . .It’s a virtue for Obama that he seems to be above the fray — so long as he shows the toughness and hands-on leadership to steer his party and the country out of what has been a dark, partisan period into something better and brighter.

Since Pelosi and Reid took over Congress, the Congress has funded the Iraq war without even a symbolic condition. It has rejected every proposal to limit war spending. It has enacted one right-wing proposal after the next, from warrantless surveillance and telecom immunity to declaring parts of the Iranian Government a “terrorist organization.” It passed a housing bill and “stimulus” package approved by the administration. It has done nothing to reverse the radical executive power theories and has done much to institutionalize them. If there is one predominant trait of the Congress over the past several years, it has been a willingness to grant every item on the the President’s wish list regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans are in control.

It’s literally hard to imagine how Congress could possibly be weaker and more pliant than they’ve been. If Congress became any more cooperative, Capitol Hill might just vanish altogether. Yet David Ignatius, the ultimate establishment pundit, thinks that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are vicious partisan fighters who are so intent on waging vindictive war on poor George Bush that the country has been unable to “get anything done” — such as saving the country from “the reality that Social Security is facing bankruptcy,” which, frets Ignatius, “seems not to interest either Pelosi or Reid” (the reality that the U.S. itself faces bankruptcy from the State of Permanent War which Ignatius and his establishment comrades envision for the U.S. seems not to interest Ignatius).

The most entrenched establishment spokespeople are cheering the selection of Joe Biden because, in their minds, that selection confirms the most important fact for them: that in this election, the prevailing orthodoxies of our political system won’t be meaningfully challenged. Chief Establishment Defender Fred Hiatt cheerfully announced today, also on the Editorial page of The Washington Post, that the Ways of Washington have been vindicated:

Mr. Biden may share Mr. Obama’s outlook, but with an idealism tempered by years in the trenches. Which points to Mr. Biden’s second advantage: experience. Mr. Obama’s willingness to reach out to the kind of seasoned insider that he has, at times, derided suggests a heartening recognition that time in Washington can be useful.

David Brooks wrote earlier in the week that he hoped Obama chose Biden because it would advance what Brooks conceives of as “the good of the country.” The political establishment’s overriding preoccupation is that nothing meaningful should change how the political system works, that both parties should continue to embrace the central orthodoxies. The primary concern of Brooks, in particular, is that American “not hav[e] a strategic debate about retracting American power and influence. . . This is not a country looking to avoid entangling alliances. This is not a country renouncing the threat of force. This is not a country looking to come home again.”

Whether rightly or wrongly, Biden is approved of and deemed to have Seriousness credentials by the political establishment because they perceive that he affirms those central precepts and they see his selection as a sign that Obama will, too. And there is much to suggest that that perception — at least as it applies to Biden — is correct. In an October, 2001 New Republic article, Michael Crowley recounted that Biden was continuously boasting that the terrorism bill sent to Congress by John Ashcroft (soon to be called The Patriot Act) was a replica of legislation that Biden had long advocated — ever since the Oklahoma City courthouse bombing:

Unexpectedly, a call comes in from Attorney General John Ashcroft. Biden picks up the phone and greets Ashcroft like an old Elks lodge buddy. “Hey John, Joe. Howyadoin’ pal? What’s the sticking points, and tell me if I can be helpful.” All day, reporters had been buzzing that Ashcroft wanted to cut a deal with a Democrat, perhaps Biden, to circumvent the stubborn Judiciary Committee chairman, Pat Leahy. . . .

Rather than build up the credentials of a party deeply mistrusted by the public on foreign affairs, Biden often seems more interested in advertising his own accomplishments. In the wake of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, Biden did, in fact, champion an anti-terrorism bill similar to the one now before Congress (though it was, as he complains, badly watered down by anti-government conservatives and leftist civil libertarians). And Biden doesn’t let you forget it. “I introduced the terrorism bill in ’94 that had a lot of these things in it,” he bragged to NBC’s Tim Russert on September 30. When I spent the day with him later that week, Biden mentioned the legislation to me, and to several other reporters he encountered, no fewer than seven times. “When I was chairman in ’94 I introduced a major antiterrorism bill–back then,” he says in the morning, flashing a knowing grin and pausing for effect. (Never mind that he’s gotten the year wrong.) Back in his office later that afternoon, he brings it up yet again. “I drafted a terrorism bill after the Oklahoma City bombing. And the bill John Ashcroft sent up was my bill.”

Numerous articles are hailing Biden’s steadfast “pro-Israel” record and praising him as a great liberal “internationalist” — someone who believes in the wisdom and justifiability of U.S. military interventions in a wide array of situations. Last night, I spoke with Denver criminal defense attorney and Talk Left blogger Jeralyn Merritt, who said that Biden has long been the leading advocate of the harshest and most aggressive drug criminalization laws and general “anti-crime” measures (see this 2002 Glenn Reynolds article on Biden’s “anti-RAVE” legislation as an example).

Ever since it became clear that Obama would be the likely nominee, the political establishment has been demanding of him more and more proof that his “change” rhetoric is just that — rhetoric, and not anything meant as a genuine threat to the prevailing order of things. Obama, arguably out of political necessity, has repeatedly obliged, eagerly trying to offer proof that he is no threat to them, and the Biden selection is but the latest step in that campaign of reassurance. In sum, Biden is a reliable supporter of virtually every prevailing bit of conventional wisdom within the American elite political consensus, which is why his selection has been widely praised by the establishment, whose principal concern is that their fiefdom not be disrupted and that their consensus not be challenged.

None of this is to say that Biden is a bad pick. Given the other likely choices that had been bandied about, there were far worse possibilities, and few better ones. It’s much more difficult to predict the political effect of these sorts of things than the always-omniscient political pundits like to pretend, but there are certainly many good reasons for thinking that the choice of Biden is politically shrewd. It’s anyone’s guess if that will turn out to be true. And on the merits, Biden’s opposition to the First Gulf War suggests he’s far from the extreme in foreign policy; as Reason‘s Dave Weigel points out, Biden, even with the numerous times he has supported deploying the U.S. military, doesn’t come close to the McCain/Lieberman/Kristol bloodlust for Endless War. Biden’s opposition to the series of horrible FISA bills, including the last one supported by Obama in July, demonstrates much the same thing.

What is most significant here is that for all the talk about how radical and horrible the Bush presidency has been, for all the hand-wringing over how deeply dissatisfied the citizenry is with our political institutions and direction of the country, what establishment figures like David Ignatius, Fred Hiatt and David Brooks crave most is to ensure that nothing really change. To them, what is most vital is that everything continue more or less as is, and that in particular, we continue to be a country ruled by “the centralization of government power in the White House,” in which even the meekest and most ineffectual of Congressional leaders — Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi — are attacked for being too “partisan,” disruptive and belligerent.

Congress was, in theory, the instrument for the citizenry to exert influence over the Government — to enable citizens to decide when and if we went to war, how we conducted ourselves in the world, what power political leaders would have over citizens, what limits would constrain them. That’s why the political establishment wants to reduce and neuter Congressional power as much as possible.

What the David Ignatiuses and Fred Hiatts of the world fear most is any meaningful influence on the part of the citizenry over the levers of Government (as the Post‘s Shailagh Murray said in explaining why the Government should ignore public opposition to the Iraq War: “Would you want a department store manager or orthodontist running the Pentagon? I don’t think so”). Preserving “the centralization of government power in the White House” is the best and most effective means devised thus far for allowing the political elite to run the country without interference from the dirty, stupid masses, and though the establishment generally believes (accurately) that Republicans serve those ends more effectively, what they care about most is obtaining a bipartisan commitment to continuing that state of affairs. They’re fine with rhetoric bashing the Bush administration — now that it’s almost over. What they oppose most vociferously is any effort to change the framework that enabled it.

UPDATE: Andrew Bacevich in The Los Angeles Times today:

Will the next president actually bring about Big Change? Don’t get your hopes up. . . .The very structure of American politics imposes its own constraints. For all the clout that presidents have accrued since World War II, their prerogatives remain limited. A President McCain will almost certainly face a Congress controlled by a Democratic and therefore obstreperous majority. A President Obama, even if his own party runs the Senate and House, won’t enjoy all that much more latitude, especially when it comes to three areas in which the dead hand of the past weighs most heavily: defense policy, energy policy and the Arab-Israeli peace process. The military-industrial complex will inhibit efforts to curb the Pentagon’s penchant for waste. Detroit and Big Oil will conspire to prolong the age of gas guzzling. And the Israel lobby will oppose attempts to chart a new course in the Middle East. If the past provides any indication, advocates of the status quo will mount a tenacious defense.

People like Fred Hiatt, David Ignatius and David Brooks are merely the spokespeople for these “advocates of the status quo” — those whose principal objective is to keep everything essentially the way it is, no matter which party wins, even as Americans become more and more deeply dissatisfied with their political institutions.

UPDATE II: Fox News tries to create some trite, inane, melodramatic storyline to feed their mindless viewers — “The Angry Radical Far Left is in Denver!” — and the “reporter” they sent, Griff Jenkins, receives a less than respectful welcome:

— Glenn Greenwald

Friday Aug. 22, 2008 07:22 EDT

Salon Radio: Amrit Singh of ACLU and Dennis Perrin

(updated below)

I’m traveling to Denver later today and so posting may be erratic over the next 24 hours or so. As a result, I have two guests today on Salon Radio:

(1) Attorney Amrit Singh of the ACLU (and, incidentally, the daughter of India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh) — Singh, an expert in torture and FOIA proceedings, among other things, is working on a proceeding in a New York federal court, before Judge Alvin Hellerstein, seeking to hold the CIA in contempt of court for its 2005 destruction of videotapes they made of at least two interrogations of suspected Al Qaeda terrorists, despite the fact that (a) there were multiple legal proceedings and investigations to which those videotapes were relevant; and (b) Judge Hellerstein had ordered the CIA back in 2003 to identify to the ACLU any such evidence they possessed.

There are so many instances of extreme criminality on the part of the Bush administration that one tends to forget about even clear-cut crimes such as the CIA‘s destruction of these videos. The NYT‘s Mark Mazzetti first reported this story here, and I wrote about the likelihood that the destruction constituted obstruction of justice, and that top-level White House officials were involved, here. Singh details several developments that suggest that Judge Hellerstein is finally about to compel the CIA to disclose what happened here, as well as the impact this case may have on Bush officials.

A copy of the Order which Judge Hellerstein issued after my interview with Singh can be seen here (.pdf). The interview is roughly 15 minutes and the transcript is here.

(2) Blogger and comedy writer Dennis Perrin, who has written a book critiquing the Democratic Party’s support for war and militarism, entitled Savage Mules: The Democrats and Endless War. Dennis supported Ralph Nader in 2000, but worked for Kerry-Edwards in 2004, and I discuss (and debate) with him the reasons why, notwithstanding one’s dissatisfaction with Democrats, it is important that Barack Obama win in 2008, and we also debate the best ways for addressing the flaws that are now fundamental to both parties (during my lost interview with Noam Chomsky, Chomsky stressed that, in light of how radical and war-loving McCain is, even he viewed it as essential that Obama win). My discussion with Perrin is roughly 30 minutes and a transcript will be posted shortly.

Several aspects of the podcast system have now been improved and the sound quality is substantially better. I’ll have the opportunity in Denver this week to finalize the system so that, from this point forward, the recordings will be the highest quality. To hear the Singh interview, click PLAY on the first recorder below. To hear the Perrin interview, click PLAY on the second recorder below.

UPDATE: The transcript for the Perrin interview is here.

Amrit Singh

Dennis Perrin

— Glenn Greenwald


Previously in Glenn Greenwald’s Blog

Journalists and their good friends in the White House

The wall between the government and the establishment media barely even exists in theory any longer.

Wednesday, Aug 20, 2008 15:01 EDT

Rice: Military power is “not the way to deal in the 21st century”

Bush’s secretary of state sermonizes against the use of military force as a means of delivering a message.

Tuesday, Aug 19, 2008 17:36 EDT

Doubts over the anthrax case intensify — except among much of the media

While most independent observers express increasing skepticism over the FBI’s case against Bruce Ivins, the establishment media uncritically amplifies those claims

Monday, Aug 18, 2008 15:04 EDT