Tag Archives: Below The Beltway

I Did Not Know That Mediaite Was Glenn Beck’s Favorite Website… Thank You, National Enquirer!

The National Enquirer:

UPDATED: Reports out of Washington, DC:  PRESIDENT OBAMA in a shocking cheating scandal after being caught in a Washington, DC Hotel with a former campaign aide.

A confidential investigation has learned that Obama first became close to gorgeous 35 year-old VERA BAKER in 2004 when she worked tirelessly to get him elected to the US Senate, raising millions in campaign contributions.

While Baker has insisted in the past that “nothing happened” between them, reports reveal that top anti-Obama operatives are offering more than $1 million to witnesses to reveal what they know about the alleged hush-hush affair.

Among those being offered money is a limo driver who says in 2004 that he took Vera to a secret hotel rendezvous in where Obama was staying.

An ENQUIRER reporter has confirmed the limo driver’s account of the secret 2004 rendezvous.

The Jawa Report:

This is Vera Baker, a fundraiser for Barack Obama and also his (gasp) alleged mistress.

Vera-Baker-276x368.jpg

I was just going to ask, “Is she hot?”. But then the Enquirer ran with it

PRESIDENT OBAMA has been caught in a shocking cheating scandal after being caught in a Washington, DC Hotel with a former campaign aide, sources say. And now, a hush-hush security video that shows everything could topple both Obama’s presidency and marriage to Michelle!

So…

A. Is she hot?
B. Ya think Obi-One hit dat?
C. Anyone have any more pics of the Presidential Cupcake? Like in a bikini?

Carol Platt Liebau at Townhall:

Were it not for the paper’s accuracy in reporting on John Edwards, one would simply laugh at the story.  From what I’ve ever known of Barack Obama, he never struck me as the philandering type.  That’s just not where his passions seemed to lie.

Then again, the arrogance of power can, no doubt, encourage people to feel as though the rules simply don’t apply to them — and few could deny that Obama has a fair share of self-regard.  What’s more, people can change (or their real character can fully emerge).  The Barack Obama I knew at law school was a big liberal, but he didn’t seem to enjoy attacking his adversaries, and he still had a sense of humor.  But that’s before he had anything to lose — or any significant opposition.

It will be interesting to see how this story unfolds.  I’d be afraid to be the one to have to confess to his wife, wouldn’t you?

Frances Martel at Mediaite:

The Enquirer is also promising hotel surveillance footage that could prove that Obama and Baker entered and left the hotel at the same time. “Investigators are attempting to obtain a tape from the hotel (that) shows Vera and Barack together… If the tape surfaces, it will explode the scandal.” The Enquirer does not specify the dates of the surveillance footage, which could mean they are merely touting a 6-year-old affair the Obamas and everyone around them have moved beyond it, but they could also be breaking something new. Or they are totally wrong or taking some bit of information completely out of context, which would hardly be shocking.

So that’s the kicker– whether the video evidence truly exists, and how old it really is. Yes, the fact that it is the National Enquirer reporting it makes the matter highly questionable, especially in light of their previous attempt at launching an Obama sex scandal. However, the last time the Enquirer broke a high-profile political sex scandal, many in the media were upset it didn’t win a Pulitzer Prize, which makes their claim at least worth reading over. Plus, the claim is simply too damaging for the publicity rewards to outweigh the risk of publishing such a falsehood– this isn’t exactly an Anderson Cooper adoption story– especially after the tabloid worked so hard to establish credibility over the past couple of years on this precise type of case. Somewhat adding to its credibility significance and impact is the fact that the Drudge Report, whose success is directly attributed to breaking the Monica Lewinsky story in 1998, felt confident enough in its accuracy to give it prime real estate on the site.

As Rod Blagojevich would say, let’s not jump to conclusions until we’ve had a chance to review all the tapes– after all, without them, this wouldn’t be any more credible than the latest Brangelina rumor (which, if you’re interested, is that the twins have Down Syndrome). That said, a story of this category is no longer the joke it once was in the post-Rielle Hunter world, and if this is something more than a publicity campaign on behalf of the tabloid, could prove to be problematic.

Doug Mataconis at Below The Beltway:

And if the tape doesn’t exist, it will be like the supposed Michelle Obama “whitey” tape which turned out to be a hell of a lot of ado about absolutely nothing.

The other thing to note is that this isn’t an new story at all. The London Daily Mail ran with it before the 2008 election, and had a much more skeptical look at it than the Enquirer:

Barack Obama is the target of a shadowy smear campaign designed to derail his bid for the US Presidency by falsely claiming he had a close friendship with an attractive African-American female employee.

The whispers focus on a young woman who in 2004 was hired to work on his team for his bid to become a senator.

The woman was purportedly sidelined from her duties after Senator Obama’s wife, Michelle, became convinced that he had developed a personal friendship with her.

The allegations were initially circulated in August, just two weeks before the convention at which Obama finally beat his opponent for the Democratic Party nomination, Hillary Clinton.

The woman, now 33, vigorously denies the vicious and unsubstantiated gossip.

And some Washington insiders suggested that she was the victim of an 11th-hour attempt to smear Obama by die-hard Hillary supporters.

But now the rumours have resurfaced, suggesting that they may be coming from elements in the Republican Party.

According to sources interviewed by The Mail on Sunday, the respected Los Angeles Times, the tabloid National Enquirer and the huge ABC television network have been provided with the woman’s name.

In the most commonly-purveyed version of the rumour, she was ‘exiled’ to a Caribbean island because Michelle Obama objected to her job on the 2004 campaign.

To say the least then, this story deserves to be looked at with a jaundiced eye, notwithstanding the fact that the Enqurier has, in the past, been accurate about these types of stories.

Adrian Chen at Gawker:

Every couple years, the rumor surface that Barack Obama had an affair with his hot campaign worker Vera Baker. It happened again—this time in the pages of the National Enquirer. Which is always right about politicians’ sex scandals.

In 2008, the Daily Mail re-visited the old chestnut that Obama got it on with 35 year-old Baker back in 2004 when she was helping him campaign for the Senate. Of course, the Daily Mail is a paper famous for falsely claiming that everything causes cancer and it is British so we cannot trust them because, remember the Revolutionary War?

But now the National Enquirer says the same thing. And they claim an anonymous limo driver can vouch for the fact that Obama and Vera Baker spent a sexxxy night together in a DC hotel in 2004. Here’s how we know it’s true:

  • The National Enquirer broke the John Edwards sex scandal, but the mainstream media ignored it. Since the National Enquirer was right about John Edwards it has to be right about Obama. Why would the National Enquirer risk its reputation of being mostly made-up, but once in a while being right about something?
  • The National Enquirer currently is reporting that Tiger Woods slept with 121 women. If they were able to get information about 121 women who slept Tiger Woods, surely they could get information about one woman who slept with Barack Obama.
  • The Enquirer reports that “anti-Obama operatives are offering more than $1 million to witnesses to reveal what they know” about the affair. WHY WOULD ANYONE OFFER THAT MUCH MONEY IF IT WASN’T TRUE?
  • Limo drivers are among the most trust-worthy people. This limo driver is so trustworthy that it took him six years of introspection before breaking his client’s trust by dishing to the Enquirer; and he only broke that trust to fulfill the greater duty of exposing to the American people that Obama had an affair. Six years! Dude is super trustworthy. And he’s humble, too, since he chose to remain anonymous rather than exploit the situation.
  • The story is currently the top story on Mediaite, home to the POWER GRID. Mediaite is Glenn Beck’s favorite website. Glenn Beck is always right; so is Mediaite.

Colby Hall at Mediaite:

Late last night the notorious tabloid the National Enquirer broke a story claiming that President Barack Obama was caught having an affair with a former campaign staffer. Despite the story being very thinly sourced, various Internet media outlets picked up the story, including Mediaite, raising questions about even repeating stories that have not been properly reported.

Almost immediately we received harsh feedback from progressives on Twitter who felt that we were somehow derelict in duty for reporting that this story had broken in the tabloid. I want to rebut the notion that we should not have covered this story at all.

Information is so widely available in this day and age – the hope that people will not discuss a story, no matter how questionable its sourcing – is a time that has passed. Does that mean that the Washington Post and New York Times should be reporting this story? Of course not. Does it mean that we are part of some right-wing cabal for analyzing it? No. A website covering the intersection of media and politics can’t ignore this story. Did we give credibility to what some are claiming to be a paper thin account? Some may say yes, but only those who did not read the story carefully.

We have a smart audience of savvy media watchers who will know that when Drudge picks up a story, that in addition to his base of readers, media decision makers will also be seeing it and making difficult decisions about what to do with it. The days of a paternalistic media protecting the populace from questionable information has passed. Good or bad for the country and the world, it is. That is where we are today.

James Joyner:

It wouldn’t be the first time a politician had an affair while on the campaign trail, of course.  If there were a political counterpart to the old VH-1 “Behind the Music” series, it would be as much a standard subplot as a drug-induced career spiral is for rock stars.

So, I suppose I wouldn’t be shocked if this bore out.  I’d sure as hell be surprised, though.   Despite significant ideological differences, Obama has always struck me as an incredibly decent sort.  As Joe Biden said in a different context, he’s storybook, man.   He’s seemingly excelled at everything he’s ever tried and is universally regarded by those who know him and work with him as down-to-earth, earnest, and hard working.  And, while politicians always tout themselves as family men, Obama actually seems to be one, making time for his kids even while holding down the hardest job on the planet.  Let’s just say he’s no Bill Clinton.

Further, while I suppose it would be good news for Republicans if true, I sincerely hope it isn’t.   It’s just bad for the country to continually be let down by our leaders and role models.  And that’s especially true for The First Black President, who serves as an inspiring example for a historically downtrodden group and has the very real potential to heal some very old wounds.

Joe Coscarelli at Village Voice:

That’s right, false alarm. The only thing adding any sliver of believability to the National Enquirer‘s rehashing of a 2008 rumor about a Barack Obama affair was a claim about the existence of a video tape showing the president and his former aide at an illicit hotel rendezvous. They didn’t claim to have the tape, or even know where it was, but just that it existed. Maybe:

“The ENQUIRER has also learned that on-site hotel surveillance video camera footage could provide indisputable evidence,” the story once read.

Now, an astute eye at Mediaite (doubtlessly refreshing the page all day, fiending for new info), found that the Enquirer report has been “UPDATED,” meaning stripped of anything almost resembling journalism.

All that remains is anonymous chatter from a limo driver back in 2004, who claims he dropped off a women, Vera Baker, at a hotel where Obama might’ve been. According to the tabloid, “top anti-Obama operatives are offering more than $1 million to witnesses to reveal what they know about the alleged hush-hush affair.”

The lingering urge to trust the Enquirer after their brush with the truth in the John Edwards affair has all but been squandered on this recycled story, and it didn’t even have a chance to grow legs beyond the weekend. It will be interesting to watch whether Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, et al. dare to touch this thing with the Enquirer, of all places, already issuing what resembles a correction in the world of “real journalism.”

For a minute there a lot of people were on the verge of very nervous. Now maybe Obama can enjoy his dinner.

Glynnis MacNicol at Mediaite:

Here is an email we received yesterday from National Enquirer Web Editor Dick Siegel in response to Frances Martel’s second post about the story:

In reference to the online Medialite story which carries your [Frances Martel] by-line:

http://www.mediaite.com/online/national-enquirer-obama-story-update-retracts-hotel-surveillance-claim/

1. The ENQUIRER has NOT retracted the story

http://www.nationalenquirer.com/reports_obama_cheating_scandal_vera_baker_investigation/celebrity/68590

2. The updated story was edited for clarity and the online copy is an abridged version of the original posting
3. The reference to the hotel surveillance video you claim in your story that was omitted is in the online ENQUIRER posting
4. The full unabridged story appears in this weeks Globe magazine cover date May 10, 2010 pgs 30, 31 and 34
5. The ENQUIRER stands by its story.

Thank you,
DICK SIEGEL

National ENQUIRER Web Editor
One Park Avenue
3rd Floor
New York, NY 10016

So! The Enquirer is standing by their shadily sourced story. And I mean seriously, shadily sourced: “An ENQUIRER reporter has confirmed the limo driver’s account [the print version provides an expanded, if equally shady, anonymous account from said limo driver] of the secret 2004 rendezvous and has also learned that on-site hotel surveillance video camera footage could provide indisputable evidence to the investigation.” Yeah, that’s a pretty big could. As in it could provide evidence that campaign workers stayed in the same hotel at Barack Obama in 2004. As in, if we could get video evidence of Roswell, we might be able to prove the existence of aliens (actually, I think that may have been a NE story).

Likely the most reliable part of this entire story is that “that top anti-Obama operatives are offering more than $1 million to witnesses to reveal what they know about the alleged hush-hush affair.” Yes. I think it’s pretty much a guarantee that a whole lot of people would be willing to pay a whole lot of money for some sort of proof (video tape or otherwise) that the president is not what he says he is. Duh. In political terms it’s referred to as “opposition research.”

Interestingly (or maybe predictably), when I emailed Siegel back to ask him to comment on how the National Enquirer is following up on this story, and why the NE has suddenly decided to re-pursue it, or if we can expect the sort of photo evidence that accompanied the Edwards stories? His only response was to confirm that I had the right link to the story.

Marc Ambinder:

Whatever collective motivations may be operating on this story, there is a simpler explanation for the lack of coverage: the story has no legs. It doesn’t even have thighs. It is, really, as Slate’s John Dickerson put it to me today, an “investigation about an alleged rumor,” but we don’t know who is doing the investigating and what precisely ought to be investigated.
Also, when this rumor came up during the campaign, mainstream news organizations did investigate, and found that there was no evidence to support the charge. (I did my own noodling around, interviewing even disaffected Obama staffers from the time period and found nothing.) Through his campaign, Obama denied any affair. Vera Baker has also publicly denied any affair. There are no new developments to speak of, and the Enquirer has already revised its claim about “an alleged surveillance tape.” Says the Enquirer: “Now, the investigators are searching for a hotel surveillance videotape [my emphasis].”
Investigators? That implies something criminal. No, no. We learn that these investigators are “top anti-Obama operatives” who are offering a million dollars for solid evidence.
It’s appropriate to ask the “So what?” question. So what if Obama did have an affair six years ago? Well, it’s gossip. It has no bearing on his job as president, but it would tell us something about his life at a critical juncture. Part of Obama’s mainstream appeal, which is code for saying that Obama doesn’t scare working class white voters, is that his family is picture perfect. He does not represent a stereotype. But Obama didn’t falsely create this image. Whatever happened or did not happen six years ago, his family life is extremely solid today. All of this discussion is moot, though, because there’s absolutely no evidence to suggest that there was an affair.
Baker was a good PAC fundraiser, having worked with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee under Jon Corzine. Why was she in Washington with Obama? Because PACs are headquartered in Washington.
If there were criminal allegations, more pursuit might be warranted, even in the absence of evidence. There are no such charges involved here.
This “affair” is destined to become a white whale for fringe groups who have no other impulse than to bring down a president they “know” in their hearts is illegitimate. It’s the birth certificate, all over again.
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Filed under Families, Mainstream, Political Figures

@GettysburgAddress Getting Coffee #libraryofcongress #alltweets #ff #tcot

Matt Raymond at Library of Congress Blog:

Have you ever sent out a “tweet” on the popular Twitter social media service? Congratulations: Your 140 characters or less will now be housed in the Library of Congress.

That’s right. Every public tweet, ever, since Twitter’s inception in March 2006, will be archived digitally at the Library of Congress. That’s a LOT of tweets, by the way: Twitter processes more than 50 million tweets every day, with the total numbering in the billions.

We thought it fitting to give the initial heads-up to the Twitter community itself via our own feed @librarycongress. (By the way, out of sheer coincidence, the announcement comes on the same day our own number of feed-followers has surpassed 50,000. I love serendipity!)

We will also be putting out a press release later with even more details and quotes. Expect to see an emphasis on the scholarly and research implications of the acquisition. I’m no Ph.D., but it boggles my mind to think what we might be able to learn about ourselves and the world around us from this wealth of data. And I’m certain we’ll learn things that none of us now can even possibly conceive.

Jennifer Van Grove at Mashable:

Twitter further explains the news in its own announcement. Biz Stone writes that after a six-month delay, “Tweets will be used for internal library use, for non-commercial research, public display by the library itself, and preservation.”

The news is quite significant and reinforces the importance of the information we share in 140 characters or less. In many ways history can be relived through tweets, and now the Library of Congress can ensure that not a single character is lost in the sea of real-time information.

Chris Morran at The Consumerist:

Remember that Tweet you wrote about Tiger Woods that seemed hilarious at the time? Or that night you shared your thoughts on your cousin Bob’s lack of personal hygiene? Good news — all of the world’s most trivial 140-character-or-less Tweets will soon be housed forever in the Library of Congress.

The Library of Congress now has its bookish little hands on every public Tweet ever Tweeted in the 4-year history of Twitterdom.

Doug Mataconis at Below The Beltway:

Of course, it also includes two-plus years worth of my standing morning tweet, which usually is something like “Awake. Need coffee,” along with late night tweets that I’m sure would rather be forgotten by the people who sent them. Now, they’re preserved for posterity.

When I first heard this announcement, I was more than a little, well, surprised. What possible use could the Library of Congress have for the often inane 140 character statements of 105 million people ?

John Dupuis at Science Blogs:

Needless to say, this is a pretty incredible announcement. It’s great that a major public institution can step forward and do the kind of digital preservation job that only that kind of institution would be capable of.

It would be really great if their next step could be a similar archiving project for, say, Blogger or WordPress blogs. Or perhaps other big national libraries around the world could each pick a site and dedicate themselves to preserving their content for future generations.

Heidi Moore at The Big Money:

The problem: Who says my tweets belong to Google or the Library of Congress? They didn’t even buy me dinner to discuss this. And they won’t buy you dinner, either, even though they are annexing the work that you did with absolutely no logical or plausible explanation of why they should own it.

Twitter’s entire appeal—and how it was sold to its users—was this: short, ephemeral 140-character bursts that were largely completely unsearchable. Twitter’s own search function doesn’t go back more than two weeks, and mostly it doesn’t work properly. Thus, while many tweets were substantive links and discussions of major issues from stock trading (through the Stock Twits network) to agriculture, many more were typo-laden, banal observations about what to eat for lunch. (I, like most smart Twitter users, don’t follow those people. But they’re there.)

[…]

First, let’s not pretend that the Library of Congress cataloging and saving every tweet ever—a capability not even open to private corporations—was a totally foreseeable consequence, outside of the Psychic Friends Network. If you ask anyone who wrote a tweet or anyone who knows what Twitter is, “hey, where do you think your tweets will be in five years?” it’s fair to say that “The Library of Congress” wouldn’t have been the first or the 15th answer. It’s also fair to say that “making money for Google in a vast database created quietly without public knowledge” would be high on the list either.

Twitter had a duty to let its users know—clearly, not in vague terms—that their ephemeral tweets would become permanent and searchable. That’s basic corporate misrepresentation.

Second, let’s think about why Google and the Library of Congress have a right to any tweets. Do you know why they would? I don’t. This isn’t about privacy. It’s about who the content belongs to. And just because something is on the Web, open to all, doesn’t mean it belongs to the government OR to Google. A wide variety of news sources are on Google, but that doesn’t mean that Google owns the right to catalog and republish them in the future, packaged in Google’s own way outside of their original users.

Phoebe Connelly at The American Prospect:

On Wednesday, the Library of Congress announced it had signed an agreement with the microblogging service Twitter to archive all public tweets sent since the service began in 2006. I spoke with Martha Anderson, the director of the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program at the Library of Congress, about the project and how it fits into the library’s digital-archiving efforts. She warned me when we got started that her department had a cumbersome name.

[…]

So who came to you with the request, or the idea about Twitter?
Twitter approached us. They were looking around; they are a small business — which happens, quite often. Businesses cannot afford to sustain all the content they create over the life of the business. And Twitter hadn’t reached that point yet, but they were aware of the need to sustain the content someway.

So they began to look around for a strategy for conserving that content in the long term. They knew we had this program at the library, so they called us and asked if we were interested in the Twitter archive.

We do a collection for every Supreme Court nominee — Web sites and blogs and all sorts of things. Well, one of the things they asked us to collect were tweets for the nomination of Justice Sotomayor. So that was the first indication we had that our selection officials were interested in Twitter.

Correct me if I have this wrong, but in the past, you’ve done your Web archiving on a subject basis, and this is the first time you’re grabbing an entire type of content off the Web?
Exactly. And that’s the significance of this. Yesterday [Wednesday, when the agreement was announced], one of my staff came in to tell me that people were saying this was a change from static to streaming. This is first time [on the web] we’re looking at a whole corpus of material from a source.

And I think personally, this is me, don’t quote me as saying this from the library, as librarians we need to think more about our relationships to content creators, content-generating activities, in a way we used to think about things with publishers — we would get a relationship to a publisher through copyright, or that sort of thing. Now, the information base is different, and we really need to work on those kinds of relationships.

Is there anything analogous in Library of Congress history?
Well, the library is accustomed, with analog materials, to collecting everything from a creator — we have in our prints and photograph division all the output from the Department of Interior’s historic American buildings survey. It’s a huge record of American architecture.

A lot of time we will get all the negatives and works of a photographer. So we’re used to a mass of things, rather than a selection in the analogue world. This is our first foray into doing this in the digital world.

When do you start?
The agreement has been signed, but we still have a lot of technical details to work out — how we’ll technically transfer it, and when. There’s a built in six-month window, so we don’t have the live Twitter archive at any given time. There is a window for people if they want to delete their tweets, things like that.

There’s a built-in lag? Yes, so once the transfer is complete, if a researcher comes here, we’ll let them know that it’s 2006 till six months prior. And there’ll be a rolling period of transfers after that.

Can individuals choose to opt their tweets out of it?
You know, I don’t know. I think that’s a question for Twitter. There’s several questions about that which they are still working out. We asked them to deal with the users; the library doesn’t want to mediate that.

What about user information? Have you any thoughts about whether you’re going to keep that or strip that out? Obviously, that gives a lot of context for a tweet.
It does. And I think that’s one of the big issues for us to understand in terms of privacy. And there’s a lot of work going on, especially over at [the National Institutes of Health] about how to anonymize data and still make it useful. We’re really big on partnering with people to learn what they’re learning, so I think that’s an area we’ll look into. In serving it, what can we do to make it useful to research but not identify personal information?

Is the plan to keep all tweets, forever?
Nothing is forever! I think this is a real learning opportunity. We’re embarking on this with the idea that what we receive, we will keep for the long term. That’s about the best we can say.

How much will it cost?
Well, it’s a gift; we didn’t pay for it. But it will be the cost of storing what is, right now, around 5 terabytes, and the staff effort of maybe one full-time person over the years.

UPDATE: Christopher Beam at Slate

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Filed under New Media

You Already Know The Words To That Old Janis Joplin Song

David Boaz at Reason:

For many libertarians, “the road to serfdom” is not just the title of a great book but also the window through which they see the world. We’re losing our freedom, year after year, they think. They (we) quote Thomas Jefferson: “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.” We read books with titles like Freedom in Chains, Lost Rights, The Rise of Federal Control over the Lives of Ordinary Americans, and yes, The Road to Serfdom.

The Cato Institute’s boilerplate description of itself used to include the line, “Since [the American] revolution, civil and economic liberties have been eroded.” Until Clarence Thomas, then chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, gave a speech at Cato and pointed out to us that it didn’t seem quite that way to black people.

And he was right. American public policy has changed in many ways since the American Revolution, sometimes in a libertarian direction, sometimes not.

[…]

Has there ever been a golden age of liberty? No, and there never will be. There will always be people who want to live their lives in peace, and there will always be people who want to exploit them or impose their own ideas on others. If we look at the long term—from a past that includes despotism, feudalism, absolutism, fascism, and communism—we’re clearly better off. When we look at our own country’s history—contrasting 2010 with 1776 or 1910 or 1950 or whatever—the story is less clear. We suffer under a lot of regulations and restrictions that our ancestors didn’t face.

But in 1776 black Americans were held in chattel slavery, and married women had no legal existence except as agents of their husbands. In 1910 and even 1950, blacks still suffered under the legal bonds of Jim Crow—and we all faced confiscatory tax rates throughout the postwar period.

I am particularly struck by libertarians and conservatives who celebrate the freedom of early America, and deplore our decline from those halcyon days, without bothering to mention the existence of slavery. Take R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., longtime editor of the American Spectator. In Policy Review (Summer 1987, not online), he wrote:

Let us flee to a favored utopia. For me that would be the late 18th Century but with air conditioning….With both feet firmly planted on the soil of my American domain, and young American flag fluttering above, tobacco in the field, I would relish the freedom.

I take it Mr. Tyrrell dreams of being a slave-owner. Because as he certainly knows, most of the people in those tobacco fields were slaves.

Take a more recent example, from a libertarian. Jacob Hornberger of the Future of Freedom Foundation writes about the decline of freedom in America:

First of all, let’s talk about the economic system that existed in the United States from the inception of the nation to the latter part of the 19th century. The principles are simple to enumerate: No income taxation (except during the Civil War), Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, economic regulations, licensure laws, drug laws, immigration controls, or coercive transfer programs, such as farm subsidies and education grants.

There was no federal department of labor, agriculture, commerce, education, energy, health and human services, or homeland security.

Then he writes:

Why did early Americans consider themselves free? The answer is rooted in the principles enunciated in the Declaration of Independence. As Thomas Jefferson observed in that document, people have been endowed by their Creator with certain fundamental and inherent rights. These include, but are certainly not limited to, the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

But wait. Did “early Americans consider themselves free”? White Americans probably did. But what about black Americans, and especially the 90 percent of black Americans who were slaves? Slaves made up about 19 percent of the American population from 1790 to 1810, dropping to 14 percent by 1860. (In that period the number of slaves grew from 700,000 to about 4 million, but the rest of the population was growing even more rapidly.) Did Mr. Hornberger really forget that 4 million Americans were held in bondage when he waxed eloquent about how free America was until the late 19th century? I know he isn’t indifferent to the crime of slavery. But too many of us who extol the Founders and deplore the growth of the American state forget that that state held millions of people in chains. (I note that I’m not concerned here with self-proclaimed libertarians who join neo-Confederate organizations or claim that southerners established a new country and fought a devastating war for some reason other than the slavery on which their social and economic system rested; I just want to address libertarians who hate slavery but seem to overlook its magnitude in their historical analysis.)

Will Wilkinson:

What Boaz calls “thoughtless and ahistorical exhortations of our glorious libertarian past” is a central element of the fusionist conception of traditional American identity. But it’s just wrong. I call the syndrome of questionable conservative cultural assumptions and habits of thought that continue to pervade the libertarian movement the “fusionist hangover.” I say it’s time to sober up.

Eugene Volokh

Doug Mataconis at Below The Beltway:

Does that mean that the infringements of liberty and encroachment of the state that we see today is acceptable ? Of course not, but it does mean that we need to recognize that the idyllic American past never really existed and that the fight for liberty is a fight for the future, not the dead past.

Roy Edroso:

at Reason David Boaz suggests (albeit gently) that maybe America wasn’t more free, in the way libertarians like to think about it, back when it was full of slaves. The Perfesser reads Boaz’ piece, and is much more concerned with the tragic loss of American liberties under Jimmy Carter.

Also funny: the Hit & Run commenters to the story. I especially liked the guy who says the Donner Party was “perfectly libertarian” because “they were free to make a bad decision, made it, and suffered the consequences.” I couldn’t have put it better myself!

Mori Dinauer at Tapped:

Boaz points out the obvious omissions to this false nostalgia, women and slaves, and wisely asks of his fellow libertarians to have a little historical perspective: “Libertarians have not opposed those appeals for freedom, but too often we (or our forebears) paid too little attention to them. And one of the ways we do that is by saying ‘Americans used to be free, but now we’re not’ — which is a historical argument that doesn’t ring true to an awful lot of Jewish, black, female, and gay Americans.” It’s all well and good to have a conversation about whether taxation and the federal bureaucracy are infringing on freedom. But compared to the struggle to simply gain equal recognition as human beings — there’s simply no contest.

Jacob Hornberger at Reason:

Boaz raises another point that needs addressing: He attempts to diminish the significance of what our American forebears achieved.

It is true that the principles of liberty on which our ancestors founded the U.S. government were not applied to everyone, especially slaves; and there were, of course, other exceptions and infringements on freedom, such as tariffs and denying women the right to vote.

But should those exceptions and infringements prevent us from appreciating and honoring the fact that our ancestors brought into existence the freest, most prosperous, and most charitable society in history?

I don’t think so. I believe that it is impossible to overstate the significance of what our American ancestors accomplished in terms of a free society.

Let’s consider, say, the year 1880. Here was a society in which people were free to keep everything they earned, because there was no income tax. They were also free to decide what to do with their own money—spend it, save it, invest it, donate it, or whatever. People were generally free to engage in occupations and professions without a license or permit. There were few federal economic regulations and regulatory agencies. No Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, bailouts, or so-called stimulus plans. No IRS. No Departments of Education, Energy, Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor. No EPA and OSHA. No Federal Reserve. No drug laws. Few systems of public schooling. No immigration controls. No federal minimum-wage laws or price controls. A monetary system based on gold and silver coins rather than paper money. No slavery. No CIA. No FBI. No torture or cruel or unusual punishments. No renditions. No overseas military empire. No military-industrial complex.

As a libertarian, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a society that is pretty darned golden.

Will Wilkinson responds:

Nope. Sorry.

How about the female half of the population? By 1880 coverture laws, which basically denied married women any meaningful property rights, were still in place in many states. (Coverture laws persisted in some states until the 1920s.) And there were  plenty of further paternalistic regulations on the sort of work women were allowed to undertake. Of course, women in 1880 had almost no meaningful rights to political participation, ensuring that they were unable to demand recognition and protection of their basic liberty rights through the political system.

Slavery was gone in 1880, but systematic state-enforced racial apartheid was going strong. The economic and political rights of blacks were severely curtailed under the various antebellum state Black Codes and then under the Jim Crow laws. What formal rights Southern blacks did have were often denied in fact by extralegal enforcement of racist norms by lynch mobs and other campaigns of terror.

By 1880, most of the the U.S.’s imperialist efforts to secure North American territory against the claims of competing European imperial powers were complete. But the government’s campaign of murder, theft, and segregation against native populations continued.

One could go on and on in this vein in gruesome detail. But this is enough to establish the point: 1880’s America was a society in which well more than half the population was systematically and often brutally denied basic liberty rights. If that’s golden, I’d hate to see bronze.

It’s just plain wrongheaded to cast the libertarian project as the project of restoring lost liberties. Most people never had the liberties backward-looking libertarians would like to restore. I know the rhetoric of restoration can be very seductive, especially in a country unusually full (for a wealthy liberal democracy) of patriotic traditionalists. But restoration is a conservative project and liberty is a fundamentally progressive cause.

Boaz responds at Cato:

I am a great admirer of the Founders, as I write on many occasions. When I talk about the progress we’ve made in expanding freedom for blacks, women, gays, and other once-excluded groups of people, I often say that we have “extended the promises of the Declaration of Independence — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — to more and more people.” I love and respect those promises, I appreciate the extent to which the Founders made good on them immediately, and I am glad that they have indeed been extended.

I share Hornberger’s commitment to a world with no income tax, no alphabet soup agencies, no central banking, no drug laws, and so on. I’m just not sure that the world of 1880 — much less the world of 1850 — is actually more free, on balance, for Americans as a whole, than today’s world. But that’s a reasonable argument, and I am happy to engage Hornberger and others in it.

Of course, the world is full of unreasonable arguments, too. In case anyone’s been reading some of them in the Reason comments or elsewhere on the Web, let me make just a few comments: I did not “attack” or “malign” Jacob Hornberger; I criticized an article he wrote. In fact, I took pains to call him one of the “libertarians who hate slavery” in distinction to some self-styled libertarians who sound like neo-Confederates. I did not say that “we have to accept” the Civil War, anti-discrimination laws, the income tax, or anything else as the price of abolishing slavery; I just said that we shouldn’t overlook the crime of slavery when we write paeans to 19th-century freedom, and that on the whole we may very well be freer today than in antebellum America. I did not say that “it was necessary to reduce everyone’s freedom drastically before we can morally allow anyone to have more freedom than another.” Here’s a tip: If you’re shocked by what someone says my article said, please read the article.

OK, that’s all for this topic. I have a D.C. power-elite meeting to go to, and then a Georgetown cocktail party.

Arnold Kling:

I would rather live with the group-status configurations that we have today than with those that prevailed in 1880. For that matter, I would rather live with the plumbing and dentistry that we have today than that which prevailed in 1880. But it’s a swindle to suggest that if we had a libertarian polity we would be back in the days of Jim Crow or women’s subservience. Just as it is a swindle to suggest that if we had a libertarian polity we would be back to using outhouses and having our teeth pulled without anesthetic.

If what you really, really care about are group-status issues, and you really, really think that those battles should be fought politically rather than culturally, and if you are really, really scared of where you think some older Americans stand on those group-status issues, then you can end up where Will Wilkinson is–deeply frightened of the Tea Party movement in spite of its libertarian focus. In that case, your plan is to slip something into the ruling intellectuals’ drink to make them amenable to your free-market seductions.

Wilkinson responds to Kling:

What I really, really care about is liberty. If the culture and the law denies liberty to some groups, then I think we ought to fight culturally and politically to win equal freedom for the members of those groups. If people have been denied liberty on the basis of group membership, caring about liberty then entails caring about the “group status issues” standing behind historical oppression.

I am not scared of the fact that older Americans are more racist, sexist, and homophobic that younger Americans. I regard this as a hopeful sign that historic inequalities in status and freedom are on their way out. And I’m not frightened of the Tea Party movement (which is not especially old.) In fact, I hope it helps deliver divided government by helping Republicans win a bunch of seats. I just don’t think it’s very substantively libertarian. It is a populist movement centered on a certain conservative conception of traditional American identity. Libertarian rhetoric is definitely part of that, but rhetoric is rhetoric.

By contrasting the Tea Party with “ruling intellectuals,” Arnold seems to recognize that it is as a populist movement, and he seems to prefer it for that reason. But, contrary to what Arnold implies, a distaste for conservative identity politics and a disinclination to see much real libertarian potential in the Tea Party does not leave the libertarian with no alternative but to “slip something into the ruling intellectuals’ drink to make them amenable to your free-market seductions.” One thing a libertarian might do is to publicly set forth persuasive arguments that over time shifts the balance of both elite and popular opinion. Why Arnold thinks that straightforward persuasion is possible only through some kind of subterfuge or seduction eludes me.

It is true, though, that you’re more likely to be taken seriously by “ruling intellectuals,” and lots of other people besides, if you acknowledge that the rights and liberties of women and historically persecuted minorities really do count. And rightly so. But I have the sense that Arnold thinks that this is not rightly so, and that a libertarian would only acknowledge this sort of “group status issue” strategically, as a way of sucking up to elites so that they will be more likely to listen to your free-market ideas. Please tell me I’m wrong Arnold.

John Holbo:

Obviously Kling and Hornberger could not have done a better job of proving Boaz’ original point. It’s tempting to accuse them of just not caring about liberty for anyone except white men. How else could they miss this stuff? But I doubt that’s it. (Anyway, aren’t they Jewish? It’s hard for me to imagine men named Kling and Hornberger seriously believe they, personally, would be made more free by being transported back to the late 19th Century.) It seems to me the most probable explanation of this truly bizarre blind spot – it really is bizarre and there’s no other word for it – is a sort of strange entrapment in the conservative ‘restoration’ narrative, but perhaps induced by Hayekian rather than conservative rhetoric. If the 20th Century was the Road To Serfdom, it can hardly have been a long march to increased freedom. If progressives and liberals are the authoritarian enemy, it can hardly be that their victories have, on the whole, made us more free. Since the 20th Century was when the bad stuff really got going, how can it NOT be appropriate to be thoroughly nostalgic for the 1880’s as a Lost Golden Age?

I guess I’ll leave it at that. Libertarians really ought to know better than to try to argue against the utterly obvious points Boaz made in that post. That’s just basic intellectual hygiene, surely.

Orestes Brownson at FrumForm:

Fair enough; one can easily see that ending slavery certainly ought to have been a libertarian end.  However, it was accomplished with stunningly anti-libertarian means (not that I’m complaining; I’m not a libertarian), and by a political coalition — the Republican coalition — that held no other libertarian ends.

Look, the Republican party was anti-free trade, for “corporate welfare” to railroads, for a national bank, for expansive executive powers, and wanted to use the federal government’s powers to ban marriages not between one man and one woman during the polygamy controversy.  Once the Civil War was over, they pretty much got what they wanted.

So, some liberties and alleged liberties went by the wayside, to create a greater liberty.  ”A new birth of freedom,” even.  But what I don’t see among a lot of libertarians today is the same willingness to make tactical compromises to accomplish their greater ends.

Mark Kleiman:

The main occupation of the U.S. Army between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the Spanish-American war was “Indian fighting,” or, as we call it today, “ethnic cleansing.” Of course Wilkinson blames it all on “the government,” as if much of the work hadn’t been done by free individuals exercising their right to keep and bear arms in defense of the private property they were engaged in stealing.

But even if we look only at heterosexual males of European descent, and even if we agree to treasure such rights as the right to grow up without schooling and to be free of employment discrimination against eight-year-olds, the right to consume adulterated food and drugs, and the right to starve to death if incapacitated from earning a living by misfortune, disease, or old age, in one respect the 1880s were much less free than, say, the 1950s. In 1880 any attempt to form a labor union was treated by the courts as a criminal conspiracy. It was also likely to be met with extra-legal violence by the Pinkertons (and sometimes the national guard). Today, however, the right of workers to organize is an internationally-recognized human right (except in El Salvador and Libertarianland).

In practice, the right to unionize has been under siege from union-busing consultants, aided by capital mobility and a complaisant NLRB. But even post-Reagan, American workers remain free, in principle, to try to bargain collectively with their employers. This is not, of course, a right that libertarians cherish; Brink Lindsey lists the collapse of private-sector unions as a gain for liberty. But the utter helplessness of a railway worker, textile operator, or coal miner of the 1880s (who enjoyed, thanks the the “fellow sevant” doctrine, the right to be injured at work without receiving compensation) in the face of the tyranny of the boss and the foreman is not a condition to which all of us aspire to return.

Daniel McCarthy at The American Conservative:

Which model provides a better starting point? Should a libertarian prefer a decentralized republic along broadly Jeffersonian lines, but without slavery and government discrimination (though this may mean tolerating private discrimination) or a large and centralized rights-enforcing government akin to the New Deal state but with an emphasis on personal liberties instead of redistribution? And of these two models, is one more inclined than the other to decay into its illiberal form? That is, would slavery or segregation re-emerge in a restored Jeffersonian republic more readily than redistribution and other evils would arise in a purified New Deal state?

It seems to me that the tutelary ambit of the modern progressive state logically inclines toward providing for the basic material necessities of its wards as well as for the protection of their rights, and to ensure provision of needs and protection of rights a great educational apparatus may be desirable. The freedom of the tutelary state is the freedom of a free-range dairy cow: in exchange for care and protection, you pay your taxes and may frolic in the fields as much as you please. It’s a timid sort of freedom, but it is freedom of a kind.

An alternative based on the older American tradition, by contrast, need not logically lead to a slave-state; indeed, most of the Founders recognized that slavery was inconsistent with the principles of their system. That system, even in its most benign form, would not be purely libertarian, of course: there too state schools would be desired to inculcate proper values into republican citizens. Private discrimination would be permissible, and if states or localities adopted unfair or unjust laws, one would have little recourse to federal remedies. But you could move to a different jurisdiction more in keeping with your ideas of liberty. It’s an uneven but robust freedom.

This is what libertarians who laud the old America have in mind. Why slander them as being ignorant of slavery, when liberaltarians do not want to be slandered as social democrats? If the socio-political order that libertarians like Hornberger desire really does naturally incline toward the sorts of injustices Boaz names, then make that case and argue against the model on those grounds. But I don’t think Boaz even believes that, let alone that he can present a convincing argument for it. On the other hand, those who believe that the modern state naturally tilts toward social democracy or worse have frequently and cogently made their case –not least in that “great book” Boaz mentions in his first paragraph, The Road to Serfdom.

Jason Kuznicki at The League:

We can only think to ask such a question if we radically discount the experiences of nearly all other people in society. And this violates one of the fundamental formulations of libertarian political thought, the law of equal freedom:

Every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man.

Language issues aside, under a standard like this, it’s impossible to justify, for example, the fact that marital rape was never a crime in the nineteenth century. Or that women surrendered all of their property, present and future, to their husbands at marriage. Or that women at marriage couldn’t have a legal place of residence separate from their husbands. Or that children were presumed in law to belong solely to the husband, and never to the wife. Or that (contra Bryan Caplan) contracts between husband and wife were typically invalid under law, so one couldn’t escape the shackles by contracting around them with a well-intentioned husband. Or that cohabitation without marriage — another attempt to escape the bind — was plain illegal. Or that divorce was exceptionally hard to obtain.

To put it bluntly, the white men of 1880 were for the most part brutes and tyrants. Even if they didn’t want to be, the law forced them. They either claimed, or had foisted upon them, all kinds of “freedoms” that intrinsically infringed on other people. And I’m not even talking about what they did to blacks in the South or Asians in the West, though I easily could.

I certainly wouldn’t want everyone today to be in the same position that white men had in 1880. Putting them there would require that we find some rather large population for them to personally oppress, to rape, to steal property from, and to hold in permanent thrall.

Neither slave nor master has any place at all in utopia.

Bryan Caplan:

I largely agree with David Boaz’s recent attack on libertarian nostaglia.  While many Americans were freer in the Gilded Age than they are today, plenty were not.  But precisely who belongs on the list of people who have more libertarian freedom in 2010 than they did in 1880?

Boaz mentions “Jews, blacks, women, and gay people.”  For blacks, his case is obvious and overwhelming: Slavery was finally over, but blacks still suffered from both Jim Crow and private racist brutality.  The case for gays is similarly strong: If you were openly gay in 1880, you probably would have been prosecuted under the sodomy laws – and lived in fear of private violence even if the law left you alone.  However, it’s hard to see why Jews belong on the “freer than they used to be” side of the ledger; 19th-century America not only had legal religious toleration, but as far as I’m aware, pogroms and other private anti-Semitic violence were virtually absent.

It’s when we get to women, though, that things get interesting.  Women are more than half the population.  If they’re freer today than they were in the Gilded Age, we can truly say that most people in America are freer today than they were before the rise of the welfare state.  On reflection, though, this is a very big if.

Without a doubt, women lived much harder lives in 1880 than they do today.  So did men.  In those days, almost everyone endured long hours of back-breaking toil.  But of course the standard libertarian take on this is that while freedom causes prosperity in the long-run, prosperity and freedom aren’t the same.

In what ways, then, were American women in 1880 less free than men?  Most non-libertarians will naturally answer that women couldn’t vote.  But from a libertarian point of view, voting is at most instrumentally valuable.  Will Wilkinson seems aware of this when he writes:

[W]omen in 1880 had almost no meaningful rights to political participation, ensuring that they were unable to demand recognition and protection of their basic liberty rights through the political system.
Yet the fact that women were unable to vote in defense of their “basic liberty rights” doesn’t show that American political system denied them these rights.  Did it?

Caplan responds to critics. More Caplan and more Caplan. And even more Caplan

Will Wilkinson:

Kerry Howley sensibly suggests that we approach the question of how much “libertarian freedom” women enjoyed in the late 19th century by looking to see what a libertarian woman of that era had to say about it.

Kerry suggests this passage from Voltairine de Cleyre’s Sex Slavery (1890):

He beheld every married woman what she is, a bonded slave, who takes her master’s name, her master’s bread, her master’s commands, and serves her master’s passion; who passes through the ordeal of pregnancy and the throes of travail at his dictation, not at her desire; who can control no property, not even her own body, without his consent, and from whose straining arms the children she bears may be torn at his pleasure, or willed away while they are yet unborn.

I would not characterize this as an illustration of one form “libertarian freedom” might take. But Bryan Caplan might persist in arguing that women were in some sense free to opt out of this sort tyrannical arrangement. If de Cleyre could opt out, other women could as well, right? I don’t think it’s that easy. Bryan is unjustifiably ignoring the developmental prerequisites for autonomous or robustly voluntary choice. One way to deny an individual the ability to choose really freely is to raise her in a way that constantly cultivates and reinforces a set of preferences and expectations that fit comfortably within a social and legal order of paternalistic control and systematic inequality of status and rights.

One time-honored criticism of paternalism is that it infantilizes adults and leaves them unprepared to make wise choices on their own behalf, thereby reinforcing paternalistic laws and norms by making them seem necessary. I wonder if Bryan thinks this is an ineffective criticism of paternalism? I take it that he would be unwilling to endorse slavery even if slaves could be conditioned from childhood to consent to their chains?

John Holbo on Caplan:

Having made one non-libertarian-related post, I can now say, with a good conscience, that Bryan Caplan has responded to his critics. It is a wonder to behold.

I will make two notes. (No doubt you yourself will come to have your own favorite moments.) First, a lot of the trouble here obviously rotates around the issue of systematic social oppression. Caplan barrels straight through like so: “there’s a fundamental human right to non-violently pressure and refuse to associate with others.” That hardly speaks to real concerns about violence. But beyond that Caplan doesn’t notice that, even if he’s right about this fundamental human right, he’s no longer even defending the proposition that women were more free in the 1880’s, never mind successfully defending it. He’s defending the proposition that there is a fundamental right, which can be exercised, systematically, to make women much less free, that was better protected in the 1880’s. So if women value this libertarian right more than freedom, they might rationally prefer that sort of society. But even so, they should hardly regard themselves as more free, for enjoying this right. Rather, they should regard themselves as (rationally) sacrificing liberty, a lesser value, for love of libertarianism, a higher value and separate jar of pickles altogether

DJW at Lawyers, Guns and Money

Matt Steinglass at DiA at The Economist

Tyler Cowen:

Bryan Caplan set off a debate which has spread to many corners of the blogosphere.  I have no interest in recapping and evaluating the whole thing but I’d like to make a simple but neglected point: negative liberty and positive liberty are not separable.

Here is one simple scenario.  Let’s say the government tells me I have to buy and place a five-foot ceramic grizzly bear statue on my front lawn.  How bad an act of coercion is that?  If I have an upper-middle class income, it’s an inconvenience and an aesthetic blight but no great tragedy.  If I have a Haitian per capita income, it is a very bad act of coercion and it will impinge on my life prospects severely.  I either give up some food or they send me to jail.

In other words, even theories of negative liberty — purely libertarian theories where only negative liberty seems to matter — require standards for degrees of coercion.  Those standards will very often depend on how much wealth the victims of the coercion have and they will depend on a more general concept of positive liberty.  Negative liberty standards can’t help but seep into a concern with consequences.

Fast forward to said debate.  When people are poor, apparently small interventions can be quite crushing and quite coercive.  To cite the “smaller” interventions of 1880 doesn’t much convince me.  The real impact of the depredations against women was very, very large, even from some “small interventions” (and I don’t think they were all small).

(Also, I would not in this case take the *legal* oppressions to be a stand-alone or exogenous variable, separable from more general societal attitudes.  There were various male desires to oppress women, which took a mix of legal and non-legal forms.  Asking how bad the “government-only” restrictions were is an odd division of the problem, since the governmental and non-governmental restrictions were an integrated package which worked together in non-linear fashion.)

Every negative liberty theorist is a positive liberty theorist in disguise and this comes out once they start citing degress of outrage, degrees of harm, degrees of coercion, and the like.

UPDATE: More Holbo

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Filed under Feminism, Go Meta, History

The Times Of London Finds A Document

Tim Reid at Times Of London:

George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld covered up that hundreds of innocent men were sent to the Guantánamo Bay prison camp because they feared that releasing them would harm the push for war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror, according to a new document obtained by The Times.

The accusations were made by Lawrence Wilkerson, a top aide to Colin Powell, the former Republican Secretary of State, in a signed declaration to support a lawsuit filed by a Guantánamo detainee. It is the first time that such allegations have been made by a senior member of the Bush Administration.

Colonel Wilkerson, who was General Powell’s chief of staff when he ran the State Department, was most critical of Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld. He claimed that the former Vice-President and Defence Secretary knew that the majority of the initial 742 detainees sent to Guantánamo in 2002 were innocent but believed that it was “politically impossible to release them”.

General Powell, who left the Bush Administration in 2005, angry about the misinformation that he unwittingly gave the world when he made the case for the invasion of Iraq at the UN, is understood to have backed Colonel Wilkerson’s declaration.

Colonel Wilkerson, a long-time critic of the Bush Administration’s approach to counter-terrorism and the war in Iraq, claimed that the majority of detainees — children as young as 12 and men as old as 93, he said — never saw a US soldier when they were captured. He said that many were turned over by Afghans and Pakistanis for up to $5,000. Little or no evidence was produced as to why they had been taken.

He also claimed that one reason Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld did not want the innocent detainees released was because “the detention efforts would be revealed as the incredibly confused operation that they were”. This was “not acceptable to the Administration and would have been severely detrimental to the leadership at DoD [Mr Rumsfeld at the Defence Department]”.

Doug Mataconis at Below the Beltway:

Wilkerson has been critical of Cheney and Rumsfeld in the past, and I’m sure the response on the right will be to accuse Wilkerson of having a grudge for the former Bush Administration. Nonetheless, these are fairly serous allegations and it will be interesting to see if anyone pays attention to them on this side of the pond.

Radley Balko:

To borrow from Walt Kelly, we have met the enemy, and he is us.

Emptywheel at Firedoglake:

Now, as Mary has pointed out, there was actually a study done in summer 2002 that showed that vast majority of those at Gitmo were innocent. So this is not news.

But I certainly welcome some public discussion about the maltreatment of a number of innocent people at Gitmo as we enter back into discussions on closing Gitmo.

Jim White at Firedoglake:

While doing background research and reading that was inspired by this post and the ensuing comment thread at Emptywheel, I ran across a document that I believe outlines the Joint Chiefs policy that was cobbled together to justify the long term detention and interrogation of innocent civilians that was described in the Times article.

The publication, which is a 298 page pdf file, can be found here. The document is titled “Joint and National Intelligence Support to Military Operations”. I have not read the entire document, but my attention was directed to Appendix G through my initial Google internet search on the term “mobile detainee review and screening teams”. Appendix G is titled “Joint Exploitation Centers” and has this graphic at the beginning:

joint exploitation centers

Moving down to section 4 of this appendix, titled “Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center” we find the description of the responsibilities of the centers:

b. Responsibilities. Service component interrogators collect tactical intelligence from EPWs and ECs based on joint force J-2 criteria. EPWs (i.e., senior level EPWs) and ECs are screened by the components; those of further intelligence potential are identified and processed for follow-on interrogation and debriefing by the JIDC to satisfy theater strategic and operational requirements. In addition to EPW and ECs, the JIDC may also interrogate civilian detainees, and debrief refugees as well as other nonprisoner sources for operational and strategic information. The JIDC may identify individuals as possessing intelligence of national strategic significance; these persons may be relocated to a strategic exploitation center for longer-term interrogation.

Acronyms present here: EPW = enemy prisoner of war; EC = enemy combatant; J-2 = intelligence directorate of a joint staff; JIDC = joint interrogation and debriefing center.

There is a lot packed into this small paragraph. We start with normal interrogation and debriefing of enemy prisoners of war and enemy combatants, but somehow these same joint interrogation and debriefing centers are supplied with civilian detainees and even refugees [don’t refugees have special, protected status under the Geneva Conventions?] to interview, and then, somehow, from among these various groups interviewed, the JIDC “may identify individuals” who are sent for longer term interrogation (i.e. to Guantanamo) if the JIDC decides that they posses “intelligence of national strategic significance”. There seems to be no restriction that the long-term detainees only come from the EPW or EC groups, so innocent civilians could end up in Guantanamo under this policy, just as Wilkerson has documented.

Riverdaughter at The Confluence:

The London Times on Line confirms what I’ve suspected for some time:  George W. Bush ‘knew Guantánamo prisoners were innocent’. In our continued hunt to provide our nation with a false sense of security against terrorists, we’ve now issued a  fatwa on one of our own citizens. We continue to ignore the justice system as well as the Treaties we have signed to uphold.  Why are these things continuing?  Why isn’t our justice system being used to hold these decision makers accountable for their abuse of executive power?

An aide to Colin Powell has come forward to provide evidence showing exactly how many folks were innocently imprisoned.  Exactly how long will it take us to find out they were also subject to interview ‘techniques’ that are criminal.  Impeachment may be off the table for Bush and Cheney, but should they be subjected to war crimes trials?

Andrew Sullivan:

Lie after lie after lie. And the illegal imprisonment and torture of individuals often completely unrelated to terrorism at all. And no accountability. This was America for almost eight years. And Obama has perpetuated the avoidance of responsibility with staggering diligence.

Jon Bershad at Mediaite:

In these days where we have a president who half the country hates with a passion and half the country blindly follows despite his questionable decisions, it’s nice of The Times in London to remind us of the happy days of a few years ago, back when we had a president who half the country hated with a passion and half the country blindly followed despite his questionable decisions.

That’s right, it’s a brand new W. scandal and, if it turns out to be true, it could be quite a damaging one. Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, a former top aide to Colin Powell, has claimed that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were all aware that many prisoners in Guantanamo Bay were entirely innocent but left them there anyway. The accusations were made in a document that The Times has obtained.

[…]

It’ll be interesting to see how much of an uproar this document makes here in America. If it does, chances are it’s because the release of the WikiLeaks video earlier this week brought the Iraq War screaming back into the public consciousness. Besides, Liberals will probably have missed their time being the outraged party for eight years. To be honest, it’s not nearly as fun being the guys on top.

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Filed under GWOT, Political Figures

Bill Clinton Never Said He Did Not Have Sex With That Woman, George Bush Never Did A Speech In Front Of A “Mission Accomplished” Banner…

David Margolick at Newsweek;

Late last month, at a dusty fairground outside Tucson, John McCain stood behind the person who is, at least for the next few years, surely his most important legacy to American politics. And speaking to the adoring mob, Sarah Palin stood behind John McCain, repaying his inestimable gift to her in the most compelling possible fashion: by helping him to survive.

Facing an impertinent challenge for his Senate seat in the Republican primary this summer, McCain listened to the former Alaska governor heap praise on him. Throughout, he fidgeted with a couple of pieces of paper, sneaking peeks at them every few seconds, and wore a slightly nervous smile, as if not knowing quite what might come out of Palin next. Periodically he applauded, clapping with the bum right hand whose fingers, courtesy of the North Vietnamese, still don’t quite come together.

[…]

Much as the crowd ate up her every word, Palin had apparently missed the real message this electoral season in Arizona: for his three decades in Congress, McCain hadn’t gone with the flow enough, at least not enough to satisfy many Arizona Republicans. Why else would his rival, former congressman J.D. Hayworth, be billing himself as “the consistent conservative”? Many of the GOP’s most faithful, the kind who vote in primaries despite 115-degree heat, tired long ago of McCain the Maverick, the man who had crossed the aisle to work with Democrats on issues like immigration reform, global warming, and restricting campaign contributions. “Maverick” is a mantle McCain no longer claims; in fact, he now denies he ever was one. “I never considered myself a maverick,” he told me. “I consider myself a person who serves the people of Arizona to the best of his abilities.” Yet here was Palin, urging her fans four times in 15 minutes to send McCain the Maverick back to Washington.

Andy Barr at Politco:

In a telephone interview with POLITICO, Hayworth said that the four-term senator whom he is challenging in the Republican primary is “developing some instant revisionism.”

“It’s a word that has been expunged from his vocabulary,” Hayworth said. “If memory serves, his campaign plane was called ‘Maverick One,’ and, as I understand it, in national campaigns they spend a lot of time on that stuff.”

“If you’re scoring at home, how many reversals is this?” Hayworth added, running through what he sees as a litany of McCain position changes. “He’s moving away from legislative reversals into branding reversals. It’s the new John McCain, nonmaverick edition, for the Arizona Senate election.”

Steve Benen:

To say that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) built his most recent persona — the latest in a series — around the notion of being a “maverick” would be a dramatic understatement. The “m” word was practically a verbal tick for McCain — he’d use it constantly, whether it made sense or not, similar to the way Rudy Giuliani would mutter “9/11” at random moments throughout his day.

In 2008, McCain’s television ads described him as “the original maverick.” When McCain and Sarah Palin would routinely take different positions during their national campaign, aides insisted this was to be expected from “a couple of mavericks.” A quick search of McCain’s Senate website turns up several dozen references to the senator being a “maverick” — in some cases, press releases, instead of quoting McCain by name, would simply note, “The Maverick said…” McCain’s website for his Senate campaign does the same thing, using “McCain” and “Maverick” interchangeably, as if they were practically the same word.

The point, of course, was to create a McCain brand, of sorts, characterizing the conservative senator as the kind of politician who doesn’t mind bucking his unpopular party from time to time.

That persona, however, no longer suits McCain’s purposes. So, it’s been scrapped.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

This isn’t where some politician denies having said something you can then dig up in the Congressional record. He’s denying a label that he’s cultivated relentlessly for a decade at least. Among people who just barely follow politics, it’s the one thing they know about McCain. I’ve  thought for a while that McCain looks pretty safe in his primary fight against J.D. Hayworth. But denying that he’s ever thought of himself as a maverick just dynamites McCain’s credibility to the point where he risks becoming a joke.

Harmon Leon:

Is the man out of his mind? That (being a maverick) and Joe the Plumber were the basis of his entire presidential campaign strategy. Is this some sort of political ploy to cleanse his palate of the entire entity that which is Sarah Palin? Is McCain trying to reinvent himself in the same manner as Madonna right before she launched her Vogue tour?  McCain, saying he never considered himself a “maverick” is as ridiculous as when Bill Clinton said after the Monica Lewinsky debacle, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.

Doug Mataconis at Below The Beltway

Allah Pundit:

I don’t think this rises all the way to the level of “lies you deserve to lose an election for telling,” but it’s so cynical and pathetic an attempt at rebranding that he deserves to have it blow up in his face.

Ben Smith at Politico

Dan Amira at New York Magazine:

Nobody actually believes that the John McCain of 2010 resembles a “maverick” in any sense of the word. Some think McCain was never a maverick to begin with. And yet what’s more mavericky of McCain than claiming he never even thought of himself as a maverick, which is what he told Newsweek recently

Alex Pareene at Gawker:

The thing with John McCain is that you have a very weird, personally likable but angry, inconsistent, and unpredictable guy whose incredible pride made him buy into his own media-created myth. He wasn’t a maverick until his journalist friends decided to call him one, at which point he made that his entire schtick.

Though maybe McCain is a maverick. In fact, declaring that he’s never been a maverick might be the single most mavericky thing he’s ever done. This is really the maverick trump card: if everyone says McCain’s a maverick, he’ll show them by not ever having been one to begin with.

That’s the leadership we’ve come to expect from that ol’ maverick John McCain.

Wonkette:

Remember politics between all of 1998 and 2008? For the few of you who do (nerds), you may gasp at this epic mindfuck of a new John “WALNUTS!” McCain admission: he denies being the media version of John McCain, “The Maverick.” If the John McCain we knew isn’t the real John McCain, then he must just be some old coot who got lost in Washington 30 years ago on an errand to the pharmacy and keeps telling people he’s a “Senator from Arizona,” to hide his shame.

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“When My Situation Ain’t Improvin, I’m Tryin To Murder Everything Movin, Feel Me?!”

John McCormack at The Weekly Standard:

The Situation Room in the White House was reserved for national security meetings in previous administrations. Apparently in the Obama administration it’s used not only to map out campaign strategy, but for celebrity photo-ops as well

If Jay-Z was the one who talked some sense into the White House on trying KSM in a military tribunal, perhaps this photo-op isn’t such a breach of decorum after all. The nation would be truly indebted to him. Then again, we shouldn’t discount any sensible detainee policy recommendations that may have been offered by Shakira.

Ben Smith at Politico:

Jay-Z bragged at a show Wednesday that he’d just come from the White House, and the website Rap Radar has a photo that appears to show the rapper — who graced Obama’s campaign iPod — and friends posing around the table at what appears, from the table and the ceiling fixtures, to be the Situation Room.

Jay-Z is in the president’s seat, and given that he refers to himself as “Hov” (a reference to “Jehovah”), maybe it’s not that much of a stretch.

(h/t TWS)

UPDATE: The pictures appear to have first made their appearance on Twitter, and the woman who posted them — then took them down — says she’s been told they “shouldn’t have been up” and declined to comment further.

Michael Scherer at Swampland at Time:

One of the best songs on Jay-Z’s latest album, Blueprint 3, runs like this:

Uhh, I don’t know why they worry ’bout my pockets
Meanwhile I had Oprah chillin in the projects
Had her out in Bed-Stuy, chillin on the steps
Drinkin quarter waters, I gotta be the best
M.J. at Summer Jam, Obama on the text
Y’all should be afraid of what I’m gon’ do next
Hold up

We can only imagine the next Hova-Obama couplet, after Jay-Z and his wife, Beyonce Knowles, got a tour of the White House this week, and a chance to pose for pictures in the White House Situation Room. Hold up

[…]

Commenter nonplussed2 points to these lyrics from an earlier track on the same album:

And now that that’s that
Lets talk about the future
We have just seen the dream as predicted by Martin Luther
Now you could choose ta
Sit in front of your computa
Posin’ with guns
Shootin YouTube up
Or you could come with me to the White House get your suit up

Earlier in the same track, come these lines:

Please, We ain’t focused on naps
Cuz I don’t run rap no more I run the map
A small part of the reason the President is black
I told him I got him when he hit me on the jack
Talkin’ bout progress I ain’t lookin back

We’re not sure if the AOL-email-chain-level wingnuts are furious about this yet, but they will be for about six months. That’s Jay-Z and the Beyonce lady with friends posing in the White House Situation Room the other day, just cold launchin’ nukes at white cities. The Weekly Standard is sounding the wingnut alarm.

My reaction ?

Jed Bartlett had a much cooler Sit Room:

vlcsnap-931788

UPDATE: Ta-Nehisi Coates

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A Has-Ben?

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

No, health care was the first casualty. But Roll Call has an incredible article up, reporting from the Senate that Ben Bernanke’s nomination for a second term at the Fed is in real trouble.

Ben Bernanke’s nomination to serve a second term as chairman of the Federal Reserve appears to be in peril. Bernanke is up for a second term at the Fed; his current term expires in 10 days on Jan. 31. A handful of Senators had previously threatened to filibuster the nomination, but this week the number of opposing lawmakers appeared to grow, further dimming his prospects for installment.

“I think it’s worthy of a review,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who is undecided.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) met with Bernanke on Thursday, one day after Democrats voiced concerns during their weekly policy luncheon about the nomination. In a statement after his meeting with the Fed chairman, Reid was coy, saying the two met “to discuss the best ways to strengthen and stabilize our economy.” […]

At Wednesday’s Democratic caucus meeting, according to Senators, liberals spoke out against confirming Bernanke for a second term. Those liberals tried to make the case that the White House needs to put in place fresh economic advisers to focus on “Main Street” issues like unemployment rather than Wall Street concerns. Moderates were more reserved, Senators said, but have similarly withheld their support for Bernanke.

Wow, wow, wow. We knew that today’s announcement – you could call it Glass-Steagall II – that “no bank or financial institution that contains a bank will own, invest in or sponsor a hedge fund or a private equity fund, or proprietary trading operations unrelated to serving customers for its own profit” was a big real, and represented the triumph of Paul Volcker over the more slave-to-Wall Street elements in the White House. The picture here says it all about who appears to be winning and losing, at least today, in the White House. And I hope more is on the way.

But Bernanke is a different matter. The nomination was thought to be all but done. There were a few on the right and a few on the left in the Senate against it, but despite the multiple holds it looked like Bernanke had the requisite 60 votes to overcome them. But that’s completely in doubt now. Earlier this week we saw Bernanke making concessions. He asked GAO for an audit of the AIG bailout. This was clearly a move to try and make Senators more comfortable with voting for him. As of today, it doesn’t appear to be working.

Mark Tapscott at Washington Examiner:

Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke’s confirmation vote by the Senate for a second four-year term has been delayed, pending receipt by the committee of documents concerning the Fed’s role in the massive bailouts of the U.S. financial industry in 2008 during the economic meltdown.

Three Republican senators – all members of the Senate Banking Committee – are pushing for release of all documents concerning the Fed’s role in the bailouts, especially that of the crippled insurance giant AIG before the confirmation vote is taken.

“This was the right decision to delay the vote on the Bernanke nomination, because the Fed continues to stonewall Congress and the public,” said Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC. “We cannot rush ahead with the Bernanke nomination while examinations by Congress and the GAO of the Fed’s AIG bailout are ongoing.

“Senators should not be put in a position to vote before they know the full story behind Chairman Bernanke’s role in the bailout and financial meltdown, what the Fed knew and when, and how severe the losses for the taxpayers will be. Chairman Bernanke and the Fed could speed this process up by opening up the Fed to a full audit,” DeMint said.

Similarly, Sen. David Vitter, R-LA, said the vote should be delayed until all requested documents have been provided by the Fed.

“As I Stressed to Chairman Dodd before the committee vote on Bernanke, it is vitally important that Congress has the ability and time to adequately review the Federal Reserve’s bailout of AIG,” said Vitter. “Although some of our offices have had time to review some of the documents, not all are available at this time and Congress should wait until GAO’s review before proceeding with his nomination vote.”

There are three specific questions that Bernanke must answer, in some convincing detail, if he is to shore up his weakening cause in the Senate.

  1. Does he support the President’s proposed emphasis on limiting the scope and scale of big banks?
  2. With regard to the key detail, is it his view that the size of big banks can be capped “as is” or – more reasonably – should we require these banks to contract or divest so as to return to the profile of system risk that prevailed say 15 or 20 years ago?
  3. If Congress cannot act in the short-term, because of opposition from Republicans and some Democrats, does he see the Fed’s role as taking the initiative in this arena – or will he wait passively for the legislature to act?

As running hard against the “too big to fail” banks is now a major theme of 2010 and beyond for the Democrats, how can any Democratic Senators feel comfortable voting for Ben Bernanke unless they know exactly what his position is on all of these points?

And given what we know about Bernanke’s record and positions relative to these questions, absent new information it is not a surprise to see his support dwindling.

Doug Mataconis at Below The Beltway

Joe Weisenthal at Clusterstock:

FireDogLake points to a gated article at Capitol Hill publication Roll Call about the growing Democratic revolt against Bernanke.

The bottom line: There’s a growing chorus of Democrats who aren’t so keen on re-appointing Bernanke just yet. The latest is Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey.

If Ben Bernanke is tossed the market will go into a tizzy that will make yesterday seem like child’s play. Even Warren Buffett recently told CNBC that if Ben Bernanke isn’t going to get re-confirmed he wants to know a day in advance (so he can sell stocks).

It still seems likely that Bernanke will get re-appointed, but the winds are definitely blowing against him. He’s much more in league with Geithner and Summers (ideologically) than he is with current White House hero Paul Volcker.

Eric Zimmermann at The Hill:

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has become the latest lawmaker to announce her opposition to Ben Bernanke’s second term as Fed chairman.

In a statement released to the Huffington Post, Boxer said that while she respects Bernanke, it is “time for a change.”

“Dr. Bernanke played a lead role in crafting the Bush administration’s economic policies, which led to the current economic crisis,” said Boxer. “Our next Federal Reserve Chairman must represent a clean break from the failed policies of the past.”

Boxer’s statement comes just hours after another liberal Democrat, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) announced his opposition to Bernanke.

UPDATE: Lots of posts on Bernanke, we’ll just give you a few:

Brad DeLong

Matthew Yglesias

Kevin Drum

Paul Krugman

Calculated Risk

Noam Scheiber at TNR

Stan Collender

Bruce Bartlett

Peter Suderman at Reason

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