Ground control to Major Dick


Last month, when President Bush signed the FISA compromise bill into law, the Nation joined a lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union over the spying program. The new laws secure for the federal government "sweeping and virtually unregulated authority to monitor the international communications," and so naturally the Nation, which frequently reports from conflict zones, was concerned that their communication might not be private.

This should be a concern for all U.S. news outlets that do international reporting, although sadly the lawsuit didn't get much coverage from any of them. But one would think this should change things:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said Friday that it had improperly obtained the phone records of reporters for The New York Times and The Washington Post in the newspapers' Indonesia bureaus in 2004.

Robert S. Mueller III, director of the F.B.I., disclosed the episode in a phone call to Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times, and apologized for it. He also spoke with Leonard Downie Jr., the executive editor of The Washington Post, to apologize.

F.B.I. officials said the incident came to light as part of the continuing review by the Justice Department inspector general's office into the bureau's improper collection of telephone records through "emergency" records demands issued to phone providers.

The records were apparently sought as part of a terrorism investigation, but the F.B.I. did not explain what was being investigated or why the reporters' phone records were considered relevant.

This proves that the government monitoring the overseas communications of news organizations is not a theoretical concern -- though it would be no less important even then. They've done it at least once recently, we now know. But why? What reporters, and what phone records? Have they done it any other time? To whom? What safeguards are in place, if any, to keep this from happening again?

These are all important questions that the press in America should be asking -- particularly, at least, the outlets that already know they've had their privacy violated. (The New York Times ran this story on page A15; The Washington Post put it on A4. These violations happened in 2004, and the recent FISA Amendments Act strengthened the government's ability to intercept these international communications, and it's hard to see how one could be totally confident in an independent and critical press here with those laws on the books.

In our recent Nation story about the press' love affair with John McCain, we noted the "never mind syndrome" of journalists when it came to, for example, his tax policy. Many reporters seem to be stuck in a time warp back to 2003, when McCain was opposing Bush's tax cuts - they have since enshrined him as a "maverick" on taxes, and nothing seems to be able to focus them on his actual, current tax policy. There is no better example than this story in The Washington Post, caught by Media Matters:

The headline of a Washington Post article read: "Obama Tax Plan Would Balloon Deficit, Analysis Finds." But while the headline focused on Sen. Barack Obama, the article itself reported that the Tax Policy Center found that Sen. John McCain's tax plan would add $5 trillion to the national debt while Obama's plan would add $3.4 trillion.

There really is no conceivable explanation for that. Perhaps the Post will one day offer one, but we doubt it.

Today's entry into the "Just how stupid does a Jewish neoconservative have to be before Rick Klein of The Note won't quote him or her as if he or she were intelligent? "sweepstakes appears here:

"This moment calls for more than playacting, yet Obama looks lost without a presidential script," Jonah Goldberg writes in his Los Angeles Times column. "Perhaps this is not a time for a novice spouting grand rhetoric about a new page in history, but for someone who's actually read the pages of some old, but still relevant, books. Perhaps this is not the time for playacting. Perhaps it is not the time for body surfing?"

Do Klein's parents and the horrid Lucianne Goldberg share a timeshare at the beach club in Boca as well? That's the best explanation I can come up with.

George Zornick writes:

I think everyone should rein in the notion that the National Enquirer was somehow vindicated by John Edwards' recent revelations, a claim made by the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, and countless television pundits these past several days.

Sure, in a general sense, they were right -- Edwards was having an affair. But their road to that scoop is littered with extremely suspect details and apparent misdirections. Just for a brief example, they recently published that blurry photo of someone who looked like Edwards holding a baby, next to a picture of what clearly was Edwards in a similar t-shirt closing some window blinds. The inference everyone was meant to draw was that they had busted Edwards in his rendezvous at the Beverly Hilton -- they even pointed out that the curtains were the same. But, uh, that picture where you can see Edwards was taken several months ago and doesn't even match the clothing that Edwards was wearing that night, as described by the Enquirer itself the week before. The editor of the Enquirer later acknowledged that the photo set doesn't actually "prove anything." No kidding. He never explained when that picture was taken, where, why, nor what Edwards was doing there. And we're supposed to believe this impossibly blurry shot that accompanies it. There's also the matter of the video and photographic evidence of that recent night that the Enquirer claims to have, but hilariously still refuses to release.

Let's not get into all the trashy details the Enquirer threw out there. Edwards says they're 99 percent untrue -- who knows about that percentage, as Edwards hasn't exactly been truthful either -- but they ain't all kosher. My guess is the Enquirer knew he was having an affair, and so threw any and every claim they could out there, since Edwards would never, ever sue, because then a lot of stuff would have to happen under oath. Maybe they knew, like an old country lawyer, that crazy, exaggerated claims would prompt Edwards to come clean on the original story. Who knows? But they haven't been vindicated.

Addendum to Eric's scenario yesterday: What if the secretary of state under said Democratic president refused to "interrupt her holidays" to deal with Russia's assault on Georgia? (In fairness, there may have been a shoe sale involved.)

Also, if you have any doubt about how a Democratic president would be treated in this situation, just read this op-ed from Jonah Goldberg about not-yet-president Obama. Note first that The New York Times says that "Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama found themselves on the same page in dealing with the current crisis, perhaps reflecting the delicacy of the situation." But still, Goldberg assails Obama's "wan written communique" on the conflict, as opposed to, I guess, parachuting into Tbilisi with a machine gun or something.

Suggested reading:

Our hero Jurgen Habermas writes that "European governments are at their wits' end. It is time for them to admit it -- and let the public decide about the future of the European Union." See here.

Also, George Lakoff is profiled in the Chronicle of Higher Education, here. "After a heady few years when he seemed the person Democratic policy makers wanted on the other end of the telephone, Lakoff is finding that what they're asking for -- and are willing to put money behind -- is not always what he can provide. Lakoff's foray into politics is a story marked by intellectual breakthroughs, the allure of influence, and a fall from great heights."

And the legendary Backstreets liner notes to Tracks are finally available online.

From TomDispatch:

"If the global war on terror has produced one undeniable conclusion," writes Andrew Bacevich in a striking new post from TomDispatch, "it is this: Estimates of U.S. military capabilities have turned out to be wildly overstated. The Bush administration's misplaced confidence in the efficacy of American arms represents a strategic misjudgment that has cost the country dearly. Even in an age of stealth, precision weapons, and instant communications, armed force is not a panacea. Even in a supposedly unipolar era, American military power turns out to be quite limited."

When it comes to the nature of American military power, no one in recent years has been more incisive than historian and retired Colonel Andrew Bacevich. His new book, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, has just been published. Short, sharp, to the point, it should be the book of the election season, if only anyone in power, or who might come to power, were actually listening. "Illusions of Victory," adapted from that book, is the first of a two-part series by Bacevich at Tomdispatch this week.

He asks one question of these last years: "How did it happen that Americans so utterly overappraised the utility of military power?" In response, he lays out three great, intermeshing illusions of victory that helped make the Bush years the disaster they have been: that the United States had "succeeded in reinventing armed conflict" -- a form of precision warfare that allowed for easy "regime change" and was a formula for "certain victory"; that a new set of principles for employing its now-dominant forces made a repetition of Vietnam impossible; and that, in its all-volunteer force, "the military and American society had successfully patched up the differences that produced something akin to divorce during the divisive Vietnam years."

Bacevich has written a devastating account of global and strategic folly in these last years. This is must-read criticism from a major figure. He concludes: "Between what President Bush called upon America's soldiers to do and what they were capable of doing loomed a huge gap that defines the military crisis besetting the United States today. For a nation accustomed to seeing military power as its trump card, the implications of that gap are monumental."

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Jack Phillips
Hometown: Kansas City

Dr A,

Trying to boil down Obama's many great qualities to mere "celebrity" is a stunning misnomer and oversimplification. Amazing that the MSM swallows it without much question.

We should remind our conservative friends of their categorical invalidation of "celebrity" the next time they commence public worship of Ronald Reagan.

Name: Tim Kane
Hometown: Mesa, Arizona

Yesterday's opening paragraph was genius. Especially how Russia no longer "[worries] about the opinion of the no-longer-respected-nor-feared United States of America." Throw on top of that the fact that the dollar has lost half its value and the massive debt we owe to the likes of China's central bank and one senses that the United States has been run for the last eight years by Col. Wilhelm Klink.

But my main point was to say how the Neocons and the like on Russia remind me so much of my self in my youth. When I was nine years old I decided I would soon buy a plane. When I was ten I decided I would rather buy a helicopter. When I was eleven I decided I would also need a yacht on which to land my helicopter. Each time I would tell my mother -- seeking her assurance. Each time my mother would say "buy with what? Pink and blue buttons?"

My mother was such a killjoy.

Anyway, when I was 12 I started cutting grass and when I was 14 I held a real job cleaning trash cans in the school cafeteria and bus-boying at an Italian restaurant. Then things started to happen. With my parents help I bought a ten speed bicycle.

The Neocons are little more than foreign policy adolescents: invade Iraq, invade Iran, stare down the Russians, Chinese, Syrians, Hezbollah, and North Koreans. But with what? Pink and blue buttons?

Name: Jim Kruidenier
Hometown: Amherst, MA

Hey, Eric: Amy Sullivan has a very discerning and scary analysis of McCain's "The One" commercial.

Holy crazy Christians, Batman!

Name: Michael Green
Hometown: Las Vegas, NV

Here in the neon-lit desert, we have a pathetic excuse for a daily newspaper, the Review-Journal, whose publisher puts up a blog now and then. He recently posted "John Edwards you dirty, rotten liar." My response was, "I agree. How could John Edwards try to outdo Newt Gingrich? By the way, were you this critical of him?" I continue to await a response. I don't expect much about that, or about McCain's first-marriage philandering or the allegations about his second marriage -- or what I considered the point of The New York Times article about that, which is that his staff wanted him to keep away from the lobbyist, suggesting some questions.

But the chance we missed here was for some Democrat to say that Edwards was "a bad boy, a naughty boy." That was the description of Bill Clinton from none other than the Republican poster child for upstanding, moral behavior, Larry Craig.

Name: Alex Swingle
Hometown: NYC

I realize the sport of choice on this blog is baseball, but this atrocity is something that really needs to be touched on. Plus it gives this Altercator a chance to brag about my 15 minutes of fame (the photographer did a great job of hiding the beer gut).

Anyway, I'd like to add that that this whole thing feels like insult to injury. Out of four Super Bowls, my family has been rejected each time for tickets. I guess they only care about us during the lean years, but then the corporate bigwigs and Paris Hiltons of the world get the prize they never earned and we are relegated to 2nd class citizens.

I find it interesting that the NFL League office is nowhere to be found regarding this PSL insanity. The league is quick to jump on players who exhibit bad behavior, but not owners?

George Zornick adds: As a Buffalo Bills fan, I could go on for hours about the invasive Moneyball mentality in the NFL these days. But let's stick to this situation out in New Jersey -- here's an interesting line from that story about the other New Jersey -- I mean, New York team: "Details of the Jets' PSL plan won't be announced until the end of August, but the Super Bowl champion Giants are charging anywhere from $1,000 to $20,000 per seat."

Now, many football observers kind of scratched their head when the Jets brought Brett Favre to New York at pretty considerable expense -- they're paying out $12 million this year, and more the next, plus a draft pick, to bring in a guy that has a lot of star power but is also flirting with 40 years old and is clearly -- when you consider his past three or four seasons, not just the most recent one -- on a pretty severe downslope, talent-wise. Hell, he retired once already because he said his body wasn't in it. All this was done at the expense of developing a young QB that can actually, you know, lead the team for more than a year or two -- but the supposed future of the franchise is now relegated to the bench, where we won't learn much. (To top it off, the Jets are already running their new star QB into the ground -- as Peter King wrote yesterday, an exhausted Favre said on Thursday night that "I'm so tired of doing interviews and talking about this or talking about that. Tomorrow, hopefully, the mad rush is over.'' But at 9 the next morning, instead of getting ready for practice or resting, he was doing a photo-op downtown with Mayor Bloomberg.)

All strange, until you consider the fact the Jets are going to try to sell these ridiculous four and five-figure PSLs later this month -- in a town that's already got a Super Bowl champion. This is a tall task that's a lot easier to do if you have Brett Favre on the ticket package instead of J. Chadwick Pennington, Kellen Clemens, or whoever. The media isn't too interested in this angle -- but Favre was a business move, folks, plain and simple, not a football move. As a Bills fan, anything that's bad for the Jets is good for me. But as a football fan, I'm offended. (End rant.)

Eric adds: Lucky for you George is here, bub.

Name: Wilton Parmenter, Jr.
Hometown: St. Paul, MN

With all due respect for Pete, Roger and ghosts, this is the best cover of Summertime Blues, evah! This cover kicks butt and takes names.

Eric writes: I publish that letter to demonstrate just how deluded a person can be.

Name: Ron Zucker
Hometown: Washington, DC

IMHO, "Backstreets" is the greatest breakup song in the history of Rock 'n' roll, hands down. My old songwriting teacher Bill Spooner (formerly of The Tubes, a pioneering band in their day) liked to say that there were exactly 10 kinds of love songs. Then I reminded him of "Backstreets," and he was forced to invent a new category: "You never really loved me, anyway, did you?"

"Blame it on the lies that killed us
Blame it on the truth that ran us down
You can blame it all on me, Terry, it don't matter to me now
When the breakdown came at midnight there was nothin' left to say
But I hated him
And I hated you when you went away"

"Jungleland" is great. A lot of Springsteen is great, and I'm a fan. But as a songwriter, I think there are certain absolutely perfect lines, and that's one of them. I am SO jealous of the kind of talent it takes to write that.

Name: Peter Ames Carlin
Hometown: Portland, Ore.

All due respect to all concerned, but there's a middle ground in this discussion that you're not acknowledging: That a realist can listen to any post-peak album by a great artist and hear the rustling of both chaff and wheat.

The magic of the Beatles was, of course, their ability to be almost perfect almost all of the time. But there were four of them, all working at the pinnacle of their game at the same time (with George Martin at the peak of his game, too). No artist can keep that up for very long, and so no surprise that each Fab lost a step or more in ensuing years.

Does this make ALL of their post-1970 (or '75 or '80 or fill in your own blank here) output worthless? Of course it doesn't.

Eric replies: No, it doesn't make it worthless. But the vast majority of it is, alas.

Name: Jim
Hometown: Swanzey, NH

Harrison was marvelous technically and imaginative musically but needed someone else to "play with." Check out the Traveling Wilburys vids on YouTube, if not for the music then for the pleasure of watching George and the others enjoying the process.

Eric replies: Yes, that's a wonderful album, lending further credence to the notion that these boys could not work well without something to prove ...

Name: Peter Bartlett
Hometown: SF, CA

Another vote here for RAM.

Hearing Jon Brion play "Too Many People" at Largo in LA was one of my all time favorite live concert moments.

Eric replies: And truer today than ever ...

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