Thursday, June 26, 2008

Keith Olbermann flip-flops on FISA to support Obama.

Ostensible "liberal" or "progressive" Keith Olbermann blows with the wind, as you can see from today's Glenn Greenwald column in SALON:

Here's the text of the Olbermann portion (the last paragraph was highlighted by me):

On January 31 of this year, Keith Olbermann donned his most serious face and most indignant voice tone to rail against George Bush for supporting telecom immunity and revisions to FISA. In a 10-minute "Special Comment," the MSNBC star condemned Bush for wanting to "retroactively immunize corporate criminals," and said that telecom immnity is "an ex post facto law, which would clear the phone giants from responsibility for their systematic, aggressive and blatant collaboration with [Bush's] illegal and unjustified spying on Americans under this flimsy guise of looking for any terrorists who are stupid enough to make a collect call or send a mass email."

Olbermann added that telecom amnesty was a "shameless, breathless, literally textbook example of Fascism -- the merged efforts of government and corporations that answer to no government." Noting the numerous telecom lobbyists connected to the Bush administration, Olbermann said:

This is no longer just a farce in which protecting telecoms is dressed up as protecting us from terrorists conference cells. Now it begins to look like the bureaucrats of the Third Reich, trying to protect the Krupp family, the industrial giants, re-writing the laws of Germany for their benefit.

Olbermann closed by scoffing at the idea that telecom amnesty or revisions to FISA were necessary to help National Security:

There is not a choice of protecting the telecoms from prosecution or protecting the people from terrorism, Sir. This is a choice of protecting the telecoms from prosecution or pretending to protect the people from terrorists. Sorry, Mr. Bush, the eavesdropping provisions of FISA have obviously had no impact on counter-terrorism, and there is no current or perceived terrorist threat the thwarting of which could hinge on an email or phone call that is going through Room 641 of AT&T in San Francisco.

Strong and righteous words indeed. But that was five wholemonths ago, when George Bush was urging enactment of a law with retroactive immunity and a lessening of FISA protections. Now that Barack Obama supports a law that does the same thing -- and now that Obama justifies that support by claiming that this bill is necessary to keep us Safe from the Terrorists -- everything has changed.

Last night, Olbermann invited Newsweek's Jonathan Alter onto his show to discuss Obama's support for the FISA and telecom amnesty bill (video of the segment is here). There wasn't a syllable uttered about "immunizing corporate criminals" or "textbook examples of Fascism" or the Third Reich. There wasn't a word of rational criticism of the bill either. Instead, the two media stars jointly hailed Obama's bravery and strength -- as evidenced by his "standing up to the left" in order to support this important centrist FISA compromise:

OLBERMANN: Asked by "Rolling Stone" publisher, Jann Wenner, about how Democrats have cowered in the wake of past Republican attacks, Senator Obama responding, quote, "Yeah, I don't do cowering." That's evident today in at least three issues . . .

Senator Obama also refusing to cower even to the left on the subject of warrantless wiretapping. He's planning to vote for the FISA compromise legislation, putting him at odds with members of his own party . . . But first, it's time to bring in our own Jonathan Alter, also, of course, senior editor of "Newsweek" magazine.

Good evening, Jon.


OLBERMANN: "Yeah, I don't do cowering." This is not just the man, but the campaign?

ALTER: Yes. This is part of the message that is consistent across the last couple weeks and it comes down to one word -- strength. The United States is not going to elect a president that perceives to be as weak. You look weak if you're flip-flopping. You look weak if you're not taking actions that seem to be securing the United States against terrorists. And you look weak if you don't fight back against your political adversaries.

OLBERMANN: But this cuts,Imean, this terminology cuts in more than one direction here. Not cowering to Republicans is one thing in the Democratic, recent Democratic history, it's a thing that I think anybody who has a "D" near their name cheers, but not cowering to the left, not going along with the conventional, the new conventional thinking on the FISA bill, that's something altogether different, isn't it?

ALTER: Yes. I don't really think it is. It was only a matter of time before the left was disappointed in Barack Obama, at least in a limited way. No politician is ever going to do everything that somebody likes.

And I think some folks in the netroots in particular on this FISA bill who are, you know, pulling their hair out over this, they have to realize, he's always been a politician, he'll always be a politician, and politics is the art of the possible. And he's a legislator. He knows that you can't always get everything that you want in a bill, even if he personally believes that the immunity for Telcoms is a bad idea. The larger idea of the bill was important.

And I actually think one of the big points, Keith, that hasn't been made about this bill is that currently, as of last August, since last August, we've been operating in an unconstitutional environment, clear violation of the Fourth Amendment.

So, there was tremendous urgency to get the FISA court back into the game. And does this bill do it imperfectly? Yes. But it does do it and it restores the Constitution, which is a point that's not getting made very much.

Leave aside the fact that Jonathan Alter, desperate to defend Obama, doesn't have the slightest idea of what he's talking about. How can a bill which increases the President's authority to eavesdrop with no warrants over the current FISA law possibly be described as a restoration of the Fourth Amendment? That would be like describing a new law banning anti-war speech as a restoration of the First Amendment.

As Jim Dempsey and Marty Lederman both note, not even the nation's most foremost FISA experts really know the full extent to which this bill allows new warrantless spying. Obviously, Jonathan Alter has no idea what he's saying, but nonetheless decrees that this bill -- now that Obama supports it -- restores the Fourth Amendment. Those are the Orwellian lengths to which people like Olbermann and Alter are apparently willing to go in order to offer their blind devotion to Barack Obama.

Moreover, Alter's own explanation is self-contradictory. In the course of praising Obama's FISA stance, he says that a politician looks "weak if you're flip-flopping" and "you look weak if you don't fight back against your political adversaries." But that's exactly what Obama is doing here -- completely reversing himself on telecom amnesty and warrantless eavesdropping, all in order to give the right-wing of the GOP everything it wants on national security issues in order to avoid a fight. By Alter's own reasoning, what Obama's doing is "weak" in the extreme, yet Alter bizarrely praises Obama for showing "strength."

All of the decades-old, conventional Beltway mythologies are trotted out here to praise Obama. Democrats move to the "center" by embracing hard-core right-wing policies. Democrats will look "weak" unless they turn themselves into Republican clones on national security. A President becomes "strong" when he tramples on the Constitution and the rule of law in the name of keeping us safe. Democrats must embrace the Right and repudiate the base of their own party, and they must support Dick Cheney's policies while "standing up to the ACLU."

That's just the garden-variety New Republic Syndrome I wrote about earlier this week. That's the mentality that led large numbers of Democrats to vote for the attack on Iraq, and then ignore and/or enable the whole stable of Bush's lawlessness and other radical policies ("that's how we'll avoid looking weak and liberal"). Those Move-to-the-Center cliches just tumble reflexively out of the mouths of every standard Beltway establishment pundit.

What's much more notable is Olbermann's full-scale reversal on how he talks about these measures now that Obama -- rather than George Bush -- supports them. On an almost nightly basis, Olbermann mocks Congressional Democrats as being weak and complicit for failing to stand up to Bush lawbreaking; now that Obama does it, it's proof that Obama won't "cower." Grave warning on Olbermann's show that telecom amnesty and FISA revisions were hallmarks of Bush Fascism instantaneously transformed into a celebration that Obama, by supporting the same things, was leading a courageous, centrist crusade in defense of our Constitution.

Is that really what anyone wants -- transferring blind devotion from George Bush to Barack Obama? Are we hoping for a Fox News for Obama, that glorifies everything he says and whitewashes everything he does? Compare what Russ Feingold said in an interview yesterday about the Democrats' support for the FISA bill to Olbermann's absurd effort to depict Obama as courageous for supporting it:

It's the latest chapter of running for cover when the Administration tries to intimidate Democrats on national security issues. It's the most embarrassing failure of the Democrats I've seen since 2006, other than the failure to vote to end the Iraq War. . . . It's letting George Bush and Dick Cheney have their way even though they're that unpopular and on their way out. It's really incredible.

It isn't that difficult to keep the following two thoughts in one's head at the same time -- though it seems to be for many people:

(1) What Barack Obama is doing on Issue X is wrong, indefensible and worthy of extreme criticism;

(2) I support Barack Obama for President because he's a better choice than John McCain.

As but one example, John Cole was a vehement supporter of Barack Obama throughout the primary. He viciously criticized Hillary Clinton on a regular basis and raised tens of thousands of dollars for Obama's campaign through his blog. But this week alone, Cole lambasted Obama for what he called Obama's "total collapse and a rapid abandonment of principle" regarding FISA and pronounced as a "pathetic performance" Obama's refusal to be photographed anywhere near Muslims or tomeet with Muslim leaders. Despite that, just yesterday, Cole said:

No, I don't have buyers remorse. Yes, he still is better than Hillary or McCain. No, I am not disillusioned (I never thought he was a flaming liberal in the first place). I am, however, disgusted, and I will caution the Obama campaign that "better than McCain" is not much of a rallying cry. We all remember how "anything is better than Bush" turned out in 2004.

That's called being a rational adult who refuses to relinquish one's intellectual honesty, integrity, and political principles in order to march lockstep behind a political leader. Those who think that Barack Obama should not be criticized no matter how wrong he is -- or those who justify anything that he does no matter how craven and unjustifiable, including things that they viciously criticized when done by Dick Cheney or Harry Reid -- are no different, and no better, than those who treated George Bush with similar uncritical reverence in 2003 and 2004.

The real danger is that those who defend Obama the Candidate no matter what he does are likely to defend Obama the President no matter what he does, too. If we learn in 2009 that Obama has invoked his claimed Article II powers to spy on Americans outside of even the new FISA law, are we going to hear from certain factions that he was justified in doing so to protect us; how it's a good, shrewd move to show he's a centrist and keep his approval ratings high so he can do all the Good things he wants to do for us; how it's different when Obama does it because we can trust him? It certainly looks that way. Those who spent the last five years mauling Bush for "shredding the Constitution" and approving of lawbreaking -- only to then praise Obama for supporting a bill that endorses and protects all of that -- are displaying exactly the type of blind reverence that is more dangerous than any one political leader could ever be.

Update (6/27/08): Here's a link to Greenwald's latest entry on this matter, which also contains a link to Olbermann's rebuttal:

Update (6/30/08): A pertinent portion of today's Greenwald column for SALON:

The central problem is that if Democrats embrace the GOP framework of National Security -- that "Strength" means what the GOP says it means -- then that framework gets enforced and perpetuated, and it's a framework within which Democrats can't possibly win, because Republicans will always "out-Strength" Democrats within that framework. It's only by challenging and disputing the underlying premises can Democrats change the way that "strength" and "weakness" are understood.

The Democrats had such a smashing victory in 2006 because -- for the first time in a long time, and really despite themselves -- there was a perception (rightly or wrongly) that they actually stood for something different than the GOP in National Security (an end to the War in Iraq). Drawing a clear distinction with the deeply unpopular GOP is how Democrats look strong. The advice that they should "move to the center" and copy Republicans is guaranteed to make them look weak -- because it is weak. It's the definition of weakness.

The most distinctive and potent -- one could even say exciting -- aspect of Obama's campaign had been his aggressive refusal to accept GOP pieties on National Security, his insistence that the GOP would lose -- and should lose -- debates over who is "stronger" and more "patriotic" and who will keep us more safe. The widely-celebrated foreign policy memo written by Obama's adviser, Samantha Power, heaped scorn on Washington's national security "conventional wisdom," emphasizing how weak and vulnerable it has made the U.S. When Obama took that approach, he appeared to be, and in fact was, resolute and unapologetic in defending his own views -- the very attributes that define "strength."

The advice he's getting, and apparently beginning to follow, is now the opposite: that he should shed his prior beliefs in favor of the amorphous, fuzzy, conventional GOP-leaning Center, that he should cease to insist on a re-examination of National Security premises and instead live within the GOP framework. That's likely to lead to many things, but a perception of strength isn't one of them. One of the very few things in the universe with a worse track record than America's dominant Foreign Policy Community is the central religious belief of the Democratic consultant class and Beltway punditry that Democrats, to be successful, must shed their own beliefs and "move to the Center."

Link to the full column is below:

Monday, June 23, 2008

Don Imus still hearts stereotyping African-Americans.

Here's a link to an AOL article about a recent racial remark Don Imus made on his current radio show:

Here's a transcript of what Imus said about Dallas Cowboy Adam Jones:

Wolf: "Defensive back Adam 'Pacman' Jones, recently signed by the Cowboys. Here's a guy suspended all of 2007 following a shooting in a Vegas night club."

Imus: "Well, stuff happens. You're in a night club, for God's sake. What do you think's gonna happen in a night club? People are drinking and doing drugs, there are women there, and people have guns. So, there, go ahead."

Wolf: "He's also been arrested six times since being drafted by Tennessee in 2005."

Imus: "What color is he?"

Wolf: "He's African-American."

Imus: "Well, there you go. Now we know."

Given Imus' lower profile since last year's "nappy headed hos" slur about the Rutgers women's basketball team, it will be interesting to guess how long the media reaction will last.

And let's see if Disney/ABC (where Imus airs on the corporation's NYC station WABC), who also continues to air Pat Robertson's 700 CLUB on ABCFamily, will have any significant reaction to Imus' continuing ability to think that all people of the same skin color behave alike.

Update (6/24/08): From Cristian Salazar of the Associated Press--

WABC and Citadel Broadcasting Corp. Vice President Phil Boyce said Monday that it was unlikely the broadcasters would take disciplinary action against Imus.

[Apparently, the comments below were considered a sort of mea culpa from the I-Man]

On Tuesday he said he was following the spirit of that promise by calling attention to the unfair treatment of blacks - in this case the arrests of suspended Dallas Cowboys cornerback Adam Jones.

"What people should be outraged about is that they arrest blacks for no reason," Imus said. "I mean, there's no reason to arrest this kid six times. Maybe he did something once, but everyone does something once."

He called the flurry of criticism surrounding the comments "ridiculous" and said that his program's cast is now more diverse than ever - and includes a black producer and two black co-hosts.

"How insane would I have to be? What would I be thinking?" Imus wondered aloud.

Co-host Karith Foster - who is black - came to Imus' defense during Tuesday's broadcast, saying, "People who interpret what you said as racist clearly didn't hear the whole thing, and they don't know who you are and what the program is about - and they obviously haven't been listening."

[It seems to me that the mea culpa seems more like sleight-of-hand to deflect attention from the ugliness of the comment about Jones.]




Friday, June 20, 2008

The critique of Tim Russert you likely won't hear Keith Olbermann complain about.

Last night on COUNTDOWN, Keith Olbermann fulminated over a NEW YORK POST Page Six item regarding the jockeying for Tim Russert's hosting job on MEET THE PRESS.  Keith blew a gasket over gossip that claimed that he would "quit" if not chosen as MTP host.

Given that the online journal SLATE is now run by The Washington Post (entangled with both MSNBC and NEWSWEEK), it's unlikely you'll hear Olbermann vent his distaste with this SLATE story by Jack Shafer about the apparent quid-pro-quo "here's some tidbits about Washington movers-and-shakers you might like" exchanges regarding Russert and uberconservative columnist Robert Novak:


Thursday, June 19, 2008

MOVE-ON's "Alex" ad--propaganda everyone can hate.

Full disclosure: I occasionally give money to

And, unlike some pundits, I didn't have a problem with last year's MoveOn print ad which had the headline GENERAL PETRAEUS OR GENERAL BETRAY US? regarding Petraeus being a Trojan Horse for George Butch, Jr.'s Iraq policy.

But this ad with a smug yuppette holding a baby--and telling John McCain "you can't have him" breaks the camel's back for me:

Yes, there is a need for ads about the mostly-under-the-radar determination of the U.S. to stay in Iraq and to ensure its soldiers and contractors not answer to Iraqi law.  But the current MoveOn campaign plays directly into the hands of those pro-war conservatives who think that liberals are effete, out of touch and willing to let those with lesser incomes and levels of education do the fighting for them.

It may be one thing to film a propaganda "don't kill my baby" ad with an actress who looks like she's struggling to make each month's rent and other vital expenses, such as food and transportation.  But the current MoveOn ad--appealing to yuppie entitlement and an "I can afford to not be touched by random violence" ethos--is, frankly, appalling--and may be one of the few things in this election year that will bring both liberals and conservatives together.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Glenn Greenwald on UK debate over civil liberties of accused terror suspects.

Given the US media tendency to not pay much attention to news from abroad, here's a link to Glenn Greenwald's SALON column about the debate over UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown's recently-passed initiative to lengthen the detention of terror suspects without charges to 42 days from 28:

Sidebar: This past weekend, CNN did cover a story where secret UK government records were accidentally left in public--for the second time.  But the coverage was rather smirky at best.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Some comments on Russertmania or the canonization of Saint Timothy.

A few random thoughts on the death of Tim Russert--which seems like a sort of psychological blotter on the past, present and future of television news:

1. It was said in THE NEW YORK TIMES that Russert didn't often appear on MSNBC, apparently to preserve his status as an Eminence of NBC News.  So the irony of MSNBC turning into the Tim Russert Channel over the weekend--instead of the usual reruns of convict documentaries and repurposed DEADLINE episodes--must be noted here.

2. A few minutes ago, I caught some of a 2006 LARRY KING LIVE rerun where Russert was offering a rationale of sorts for the Butch administration deciding to go to war in Iraq.  Yes, like Ted Koppel, Russert could ask "tough" questions.  But Russert could also, like Koppel, be too deferential to power; telling the Official Story is still paramount in major network news.

3. Let's face it--current NBC News President Steve Capus qualifies as a obnoxious pig for allowing the V-Tech killer's self-created I've-got-guns press-kit to hit the nation's airwaves a year ago.  And perhaps the Old Guard of NBC News--Tom Brokaw, Andrea Mitchell, et al....were partially mourning Russert's death because they can see more budget cuts and tabloidization of the news department in future months.  And Steve Capus will undoubtedly oink his agreement with what his masters at NBCUniversal order up.

4. Russert's passing also opened a window into the corporate culture of NBC's news department.  Apparently, to be truly eminent at 30 Rock, one has to persist in a blinkered belief that America is almost totally white and longing for reruns of the do-as-you're-told era of Truman and Eisenhower.  And it doesn't hurt to emulate the posing-for-a-monument Tom Brokaw and write intended-as-bestselling books about shared Values which deify an America of the distant past.  And, as has often happened in recent years, expect the racial/religious/sexual diversity and shared Values of today's America to be ignored by network news while it goes on doing the same old things in the same old ways.

Update (7/9/08): Here's an opinion by journalist Lewis Lapham which concurs a bit with what I've written above:

Friday, June 6, 2008

Sting to Stewart and Andy: you've made gobs of money, now let me go solo again and make SOUL CAGES 2

Latest e-mail from

We are pleased to announce that The Police's final concert of their reunion tour will be held on August 7, 2008, at Madison Square Garden in New York. Proceeds from this event will benefit Public Television Rocks! and public television stations Thirteen/WNET and WLIW21, producers of arts programming seen all across America. Tune in to Thirteen/WNET and WLIW21 on Saturday, June 14th at 7:30 PM ET to see classic Police concert footage and interviews.

The Police's final concert of their reunion tour will also feature special guests the B-52's.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A guide to poetry venues: from the POETIX site.

This entry concerns a link to a list of poetry venues from the POETIX site that have been vetted for quality by the writer, who also provides the calendar of venues, readers and dates that can be found on the site.

Some of the venues listed are those where, if you want to rise in the hosts' esteem, you'd better present yourself as a Chicken McNugget eager to absorb the wisdom that will transform you into Cordon Bleu. 

But, caveats aside, the writer's list of favorites are probably the most prominent venues in this current phase of poetry, where satisfying others' notions of "quality" count for more than actually listening to what people have to offer.

(Here's the link to the POETIX piece:

Or to recall something Jack Nicholson allegedly said to legendary acting coach/character actor Jeff Corey:

"You don't recognize [or realize] the poetry I'm giving you."