Friday, November 6, 2009

White House's Over-the-Top Message Control

At first, I dismissed the importance and relevance of Robert Gibbs's remark about Fox News Channel. I figured it was a one-time jab and that would be the end of it. Then, as members of the "real" media followed-up and Gibbs still didn't back down, I began to think they were approaching a very fine line to "chill" Fox's First Amendment protection, which is very dangerous ground to tread.

And now there's this:
At least one Democratic political strategist has gotten a blunt warning from the White House to never appear on Fox News Channel, an outlet that presidential aides have depicted as not so much a news-gathering operation as a political opponent bent on damaging the Obama administration.
This news is brought to you not by Fox News, National Review, or the Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal, but the Los Angeles Times.

So, let me get this right. Not only is Fox News just an arm of the Republican party to attack all things Obama, but now the administration has decided to tell it's own supporters that they shouldn't appear on Fox to give their views--in essence, enforcing the one-sidedness of their channel?

Look, nobody with a brain thinks Fox doesn't cater to the Right. But this doesn't automatically disqualify them from being a news organization any more than MSNBC's leftward tilt disqualifies it. Fox is the highest rated cable news network, which means that the White House's efforts are aimed at depriving the largest single cable news audience of certain points of view and information. Why on Earth would the White House do this?

As I've said before, I abhor most television news. It's shallow, vapid, and more style than substance. That said, this continued assault on Fox begins to look less like a petty vendetta than it does programmatic message control. I'm not going Godwin again, I'm just saying that nothing good can come out of stifling discussions and threatening your own partisans for appearing on a network that caters to a wide audience.

I have no particular affinity for FNC--indeed, I find some of their programming repugnant. But these efforts are moving beyond spin control and are moving ever-closer to illegal and immoral governmental disruption of activities explicitly protected by the First Amendment.

This needs to stop now.

Free Kareem!

When I first came to DC, I was told about the plight of an Egyptian blogger named Kareem Amer. Kareem has been shunned by his family and imprisoned in Egypt for nothing more than publishing unpleasant but true complaints about Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and some of the more oppressive aspects of Islamic law.

Can you imagine being incarcerated for speaking your mind--in defense of freedom, no less? Needless to say, this young man should be freed.

Yet, he still sits in an Egyptian prison--as he has for the past 1,096 days.

There is a protest scheduled at noon in D.C. at the Egyptian cultural center in DuPont Circle. If you can make it, I strongly encourage you to attend. I have attended several and helped organize one of the protests (I am unfortunately unable to attend this one). You'll meet some great people for a good cause--and it'll get you out of the office for a bit too.

Our current administration has already demonstrated its endorsement of curbing free speech rights around the globe, so you'll sooner see Hillary Clinton in a skirt than hear her so much as reproach Egypt for this crime. Someone has to stand up for what is right.

You can visit for more information about Kareem's plight and the facebook event page for info on today's protest.

Free Kareem!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Cut the Taxes. Cut the Spending. Cut the Jesus.

So, what can we learn from the three two and a half electoral contests of note last night?

The gubernatorial victories for the GOP in Virginia and New Jersey showcased explicitly free market conservatism with a muted tinge of social conservatism. That, I think, is a good thing.

As for the NY-23 election, the Tea Partiers and talk radio yahoos put all their chips in against a Republican in favor of a guy whose first issue on his website is "Gay Marriage." He lost, and thus another Democrat holds a seat in the House. The nation's two newest governors-elect did have social conservative messages on their sites, but they certainly weren't highlighted and considerably down the list of priorities.

Lesson: Cut the taxes. Cut the spending. Cut the Jesus.

Jesus is all well and good for emulating his life and taking his lessons to heart. But until he starts feeding the unemployed with fishes and loaves, best leave him at home and at church on Sunday. Whether you think Jesus was just a wise man, a prophet, or the Savior of mankind, a politician he was not. Keep him in your heart, if that's your thing, but leave him out of politics.

The pundits will say what the Dems need to learn from yesterday and what it means to the president and health care and all that, but I think the Republicans should take heed as well. Last night's victors were decidedly not Huckabee and Palin Christian populists, yet all signs point to those two in leading the GOP in 2012.

Let's hope the Republicans get the message from yesterday too.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Further Empowering the Most Powerful Man on the Planet

Over at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen, Jamelle has an idea to "address long term challenges" through "meaningful legislation": fundamentally change the structure of Congress so that it's "more responsive." To wit:

Accountability is nice, but absent further institutional reform, it still leaves you with that basic problem (albeit slightly reduced). Better would be to reduce or eliminate some of those barriers, as to make better legislation possible in the first place. A system where committees are weaker, majorities are stronger and obstructionism harder is a system that incentivizes better legislation, as each member knows that their bill can make it to the floor in more or less its original state. It’s a system where there are fewer opportunities for capture by special or parochial interests, and it’s a system that actually empowers presidents to pursue their agendas.
(Emphasis mine.)

Jamelle starts off his post saying that the conventional wisdom among Lefty bloggers is that Congress is "broken" and thus needs fixing so that the president can get his important agenda through past all those darned obstructionists.

First of all, it isn't the job of Congress to enable the president to do anything. In fact, bold, lame, or otherwise bland legislative agendas are, indeed, the sole prerogative of the, er, legislature. The very first legally binding part of the Constitution reads:

Article 1 Section 1. All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.
Not most. Not some. Not 'all but those the president or the party of greater assumed moral right feel necessary.' All. This isn't some obscure, buried clause of ambiguous meaning where intelligent people can differ. This is the first word of the first line of law that establishes our current form of government.

And it isn't that I'm naive as to 'how government really works.' Nor would I even imply that extra-constitutional power grabs are the exclusive domain of one party. Indeed, I oppose the expansion of executive power because of the fact that presidents of any party seek to enlarge their power--and whatever power you give to one president, you give to his opponents who will, eventually, succeed him.

The naivete, I would argue, is in the assumption that these heightened powers would always be used for good, or even assumed that they would be used for good on net. Despite the disarray of the current GOP, the notion of a permanent Democratic majority is just as fanciful as the permanent Republican majority imagined in the early Bush (43) years. Political tides change and, invariably, the party in the White House changes also. I can't imagine Jamelle or Yglesias or any number of Lefty bloggers arguing for this power four years ago. The reason for that is, of course, their compatriots would have looked at them as if they were mentally defective to argue to give W. more power. Yet, for some reason, there is a consensus among these same folks that we do exactly that today as if a Republican will never come back into office.

Whatever power you give the guy you agree with, by way of our precedent-based system of laws, you give them to your political adversaries. Furthermore, the precedent given is not only that of the explicit power granted, but the power to expand the limits of power generally. Thus, by saying this or that constitutional limit doesn't apply because you have compelling reasons, any other constitutional limit is therefore vulnerable to the same argument, rendering the Constitution itself moot.

You would think that adherents to the party that has one--ONE!!--president elected twice since FDR (who governed much like a Republican after the first two years) would be wary about vesting too much power in the presidency. But, ah, how short-term our memories are when your guy (or gal, I suppose) gets in power.

A Republican case in point: Yoo'll never guess who lamented the extra-constitutional executive powers of the Clinton administration:
"President Clinton has exercised the powers of the imperial presidency to the upmost ... [and] undermine[d] notions of democratic accountability and respect for the rule of law ... ."
Of course, this is from the same man who would write this with a straight face, just two years later, what later became known as a "Torture Memo":
“our Office [of Legal Counsel] recently concluded that the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations.” (Emphasis in original)
Even if one was so naive to think that every president from their party was a politician with the heart of gold and the wherewithal (i.e., superhuman knowledge) to effectively implement the "meaningful legislation" Jamelle et al. would like pass, such contortions of our rule of law leads to the unraveling of our most fundamental protections against state encroachment. This isn't some reductio ad absurdum argument: this is a playing out of rights preferences of one political party over the other. One party is marginally better on property rights, the other on civil liberties--or at least, they pretend to be. But if you grant one of them the power to run roughshod over the rights and liberties they find less compelling, you grant the other side the very same. Such actions, by either party, are inimical to individual liberty.

Because of, not in spite of, Congress's numerous abrogations of its Constitutional duty to act as a check on the Executive and punting its prerogative to declare war by writing Bush a blank check on the Iraq invasion, we're facing many of the problems the so-called "Progressives" have been complaining about for years. And it's not all the Republicans fault: one only has to look to the recent half-assed "debate" on PATRIOT Act reforms and State's Secrets protections sought by the current administration to show that civil liberties and transparency aren't much more popular at either end Pennsylvania than they were last year.

Nevertheless, the "Progressive" idea is to further empower the most powerful man on the planet to charge headlong into some new foray of ill-conceived and expensive adventure in the name of what's best. How this ever got the label of "progress" is fully beyond me.

Congress wasn't meant to work efficiently. (and thank Madison for that!) The fact the president can't just come up with an idea and make it so is the essence and beauty of deliberative democracy, not some sort of calamity.

In the future, as a practical matter, the next time Jamelle et al. want to give Obama more power, perhaps they should stop and think, "What would W. do with it?"

UPDATE: It should be noted that weeks ago, I happened upon a blog entry Yglesias wrote in 2005 arguing for the rejection of the filibuster. I never changed the post to reflect that, and since have. 10 points for consistency, but still 0 points for efficacy.