Thursday, December 31, 2009

Pushing Back Against Fearmongering

Rachel has rarely been better than this...
Shameless Cheney ignores own record to cast stones Dec. 30: Rachel Maddow holds Dick Cheney and Republican opportunists to account for their shameless hypocrisy, distortions and outright lies in criticizing President Obama's response to the attempted bombing of Flight 253 in the face of their abject, egregious failures to deal with terrorist threats to the United States when they were in power.

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  • This is the Republican response to this terrorist attack at the end of 2009.

    Again, my friends and colleagues in the media have two choices in covering this. You can just copy down what the Republicans and Vice President Cheney are saying, and click "send," call it journalism, or you can actually fact-check those comments and put them into context. Your choice. It’s your country.

It's understandable that the White House, any White House, wants to stay "above the fray." A president and his/her team have broader responsibilities that preclude tit-for-tat squabbles with petty partisans.

That said, some criticisms deserve responses. Dick Cheney, for example, isn't some two-bit radio shock-jock in a third-tier market -- he only acts like it -- but is rather the former vice president of the United States. His loathsome and spectacularly dishonest attack on the president yesterday was hard to ignore.

And with that in mind, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer published an important item yesterday, offering a surprisingly forceful response to Cheney's latest vile nonsense. Pfeiffer noted at the outset that it's "telling" that Cheney and his right-wing cohorts "seem to be more focused on criticizing the Administration than condemning the attackers."

Just as important, Pfeiffer offered a "substantive context" for those who seem desperate to assign blame for a failed terrorist attack.

[F]or seven years after 9/11, while our national security was overwhelmingly focused on Iraq -- a country that had no al Qaeda presence before our invasion -- Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda's leadership was able to set up camp in the border region of Pakistan and Afghanistan, where they continued to plot attacks against the United States. Meanwhile, al Qaeda also regenerated in places like Yemen and Somalia, establishing new safe-havens that have grown over a period of years. It was President Obama who finally implemented a strategy of winding down the war in Iraq, and actually focusing our resources on the war against al Qaeda -- more than doubling our troops in Afghanistan, and building partnerships to target al Qaeda's safe-havens in Yemen and Somalia. And in less than one year, we have already seen many al Qaeda leaders taken out, our alliances strengthened, and the pressure on al Qaeda increased worldwide.

To put it simply: this President is not interested in bellicose rhetoric, he is focused on action. Seven years of bellicose rhetoric failed to reduce the threat from al Qaeda and succeeded in dividing this country. And it seems strangely off-key now, at a time when our country is under attack, for the architect of those policies to be attacking the President.

That's a rather diplomatic way of saying, "Dick, you had your shot and you failed. Now shut up while we clean up your mess. You can thank us later."

Cheney's disgusting missive also insisted that the president, by his estimation, doesn't realize we're "at war." Pfeiffer reminds us of several instances in which Obama has made it clear that, as far as this administration is concerned, we are very much at war.

There are numerous other such public statements that explicitly state we are at war. The difference is this: President Obama doesn't need to beat his chest to prove it, and -- unlike the last Administration -- we are not at war with a tactic ("terrorism"), we at war with something that is tangible: al Qaeda and its violent extremist allies. And we will prosecute that war as long as the American people are endangered.

Well said.

C&L: Rep. Eric Massa Smacks Down Dick Cheney--Challenges Him to a Debate

This was a thing of beauty. Ed Schultz takes a few swings at Dick Cheney himself and brings in Rep. Eric Massa who smacks down Cheney for politicizing the attempted terror attack and says he'll debate him any time, anywhere, even on Fox News if Cheney won't appear anywhere else. Just make sure you're in studio Congressman. They'll cut your mike if you're off the set.

And on the topic of Dick Cheney and his good little stenographer over at The Politico, Andrew Sullivan got this one right--Mike Allen, Cheney's Chief Spokesman:

There he goes again, the mouthpiece for Rove and Cheney, believing his "access" as a stenographer makes him a journalist. It doesn't. It makes him a stenographer.

I would be more than happy if everyone just started ignoring Dick Cheney and his stenographer Mike Allen. Cheney is a spineless hack who hides behind the shield of Fox News, and The Politico, or AEI or any of these other right wing neo-con think tanks that allow him to give speeches and take pot shots at Democrats. I agree with Rep. Massa and Ed Schultz. Let Dick Cheney come testify before Congress along with Janet Napolitano and let's see how he fairs defending their horrid record on terrorism.

Sully: Dissent Of The Day

A reader writes:

Your cultural hangover seems to extend to embracing unfortunate aspects of British nonsense as well:

`Let the jury consider their verdict,' the King said, for about the twentieth time that day. `No, no!' said the Queen. `Sentence first – verdict afterwards.'

Obama has already proved he’s not Bush, otherwise he would be clubbing down the press and political opponents by suggesting that any critique of government would embolden “the enemy”. Rather, Obama has conceded to a breakdown in the system and vowed to correct it. Can you conceive of Bush ever admitting to a mistake on his watch?

Demanding the immediate sacking of Napolitano as a symbolic gesture of accountability is akin to requiring idiotic new airline screening procedures – it provides the illusion of decisive action and does nothing except create a false sense of “something is being done”. If an investigation shows that she utterly failed at her job, then by all means she needs to go. However, to fire Napolitano without evidence of incompetence would be opportunistic, craven, and foolish (also trademarks of the Bush administration).

About a millisecond after Northwest Airlines Flight 253 was on the ground on Friday, federal officials took Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab into custody. He was soon after charged with attempted terrorism. Conservatives aren't happy about this for a variety of reasons, but one concern in particular is especially wrong.

Tom Ridge, for example, told Americans this week that Abdulmutallab will only provide information "if he volunteers it." Similarly, the Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb complained that "we can't interrogate" the suspected terrorist.

Obviously, no one should expect much from Goldfarb, but Ridge doesn't have any excuses -- he has a law degree and, not incidentally, he led the Department of Homeland Security, where presumably this issue came up more than once.

In reality, Abdulmutallab -- even after having been read his rights, and securing counsel -- can be, probably has been, and will be interrogated. As Spencer Ackerman explained yesterday, "Just because the guy lawyers up doesn't mean we can't interrogate him."

U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials I've talked to in the last several hours have been flabbergasted to hear this line of argument, because at its heart, it betrays a fundamental ignorance of the process. One who has experience in these matters called it "flat-out ignorance" to claim that the "criminal justice system or law enforcement methods impede the collection of actionable intelligence. There is no basis in fact."

Why? Let me turn this over to a U.S. official deeply familiar with intelligence matters who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the Abdulmutallab case. "I cannot speak from first-hand knowledge of the present matter, but if a terror suspect like Abdulmutallab invokes [his] right to silence, it does not mean law enforcement officials must cease the interview," the official said. "It simply means inculpatory information probably will not be used in court."

Got that? Mirandization is about admissibility in court. This ought to explain why law enforcement and intelligence officials aren't complaining about Abdulmutallab. It's just Obama's political enemies, who have no problem inventing a concern based on absolutely nothing and then promoting their ignorance about security matters to a pliant media.

If I had a nickel for every time Republican talking points reflected a "flat-out ignorance," I could retire a wealthy man.

It's possible, of course, that Republican activists like Ridge, Goldfarb, and others aren't hopelessly confused. Rather, maybe they understand the process very well, and are simply lying shamelessly this week in the hopes of scoring cheap points by exploiting public fear and confusion.

That, however, would be worse.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Fear 24/7

Nothing ever changes. Really. This is all just so predictable and sad.

In which Rachel highlights republican torture fantasies as embodied by Pat Buchanan.
GOP sees opportunity in terrorism Dec. 29: The Washington Independent's Spencer Ackerman talks with Rachel Maddow about the GOP's effort to politicize terrorism, undaunted by hypocrisy and contradictions in their own past, to promote torture for its own sake.

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When it comes to the debate over national security and counter-terrorism, this White House prefers the high road. President Obama didn't mention Republicans or their recent attacks yesterday, instead declaring, "As Americans, we will never give into fear and division."

Bill Burton, the White House's deputy press secretary said the administration is committed to keeping national security issues out of the partisan realm. "The president doesn't think we should play politics with issues like these. He hasn't. His response has been fact-based and appropriate and will continue to be as such," Burton told reporters.

It's a reminder that when it comes to the nation's partisan divide, the two sides are playing different games.

Republicans have wasted no time in attacking Democrats on intelligence and screening failures leading up to the failed Christmas Day bombing of Flight 253 -- a significant departure from the calibrated, less partisan responses that have followed other recent terrorist activity.

Not too long ago, blaming America's leaders for attempted terrorist attacks was considered borderline treasonous. There was an expectation that when enemies of the United States tried to commit mass murder of Americans, all of us should close ranks, join together, and put patriotism over party. That, it turns out, only applies to Republican presidents.

It stands to reason that the White House doesn't want the president getting into a petty pissing match with right-wing members of Congress like Pete Hoekstra and Jim DeMint, but congressional Democrats aren't stepping up to respond at all. As Avi Zenilman put it, "Why are Jay Rockefeller, John Kerry, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, and other Democratic national security voices keeping quiet? What are they scared of?"

I could vaguely understand if Dems were remaining silent because they felt like this is a policy fight they can't win, but that's backwards -- the talking points Democrats aren't repeating are obvious and rather devastating for Republicans.

It's not even an especially long list:

* The GOP's obstructionism is dangerous -- The Transportation Safety Administration doesn't have a permanent head right now, because one right-wing GOP senator won't let the Senate vote on the president's clearly-qualified nominee. What's more, some of the far-right Republican lawmakers blasting the president are the same Republican lawmakers who opposed funding for the TSA, including money for screening operations and explosives detection systems.

* The GOP record is a failure -- To hear the Hoestra/King/DeMint camp tell it, the Obama administration should have stuck with the Bush/Cheney strategy. It's worth noting, then, that the Bush/Cheney strategy was a spectacular failure. Perhaps Republicans need to be reminded of the catastrophic events of 9/11, the anthrax attacks against Americans, the attempted shoe-bombing, terrorist attacks against U.S. allies around the world, terrorist attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush's inability to capture those responsible for 9/11, and Bush's failures that inspired more terrorists and made al Qaeda recruitment easier.

* The knocks on Obama's record are insane -- The Hoestra/King/DeMint crowd would have us believe President Obama doesn't take the terrorist threat seriously enough. Notice, however, that these same callous partisans had precious little to say when U.S. forces, acting on the president's orders, successfully took out Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, the ringleader of a Qaeda cell in Kenya and one of the most wanted Islamic militants in Africa; Baitullah Mehsud, Pakistan's enemy No.1 and the leader of its Taliban movement; and launched strikes against suspected al Qaeda sites in Yemen. For that matter, the Obama administration took suspected terrorists Najibullah Zazi, Talib Islam, and Hosam Maher Husein Smadi into custody before they could launch their planned attacks. All in just 11 months.

It's like watching a debate in some kind of political bizarro world in which reality has no meaning. National security and counter-terrorism is one of the Republicans' weakest points. It's an area in which President Obama has had his biggest successes. Republicans are attacking from a position of weakness, and Democrats are letting them -- in part because the White House doesn't want to politicize national security issues, and in part because congressional Democrats are on the sidelines, pretending it's 2003.

The public will continue to think the GOP is "stronger" on counter-terrorism -- all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding -- unless Democrats tell Americans otherwise.

John Cole: Otherwise Occupied

Avi Zenilman has a great observation here:

We finally found one Democrat willing to defend Obama’s national security approach from Republican attacks.

Rep. Jane Harman’s office sent us over her statement responding to the attempted bombing of Flight 253, where she raised concern about Al Qaeda in Yemen but also warned about the costs of overreaction:


Harman also defended America’s current efforts to go after terrorist suspects in Yemen and Pakistan, which Obama also did in his speech yesterday. “I think the case can be made for surgical counterterrorism actions around the globe to prevent al-Qaida from expanding its training and equipping of people who want to attack us,” she said.

See, that isn’t so hard. What happened to the rest of the Democrats?

If elected Democrats are anything like left-wing bloggers, the reason they are not defending Obama is because they are too busy flaming him for not turning America into Utopian Commie Franceistan in the first eleven months. Or they are busy screaming at the people who try to defend him.

Also, they probably hate Rahm Emanuel, too.

DougJ: Bad news for Obama

I think we’ve done a pretty good job here at highlighting how much good news there is for conservatives these days. But we probably don’t spend enough time discussing how much bad news there is for Democrats. Here, Marc Ambinder explains why Bush-era policies are Obama’s fault:

(1) If, as ABC News reports, the plotters of the Christmas Day attack were released from Guantanamo Bay to Saudi Arabia in 2007, is the Second Term Bush Consensus about repatriation…the current administration’s faith in the Saudi Arabian rehabilitation system…the fragility of the Yemeni government…the entire Obama counterterrorism strategy?

Ambinder goes on to list ten questions for Obama about terrorism, none of them involving DeMint’s block of the confirmation of the new TSA chief.

(h/t commenter Comrade Jake)


Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) doesn't want Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to face criminal charge in a federal court. Former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge doesn't want Abdulmutallab to have legal rights.

I had the same thought Josh Marshall had about the search for elusive consistency.

Remember, the AbdulMutallab case is virtually identical to the Richard Reid "Shoe Bomber" case from December 2001 -- to an uncanny degree. Same explosive, (PETN), same MO (blowing up an airliner bound for the US), same failed attempt.

It's really about as close to identical cases and you get. And, of course, Reid was tried in civilian courts and is now serving a life sentence. Seemed to work fine in his case. And unless I'm misremembering, I don't remember anybody criticizing this approach at the time.

Most of the criticisms we're hearing are pretty silly. But that's where the buck stops. It happened. Obama's president. It's natural that the political opposition will try to pin it on him. But can we at least get some demagoguing that isn't so transparently ridiculous and easily refuted by pointing out the policy the accuser followed when they were in charge?

Right. The Reid and Abdulmutallab cases offer nearly identical circumstances -- same chemical, same target, same intended consequence, same month of the year, same twisted ideology. Reid was charged, convicted, sentenced, and locked up for life. Neither conservatives nor liberals whined about it. But if the Obama administration subjects Abdulmutallab to an identical process, Republicans are outraged? Either they're idiots or they think we are.

But let's take this one step further. In December 2001, Reid tried to blow up an airplane en route to the United States, intending to murder the Americans on board. In December 2009, Abdulmutallab tried to blow up an airplane en route to the United States, intending to murder the Americans on board. To hear several prominent far-right Republicans tell it, Abdulmutallab's attempt must be President Obama's fault -- as they see it, the suspected terrorist wouldn't have tried to commit mass murder were it not for the administration's policies. Failed attempt or not, the effort itself, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) said, is evidence of the White House's "approach" being wrong.

For any grown-up, that's obviously insane. But taken at face value, doesn't that necessarily mean that Bush/Cheney policies were equally responsible for Reid's nearly identical terrorist plot? If Abdulmutallab's attempt is evidence of Obama's national security strategy being misguided, wouldn't Reid's attempt also be evidence of the Bush/Cheney strategy being equally misguided?

What's more, is there any evidence -- any at all -- that congressional Democrats attacked Bush/Cheney for Reid's failed attempt? I suspect there isn't, which is why it seems like the two parties simply aren't playing the same game.

DougJ: The world’s greatest deliberative body

This isn’t surprising:

An alleged attempt to blow up a transatlantic flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas would be all-consuming for the administrator of the Transportation Security Administration—if there were one.

Instead, the post remains vacant because Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) has held up President Obama’s nominee in an effort to prevent TSA workers from joining a labor union.


DeMint’s objection creates a procedural hurdle that will probably take at least three days of debate and test votes to overcome.

It would be nice if a few Villagers here and there could take a break from bashing Harry Reid for not being Mike Mansfield and focus on crap like this.

Update. Ben Smith had a very good piece on this yesterday too (when he’s not quoting Bill Cosby and trolling for Drudge links, his blog is really pretty decent).


Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R), the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee and a Republican gubernatorial candidate in Michigan, sent out a fundraising appeal this week, hoping to exploit the Abdulmutallab terrorist plot for financial gain. Even by the standards of House Republicans, it was an ugly, craven move.

Dems are starting to pounce. Hari Sevugan, the DNC's national press secretary, issued this statement this afternoon.

"It was shameful that Republicans like Mr. Hoekstra would attempt to play politics with our national security at all, but raising money off it is beyond the pale. Republicans are playing politics with issues of national security and terrorism, and that they would use this incident as an opportunity to fan partisan flames and raise money for political campaigns tells you all you need to know about how far the Republican party has fallen and how out of step with the American people they have become.

"The American people simply will not tolerate the likes of Mr. Hoekstra and the Republican Party playing politics with the serious issues of national security and terrorism -- especially after the mess they left this country in both domestically and on national security after eight years of failed leadership."

Around the same time, Ryan Rudominer, the DCCC's national press secretary, also took a swing.

"Time and again, Congressional Republicans refuse to back up their tough talk about national security with a vote to actually keep Americans safe. Instead of shamelessly trying to raise campaign cash off the plot to blow up a plane and kill innocent Americans on Christmas, Ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee Pete Hoekstra should look in the mirror and ask why he and 107 of his House Republican colleagues recently voted against strengthening airport security."

Also this afternoon, a spokesperson for Michigan Republican Rick Snyder, a Hoekstra rival for the state's gubernatorial nomination, said, "It is extremely disappointing that [Hoekstra] would us a potentially tragic incident to raise money for his political campaign. In these troubling times, words can't describe how sad it is to see an attempt to politically capitalize on a failed terrorist attack just three days after it happened."

In general, lines of decency and mainstream norms don't really apply to House Republicans, so if Hoekstra actually pays a price for his genuinely pathetic display, I'll be very impressed. There are certain things politicians just shouldn't do. Trying to raise money off the attempted murder of hundreds of innocent Americans should be one of them.