Wednesday, November 23, 2005

GOING ON HIATUS We shouldn't read too much into it. And the reluctant abandonment of a single illiberal and unconstitutional detention does little to right the wrongs of the last five years.

But you'd have to be a pessimist not to at least hope that the charging of Jose Padilla represents the beginning of a shift away from the Bush administration's practice of enshrining our leaders' darkest thoughts and most regressive tendencies in government policy.

Time will tell.

In other news, CONTRAPOSITIVE will be on hiatus for the next three weeks. Do check in now and again--there may be a post here and there. But if you're looking for hour-by-hour commentary on the prognosis of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, you'll have to turn elsewhere. (Try here.)

In the meantime, please sample the blogs linked at right if you don't already read them regularly. And feel free to use the comments window to suggest additional blogs worth reading.

We hope to be back with some fresh posts in mid-December.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

PADILLA WATCH A return to the rule of law? Jose Padilla has been charged:
President George W. Bush signed an order transferring Padilla from military custody at a Navy brig, where he has been held as an enemy combatant, to civilian custody of the attorney general.
More later.

UPDATE: Here's Jack Balkin:

You may recall that, following the Hamdi decision last year, the Administration decided not to give Yaser Hamdi a hearing, but instead released Hamdi to Saudi Arabia, extracting in return a surrender of Hamdi's U.S. Citizenship and a promise that he would not sue. Now it has indicted Padilla to avoid facing a simliar rebuff by the U.S. Supreme Court. In both cases, the Administration argued that that it was of the utmost necessity to detain them indefinitely and that it could not give these men the constitutional protections ordinarily afforded criminal defendants without severely damaging national security. These assertions now ring hollow-- Hamdi is free, and Padilla is in the criminal justice system.

The Padilla case is a sobering lesson in how much leeway the President has to imprison and detain people for long periods of time in violation of the Constitution. The fact that the government's story about why Padilla was a threat has changed so frequently should give us pause the next time the government asserts that we should trust it when it rounds up U.S. citizens and claims the right to hold them indefinitely for our protection. Padilla may well be a very bad fellow, but we have a method of dealing with such bad fellows. It is called the rule of law, and we should not surrender it so readily merely because the President desires it.

Monday, November 21, 2005

PLAME WATCH Back in July, I mused about the mysterious, rebellious and anonymous "senior administration official" who spoke once to Washington Post reporters Mike Allen and Dana Priest before immediately going back underground.

Among the claims that the reporters attributed to that source:

Yesterday, a senior administration official said that before Novak's column ran, two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife.


"Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge," the senior official said of the alleged leak.


It is rare for one Bush administration official to turn on another. Asked about the motive for describing the leaks, the senior official said the leaks were "wrong and a huge miscalculation, because they were irrelevant and did nothing to diminish Wilson's credibility."
Strong words.

In any event, Steve Clemons has just revisited that article in a blog post over at The Washington Note. But he's added a some reporting--and some informed speculation--to the mix:

TWN contacted Dana Priest today to ascertain whether she was either interviewed by Patrick Fitzgerald or his legal team--or whether she testified before the Plame case grand jury--and she would not comment on this.

Through another source close to Fitzgerald's investigation, TWN was informed that Dana Priest and Mike Allen were not interviewed as far as the individual commenting to me knew. Specifically, he said, "I am unaware of any interviews with Dana Priest and Mike Allen of the Post, and I'm certain that they did not testify before the grand jury."

This is interesting because it would be unlikely given the tenaciousness that Patrick Fitzgerald has shown towards reporters with important knowledge of players involved in the Plame outing that he would have ignored the important article by Priest and Allen.

Deduction leads one to surmise that this source for Dana Priest and Mike Allen is already known to Fitzgerald--and thus their testimony about this source would be both disruptive and unimportant.
Seems to me like a strong possibility, if not the only one.

One thing we know for certain, though, is that Fitzgerald did subpoena the White House for records of all contacts with both reporters. So it's possible that, far from the "senior administration official" having come forward, Fitzgerald learned the identity of the source through these records.

In other words, even if Fitzgerald knows who the source is, it isn't necessarily true that the source has volunteered information, or is even being especially cooperative.

Friday, November 18, 2005

SERIOUSNESS WATCH James Fallows reminds us that we are being governed by leaders who are fundamentally unserious:
It would be nice if, even once, the Bush administration addressed the strongest version of the case against its Iraq-and-terrorism policy, rather than relying on bromides ("fight them there, so we don't have to fight them here") and knocking down straw men ("some say Iraqis don't deserve freedom...")...

On available evidence, the President himself has not grasped the essential criticism of moving against Iraq when he did: that a war in Iraq undercut the broader and longer term war against Islamic terrorism. Not in one speech, not in one interview or off-hand remark, not in one insider account of White House deliberation has there been the slightest indication that President Bush recognizes this concept sufficiently to offer a rebuttal to it.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

POST'S MILLER MOMENT The Washington Post is now in the midst of its own version of the Judith Miller controversy.

The good news: At least in the early-going, the Post seems to be doing a more responsible job of navel-gazing than The New York Times--at this hour, the paper has published six separate pieces (in print or online) about the Woodward revelations.

And the paper's reporting doesn't soft-peddle the issue. The articles and blog posts all zero in on the credibility questions raised by Bob Woodward's behavior.

The not-so-good news: In the paper's coverage, Woodward doesn't come off particularly well. Neither does widely-admired Post reporter Walter Pincus. And so in the coming weeks, the Post's editorial policies will likely be a subjected to prolonged, painful scrutiny.

Some questions that remain unanswered:

1. Woodward has said that Plame's identity was passed along to him in a "casual and offhand" manner. And yet, he maintains that the comment was off-the-record.

So was the comment passed along during a structured interview or in a social situation? If the former, does Woodward allow sources to set ground rules that place entire conversations off-the-record? If the latter, is it his practice to consider "off-the-record" to be the default position for all conversations with some officials?

2. How sure is Woodward that the information about Plame's identity was passed along casually rather than a calculated way meant to appear casual?

Doesn't the "casual and offhand" characterization assume access to the leaker's mental state? And in light of everything we've learned about the Plame case, isn't it a bit credulous to characterize the transfer of information this way?

3. The Plame story is the biggest scandal to hit the Capitol in years. Woodward is a Washington journalist. He had salient information that might've shed light on the actions of the Bushies during the run-up to war, and on the motives of the Plame leakers.

Why didn't he write a story about it?

4. Woodward has said that he sent Lewis Libby "an 18-page list of questions I wanted to ask Vice President Cheney." Is sending questions in advance a normal practice for Woodward? What do The Post's editors think about it?

5. How big a deal is it that Woodward appeared repeatedly on television to downplay the importance of the Plame investigation without admitting that he was an interested party in the case?

6. Finally, Post veteran Walter Pincus has said that, "[Woodward] asked me to keep him out of the reporting and I agreed to do that." Why was Pincus willing to agree to a request to steer clear of Woodward in his reporting? What do the Post's editors think about this arrangement?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

PLAME WATCH Aftershock? Or are we just getting started? The Plame story takes another unexpected turn:
Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward testified under oath Monday in the CIA leak case that a senior administration official told him about CIA operative Valerie Plame and her position at the agency nearly a month before her identity was disclosed.


Citing a confidentiality agreement in which the source freed Woodward to testify but would not allow him to discuss their conversations publicly, Woodward and Post editors refused to disclose the official's name or provide crucial details about the testimony. Woodward did not share the information with Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. until last month.

It is unclear what prompted Woodward's original unnamed source to alert Fitzgerald to the mid-June 2003 mention of Plame to Woodward. Once he did, Fitzgerald sought Woodward's testimony, and three officials released him to testify about conversations he had with them.


Woodward's statement said he testified: "I told Walter Pincus, a reporter at The Post, without naming my source, that I understood Wilson's wife worked at the CIA as a WMD analyst."

Pincus said he does not recall Woodward telling him that. In an interview, Pincus said he cannot imagine he would have forgotten such a conversation around the same time he was writing about Wilson.

"Are you kidding?" Pincus said. "I certainly would have remembered that."
Curious and curiouser.

BLUTH WATCH From the San Francisco Chronicle's TV column:
Q: What are the chances someone else will pick up [Arrested Development] and save it?

A: Not good. "Arrested Development" would be a lovely addition to HBO, but the pay cable channel has said it will take no one's "sloppy seconds." Given the poor ratings and expensive per-episode price tag, no network or basic cable channel is likely to make a play for it. However, there is an intriguing rumor of a suitor: Showtime.

This idea actually makes sense. Showtime has been making great strides in its programming department, but the audience is still lacking. A name series that might prompt die-hard fans (are there any other kind left for "AD"?) to subscribe would be an enticing option. The idea is that "AD" might pair well with "Weeds." And no matter how you get it -- by developing it yourself or snatching it fully built off the discard pile -- a great series is a great series, period.
Showtime can be reached here.

Friday, November 11, 2005

MEME PATROL In Saturday's Washington Post, Walter Pincus and Dana Milbank puncture two memes now being pushed hard by the White House:
President Bush and his national security adviser have answered critics of the Iraq war in recent days with a two-pronged argument: that Congress saw the same intelligence the administration did before the war, and that independent commissions have determined that the administration did not misrepresent the intelligence.

Neither assertion is wholly accurate.

The administration's overarching point is true: Intelligence agencies overwhelmingly believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and very few members of Congress from either party were skeptical about this belief before the war began in 2003. Indeed, top lawmakers in both parties were emphatic and certain in their public statements.

But Bush and his aides had access to much more voluminous intelligence information than did lawmakers, who were dependent on the administration to provide the material. And the commissions cited by officials, though concluding that the administration did not pressure intelligence analysts to change their conclusions, were not authorized to determine whether the administration exaggerated or distorted those conclusions.


In addition, there were doubts within the intelligence community not included in the NIE [National Intelligence Estimate]. And even the doubts expressed in the NIE could not be used publicly by members of Congress because the classified information had not been cleared for release. For example, the NIE view that Hussein would not use weapons of mass destruction against the United States or turn them over to terrorists unless backed into a corner was cleared for public use only a day before the Senate vote.
Atrios, as usual, is pithier:
Hadley argues that Democrats had the same intelligence because "parts of" the NIE "had been made public."

Right, and the parts of the NIE which weren't made public were the parts which suggested that the parts which were made public were full of shit.

PLAME WATCH Murray Waas suggests that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, Karl Rove is likely to remain in legal limbo for some time.

ARRESTED INDEED Reader WL delivers the heartbreaking news:
The Bluth clan of Fox's ratings-challenged "Arrested Development" is also headed for the exit after Fox cut the third-season order on the Emmy-winning comedy to 13 episodes.


As for the demise of "Arrested," it comes just as the acclaimed comedy came back this week after a hiatus to make room for Fox's baseball coverage. The two back-to-back episodes averaged a paltry 4 million viewers Monday, sending Fox to fifth place in the 8 p.m. hour and putting a dent on the ratings of its lead-out, the rookie drama "Prison Break."

There is a possibility that the show will be shopped around, but its high cost is expected to be prohibitive for a cable network.
It's too early to know if there will be any organized campaign to save the cerebral, groundbreaking comedy. But CONTRAPOSITIVE will be keeping readers posted...

UPDATE: As you might imagine, the folks over at Fox's ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT message boards aren't taking the news particularly well.

One not-implausible idea that seems to be gaining currency is to try to persuade HBO to pick up the show. (If memory serves, a similar effort was mounted--unsuccessfully--by fans of Aaron Sorkin's Sports Night.)

You can send an e-mail to HBO here.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

PLAME WATCH It's about time we got here:
The Senate's top Democrats challenged President Bush on Tuesday to rule out a pardon for I. Lewis Libby, a former top White House aide who faces trial on charges of obstruction of justice and perjury in the CIA leak case.

"We also urge you to state publicly whether anyone in the White House including White House counsel Harriet Miers or Vice President Cheney has already discussed the possibility of a pardon with Mr. Libby," added the letter, signed by Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and three other members of the leadership.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan declined to rule out a pardon when asked about the issue by reporters before Democrats sent their letter. "I'm not going to discuss an ongoing legal proceeding. And I'm not going to speculate about any matters relating to it," he said.
As long as McClellan's refusal to "speculate" remains operative, that talking point should be seen as evidence that Libby is virtually certain to be pardoned.

Democrats need to spend the next twelve months underscoring that point.

THE TIMES GETS SERIOUS Some harsh--but evident--truths are acknowledged in today's Bush editorial:
After President Bush's disastrous visit to Latin America, it's unnerving to realize that his presidency still has more than three years to run. An administration with no agenda and no competence would be hard enough to live with on the domestic front. But the rest of the world simply can't afford an American government this bad for that long.

In Argentina, Mr. Bush...and his delegation failed to get even a minimally face-saving outcome at the collapsed trade talks and allowed a loudmouthed opportunist like the president of Venezuela to steal the show.

It's amazing to remember that when Mr. Bush first ran for president, he bragged about his understanding of Latin America, his ability to speak Spanish and his friendship with Mexico. But he also made fun of Al Gore for believing that nation-building was a job for the United States military.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

THE IMPROBABLE WEB Atrios links to this excellent piece of commentary from the Financial Times about how the internet might have developed differently.

A key excerpt:

The web became hugely popular too quickly to control. The lawyers and policymakers and copyright holders were not there at the time of its conception. What would they have said, had they been? What would a web designed by the World Intellectual Property Organisation or the Disney Corporation have looked like? It would have looked more like pay-television, or Minitel, the French computer network. Beforehand, the logic of control always makes sense. “Allow anyone to connect to the network? Anyone to decide what content to put up? That is a recipe for piracy and pornography.”

And of course it is. But it is also much, much more.
Find the rest here.

EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff, made some pretty explosive allegations last week. Now he's upping the ante:
Wilkerson also told National Public Radio that Cheney's office ran an "alternate national security staff" that spied on and undermined the president's formal National Security Council.

He said National Security Council staff stopped sending emails when they found out Cheney's staffers were reading their messages.

He said he believed that Cheney's staff prevented Bush from seeing a National Security Council memo arguing strongly that the US needed far more troops for the March 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq.
If Wilkerson has proof to back up these allegations, this would be an awfully good time to make it public.

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.