Termites

From Dan over at Pruning Shears:

That is why when the Democrats took back Congress in 2006 relatively minor episodes like the Libby commutation and Gonzales’ deliberately obtuse testimony were more infuriating than the horrors that came before. There was finally a sense that yes, as a country we went crazy for a while but we were finally getting our bearings. It was happening too late for too many, but it was happening. What the summer of Scooter and Fredo showed was: No, it is not and it will not. Revelations began to trickle out, the first verdicts were finally coming in, and it became unmistakably clear that some of our leaders were criminals who were audacious enough to defiantly live publicly guilty lives. Among the rest of our leadership, there was a critical mass that was too cowardly to do anything about it.

That has been the situation for several years now. For the foreseeable future our government appears content to simply ignore the great crimes plainly in its midst. There is no sense of urgency, significant new developments are not acknowledged, and the plan seems to be to resolutely ignore all of it lest some turbulence disturb the ruling class. For those of us who care deeply about these issues it seems the best reaction now is not angry demands for real investigations and real consequences (outrage is difficult to sustain), but placid, ongoing documentation of the atrocities in order to have as complete a record as possible.

All of this is my somewhat awkward attempt to explain my reaction to Scott Horton’s report on detainee deaths at Guantánamo. It alleges war crimes that go all the way to the White House, it has been out for several weeks now, and continues to be developed. Yet there are no investigations, no hearings, nothing. We just postulate that our leaders did it, refuse to talk or do anything about it, and move on.

The problem is that such a corrosively cynical approach to governance causes foundational damage, and typically it is not recognized until the whole thing collapses. No one thinks anything will come of it, but nobody thought the Soviet Union would collapse either. In fact, a vignette from that period comes to mind; I recall seeing video of this as reported by the New York Times:

The next day [Romanian leader Nicolae] Ceausescu himself in effect brought the revolt to Bucharest, when a crowd of 100,000 he had summoned to denounce the Timisoara revolt suddenly took up a chant of ”Timisoara! Timisoara!” The last televised image was Ceausescu’s shocked face shouting ”Be quiet!” That moment, all agree, finished him.

The investigations on Iraq in Britain and Guantánamo torture in Spain seem remote and of little interest right now. The erosion of credibility and good will that they symbolize is easy to ignore as well. In fact, the whole thing is. If anything comes of all that, however, we will be oblivious to it – carrying on as if nothing will change until the moment we, like a clueless dictator, look on uncomprehendingly as our world turns upside down.

That probably will not come to pass, though. The odds favor stagnation. I used to think it was a matter of getting the word out, making enough noise, keeping the issues alive and waiting for our political and media elite to finally catch on. Horton’s reporting, and the radio silence greeting it, puts the lie to that. We can – and must – continue to catalog these evils, but out of respect for the historical record and not any expectation that those responsible will be called to account. It’s L33T Justice, baby, and everyone gets a pass.

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#&#@*!!

In case you were wondering why I haven’t been online for the past two days, here’s the explanation from our (former) host:

Unfortunately, your WordPress site is causing what is called “slow queries” on your database server.

A slow query is a query that examines a high amount of rows over a long period of time. The more the query has to examine and the longer the query
takes to do so, the harder it can be on the server. In that you are hosting on a shared hosting server, such queries can become problematic for other users.

WordPress, being a dynamic site, would normally run such queries on every to almost every access on the site. One recommendation would be to setup a
caching utility if you haven’t already, which would prevent the software from having to run so many queries. You may also wish to check with the
Wordpress forums for any thoughts on reducing the impact WordPress might have on a database server.

Here are some example queries that we are referencing:

# User@Host: susiemad[susiemad] @  [209.68.6.23]
# Query_time: 163  Lock_time: 0  Rows_sent: 1  Rows_examined: 32054
SELECT SQL_CALC_FOUND_ROWS  wp_posts.* FROM wp_posts  WHERE 1=1  AND
HOUR(wp_posts.post_date)=’19’ AND MINUTE(wp_posts.post_date)=’8′ AND
YEAR(wp_posts.post_date)=’

2007′ AND MONTH(wp_posts.post_date)=’12’ AND
DAYOFMONTH(wp_posts.post_date)=’24’ AND wp_posts.post_type = ‘post’ AND
(wp_posts.post_status = ‘publish’)  ORDER BY wp_posts.post_date DESC LIMIT
0, 15;

# User@Host: susiemad[susiemad] @  [209.68.6.23]
# Query_time: 191  Lock_time: 0  Rows_sent: 1  Rows_examined: 10328
SELECT p.* FROM wp_posts AS p  WHERE p.post_date < ‘2007-12-21 20:37:49’
AND p.post_type = ‘post’ AND p.post_status = ‘publish’  ORDER BY
p.post_date DESC LIMIT 1;

# User@Host: susiemad[susiemad] @  [209.68.6.23]
# Query_time: 14  Lock_time: 0  Rows_sent: 1  Rows_examined: 64108
SELECT SQL_CALC_FOUND_ROWS  wp_posts.* FROM wp_posts  WHERE 1=1  AND
wp_posts.post_type = ‘post’ AND (wp_posts.post_status = ‘publish’)  ORDER
BY wp_posts.ID ASC LIMIT 0, 1;

# User@Host: susiemad[susiemad] @  [209.68.6.23]
# Query_time: 32  Lock_time: 0  Rows_sent: 1  Rows_examined: 32054
use susiemad_wordpress;
SELECT SQL_CALC_FOUND_ROWS  wp_posts.* FROM wp_posts  WHERE 1=1  AND
HOUR(wp_posts.post_date)=’16’ AND MINUTE(wp_posts.post_date)=’24’ AND
YEAR(wp_posts.post_date)=’2004′ AND MONTH(wp_posts.post_date)=’10’ AND
DAYOFMONTH(wp_posts.post_date)=’31’ AND wp_posts.post_type = ‘post’ AND
(wp_posts.post_status = ‘publish’)  ORDER BY wp_posts.post_date DESC LIMIT
0, 15;

Unfortunately, given the number of problems the database has caused we will have to ask your review of the above and a discussion on correcting the problem prior to our re-enabling the database.

Ignore This

We’re in the middle of moving, so things will be a mess for a while. Go out and play in the snow.

Who’s Lying On Social Security?

Glenn Greenwald points out why the use of unnamed sources is so misleading to the public:

In order to assuage concerns among progressives that the Obama administration intends to follow in the Bush administration’s footsteps by trying to cut Social Security benefits, high-level Obama officials have been telling journalists such as The American Prospect’s Ezra Klein — on the condition of anonymity — that they have no intention of touching Social Security, producing reports which then faithfully communicate that message, such as this one from Klein, two weeks ago:

What people at the White House have told me on Social Security — and what I wrote in the post she’s referencing — is that there’s no intention to touch Social Security in the foreseeable future. It’s not a priority and it’s not a political winner. . . . The problem, they say, is health care, not Social Security, and that’s where the White House is focusing.

Based on those same anonymous conversations, Klein wrote other posts telling progressives who are worried about Obama’s intention to cut Social Security that they were worrying about something that doesn’t exist.

But in The New York Times today, David Brooks recounted what he described as “conversations with four senior members of the administration.” Those unnamed Obama officials all called Brooks in order to refute his column from last week which argued “that the Obama budget is a liberal, big government document that should make moderates nervous.” Brooks — like Klein — granted anonymity to and then proceeded to quote all four “senior members of the Obama administration” (a) without explaining why he did so, (b) without describing efforts, if any, to persuade them to use their names and (c) without providing any information about who they are or what their motives might be (all flagrant violations of the supposed NYT policy governing the use of anonymity). These paragraphs were the result of the anonymity Brooks gave to the Obama White House (emphasis in original):

Besides, the long-range debt is what matters, and on this subject President Obama is hawkish.

He is extremely committed to entitlement reform and is plotting politically feasible ways to reduce Social Security as well as health spending.

What Klein’s anonymous White House sources told him (“there’s no intention to touch Social Security in the foreseeable future“) is directly contrary to what Brooks’ anonymous White House sources, two weeks later, told him (Obama “is extremely committed to entitlement reform and is plotting politically feasible ways to reduce Social Security”). But there’s no way to resolve those contradictory White House claims because Klein and Brooks allowed these officials to hide behind anonymity when making these claims. That’s what anonymity does — it allows dubious or even false government claims to be spouted with impunity and without any accountability.

What Klein’s anonymous White House sources told him (“there’s no intention to touch Social Security in the foreseeable future”) is directly contrary to what Brooks’ anonymous White House sources, two weeks later, told him (Obama “is extremely committed to entitlement reform and is plotting politically feasible ways to reduce Social Security”). But there’s no way to resolve those contradictory White House claims because Klein and Brooks allowed these officials to hide behind anonymity when making these claims. That’s what anonymity does — it allows dubious or even false government claims to be spouted with impunity and without any accountability.

That’s why anonymity is such a valuable weapon for government officials and such a risky and questionable practice for journalists. If the claims from Klein and Brooks’ sources are true about the intentions of the White House, then why can’t they just attach their names to those claims and why aren’t they made to do so by the journalists before having their statements amplified to the public?

First let me note that, as a contract employee -which is what the Times’ columnists are, Brooks is mostly likely not bound by the anonymity rule, although he should be.

Second, I don’t know that these are as contradictory as Glenn thinks. This is where I’ll put on my former-press-secretary hat. You never want to lie to a reporter if you can help it, but you will mislead them. My guess is, the person they misled is Ezra Klein. First of all, “not in the foreseeable future”? Classic weasel words. “When I talked to you, Ezra, it really wasn’t a priority. But circumstances have changed since then.”

And while we all know who he is, in the Beltway world, Ezra’s not a big name and doesn’t have a huge megaphone – except in the blogosphere, so the thinking would be that he’s not as big a potential threat as Brooks. But if you activated the liberal base at this time with a possible threat to cut Social Security, that would be a real distraction at a time when they’re focused on other things. Trust me: They don’t want to deal with this right now (i.e. “for the foreseeable future.”) So yeah, score one for truth.

If the Obama administration was really serious about never touching Social Security, odds are they would have made that strategic leak to someone more prominent. Real leaks (that is, accurate ones), on things that matter, are always used to float trial ballons and either reward the reporter for previous favorable coverage – or get him in line to soften future coverage.

From my own experience as the person pushing those stories to reporters, I’d say Brooks was the one who got the accurate story on this because 1) it’s the Times and you don’t want to piss them off if you don’t have to 2) they wanted to soften him up to give Obama the benefit of the doubt on budget issues in general and 3) they wanted him to pass it along the secret message to other conservatives – “I didn’t put this in the story, but Axlerod told me, strictly on the QT, that…”. In other words, this has all the signs of a classic strategic leak.

And if there’s any doubt here, you have to give the edge to appointments – namely, that Obama has surrounded himself with many, many advisers who have actively supported either the privatization or partial privatization of Social Security. Are those the people you’d hire if you wanted to save Social Security?

So while it is indeed difficult to read between the lines when “sources” spout conflicting stories, in this case? Not so much. Because I think they were both told a version of the truth. No, Obama’s not planning to touch Social Security – at this time. And yes, Obama plans to cut Social Security spending – in something. Only time will tell what those cuts include.

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