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Elections Have Consequences. Sometimes, This Can Even Be Good

[ 0 ] January 21, 2009 |

I forgot to post on this earlier in the week, but indeed Marty Lederman taking over the job once held by John Yoo is fantastic news. And, of course, these kinds of actions are even better.

Blackwater-Blackfive Nexus

[ 0 ] January 21, 2009 |

Now this, from David Axe, is a fascinating story:

Susan Katz Keating posted a photo depicting, among others, “Uncle Jimbo” — one of the men behind the popular, and far-right, Blackfive blog — in front of Blackwater’s North Carolina headquarters last week. It seems Jimbo and others flew to Blackwater from the private air terminal attached to the D.C.-area Dulles airport, apparently on Blackwater’s dime.

In other words, Blackwater’s running junkets for press, paying expenses in return for coverage.

Now, junkets are curious things. Many journalists do them — I’ve done them — and most take pains to disclose the fact that their coverage was, in part, paid for by a source. Embeds with combat forces are, in a sense, a form of junket.

Junkets are risky. As long as there’s full disclosure, they can be a legit facet of the news. But in this case, there are extenuating circumstances that make Blackwater’s junketeering particularly vexing — and that’s Jimbo’s involvement. For Jimbo has plans that go beyond journalism and publishing. Jimbo, whose real name is Jim Hanson, has talked about turning Blackfive into an arm of a private military intelligence network, like a low-rent intel version of Blackwater.

I know this because Jimbo tried to recruit me last summer.

I had just returned from Chad. I had drinks with Jimbo and Blackfive boss Matt Burden. While Matt sat quietly, Jimbo told me how he was frustrated with professional reporters who only report facts, and don’t help use those facts to promote U.S. national security. He said he envisioned building a privately run intelligence network that would use freelance reporters, operating under Blackfive’s auspices and sponsored by corporations, to gather information for transmission to intel analysts in the U.S. He asked if I would be interested in joining up.

I said no, in no uncertain terms. In fact, I recall cursing and yelling.

I told Jimbo that if he really did launch a private intel network, and roped some naive young writers into serving as its operations arm, he was going to get some of them killed. I told him about all the occasions when suspicious and hostile sources in Africa and the Middle East have demanded to know whether I was an American spy. I always could honestly answer no. What happens when a reporter is a sort of spy, and gets confronted by people who wouldn’t hesitate to kill or abduct a spy? Not only is spying a clear violation of journalistic ethics, it’s a huge security risk for the reporter.

Jimbo’s plan is lunacy, but precisely the kind of lunacy represented by firms like Blackwater. And seeing Jimbo in front of a Blackwater facility, on a junket organized by the merc company, gives me chills. I can imagine the wicked synergy that might result.

Knowing David, I can say that it is very, very easy for me to imagine the cursing and the yelling.


[ 0 ] January 21, 2009 |

Drop a nickel in the can, if you have a chance.


[ 0 ] January 21, 2009 |

Late for the bus, dashing out the door at 8 this morning, I scrambled to quickly record the inauguration and speech, I absentmindedly recorded CNBC’s coverage. Without getting in to the gruesome specifics, I’ve heard appallingly inane pundits on CNN, Fox News, and I tell you CNBC is a million times worse than all of them combined. I don’t believe my remote control has ever stopped there before, and I hope and pray it never will again. I swear Larry Kudlow actually started talking about what an embarrassment Geitner’s tax problems are while Aretha Franklin was singing.


[ 0 ] January 20, 2009 |

About two years ago, I wrote optimistically about today:

[Dad] outlasted Donald Rumsfeld, Bill Frist and Tom Delay, and he’s optimistic that Alberto Gonzales’ tenure as Attorney General will self-immolate before the [pancreatic] cancer returns, as it most certainly will. It’s a long wait to January 2009, but one way or another I’m planning to spend the next inauguration day with my father and his youngest granddaughter, watching C-SPAN and heckling the worst president since James Buchanan as he leaves office in a hail of eggs.

Almost none of this came to pass. My father died in October 2007; I wasn’t tuned in to C-SPAN this morning; and notwithstanding the usual bromides about the “peaceful transfer of power,” the volleys of produce were rather more figurative than I’d hoped.

Still, I was able to watch the entire thing with my daughter, who was surprisingly enthusiastic about the live CNN feed on my laptop. It’s true that some of the context escaped her understanding; she seemed to think CNN was conducting an elaborate game of peek-a-boo featuring Barack Obama, and she confused Itzhak Perlman with John McCain for some reason. Moreover, I had to keep reassuring her during Obama’s speech that he wasn’t actually “yelling at us” and that he wasn’t yelling at us because he was “crabby.”

On the other hand, she offered the unsolicited observation that George Bush is a “bonehead,” and she asked if Barack Obama was “taking a little nap” during Rick Warren’s benediction, most of which we missed because we were having a conversation about his goatee. Her remarks about Dick Cheney’s “bicycle” were considerably less mean-spirited than mine. All of which probably means she’s ready to begin guest-blogging for me the next time I leave town.

All things considered, it was a pretty good way to spend a morning. I’m usually not vulnerable to much political sentimentalism, but it was actually quite moving to be able to watch the ceremony with a near-three-year-old who — to my great envy — will never be afflicted with living memories of the Bush years. I suppose when I was roughly her age, I may have watched Nixon’s second inauguration with my father, though in all likelihood not. But I remember the end of the Nixon presidency, if somewhat dimly. If everything goes well, my daughter’s first political memories will vastly surpass mine. And her brother — who should arrive in about five weeks — will have the good fortune to be born during an Obama administration, a fact that I hope one day will provide him with as much satisfaction as it will his dad.

False Choices

[ 0 ] January 20, 2009 |

My vote for the best (and most important) passage from the address:

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.

The MSNBC cut to Bush at this point was a nice touch.

A New President

[ 0 ] January 20, 2009 |

Somehow, I liked the non-smooth oath. There’s something reassuring to know that, amidst all the not-terribly-appropriate monarchical pomp, something so genuinely important is happening that even the generally cool new President is nervous.

It’s a great day for the country.

…To be clear, as many commenters pointed out, it was Roberts who flubbed the oath.


[ 0 ] January 20, 2009 |

My Country ‘Tis of Thee? Sweet.

A Gracious Tribute to the Outgoing President

[ 0 ] January 20, 2009 |

Or, if you prefer without the visuals of the originally intended target:

A Point in Favor of John Quincy Adams

[ 0 ] January 20, 2009 |

Of the forty-four Presidents, only Theodore Roosevelt and John Quincy Adams were not sworn in on the Bible. Apparently no Bible was convenient when Roosevelt was sworn in, but for Adams the choice was considered:

John Quincy Adams, according to his own letters, placed his hand on a constitutional law volume rather than a Bible to indicate where his fealty lay.

Apparently, there’s also some question as to whether Lyndon Johnson was sworn in on a Bible, and evidence for the earliest Presidents (Washington excepted) is sketchy.

Take it to the Bank!!!!

[ 0 ] January 20, 2009 |

Given the near certainty that Barack Obama will announce the complete communization of the United States in his inaugural address, it would be irresponsible not to spend all morning at Circuit City buying discounted flat screen tvs and Blu-Ray players.

Deep thoughts on the eve of the inauguration

[ 0 ] January 20, 2009 |

Shorter Megan McArdle:

OMG, isn’t it weird that white people used to be such meanies to black people?

Not to begrudge someone who’s trying to be, like, thoughtful and shit, but if you’re the sort of person who’s content to describe Rosa Parks as “a seamstress in her fifties,” you really have no business devoting an apparently large amount of time to thinking about the psychology of the white people who got her arrested.