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Reaction to Libby's Commuted Sentence: Surprise?

| Mon Jul. 2, 2007 7:46 PM EDT

I wonder if the answer to Clara's question below is simply: "Why not?" Bush's approval ratings are so low already that he had little to lose by commuting Libby's sentence, and he's made clear that he cares more about the judgment of history than his day-by-day approval numbers.

Also, I'm surprised by the decision to commute instead of pardon. Bush left Libby, who helped him launch a war of choice — no easy task, especially when the evidence is against you — with a felony on his record and a $250,000 fine to pay. In any place but Washington, his career would be over. Considering how loyal a man Bush is (see Gonzales, Alberto), you would think he would have gone whole hog and cleared the man's record completely.

Is it a concession to the moderate middle? I hope not, because to everyday folks a commuted sentence and a pardon probably look a lot alike. After all, a rich, well-connected white man doesn't have to do his jail time either way.

Raw Story has a lot more, including quotes from important people whose names you'll recognize.

And for your enjoyment, a classic American picture -- Ford explaining to the country that he had pardoned Nixon.

 ford_pardoning300x286.jpg

Update: Joe Klein over at Time's Swampland agrees that Bush had nothing to lose in commuting Libby's sentence. He thinks up one thing Bush had to gain: the move stops Libby from writing a disgruntled tell-all.

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Why Did Bush Commute Scooter Libby's Sentence?

| Mon Jul. 2, 2007 7:06 PM EDT

Bush's approval ratings are in the toilet. And there's no good news for the GOP in sight. So why would the president decide to commute the sentence of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who was convicted of obstructing justice, perjury, and making false statements in the Plamegate affair, now and not at the end of his term, when everybody expected it? After all a Cable News Network/Opinion Research survey conducted after Libby's March 6 conviction found that 69% of voters are against a pardon (though commuting is only perhaps a first step toward that); only 18% were in favor of a pardon.

The answer seems to be that the base demanded it. As Edwin Chen of Bloomberg News notes:

At the same time, a pro-Libby firestorm was being fanned by self-described conservative bloggers and talk-radio hosts, and many conservative leaders asked the president to step in. Until now Bush had stayed out of the case, with his aides saying he would let the appeal go forward. Libby's supporters argued that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was over-zealous in prosecuting Libby for lying to investigators when no one was charged over the actual leak of Plame's status as a Central Intelligence Agency official.

But the mistake Bush is making is confusing his real base, i.e. ordinary Americans (Republicans must compose a good chunk of that aforementioned 69%), with the Bill Kristol base—pundits, who, on either side of the aisle, tend to gin up issues that make for good debate on CrossFire.

Do most even super rabid conservatives out in the heartland care if Scooter Libby does 2 years in jail? I doubt it. But they might care that he doesn't. People don't like when powerful people help their friends escape justice. Just another millstone Bush is piling on the Republican candidates that would like to succeed him.

Update: Lifted from Rolling Stone's National Affairs blog, the actual text of the clemency:

Grant of Executive Clemency
A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

WHEREAS Lewis Libby was convicted in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in the case United States v. Libby, Crim. No. 05-394 (RBW), for which a sentence of 30 months' imprisonment, 2 years' supervised release, a fine of $250,000, and a special assessment of $400 was imposed on June 22, 2007;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, pursuant to my powers under Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, do hereby commute the prison terms imposed by the sentence upon the said Lewis Libby to expire immediately, leaving intact and in effect the two-year term of supervised release, with all its conditions, and all other components of the sentence.

IN WITNESS THEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this second day of July, in the year of our Lord two thousand and seven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-first.

GEORGE W. BUSH

Bush's full statement to the press after the jump.

Breaking: Bush Lets Libby Off

| Mon Jul. 2, 2007 6:58 PM EDT

Federal prisoner-to-be 28301-016 just had his sentence commuted. And not a moment too soon.

Open Source Politics, the Wiki

| Mon Jul. 2, 2007 3:09 PM EDT

When Mother Jones launched its "Fight Different" package about politics and the Internet, it introduced the stories and interviews with a rumination on the term Open Source Politics. The short, irreverent definition was presented as a mock-Wikipedia entry, under the classic Wiki red-flag: "The neutrality of this story is disputed." And I tell you what, the neutrality of our approach has been disputed, and disputed, and disputed. And in this case, that was exactly the point: the new arbiter of truth in politics is increasingly you, dear reader. If you're sick of bias and spin, speak up, and change it.

That, at least, is the idea behind Wikipedia, which now accounts one out of every 200 page views on the Internet. No format on the web is better at reaching a consensus on objective truth in the most touchy and politicized of subjects. For a glimpse of Wikipedia's potential in the political realm, see our interview with Jimmy Wales here.

But don't stop there. Do you disagree with our definition of Open Source Politics? Are there counterpoints to what Wales has told us that you don't think are being aired? Well, feel free to offer your thoughts in this blog. Or even better, check out the real entry for Open Source Politics in Wikipedia, and edit it. If I had to guess, I'd say a Google search of the term will soon yield the popular view of the idea over anything a magazine writer has had to say.

Anniversary Update: Bring On the Sarcastic Applause

| Mon Jul. 2, 2007 2:32 PM EDT

Just a short note to remind you that today is the fourth anniversary of the quote that, in my mind, best describes our president and his bald unfitness to lead a country in wartime: "Bring them on."

The swagger that substitutes for reflection, the arrogance that precludes careful planning, the false confidence in American invincibility that almost seems inspired by God (or maybe just stupidity) -- it's all in those three little words. It will be a true crime if the planners at Southern Methodist don't inscribe this over the entry to the George W. Bush presidential library.

A Not-So-Crazy Campaign Finance Proposal

| Mon Jul. 2, 2007 12:12 PM EDT

Just wanted to add a note to the blogopshere's discussion, such as it was, of the Supreme Court's recent ruling on campaign finance reform.

In case you missed it, the Supreme Court gutted the portion of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill that prohibited corporations, non-profits funded by corporations, and labor unions from running campaign ads in the 30 days before primaries and the 60 days before general elections.

Some say it's a victory for free speech, some call it a step in the Court's rightward march and a victory only for the powerful interests who will have yet more sway in this country's elections. I don't much care.

That's because I think this particular element of campaign finance misses the point (just to pile on after it's already dead). Its creators' intentions were good, and anything that reduces the influence of special interests in politics is doing more good than bad, but I care far more about how campaign money is received than about how it is spent. I saw Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton, suggest this once: make contributions like blind trusts, so that when a donation of $5 or $500 plops into a candidate's campaign chest, he or she doesn't know who dropped it there.

That way, campaign donations would be made out of genuine support for candidates, and not because corporations or special interests hope to have access to a candidate they supported after he or she wins. And opponents of campaign finance reform can't credibly cry that their right to free speech is being impeded.

Make sense, no? Probably means it's doomed in Washington...

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Omaha Gets Up to Speed With Slowdown

| Sun Jul. 1, 2007 8:52 PM EDT

mojo-photo-slowdown1.jpgWith live music venues around the country struggling and even closing, it's rare to see a new club start up, and practically inconceivable for one to emerge as part of a brand new mixed-use development in a medium-sized Midwestern city. But that's just what happened in Omaha last month, when the folks behind Saddle Creek records launched Slowdown, a 500-capacity venue. The club is part of a snazzy new two-building complex developed by the label (home to Bright Eyes, Cursive and The Faint) that houses their headquarters, apartments and an art-house theater, and soon, a restaurant, coffee house, and (cough) an Urban Outfitters. (Yeah, I know, I shop there too.)

It was a broiling hot Nebraska afternoon when I stopped by last week, but it was nice and cool inside Slowdown. The space is sleek and modern, complete with black tile and polished concrete; moreover, since the building is new, everything is, well, clean -- those of us used to clubs coated with 40 years of grime might feel a bit odd. Booker Val Nelson proudly showed me around the backstage area, built to their specifications: a driveway for load-in is mere feet from the stage, for instance, and the dressing room (complete with washer and dryer) is nicer than my apartment.

Mostly, though, it's just going to be a great place to see a band, with state-of-the-art sound and a comfortable layout. Groups like Built to Spill, Jimmy Eat World and the Rentals are already booked. Saddle Creek manager Jason Kulbel downplayed the significance of the label branching out, saying Slowdown just filled a gap: "Typical larger cities, and even some the same size of Omaha, often have many nice venues to choose from." Sure, but they don't have minor indie rock celebrities filling in as bartenders, and a record label for a landlord. Nebraska music fans, I never thought I'd say this, but I envy you.

Some photos and a calendar of upcoming shows after the jump.

Obama Raised How Much??

| Sun Jul. 1, 2007 8:03 PM EDT

$31 million in three months? That's a lotta money.

Bush Staffers Want to Grow Oranges in the Arctic

| Sat Jun. 30, 2007 6:34 PM EDT

In this week's Rolling Stone Tim Dickinson, a former MoJo editor, waded through thousands of previously-FOIAd documents and emails to construct a comprehensive look at the Bush Administration's campaign of global warming denial.

Mother Jones was among the first on this beat back in spring of 2005 when Chris Mooney uncovered the administration's attempts to silence the global warming debate by way of its close ties to ExxonMobil, and that company's funding of climate change skeptics.

Interestingly, Tim notes that many of the documents he details in his feature were in plain sight, not buried from the public under any sort of top secrecy. I too, as the fact-checker for Mooney's piece two years ago, recall the reams of documents, the trail of evidence linking high-ranking administration employees, such as Larisa and Paula Dobriansky and Phillip Cooney, to the upperest of oil-industry crust.

Check out Tim's piece for a good summary, and for doozies such as this email to ExxonMobil lobbyist turned White House adviser Cooney, from White House energy staffer Matthew Koch, who, upon hearing about an industry-funded study that refuted warming was happening at all said:

"What??!! I want to grow oranges in the Arctic!"

Did he not learn anything from Jack Abramoff? If you are going to be callous and mess with the nation and people's lives on a grand scale, please, at least refrain from boasting about it in email verse.

What is Jay Rosen For?

| Fri Jun. 29, 2007 10:36 PM EDT

For the past three days, writers and editors at Mother Jones have been engaged in a flak session over at the blog Press Think, and more recently, the Huffington Post, where NYU professor Jay Rosen has lambasted the magazine's package of stories and interviews on "Politics 2.0." Or rather, he has lambasted the "framing" of the stories, which is to say he's unhappy with the way we introduced the stories in our press release and in the opening essay. Thousands of words have been expended on the subject, but Rosen's beef can be summarized (I think) like this: In a shameless ploy to promote itself, Mother Jones has set up a false tension between the idea that Politics 2.0 is revolutionary and the idea that it's irrelevant, and then congratulated itself with showing how neither one is true. "The Mother Jones editors," Rosen writes, "had a great story about politics and the web within their grasp, but they were too busy fabricating myths they could bust up later— and so they missed it."

Personally, I haven't felt a need to respond to Rosen in our own blog because I feel his critique is, on its face, kind of silly. But I think some of the issues that have come out in the discussion of his post are worth talking about, and so I'm going to wade through this. First, in response to Rosen, I wrote in his blog:

Much of your argument against our Politics 2.0 package presupposes that the extremes of thought on net politics--"revolutionary" or "irrelevant"--do not exist. I will grant that people who are truly informed on the subject don't hold black and white views, but the rhetoric that they and the press employ frequently comes off as totally unambiguous, and results in a mistaken impression that things really are that simple. It is thus unfair to say that we are setting up two straw men. The straw men are already there. Yes, knocking them down is easy, but it's also a way to, in the process, explore a lot of interesting issues raised by politics 2.0 with more complexity and nuance. . . .

What we have done is allow people in the field--actual bloggers, actual professors, actual online political consultants--to weigh in themselves, and we're allowing anybody to comment on their thoughts at the end of each article and interview online. Our "idea," in short, is have a bunch of people talk about their ideas. It's not revolutionary, but it's very Web 2.0, and it differs from the I'm-an-expert-so-let-me-tell-you-how-it-is approach that bloggers have come to expect and loathe in the print world. I fear that if we had opted for the latter, you'd simply be caviling over that instead.

In response, Rosen said that we should have simply "framed" the package as an exploration of "the complex landscape of Politics 2.0 with some of the world's best guides." He wrote:

But... and here we come to the contradictions at the heart of this little episode... that isn't the stance you wanted to take. Doesn't feel tough enough. Non-dramatic. It lacks that savvy sheen print journalists like to have on the surface of their work. Your desire, I believe, ran counter to your concept.

Rosen is missing several important points, I believe. For one, he's writing from the perspective of an avid blogger who is familiar with the ins and outs of the Politics 2.0 world (I think) and doesn't seem to realize that some of our readers, especially of the print magazine, are not. People with less exposure to that world need to understand the big questions at play--What's the deal with this grand Politics 2.0 talk?--before they will see a reason to read about it. So we use that question as a starting point and then flesh it out with more nuance. It is a classic element of magazine journalism: Will Al Gore stop global warming? Well, here's Al Gore, and here's what he says and what he'd doing. And so on.

Rosen believes that this approach, in its more intellectually lazy forms, is associated with the print media. The thread over at HuffPost has veered off into condemnations of the mainstream media and exaltations of the blogosphere as a less spin-oriented alternative. I do think that blogs serve as a crucial check on journalistic folly, but I don't think that they have proven to be any less susceptible to the same "framing" issues. Case in point is Rosen himself. Over at HuffPost I noted that Rosen had written his post under the headline: "Printing Press Progressives at Mother Jones Try to Debunk the Political Web." Talk about framing. I wrote back:

Are we printing press progressives? Then what about our well-established blog? Are we trying to "debunk the political web?" We're certainly interested in dispelling hype when it exists, but the way you phrase it makes it sound like we are out to expose the political web as a sham, which we aren't, and it isn't. Indeed, we are a part of the political web (or did you mean to say citizen journalism?) So who is guilty of lazy and self-serving framing here? This question leads naturally to ones about your motives for attention, which mirror your questions about our motives for attention. Pretty mind bending. But hey, I'm sure you can handle it since you're a salaried NYU professor.

So this leads to the question: What is Jay Rosen For? (His book was called "What Are Journalists For?). I'm sure he's good for something, but I'll let him answer as to what that is. Meanwhile, he still hasn't responded to my question about why he is accusing us of setting up straw men, only to do so himself.