Quote of the Day

Referring to the bizarre story from David Brooks on how he “sat next to a Republican senator once at dinner and he had his hand on my inner thigh the whole time,” Andrew Sullivan commented: “Mercifully, I avoid dinners with Republican senators. It’s usually far too gay a scene for me.”

Cheney’s Acts: Criminal But Not Surprising

We already found out that the CIA withheld information from Congress. It then comes as no surprise to learn that this was done on the direct orders of Dick Cheney.

The law requires the president to make sure the intelligence committees “are kept fully and currently informed of the intelligence activities of the United States, including any significant anticipated intelligence activity.” But the language of the statute, the amended National Security Act of 1947, leaves some leeway for judgment, saying such briefings should be done “to the extent consistent with due regard for the protection from unauthorized disclosure of classified information relating to sensitive intelligence sources and methods or other exceptionally sensitive matters.”

In addition, for covert action programs, a particularly secret category in which the role of the United States is hidden, the law says that briefings can be limited to the so-called Gang of Eight, consisting of the Republican and Democratic leaders of both houses of Congress and of their intelligence committees.

The disclosure about Mr. Cheney’s role in the unidentified C.I.A. program comes a day after an inspector general’s report underscored the central role of the former vice president’s office in restricting to a small circle of officials knowledge of the National Security Agency’s program of eavesdropping without warrants, a degree of secrecy that the report concluded had hurt the effectiveness of the counterterrorism surveillance effort.

It would be a mistake to try to move forward while ignoring the crimes of the Bush administration, as Barack Obama would prefer, as this only increases the risk of further criminality on the part of the executive branch in the future. Newsweek reports that Eric Holder might proceed with criminal investigations:

Four knowledgeable sources tell NEWSWEEK that he is now leaning toward appointing a prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration’s brutal interrogation practices, something the president has been reluctant to do. While no final decision has been made, an announcement could come in a matter of weeks, say these sources, who decline to be identified discussing a sensitive law-enforcement matter. Such a decision would roil the country, would likely plunge Washington into a new round of partisan warfare, and could even imperil Obama’s domestic priorities, including health care and energy reform. Holder knows all this, and he has been wrestling with the question for months. “I hope that whatever decision I make would not have a negative impact on the president’s agenda,” he says. “But that can’t be a part of my decision.”

Changes in the Blogosphere

While traveling last weekend I  lacked the time to post as often as usual and missed some topics. Sarah Palin’s announcement sucked up most of the news last week, but before that there was one other item which was discussed on many blogs. The post attracted considerable attention in the blogosphere because it was a topic of interest to all bloggers–the blogosphere itself.  Laura at 11D discussed the changes in the blogosphere over the past six years and is not happy about many of the changes.

Laura writes that the old A-list bloggers don’t have the same influence as they had in the past:

People used to read the A-list blogs because they were first on the scene to tell us what the hot articles and issues were. But now we get that information from Twitter, Facebook, and Google Reader. Does anybody still read Instapundit? Most of the A-List bloggers aren’t all that influential. When I surveyed key journalists about what blogs they read, they rarely pointed to the traditional A-list blogs. They preferred the niche blogs, which brings me to the next topic.

Her next topic is that “If you have a particular expertise and unique perspective, they you can quickly gain a following. Everyone else is out of luck.” I do often suspect that I established my own blog in the nick of time and fear that it would be harder to start a new blog today and achieve even the modest (by old A-list standards) readership I have. If someone is already famous they have a shot at becoming a famous blogger. Otherwise, unless they really have something unique to office, I fear there are just too many blogs, and too many competing sources, to easily get established. Of course as long as a blogger is enjoying what they do it might not matter that it could take a couple years to receive a significant number of readers.

One reason it might be harder for new bloggers is that “Bloggers do not link to each other as much as they used to.” Part of that is burn out. It takes more time to go through all the small blogs and find those which have a unique and quotable take on a story.The value of links, while helpful, can be overrated. Often a link from an A-list blog will bring in a huge amount of traffic for one day, but what really matters is the readers who stick around as opposed to reading one linked post.

A related problem is that there are fewer places that can drive traffic to the small blogs. The Daou Report, which later become the Salon Blog Report, first under Peter Daou and then under Steve Benen after Peter went to work for the dark side, helped highlight the posts of many small bloggers. This is no longer around but there are still some sources which do this. Sites such as Memeorandum and Megite include links to both large and small blogs discussing a story, but far more traffic goes to the headline stories than small bloggers. Real Clear Politics does provide a handful of links every day to small as well as large bloggers. I also have some additional aggregators listed in the links section.

Laura complains about Huffington Post, complaing that “It has sucked up all the readers. And HuffPo isn’t a proper blog. It is run by people who don’t link to other bloggers and do not get the old ways and norms that greased the system in the old days.” Actually I have on rare occasions received links from writers at Huffington Post. Other times I  have received traffic from links which people have included in their comments. I have no way to know if I receive more traffic thanks to such links or less due to Huffington Post sucking up readers, but I do not see their existence as a problem. She also sees Twitter and Facebook as problems, but while they might be in some ways competition I often receive traffic from people linking to me from both.

I generally agree with Laura’s comments on the problems with Link Monitoring:

In the past, I could easily figure out which blogs had linked to me and then send them a reciprocal link. For whatever reasons, Google Blog and Technorati aren’t picking up the smaller blogs, and I have no idea who’s linking to me.

Neither has been working well lately, but it isn’t simply a matter of missing smaller blogs. For the last few months Technorati has been missing the vast majority of links that I’m aware of, both from large and small blogs. My Technorati ranking has fallen from over 500 to under 200. While some of the sites linking here in the heat of an election year are no longer linking as much, there are also many blogs which I have exchanged links with over the past six months which are not showing up in Technorati at all. Using Google Blog Search has both the problem of many links being missed along with it adding a new link ever time a handful of blogs with links here enter any post.

Besides missing a tremendous number of links, Technorati rankings mean less as counting links from other blogs means far less than in the past. The idea is that the blogs with the most other blogs linking to them are the most influential. This misses the influence of a large number of forums, Facebook pages, Twitter comments, and links from other sources beyond blogs.

Laura notes that “Many of the top bloggers have been absorbed into some other professional enterprise or are burnt.” Ezra Klein (who himself has turned professional at The Washington Post) elaborated further on this further:

The place has professionalized. Talking Points Memo used to be some unemployed writer’s blog. Now it’s a significant media institution. Atrios used to be the only guy articulating a certain set of progressive frustrations with the media. Now he’s a fellow at Media Matters, a well-funded watchdog organization dedicated to tracking the media in excruciating detail. It used to be that people blogged in their spare time. Now kids graduate from college and apply for jobs as bloggers and, sometimes, internships as assistants on blogs.

This could be taken as good or bad by those of us who prefer our day jobs but still like to blog as a hobby. Independent bloggers are at a disadvantage compared to those who have the name of a professional news organization behind them. Being able to blog full time will also result in advantages. This could be a far better blog if it was my main job and not something done quickly throughout the day, but I’m certainly not going to take a pay cut of that nature.

The professionalization of the blogosphere also does help independent bloggers such as myself if you take the view that a rising tide raises all boats. With many of the old bloggers now becoming professional, the status of the entire blogosphere has risen. Independent blogs can be seen as being something of more significance as part of an entire blogosphere which has greater importance. While my readership might be small compared to that of the professional bloggers, I still have near 10,000 readers for many posts when including those reading trough RSS readers, email subscriptions, Kindle, and regular web surfers. Posts which are picked up by Blogburst are seen by far more readers at the web sites of many newspapers and media sites. Distribution through Newstex further increases the influence of the blog (as well as providing a monthly royalty check). Despite all the difficulties in an amature blogger getting noticed among the professionals, this really is not all that bad for a hobby.

The 2008 Attacks Each Campaign Regrets

It is common for both sides to in a political campaign to go further in the heat of battle than they might if they took the time to reflect on their tactics. Marc Ambinder reviewed an advance copy of The Battle for America, a book on the 2008 election by Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson and mentioned a few attacks which were regretted by both campaigns.

The major attack discussed is the McCarthyite charge that Obama “pals around with terrorists.” Contrary to earlier reports that Palin was going “rogue” in making the attack, probably motivated by a desire in the McCain campaign to distance themselves from such a dishonest attack, the book reports that the McCain fed the attack to Palin virtually word for word.

Ambinder mentioned a couple of other attacks which campaign operatives reported they regretted at a post-campaign discussion a few months ago. The McCain campaign regretted the decision to bring up Ayers along with an ad which gave false information on a sex-ed program backed by Obama.

The Obama campaign expressed regret about the ad which implied that McCain was too old or out of touch to use the internet.

Inspectors General Report on Warrantless Wiretaps

A report on the warrantless wiretap program of the Bush administration showed it was of little value:

“Extraordinary and inappropriate” secrecy about a warrantless eavesdropping program undermined its effectiveness as a terrorism-fighting tool, government watchdogs have concluded in the first examination of one of the most contentious episodes of the Bush administration.

A report by inspectors general from five intelligence agencies said the administration’s tight control over who learned of the program also contributed to flawed legal arguments that nearly prompted mass resignations in the Justice Department five years ago.

The program “may have” contributed to successful counterterrorism efforts, some intelligence officials told the investigators. But too few CIA personnel knew of the highly classified program to use it for intelligence work, the report stated, while at the FBI, the program “played a limited role,” with “most . . . leads . . . determined not to have any connection to terrorism.”

The surveillance program, which intercepted domestic communications linked to people with suspected ties to al-Qaeda, was one of the Bush administration’s most secretive and, eventually, controversial intelligence efforts. After the New York Times disclosed its existence in December 2005, the program became a symbol of the administration’s expansive view of executive authority, especially regarding national security…

The release yesterday of the inspectors general’s summary findings renewed questions about the effectiveness of congressional oversight of intelligence activities, after a week of back-and-forth between House members and the CIA over an unrelated classified program that has been squashed by the new administration. The IGs reported that lawmakers received 49 briefings on the surveillance program between October 2001 and January 2007.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said: “The legal analysis under which the program operated for years ‘entailed ignoring an act of Congress, and doing so without full congressional notification.’ No president should be able to operate outside the law.”

This report that the program was conducted without full congressional notification follows a recent report that the CIA concealed their actions from Congress prompting a review of the process for briefing Congress.

Besides concealing information from Congress regarding the warrantless wiretaps, the report also demonstrates secrecy within the executive branch:

For the first few years, then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft and two senior aides — Office of Legal Counsel lawyer John C. Yoo and intelligence policy lawyer James Baker — were the only Justice Department officials made aware of the initiative, bypassing many of the latter men’s superiors, the unclassified summary reported for the first time.