Sunday, June 29, 2008

FISA fight not over

No vote until July 8th, now.

There's still hope for figthing this off, apparently.

Every delay is a victory. If there's no vote this summer then it can become a campaign issue.

Here's Glenn Greenwald explaining why that's a good thing:

Saturday, June 28, 2008


Being a politician requires certain skills and talent, like any human activity. Merely understanding policy options is just one useful talent for a politician, but not even a necessary one.

One of the most effective local politic ans I ever covered as a town report was a man who had been a town selectman for close to three decades. He was not the brightest bulb who ever sat in a chair of power. He really had only the most rudimentary grasp of things like the town budget.

But he understood people very well, and had little trouble winning re-election year after year because he knew that he was ultimately in a people business and he could hire people who understood the budget. By the same token, I've seen a lot of people who had a very good grasp of the mechanics of government yet no ability to get people to work together.

Politicians at the level of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain, of course, must have some ability to handle all the aspects of being a leader. Despite their reputations, for example, neither Ronald Reagan nor George W. Bush were/are unintelligent.

But talents are unevenly distributed and the long campaign has already highlighted that Obama may be the best balanced leader among the final three. Whether that means he will be a success as president remains to be seen. Sometimes the times a president finds himself in my require character that is particularly strong on one way or another and not balanced.

Hillary Clinton seems to understand policy very well, but one is still left with the feeling she doesn't understand people as well. Her husband was famously a people-person, but she has to work at it. Her relationship with her staff suggests a person who has to manage explicitly rather than instinctively.

McCain, on the other hand, is very much a people person, but seems to have a weak grasp of policy issues. Even in areas where he imagines himself to have expertise he seems spotty with his positions taken on "gut" rather than analysis.

Watching Obama and Clinton perform their little Unity dance at Unity, N.H., is a reminder that purity and uncompromising principles are all very well for pundits and professors, but totally unsuitable for a politician. If one could imagine little thought balloons over their heads the words would undoubtedly belie their public presentation.

But politic ans have to have the discipline to set aside their feelings for the larger goals they are pursuing and this is not inappropriate. We see the same things in other fields and think nothing of it. Medical personnel are faced with horrific sights all the time yet maintain a professional demeanor as they provide care.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

WTF, Ralph

Is there anyone more pathetic than Ralph Nader?

"There's only one thing different about Barack Obama when it comes to being a Democratic presidential candidate. He's half African-American. Whether that will make any difference, I don't know. I haven't heard him have a strong crackdown on economic exploitation in the ghettos. Payday loans, predatory lending, asbestos, lead. What's keeping him from doing that? Is it because he wants to talk white? He doesn't want to appear like Jesse Jackson? We'll see all that play out in the next few months and if he gets elected afterwards.
--Presidential Candidate Ralph Nader

What a complete, self-absorbed ass.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Obama the politician

I'm not sure where this idea originated that Obama was some kind of pie-in-the-sky idealist and not a politician. Being a politician necessarily means making compromises, and this is not a bad thing. Sometimes one even has to make compromises on issues one really cares about and may even violate a principle or two. This is why pundits and politicians are different.

I do think Obama has ideals and principles and wants to accomplish grand things, but this makes him no different than most politicians.

The Republicans have been -- gasp! -- discovering that Obama is a politician. As in most ways lately, Republicans as a class have been pretty dumb and underestimated Obama all along. At the rate they are going they will underestimate him all the way to the White House.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Fourth Amendment repealed

So as far as I understand it, the FISA "reform" bill amounts to this: So long as the Attorney General certifies that the illegal search is related to a terror investigation, then a federal judge must dismiss any challenge to the search. The only possible grounds for a challenge is that it isn't really the AG's signature.

There is no requirement that there actually be a terror investigation, merely that the AG say there is.

This is more than adequate because we know for a fact that every future AG will be a person of impeccable character and will never, ever misuse or abuse his or her power.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Professional interrogation

FISA follies

There's certainly a good case to be made for adjusting the FISA provisions. The problem is that the normal benefit of the doubt one would like to extend to an administration cannot be extended to this one.

Just today, even as the House voted to trust Bush one more time, his former press spokesman was in a nearby hearing room outlining all the ways the administration lied, shaded the truth, overstated intel and generally demonstrated that trust was undeserved.

The immunity provision is the rub. There seems to be no other mechanism to hold the lawbreaking accountable other than civil lawsuits, considering that Congress apparently is helpless to do it's oversight job. The sad thing is that Congress, while unable or unwilling to do its job, is more than willing to stop anyone else from doing it either.

The Constitution doesn't defend itself

Good summation from Hilzoy on why the FISA controversy is important:

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Gen. Taguba

"After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account."

So who ARE those 29 percent, anyway

President Bush's approval rating is at 29%, according to the Washington Post poll:

So who are these people, that still approve of the way Bush is doing is job?

By the way, 86% think the country is going in the wrong direction!

So about half of the people who approve of Bush also think the country is going in the wrong direction.

You'd think they might make the connection.

OPen Letter to Congressman Hoyer

Rep. Steny Hoyer
House Majority Leader,
H-107 Capitol Building,
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Rep. Hoyer,
It’s with great dismay that I read accounts suggesting that you are involved in efforts to reach some compromise over the illegal warrant-less wiretapping program conducted by the administration.
Naturally we want to do everything possible within the law to protect our national security, but we damage that security and our liberty when we allow powerful entities such as the government and giant telecommunications companies to violate the law without consequences.
I sincerely hope that these reports are mistaken and you will either directly nor indirectly, through action or inaction, aid in this attempt to immunize lawless behavior. We can hope that the next administration will be more respectful of the Constitution and the law, but even if the next president is commendable in every regard there are future presidents to consider. Our system recognizes that not all men are virtuous and that even virtuous and well-meaning men (and women) need checks on their power lest abuses result.
It is vital that this episode of lawless not be swept under the rug and that no compromise be passed that does not require a full, public airing of the lawbreaking. Without this we cannot protect our liberty over the long run.

Seth Owen

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

"If the detainee dies, you're doing it wrong"

From Spencer Ackerman:

Levin just laid out a timeline for how we got from Geneva-compliant interrogations pre-9/11 to the torture of Guantanamo Bay. A key step came in early October 2002, when a lawyer for the CIA's Counterterrorist Center, Jonathan Fredman, visited Guantanamo to discuss "aggressive" techniques for interrogation. Fredman explained "the wet towel technique," according to unclassified minutes of his meeting with senior Guantanamo commanders -- also known as waterboarding.
Discussing what the law permitted when it comes to interrogation, Levin, quoting from the minutes, Fredman said: "It is basically subject to perception. If the detainee dies, you're doing it wrong."
The response, from Guantanamo chief of staff, Lt. Col. Diane Beaver: "We'll need documentation to protect us."
By early 2003, following a working group at the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld provided exactly that. Cry the beloved country.

Makes sense

From Politblog:

Since it is clearly possible for US forces to have arrested the wrong people, I cannot see how it is an abuse for SCOTUS to decide that those in captivity should have the right to question their detention.
It is incredibly selfish and myopic to take the attitude that because foreigners are being detained that it somehow doesn’t matter that innocent people are being caught up in the dragnet.
To put it another way, when the FARC kidnaps someone for political reasons and holds them without chance of release simply because they believe they have the right to do so within the context of a self-defined cause, we all find that to be an abomination. Why is it is any different if the US government engages in the same activity?
This is frightening power to give to any human being, and yet it seems that some believe that that power ought to reside, unchallenged, in the hands of the President of the United States. No wonder
the GOP “brand” is so tarnished at the moment.
I will also reiterate a point I made yesterday: this type of behavior is allegedly about making us safe, but the arrest and detention of innocents will not make people love us, it will make them hate us. How that makes us “safe” is beyond me.

Oh, sure THIS will helpm the GOP build an electoral majority

On sale at the State Republican Convention:

From the Dallas News:

Measuring sluttiness - Boomers were worst

Interesting blog post here on the "decline" of morals.

The Cliff notes version: Teen sluttiness increased from the 1950s to about 1990 and then decreased from then until now.

Hearings begin on the origins of the torture regime

We will be ashamed at what comes out.

George Will, vanishing breed

George Will again demonstrates why he's one of the few true conservatives left, by pointing out that having limits on the power of the executive to imprison people is a good thing. One would think John McCain would be less critical of the Supreme Court ruling if he stopped to consider its implications.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Wrong way to do it

As much as I think the war is a bad idea, I think it's a much worse idea when soldiers refuse to serve when legally required to:

While soldiers can reuse unlawful orders they're not serving the public good when refusing lawful orders, even if those orders are stupid. That's simply not their call in a republic.

Wrong guys

One of the foreseeable consequences of our bad decision to abandon precedent and allow the torture and mistreatment of prisoners is that a lot of mistakes were made.

Lord knows, the actual criminal justices system makes plenty of mistakes, despite all the protections of due process, legal assistance and presumption of evidence. It defies reason to think that the seizures on the battlefield and war zone will be more efficient. Now, obviously we don't want soldiers in combat to have to mirandize detainees. That's unreasonable, impractical and unnecessary.

But we therefore have to acknowledge the certainty that many of the people detained are not, actually, guilty of anything. Therefore it makes sense to treat all detainees as humanely as tactical conditions permit and the policy should be, as it always was before, to treat all prisoners properly. Again, this can't be emphasized enough. many of them will not only be innocent, but some will be allies and friends caught up by mistake. Of course, abusing friends, allies and neutrals may be a good way to turn them into enemies.

This news article explains some cases:

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Like most men of his generation, my father isn't much for talking about his feelings. He just turned 80.

He worked hard his whole life, served our country during the Korean War, raised five good kids and always conducted his life with integrity and honor.

I love my dad and I'm proud of him.

Happy Father's Day

Friday, June 13, 2008

In Honor of Richard and Mildred

Mildred Loving's statement on June 12 2007 , the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling:

Loving for All
By Mildred Loving*

Prepared for Delivery on June 12, 2007, The 40th Anniversary of the Loving vs. Virginia Announcement

When my late husband, Richard, and I got married in Washington, DC in1958, it wasn't to make a political statement or start a fight. We were in love, and we wanted to be married.

We didn't get married in Washington because we wanted to marry there. We did it there because the government wouldn't allow us to marry back home in Virginia where we grew up, where we met, where we fell in love, and where we wanted to be together and build our family.

You see, I am a woman of color and Richard was white, and at that time people believed it was okay to keep us from marrying because of their ideas of who should marry whom.

When Richard and I came back to our home in Virginia, happily married, we had no intention of battling over the law. We made a commitment to each other in our love and lives, and now had the legal commitment, called marriage, to match. Isn't that what marriage is?

Not long after our wedding, we were awakened in the middle of the night in our own bedroom by deputy sheriffs and actually arrested for the "crime" of marrying the wrong kind of person.

Our marriage certificate was hanging on the wall above the bed.

The state prosecuted Richard and me, and after we were found guilty, the judge declared: "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malayand red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

He sentenced us to a year in prison, but offered to suspend the sentence if we left our home in Virginia for 25years exile. We left, and got a lawyer.

Richard and I had to fight, but still were not fighting for a cause. We were fighting for our love.

Though it turned out we had to fight, happily Richard and I didn't have to fight alone. Thanks to groups like the ACLU and the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, and so many good people around the country willing to speak up, we took our case for the freedom to marry all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

And on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that, "The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men, 'a basic civil right.' "

My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God's plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love.

But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation's fears and prejudices have given way, and today's young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry. Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don't think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the "wrong kindof person" for me to marry.

I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people's religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people's civil rights.

I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard's and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all.

That's what Loving, and loving, are all about.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

GOP irresponsibility

Let's have a war and not pay for it.

Ruth Marcus notes: By the time Congress finishes the latest "emergency" war spending bill, a mere seven years into the emergency, the cost of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan will have exceeded $860 billion. For the first time in American history, every penny of that amount will have been borrowed. For the first time, billions more will have been borrowed to finance tax cuts in the midst of war.

Full post here:

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Big disappointment

I was a big fan of Condi Rice and had high hopes for what she would bring to the administration. Needless to say, I've been disappointed.

David Corn lays out some details, here:

Now, Rice has proven to be one of the better one among the Bush circle, but that turns out to be a low bar indeed. While Bush deserves the lion's share of the blame because he's the boss, the brutal truth of the matter is that Rice has not done the kind of job the U.S. public deserved. I'm not entirely sure why that is. She seems intelligent and capable enough, but one wonders if, like many Bush aides, she didn't forget who she was really working for. Remember that hapless aide who told Sen. Levin about her "oath to the president" that prompted a civics lesson from the senator? Did Rice forget that her primary responsibility was to the American people?

Friday, June 6, 2008

Why the GOP can't be trusted with power right now

My equanimity over the possibility that McCain could win -- because he was opposed to torture and Bush's lawlessness -- has been damaged by these latest revelations about his backtracking on earlier opposition to the Bushist excesses.

Greenwald details them here:

The bottom line, however, is that we will need to have a change of party in order to really start cleaning house. Is this because the Democrats are more virtuous than the Republicans? No, not really. There's little evidence for that. Indeed, the worst of the Bush excesses would not have been possible without enabling from the so-called opposition party.

But, while no better than the Republicans, the Democrats have incentives to cast the GOP behavior in a bad light and there is therefore a chance that some of the worst can come to light and reforms put in place as the Democrats try to capitalize on the disgust the truth will provoke.

McCain, while personally not as bad as Bush, cannot make the kind of break needed. For one thing, any McCain administration will, naturally, be filled with Republicans, many of theme the same folks that have been responsible for the abuses for the last eight years. But even the ones who did not bear direct responsibility for abuses will have little incentive to reveal the bad behavior of other Republicans.

No, McCain will not do. I'm sure torture will end and the worst abuses of FISA may very well stop under McCain, but it will be a temporary reprieve, easily reversed in the future bad precedents will be allowed to stand and Americans will not trust their government. An Obama administration, on the other hand, provides the opportunity for repudiating the Bush errors, revealing them for the world and America to see, and making clear to everyone how badly we strayed off course. It may not be possible to repair all the damage Bush did, but we can make a start.

Perhaps, someday, the Republicans and the "conservatives" will come to understand where they were wrong and it will be possible to entrust them with power again. Or, perhaps, the Democrats will screw up even worse than the GOP (they certainly have the talent) the voting for the Republicans will seem to be the lesser of the evils.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

We Have A Dream

You have to love a couple like this

Wikipedia notes: Senator Barack Obama will give his acceptance speech on August 28, the 45th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

No, she won't

Make a good VP, that is.

Poltiblog explains why:

Beyond the general difficulties for Obama of dealing with Hillary (as well as Bill), I think that the main chance that the Democrats have of wooing independents and some Republicans is an Obama ticket sans Clinton. While I lack empirical evidence to support the argument at the moment, I think that the general dissatisfaction with the Bush administration, mixed with the unpopularity of the Iraq War will translate into a number of Republicans being willing to vote for Obama in the Fall. However, those same disgruntled Republicans have a great deal of animosity aimed in the direction of the Clintons and will be utterly unwilling to vote for a ticket that contains a Clinton and they will either stick with McCain, cast a protest vote for Barr or stay home in November.
Put another way: an unpopular war and economic problems equals problems for the incumbent party–in a generic sense there is plenty of historic evidence to support such an assertion. Under such conditions, voters normally predisposed to vote for that party will defect or abstain. As such, it is reasonable to assume that Obama has a real chance of winning a decent number of Republican votes in the fall. However, Republicans, in general, have a great deal of dislike for the Clintons, and her presence on the ballot would suppress, to a substantial degree I believe, the generic pattern described in the first portion of this paragraph. As such, Obama-Clinton is far less of a “dream” for the Democrats as many pundits may think.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Yes he did

Now begins the hard part.

Zero credibility

That's what the United States has right now, including our military, because of President Bush.

Here's an account of the latest Gitmo foolishness, where a military judge is "fired" for daring to rule independently.

No doubt the torture apologists will defend this latest crap, but all I can say is Busg can't leave soon enough. Begone, foul spot!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Barack and Iraq

There are some preliminary signs of progress in Iraq, which prompts the question of what Obama should do if things are going relatively well there when he takes office. (There's less of a question for a McCain presidency, because he has essentially committed us to staying there.)

On the one hand, Obama clearly will have a mandate to pull the U.S. out sooner rather than later. Presumably anyone who thinks we should stay will vote for McCain.

On the other hand, every indication is that Barack Obama is a man who deals with the world as it is, not as he wishes it to be. And as much as he might be tempted to pull out anyway, I suspect he'll evaluate conditions on the ground and calibrate any pullout to match the situation.

Is does not necessarily follow, by the way, that we should stay if things are going well. Or leave if they are going well. The key thing is to determine why things are going well. IF they are only going well because of high U.S. troop levels then pulling out quickly is obviously a poor choice. But if the improvement is largely because of Iraqi choices, then leaving without unnecessary delay will help.

The one thing I don't think Obama is interested in is creating a permanent U.S. presence a la Germany or Japan after World War II or Korea. It's likely that any Iraqi government strong enough to govern will ask us to leave. A long-term presence in an Arab country seems to cause more trouble than it is worth. Sticking around in Saudi Arabia has caused no end to our troubles, for example. Better an off-shore naval presence or small special forces bases in small, friendly states like Kuwait.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


The inability of the Democrats to make rules and stick to them provides the Republicans for their best long-term hope that their time in the political wilderness will be shorter than it might otherwise be.

Discipline and Democrats are, evidently, not words with an affinity. It has explained why the GOP, even with its problems, has been able to stymie the Democrats on most issues.

Can there be any doubt that the GOP, if it had a congressional majority and a Democratic president as unpopular as Bush, would be running roughshod over them?

One of Obama's challenges, should he become president, will be bringing some discipline to his own party. This will likely be difficult because electoral success will tend to blind the Democrats to the problem. The fact that it's hard, does not make it any less important however.

Slate - Encyclopedia Baracktannica