Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Heckuva Job, Bushie

Gallup's poll of 350,000 people to determine self-identification by party.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Generals and admirals against torture

Moving post from the Daily Kos site:

Reagan wouldn't recognize this GOP

Mickey Edwards, former Republican congressman explains why the Republicans are so lost:,0,3344794.story

Key point:

The Republican Party that is in such disrepute today is not the party of Reagan. It is the party of Rush Limbaugh, of Ann Coulter, of Newt Gingrich, of George W. Bush, of Karl Rove. It is not a conservative party, it is a party built on the blind and narrow pursuit of power.Not too long ago, conservatives were thought of as the locus of creative thought. Conservative think tanks (full disclosure: I was one of the three founding trustees of the Heritage Foundation) were thought of as cutting-edge, offering conservative solutions to national problems. By the 2008 elections, the very idea of ideas had been rejected. One who listened to Barry Goldwater's speeches in the mid-'60s, or to Reagan's in the '80s, might have been struck by their philosophical tone, their proposed (even if hotly contested) reformulation of the proper relationship between state and citizen. Last year's presidential campaign, on the other hand, saw the emergence of a Republican Party that was anti-intellectual, nativist, populist (in populism's worst sense) and prepared to send Joe the Plumber to Washington to manage the nation's public affairs

Eight days

Eight good days isn't enough to undo eight bad years, but this has been a very good first week.

Our biggest problems left over from the Bush years, the wars and economic distress, will take time and effort to redress. But the first eight days has seen a lot of positive changes made. Some of it is very substantive such as the end to torture, the Gitmo closing order, the end to renditions and the repudiation of the Yoo memos. Much of it is more a matter of mood -- tackling problems with sober competence, reaching out to opponents and enemies, and realistic rhetoric.

There's little early indication that the Republicans have yet to acquire a clue, but maybe when the shock wears off we will see some tentative steps at reform.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Andrew Sullivan, the "liberal"

Key quote on Forbes defining him as a "liberal": For the record: self-confident political groupings seek converts - look at Obama. Failed and failing political groupings seek to punish and list heretics. I'm resigned to being a heretic given the state of the current conservative movement. And as an independent writer, it mercifully can't hurt me much. I just don't think conservatism will revive until it stops thinking that way.

The whole thing is here:

Obama gets it

A reader over at Andrew Sullivan's blog has written such an excellent post that I think it's worth reposting in entirety.

Scott Horton is right. My feeling is that Obama's opening days have gone better than I had any right to expect.
Obama has been many things in his life, but one of his roles has gotten short shrift. He was a constitutional law professor at one of the best law schools in the country. And there's something about the Bush administration that's gotten short shrift as well. It's not just that there was a political disagreement -- a lot of what the last administration did was illegal. And they didn't just break run of the mill laws -- they broke the central stuff that's laid down in the constitution. Their whole program was rooted in this violation of the constitution -- without that enormous breach, they couldn't have their expansive conception of executive power, upon which so many other things depended.
I think this point is really key. Bush's conception of the executive isn't something about which reasonable people disagree. It was unconstitutional, and the legal arguments defending it were specious and offered in bad faith. They had as much intellectual integrity as Cheney's assertion that he belonged to neither the executive or legislative branches.
There's one last building block to my argument: the government is made out of laws. These issues aren't just intellectual pastimes, things that spectators in armchairs engage in once the men of action take care of business. These issues are at the center of everything.
Without the legal cover that Bush got, none of the awful stuff that transpired could have occurred. Obama has laid down a lot of stuff very quickly, and the effect of it will be to repudiate the entire philosophy of Bush's government. You can see it not only in his executive orders, but in the lawyers he's appointed. He's already changed everything completely.
I read someone from the left who was concerned that Obama wouldn't close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. But he has to -- he's already created a new legal framework in which such a place can't exist. He's put together a team that wouldn't allow him to keep it open. The facility's closure is inevitable. I don't know why more people don't get this.
Maybe it's because the law hasn't been taken seriously for so long that people don't think what he's done means anything. I don't really know why it's flying under the radar. He's already saved the constitution. I know that sounds way over the top, but I absolutely believe it's true. And as a final related point, this is one area where there is an enormous difference between Obama and Mrs. Clinton. She would not have moved to reestablish the proper constitutional role of the executive. She wouldn't have understood that it's the distortion of that role that's at the center of so many of our problems. Every single thing he's done points to an understanding that Cheney's distorted view of the executive is to blame for so much that's wrong, and there has been no hesitation, no wavering, in his response. He's gone in surgically and attacked it.

Gitmo didn't have to be "Gitmo"

Unsurprisingly details are starting to emerge of how Bush and Rumsfeld damaged the honor and reputation of the U.S. and especially the U.S. military.

This Washington Post articles explains how the military's initial setup of Guantanamo featured humane treatment in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. Until orders came from on high.

Rumsfeld may very well be worse than McNamara. At least he didn't set out to destroy the honor of the military.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Torture prosecutions

The "conventional wisdom" seems to be that prosecutions for torture are unlikely, but I think the CW is misplaced.

First of all, there's no statute of limitations for war crimes, so it's presumptuous to assume that the political situation 10 or 20 years from now won't allow for it. Just ask Pinochet.

Speaking of Pinochet, there's also the fact that war crimes are universal jurisdiction crimes, so there's always the possibility of the prosecution in a foreign court. Still, here I am talking about US prosecutions.

Despite his talk about "moving on" and "looking forward: I don't think there's any indication that Obama has ruled out prosecutions down the road. He's a skilled politician, though, and I think he recognizes that he can (indeed must) let the case build for prosecutions over time. He has some very pressing issues that must be dealt with NOW and getting bogged down in legal action that will unavoidably take years to resolve is, frankly, stupid. Better to let the pressure build slowly.

Factors that will build the pressure will include finding out more about what, exactly, was done. Shining a bright light on the prior practices and who authorized them will help build pressure to act. As a matter of fact, under the relevant treaties and laws the government will HAVE to act eventually, and at least open investigations. Given what we already know, investigations seem likely to lead to charges and charges will necessarily lead to trials. Whether they lead to convictions is hard to say, but people have been convicted for less.

What Obama had to do now on the torture and related executive abuses is ensure that they STOP immediately and that there be a complete repudiation of the Bush approach. His executive orders and appointments both achieve that aim. There has been some quibbling from the ACLU and some outer human rights advocates that Obama left him some "wriggle room" here and there. It's their job to raise these kinds of flags, but I put little stock in them. Keeping some third way of dealing with Gitmo detainees besides the regular courts and UCMJ available is simple political prudence. Despite the appalling incompetence of the Bush people, it's probably that at least some of the remaining detainees at Gitmo are actual, bona fide dangerous terrorists that can't be released safely. Unfortunately, because of Bush policies, they probably can't be prosecuted now because of torture and abuse. So some process that keeps them detained will have to be found.

Obama has clearly laid out that openness, rule of law and humane treatment are the default values whenever in doubt. This is the opposite approach from Bush, of course, but what it means is that as it percolates down the chain to the lowest levels that things will change in a concrete way. Just as Rumsfeld's decisions led directly to Lynndie England's actions, so will Obama's lead to changes It all starts at the top.

Friday, January 23, 2009

When they return to reality the GOP may have some prospects

From the National Republcain Website:


Thanks to Republican economic policies, the U.S. economy is robust and job creation is strong.
Republican tax cuts are creating jobs and continuing to strengthen the economy, yet there is still more to do so that every American who wants a job can find one."

I know that the Bush years were marked by strong doses of if-you-believe-it-hard-enough-it-will-be-true thinking, but that was then and this is now. Until they rejoin the same reality as everybody else they really won't have anything to say to voters.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A call for prosecutions

FOI lives!!

Obama changes the rules. Paraphrasing him, the benefit of the doubt will go to openess, not keeping secrets.

Gitmo order being prepared

Obama is reportedly circulating a draft of his executive order to close Guantanamo Bay detention center within the next year.

Story here:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Powerline's bizarre retrospective on Bush

The Powerline Bush retrospective is full of questionable comments, but this one caught my eye:

President Bush leaves office mostly unloved, with some poll respondents saying that they consider him one of our worst presidents ever. This in itself is odd. Generally, our worst Presidents have been one-termers, for obvious reasons: James Buchanan, Jimmy Carter, Herbert Hoover (if you buy into the myth). But George W. Bush was re-elected rather easily in 2004. Thus, if he really was one of our worst Presidents, either the electorate was subject to mass hypnosis, or something must have gone seriously wrong in his second term.

Easily re-elected? If I remember correctly , if just a few thousand votes had gone the other way in Ohio then Kerry would have been president. That's "easily" for an incumbent president? What, pray tell, would have barely winning re-election looked like?

We are on the way

Mr. President

Monday, January 19, 2009

Counting down the hours now

Just a little more than 12 hours left in the Bush era and then ...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Circuit City RIP

The liquidation of Circuit City is not a surprise. The recession will probably claim several more high-profile retailers in the coming weeks.

But some point to the company's decision to lay-off its most experienced sales staff a few years ago in a misguided effort to save money. It did save money, of course, but it lost a lot more. The remaining employees were demoralized and the replacement employees knew that they were, in the eyes of the company, completely disposable. Customer, who go to a store like that expecting to get help from knowledgeable staff on technical products they don't know much about, found they had little reason to go there any more. If the sales staff can't help you, you might as well go to Wal-Mart and at least get the stuff cheap.

Hopefully once the economy recovers corporate brains will rmember this episode next time they get the urge to "save" money.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A well-reasoned arguement for patient pressure on Obama on Bush-era crimes

The gist of this long, but goo read is that we should keep up the pressure on Obama to address the crimes of the Bush era, but be patient about it as well.

Key quote:

Look at it as Kant might have done: do we want Presidents committing themselves to siccing prosecutors on previous administrations as a matter of habit? In four years every administration commits a sheaf offenses against good taste, against the English language and, yes, against the legal code of the United States. A determined prosecutor will inevitably find a nut. For that reason, even taking into account the obvious and undeniable crimes that we already know about, Obama will serve the country better if he begins with a skeptical position, one might call it conservative, and lets official fact-finding and public pressure move him in the right direction.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Keep an eye on Mexico

While we're focused on fighting halfway around the world, a viscious drug war is brewing on our doorstsep. A U.S. military report says Mexico is in danger of a sudden collapse.

"The Mexican possibility may seem less likely, but the government, its politicians, police and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and press by criminal gangs and drug cartels. How that internal conflict turns out over the next several years will have a major impact on the stability of the Mexican state. Any descent by Mexico into chaos would demand an American response based on the serious implications for homeland security alone."

Our smartest soldier speaks

A must-read from H.R. McMaster, perhaps the outstanding soldier of his generation.

Here's a key point from near the end critiicizing the "revolution in warfighting" fad that afflcited the Rumsfeld-era Pentagon (emphasis added:

Emphasis in planning and directing operations, therefore, ought to be on effectiveness rather than efficiency. The requirement to adapt quickly to unforeseen conditions means that commanders will need additional forces and resources that can be committed with little notice. For efficiency in all forms of warfare, including counterinsurgency, means barely winning. And in war, barely winning can be an ugly proposition.

Distrusting government power

One of the most puzzling things about the whole torture/rendition/detention issue has been now many conservatives have been complicit in enabling it. They should know better.

There are few things more certain in the world than the eventual abuse of any power granted to government officials. Sure, today we're detaining and torturing the "worst of the worst" (maybe) but what about tomorrow? What about 10 years from now?

There's an example on the wire today on a different issue that makes the same point.

The story is here:

But the gist of it is that some 14- and 15-year-old girls took some nude pictures of themselves on their cell phones and they got caught. Obviously a bad idea and the kind of stupid thing teens will do. But authorities are charging them for possessing child porn for having nude pictures of themselves!

Now the entire point of child porn laws is to prevent children from being victimized, but here the law is being used to victimize these girls. Like I said, it was stupid thing to do. Show me a teenager and I'll show you someone who did at least one stupid thing today. It shouldn't be criminal to be a stupid teen.

I am quite sure that lawmakers had no idea that teens would be charged under child porn laws for taking photos of themselves. I'm pretty sure they imagined some sleazy guys would be the only ones caught up in their law. Well, one of the laws of unintended consequences is that petty government officials will take a mile if you give them an inch. And if they can stretch a law they will.

Something to think about next time someone says we should trust the government with the power to detain, disappear or torture someone.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

American Torture site raises questions about the "new" Army field manual

While certainly an improvement over the alternative, there are good questions being raised about some of the provisions in the Army FM dealing with interrogation techniques.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Party of Torture

Of course, no sooner do I point out that the dems are Putzes does Fred Barnes remind us that the GOP is something far worse -- the party of torturers.

According to Barnes, No. 2 on Bush's list of "achievements" is torture. (Of course he doesn't call it that). The rest of the list isn't much better, but that "achievement" is stunning. For years, or course, the standard line at the Weekly Standard and its allies was that it wasn't really happening. But now that it's been admitted, it's an "achievement" to be proud of.

read the shameful post here:

Until the GOP works through that enabling of evil, we're going to be in for a long rule by Putzes. Frankly, Putzes are much less frightening than Torture-apologists. About the only positive aspect of this whole affair is that the torture regime also turned out to be incompetent. Had we been governed by competent torturers we'd be in big trouble.

Our Republic is demonstratively resilient enough to survive rule by Putz, having survived many previous episodes. But I'm not sure any Republic can log survive rule by a regime willing to torture people. Sure it always starts with real "enemies of the state," but it never ends there.

Party of Putz

Now just to be clear, the modern Republican Party has disgraced itself by embracing torture, aggressive war and executive branch lawlessness. It's abandoned fiscal restraint (unless the program is proposed by Democrats), limited government (Terry S.) and science. It's signature issues are hostility to gays, people of color, immigrants, regulations and, especially, taxes of any sort. In short they are a mess.

On the other hand, should they straighten themselves out they will have a clear path to power because the opposition party is afflicted with terminal putzness. The latest example is the sorry saga of Blagojevich and Burris. It simply proves that it's not only Republicans that can outmaneuver Democrats. It simply requires that someone be smart and a little ruthless. That can be a force for good (Obama) or bad (Blago) but the bottom line is that the Democrats, being unable to stand up for any real principles, are hopelessly unable to stand their ground against determined opposition.

In some ways this is a hopeful thing, as I think people who expect Obama to have a lot of trouble with his own side of the aisle are mistaken and are, once again, underestimating him. I think he'll get his way on a surprising amount of his agenda in the end.

But this may not lead to the lasting Democratic party successes that it should because I think Obama is a singular fellow and I doubt he'll be bale to institutionalize the changes in the Democratic Party needed to overcome putzness.

Reid and company made a grave error by laying down a marker on Blagojevich's pick for a senator. Having very thin legal grounds for blocking any pick, they made a vow they couldn't keep. Having no real legitimate grounds for excluding Burris they simply invited Blago to humiliate them by picking someone like Burris that they couldn't really say "no" to. The right response would have been to simply promise to evaluate any pick and make it clear that anyone tainted by a credible report of corruption would face scrutiny. Instead, like the putzheads they are, they rashly demanded that Blago appoint no one and vowed not to seat anyone he appointed.

Unless the Democrats actually produce some real legislative leadership (Reid and Pelosi not being it) I predict the Republicans will come roaring back before the end of Obama's second term.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cheney admits waterboarding

So there was a vice president of the United States today on CNN admitting that the U.S. (waterboarded) tortured at least three people and defending the practice.

Of course he denied it was torture, even going so far as to call Sen. John McCain "wrong" when he (McCain) said waterboarding was, indeed torture.

So we have the man who avoided military service through the use of different deferments telling the war hero with the broken body that the former POW doesn't know what torture is.

Friday, January 9, 2009

"No exceptions"

In respnse to a question about torture:

“We must adhere to our values diligently and with no exceptions.”

-- President-elect Barack Obama
No more Jack Bauer-inspired ticking time bomb fantasy scenarios to justify evil.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Marvel commemorates the Geek-in-chief

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Larison, as usual, gets to the nub of the matter

Damile Larison on loophole seekers for Just War theory:

Of course, it is possible that applying high standards will simply cause those who wish to wage war for whatever reason to ignore the restraints of the tradition entirely, but then I thought that one of the purposes of establishing moral standards was not to accommodate the unjust in their desires. After the last six years, I would have thought that the tendency to water down these standards and thus make escalating and starting wars more morally and politically acceptable was the far greater problem that we face. We are not in danger, it seems to me, of “giving ammunition to the side of the debate that wants to do away with moral restraint in the struggle against terrorism entirely,” as these are the people who are perfectly happy to warp and distort the just war tradition (and the Constitution, international law and the basic meaning of words, among other things) to accommodate the virtual abandonment of that restraint. One could make a similar argument that opponents of the torture regime, by taking an absolute stance against torture as wrong in all cases, are giving ammunition to those who have defended and justified it as necessary, but I think Ross and I would agree that there is an obligation to oppose injustices that are carried out by the state, whether in isolated incidents or as a matter of systematic policy, that needs to be fulfilled whether or not apologists for those injustices can demagogue that opposition to their temporary advantage.

The whole thing is here:

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Beyond satire

Excellent post on the Yoo-Bolton rediscovery of limits on executive power:

Panetta has the right enemies

Considering the abject failure of the Democratic congressional leadership to exercise oversight over the Bush torture regime, the mere fact that Sen. Diane Feinstein doesn't like the Panetta pick is more than enough reason to enthusiastically support it.

Congress has done a piss poor job of protecting its prerogatives for years, removing an essential check from our system of checks and balances. There's little hope that will change under the Democrats, as they have little interest in abstract political theories, but at the very least they can stay out of the way as Obama fixes some of the damage.

Monday, January 5, 2009

New CIA director.

It appears to have been a long and difficult search to find someone both qualified to lead the agency yet unsullied by the Bush crime regime, but Obama has tapped Leon Panetta to head the spy agency.

Panetta has had a long and distinguished career in Washington, although not in intelligence. He'll have his work cut out for him, but this is another sign of how seriously Obama takes governing.

Slate - Encyclopedia Baracktannica