Saturday, February 27, 2010

Quote of the Day

"People are always debating, is Buddhism a religion or a philosophy: it's a religion. You're a religion if you do something as weird as when the Buddhist monks scrutinize two-year-olds to find the reincarnation of the dude who just died, and then choose one of the toddlers as the sacred Lama: 'His poop is royal!' Sorry, but thinking you can look at a babbling, barely-housebroken, uneducated being and say, 'That's our leader' doesn't make you enlightened. It makes you a Sarah Palin supporter." -- Bill Maher, on Real Time With Bill Maher, last night.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

Limbaugh's latest jab at the president: "essentially a primitive, indigenous guy."

What a tool.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"A Hair's Breadth Above Your Average Mass Murderer"

A Sullivan reader and attorney has a few things to say about the backpedalling by the Obama DOJ on the OPR Report, which I commented on yesterday. Money quote:
There are many fine lawyers who endeavor to properly and responsibility [sic] counsel their clients on matters that most would view as far less important than interrogation policy. Many do so with far fewer resources and similar time constraints than those that faced Yoo. (One of the interesting insights from the Margolis and OPR reports is that a junior attorney assisted with much of the drafting of the first two torture memos). But because Yoo had extreme views to begin with, he will not be subjected to discipline for the ideological and slanted nonsense he produced while on the payroll of the American public. Future administrations now have every incentive now to stack the Department of Justice with hardcore ideologues who will embolden the worst impulses of their political masters instead of providing sober and dispassionate analysis.

My italics. His conclusion:
Reading Margolis's memorandum, one cannot escape the conclusion expressed by Jack Balkin that to be a member in good standing of the legal profession in the United States one need only moral standing that is a hair's breadth above your average mass murderer.

Newsweek tries to define "terrorism"

You gotta hand it to the editors at Newsweek. They showed some stones running their internal debate about whether or not to call IRS attacker Joe Stack a "terrorist." Greenwald has his typical detailed (and thoroughly disgusted) take on it here. Money quote:
What's perhaps most strange about the Newsweek discussion is that it often lapses into the Innocent Bystander Syndrome of journalism, where journalists talk about phenomena that they cause as though they have nothing to do with it and merely observe it. Thus, several of them don the voice of objective scientist studying the mating habits of farm animals (i.e., American citizens) -- let's try to understand why these interesting, bizarre creatures get so pent up over the Underwear Bomber but don't care about the IRS attacker -- without acknowledging or realizing that their jingoistic, tribalistic, and government-mimicking use of the term Terrorism (that's what is done by those Muslims who don't like us, but never by us) plays a major role in how these episodes are perceived.
One telling comment in the Newsweek piece is from Editor Devin Gordon:
Fundamentally, I'm with [reporter] Dan [Stone]: a Texan white guy named Joe Stack isn't as interesting / enraging / anxiety-inducing as a Nigerian Muslim named Abdulmutallab. I'm also with [reporter] Eve [Conant]: Stack's philosophy, unlike Abdulmutallab's, is pretty kosher with many — maybe even most — Americans. We're basically with him right up to the burn-down-your-house-and-fly-a-plane-into-a-building part of the story. Other than that part, right on, Joe Stack!
Or this priceless gem from Mulitmedia Managing Editor Kathy Jones:

Here is my handy guide:

Lone wolfish American attacker who sees gov't as threat to personal freedom: bomber, tax protester, survivalist, separatist

Group of Americans bombing/kidnapping to protest U.S. policies on war/poverty/ personal freedom/ - radical left-wing movement, right-wing separatists

All foreign groups or foreign individuals bombing/shooting to protest American gov't: terrorists

While it may be "easier and more convenient... to use the term to describe someone with a beard," that's not the job of a journalist. The job of a journalist is report facts as they are. Joe Stack was a lone wolf, to be sure. I didn't read his "manifesto," but I think I'm okay in assuming that any bit of writing, no matter how cogently argued or passionate it may be, that leads a person to set fire to his home and pilot his plane into a building with the explicit aim of inflicting harm on property and people, ain't gonna impress me all that much. But because his intent was to inflict harm on the employees and property of an institution of the United States government (the same as if that institution was the U.S. military), he is a terrorist. The lone gunman who shot Dr. George Tiller in his own church (and who is now serving time in prison), because his aim was to instill fear in the minds of abortion providers and those who work for them, is a terrorist, even if his cause was something that a lot of Americans support. And all those who think that maniac (or Joe Stack) is a hero for taking a stand against something they perceive as immoral are terrorist sympathizers.

See? When we try on those clothes they feel very strange indeed, huh? We may call some Muslim who straps on a bomb and rushes into a restaurant where off-duty security forces like to hang out so that he can detonate and kill as many as he can a terrorist, but in his community, there are many who believe his cause to be noble, and they honor him in death as a hero/martyr for the cause. To us, they're terrorist sympathizers (or even terrorists themselves), but because we're not even capable of being terrorists we have to call people on our side who engage in similar behavior something else. It's just hypocritical.

Schooled on Deficits

Stan Collender, a colleague of Bruce Bartlett over at Capital Gains and Games, writes a fantastic response to Peggy Noonan, who wrote this in the Wall Street Journal:
People are freshly aware and concerned about the real-world implications of a $1.6 trillion dollar deficit..."

Here is Collender's money quote:
Has anyone ever told you that you have to consider the economic context in which a deficit occurs? A deficit even half that size when the economy was growing, like the ones that happened during Bush 43, were indeed a disaster. But last year's deficit of $1.4 trillion, which occurred when monetary policy was having no effect and when businesses and consumers weren't spending, not only was the correct fiscal policy, it was a triumph. The same will be true this year if the deficit is $1.6 trillion.

In other words, Bush's not reducing the deficit when the economy was strong was the problem, and Obama's adding to the deficit when spending and economic growth were nonexistent was the solution to the problem. And if anyone with a brain takes the time to look around, they will see signs that recovery is happening. Steps are underway to address long term deficits, including tax increases and spending cuts.

I know it's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But since I'm on the front line of an industry that is central to the U.S. economy -- mortgages -- I get to see people who have savings, incomes, secure jobs, and an enthusiasm that things will get better from here. I am busy at my job; and I'm getting busier. This is good news for all of us. So, instead of bashing the president for running up deficits, we should be cheering that many of us are working and will be working again soon. When times are good, that's the time to cry about deficits.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Whack Job Watch

Mother Jones's Justine Sharrock has a must-read piece called "Oath Keepers and the Age of Treason." They are a small movement of current and former military and law enforcement who believe that the federal government under President Obama will soon declare martial law, and that they will be ready with their stockpiled weapons to defend the constitution. Here is a list of orders that have pledged not to obey, among them:

5. We will NOT obey orders to invade and subjugate any state that asserts its sovereignty and declares the national government to be in violation of the compact by which that state entered the Union.

In response to the obscene growth of federal power and to the absurdly totalitarian claimed powers of the Executive, upwards of 20 states are considering, have considered, or have passed courageous resolutions affirming states rights and sovereignty.

Those resolutions follow in the honored and revered footsteps of Jefferson and Madison in their Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, and likewise seek to enforce the Constitution by affirming the very same principles of our Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights that we Oath Keepers recognize and affirm.

Chief among those principles is that ours is a dual sovereignty system, with the people of each state retaining all powers not granted to the national government they created, and thus the people of each state reserved to themselves the right to judge when the national government they created has voided the compact between the states by asserting powers never granted.

Upon the declaration by a state that such a breach has occurred, we will not obey
orders to force that state to submit to the national government.

Rick Perry, Governor of Texas, would find this handy when he tries to secede.

The rest of the 10 orders are actually not unreasonable and indicative of a high level of patriotism, including disobeying orders to engage in warrantless searches of American citizens or to declare any American citizen an enemy combatant. These appear to have found their basis in the actions of the Bush administration.

But there are others, such as the rejection of any order to assist any foreign troops on American soil to "keep the peace" or "maintain control," which are clearly born in racism and xenophobia (the movement believes that Obama is a foreign-born non-citizen and the illegitimate president of this country).

A sample of their resolve:
After a combative Hardball interview in October—host Chris Matthews asked Rhodes whether Oath Keepers had the "firepower to stand up against the federal government"—the group says it gained 2,000 members in three days.
Ballsy, huh? Or perhaps just a little over the line? It's clear that they are saying and doing things to provoke the administration from taking them on, only lending creedence to their claims. Obama would be wise to keep tabs on this domestic terrorist group, and perhaps to help those on active duty in the military see how twisted their logic is. They're being run by a former Ron Paul activist, for God's sake!

Proud Dad Moment

My son, Max, has never before participated in competitive sports. He's great on the schoolyard, loves to mix it up in the backyard against Daddy and Eli (and any other visitors who wish to take him on), but he never wanted to play soccer, baseball, or basketball on a team with other kids. Last fall, his brother Eli (who will be five in three weeks) played in his first soccer league, and Eli was one of the two stars on the team. Max went to every game and eagerly cheered on his little brother, and wanted to work out with and even play on the team. However, when it came time for baseball signups last December, Max was dead set against it.

Daddy, however, had a different agenda. I was going to sign him up and have him show up and give it his best. I always knew that Max, who was really quite athletic despite his being small and very slender, was reluctant to anything unless he was immediately excellent at it. I figured that once he got out on the field and saw that he was just as good as the rest of the kids, he'd find his comfort zone and play with enthusiasm.

Tryouts were a couple of weeks ago (not really tryouts, per se, but more of a positioning -- every kid would be put on a team, but they wanted to balance the teams equitably). He pretty much fought me all the way there, although I noticed his arguments were less adamant than about, say, going to Sunday school. We got to the field on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. In his group were eight other boys of similar age. Each boy was screened to see how well they could catch a fly ball, field a grounder and throw it to first base, and hit a coach's pitch. By a wonderful stroke of luck, Max was the last to go; he got to see every other kid go first. A couple of them were able to catch one of the three fly balls tossed them, a couple were pretty good about fielding the ground balls, but only one of them was able to hit a ball into fair territory. Max did not catch one fly ball, but he got his mitt on every one. He successfully fielded every ground ball. And he was the only other kid able to put a ball into play.

Since that day, he has been thrilled to play baseball. We'd go out in the backyard and I'd toss him fly balls. He's a basket-catch specialist, just like Willie Mays, but he's also working on getting the glove up. His throwing arm is getting better as well. Two weekends ago, we met the coach, a laid-back Hawaiian guy named Matty, who has a son on Max's team, the Pirates. He patiently gave Max (and Eli) time to catch, throw, field, and hit. Max got a little frustrated, particularly when Eli hit every single pitch and Max missed about 10 in a row, but he stuck with it and took direction from the coach. We changed bats and he found his arms better able to swing and make contact. Every day, his excitement has grown, and now he looks forward to being on his team.

Over this past weekend, I took him shopping for his black pants, black undershirt, helmet, belt, socks, and cleats. His first team practice was yesterday afternoon, just 45 minutes after completing Sunday school (more on this later). With all the parents sitting in the bleachers above the field, the seven boys and two girls on the team were put through calisthenics and stretching, then played catch in pairs. I could see that Max's confidence was building as the practice went on. He took great direction and played with excitement. He'll need some help charging a ground ball and planting himself for a throw, but that'll come as he practices more. He also got ample time to swing the bat and run the bases.

The whole time, Max wore a serious face, paying attention to direction from the coaches and committing to the tasks at hand. The only time I saw any lightheartedness was when he stood in the batter's box and spun his bat as he waited for the next pitch, just like his hero, Manny Ramirez, which gave both Lisa and me a chuckle.

At the end of the practice, Max got and put on his cap and jersey (#4), and rode all the way home on his bike to show his Mom, uncle Dan, and other guests his new uniform.

I'm so jazzed that Max has come out of his shell and decided to play on this team. He already has one friend on the team (who also played in both of his RockSTAR bands for the past two years), and I'm sure he'll make a couple more. This is real Little League, the kind that culminates in the World Series in Williamsport, PA. It's a pretty big commitment for a seven-year-old, with two games a week and one practice a week. And this is just the "minor" league. If he decides to continue and play in the "majors," there will be another practice. On top of this he still has Sunday school, RockSTAR, a chess club, and now an intramural drumline corp, for which he was personally invited. And he still has enough homework to keep him pretty busy.

Bush Administration Compared to al Qaeda

The recently released report (PDF) of the Department of Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility is a 289-page account of the actions of the Bush administration in their conduct of the war on terror. I have been a consistent and vocal critic of the use of torture (and have also been against policies by the Obama administration to retain some of Bush's options (such as indefinite detention without access to a lawyer). This memo (which, in all honesty, I haven't read in full but intend to do so as time permits) puts a lot of the truth on the table.

Particularly, the report overturns earlier findings that Bush legal counsel (and current UC Berkeley law professor) John Yoo committed "intentional professional misconduct" when he advised Bush that torture was legal. In fact, the OPR report only goes so far as to say that Yoo showed "poor judgement" but did not violate ethical standards.

So basically, Yoo (and fellow torture justifier Jay Bybee) acted in bad faith, but their violations of the law were not unambiguous. That would place them in a category of people who followed orders of their superiors, even though they know that what was being asked of them was wrong. Still Yoo is clearly on record as believing that the president can do pretty much anything in defense of the country, including breaking any law, such as crushing the testicles of a child of a detainee in front of the detainee to get him to talk, or wiping out an entire village of innocent people to get at one suspected terrorist.

The reaction on the blogosphere has been varied and interesting so far. Andrew Sullivan is compiling a bunch of writers on his blog throughout the day. The most provocative piece I've read so far is this one from Adam Serwer, subbing for Ta-Nehisi Coates on his blog. Serwer compares what Bush/Cheney did to the actions taken by Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in finding Koranic justification for killing anyone, including Muslims, in their campaign of terror:

The theological justification for al Qaeda's wholesale slaughter of civilians was provided by Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, also known as Dr. Fadl, one of the founding fathers of al Qaeda. Because the murder of innocents is forbidden in Islam and the murder of Muslims in particular, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden required some sort of theological framework for justifying terrorism. This was provided by al-Sharif, who essentially argued in his book, "The Compendium of the Pursuit of Divine Knowledge," that apostates could be murdered, and that approach, takfir (which has come to be known as takfirism) allowed al Qaeda to, for all intents and purposes, kill anyone they wanted without violating the laws of Islam by declaring them to be apostates. In other words, Dr. Fadl helped provided a theological justification for something that everyone involved knew was wrong.

The legal memos justifying torture aren't very different in terms of reasoning--it's clear that John Yoo and his cohorts in the Office of Legal Counsel saw their job not as binding the president to the rule of law, but to declare legal any tactic that the executive branch believed necessary to fight terrorism.

Eerie parallel, ain't it? Bin Laden needs to have Muslims declared infidels, apostates, in order to justify killing them, so he finds an imam who can provide that justification. Bush/Cheney want to be unbound by any little quaint law that prevents them from torturing people to get information, so they ask a bunch of lawyers -- who all happen to believe that the president is not bound by the law, anyway -- to write up some legal framework that the president and vice president can later use to say, "See, it was all legal and stuff. We had a bunch of really great lawyers show us that we were not doing anything illegal."

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Terrorist By Any Other Name...

Sullivan compiles a few bloggy reactions to yesterday's deliberate crashing of a small plane into an Austin, TX office building. His conclusion:
I have no doubt this act was meant to terrorize and when someone uses an airplane to crash into a federal building and kills people is is obviously terrorism. If he had yelled "Allah o Akbar!" instead of "Fuck the IRS!" would anyone be discussing this?

I've seen reaction online that is calling this terrorist madman a "martyr," an American hero. Lemme tell ya: the right wing in this country is one fucked up bunch of people.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Elton Steps In It, Big Time

One of the first albums I ever bought was Elton John's Caribou. I bought it because I loved the song "The Bitch is Back," which was all over the radio. I was about 12 and had no idea what the lyrics were about. I was the biggest Elton fan, and bought all his early albums. By Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, however, I'd moved on. When he came out during the '80s, it was not a surprise to me.

Fast forward 25 years, and Elton has just given a very revealing interview with Parade magazine, in which he makes this slightly indelicate statement:
I think Jesus was a compassionate, super-intelligent gay man who understood human problems. On the cross, he forgave the people who crucified him. Jesus wanted us to be loving and forgiving. I don’t know what makes people so cruel. Try being a gay woman in the Middle East - you’re as good as dead.

His friend, the late John Lennon -- himself the target of a backlash over his "We're more popular than Jesus" comment made 45 years ago -- is smiling from heaven.

Predictably, the Catholic world is aghast. The Catholic League's William Donohue had this to say:
To call Jesus gay is to label him a sexual deviant. But what else would we expect from a man who previously said, 'From my point of view, I would ban religion completely.'

Coming from a man who advocates on behalf of a religion that aided and abetted scores of sexual deviant priests (and would have continued to do so had the public never noticed), I'd say, "Pot, meet kettle."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Car That Collapses Into a Briefcase, cont.

Part 2.

Imagine the crunching sound of that car being caught beneath the wheels of a city bus or a semi barreling down a busy six-lane city street where the speed limit is 45.

Imagine the screams of the driver of that car as its 11-inch wheels get stuck in the ruts of a railroad crossing.

Imagine the sight of four reasonably strong men lifting that car onto a flatbed truck and just driving off with it.

Imagine the sight of a few rambunctious teens tripping through a parking lot at a grocery store, randomly rolling these cars over.

Weight has practical value: it deters theft and adds safety. Horsepower also has practical value: it provides a measure of safety in trying to get out of the way of an approaching vehicle whose driver doesn't see you, or to outrun a criminal who wants to carjack you.

Bad idea.

A Car That Collapses Into a Briefcase


But blogger Ryan Avent has a suggestion:

What about the potential for something weighing just a few hundred pounds, battery-powered with a range under 40 miles, perhaps a one-seater with room for groceries, and with a typical cruising speed of between 20 and 30 mph?

Something like that could eventually retail for the price of a computer, would be far cheaper to run than a car, would be much more energy efficient, and would handle the basic job of getting a lot of people where they need to be. Imagine a future in which you hop in this vehicle which takes you the four miles to the nearest Metro station, drops you off, then travels to the grocery store to pick up the order you placed on your computer before you left, and finally returns to your home and plugs itself in.


Must read piece from Andrew Sullivan today on torture. Seems that Marc Thiessen, now a columnist for the Washington Post, formerly an advisor to Dick Cheney, who recently freely admitted to authorizing and supporting waterboarding of US detainees, and, like Sullivan, a Catholic, gave an interview on Catholic cable channel EWTN, where he said that --
-- the torture-victims in the Cheney program he supported were grateful for being tortured, because when they were forced beyond what they could endure - which, of course, is Thiessen's unwitting admission that what he was doing was definitionally torture - they were grateful. They were grateful because their duty to Allah had been fulfilled and they were then free to spill their guts. They had done their religious duty and had been brought to a spiritual epiphany that allowed them to tell us so much.

This is about the vilest thing I have read about the mind-set of torture supporters. Because it is Ash Wednesday today, Sullivan looked at the history of torture within the Catholic church themselves:
It was done, according to the Inquisitors, as a way to free the souls of the tortured, to bring them to a religious epiphany in which they abandoned heresy and saved themselves from eternal damnation. It is hard for modern people to understand this, but as a student in college of the years in which my own homeland used torture to procure religious conversion, it is important to remember that the torturers sincerely believed that what they were doing was in the best interests of the tortured. In fact, it was a sacred duty to torture rather than allow the victims to die and live in hell for eternity, a fate even worse than the agonies of stress positions or even burning at the stake. Why? Because the torture they would endure in hell would be eternal, while the torture on earth would not last that long.

Sullivan's money quote:
But the meme that it somehow relieved the victims, that it liberated them, that it helped them to embrace giving information without conflict with their religious faith is horribly, frighteningly close to this ancient evil. For a Catholic to use this argument on a Catholic television program and to invoke the Magisterium of the Church in its defense is simply breath-taking in its moral obtuseness.

I'm reminded of the torture scene at the end of Braveheart, where William Wallace is brutally tortured in full view of the public by a Catholic bishop to extract a confession of his "sins." I'm not equating any detainee with Wallace, particularly those who actually committed crimes, but the idea that a Christian church can employ the same torture techniques employed against their savior as a means to find spiritual purity turns my stomach. The Vatican has repudiated all forms of torture as "intrinsically evil" and that which "can never be justified."

The level of moral depravity to which the previous administration sank in trying to protect Americans' trips to the mall and the seashore, and to be able to turn on their lights just makes a mockery of the very freedom we so cherish. Either we are all free or we are all slaves. There can be no middle ground.

Civilian court trials with full access to legal counsel for all detainees!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Cheney: Come and Get Me

The former Vice President (and de facto leader of the U.S. government during the previous administration) admits that he "was a big supporter" of waterboarding (aka torture). As Harper's Scott Horton writes, Cheney, in his interview with ABC's Jonathan Karl --
-- was not speaking hypothetically but admitting his involvement in the process that led to decisions to waterboard in at least three cases.
Horton thinks that Cheney wants to be prosecuted, and that we should "give him what he wants." But I'm not so sure that's what Cheney wants. I don't think Cheney would shy away from a war crimes trial, but I think he has some twisted design on attempting to codify torture as part of U.S. policy in the future. In his mind, he likely believes that the majority of American people would be in support of the policies Cheney authorized in the prosecution of the "war" on terrorism. He likely believes that Americans cannot tolerate another successful attack on American soil without actually soiling themselves. And so, in the court of public opinion, he wins even if he loses in court.

And Cheney likely believes that he could eventually win in court. With a battery of lawyers skilled at arguing the law, plus a very sympathetic appeals process all the way to the conservative Roberts Supreme Court, he could conceivably find a legal pathway to legitimacy. A Cheney court victory, literal or otherwise, could clear the way for the GOP to paint Democrats as soft on homeland security for prosecuting him when the country is still at war.

I say, let Cheney rant all he wants. Paint him with the same brushstrokes as one would paint Lyndon LaRouche or George Wallace: an ideological outlier whose views are so fringe that they destroy American goodwill around the world. Considering the progress Obama has made since his election at restoring America's place in the world, there's considerable room to fall.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Michael Mukasey: Moron of the Week

Greenwald fisks former Bush-era attorney general Michael Mukasey, who pens an op-ed in today's Washington Post blaming Obama for giving Umar Abdulmutallab access to counsel, thereby denying the US the ability to gather vital intelligence.

While Mukasey argues today that Abdulmutallab has no constitutional rights because he is an "enemy combatant," in 2002 he wrote such a strongly-worded opinion in the case against the enemy combatant designation of Jose Padilla, the so-called Dirty Bomber. Greenwald even acknowledges that the Padilla opinion was one of the reasons Mukasey was "one of the better choices" for A.G.

But today Mukasey now argues the same points for denying Abdulmutallab counsel that the Bush administration did in arguing against Padilla's right to an attorney.

So, I know what you're going to say: Padilla is a US citizen, the other guy isn't. True, and that's exactly what Mukasey wrote in the op-ed. He goes further by saying he rejected the Bush administration's argument "as a convenience to the court and not for any constitutionally based reason." Oh, really? Well why does it say in Mukasey's opinion that Padilla did have a constitutional right to an attorney?

Greenwald ends his piece on a most cheerful note:
The Associated Press is reporting today that the Obama administration (and Eric Holder specifically) are now signaling that it might reverse itself and put the 9/11 defendants before a military commission rather than a civilian trial. Others are reporting that Robert Gibbs suggested the same thing today. I have no idea how much faith to put in those reports, but what I do know is that once you embrace the core Bush/Cheney detention policies by continuing military commissions and indefinite detentions, then you have no principled way to fend off attacks like those from Mukasey. How could the President or his defenders possibly stand up and claim with a straight face that "the rule of law" or whatever lofty standards they want to cite compel civilian trials when they themselves are denying civilian trials to scores of detainees?

Let the Truth Come Out

Blogger Jonathan Bernstein argues for Obama to issue a full pardon to everyone who engaged in or authorized torture in the US government, and then to follow it up with a commission to investigate what really happened.

Sullivan agrees:

[I]n some ways, given the experience of previous instances in countries where new governments have to confront the war crimes of their predecessors while continuing to govern, this is a very promising idea. It's particularly promising because it prevents the Obama administration from becoming complicit, as we have seen already in the Binyam Mohamed case.

The perverse truth is that, in some ways, the Obama administration is in greater violation of Geneva than even the Bush-Cheney administration.

This is because Geneva requires every government to do a thorough investigation of torture and to bring all parties to justice. Obama simply wants to "move forward." While it's probably very true that investigating torture that no longer occurs is politically very dangerous when the economy is so vulnerable, and prosecutions could derail efforts in a crippled Congress to focus on legislating needed financial and healthcare reforms. To pardon them all feels, to me, like the path of least resistance to get to the truth. The irony of this is that you'll never get Bush or Cheney or anyone in their regime to admit the truth; they're too addicted to their stories to admit that they misled anyone. They'll take their dark secrets to the grave.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Glenn Beck -- Look to Your Right!

I was a bit surprised to see someone actually to the right of Glenn Beck, on Beck's show.

From TPM comes this article about Texas Republican gubernatorial candidate Debra Medina, a Tea Partier who has been polling somewhat strongly. She revealed on Beck's radio show that she could be a "9/11 Truther," as in, someone who believes that 9/11 was an inside job. To her credit, she only said that "some very good questions have been raised in that regard," but for any serious contender for elected office even to suggest that the federal government either let or caused 3,000 people to die and for New Yorkers to be afflicted with mass PTSD is a sure sign that she's a loon.

Beck's classic summation on where he stands: "Rick [Perry, governor of TX], I think you and I could French Kiss right now."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Populism Bait

Bloomberg reports that Obama sat for an interview with Business Week. In response to multi-million dollar bonuses awarded to a couple of "fat cat" bankers:
The president ... said in response to a question that while $17 million is “an extraordinary amount of money” for Main Street, “there are some baseball players who are making more than that and don’t get to the World Series either, so I’m shocked by that as well.... I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free-market system."

Yes, that is absolutely true. Krugman's response? "Oh. My. God." and "We're doomed."

While Krugman is correct that "irresponsible behavior by baseball players hasn’t brought the world economy to the brink of collapse and cost millions of innocent Americans their jobs and/or houses," the last year has brought a very fair amount of success to Wall Street, put banks and lenders back on their feet, and turned the economy around. People are still losing jobs, albeit much more slowly, so for many Americans there is no recovery. But it's still there; you can't argue with facts. Some sectors will recover before others. How long do we penalize Wall Street banks, most of whom have already paid back government bailout money with interest, such that the government was able to put $45 billion or so back into reserve?

If one thing is true, it's that Wall Street wants their way of life to get back to normal as quickly as possible, just like the rest of us. I would like to be making $250k a year again, but I'm not yet there. My business is growing, money is steady, and the economic recovery is slowly bringing more Americans into the mortgage market. Obama is doing the right thing by continuing the stimulus money and by being very accommodating to Wall Street. Their money funds a lot of what goes on in this country, even on Main Street. Of course, the P.R. factor sucks, and populists will most assuredly pounce on Obama for these remarks as a sign that he's in deep with Wall Street. Name me one effective politician who isn't? Do you want to cede political responsibility for the world's most complicated and powerful economy to a bunch of inexperienced Tea Party lunatics?

In truth, even those organizations find a lot of their fuel not from Joe Six Pack, but from Joseph de Banker III. We need to keep in mind that the populist backlash on both sides is largely irrational, incoherent, and lacking any clear vision beyond "throw them all out." I want cool, collected, and calm governance. Yes, huge mistakes were made by the former administration, and it appears that the current administration is continuing those mistakes. But in the area of bailing out the financial sector and injecting huge amounts of capital into the economy, no huge mistake was made. It was, in fact, that action which prevented a global depression, the likes of which we cannot imagine. Even Krugman acknowledges that.

If You Could Be a Fly On the Wall

Well, Henry Paulson grants you your wish in his new memoir, On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System, which is excerpted today in the Wall Street Journal in an article with a fantastic title: "When Mr. McCain Came to Washington."

Paulson takes readers inside the development of the financial crisis, as well as the almost-comical meeting at the White House, organized by McCain after he suspended his campaign (my italics):

I went into [Democratic Massachusetts Rep.] Barney Frank's office and called [White House Chief of Staff] Josh Bolten to tell him in no uncertain terms that I thought it was dangerous for McCain to return. Josh said the White House was equally frustrated. McCain wanted a meeting at the White House, and the president felt he had no choice but to accommodate him.


We'd devised TARP to save the financial system. Now it had become all about politics—presidential politics. I wondered what McCain could have been thinking. Calling a meeting like this when we didn't have a deal was playing with dynamite.


I was so concerned that McCain would do or say something rash that I resorted to a veiled threat: "I'm not a politician, but if you or anyone else does something that causes this system to collapse, it is not going to just be on me. I am going to go and say what I think to the American people."


By protocol, [after]the president [spoke he] turned to call on the speaker of the House. And when Nancy Pelosi spoke, it was clear the Democrats had done their homework and had planned a skillful response for McCain.

Pelosi deferred to Obama, who promised the needed votes from the Democrats, but warned that he perceived Republicans in Congress were waffling and playing politics. The Republican leadership had indeed gone on record disclaiming any idea that a deal had been reached on TARP.

Paulson writes:

Now Obama and the Democrats were skillfully setting up the story line that McCain's intervention had polarized the situation and that Republicans were walking away from an agreement. It was brilliant political theater that was about to degenerate into farce. Skipping protocol, the president turned to McCain to offer him a chance to respond: "I think it's fair that I give you the chance to speak next."

But McCain demurred. "I'll wait my turn," he said. It was an incredible moment, in every sense. This was supposed to be McCain's meeting—he'd called it, not the president, who had simply accommodated the Republican candidate's wishes. Now it looked as if McCain had no plan at all—his idea had been to suspend his campaign and summon us all to this meeting. It was not a strategy, it was a political gambit, and the Democrats had matched it with one of their own.


Finally, raising his voice over the din, Obama said loudly, "I'd like to hear what Senator McCain has to say, since we haven't heard from him yet."

The room went silent and all eyes shifted to McCain, who sat quietly in his chair, holding a single note card. He glanced at it quickly and proceeded to make a few general points. He said that many members had legitimate concerns and that I had begun to head in the right direction on executive pay and oversight. [Eric Potruch interjects: This is the irony of ironies! McCain now complimented Paulson for crafting aspects of the financial bailout that regulated executive pay and provided government oversight of the biggest banks, which is exactly the aspect of the plan for which Republicans are now saying Obama engineered.] He mentioned that Boehner was trying to move his caucus the best he could and that we ought to give him the space to do that. He added he had confidence the consensus could be reached quickly.

As he spoke, I could see Obama chuckling. McCain's comments were anticlimactic, to say the least. His return to Washington was impulsive and risky, and I don't think he had a plan in mind. If anything, his gambit only came back to hurt him, as he was pilloried in the press afterward, and in the end, I don't believe his maneuver significantly influenced the TARP legislative process. ... when it came right down to it, he had little to say in the forum he himself had called.


The room descended into chaos as the House and Senate members erupted into full-fledged shouting around the table. Barney Frank started to loudly bait McCain, who sat stony-faced.

"What's the Republican proposal?" he pressed. "What's the Republican plan?"

It got so ridiculous that Vice President Cheney started laughing. Frankly, I'd never seen anything like it before in politics or business—or in my fraternity days at Dartmouth, for that matter.

Finally, the president just stood up and said: "Well, I've clearly lost control of this meeting. It's over."

So, here we had the most perilous moment in the economy, basically the economic equivalent of 9/11, and one that would have far-reaching effects -- trillion dollar deficits, huge federal investments in the banking sector, ownership of AIG, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Citibank -- and McCain tried to play quarterback without having a playbook. And it was an epic failure. I believe his gambit was made without the benefit of his advisors, as rashly as his choice of Palin for vice president.

Now, there are those on the Republican side who believe the government bailout was a huge mistake and who are now trying to blame Obama for it. But as Paulson describes the scene, it was clearly the president's, Paulson's, and Bernanke's plan. Democrats recognized the gravity of the problem and responded by doing the right thing for the country. Republicans, who have since descended into a snake pit of political terrorists putting party before country, were absolutely powerless in a Republican-occupied Oval Office. Bush's prophetic words are going to echo for a long time: "I've clearly lost control of this meeting. It's over."

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Ron Paul: No Tea-Partier

Ron Paul, who ran for President in 2008 and raised a shitload of money and had a very large following, has three primary opponents who classify themselves as Tea Partiers. But, one of them says of Paul, via the Dallas Morning News:

John Gay, Paul's third opponent, said he has attended several Tea Parties and related meetings. Both Wall, a machine supervisor, and Graney, a former small-business owner, have helped organize local rallies.

Tea Party associations aside, many of the challengers' criticisms echo concerns of Paul's past opponents: that he is too focused on his national ambitions; that his views are too extreme; that he doesn't support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; that he votes "no" on everything, including federal aid for his district after Hurricane Ike.

These Tea Partiers are not about fiscal responsibility; they're about maintaining the Bush status quo, following a religious ideology, and hatred of anything Obama does out of pure racism.

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Fiscally Conserative Attempt at Fiscal Reform

Ross Douthat of the New York Times profiled the plan floated by Rep. Paul Ryan

[T]he size of Ryan’s proposed voucher could be increased, to accommodate political realities, without doing violence to his overall vision of what government should be doing, and where it could be cut. And that vision is more appealing, I think, than many liberals are giving it credit for. What Ryan is proposing, ultimately, is a comprehensive blueprint for a conservative welfare state.

A simplified tax code, consisting of a two-bracket income tax with a large standard deduction and a business consumption tax, would pay for a means-tested safety net, and a system of tax credits, risk pools and low-income subsidies would underwrite a free (or, well, somewhat freer) market in health care. In other words, Ryan would balance our books by shifting away from programs that shuffle money around within the middle and upper-middle classes — taking tax dollars with one hand and giving health-insurance deductions, college-tuition credits, home-mortgage deductions, Social Security checks and so forth with the other — and toward programs that tax the majority of Americans to fund means-tested support for the old, the sick, and the poor.

It certainly doesn't make much sense, when you think about it, to have such high taxes and then offset those taxes with various and sundry deductions. Eliminating those deductions and just taxing in a fair and progressive manner, while pairing it up with a broad-based consumption tax (not just a business consumption tax, as Ryan has suggested), would raise enough money to put a serious dent in the deficit and start to attack our long-term debt. Plus, I think it would keep interest rates very low, since the Fed's borrowing would be seen as more short term.

RIP John Murtha

I loved this guy. He was one of the first voices of sanity in Congress to oppose the Iraq War after it turned out to be the biggest disaster in US military history.

HuffPo has a remembrance here.

Friday, February 5, 2010

President in His Right Mind

Left-handed Barack Obama.

D-List Political Hack Invokes Racism at Tea Party Convention

Tom Tancredo gets things started for the Wingnut Party:

Former Congressman and 2008 Republican presidential candidate Tom Tancredo told an audience on Thursday at the Tea Party Convention in Nashville that "people who could not even spell the word 'vote', or say it in English, put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House."

"His name," Tancredo said, "is Barack Hussein Obama."

No Principles. None.

Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) has announced that he will exert a "blanket hold" on every single Obama administration nominations until he gets billions of dollars in earmarks for his state. In carnivore talk, that's PORK. Additionally, Shelby has lashed out at the president.

One of the earmark items, apparently, is an FBI improvised explosive device lab for which Shelby secured a $45 million earmark in 2008. According to a Shelby spokesperson:
The Obama Administration wants to read terrorists our Miranda rights and try them in U.S. courts but is impeding the processing of evidence that could lead to convictions. If this administration were as worried about hunting down terrorists as it is about the confirmation of low-level political nominations, America would be a safer place.

As Stan Collender writes, "This is a senior senator from a political party that routinely rails against earmarks, government spending and deficits in effect saying...the deficit be damned, I demand that additional billions of dollars be spent for projects."

Harry Reid, if he has any balls, will call Shelby out and publicly humiliate him by making him filibuster each and every one of these appointments over the earmark issue. Oughtta keep that hick ass busy for a spell. I worry that Reid will not use Shelby's silliness effectively and will make a deal to let Shelby hold a symbolic number of them hostage while he presses for the earmarks.

I say let him have the lab -- $45 million is chump change. The other is a $40 billion contract to build air-to-air refueling tankers in Mobile, AL. Now that is some serious money and I think Reid needs to get Mitch McConnell to muzzle his colleague and stand down or step up and filibuster every appointment (there are about 70 in all).

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Great Bill -- I Vote No

Incoming Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown will vote against Obama's healthcare reform bill. But he had this to say about it:
Well it’s been interesting looking at the Senate and the US Senate is doing. They’re really mirroring what we did a couple of years ago through Governor Romney’s leadership. [...] And as I said we have a plan that is somewhat similar to what the Federal plan [...] Without the Federal stimulus dollars and the waiver money filling our plan, it would fail.

He admits that the Senate bill is very similar to what Romney, a Republican, managed to get done in Massachusetts. And he admits that it would have failed without federal assistance. But because the federal plan is being floated by a Democrat (and is, you know, actually being paid for in the budget as opposed to the completely unfunded Medicare Part D), he's going to oppose it.

This, dear readers, is the Republic tactic. Do everything to kill everything the president wants to do by invoking cloture on every important vote, proposing no viable alternative, then blame Dems for getting nothing done in order to regain Congress in 2010. And, once in control again, block everything, sit on their hands, and call Obama a do-nothing president.

Evil. And, judging by how effective it's been so far, smart.

I Want What He's Smoking... I Think

The Weekly Standard's Matthew Continetti has definitely inhaled deeply on the Tea Party hookah. Latest hallucination:
One of the strengths of the Tea Party is that it does not have a leader. The movement is organic, diverse, and in flux. It encompasses all sorts of folks, from disillusioned independents, to Ron Paul supporters, to first-time voters upset at the direction in which America is headed. This poses a political challenge for liberals, since they have found it hard to demonize an entire movement (not for lack of trying!).
My italics. Uh, yeah right. If anything, the movement is completely infused with ideological and religious poison, and is being led by the propaganda wing of the Republican National Committee, Fox News. It has icons like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin (and used to have Michelle Bachmann until she pulled out of the convention). Lots of cogent realism coming from those folks, you betcha!

And we progressives don't need a single person to demonize to render the movement laughable and ineffectual. There are just so many of them! The good news is, the internet has proven very valuable, as small citizen-journalists have gotten in there with video cameras to show the dark underbelly of the diverse bunch of tin-foil hat wearing lunatics that make up this movement.

One thing I do fear, however, and that's the idea that the Tea Partiers' threat to bolt the GOP and create a third party is losing traction in favor of just winning elections. Well, then, that's been the strategy all along, hasn't it? Screw principles and values if it means losing power.

Strange Bedfellows

Timothy Egan posits that Sarah Palin and John Edwards are cut from the same cloth. Money quote about Edwards:

The senator drove a clunker to rallies — someone else’s car — but tooled around in his Lexus or BMW in private. He wore Armani suits, careful to tear the label off. While he nested in a $6 million mansion of nearly 30,000 square feet, he complained about the “fat rednecks” he had to listen to, those people living in trailers, with no health insurance, the other Americans.
Now Palin:

If Palin truly believed in the Tea Partiers and their discontent, she would not be charging $100,000 to stoke their fears. She can do that for free, on Fox. And what policy solutions does she offer the troubled middle class? Tax cuts, like the ones that caused this massive deficit to begin with? Preventing new regulation of the banks that got us into this horrid economic collapse, under the guise of “less government”?


Palin says she’ll plow her take back into “the cause.” Her favorite cause, of course, is Sarah Palin. It came to light this week that her political action committee spent $63,000 to buy copies of “Going Rogue.” It’s a sweet deal: get average people to donate to Palin. She then spends their money on her book, increasing her royalties and exposure.

Everything out of their mouths is a lie.

Must-Read Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald does his best when he is arguing Constitutional law; after all, he used to be a Constitutional law and civil rights litigator. In today's lengthy post, Greenwald attacks the Obama administration's claim that the President is empowered to target American citizens for assassination if the Executive Branch deems them to be terrorists. No court oversight, no due process, no rule of law (except the law, that is, that they make up as they go along). The entire post is worth reading, but here is the kicker for me (my links):

Here we are, almost four years later with a new party in power, and the President's top intelligence official announces -- without any real controversy -- that the President claims the power to assassinate American citizens with no charges, no trials, no judicial oversight of any kind. The claimed power isn't "inherent" -- it's based on alleged Congressional approval -- but it's safeguard-free and due-process-free just the same. As Gore asked of less severe policies in 2006, if the President can do that, "then what can't he do?" As long as we stay petrified of the Terrorists and wholly submissive whenever the word "war" is uttered, the answer will continue to be: "nothing." We'll have Presidents now and then who are marginally more restrained than others -- as the current President is marginally more restrained than the prior one -- but what [Slate writer Dahlia] Lithwick calls our "willingness to suspend basic protections and become more contemptuous of American traditions and institutions" will continue unabated.

Lithwick's piece is also phenomenal. Greenwald excerpts the best part. But she's right: America suffers from Terrorism Derangement Syndrome. And each time it presents itself, it's worse than the time before. I certainly can understand why: no politician ever wants to be on the wrong side of national security, and no politician on the wrong side of national security would never admit it either.

Consider the reality on the ground -- American ground:

Since 9/11, the Executive Branch of the U.S. government has declared "war" on terrorism, on a global scale (except that it's not war as declared by Congress, just an Authorized Use of Military Force, which is defined in Greenwald's piece, too). Basically it means that the Executive Branch can deem the entire surface of the globe as the battlefield, and anyone it even suspects of terrorism can be rounded up, stuck in a military prison in Cuba or Afghanistan (or at secret sites elsewhere) and brutally tortured during interrogation to produce "intelligence" that the Executive can use to claim that it is right to continue doing what it is doing.

It can hold suspected terrorists in these prisons forever, without access to family, counsel, or even the light of day deemed appropriate.

It can withhold evidence on grounds of national security to prevent any suspected terrorist of receiving a fair trial.

It can eavedrop of telephone conversations without a warrant and exempt telecom companies from prosecution if they get the wrong person.

And it can, without anyone able to intervene, kill American citizens it deems to be terrorists. No need to prove that they're terrorists (although the Executive must get "special permission," whatever that means). They are judge, jury and executioner.

Sadly, many Americans would just shrug their shoulders at this reality and say, "Well, I've got nothing to hide. I'm not a terrorist, I've never advocated the violent overthrow of the government, I've never donated money to an organization that harbors these beliefs, I don't talk to people on the phone about plans to threaten, injure or kill elected officials, I've never visited a terrorist website even out of curiosity. The worst I've ever done is believe that Obama is a non-citizen and gone to a Tea Party rally to protest the health care package."

Well, just suppose you, that Tea-Partier, got caught up in the fervor at that rally and had your picture taken, smiling, with a protestor who held a sign that said, "Watch out, you Kenyan Socialist -- we're coming to getcha!" What if that sign-wielder handed out flyers espousing his extremist views, and you stuffed it into your backpack? What if you put your name and email address on his mailing list? What if that guy turns out to be planning something for real and sends you an email advising you to arm yourself? Then he gets arrested with his computer and mailing list? You get a visit from government agents and, armed with a search warrant, they find that old flyer in your backpack. Oops, forgot about that, didn't ya? Bang, you're now a terrorist, bucko. You may not be arrested, but you'd better grow eyes in the back of your head.

It really doesn't take much. The government can invest anything it wants about you, even if it's not true. Look how many non-terrorists Bush stuck in Gitmo, only to release them en masse years later because they realized that they were wrong? How many years of your life do you want to risk giving up so that you can "feel safe" in your neighborhood? The Constitution exists to protect everyone, or it doesn't protect anyone. There is no middle ground.

Frank Luntz is First-Class -- at Being an Ass

In case you don't know him (and why would anyone want to, really?), Luntz is a Republican strategist cut from the same fabric as Lee Atwater and Karl "Turdblossom" Rove. Luntz is a crafter of Republican talking points that has focused their attention on just the right things to generate enough public opposition to Democratic legislation to get it derailed in Congress. His latest lie: stop calling Obama's financial reform bill "reform." "It's not 'reform.' This is not a reform bill. It is the 'Stop the Big Bank Bailout bill," states Luntz's memo to Republicans. So, by linking the financial reform bill to a Big Bank Bailout, he contends, Republicans can kill the bill. As Chait observes, this is like that Magritte painting entitled "This is not a pipe."

See, the evil in this is that Republicans really want banks to be left alone the same way they were over the past eight years. And we all know how that went. Of course, a few crackpot economists will take money to say what the Republicans want them to say, and we always have the sage wisdom of Bill Kristol and Glenn Beck, who will drag out his chalkboard and illustrate just why the next logical step after Obama's financial reform bill is forced re-education camps and Maoist uniforms.

So because the Republicans find themselves having to back an unpopular position, they are instructed to pretend that the position is just the opposite. So the Republicans, who are in the position of trying to defend their position that banks need to be allowed to grow too big too fail and to drag our economy back into the mud, instead lambaste any attempt to regulate their biggest contributors as a big government bailout ... of their biggest contributors!

As Chait wryly observes, "I wonder why Democrats never thought of this approach. Instead of opposing the Bush tax cuts, why not crusade against the 'Bush tax hike'? Rather than oppose Samuel Alito's Supreme Court nomination, why not just insist you oppose the nomination of Charles Manson? Everybody hates Charles Manson."

Plus, Luntz is one homely doughboy, ain't he?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Sarah Palin, Tax Cheat?

Apparently so.

Mudflats reports that they received a letter attached to two copies of tax assessments for properties the Palins own that are improved with cabins, but the assessment shows improvement value as $0. Apparently, they never told the borough tax collector that they built on their land about four years ago.

Not that this is going to lead to a huge tax payment for the Palins, and probably will result in just a slap on the wrist, maybe a fine. But here's the kicker: when Palin ran for Governor of Alaska, the DNC vetted her. Much more than McCain ever did. They came up with a 63-page report, which contained the following juicy tidbit:

Pg. 48/63 Palin Declined to Appear in Ads for A Candidate Because He Had Not Paid His Property Taxes.

In 2004, it came to light that Republican Rep. Vic Kohring owed the borough $2,277 in unpaid property taxes on property he owns off Knik-Goose Bay Road, according to borough records. "That bothered former Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin enough that she declined a campaign request to do a pro-Kohring TV commercial. As a former mayor, Palin said, it made her uncomfortable to back someone with unpaid taxes when the city relies on property taxes." [Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), 10/28/04]

So, as Wasilla mayor she didn't want to be tainted by someone who hadn't paid property taxes. I just LOVE karma!

It's just as well. It's been reported that more and more Republican candidates are distancing themselves from her, especially since Scott Brown was elected to the Senate. Seems that glass ceiling just repaired itself!

Obama is a Fiscal Conservative

This from Bob Cesca pivoting off John Cole:

The new Obama administration budget is only $100 billion more than Bush's final budget.

You might be thinking, Okay? And...?

Unlike Bush, the Obama budget includes Iraq and Afghanistan war funding. Bush kept the wars off the budget.

This should be the first story in every liberal blog in America right now. And every Democratic Congressman ought to be going on TV to talk about this. It needs to be on Robert Gibbs' lips every time he receives a question from reporters about the size of the budget.

Quote of the Day

Sullivan goes off on Sarah Palin about her allegedly referring to her Down Syndrome son, Trig, as her "retarded baby."

[D]oes anyone actually believe that Palin's name for the child of miraculous provenance was found by her deep knowledge of ancient Norse as she claims in her magical-realism novel, "Going Rogue"? I mean, seriously. She knows about as much ancient Norse as she does English grammar.


The medical term for Down Syndrome is Trisomy-21 or Trisomy-g. It is often shortened in medical slang to Tri-g.

Is it not perfectly possible that the very name given to this poor child, being reared by Bristol, is another form of mockery of his condition, along with the "retarded baby" tag?

Yes, it is possible, but I think that Andrew's putting it out there is to provoke a reaction from Palin. Judging by how thin-skinned she has proven herself to be in the past, I won't be surprised to be reading her Facebook comment or tweet later today or tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Party First, Always

Steve Benen points out that since the election of Obama, "GOP leaders, the Cheneys, Limbaugh, and conservative activists" have taken sides against Gen. Petraeus, Sec'y Gates, Colin Powell, Adm. Mullen, Adm. Blair and Gen. Jones on the effectiveness of Gitmo, torture, and civilian trials for terror suspects. Why? Well, because the military brass support the commander-in-chief, who is a Muslim Commie born in Kenya (and who has dark skin and likes basketball over golf).

Wasn't it just a short year or so ago when David Petraus enjoyed something akin to papal infallibility on all things military? As Andrew notes:

I fear that the Cheneyites are either cynically and recklessly playing the politics of fear or desperately trying to rescue their reputations from the judgment of history. That's too late, guys. Your crimes and errors are indelibly written into this country's history.


Country First, My Ass!

Alex Massie is the epitome of right-wing cynicism. Power is the only goal:

Messaging matters in politics, but so does timing. Suppose the Republican leadership had worked with the White House this past year to craft a health care bill that, though opposed by both the purer elements of both right and left, could pass the House and Senate; suppose too that this bill actually worked. Who gets the credit for that? Not the Republican party or Republican candidates across the country, that's who. No, it would be the President's triumph and his alone. (I'm assuming, for the sake of this argument that the bill would have covered 30m Americans, controlled or lowered costs etc.) It's Obama who would have reaped the electoral rewards from this process. So what, rationally, does it profit the Republican party to help him achieve that aim?

You might argue that this is a form of political nihilism or that it's putting party before the national interest and you might well have a point. But the country is, much of the time, a secondary concern. Parties exist to win elections and then - and only then - take measures they believe are in the national interest. Helping the other mob win isn't part of their brief.

Alex's italics. His next graf slams the point home:
But that only works until the mid-terms. After that, as Reihan [Salam] says, you gotta pivot. Scorched-earth is a temporary policy forced upon you by unfavourable circumstances and your own need to retreat and regroup. It can buy time and weaken the enemy before the counter-attack but it's not, and cannot be, the counter-attack itself. It's tactics, not strategy.

Well, this is American Republicanism in a nutshell. If you're in power, deny the opposition all access to power. If you're out of power, deny the majority any opportunity to wield their power until you can get power back again.

I'm not exempting the Democrats from this criticism, by the way. In some respects, they are just as bad. But if the last two Democratic presidents are any example, the Democrats are the party of inclusion, having included Republicans in key cabinet positions (Bill Cohen and Bob Gates in Defense). The Bush administration, meanwhile, had a policy of hiring U.S. Attorneys who would serve the political interests of the president, and nary a Democrat in sight in the cabinet. Massie's piece brings Republican nihilism into light. First, win; then, serve the national interest (so long as Republican donors are not harmed).

Imagine if this way of thinking were extended to other areas:
  • Medicine -- First, don't get sued; then, do no harm.
  • Clergy -- First, increase tithing; then, serve God
  • Comedy -- First, get a sitcom/talk show; then, make people laugh
If you truly serve the national interest and not just the interests of your donors, you will win elections. Or not. But shouldn't we at least be citizens first instead of careerists?

What We're Up Against

It's officially a cult: The Washington Post reports that an entire single-issue magazine about Sarah Palin is being circulated around the country for $8.99. From the Atlantic's Politics blog (my italics):

"Hundreds of thousands" of copies are circulating, according to the publisher, and for $8.99 you can get a glossy tabloid with previously unpublished childhood photos of Palin, plus quotes from the former governor, that purports to give Palin's "untold her own words!" According to the publisher, the project was undertaken without Palin's knowledge.
That's how you know it's a cult -- when the project is undertaken without the knowledge of the subject. When enough demand exists to put this together without any input from Palin.

And the full truth about her still hasn't been revealed. Oh, but when that tree falls, I want to be in those woods so I can hear it.

Monday, February 1, 2010

How Far Right We've Turned

Conservatives like to think they're parroting their champion, Ronald Reagan. But that doddering old cowboy, if he could, would likely be scratching at his coffin to get out to beat some sense into his followers.

Glenn Greenwald has a brilliant post today on the topic of Obama's retreating to Bush/Cheney tactics in dealing with terrorists, from backing away to trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York City, to Democrats' threatening to cut off funding for civilian trials for terrorists in favor of military commissions or indefinite detention. Jesus, I nearly gagged reading that back to myself. All this under a Democratic, "centrist" president. Money quote:
The express policies of the right-wing Ronald Reagan — “applying the rule of law to terrorists”; delegitimizing Terrorists by treating them as “criminals”; and compelling the criminal prosecution of those who authorize torture — are now considered on the Leftist fringe. Merely advocating what Reagan explicitly adopted as his policy — “to use democracy’s most potent tool, the rule of law against” Terrorists — is now the exclusive province of civil liberties extremists. In those rare cases when Obama does what Reagan’s policy demanded in all instances and what even Bush did at times — namely, trials and due process for accused Terrorists — he is attacked as being “Soft on Terror” by Democrats and Republicans alike. And the mere notion that we should prosecute torturers (as Reagan bound the U.S. to do) — or even hold them accountable in ways short of criminal proceedings — is now the hallmark of a Far Leftist Purist.

Chris Buckley, son of the original conservative, is a heretic for voting for Obama, while Obama, himself a liberal/centrist/pragmatist, is a Communist/Socialist/Stalinish/Nazi traitor against the Republic.

I know I'm probably preaching to the choir here, so send this post to your conservative friends. Watch the spinning ensue.

Pawlenty? Paw-lease!

Ridiculous op-ed by Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty in Politico this morning. Entitled "Ponzi Scheme on the Potomac," Pawlenty spends an inordinate amount of time railing against the Democrats for raising the debt ceiling another $1.9 trillion. So what are his solutions to the problem? I'll give you one hint: he's a Republican.

Yeah, you got it! More tax cuts! No changes to health care except cross-state competition (already in both the House and Senate versions, by the way):
[I]n a report comparing the health care bills passed by House and Senate Democrats, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service wrote: “Both bills would allow states to form compacts to facilitate the sale and purchase of health plans across state lines.”

He also proposes an amendment to the Constitution to balance the federal budget except in times of war, natural disaster or other emergency. Well, Bruce Bartlett has a field day with this proposal:
Pawlenty says not a word about how a balanced budget amendment would be enforced. Perhaps he assumes that public opinion will be sufficient, but the reality is that for such an amendment to be operational and not just a meaningless expression of intent then there has to be a point in the budgetary process where the federal courts can enjoin spending or force tax increases. This is obviously a very bad idea in principle, but it’s also impractical. For example, as a legal matter we would have no way of knowing that the budget was in fact unbalanced until the fiscal year had ended, but even a federal court can’t make people give back federal funds that have already been paid out for interest on the debt, Social Security and Medicare benefits, wages and salaries, payments for goods and services etc. Thus a balanced budget amendment of the sort Pawlenty proposes is effectively unenforceable.

Bartlett concludes, as does anyone on either side of the aisle with a thinking brain, that Pawlenty is not a serious contender for anything (other than a Fox News commentator, which takes no effort at all).

Until he can come up with something really workable as a solution and not just impractical, illogical, and ill-conceived talking points like this, Pawlenty will languish on the Republican scrap heap along with Bobby Jindal, John McCain, and Sarah Palin.

Vinegar for the Tea Partiers

Slacktivist blogger Fred Clark (hat tip: Andrew) gets 99.9% there in his appeal to Teabaggers who oppose health care reform:

6. Notice that the amount of your pay withheld for taxes in your current paycheck is less than the amount that was withheld a year ago.

That's because of President Barack Obama's economic stimulus plan, which included more than $200 billion in tax cuts, including the one you're holding right there in your hand, the tax cut that's now staring you in the face. Republicans all voted against that tax cut. And then they told you to get angry about the stimulus plan. They didn't explain, however, why you were supposed to get angry about getting a tax cut. Why would you be? Wouldn't it make more sense to get angry at the people who voted against that Obama tax cut?

In other words, taxes were cut -- yay! -- but health care premiums being deducted from that same paycheck were higher, which means that those who most strongly oppose health care reform are doing so to the detriment of their own paychecks, which means less money for them and their families. But, then again, as Thomas Frank so aptly explained in What's the Matter with Kansas?, the angry right routinely votes against their personal interests.

But here's the 0.1% where he got it wrong (not my italics):
P.S. -- I didn't mention this because I'm trying here to be as patient with you as I can, but you might also want to keep in mind that in addition to screwing over yourself and screwing over your family and screwing over your own children by demanding that Congress oppose health care reform so that you will never, ever see another pay raise, by doing that you're also demanding that I never, ever see another pay raise, which means that you're also screwing over me, and my family, and my children. Not to mention the millions of poor and uninsured and uninsureable people I didn't even mention above because they don't seem to matter at all to you. And for that, let me just say the only appropriate thing that can be said to someone so determined to do direct, tangible harm to the welfare of my family: Fuck you, you fucking moron.

He ruined a perfectly good snarky piece with that last bit of spittle.