Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for May 2009

Stay safe and play nice

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I’ll see you in a week.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2009 at 5:50 pm

Posted in Daily life

Petraeus: stop torture and close Guantánamo

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Amanda Terkel in ThinkProgress:

In an interview this past weekend with Radio Free Europe, Gen. David Petraeus said that he supports President Obama’s decision to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and opposes the use of enhanced interrogation techniques:

PETRAEUS: In fact, I have long been on record as having testified and also in helping write doctrine for interrogation techniques that are completely in line with the Geneva Convention. And as a division commander in Iraq in the early days, we put out guidance very early on to make sure that our soldiers, in fact, knew that we needed to stay within those guidelines.

With respect to Guantanamo, I think that the closure in a responsible manner, obviously one that is certainly being worked out now by the Department of Justice — I talked to the attorney general the other day [and] they have a very intensive effort ongoing to determine, indeed, what to do with the detainees who are left, how to deal with them in a legal way, and if continued incarceration is necessary — again, how to take that forward.

But doing that in a responsible manner, I think, sends an important message to the world, as does the commitment of the United States to observe the Geneva Convention when it comes to the treatment of detainees.

Will Petraeus change the minds of any conservatives who are currently criticizing Obama for these same opinions? Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has called Petraeus one of the “wisest people” he knows, and conservatives have said that it would be a “dream” to have the general run for president.

Also note this very interesting article by Spencer Ackerman in the Washington Independent:

A program that the Obama administration calls crucial to Pakistan’s fight against the Taliban is being criticized at the State Department and on Capitol Hill for overly militarizing the problem.

The dispute represents an early rift with some progressive members of Congress over discrepancies between the administration’s broad foreign policy goals and its approach to immediate challenges. One of the central aspects of the administration’s approach to the crisis in Pakistan is a new creation called the Pakistani Counterinsurgency Capabilities Fund, a $400 million annual program to give the Pakistani military equipment and training for counterinsurgency missions that it had shown little competency in waging. During April testimony, Michele Flournoy, the undersecretary of defense for policy, called it “absolutely critical to the success” of the Obama administration’s strategy in Pakistan. Both the House and the Senate showed themselves receptive to the proposal, adding the so-called PCCF to the war supplemental that passed the House on May 14 and the Senate on May 21.

At the administration’s behest, both versions of the supplemental placed the PCCF under the jurisdiction of the Defense Department, despite the State Department’s control over the government-to-government Foreign Military Sales program that typically governs aid to foreign militaries. That move has struck some on Capitol Hill — and in the State Department — as retrenchment on a core Obama administration priority: its pledge to rebalance a foreign-policy apparatus it sees as overly militarized. What’s more, an article of faith among counterinsurgency theorist/practitioners holds that its hybrid style of warfare is “80 percent political and only 20 percent military,” which further raises questions about the Obama administration’s decision to place the fund in the military’s hands.

There is no opposition to the creation of the PCCF, or the general concept that Pakistan’s military ought to receive U.S. assistance in combating a vicious insurgency that has expanded its reach over the country over the past year — a combustible mix that makes the nuclear-armed country “one of the most difficult foreign policy challenges we face,” as Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, put it at a May 12 hearing. But members of the House International Affairs Committee and the State Department’s legislative-affairs and private international law bureaus contend that the fund ought to be placed under the auspices of the State Department.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the committee, added an additional $700 million for the PCCF in the House’s version of a sprawling Pakistan aid bill — which cleared the committee on May 20 — but changed the custody of the program…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2009 at 3:00 pm

Natural-gas politics

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A ProPublica article by Abrahm Lustgarten:

Four years after Vice President Dick Cheney spearheaded a massive energy bill that exempted natural gas drilling from federal clean water laws, Congress is having second thoughts about the environmental dangers posed by the burgeoning industry.

With growing evidence that the drilling can damage water supplies, Democratic leaders in Congress are circulating legislation that would repeal the extraordinary exemption and for the first time require companies to disclose all chemicals used in the key drilling process, called hydraulic fracturing [1].

The proposed legislation has already stirred sharp debate.

The energy industry has launched a broad effort in Washington to fend off this proposed tightening of federal oversight, lobbying members of Congress and publishing studies that highlight what it says are the dangers of regulation. In mid-May, the industry released a detailed report asserting that the changes in current law would cost jobs and slash tax revenues. A key advocate of past efforts to regulate gas drilling, Rep. John Salazar [2] (D-CO), has declined to support the legislation, expressing concern about how it would affect the energy companies.

However, with a strengthened Democratic majority in Congress and the party’s capture of the White House in last year’s election, the fracturing legislation is viewed as having its best chance at passage in years. Its House sponsor, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) [3], aims to attach a bill to a larger piece of legislation with broad support — possibly a bill on climate change or a new energy policy measure – where it would be shielded from industry resistance. On the Senate side, according to congressional staff close to the effort, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) [4] has a companion bill ready to follow.

The drilling process involves injecting millions of gallons of water and sand mixed with tens of thousands of gallons of chemicals — some that are known to cause cancer — deep into the ground, where as much as a third of those fluids typically remain after the gas is removed.

Global companies including Halliburton and Schlumberger have fought hard to shield from public view the chemical recipes they use to drill, saying that …

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Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2009 at 2:17 pm

Blue Cross fears competition

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Dean Baker:

The boys running the show at Blue Cross in North Carolina are running scared. They’re worried that President Obama is going to treat them like autoworkers and make them actually compete in the market. The Blue Cross boys think that they belong in the same league as the Wall Street bankers and should just be allowed to collect their multi-million-dollar salaries without being forced to worry about things like competition.

    The basic story is that Blue Cross of North Carolina decided to jump the gun on President Obama and Congress and start running television ads telling people how awful a public health care plan would be. According to the ads, people enrolled in the public health care plan wouldn’t have a choice of doctors, would face long waiting periods for appointments and procedures and would not even be able to get a clerk to answer questions on billing.

    That sounds pretty awful, but if it were true, you have to wonder why Blue Cross of North Carolina is so worried. After all, President Obama is not proposing that anyone would be forced to join a public plan. He just proposed that people have the option to buy into a public plan. Is Blue Cross of North Carolina really that terrified that it will be unable to compete with a public plan that doesn’t let patients choose their doctor, subjects them to long waits and doesn’t answer questions about billing?

    Of course, if the ads being planned by Blue Cross of North Carolina were accurate, then it would not be concerned about a public plan. The reason that Blue Cross of North Carolina is running the ads is that it knows the ads are not true. There is no reason to think that a public plan will offer less choice, require longer waits or provide poorer service than a private plan, like Blue Cross of North Carolina. And there are reasons for believing that a public plan might cost considerably less.

    Specifically, …

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Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2009 at 12:10 pm

Obama’s choice of Sotomayor deserves praise

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Excellent column by Greenwald, which begins:

Reports indicate that President Obama has selected Second Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor to replace David Souter on the Supreme Court.  The announcement will be made formally this morning at 10:15 a.m. EST.  This nomination should be judged principally on two grounds:  (1) her judicial opinions (which Scotusblog’s Tom Goldstein comprehensively reviews here) and (2) her answers at her confirmation hearing.  But based on everything that is known now, this seems to be a superb pick for Obama.

It is very encouraging that Obama ignored the ugly, vindictive, and anonymous smear campaign led by The New Republic‘s Jeffrey Rosen and his secret cast of cowardly Eminent Liberal Legal Scholars of the Respectable Intellectual Center.  People like that, engaging in tactics of that sort, have exerted far too much influence on our political culture for far too long, and Obama’s selection of one of their most recent targets both reflects and advances the erosion of their odious influence.  And Obama’s choice is also a repudiation of the Jeffrey-Rosen/Ben-Wittes/Stuart-Taylor grievance on behalf of white males that, as Dahlia Lithwick put it, "a diverse bench must inevitably be a second-rate bench."

Obama has also ignored the deeply dishonest right-wing attacks on Sotomayor, beginning with the inane objection to her perfectly benign and accurate comments on videotape that appellate judges, as distinct from district court judges, "make policy."   LawyerAnonymous Liberal thoroughly eviscerated that line of attack as the shallow and deceitful argument it is.  A similar avenue of certain attack — that Sotomayor said in a 2001 speech that a female Latina judge has experiences that can inform her view of cases — is equally frivolous.  There are a whole range of discretionary judgments which judges are required to make; does anyone actually doubt that familiarity with a wide range of cultural experiences is an asset? 

Continue reading. As he points out later in the column, Sotomayor is the GOP’s own pick: she was put on the bench by Bush 41.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2009 at 12:07 pm

Desperate for arguments against Sotomayor

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This is funny. Mike Lillis in the Washington Independent:

Following up on Daphne’s piece from earlier this month, it seems that those manufactured questions about Sonia Sotomayor’s intelligence have now bounced from the pages of The New Republic to the halls of Congress.

Here’s a statement just issued by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), who wants to use the review process to ensure that Sotomayor “has the right intellect” to take the bench.

The American judicial system is a towering example of freedom and liberty to the world.  Throughout the confirmation process, I will work with my colleagues and thoroughly review Judge Sotomayor’s record to make sure she has the right intellect and understands the proper role of a judge — to interpret and apply the written law, not to decide cases based on personal feelings, politics or preferences.  The confirmation process is just that — a process.  We should not prejudge this nominee, but we should be diligent as we examine the nominee’s record, background and experience.

After eight years of George W. Bush — the most famous C-student ever to emerge from the Ivy League — it’s unclear why Republicans would be chasing this idea that the smarts of a self-made judge and summa-cum-laude graduate of Princeton University would somehow make her a bad fit for the position.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2009 at 11:43 am

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

Funny ol’ John Kyl

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He forgets what it was like when the shoe was on the other foot. Greg Sargent:

Hmm, this one is pretty amusing. In reacting to the Sonia Sotomayor announcement, GOP Senator Jon Kyl said that when Samuel Alito was nominated to the Supreme Court in 2005, Dems were given some three months to consider the pick. Kyl today asked for Dems to extend Republicans the “same courtesy.”

But back in 2006, Kyl actually hammered Dems for wanting time to consider Alito, saying that it should only take the Senate a “couple of days” to debate the choice.

Kyl, in a statement today:

“When Samuel Alito was first nominated on October 31, 2005, the minority was afforded 93 days before he received a confirmation vote on January 31, 2006.

“I would expect that Senate Democrats will afford the minority the same courtesy as we move forward with this process.”

Kyl, speaking about the Alito confirmation battle in 2006 (via Nexis):

“One might wonder why we would need more than just a couple of days of debate (the average of recent nominees is two to three days), especially since nothing new has been said for weeks. But, if the public has noticed anything during this process it is that senators value their right of unlimited debate.”

Indeed, one of the chief reasons that Alito’s confirmation hearings did take 93 days, as Kyl now says, is that the hearings were put off so that Kyl could get back to his state and campaign against a stiff Democratic challenge he was facing in the fall of 2005. And then, once the hearings were rescheduled, he pushed for them to be wrapped up in a “couple of days.”

So it’s not clear what Kyl means when he says Dems were extended the “courtesy” of a delay at the time.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2009 at 11:38 am

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

What to expect

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Mary Kane in the Washington Independent:

The U.S. economy may never return to the days of rapid expansion, Bloomberg reports, and an unemployment rate greater than eight percent and a long period of slower growth may become the “new normal,”

The U.S. financial crisis and recession have produced lasting shifts in consumer spending and savings reminiscent of the 1950s that may crimp profits and productivity, said David Rosenberg, chief economist at Gluskin Sheff & Associates Inc. in Toronto and former chief North American economist at Bank of America Corp.

“This is going to be a new era of frugality,” Rosenberg said. “This isn’t some flashy two- or three-quarter deal. This is a secular change in household attitudes.”

Rosenberg also says the new normal will resemble in some way the Eisenhower years of the 1950s — which is not necessarily a bad thing.

“Life wasn’t so bad for the Cleavers,” he said, referring to the family depicted in “Leave It to Beaver,” the television show that ran from 1957 through 1963. “They weren’t up to their eyeballs in debt and they weren’t a three-car family with a 5,000-square-foot McMansion.”

The “new normal” is an interesting perspective, considering many economists are looking for signs the economy has bottomed out. But when, specifically, the downturn ends may not really matter. Maybe we should be thinking instead about what kind of recovery lies ahead.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2009 at 11:34 am

Posted in Daily life

Judge Sotomayor

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The Right is already hysterical about Sotomayor’s nomination, though most of the arguments against her are personal attacks and unspecific charges of "judicial activism"—no facts allowed. SCOTUSblog has a very good summary of her action decisions if you’re interested in a fact-based examination. It begins:

Judge Sonia Sotomayor is an obviously serious candidate to serve on the Supreme Court.  We have been struck by how the amount of commentary about Judge Sotomayor has ignored the most accessible and valuable source of information:  her opinions as an appellate judge.  Last year, I directed a project in which a team of Akin Gump summer associates extensively reviewed Judge Sotomayor’s opinions.  Amy Howe subsequently revised and expanded their work, with contributions by me.

Here, we make our first effort at summarizing what we regard as Judge Sotomayor’s principal opinions in civil cases.  Our only goal is to identify and summarize the opinions, not evaluate them.

A summary of additional civil cases, as well as Judge Sotomayor’s leading criminal law opinions will follow.

CIVIL LITIGATION

Since joining the Second Circuit in 1998, Sotomayor has authored over 150 opinions, addressing a wide range of issues, in civil cases.  To date, two of these decisions have been overturned by the Supreme Court; a third is under review and likely to be reversed.  In those two cases (and likely the third), Sotomayor’s opinion was rejected by the Supreme Court’s more conservative majority and adopted by its more liberal dissenters (including Justice Souter).  Those outcomes suggest that Sotomayor’s views would in many respects be similar to those of Justice Souter.

Abortion Rights: …

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Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2009 at 9:56 am

The slow-minded Washington Post

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Interesting post by Marcy Wheeler:

In spite of the fact that it is becoming increasingly clear to the rest of the media that Porter Goss and Nancy Pelosi agree that they were not briefed that the CIA had already been torturing prisoners in September 2002, the WaPo has decided to double down on deliberately misreading events. The excuse the WaPo uses to present a story of Republican-Democratic conflict, again, is to report the impression that members of the intelligence committees express after having viewed the briefing documents.

Members of Congress are largely divided into two camps: One says that the CIA intentionally withheld information about the tactics it was already using against detainees, even as it was providing Congress with intelligence that led to an overwhelming bipartisan vote supporting the use of force in Iraq to rid Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction. The other says that Pelosi is covering up her original tacit support of techniques that she now labels as torture.

Before I go any further, look at how utterly crazy this description is. The WaPo notes that the CIA gave this briefing at the same time as it was drumming up the case for war, but rather than describe that case as something like “now recognized as one of the worst examples of CIA deception and incompetence in our history,” it instead emphasized that the CIA’s case led to “an overwhelming bipartisan vote supporting the use of force in Iraq.” WaPo. Don’t you think you owe your readers an admission that the whole point of raising the Iraq War case is to remind them that almost everyone agrees everything else the CIA was doing in September 2002 was either incompetent or deliberately deceptive?

Then there is the flatly deceptive language the WaPo uses to sustain their case that the “conflict” between Goss and Pelosi, Shelby and Graham, is one with equally credible sides. First, with Goss, they choose to ignore his language that is specific to the briefing in question,

In the fall of 2002, while I was chairman of the House intelligence committee, senior members of Congress were briefed on the CIA’s “High Value Terrorist Program,” including the development of “enhanced interrogation techniques” and what those techniques were. This was not a one-time briefing but an ongoing subject with lots of back and forth between those members and the briefers.

Today, I am slack-jawed to read that members claim to have not understood that the techniques on which they were briefed were to actually be employed; or that specific techniques such as “waterboarding” were never mentioned.

That language—as I’ve pointed out over and over and over—makes it crystal clear that there is not a dispute on Pelosi’s main assertion, that they were not told torture was already being used. After all, if Goss has to claim that Pelosi should have “understood that the techniques on which they were briefed were to actually be employed,” then he’s ceding the point that they were not informed that the torture had been used. Even Goss speaks of that first briefing in 2002 as describing torture as being used—potentially—in the future.

But rather than focus on that language, which Goss labels as pertaining to the fall 2002 briefing and which from the context is directed at Pelosi—the WaPo chooses to focus on …

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Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2009 at 9:38 am

Interesting misreading of a movie

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Joe Scarborough’s intelligence seems weak, but even I was surprised at his misreading of the movie A Few Good Men. Steve Benen points out what should be obvious, even to Joe:

Over the years, the debate over U.S. interrogation policies has featured quite a few references to fictional works, most commonly with the right referencing Jack Bauer and "24." Yesterday, we heard a twist, with the introduction of Col. Jessup and "A Few Good Men."

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough sees a parallel, with President Obama as Kaffee, and Dick Cheney as Jessup. Ryan Powers reported on Scarborough’s on-air comments, in which the former Republican lawmaker described the two national-security speeches from Thursday:

"This scene yesterday…I’m serious here, this comes straight out of ‘A Few Good Men.’ The reason why the closing scene with Jack Nicholson on the stand worked so well, is, of course, we were all rooting for the young attractive Tom Cruise, just like more Americans are probably rooting for President Obama. But at the same time, what was said on that stand by Nicholson…I was struck by that contrast."

The comparison is not, on its face, absurd. If you’ve seen the movie, you know that Jessup believed the ends justified the means, and that a security-at-all-costs attitude was used to rationalize illegal conduct. It’s a belief that sounds rather familiar.

But Scarborough seems to have forgotten the ending. Jessup lied under oath, orchestrated a conspiracy to cover up his crimes, ordered the torture (and accidental death) of a United States Marine, and was eventually arrested to face criminal charges. In other words, the audience wasn’t just "rooting for the young attractive Tom Cruise"; the audience was supposed to realize that Col. Jessup was the villain in this story.

Indeed, it worries me a bit that Scarborough would watch "A Few Good Men" and think, "You know, maybe Kaffee really did ‘weaken a country’ with his efforts."

It’s like watching "Bob Roberts" and thinking you’d like to vote for the protagonist.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2009 at 9:35 am

The closing of Gitmo

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Publius has a good comment at Obsidian Wings:

Like everyone else, I’ve been disturbed by the political posturing surrounding Gitmo.  The criticisms of closing Gitmo, in particular, seem completely insincere given that (1) our prisons can and do hold dangerous people; and (2) Gitmo is essentially the United States for habeas purposes after Boumediene

But there’s actually one thing even more disturbing than Republican dishonesty — the possibility that they are sincerely afraid of transferring the detainees.  Some critics are clearly lying — no argument there.  But it may well be that other Republicans are sincerely worried that the detainees’ evilness cannot be contained by any prison, or that they will brainwash their hapless prisonmates.

The reason sincerity would be more disturbing is because it would illustrate just how successful the sustained fear-mongering and monster-creating has been over the past few years.  One of the great errors we made after 9/11 was that we were simply too afraid.  We too readily believed the worst.  Under this barrage of fear-mongering, the Gitmo detainees (many of whom were and are completely innocent) were transformed into all-powerful monsters with superhuman abilities.

And the more we see the world as full of powerful forces with the will and ability to kill us all, the more inclined we will be to accept extreme measures to protect ourselves.

In a prior post, I called this "demand side" torture support.  To win the political battle, we need to not only show that torture is wrong, illegal, and counterproductive.  We also need to show that the threats have consistently been extremely overblown (e.g., from the mushroom cloud to the Uighurs).

Anyway, what’s truly disturbing is that a sizeable chunk of the public still fears that the Gitmo detainees are so dangerous that they could break out and destroy towns in America with laser beams from their eyes.  Some of the detainees are, of course, very bad and dangerous people.  But the idea that America is so very fragile and helpless in the face of these overpowering evil forces that we can’t transfer the detainees to another prison (or give them real trials) is absurd.

So let’s hope the GOP really is lying on this one.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2009 at 9:29 am

The core of the argument

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From Greenwald’s column:

… The President doesn’t have some broad, vague duty to "protect Americans."  The Constitution really couldn’t be clearer about the President’s primary responsibility:  it’s to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.  Sometimes, the duty actually assigned by the Constitution is consistent with the duty to Keep Us Safe, but many times, Constitutional imperatives are, by design, in conflict with the goal of maximum security. 

It’s just so basic to our entire system of government that some Constitutional guarantees will impede efforts to maximize public safety (barring the police from searching homes without probable cause might make it more difficult to apprehend a dangerous criminal; banning double jeopardy and self-incrimination, and guaranteeing the right to counsel, might make it more difficult to convict a dangerous criminal; the guarantee of due process, free speech and a free press can make war-fighting more difficult).  But that’s the central choice the Founders made:  that there are more important values than maximizing safety.  If they didn’t think that way, they would never have risked fighting the most powerful military on earth — all for some abstract political liberty.  By itself, that choice reflects the view that there are more important goals then keeping us safe.  Tyrannies might be the best guardians of national security (though it is highly dubious that indefinitely locking up Muslims with no trial and no charges will Keep Us Safe), but either way:  the U.S. wasn’t created to be a National Security State.  That’s why the Constitution imposes numerous limits on the government that conflict with maximization of safety, and it’s why the President is required to swear to defend the Constitution, not do everything possible to Keep Us Safe.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2009 at 9:26 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Defending the people vs. Defending the Constitution

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Glenn Greenwald has an excellent column exploring the difference between the Presidential oath as recounted in the media and the actual Presidential oath. The column begins:

In Beltway world, the Brookings Institution is a "liberal" think tank.  When it comes to foreign policy and civil liberties, these are three of its most consequential contributions over the last several years:  (1) the invasion and ongoing occupation of Iraq, in the form of Ken Pollack and Michael O’Hanlon (working in tandem, as usual, with the ultra-neoconservative American Enterprise Institute); (2)unquestioning devotion to Israel’s right-wing policies, in the form of major funder Haim Saban ("I’m a one-issue guy and my issue is Israel . . . . On the issues of security and terrorism I am a total hawk"); and (3) indefinite, preventive detention with no charges or trial in the form Benjamin Wittes (with his close associate, Bush OLC lawyer Jack Goldsmith), who also serves at the right-wing Hoover Institution and writes for The Weekly Standard.  Only in Washington would such a group be deemed anything other than extremist.

Such is the preening conceit of Brookings that they bequeath their website with an ".edu" suffix.  That’s because these are not mere political advocates.  They are "scholars."  Just ask them and they’ll tell you that themselves (even if their backgrounds (.pdf) don’t exactly support such lofty claims).

As part of his years-long advocacy for trial-free, indefinite preventive detention, Wittes spoke to The New York Times‘ William Glaberson this week and was quoted as follows:

Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said Mr. Obama’s proposal was contrary to the path his administration apparently hoped to take when he took office. But that was before he and his advisers had access to detailed information on the detainees, said Mr. Wittes, who in a book last year argued for an indefinite detention system.

"This is the guy who has sworn an oath to protect the country," he said, "and if you look at the question of how many people can you try and how many people are you terrified to release, you have to have some kind of detention authority."

I consider it a good thing that fear-driven people like Wittes (and Newt Gingrich:  "I think people should be afraid") are now becoming more candid about how "terrified" they are and how that drives what they advocate, but still:  shouldn’t a Brookings Scholar and self-described expert in legal matters know what the presidential oath and the Constitution actually say?  As this non-Brookings-sch0lar blogger immediately pointed out, Wittes’ description of the presidential oath is blatantly false:

Yet another "public intellectual" is allowed to get away with mischaracterizing the responsibilities of the President of the United States. . . .

Barack Obama did not swear an oath to "protect the country." He swore an oath to protect the principles upon which the country was founded and the document in which those principles are enshrined:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Considering that Wittes’ assertion is central to the discussion of whether it is appropriate to dismantle our constitutional legal framework in the name of safety and security, one might expect the New York Times to provide a clarification. One might even expect the paper to engage Mr. Wittes in a discussion about the distinction between "protecting the country" and protecting the constitution. But the NYT does neither. It simply lets the false assertion stand as a statement of fact.

The claim that the President takes an oath to "defend the country" — as though he’s some sort of National Security Daddy-Monarch whose supreme, overriding duty is to Keep Us Safe — is one of the most basic, common and destructive myths in our discourse.  That was the warped mindset that lay at the heart of the Bush/Cheney/Addington/Yoo model of the presidency — that everything, including limitations on presidential powers and the Constitution itself, is subordinated to the sole mandate that the President do everything possible — whatever is necessary — to Protect Us All.

This deceitful description of the Presidential oath — just like the compulsion for civilians to refer to the President as "our Commander-in-Chief" even though he is no such thing to civilians — reflects the modern fetishization of the President as Supreme Military Protector, who has few other duties that matter, if he has any, other than single-handedly protecting us from danger.  Even our so-called "legal experts" now blatantly misquote the oath to which the Constitution requires the President to swear, all in order to justify even the most extreme powers, such as imprisoning people potentially for life with no trial and no charges (he swore to protect the country from dangers and so he must do whatever is necessary to accomplish that).

Actual legal scholar Sandy Levinson, writing at Balkinization yesterday, mocked Wittes’ embarrassing though revealingly common error and explained its significance — both in general and specifically for a system of preventive detention: …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2009 at 9:23 am

Obama on how we have failed our veterans

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Faiz Shakir writes at ThinkProgress:

On this Memorial Day, the nation celebrates the sacrifice of veterans who gave their lives in service to our country. A “by-the-numbers” analysis by the Center for American Progress notes that veterans “are still in need of services to improve their quality of life—before, during, and after deployments. This year, the need is even more urgent than ever as the economic crisis hits many veterans and their families hard and these Americans struggle to find jobs, pay their mortgages, and get back on their feet.” Some key stats:

– 338,000 or almost one in five Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are experiencing symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, or major depression as of January 2009.

– Yet only 53 percent suffering from PTSD or major depression have seen a physician or mental health provider.

154,000 veterans were homeless on any given night in 2007, and 300,000 were homeless at some point during that year.

One-third of homeless Americans are veterans, even though only one-tenth of all adults are veterans.

– Foreclosure rates in military towns were increasing at four times the national average in last year.

In his weekly address, President Obama said, “Our fighting men and women – and the military families who love them – embody what is best in America. And we have a responsibility to serve all of them as well as they serve all of us. And yet, all too often in recent years and decades, we, as a nation, have failed to live up to that responsibility. We have failed to give them the support they need or pay them the respect they deserve.”

“That is a betrayal of the sacred trust that America has with all who wear – and all who have worn – the proud uniform of our country,” Obama added. “And that is a sacred trust I am committed to keeping as President of the United States.” Watch it:

Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2009 at 9:04 am

Joe Conason on Sonia Sotomayor

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Excellent choice, IMHO, and Conason also likes her:

Every Supreme Court nomination is not only a strategic presidential opportunity but a clear measure of the nation’s current political dispensation. For Barack Obama, the anticipated chance to replace Justice David Souter has arrived at a time of massive political and ideological shifting that this decision can underscore. Glancing over the latest list of potential nominees, there is at least one highly qualified jurist whose selection would emphasize change — and might well lure the Republicans into yet another of the foolish mistakes that have done them so much damage.

The name of that particular nominee would be Sonia Sotomayor, daughter of a working-class Bronx family from Puerto Rico, who now serves on the Second Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals.

Leaving aside for a moment the question of her precise place on the judicial spectrum between liberal and conservative, Sotomayor represents everything that a president choosing his first justice in his first term could desire. As a female her elevation would begin to bring gender equity to a forum where historically men have exercised far too much unchallenged power over the lives of the women. As a Latina, her rise would symbolize the next stage in the full enfranchisement of immigrants whose language, status and poverty have too often turned them into scapegoats for the cultural and economic costs of globalization…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2009 at 9:01 am

Speaking in tongues

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John Cole has an excellent rundown of the current GOP message structure, well worth reading. It begins:

DougJ has been doing a great job describing the post-wingnut phenomenon, in which the right becomes so compartmentalized and separated from the rest of us (and reality) that they just speak in terms and codes that make no sense to the majority of America, but which make a great deal of sense and carry great symbolic meaning to them. The classic examples are the recent flare-ups over arugula and Dijon mustard, in which right-wingers see the dread menace of elitisteuroliberalfascism and react hysterically, while the rest of us are left wondering just what the hell is wrong with mustard and tasty lettuce.

At any rate, I was driving home from Target after replacing yet another household appliance (I’m just buying Kitchen Aid everything from Amazon from now on, because every other brand name is crap that breaks in a year), and I flipped on the AM radio to hear the beginning of the Rush Limbaugh show. I figured what the hell, I haven’t listened to him for a while, I will see what he is up to and what his main concerns are these days. The show was a “best of,” taped during the Chrysler bankruptcy, and it was like a trip to another dimension.

He was repeatedly referring …

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Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2009 at 8:55 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP

Good move by Leahy

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From the Center for American Progress:

Hours after President Obama vowed to rein in the use of the "state secrets" privilege last week, "his Justice Department was criticized by a federal judge in California" for claiming the privilege in trying to shut down a lawsuit over warrantless wiretapping. Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) has sponsored a bill that "would empower federal judges to review sensitive evidence and test government assertions."

Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2009 at 8:51 am

Dragon’s blood

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IMG_0982

Last shave before I leave (tomorrow morning at oh-dark-thirty), so I wanteed it to be a good, close shave. The Honeybee Spa Dragon’s Blood shave stick produced a  fine, fragrant lather with the Simpsons Key Hole 3 Best, and the Vision 2000 was just the razor to shave me closely. It did a fine job, and Draggon Noir was a perfect match for the aftershave.

I will blog some today—lots of last-minute things to take care of—and then probably nothing more for a week.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2009 at 8:36 am

Posted in Shaving

Wimpy cowboys

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Montana seems to be populated by frightened people. Maybe those wide-open plains are scary. Gail Collins has an excellent column on how we need to rethink our mental image of Westerners:

Out of all the problems we have run into in dealing with the giant hairball that is known as the Bush War on Terror, one of the weirdest is the reaction to President Obama’s plan to close down Guantánamo.

In the rank of threats to public safety, putting the Guantánamo inmates in maximum-security prisons in the United States has got to come in way behind, say, making it easy for customers to purchase firearms at gun shows.

But to hear the howls coming from Congress, you’d think the Obama administration was planning to house the prisoners in suburban preschools. “Terrorists. Coming soon to a neighborhood near you,” warned a Republican Web video, which mixed pictures of accused terrorists with road signs in states where the G.O.P. predicted they might be sent. In another production, the occasionally loyal opposition resurrected the infamous “Daisy” countdown ad to show a little girl picking petals off a flower while the president prepares to close Gitmo.

“To bring the worst of the worst terrorists inside the United States would be cause for great danger and regret in the years to come,” snarled Dick Cheney in his “no middle ground” speech. Although really, for the sake of the national mental health, it might be better if we all just ignore the former vice president until he agrees to undergo therapy. Forget I ever mentioned it.

Instead, consider the case of Hardin, Mont., a community of 3,400 people just down the road from the place where Custer made his Last Stand.

Lately, things have not been going any better for Hardin than they did for the general. Unemployment is rife. “You go look at our downtown, there’s many closed businesses … you’ll see drunks laying in the street. It’s not a pretty sight,” the head of the town’s economic development authority told National Public Radio. The town built a $27 million, 464-bed prison under the theory that other parts of the state would pay to have Hardin look after their problem residents. But it’s been empty since it was declared open for business nearly two years ago, and the construction loans are in default.

So, with the town council’s enthusiastic support, Hardin volunteered to take the Guantánamo prisoners.

It’s unlikely that the White House would have accepted the offer, but it was certainly an example of pluck and you’d think everyone would give Hardin three cheers. Instead, Montana’s Democratic senators went ballistic.

“We’re not going to bring Al Qaeda to Big Sky Country — no way, not on my watch,” said Max Baucus.

“If these prisoners need a new place, it’s not going to be anywhere near The Last Best Place,” said Jon Tester.

This shows us two things: …

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Written by LeisureGuy

25 May 2009 at 12:29 pm

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