Later On

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Archive for April 11th, 2011

Obama’s failings as person and president becoming clear to everyone

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First, Paul Krugman’s column today in the NY Times:

What have they done with President Obama? What happened to the inspirational figure his supporters thought they elected? Who is this bland, timid guy who doesn’t seem to stand for anything in particular?

I realize that with hostile Republicans controlling the House, there’s not much Mr. Obama can get done in the way of concrete policy. Arguably, all he has left is the bully pulpit. But he isn’t even using that — or, rather, he’s using it to reinforce his enemies’ narrative.

His remarks after last week’s budget deal were a case in point.

Maybe that terrible deal, in which Republicans ended up getting more than their opening bid, was the best he could achieve — although it looks from here as if the president’s idea of how to bargain is to start by negotiating with himself, making pre-emptive concessions, then pursue a second round of negotiation with the G.O.P., leading to further concessions.

And bear in mind that this was just the first of several chances for Republicans to hold the budget hostage and threaten a government shutdown; by caving in so completely on the first round, Mr. Obama set a baseline for even bigger concessions over the next few months.

But let’s give the president the benefit of the doubt, and suppose that $38 billion in spending cuts — and a much larger cut relative to his own budget proposals — was the best deal available. Even so, did Mr. Obama have to celebrate his defeat? Did he have to praise Congress for enacting “the largest annual spending cut in our history,” as if shortsighted budget cuts in the face of high unemployment — cuts that will slow growth and increase unemployment — are actually a good idea?

Among other things, the latest budget deal more than wipes out any positive economic effects of the big prize Mr. Obama supposedly won from last December’s deal, a temporary extension of his 2009 tax cuts for working Americans. And the price of that deal, let’s remember, was a two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts, at an immediate cost of $363 billion, and a potential cost that’s much larger — because it’s now looking increasingly likely that those irresponsible tax cuts will be made permanent.

More broadly, Mr. Obama is conspicuously failing to . . .

Continue reading.

And then there is the blast of criticism from Constitutional scholars on how Obama is betraying the Constitution:

On December 15, when I first reported the inhumane conditions of Bradley Manning’s detention, I did not assign any blame to — or even mention — Barack Obama. Although, as Commander-in-Chief, Obama was technically responsible for Manning’s treatment, there was no evidence that he even knew about it, let alone planned it. But since then, the Manning controversy exploded into national prominence and Obama has explicitly defended the treatment, leaving no doubt that it directly reflects on who he is as a leader and a person.

For that reason, as The Guardian reports this morning, a letter signed by “more than 250 of America’s most eminent legal scholars” that “includes leading figures from all the top US law schools, as well as prominent names from other academic fields” — featuring “Laurence Tribe, a Harvard professor who is considered to be America’s foremost liberal authority on constitutional law”; who “taught constitutional law to Barack Obama and was a key backer of his 2008 presidential campaign”; and “joined the Obama administration last year as a legal adviser in the justice department, a post he held until three months ago” — not only denounces Manning’s detention but also the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner’s personal responsibility for it:

[Tribe] told the Guardian he signed the letter because Manning appeared to have been treated in a way that “is not only shameful but unconstitutional” as he awaits court martial in Quantico marine base in Virginia. . . . Tribe said the treatment was objectionable “in the way it violates his person and his liberty without due process of law and in the way it administers cruel and unusual punishment of a sort that cannot be constitutionally inflicted even upon someone convicted of terrible offences, not to mention someone merely accused of such offences”.

The harsh restrictions have been denounced by a raft of human rights groups, including Amnesty International, and are being investigated by the United Nations’ rapporteur on torture. . . .

The intervention of Tribe and hundreds of other legal scholars is a huge embarrassment to Obama, who was a professor of constitutional law in Chicago. Obama made respect for the rule of law a cornerstone of his administration, promising when he first entered the White House in 2009 to end the excesses of the Bush administration’s war on terrorism. . . .

The protest letter, published in the New York Review of Books, was written by two distinguished law professors, Bruce Ackerman of Yale and Yochai Benkler of Harvard. They claim Manning’s reported treatment is a violation of the US constitution, specifically the eighth amendment forbidding cruel and unusual punishment and the fifth amendment that prevents punishment without trial.

In a stinging rebuke to Obama, they say “he was once a professor of constitutional law, and entered the national stage as an eloquent moral leader. The question now, however, is whether his conduct as commander in chief meets fundamental standards of decency.”

Professor Benkler, echoing the point that I’ve repeatedly emphasized as I believe it to be the most important one, said “Manning’s conditions were being used ‘as a warning to future whistleblowers’.” Indeed, Manning’s treatment lacks even a pretense of justification; it — just like the Obama administration’s unprecedented war on whistle-blowers — is clearly meant to threaten and intimidate future individuals of conscience who, like Manning, might consider exposing government deceit, corruption and illegality: one of the few remaining avenues for learning what the Government does.

Aside from what conduct like this reveals about Obama, it also severely undermines the ability of the U.S. to exercise any shred of moral leadership in the world. Consider this series of events: . . .

Continue reading. And there’s an update to the above that you should not miss:

Late last week, Manning’s counsel, David Coombs, documented that the Quantico brig was failing to follows its own rules, as it denied “official visit” authorization to Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a representative of Amnesty International, and Juan Mendez, the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on Torture formally investigating Manning’s detention conditions. Now, Mendez, in remarkable language, has spoken out in condemning the U.S., as The Guardian reports

A senior United Nations representative on torture, Juan Mendez, issued a rare reprimand to the US government on Monday for failing to allow him to meet in private Bradley Manning, the American soldier held in a military prison accused of being the WikiLeaks source. It is the kind of censure that the UN normally reserves for authoritarian regimes around the world.

Mendez, the UN special rapporteur on torture, said: “I am deeply disappointed and frustrated by the prevarication of the US government with regard to my attempts to visit Mr Manning“. . . .

Mendez, who has been investigating complaints about his treatment since before Christmas, said the US department of defence would not allow him to make an “official” visit, only a “private” one. An “official” visit would mean he meets Manning without a guard present. A “private” visit means with a guard and anything the prisoner says could be used in the planned court-martial.

Mendez pointed out that his mandate was to conduct unmonitored visits, and that had been the practice in at least 18 countries over the last six years.

“Since December 2010, I have been engaging the US government on visiting Mr Manning, at the invitation of his counsel, to determine his condition,” Mendez said. “Unfortunately, the US government has not been receptive to a confidential meeting with Mr Manning.”

Caring about what the U.N. thinks about things like torture is so very 2007. In response, the U.S. should condemn China again. And it’s quite telling how one must go to to a British newspaper to read about U.S. abuse of a U.S. service member.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2011 at 3:49 pm

Wanting to get back to Esperanto

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Now that I have installed my Esperanto keyboard mapping (Mac only), I’m eager to get back to it. But first I need to reach a good resting place in Spanish. In the meantime, y’all go on ahead:

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2011 at 3:42 pm

Posted in Esperanto, Video

Why the negative correlation between education and religiosity?

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Ed Brayton:

I think Conor Friedersdorf is on to something with this explanation for why the data shows a decrease in religious faith with an increase in education:

To me, there are better explanations for the fact that “the more university education a person receives, the more likely he is to hold secular and left-wing views.” One is that people who attend college leave home. That is to say, they leave their church, the community incentives to attend it, and the watchful eye of parents who get angry or make them feel guilty when they don’t go to services or stray in their faith. Suddenly they’re surrounded by dorm mates of different faiths or no faith at all. For many of these students, it turns out that their religious behavior was driven more by desire for community, or social and parental pressure, than by deeply held beliefs.

Yep, I think that has a whole lot to do with it. One’s religious faith is easier to maintain when it doesn’t run into any alternatives, when it’s simply treated as a given. As long as people stay within the same social milieu their entire lives, they remain in the same religion by sheer inertia. Having to confront those of different religions — or no religion — means having to think about one’s beliefs. Merely finding out that there are alternative ways of thinking can be quite a shock to those raised in a narrow religious community.

I also think of something my high school french teacher told me when I graduated and prepared to go on to college. Education, he told me, is the process of disillusionment. I didn’t know what he meant at the time; a year later, when I returned home from my freshman year in college, I knew exactly what he meant. In that short period of time I had learned that many of the things I took for granted about the world were false.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2011 at 10:31 am

Posted in Education, Religion

I’m surprised that Huckabee got away with this

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This seems very much like illegal vandalism, not to mention a thumb in the public eye. Siddhartha Mahanta reports in Mother Jones:

There’s a Mike Huckabee mystery that won’t go away.

Send a public records request seeking documents from his 12-year stint as Arkansas governor, as Mother Jones did recently, and an eyebrow-raising reply will come back: The records are unavailable, and the computer hard drives that once contained them were erased and physically destroyed by the Huckabee administration as the governor prepared to leave office and launch a presidential bid.

In 2007, during Huckabee’s campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, the issue of the eradicated hard drives surfaced briefly, but it was never fully examined, and key questions remain. Why had Huckabee gone to such great lengths to wipe out his own records? What ever happened to a backup collection that was provided to a Huckabee aide?

Huckabee is now considering another presidential run, and if he does enter the race, he would do so as a frontrunner. Which would make the case of the missing records all the more significant. These records would shed light on Huckabee’s governorship—and could provide insight into how a President Huckabee might run the country. Meanwhile, observers of Arkansas’ political scene—including one of Huckabee’s former GOP allies—say the episode is characteristic of a politician who was distrustful and secretive by nature.

In February, Mother Jones wrote to the office of Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe seeking access to a variety of records concerning his predecessor’s tenure, including Huckabee’s travel records, calendars, call logs, and emails. Beebe’s chief legal counsel, Tim Gauger, replied in a letter that “former Governor Huckabee did not leave behind any hard-copies of the types of documents you seek. Moreover, at that time, all of the computers used by former Governor Huckabee and his staff had already been removed from the office and, as we understand it, the hard-drives in those computers had already been ‘cleaned’ and physically destroyed.”

He added, “In short, our office does not possess, does not have access to, and is not the custodian of any of the records you seek.”

“Huckabee just absolutely doesn’t trust anybody,” says one former high-ranking Arkansas Republican. “In my experience, if you don’t trust people, it’s because you’re not trustworthy.”

The person who may know the most about Huckabee’s records—or lack of them—is Jim Parsons. A self-described gadfly, Parsons is a former Green Beret turned good-government crusader who has filed dozens of Freedom of Information requests targeting Arkansas politicos on both sides of the aisle, including the Clintons. Shortly after Huckabee left office, Parsons went to battle with the state over his records.

In January 2007, Parsons requested “a copy of all information” on the Huckabee administration’s computers the day he left office. Beebe’s office provided Parsons with a January 9 memo addressed to Huckabee from the Arkansas Department of Information Systems, reporting that all of the gubernatorial hard drives had been “crushed under the supervision of a designee of [Huckabee’s] office.” That is, a Huckabee aide had made sure all this information was destroyed.

The memo included another tantalizing piece of information: The information stored on the drives had been saved on a backup, which was handed over to Huckabee’s then-chief of staff, Brenda Turner. The history of the Huckabee administration, then, was locked away, under the watchful eye of a former aide. What did she do with this information? Where is it now? Turner, who now runs the PR shop for a Arkansas-based purveyor of Christian-themed greeting cards, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. (Contacted via his political action committee, Huckabee didn’t respond to questions about his records.)

Parsons requested the backups and eventually filed a lawsuit against Huckabee and Beebe, alleging that the new governor had siphoned taxpayer money from an emergency fund to pay to replace the destroyed hard drives. Altogether, the new equipment cost over $335,000. Huckabee countered that the information on the hard drives included private details, such as social security numbers, that shouldn’t be released to the public. In the end, Parsons’ suit was dismissed—largely because he didn’t name Turner, who apparently possessed the records, as a plaintiff.

What do the Huckabee files hold? The records could provide details on any number of unsettled controversies involving . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2011 at 10:29 am

Posted in GOP, Government, Law

Luscious smoothies

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These all sound very good—my favorite being:

Here a puree of ripe avocado meets pineapple, lime juice, and vanilla, with fresh coconut water to thin it out.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2011 at 10:26 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

Luscious lather, fine shave

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My first go with the Notting Hill shaving soap from, and I found it highly satisfactory: loads of thick creamy lather, using the Omega synthetic-bristle brush. Three smooth passes with the Slant, a modicum of Trumper’s Coral Skin Food, and the day looks appealing.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2011 at 10:21 am

Posted in Shaving

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