Saturday, May 29, 2010

Bombing Iran won't be good for the polar bear either

After Hurricane Katrina, many on the Democratic side of the aisle blasted the Bush administration's response in part by arguing National Guard troops should have been available to clean up after a disaster here at home contributing to one overseas in Iraq. Now, though, after what some are calling the Obama administration's Katrina, the liberal veterans group has inverted that argument, taking to the airwaves with a new $1.5 million ad campaign that features a Louisiana guardsman bemoaning the fact that he signed up to serve in order "to help protect America from our enemies, like in the Persian Gulf, not to clean up an oil company's mess here in the Gulf of Mexico."

As if the I'd-rather-be-killing-Middle-Easterners message wasn't explicit enough, the ad includes a scary photo of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the star of an earlier VoteVets campaign that resurrected the evidence-less claim that Iran has essentially been behind every IED attack that has killed an American solider, nevermind that most insurgents soldiers have been killed by Sunni groups and that most foreign fighters come not from Shiite Iran but Sunni Saudi Arabia. Granted, it would be nice if the National Guard didn't have to clean up an oil company's mess, there's no disputing that, but wouldn't it be nicer if, instead of needing them "protect" us in the Persian Gulf, we didn't need them to do anything at all? But then, understanding who is the enemy du jour and that hyping foreign threats is the first thing they teach in American Political Advertising 101, major progressive groups have chosen to make Iran and Mr. Ahmadinejad the go-to foreign demons -- alongside the recent and mildly ironic addition of BP -- in their public appeals for climate legislation and "energy independence."

Operation Free, for instance, a coalition of liberal veteran groups, claims the Senate proposal from John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) "could cut Iran's oil profits by up to $100 million every day." The Center for American Progress likewise cites the figure to argue for climate legislation as a way to hurt Iran, whose "economic and political strength" poses "a threat to the national security of the United States and the world"; the Natural Resources Defense Council has done the same, as has Senator Kerry.

Like the Obama administration's claims about an Iranian nuclear weapons program, though, the oft-cited $100 million figure isn't based on actual evidence. As the Center for American Progress' Brad Johnson belatedly explains, the number assumes not just the passage of domestic climate legislation, but the implementation of "a global carbon policy system that brings total emissions down" -- in other words, something that will not happen anytime soon if ever. The number also happens to be based on a three year old MIT study that didn't actually look at the Kerry-Lieberman proposal.

Asked to reconcile those facts with his group's use of the number, an Operation Free spokesman pointed me to the "could" portion of their claim; that is, a Senate climate bill "could cut Iran's oil profits by up to $100 million." To put it another way, saying I could be the next Miss America if I just toned my abs a bit is not at all the same as saying I would be -- though there's still a chance, however improbable and infinitesimally small -- understand?

At a time when we already have the Obama administration expanding covert military action against Iran, is it too much to ask that environmental groups not fan the flames that could ignite another conflict in the Middle East with debunked or unfounded claims, all on behalf of a bill of dubious environmental merit? If you want to advocate for the Senate climate bill, god help you, stick to the harrowing images of stranded polar bears and leave the poor Persians alone.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Obama declines to stick up for Gitmo lawyers

In a formal "Statement of Administration Policy" released today, President Obama lays out a number of objections to H.R. 5136, the defense authorization bill passed by the House Armed Services Committee last week, even threatening to veto the legislation if Congress does not remove a provision he claims would "seriously disrupt" the Defense Department's F-35 program and his administration's plans to purchase 42 of the jet fighters. Notably absent from the list? Any mention of language offered by Florida Republican Jeff Miller -- and unanimously approved by the Democrat-controlled panel -- that calls on the Pentagon Inspector General to "conduct an investigation of the conduct and practices of lawyers" representing detainees at Guantanamo Bay, a measure that has been condemned by civil libertarians and others familiar with how legal systems are supposed to work.

As American Bar Association President Carolyn Lamm put it in a letter sent this week to the Senate Armed Services Committee, "The American system of justice depends on the essential role of lawyers in counseling their clients," which "includes providing zealous and effective counsel, even to those accused of heinous crimes against this nation in the name of causes that evoke our contempt." In a sane country, this wouldn't be controversial.

Writing earlier today, Salon's Glenn Greenwald noted that, despite its approval by the House Armed Services Committee, several barriers remain to the Gitmo provision ultimately becoming law, including a forthcoming House floor vote, a markup in the Senate "and then, if it makes it that far, the President's signature." But as Greenwald noted, if the language is to be purged from the bill, "Democrats are going to have to insist on its removal. It remains to be seen if they are willing to do that."

One Democrat unwilling to insist on its removal? Barack Obama, whose administration appears more concerned with its ability to buy expensive fighter planes than ensuring Gitmo lawyers aren't harassed and intimidated. If I was a betting man . . .

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tom Friedman: Liar or Actor?

("Wow, they bought that crap about the Bangladeshi cab driver?")

I am now more than ever convinced that New York Times columnist "Tom Friedman" is merely the made-up, stage persona of a performance artist who just doesn't know when -- or more frighteningly, doesn't know how -- to stop. That or he is just an unusually dumb, vulgar representation of the smug, cruise-missile liberal set. It's hard to tell.

The true nature of this "Friedman" character aside, the latest column bearing his name embodies all the imperial arrogance one can only get from, well, basically every pundit ever on television (more than once), taking the leaders of Turkey and Brazil to task for the "ugly" and "shameful" crime of practicing diplomacy with that "Holocaust-denying, vote-stealing Iranian thug" Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And I mean, how dare a bunch of uppity, think-they're-somebody nations convince Iran to agree to the very low-enriched-uranium-for-medical-isotopes swap Western nations proposed last October, am I right? Presumably due to space constraints, Friedman makes mention no mention of the U.S. government's billions of dollars in arms sales to democratic beacons like Saudi Arabia, nor of its support for repressive regimes in places like Egypt and Uzbekistan. Noting as much would kind of diminish the whole faux-moral outrage thing he has going, so I understand the decision.

Recycling material from his rah-rah let's invade Iraq days, Friedman then proceeds to argue from a startlingly ignorant premise -- startling for a Tom Friedman column even:
Iran today has about 4,850 pounds of low-enriched uranium. Under the May 17 deal, it has supposedly agreed to send some 2,640 pounds from its stockpile to Turkey for conversion into the type of nuclear fuel needed to power Tehran’s medical reactor — a fuel that cannot be used for a bomb. But that would still leave Iran with a roughly 2,200-pound uranium stockpile, which it still refuses to put under international inspection and is free to augment and continue to reprocess to the higher levels needed for a bomb. Experts say it would only take months for Iran to again amass sufficient quantity for a nuclear weapon.
So what this deal really does is what Iran wanted it to do: weaken the global coalition to pressure Iran to open its nuclear facilities to U.N. inspectors, and, as a special bonus, legitimize Ahmadinejad on the anniversary of his crushing the Iranian democracy movement that was demanding a recount of Iran’s tainted June 2009 elections.
I guess I'm not totally surprised, but apparently Tom Friedman and the Times editorial staff are unfamiliar with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the arm of the UN that inspects uranium enrichment programs -- in countries like Iran -- to verify compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (Tom, if you're reading this, that's the treaty that guarantees countries the right to enrich uranium so long as they submit to international inspection and forswear nuclear weapons -- hey, like Iran!). Likewise, Friedman and his editors are probably unfamiliar with the most recent report (pdf) from the IAEA, which declares that the agency "continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran."

Even assuming Iran's leadership has the worst of intentions -- something all 16 U.S. intelligence agences have pointedly not concluded -- the country would still need to first kick out the IAEA inspectors and alert the whole world to its endgame before it could even start trying to enrich uranium to the degree and scale necessary to build a single nuke, not to mention test one. That Friedman so quickly resorts to such easily debunkable claims to fortify his case against talking to Iran is a pretty good indication as to the strength of his argument, though.

So much for oversight

The Obama administration has approved covert military operations in a wide number of Middle Eastern countries, The New York Times reports, including in Somalia, Yemen and Iran (not to mention the long-running, kinda sorta covert war in Pakistan). As former National Security Council staffers Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett note, Obama's move marks a particularly dramatic "intensification of America’s covert war against Iran" -- a war that, because it is being run out of the office of General David Petraeus (praise be upon him) and CENTCOM, is "not subject to the same congressional oversight and reporting requirements as the Central Intelligence Agency."

The Leveretts observe the approach is "powerfully reminiscent" of the Bush administration, which likewise sought to evade formal congressional oversight of its covert war against Iran even as the Democratic Congress authorized $400 million to conduct the operations, reportedly including support for the Pakistan-based terror group Jundullah, or Army of God.

In 2007 I asked then-Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) about those operations and reports the Bush administration was seeking to avoid the oversight of his panel. Surely, with an unpopular war further dragging down a more unpopular Republican administration, Rockefeller would be chomping at the bit to take on a Bush/Cheney effort to gin up another war and (more importantly to a senator) evade his personal congressional fiefdom, even if for purely partisan or egotistical reasons -- "I'm a United States senator, god damn it!" -- right?

Not so much:
DAVIS: I wonder if you've heard some of these news reports that the Bush administration is backing extremist groups in Pakistan to launch attacks against Iran? Are you familiar with those news reports?
ROCKEFELLER: I've seen no intelligence that would verify that.
DAVIS: Reports quote administration officials as saying this is going on and it's being done in a way to avoid oversight of the Intelligence Committee. Is there any way—
ROCKEFELLER: They'll go to any lengths to do that, as we've seen in the last two days [during hearings on warrantless wiretapping].
DAVIS: Is there anything you could do in your position as Chairman of the Intelligence Committee to find answers about this, if it is in fact going on?
ROCKEFELLER: Don't you understand the way Intelligence works? Do you think that because I'm Chairman of the Intelligence Committee that I just say I want it, and they give it to me? They control it. All of it. All of it. All the time. I only get, and my committee only gets, what they want to give me.
DAVIS: Is there any way someone, maybe not you, they can somehow press the administration to find something—if they're doing something that may be illegal—
ROCKEFELLER: I don't know that. I don't know that. I deal with Intelligence. That's it. They tend to avoid us.
DAVIS: Well, what do you think about these allegations?
ROCKEFELLER: I'm not—I don't comment on allegations. I can't. I can't afford to.
Rockefeller has since been replaced by the undead Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). And if you believe Feinstein will in any way challenge the Obama administration on a matter that she and other Senate Democrats already signed off on when Bush was in power, well, then, you probably also think that nice Nigerian gentleman who keeps emailing is really going to send you that $200 grand.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

About that climate bill . . .

What's shaping up to be one of the worst environmental disasters in decades – a disaster caused as a direct consequence of the U.S.'s dependence on fossil fuels – would seem to make it that much easier for Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) to sell their fellow lawmakers on the merits of the “American Power Act,” their chest-thumpingly titled energy and climate proposal that was unveiled earlier this month. However, the worsening oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is actually widely seen as diminishing that bill's chances of passage, which, though seemingly counter-intuitive at first, actually just speaks to the extent to which the bill -- and the government writ large -- is beholden to the very corporate interests it claims to be taking on. Indeed, as an analysis from GOP consulting firm ClearView Energy Partners notes, the proposal “appears far closer than any of its predecessors to a climate bill that corporate stakeholders might actually want to pass.”

For starters, take the Kerry-Lieberman proposal’s subsidies for “clean coal,” a P.R. term that refers to capturing a coal plant's carbon emissions and storing them under ground -- though nobody’s actually doing that at the moment -- while passing legal liability for any problems onto to taxpayers. Despite being the leading contributor to climate change -- proponents of the bill would say because -- coal companies stand to reap tens of billions of dollars over the next few decades in direct subsidies for what is the climate policy-equivalent of cleaning the floors by sweeping dirt under a rug – except sweeping dirt under a rug is technically and commercially feasible. Then there's the fact that, as the Center for Progressive Reform points out, the bill would allow polluters to continue polluting by way of dubious carbon offsets, with the emissions purportedly reduced by the offsets “considered 'additional' even if the activity would receive payment or compensation for another environmental benefit.”

The Kerry-Lieberman proposal might be just enough to assuage liberal guilt, what with its vaunted cap that, assuming offsets are real (they’re not), would reduce U.S. emissions 4 percent from 1990 levels by 2020. But, like that week you rode your bike to work after watching An Inconvenient Truth, it doesn't seem likely to do much in the way of halting that whole catastrophic climate change thing -- a weighty burden, to be sure, with countries like China and India also unwilling to commit to hard limits on their emissions. And then there’s the provisions that would allow for an expansion in offshore oil drilling, dangling more than a third of a new project’s revenue in front of borderline-bankrupt states. Sigh.

Yet despite the reality of the Kerry-Lieberman bill, many major environmental groups -- Environmental Defense Fund (of course), the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) -- are echoing the rhetoric of its promoters, pointing out the flaws of the leading Senate climate proposal only when directly provoked. Speaking at the National Press Club last week, officials with the LCV and NRDC even cited the worsening Gulf spill to argue for Senate “action” on climate legislation (knowing full well what that might look like), with a new ad featuring actor Robert Redford citing the disaster to implore President Obama “to lead America toward a clean energy future.” Beyond focus group-tested talking points, though, the group’s public appeals are vague on what exactly they believe would constitute a sufficiently clean energy and climate policy.

At the Press Club event, I asked LCV President Gene Karpinski to reconcile his organization's call for action on climate legislation in the wake of the Gulf disaster with the fact that the leading climate proposal in the Senate would actually expand offshore drilling and, as Kerry noted at the bill's unveiling, has been praised by “Shell Oil Company, ConocoPhillips [and] British Petroleum.”

“We have not embraced the bill per se,” Karpinski told me, “but we have said now's the time to act. Now's the time to get the job done.” He suggested the Senate could “pass an even stronger bill” than the one endorsed by the House last year, which is a nice sentiment, I guess, but news to anyone passingly familiar with the operations of the august upper chamber. Still, “that's the goal, that's the challenge,” Karpinski said, adding that “the ultimate success of the president's response to the oil spill is whether we can in fact pass comprehensive legislation this year.” (I think if you asked a Louisiana fisherman they may have a slightly different definition of “success”.)

In essence, major environmental groups like LCV and NRDC may not be fond of expanded offshore drilling, but they're unwilling to explicitly oppose any climate bill that would enable such an expansion. Notably, neither Karpinski nor the head of any other major, “mainstream” environmental groups -- excepting the likes of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth -- has declared its opposition to a climate bill that allows for more offshore drilling. Instead, they prefer vague appeals to the need for “action” on climate change – joined in the call by major energy companies acting through the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, of which NRDC is a founding member – while giving politicians free reign to craft the details. Ultimately, almost any legislation introduced under the auspices of addressing global warming will receive their backing, justified by that familiar incrementalist refrain: it's a step in the right direction!

In the meantime, the proposal isn’t going anywhere at the moment, in no small part due to the incongruity of claiming to save the environment with a bill even BP could love. That said, given that merely “addressing” climate change is conflated with tackling the issue, it's no wonder then that we're left with the absurdity of environmentalists citing the need to take on “Big Oil” by arguing for the passage of a bill . . . endorsed by Big Oil. After all, environmentalists, when politicians know they can take your support for granted, it should come as no great surprise when all the “compromises” come at your expense. But it's not all negative: should there be another offshore drilling-related eco-disaster, at least LCV and NRDC will have plenty of horrifying images to choose from for their next fundraising appeal.

If you want to save the planet, plant a tree. Cut your carbon footprint. Protest a coal plant. Or an oil company. Just don’t wait around expecting a politician or the government – or a major environmental group – to do it for you.

See Also: Why you shouldn't count on a climate treaty, either.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The limits of liberalism

In 2006 I did something monumentally stupid, something that can only be chalked up to pure, unadulterated ignorance and the folly of youth. I voted. For a Democrat. And I did so -- wait for it -- under the impression I might be helping to end a war.

Those readers still with me, please control your laughter and let me explain. At the time I justified my decision on the basis that maybe, just maybe, if the Democrats took over Congress they might feel tempted -- if only for purely partisan political gain -- to fulfill their stated goal of bringing the Iraq war to an end. I know. I know.

In my defense, I only voted; there were no late nights at the phone bank for me, no impassioned letters to the editor imploring my fellow citizens to fulfill their patriotic duty. Others, however, whom I respect and share much in common politically, did dedicate both their time and financial resources to electing Democrats under the genuine, but wholly mistaken, belief they would stand up to the Bush administration every once in a while. We know how that turned out.

And that brings me to the recent primary elections, which I believe illustrate a point I have learned many times over since '06 -- namely, that electoral politics is at best a diversion, a tried-and-true means for the political establishment to channel public anger with the status quo in such a way that the status quo is never seriously threatened. Oh yes, the unwashed masses can celebrate the ritual Kicking Out of the Bums -- Good bye Arlen Specter! See ya in hell Blanche Lincoln! -- but only with one ginormous catch: they inevitably have to select some other bum to take their place.

Take the race to be the Democratic nominee for Senate in Pennsylvania, a contest that pitted the turncoat Specter against congressman and former admiral Joe Sestak. Despite the backing of President Obama and support from the rest of the Democratic establishment, Sestak was able to beat the decrepit, principle-less incumbent. A success, right?

That's how it's being played on the liberal blogosphere. "An amazing night!" wrote OpenLeft's Chris Bowers upon receiving news of Sestak's win. "The energy is with Dems and progs again!"

Except, well, it's not so clear electing the younger, more photogenic Sestak serves any real "progressive" goal, outside the fleeting ephemera that comes with knowing Arlen Specter is probably feeling sad for himself somewhere. Should Sestak win the seat in November, he'll probably hold the seat for decades, which certainly won't improve the lives of those suffering under U.S. military occupations and the constant threat of Predator drone strikes -- not that Democratic primary voters much cared -- given Sestak's wholehearted embrace of Obama's 30,000-plus troop surge in Afghanistan and his ramping up of the illegal, undeclared war in Pakistan.

The hated Specter, on the other hand, at least made a show of questioning Obama's foreign policy, even declaring his opposition to the surge. Details.

In Arkansas, meanwhile, corporate Democrat (ed. note: redundant) Blanche Lincoln has been forced into a runoff with Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, a former Clinton administration official whose chief qualifier appears to be that his name is not Blanche Lincoln. He also has excellent hair. But with the demise of Lincoln's political career increasingly appearing to be a given, even proponents of Halter, like FireDogLake's Jane Hamsher -- a genuinely well-intentioned activist whose work I often admire, and who helped spearhead the effort to unseat Lincoln -- concedes he is "no raging liberal." He is, however, "a Democrat, whereas Lincoln is a corporatist." To which I say, there's a difference? Again, to hop on my hobby horse, there certainly will be no difference for the victims of America's bipartisan-endorsed warfare state, as Halter's campaign page makes clear he's committed to "ensuring success in Iraq and Afghanistan and crafting a strong, forward-leaning foreign policy." For those at home, the words "forward-leaning" probably mean the good people of Yemen and/or Iran should seriously start thinking about investing in some bomb shelters.

As I've argued before, instead of activists spending so much in the way of time and resources in electing more and better politicians, why not skip the middle man? Instead of raising funds and organizing house parties for some snake oil salesman, crossing your fingers and praying they uphold 1/8th of their campaign promises, why not redirect those efforts to taking matters into one's own hands -- relying on the power of people voluntarily acting in concert to improve their communities rather than hoping some asshole politician sends an earmark your way? I understand the impulse to support what appears to be incrementalist reform, but at a certain point the dedication to incrementalism neuters the ability of people to consider the holistic, systemic reform the U.S. needs.

Instead of banking on a politician improving our world, my advice? Improve yourself. Be an example to others. Work not on the behalf of a political party, but your community. Put simply, forget the polling booth and head to the soup kitchen. At least then you won't be complicit in a bloodied, immoral system.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

We ain't leaving there either

Back in March a South Korean warship mysteriously exploded, killing 46 sailors. At the time, many suspected North Korea was to blame, and a report commissioned by the South Korean government slated to come out later this week is expected to conclude just that. But while reading about the news in a piece from The Washington Post, what caught my eye was not the obvious fact that this will further raise tensions on the peninsula, but the fact that South Korea's "pro-American" president (and former Hyundai CEO), Lee Myung-bak, is expected to cite the report to "request that the United States delay for several years a plan to pass operational control of all forces in South Korea from the United States to the South Korean military."

Ever since the start of the Korean War more than a half-century ago, the U.S. government has maintained operational control over military forces in South Korea during cases of emergency, American and South Korean alike. This control was supposed to be handed over to South Korean authorities in 2012, though the U.S. would continue to oversee the just under 30,000 American troops currently stationed in the country/colony.

But I digress. Forget U.S. troops leaving Afghanistan or Iraq in your lifetime, they're not even gonna leave South Korea, asshole. And everyone from the neo-cons to the anti-war liberals in Congress (har har har) is fine with that.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The only democracy in the Middle East

Al-Jazeera reports:
Noam Chomsky, a renowned Jewish-American scholar and political activist, has been barred from entering Israel.

Chomsky was denied entry as he attempted to cross the Allenby Bridge from Jordan on Sunday.

The lingusitics professor, who frequently speaks out against Israeli policy in the occupied Palestinian territories, had been scheduled to give a lecture at Birzeit University in the West Bank.

"I went with my daughter and two old friends. We went in the normal way to the border where we were all interrogated. They were particularly interested in me," he told Israel's Channel 10.

Chomsky said the border officials were "very polite," as they "transmitted inquiries from the [Israeli] ministry of the interior".

He said he was denied entry because "the government did not like the kinds of things I say and they did not like that I was only talking at Birzeit and not at an Israeli university too".

"I asked them if they could find any government in the world that likes the things I say," Chomsky said.
Reacting to the incident, the New America Foundation's Steve Clemons -- while criticizing the Israelis' behavior -- confusingly compares Chomsky to a man who once defended the use of torture on the basis that hey, it worked for the Nazis!

"Noam Chomsky's politics are not my own -- but I read him and want to remain aware of his views," Clemons writes. "I also read Alan Dershowitz, who essentially has become a Noam Chomsky of the right when it comes to Israel policy."

Let's hope no offense was intended.

Barack Obama, the US president, has asked Congress for $205 million to help Israel speed up construction of a new short-range anti-missile defense system, White House aides have said.
The so-called "Iron Dome" project is designed to intercept rockets and artillery shells from the Gaza Strip and neighbouring Lebanon.
The money is in addition to the more than $2.5 billion U.S. taxpayers already pay to directly subsidize life in Israel. A White House spokesman helpfully explains why Americans should fund an apartheid state's defense boondoggle when they are facing rising budget deficits and double-digit unemployment at home:
"As the president has repeatedly said, our commitment to Israel's security is unshakable and our defense relationship is stronger than ever. . . . The United States and our ally Israel share many of the same security challenges, from combating terrorism to confronting the threat posed by Iran's nuclear-weapons program."
Somewhere Alan Dershowitz is smiling. And that makes me the maddest of all.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A curious discrepancy

Speaking about the recent attempted car bombing in Times Square allegedly perpetrated by Faisal Shahzad, Attorney General Eric Holder categorically declared on NBC's Meet The Press -- the Washington elite's long-preferred vehicle for disseminating politically advantageous disinformation -- "that the evidence that we've now developed shows that the Pakistani Taliban has directed this plot."

"We know that they helped facilitate it," Holder added. "They helped direct it, and I suspect that we are going to come up with evidence that shows they helped to finance it.  They were intimately involved in this plot."

On Monday, though, a "senior administration official" clarified Holder's comments in remarks to CNN, saying, "The question is: Did he go there looking for help or did he fall in their lap? It seems the former. It appears he went seeking help for this attack."

"He had an attack in mind when he went there," the official added.

Now, not to jump to a brash conclusion -- I'm a mere blogger, after all, not the U.S. attorney general -- but it almost seems as if the Obama administration, taking a page from its predecessor and basically every government that has ever existed ever, chose to spin events in such a way as to to bolster public support for its policies, namely the president's escalation of the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan (even though the attack is likely blowback from said wars, but hey, this is America). And given that one can fairly conclude Eric Holder was privy to the exact same information as the anonymous official who walked back the attorney general's comments in remarks to CNN, it's almost as if the administration chose to tie the failed attack to the Pakistani Taliban without any regard for the actual facts -- retracting the claim only after it made headlines -- preferring instead to exploit it to further a roll back of civil liberties and boost support at home for its belligerent policy abroad.

The inescapable conclusion? Holder -- and the Obama administration in general -- is not to be trusted.

(via Max Fisher)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A progressive case for Elena Kagan?

Because I haven't posted in a week, and I guess because I wasn't sufficiently aggravated yesterday, I decided to fire up the 'ol web browser and check out how the Obama administration is spinning to its liberal base the president's nomination of Solictor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. Naturally, then, I decided to  check out what the "nonpartisan" Center for American Progress had to say. Sure enough -- and despite, or cynically, perhaps because of, Kagan's stated view that someone merely suspected of helping finance al Al Qaeda can be held indefinitely without trial -- there is a "Progressive Case For Elena Kagan" to be made, slavish devotion to executive power now a liberal virtue in the age of Obama.

The defense of Kagan, which is as thin as her record, begins by noting an open letter she signed opposing legislation from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that would have stripped federal courts of their ability to review the cases of those imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay. But while welcome news, one signature does not outweigh Kagan's well documented support for presidential unilateralism, nor does it seem to have much angered Graham, who told me and other reporters last month that "I liked her answers on national security" when she was testifying during her solicitor general confirmation hearing.

Illustrating the complete subservience of the liberal establishment to the Democratic Party, the piece then argues that, in the testimony Graham liked so much, Kagan had merely "acknowledged that America may indefinitely detain a known terrorist" -- gee, when you put it so passively it almost seems like it's not the great moral outrage it was when that George W. guy was president -- "yet she was also very clear that such a detention could only occur after the detainee received 'substantial due process' from an 'independent judiciary' in a 'transparent' process."

A few things are worth noting here, beginning with the fact that each quote the author highlights was in fact uttered by Senator Graham during that exchange, not Kagan, who had simply answered that, yes, "absolutely" she agreed with the South Carolina Republican that detainees should receive things like "due process" in a "transparent" manner. Which brings me to my second point: the position Kagan endorsed -- and the one embraced by Graham and the Obama administration -- holds that someone suspected of involvement in "terrorism" may have their status reviewed in a habeas corpus proceeding with a federal judge, which isn't exactly the same thing as the "due process" they teach kids about . . . well, actually, never, if my schooling was typical. Indeed, there's more than a few differences between the Bush/Obama/Kagan theory of justice and the actual kind. For starters, there is no trial if one's unfortunate enough to be suspected of terrorism while living in a Muslim country, obviously. Instead, a judge is allowed to review secret evidence in the comfort of his office and decide whether the government is legally entitled to hold someone prisoner. There is no jury. There is no cross-examination. And, as more and more people are concluding (not Kagan, mind you), there is no justice -- though if we're meaning to refer to the legacy of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, a good case could be made that it just may be "progressive".

The Center for American Progress also notes that, while a great defender of the rights of gays and lesbians, Kagan has in her capacity as solicitor general "scrupulously complied with her legal duty to defend federal laws that she personally disagrees with, including anti-gay policies like DADT and DOMA." But there's an explanation! "For progressives, her unwillingness to cast aside these bigoted and inexcusable policies may be a disapointment, but her conduct as Solicitor Generalo also reflects her understanding that a public official must first be loyal to the law."

Which brings us to the problem of "the law". I have to question the morality of anyone who would rather adhere to the letter of a tyrannical dictate than do what even they would privately concede is undoubtedly The Right Thing. When the law's unjust, defending it places you on the opposite side of justice; indeed, it makes you an active participant in the perpetration of an injustice. But then, someone looking to become the official legal advocate of an American president in the 21st century would have to know that -- war on terror, war on drugs, anyone? -- yet another strike against Kagan. Confronted with having to defend extreme claims of executive power, with having to help perpetrate yet another injustice, did Kagan do the only proper -- the only honorable -- thing one should do in such a situation: resign? Of course not; there are careers to think about, after all. No, she quite vigorously defended heinous laws and assertions of sweeping power by the president, so much so that said president has now rewarded her with a nomination to the highest court in the country. That Kagan was merely doing her job -- just following orders, if you will -- is the rationalization of someone who can make no honest defense of her actions, and, it should be noted, the every one employed (unsuccessfully) by some other particularly unsavory, German-speaking characters with whom I sure wouldn't want to be associated.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Because war crimes are hi-larious!

President Obama last night at the White House Correspondents' Dinner:
"Jonas brothers are here, they're out there somewhere. Sasha annd Malia are huge fans, but boys, don't get any ideas. Two words for you: predator drones. You will never see it coming. You think I'm joking?"
Since taking office Obama has ordered the CIA to carry out more drone strikes in Pakistan than his predecessor did in his entire eight years in office, killing more than 500 people since 2009, roughly a third civilians. And, "under the legal theories adopted by our government in prosecuting Guantánamo detainees, these CIA officers as well as any higher-level government officials who have authorized or directed their attacks are committing war crimes," notes Loyola Law School professor David Glazier.

In other words: funny!