Politics


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I’ve yet to delve into the now infamous Bybee memo, but by most reasonable accounts it is depressing and abhorrent. Whether the United States engaged in systematic torture or not seems somewhat moot to me now. That we are left debating the nuances between ‘cruel and unusual’ (the latter, to some, being okay) disheartens me. When we must concoct excuses for our bizarre and violent measures we have already lost the battle. When the government has to create torture-speak that obfuscates the nastiness we’ve sadly engaged in, then we are already in a darker place than before, by my account.

I’m of mixed feelings on how President Obama has handled this. Releasing these documents, certainly, is the right step. But coupling this with the apparent exoneration of those involved in these practices leaves me with a feeling of dissatisfaction. If it’s something worth debating in the public sphere, is it not, then, something worth prosecuting? This strikes me as a quasi-admitance of guilt; absent of any real repercussions for the guilty actors.

I suppose you could argue that Obama is playing Gerald Ford here. To open up this sore, here and now, may send an already distraught and sullen nation into a further malaise. Much as Ford was tasked with moving the country forward following the Watergate scnadal (so the story goes, anyway), Obama too must navigate the country back to sunnier shores.

Andrew Sullivan often frustrates and confounds me, but as a writer and and an intellect I respect him very, very much. I consider Andrew somewhat of an authority on this awful subject, and it’s a matter that demands clarity and purpose of mission. I believe he deals well with this internal conflict:

Mukasey and Hayden complain that the president has tied the hands of future presidents in this. Yes, he has. What Obama understands is that what is truly vital is that this dark and shameful period not become a workable precedent. It must be repudiated at the very heart of the American political system, and removed like the cancer it is.

The question of prosecution remains. It’s a painful decision. My view is that those who pay the legal price should be, first and foremost, those who authorized this at the highest levels. My view is also that it is a travesty that the Abu Ghraib reservists were prosecuted, and yet far, far more culpable people are claiming it would be too divisive to prosecute them. My view is that no one is above the law, and that when a society based on law prosecutes the powerless and excuses the powerful, it is corroding its own soul.

But my view is also that the president has acted wisely in this. As president in wartime, he knows how wounding it would be to engage in this kind of activity right now. But he has also ensured that a process of transparency continue. A full accounting of all of this – by people from both parties with real power to investigate and report (a 9/11 style commission, in other words) would be a natural next step. There is still much we don’t know. It should take its time to get everything right. Justice can be slow as long as it is guaranteed. From the president, some well-chosen words he clearly wrote himself:

At a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America’s ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence. That is why we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future. The United States is a nation of laws. My Administration will always act in accordance with those laws, and with an unshakeable commitment to our ideals. That is why we have released these memos, and that is why we have taken steps to ensure that the actions described within them never take place again.

Let me repeat the critical two words in that paragraph: Never. Again.

“Glenn Beck is a punk.”

Agreed.

From the NY Times. Now might be the time to head for the hills.

The title pretty much says it all.

I’m outraged that they would be so flippant about Ghostbusters. A better argument could be made for it’s conservatism, it’s liberalism – whichever. But the fact that they were private contractors alone is weak.

I do, however, think Brazil is an interesting and fairly accurate choice.

Tom Daschle is heavily indebted to the health care lobby and owes a cool 140K in tax arrears.

This after we appointed a treasury secretary who apparently can’t handle his own accounting, and watched the nominee for commerce secretary step down amid controversy.

In the grand scheme of the moment, I don’t think the peccadilloes of potential appointees are something to get overly concerned with – Republicans gleefully anxious to hate the sinner should figure out (errr, maybe not) soon enough that this is not 1993 – but at what point should we be worried about the President’s judgement?

On Israel-Palestinian dialogue – in America:

The Nation‘s Eric Alterman recently wrote that, in the United States, “right-wing Jewish organizations and neoconservative pundits dominate nearly all Middle East discussion.” This is a pretty radical claim, one I don’t agree with–recent cover stories in both Time and Newsweek have reflected the J Street line — but one for which you could produce at least some evidence. The sum total of the evidence he did produce was three blog posts appearing in, respectively, The New Republic, The Weekly Standard, and Commentary. Alterman, perhaps using hyperbole to compensate for the lack of evidence, called the authors “Thought Police.” You may recall that the term “Thought Police” was coined by George Orwell’s “1984” to describe a breed of futuristic secret police that would exceed even the draconian methods employed by Stalin and Hitler. Apparently Alterman believes equivalent powers are now wielded by a handful of Zionist bloggers. I’m trying to imagine what Alterman would say if fascism really does come to America. Perhaps he’ll think to himself, while hanging from his thumbs in some dungeon, “Well, this is pretty bad, but not as bad as when I was criticized by Commentary online.”

My column disputed the notion that there truly was an atmosphere of fear and intimidation around any criticism of Israel’s government. The American Prospect‘s Ezra Klein retorts that this may be true, but only because the attempts to suppress debate–by, among other people, me–were failing. “The thing about criticizing Israel is that you get called an anti-Semite rather a lot,” he wrote, rather dramatically. But we did it so often that the charge had lost its sting. Thus, “Criticizing Israel is not an act of courage because it’s not actually dangerous for your career. This is despite the best efforts of Chait and his magazine.”

Klein did not cite any examples of me calling somebody anti-Semitic merely for criticizing Israel. It’s merely an article of faith among the left that any response to their criticism is either a direct accusation of anti-Semitism or, at the least, an attempt to suppress debate. The Center for American Progress’s Matthew Yglesias, meanwhile, calls my magazine an “ideological enforcer” on Israel. The rule here is that if you write political commentary disagreeing with the J Street analysis of Israel, you’re a thuggish ideological enforcer. If you write political commentary supporting the J Street analysis, you’re a courageous ideological freedom fighter.

This tends to be my general sentiment regarding the economic stimulus package that passed the House yesterday evening. And while the politics of the bill is interesting, the actual substance of the package alludes me somewhat. And part of the problem here is that you have three choices in digesting such legislation: 1. Read the bill yourself, yikes 2. Trust the ideologies with an invested agenda in the bill’s passage or failure, respectively, or 3. Allow the news media – also clueless – to assure you that everything will be ok.

But I certainly don’t trust that to be the case. I’m not an economist, so that leaves me to implicitly trust Paul Krugman, or something even more drastic and terrible, trust the likes of Rush Limbaugh. I think a compromise bill – readjusting the tax rates a bit to put cash in the hands of some people next pay cycle – sounds like a pretty reasonable suggestion. This doesn’t mean I reject or dismiss infrastructure spending, it simply means I have faith that Americans will do what they do best if given the cash: spend. If we’re going to borrow more Chinese and Saudi money, we may as well return the favor and buy the goods coming from the former. Maybe give them a little stimulus, too.

And while my grasp on the economics of the bill leaves me befuddled, my clarity on the politics of the matter leaves me a tad bit frustrated. I see a lot of political swagger and gesturing, but very little effort to actually make this package understandable and digestible for the American public. Sadly, I think Kos is mostly right on the politics of the bill: the big loser here is Obama’s message. There was no political incentive for the House GOP to support this bill, and much like their Democratic counterparts, they are riding on the hope that this stimulus package will either succeed or fail overwhelmingly. Setting them up for a better position in 2010. As for the Democrats, well, they had the votes. Can’t blame them for being partisan when it was politically feasible (to paraphrase LBJ, the ability to count is the most important of skills in Washington).

The Republicans, interestingly enough, are taking a different page from the Johnson playbook. Adopting an Eisenhower approach to Obama, they are hoping that a duel approach of demonizing the House Dems, while presenting themselves as the true carriers of Obama’s best wishes on the Hill, will result in mercy for them from the American public. Sure they voted against the Democrat bill, but they did so in defense of President Obama’s initial submission (the truth is that Obama is going to support whichever piece of sausage that ultimately comes out anyway, so the posturing of the likes of Mitch McConnell is a tad transparent).

This is why I do foreign policy.

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