Sunday, May 31, 2009


Under the din of the screamers, there are some who have actually taken time to look at Judge Sotomayor's record. One such can be read here, confirming what I've already said. An important paragraph therein:

In sum, in an eleven-year career on the Second Circuit, Judge Sotomayor has participated in roughly 100 panel decisions involving questions of race and has disagreed with her colleagues in those cases (a fair measure of whether she is an outlier) a total of 4 times. Only one case (Gant) in that entire eleven years actually involved the question whether race discrimination may have occurred. (In another case (Pappas) she dissented to favor a white bigot.) She particulated in two other panels rejecting district court rulings agreeing with race-based jury-selection claims. Given that record, it seems absurd to say that Judge Sotomayor allows race to infect her decisionmaking.

I'm sure this will end the hyperventilation.

Aren't you?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Game, Set, Match

I can't say for sure how layered was President Obama's thinking in nominating Sonia Sotomayor, but I have an idea. The fact is, by any reasonable standards, she's highly qualified, with more judicial experience -- by far!! -- than any currently on the court had when they were elevated thereto. And whatever she might have said to various audei in various venui at various timei in her life, her opinions have been, as far as I can tell, very moderate. (Ironically, the case which has so tightly wedged the panties of the panters, the Ricci case of the firefighters, was one in which it seems she followed the law over her emotional inclination.) So moderate that some on the left are worried. I'd say it's typical of Obama to have chosen someone who is NOT some sort of radical.

Clearly, from a judicial point of view the choice is, at the most, a middle of the road liberal one. But here's the thing: Obama is, contrary to the "naive" meme that circulated during the campaign, a damn clever politician. And I think it's possible that in naming Judge Sotomayor he set a little trap for the Republicans and, most particularly, their RWS™. If they took the bait, well, it's not his fault.

And so they have. She's a racist, she's David Duke, she's an unintelligent product of affirmative action, a member of a group that's like the KKK, the most radical of leftist activist judges (record quite to the contrary.) Let's hope, one of them said, that no important cases come up when she's menstruating. Yep, he actually said that.

It's a twofer: Obama gets credit for appointing a mainstream judge, a highly experienced one, who will be confirmed; and he gets a huge boost in the Hispanic community. But not just because of the appointment: because of the outrageous and unhinged (and predictable) response from the far right crazies. Gee, he must be thinking. Who'da thought they'd be so nasty, shooting themselves in the foot?

Not me. Not me. Not no-drama me.

Can you say "buh-bye Texas?" And, for that matter, can you say "see you later, thoughtful, independent, moderate people?" If there were a veneer of legitimacy, however thin, on the Republican party, the response of their insane faction to the nomination has peeled it away like sunburn on Johnny Winters.

Even I Know This

I guess I'd have blogfodder for months if I were to point out the stupidity of every argument the right wing crazies are making about Sonia Sotomayor. Of the quotes they're bouncing around like fury-fueled fireballs, nearly all are taken out of context and/or edited to look different from the original intent. (That's rich, isn't it: original intent being a favorite buzzword, courtwise.) But those are being handled pretty well; they pretty much debunk themselves, since all is needed is the full quote and context. Same, I'd say, with the claim that she's too sharp-tongued. Tough questioning is expected of appellate judges. Ask ├╝berhero of the right wing, Antonin Scalia. But he has, y'know, balls, not ovaries.

There's a couple, though, that are quasi-factual and which might get traction since, like so many things onto which the RWS™ latch, it takes a little explanation. Worse, it needs actual thought! And, given the fact that truth is hardly the coin of the Republican realm, it may need repeating. (I heard John Cornyn on NPR yesterday, willfully ignoring the fact that federal appeals courts are not simply a way station on the path to the Supreme Court. Federal courts of appeals are, for all but a tiny percentage of cases, as high as appeals get.)

People are trying to make something of the fact that sixty percent of Judge Sotomayor's cases that were heard by the Supreme Court were reversed. My god. If ever there were proof of incompetence.... And that guy in the paraprevious post, Alito or whatever his name is, his reversal rate was (ready, set...) one hundred percent. ONE HUNDRED!! (There were two.) How he slipped by the non-partisan scrutiny of the Republicans is beyond me. (On the NPR show, Senator Cornyn also said he hadn't heard the quote from Alito, about empathy... Funny how that works, huh? Not paying attention, or not caring when it was his guy?)

So here's the deal (and need I say again I lived with a guy who was both a state appeals court judge and a state supreme court justice): supreme courts pick and choose. Nearly all the opinions of the appeals court stand, because the Supreme Court opts not to take them. When they do, it's because there's a larger issue of some sort. They take them, in part, because they have issues with the lower court ruling. By definition, then, cases accepted by the Supreme Court have a higher chance of being overturned. Which is why Smiling Sam got nailed to the degree he did. Sonia Sotomayor's reversal rate is, evidently, a little lower than average. Of her hundreds of opinions, nearly all stood as rendered. But let's not let a few facts get in the way of a good hissy fit.

The other issue, which is really part of the same thing, is the faux (or is that spelled Fox) outrage over a comment she made about appeals courts setting policy. Outrageous. Cornyn didn't like it one bit, not one bit. The Supreme Court, he said, is the one that sets policy. Wow.

So according to the good Senator from Texas, where Bushlaw and Gonzaleslaw are as good as it gets, it's okay that the Supreme Court sets policy. That's not "legislating from the bench." Surprise: in that, we agree. When the court rules, it's obvious that policy is made. Otherwise, what's the point? And here's the thing, Senator: as we've just learned, nearly all decisions at the appeals level go no further. The point Judge Sotomayor was making was in comparing her role on the appeals court to that on the circuit court, on which she'd previously served. Not really complicated; but, admittedly, it does take about two thoughts strung together to get it.

And there's the problem.

[Update, 6/1: Seems people who know more than I do say the same thing.]

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Housekeeping Clarification

Having noted the absence of some, and the changing of sign-in by others, I'd like to point out that it's still possible to register anonymously, while adding a name or identifier of some sort at the END of a comment. I don't care how people choose to sign in to blogger. It's leaving no way to separate one anonymous comment from another than I find annoying.

So thanks, Sam Spade, for going to the trouble. But it wasn't your way of signing in to which I was referring...

Hypocrisy 101

"[W]hen a case comes before me involving, let's say, someone who is an immigrant -- and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases -- I can't help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn't that long ago when they were in that position.

"And so it's my job to apply the law. It's not my job to change the law or to bend the law to achieve any result. But when I look at those cases, I have to say to myself, and I do say to myself, 'You know, this could be your grandfather, this could be your grandmother. They were not citizens at one time, and they were people who came to this country.' ...

"When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account."

Well, that about settles it for me. This is empathy gone too far. I'm afraid I have to agree with the Republicans on this one. We can't have justices thinking this way, and they're right to have screamed bloody murder...

Excuse me, what? It was... who? In response to a prompting by which senator? Alito? Coburn? It wasn't... y'know, that Mexican girl?


Never mind.


In college a friend had a motorcycle which I rode through the Berkshire mountains a few times, having a blast. The machine was strong but quiet; I didn't need to spew sound at the sunset to feel good. Near our house there's a long steep grade. Riders on Harleys flog their hogs up the hill, rattling windows for miles. Why, I wonder?

Approaching our home there's a two-lane road that merges into one. I move over early. Always there are people racing up the right side, forcing their way in a few cars ahead, cutting ten seconds off their commute, avoiding eye contact.

Can there be anyone -- especially people able to afford road tanks -- who doesn't understand the critical relation between oil imports and security? And yet there are people driving around in Hummers; alone, usually. And a Republican Senator, in response to President Obama's demands to increase gas mileage, said people have a right to drive a gas guzzler if they want to.

Really? Now?

The time has come for a paradigm shift. For some, thinking about the other guy, not using more than your share, seeing yourself as part of something more than yourself has been a way of life. For others it never has and, sadly, probably never will. But here we are: we're running out of oil, polluting our planet, ignoring our bridges and dams, straining our grids, shortchanging education; and still, for some, it's every man for himself. All for one, and one for one. Muffle my bike? Hell no. Settle for an equal portion of the road? What if I don't want to? Think about collective needs, planetary good, plan for the future? Consider others? Sacrifice a little? For better mileage? Help pay for the future? What am I, some sort of liberal?

In college I drove my V-8 Mustang on gas that cost twenty-five cents a gallon, except when there were price wars between stations, and then it was nineteen. Fuel economy mattered not to me, not to anyone; nor did the source of the fuel. Before I had the car (senior year only) I hitchhiked all over the East Coast, fearlessly. Now if I did, I figure my thumb might be the only thing they'd find of me.

I think a lot of the denialism of the RWS™ and of people like several who comment here, is as simple as unwillingness to face unhappy facts. (And, as I've written and as we see in those comments, conservatives, when presented with facts that disprove their beliefs tend to believe even harder.) They'll take the opinion of a right-wing British commentator about whom they presumably know nothing, and, of course, of people like O'Reilly and Hannity and Beck, whose statements are disproved within hours of utterance, while happily and insistently denying and ignoring expert and factual commentary, no matter how clear. (The LA plot WAS discovered before KSM was tortured. Torture DID force falsehoods which were used to justify invading Iraq. Carbon dioxide CAN be dangerous even though we exhale it. A mere four years ago, Republicans DID say judicial nominees shouldn't be filibustered...)

And who can blame them? How much simpler it was back then; how nice to fill my tank for three bucks, which I could make in an hour of washing dishes in Valentine Hall. For if you accept global warming, or the oil/security nexus, or that unfettered free-markets no longer work these days, you must also accept certain responsibilities, internalize connection to your fellow man, your planet. Accept rules of behavior and laws of the land. Be willing to pay more in taxes (but less for health care.) How depressing is that? Our mythology says we were built on rugged individualism. Can't wishing and ignoring (and lying) bring it all back?

It's toxic, when the stakes are so high. And, most clearly, when backed against a wall, the urge to deny is even stronger. Facts fall by the wayside like litter from an SUV.

In what way does a person on quiet bike differ from one on a Harley? Is raising the middle finger really more satisfying than raising consciousness? What does the one who drives a Hummer lack that can only be fulfilled by consuming gallons of gas and taking up two spaces? (For the record, I'd be embarrassed to drive one, yet my penis is no more than average size.) Consumption at the rate we now employ it is unsustainable. Taking without paying for it, as in the Bush tax cuts, is too. It's past time for the paradigm shift. What I do affects you; what you don't do affects me. It might not have been true a few decades ago. It is now. We're stuck with each other.

Problem is, some made the shift long ago, or were there in the first place; and the ones who haven't by now probably never will. Like Tom Coburn, and the beloved anonymi who troll these waters, they want their metaphorical gas hogs. They want to do whatever they please, whenever and wherever; and screw you for saying otherwise and don't bother me with facts.

There seems, quite literally, no way to convince them. Ironically, what they're implicitly counting on is that the rest of us will do what they're unwilling to do. They need us; and we can do without them. Funny.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

For The Record

I'll be waiting to hear from those who continue to argue that our president is mistaken in closing Gitmo and in ending torture. Because now their military hero (and with that I'd agree) David Petraeus has said it's the right thing to do. So, previously, has the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

The deniers have kissed off calls for ending torture when they come from professional interrogators who served in Iraq: after all, how could such a person know what he's talking about. If Dick Cheney dismisses the argument that torture was a recruitment tool, then surely a guy who saw the evidence of it daily must be a liar. How, one wonders, will they reject the Commander of Centcom?

More and more clearly, the policies of torture and detention under Cheney/Bush are revealed as devastating mistakes, rising nearly to the level of devastation of the invasion of Iraq itself. Near the top among the reasons I keep harping on it is that the defense of those policies is a perfect microcosm of our politics in general, and that of the current Republican party in particular. The facts are there, indisputable. The people who are the most expert are virtually unanimous. And yet, for reasons beyond comprehension, some on the right wing of the right wing refuse to accept it.

It's not as if we're arguing something abstract, like hating or loving the Yankees (although in that, my position is absolutely correct). Once again, we see the problem for our political future: some people -- most of them conservatives -- are fundamentally unable to deal with facts that disprove a desired belief. And although only about twenty percent of people now identify themselves as Republicans, they represent forty percent of the US Senate.

To me it seems hopeless. If people who are refractory to factual arguments have a veto over those that aren't, how can we hope for progress on anything? Societies contain people of all sorts. Good or bad, that's the way it is. I can hurry by or engage the guy on the street corner ranting and handing out leaflets. Local color. Not an issue one way or the other. But when our political system appears now to have been rigged to see to it that those people are elected to Congress, there's real cause for real alarm. When the only ones remaining who favor continuing detention at Guantanamo and the use of torture are those who ignore all the data and the professionals, it says something.

And what is says, for the billionth time, is that we're screwed.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Heart Like A Stone

A nearby woman is the first in Washington State to avail herself of the newly-passed "death with dignity" law. Here's a quote from the article:

One opponent of the law called Fleming's death a "sad day" and criticized her choice as "egotistical... It's saying: 'I want to go out of life on my own terms, even though the vast majority of us accept the natural conclusion of our lives,' " said Chris Carlson, of the Coalition Against Assisted Suicide...


EGOTISTICAL! Of all the words to describe the act, that's not one that would have come to my mind. (Looking around a bit on the intertubes, I see it is, in fact, not unique to this person: in a particularly poorly written and grievously edited tract discussing psychology of suicide, the word is mis-equated with "egoistic" and other psychobabble that hardly applies to terminal illness.)

During the campaign against the initiative, the opposition mostly focused on "slippery slope" arguments: it'll be abused; it'll be forced on people to save health care dollars; families will talk their old ones into offing themselves to get the inheritance before it's used up. Self-indulgence wasn't brought up. At least not in reference to the dying.

With good reason: it's deeply offensive, heartless, and condescending. At the very least. And, of course, it's the imposition of a religious ethic on others by people who have no business doing so. Like opposition to same-sex marriage, except that in the latter case, no one dies. In each case, the act does no harm to the protesters, is exquisitely personal, and has only religious or sky-is-falling arguments to be made against it. (The Washington law, like the one in Oregon, has safeguards -- too many, if anything -- against treatable depression and premature invocation.) These are people suffering with terminal illness. Terminal. Suffering. Unable to be experienced (much less judged) by any but the sufferer, the woman's act was, in my view, one of bravery and, in a strange way, of ultimate optimism. Affirming of her humanity.

I don't discount the sincerity of those who oppose assisted suicide, some of my fellow physicians (none of whom can be made to participate) among them. But when I read the above sentences, I thought, is that what it's really been about? Taking a tiny bit of control over the otherwise uncontrollable and intolerable is egotistical? Not by my definition.

"...even though the vast majority of us accept the natural conclusion of our lives." Huh? Natural conclusion? Don't the majority see doctors, take meds, go to hospitals, have operations? What the hell is a "natural conclusion?"

I've not heard of the speaker, but it seems he/she is a spokesperson for an activist group, so I assume it's representative. Of something. Is it a sensible argument in any way? "[M]y own terms." Yes! Of course!! And your point is what, exactly? When I saw the word "egotistical" my reaction was revulsion at the clueless insensitivity, the faux superiority, the EGOTISM. When I read the rest of the quote, I found it laughable.

In a "god help us here we go again" sort of way.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Housekeeping Issue

It's annoying enough to answer comments that are repetitive, uninteresting, and separated from fact (or from the point of the original post) by unbridgeable chasms. But as the excretors thereof, despite my pleas to do otherwise, insist on refraining from any sort of identification to help me know which anonymous troll I'm addressing, it's finally gotten to be too much. How hard could it be to end a comment with an X? Or, if there's already one there (trying to be helpful, here), a Y? Clearly, anonymous thought (if such it can be called) has hardly been exhausted before coming to the end. Coming up with a one-letter moniker shouldn't be too much, even for them. Right?

So from now on, anonymous comments with no identifier will no longer be responded to, by me anyway. (I've enjoyed, however, their fisking by a few more considerate readers.) They may or may not, depending on a discernible micro-connection with reality, if ever so slim, escape deletion.

I don't mind the insults. I don't mind the illogical and empty declarations, because it demonstrates so clearly my continuing claim that the current Republican party is bereft of good ideas and is failing us all in our need for intelligent counterpoint to one-party rule. The undistinguished (in at least two senses of the word) anonymous commenters who post here -- and by definition I have no idea how many there are (it's hard to believe one head alone could contain that much emptiness without collapsing on itself like Vulcan just did) -- have in common an inability to provide a reasonable argument; I can understand why they want no part of taking credit for them. Still, it's not as if anyone is tracking them down and rescinding their GEDs.

So. Gimme a sign, "anonymous." A mark, a clever name (okay, clever is hard. Never mind. A letter, a number). Or don't expect a response.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Memorial Day

Even though I served, and even though people I knew in Vietnam died there; even though I cared for many wounded GIs in the aftermath of rocket attacks or in my capacity as OIC of the medevac program; even though my dad was in the Army, my father-in-law in the Navy (both with scrambled eggs on their caps); even though I've always admired our military personnel whether draftees back then or volunteers now; I've never given much serious though to Memorial Day. Maybe it's because, like Mothers' Day, or Earth Day, or Nurses' Day, if you don't honor those things daily, then doing so on some single occasion seems like show with no tell.

But for no reason I can say, today I'm thinking of my friend JB, who, like me, served as a doc in Vietnam; but unlike me, he spent a year in charge of a surgical hospital operating on thousands of injured GIs and a few Vietnamese from both sides of the war. He saved lives, many of them. As did his now wife, Jeannie, a surgical nurse in the same unit.

JB and I couldn't be more different politically, religiously. We couldn't be more the same, surgical trainingly, patient devotionally. Unlike some who traverse these pages, JB and I can discuss matters on which we disagree, respectfully, well-informed, open-mindedly. We can find areas in which we agree. And, because we respect (and, dare I say, love) each other, these discussions are enriching for both of us.

Because he went deeper, literally (the link is to an impressive, and graphic, video) into the horrors of the war than I did, he bears a heavier burden now, I think. He might disagree. But in my mind JB, though he never fired a shot (as far as I know) when in Vietnam, is as much a hero as any who did. And they all are.

Maybe people who just did their jobs aren't, by some definition, heroes. Maybe I don't really know the meaning of the word. But today, Memorial Day, I just want to say, for no particular reason, and no differently than any other day:

JB, you are among my heroes, if there are any left in my mind. And I wish the people with whom I disagree on so much were like you. Were that so, our democracy would be safe indeed.

And not because of your guns.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Deal Or No Deal

So another right-wing talker gets waterboarded. This guy lasted six seconds. Before, he'd been saying it's not torture. After, he decided it is. Fine.

Notice, if you watch the video, that he got to sit up and call it off as soon as he crumped. That's okay, I guess; I don't want the guy to die. (Never heard of him; maybe if I had, I would.) But here's what I'd like to see. Let one of these macho chickenhawks (still waiting for Hannity) agree to it under more real circumstances: tied down. No bailing in a few seconds, no sitting up, not stopping until the "operator" decides to. And how about this: you'll be waterboarded until you say "Barack Obama is a great president and George Bush sucked." Write it down and sign it. Let's not worry whether it's torture. Let's just see if it can be used to make a self-righteous blowhard say something he doesn't believe.

Any guesses? Would anyone take up the challenge? Would anyone refuse to cop? If they signed, would it change minds about using it?



And no.

Looking Back

And another thing...

"Let's not look back," they say. Need to move forward. Said by the party that spent tens of months and dozens of millions trying to impeach Bill Clinton. And, from one point of view, they were right then but not now. If crimes are suspected, part of the deal is looking into it. How, exactly, do you march forward if you don't know whence you are coming? Why prosecute the guy who robbed your store, or raped your wife? It's in the past. Those cops: what a bunch of whiners. What's done is done.

Of course this is way bigger than lying about a blow job. We're talking about killing prisoners, taking us to an unnecessary war on false pretenses. Big stuff, you'd think.

Like virtually all the Republican talking points of late, this one is made of sand, built on sand. I accept that it's not black and white, given the politics. I understand why President Obama is reluctant: he has lots to do to clean up the mess, and even without this, he's encountering resistance to pretty much everything he does. Reversing direction like Dick Cheney from his draft board, Senate Republicans have decided there's nothing like a good old filibuster, especially for judges. No wonder they don't want to look back: just a couple of years ago they were saying such a thing was unconstitutional and a threat to our very existence as a democracy.

What's particularly disingenuous is that such talking points are based on the idea that the electorate is stupid. Obama addresses us as if we are adults, capable of carrying a thought beyond one line of small words. To the Rs, we're idiots, bamboozle-bait. Not that it's certain they're the ones that are wrong. It's easy to forget that Joe the Plumber was made god-like. McCain put him up there; but it was the people who ate it up, and the media, and the RWS™.

And then there's this. So there you go.

On Further Review

Following up on yesterday's posts: the reviews are coming in and there seems general agreement among those with eyes and ears and matter behind/between them that Cheney's speech was, at best, the same old sh*t, and, at worst, full of omissions, lies, and distortions. (Which, of course, is the same old sh*t. So I repeat myself.) Not everyone loved Obama's, naturally; some civil libertarians were disappointed, and the RWS™, unsurprisingly, were unable to process such depth and thoughtfulness at all. But there weren't lies.

Giving Cheney the benefit of the doubt, I'll assume that 9/11 scared the crap out of him. How terrifying must it have been -- especially for a guy who (unlike me) managed five deferments to avoid serving in Vietnam -- to sit in a bunker somewhere not knowing what was going on and wondering if you might die. (Been there, done that. Not the bunker part, but the die/fear part: daily, nightly, for months on end. He didn't have time to get used to it, like I did.) So, okay. Bad guys, need to fight back. Yes.

I'll even forgive him, in his moment of panic, for turning to torture as his brain, drained of blood, scrabbled for protection. His hero, after all (the one on the right), when he was Cheney's age, couldn't distinguish between movies he'd been in or life experiences he'd had. So let's assume he tortured people (for it's now clear that the approvals came from him) for higher purposes, believing it works. But can we really swallow the idea that he considered it legal?

The tortured memos he demanded (yes, that's an assumption, but the evidence is that the torture began well before the memos, which smells of an attempt at retroactive cover) simply made up rationales for calling a pig a princess. What was done was torture. Torture is illegal.

But, okay, you want to save lives, you break the law. No big deal. If it works, who cares? Right?

Wrong. First of all, the way torture has always worked is in extracting false confessions. Ask John McCain. And as the evidence accumulates that most of the information obtained from captives was from legal methods, and that torture produced false information that was used to justify war (even after it was suggested that the info was false), and that torture was further used to try to get people to confess to links between al Queda and Saddam Hussein, it has become clear to all but the the deadest of dead-enders that torture is a bad thing. And that it was used, deliberately, by the United States of America, in exactly the way it had been used by despots and dictators for centuries: to force false confessions. Why doesn't that scare the crap out of everyone, even (especially) the RWS™?

Cheney insists we got useful information from torture. Maybe we did. What we still don't know is, first, whether it could have been gotten in other ways; second, how much false information was obtained (we know there was some, and it led to disaster); third, how, in a time of crisis, you can tell whether you're getting good or bad information, since it's undisputed that torture gives bad information (or desired answers, true or not); fourth, how much damage to the nation was done as the rest of the world found out what we'd done?

Listening to him yesterday, I wondered what he's really up to. Does he believe what he says? If so, is it because he's truly delusional, or because he knows things we don't? If that, does he simply discount the known failures? Is he trying to justify a program for his own protection, or because he still believes it was a good thing? Is he trying to change the subject from illegality and deliberate dredging for falsehoods to efficacy alone? Seems shaky ground either way, given what we're learning.

So he's a real puzzle, putting it mildly. Trashing his predecessor while claiming dissent gives comfort to our enemies. Making a case based on omissions and distortions. Can he not know?

There's one thing he says for which I'm all: release the documents. All of them. And, sure, let's find out about what was said to Pelosi. All of it. Let's have a full-fledged investigation of the whole program of torture, all of it.

Of course, that's not what he really wants. Like the Congressional Republicans, he wants to be highly selective and hide the ball. But let's not. Lets dig it all out, and let the chips fall. Where ever. Because if torture works, I want to see the data; and then, I want there to be a full discussion. Should we reject the Geneva Conventions, the agreements on torture, go it alone for our own safety? Should we be using it in our legal system? On guys like Timothy McVey? Serial murderers? Is there a line? Where? Why? I know what I think: no. It degrades us, it endangers us. It gives unreliable information. It makes us no different from those over whom we claim to have the higher ground.

Torture is illegal for good reasons, not the least of which is that it's too damn easy. To guys like Dick Cheney. Panicked, in his bunker. Looking for ways to feel unafraid. Looking for ways to feel tough, damn the implications, damn the dangers of falsehood it produces. Because of the falsehoods.

That's why I say no. And why I think it's time for Dick Cheney to return to Wyoming and lecture cows or whatever they have there. And for the media to stop acting like he has credibility equal to Barack Obama's.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

As Opposed To...

In the previous post is President Obama's speech on terrorism and policy, and my brief take on it. Then, like backflow from a clogged toilet, came Cheney. While he said nothing new, he did repeat the most anti-democratic essence of his administration:

And when they see the American government caught up in arguments about interrogations, or whether foreign terrorists have constitutional rights, they don't stand back in awe of our legal system and wonder whether they had misjudged us all along. Instead the terrorists see just what they were hoping for - our unity gone, our resolve shaken, our leaders distracted. In short, they see weakness and opportunity.
Of course, seeing the past leader attacking the current one does nothing of the sort.

Forgetting the obvious inconsistencies (because there are so many) and the irony (that it's HE who gave al Queda "exactly what they were hoping for," HE who has distracted our leaders), the central theme is that you can't discuss policy or air out differences or criticize the government (except if you're a Dick or his RWS™ host) because it gives comfort to our enemies. Democracy, and our Constitution, in other words, are to be ignored because they are fundamentally flawed. Our system of government, he says, is inadequate to deal with threats; the discourses of free and lawful society are signs of weakness.

What could be more unAmerican than that?

But it's exactly how he ruled, and I mean "he" and "ruled" literally. In doing so, in rejecting our own and international law, in trumping up reasons for invading Iraq, in torturing and incarcerating people illegally and improperly, he's left us nearly paralyzed as Obama tries to straighten it out, and while Congress fights over it in the most disingenuous and demagogic terms.

Dick Cheney will never admit how badly he damaged us. The question is, when will his remaining supporters do so? Can't the Republican party find a voice that remains true to its principles (such as they are, in tatters) but rejects this dangerous man, this rejecter of democracy?

Alone At The Top

Below is President Obama's speech on law and terrorism. It is serious, thoughtful, and comprehensive. In the speech, the President says things that will delight and disturb some at each end of the political spectrum. He does not shy away from the difficult issues, nor from pointing out the errors of the past administration while acknowledging the realities we face. To various points of view, he gives full attention. If legislators, commentators, journalists, and citizens on both sides of the argument were as clear, as realistic, as coherent -- in short, as brilliant and as committed to doing what's right -- as Barack Obama, we'd have a fighting chance of working through the incomprehensibly complex and challenging problems that threaten us all.

Unfortunately, with respect to the people on whom we depend to find ways to get it right, that is decidedly NOT the case. So still I wonder: can democracy work in a country that continues to elect hyperpartisan and hypointelligent people to office? Why should legislators who argue that carbon dioxide isn't harmful because it's in Coca-Cola even deserve to be part of the debate? Can we survive the stupidity that exists at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House? I'm not sure we can.

The speech:

These are extraordinary times for our country. We are confronting an historic economic crisis. We are fighting two wars. We face a range of challenges that will define the way that Americans will live in the 21st century. There is no shortage of work to be done, or responsibilities to bear.

And we have begun to make progress. Just this week, we have taken steps to protect American consumers and homeowners, and to reform our system of government contracting so that we better protect our people while spending our money more wisely. The engines of our economy are slowly beginning to turn, and we are working toward historic reform of health care and energy. I welcome the hard work that has been done by the Congress on these and other issues.

In the midst of all these challenges, however, my single most important responsibility as President is to keep the American people safe. That is the first thing that I think about when I wake up in the morning. It is the last thing that I think about when I go to sleep at night.

This responsibility is only magnified in an era when an extremist ideology threatens our people, and technology gives a handful of terrorists the potential to do us great harm. We are less than eight years removed from the deadliest attack on American soil in our history. We know that al Qaeda is actively planning to attack us again. We know that this threat will be with us for a long time, and that we must use all elements of our power to defeat it.

Already, we have taken several steps to achieve that goal. For the first time since 2002, we are providing the necessary resources and strategic direction to take the fight to the extremists who attacked us on 9/11 in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We are investing in the 21st century military and intelligence capabilities that will allow us to stay one step ahead of a nimble enemy. We have re-energized a global non-proliferation regime to deny the world's most dangerous people access to the world's deadliest weapons, and launched an effort to secure all loose nuclear materials within four years. We are better protecting our border, and increasing our preparedness for any future attack or natural disaster. We are building new partnerships around the world to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates. And we have renewed American diplomacy so that we once again have the strength and standing to truly lead the world.

These steps are all critical to keeping America secure. But I believe with every fiber of my being that in the long run we also cannot keep this country safe unless we enlist the power of our most fundamental values. The documents that we hold in this very hall - the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights -are not simply words written into aging parchment. They are the foundation of liberty and justice in this country, and a light that shines for all who seek freedom, fairness, equality and dignity in the world.

I stand here today as someone whose own life was made possible by these documents. My father came to our shores in search of the promise that they offered. My mother made me rise before dawn to learn of their truth when I lived as a child in a foreign land. My own American journey was paved by generations of citizens who gave meaning to those simple words - "to form a more perfect union." I have studied the Constitution as a student; I have taught it as a teacher; I have been bound by it as a lawyer and legislator. I took an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution as Commander-in-Chief, and as a citizen, I know that we must never - ever - turn our back on its enduring principles for expedience sake.

I make this claim not simply as a matter of idealism. We uphold our most cherished values not only because doing so is right, but because it strengthens our country and keeps us safe. Time and again, our values have been our best national security asset - in war and peace; in times of ease and in eras of upheaval.

Fidelity to our values is the reason why the United States of America grew from a small string of colonies under the writ of an empire to the strongest nation in the world.

It is the reason why enemy soldiers have surrendered to us in battle, knowing they'd receive better treatment from America's armed forces than from their own government.

It is the reason why America has benefited from strong alliances that amplified our power, and drawn a sharp and moral contrast with our adversaries.

It is the reason why we've been able to overpower the iron fist of fascism, outlast the iron curtain of communism, and enlist free nations and free people everywhere in common cause and common effort.

From Europe to the Pacific, we have been a nation that has shut down torture chambers and replaced tyranny with the rule of law. That is who we are. And where terrorists offer only the injustice of disorder and destruction, America must demonstrate that our values and institutions are more resilient than a hateful ideology.

After 9/11, we knew that we had entered a new era - that enemies who did not abide by any law of war would present new challenges to our application of the law; that our government would need new tools to protect the American people, and that these tools would have to allow us to prevent attacks instead of simply prosecuting those who try to carry them out.

Unfortunately, faced with an uncertain threat, our government made a series of hasty decisions. And I believe that those decisions were motivated by a sincere desire to protect the American people. But I also believe that - too often - our government made decisions based upon fear rather than foresight, and all too often trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions. Instead of strategically applying our power and our principles, we too often set those principles aside as luxuries that we could no longer afford. And in this season of fear, too many of us - Democrats and Republicans; politicians, journalists and citizens - fell silent.

In other words, we went off course. And this is not my assessment alone. It was an assessment that was shared by the American people, who nominated candidates for President from both major parties who, despite our many differences, called for a new approach - one that rejected torture, and recognized the imperative of closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Now let me be clear: we are indeed at war with al Qaeda and its affiliates. We do need to update our institutions to deal with this threat. But we must do so with an abiding confidence in the rule of law and due process; in checks and balances and accountability. For reasons that I will explain, the decisions that were made over the last eight years established an ad hoc legal approach for fighting terrorism that was neither effective nor sustainable - a framework that failed to rely on our legal traditions and time-tested institutions; that failed to use our values as a compass. And that is why I took several steps upon taking office to better protect the American people.

First, I banned the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques by the United States of America.

I know some have argued that brutal methods like water-boarding were necessary to keep us safe. I could not disagree more. As Commander-in-Chief, I see the intelligence, I bear responsibility for keeping this country safe, and I reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of interrogation. What's more, they undermine the rule of law. They alienate us in the world. They serve as a recruitment tool for terrorists, and increase the will of our enemies to fight us, while decreasing the will of others to work with America. They risk the lives of our troops by making it less likely that others will surrender to them in battle, and more likely that Americans will be mistreated if they are captured. In short, they did not advance our war and counter-terrorism efforts - they undermined them, and that is why I ended them once and for all.

The arguments against these techniques did not originate from my Administration. As Senator McCain once said, torture "serves as a great propaganda tool for those who recruit people to fight against us." And even under President Bush, there was recognition among members of his Administration - including a Secretary of State, other senior officials, and many in the military and intelligence community - that those who argued for these tactics were on the wrong side of the debate, and the wrong side of history. We must leave these methods where they belong - in the past. They are not who we are. They are not America.

The second decision that I made was to order the closing of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay.

For over seven years, we have detained hundreds of people at Guantanamo. During that time, the system of Military Commissions at Guantanamo succeeded in convicting a grand total of three suspected terrorists. Let me repeat that: three convictions in over seven years. Instead of bringing terrorists to justice, efforts at prosecution met setbacks, cases lingered on, and in 2006 the Supreme Court invalidated the entire system. Meanwhile, over five hundred and twenty-five detainees were released from Guantanamo under the Bush Administration. Let me repeat that: two-thirds of the detainees were released before I took office and ordered the closure of Guantanamo.

There is also no question that Guantanamo set back the moral authority that is America's strongest currency in the world. Instead of building a durable framework for the struggle against al Qaeda that drew upon our deeply held values and traditions, our government was defending positions that undermined the rule of law. Indeed, part of the rationale for establishing Guantanamo in the first place was the misplaced notion that a prison there would be beyond the law - a proposition that the Supreme Court soundly rejected. Meanwhile, instead of serving as a tool to counter-terrorism, Guantanamo became a symbol that helped al Qaeda recruit terrorists to its cause. Indeed, the existence of Guantanamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.

So the record is clear: rather than keep us safer, the prison at Guantanamo has weakened American national security. It is a rallying cry for our enemies. It sets back the willingness of our allies to work with us in fighting an enemy that operates in scores of countries. By any measure, the costs of keeping it open far exceed the complications involved in closing it. That is why I argued that it should be closed throughout my campaign. And that is why I ordered it closed within one year.

The third decision that I made was to order a review of all the pending cases at Guantanamo.

I knew when I ordered Guantanamo closed that it would be difficult and complex. There are 240 people there who have now spent years in legal limbo. In dealing with this situation, we do not have the luxury of starting from scratch. We are cleaning up something that is - quite simply - a mess; a misguided experiment that has left in its wake a flood of legal challenges that my Administration is forced to deal with on a constant basis, and that consumes the time of government officials whose time should be spent on better protecting our country.

Indeed, the legal challenges that have sparked so much debate in recent weeks in Washington would be taking place whether or not I decided to close Guantanamo. For example, the court order to release seventeen Uighur detainees took place last fall - when George Bush was President. The Supreme Court that invalidated the system of prosecution at Guantanamo in 2006 was overwhelmingly appointed by Republican Presidents. In other words, the problem of what to do with Guantanamo detainees was not caused by my decision to close the facility; the problem exists because of the decision to open Guantanamo in the first place.

There are no neat or easy answers here. But I can tell you that the wrong answer is to pretend like this problem will go away if we maintain an unsustainable status quo. As President, I refuse to allow this problem to fester. Our security interests won't permit it. Our courts won't allow it. And neither should our conscience.

Now, over the last several weeks, we have seen a return of the politicization of these issues that have characterized the last several years. I understand that these problems arouse passions and concerns. They should. We are confronting some of the most complicated questions that a democracy can face. But I have no interest in spending our time re-litigating the policies of the last eight years. I want to solve these problems, and I want to solve them together as Americans.

And we will be ill-served by some of the fear-mongering that emerges whenever we discuss this issue. Listening to the recent debate, I've heard words that are calculated to scare people rather than educate them; words that have more to do with politics than protecting our country. So I want to take this opportunity to lay out what we are doing, and how we intend to resolve these outstanding issues. I will explain how each action that we are taking will help build a framework that protects both the American people and the values that we hold dear. And I will focus on two broad areas: first, issues relating to Guantanamo and our detention policy; second, issues relating to security and transparency.

Let me begin by disposing of one argument as plainly as I can: we are not going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security, nor will we release detainees within the United States who endanger the American people. Where demanded by justice and national security, we will seek to transfer some detainees to the same type of facilities in which we hold all manner of dangerous and violent criminals within our borders - highly secure prisons that ensure the public safety. As we make these decisions, bear in mind the following fact: nobody has ever escaped from one of our federal "supermax" prisons, which hold hundreds of convicted terrorists. As Senator Lindsey Graham said: "The idea that we cannot find a place to securely house 250-plus detainees within the United States is not rational."

We are currently in the process of reviewing each of the detainee cases at Guantanamo to determine the appropriate policy for dealing with them. As we do so, we are acutely aware that under the last Administration, detainees were released only to return to the battlefield. That is why we are doing away with the poorly planned, haphazard approach that let those detainees go in the past. Instead, we are treating these cases with the care and attention that the law requires and our security demands. Going forward, these cases will fall into five distinct categories.

First, when feasible, we will try those who have violated American criminal laws in federal courts - courts provided for by the United States Constitution. Some have derided our federal courts as incapable of handling the trials of terrorists. They are wrong. Our courts and juries of our citizens are tough enough to convict terrorists, and the record makes that clear. Ramzi Yousef tried to blow up the World Trade Center - he was convicted in our courts, and is serving a life sentence in U.S. prison. Zaccarias Moussaoui has been identified as the 20th 9/11 hijacker - he was convicted in our courts, and he too is serving a life sentence in prison. If we can try those terrorists in our courts and hold them in our prisons, then we can do the same with detainees from Guantanamo.

Recently, we prosecuted and received a guilty plea from a detainee - al-Marri - in federal court after years of legal confusion. We are preparing to transfer another detainee to the Southern District of New York, where he will face trial on charges related to the 1998 bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania - bombings that killed over 200 people. Preventing this detainee from coming to our shores would prevent his trial and conviction. And after over a decade, it is time to finally see that justice is served, and that is what we intend to do.

The second category of cases involves detainees who violate the laws of war and are best tried through Military Commissions. Military commissions have a history in the United States dating back to George Washington and the Revolutionary War. They are an appropriate venue for trying detainees for violations of the laws of war. They allow for the protection of sensitive sources and methods of intelligence-gathering; for the safety and security of participants; and for the presentation of evidence gathered from the battlefield that cannot be effectively presented in federal Courts.

Now, some have suggested that this represents a reversal on my part. They are wrong. In 2006, I did strongly oppose legislation proposed by the Bush Administration and passed by the Congress because it failed to establish a legitimate legal framework, with the kind of meaningful due process and rights for the accused that could stand up on appeal. I did, however, support the use of military commissions to try detainees, provided there were several reforms. And those are the reforms that we are making.

Instead of using the flawed Commissions of the last seven years, my Administration is bringing our Commissions in line with the rule of law. The rule will no longer permit us to use as evidence statements that have been obtained using cruel, inhuman, or degrading interrogation methods. We will no longer place the burden to prove that hearsay is unreliable on the opponent of the hearsay. And we will give detainees greater latitude in selecting their own counsel, and more protections if they refuse to testify. These reforms - among others - will make our Military Commissions a more credible and effective means of administering justice, and I will work with Congress and legal authorities across the political spectrum on legislation to ensure that these Commissions are fair, legitimate, and effective.

The third category of detainees includes those who we have been ordered released by the courts. Let me repeat what I said earlier: this has absolutely nothing to do with my decision to close Guantanamo. It has to do with the rule of law. The courts have found that there is no legitimate reason to hold twenty-one of the people currently held at Guantanamo. Twenty of these findings took place before I came into office. The United States is a nation of laws, and we must abide by these rulings.

The fourth category of cases involves detainees who we have determined can be transferred safely to another country. So far, our review team has approved fifty detainees for transfer. And my Administration is in ongoing discussions with a number of other countries about the transfer of detainees to their soil for detention and rehabilitation.

Finally, there remains the question of detainees at Guantanamo who cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people.

I want to be honest: this is the toughest issue we will face. We are going to exhaust every avenue that we have to prosecute those at Guantanamo who pose a danger to our country. But even when this process is complete, there may be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States. Examples of that threat include people who have received extensive explosives training at al Qaeda training camps, commanded Taliban troops in battle, expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden, or otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans. These are people who, in effect, remain at war with the United States.

As I said, I am not going to release individuals who endanger the American people. Al Qaeda terrorists and their affiliates are at war with the United States, and those that we capture - like other prisoners of war - must be prevented from attacking us again. However, we must recognize that these detention policies cannot be unbounded. That is why my Administration has begun to reshape these standards to ensure they are in line with the rule of law. We must have clear, defensible and lawful standards for those who fall in this category. We must have fair procedures so that we don't make mistakes. We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified.

I know that creating such a system poses unique challenges. Other countries have grappled with this question, and so must we. But I want to be very clear that our goal is to construct a legitimate legal framework for Guantanamo detainees - not to avoid one. In our constitutional system, prolonged detention should not be the decision of any one man. If and when we determine that the United States must hold individuals to keep them from carrying out an act of war, we will do so within a system that involves judicial and congressional oversight. And so going forward, my Administration will work with Congress to develop an appropriate legal regime so that our efforts are consistent with our values and our Constitution.

As our efforts to close Guantanamo move forward, I know that the politics in Congress will be difficult. These issues are fodder for 30-second commercials and direct mail pieces that are designed to frighten. I get it. But if we continue to make decisions from within a climate of fear, we will make more mistakes. And if we refuse to deal with these issues today, then I guarantee you that they will be an albatross around our efforts to combat terrorism in the future. I have confidence that the American people are more interested in doing what is right to protect this country than in political posturing. I am not the only person in this city who swore an oath to uphold the Constitution - so did each and every member of Congress. Together we have a responsibility to enlist our values in the effort to secure our people, and to leave behind the legacy that makes it easier for future Presidents to keep this country safe.

The second set of issues that I want to discuss relates to security and transparency.

National security requires a delicate balance. Our democracy depends upon transparency, but some information must be protected from public disclosure for the sake of our security - for instance, the movements of our troops; our intelligence-gathering; or the information we have about a terrorist organization and its affiliates. In these and other cases, lives are at stake.

Several weeks ago, as part of an ongoing court case, I released memos issued by the previous Administration's Office of Legal Counsel. I did not do this because I disagreed with the enhanced interrogation techniques that those memos authorized, or because I reject their legal rationale - although I do on both counts. I released the memos because the existence of that approach to interrogation was already widely known, the Bush Administration had acknowledged its existence, and I had already banned those methods. The argument that somehow by releasing those memos, we are providing terrorists with information about how they will be interrogated is unfounded - we will not be interrogating terrorists using that approach, because that approach is now prohibited.

In short, I released these memos because there was no overriding reason to protect them. And the ensuing debate has helped the American people better understand how these interrogation methods came to be authorized and used.

On the other hand, I recently opposed the release of certain photographs that were taken of detainees by U.S. personnel between 2002 and 2004. Individuals who violated standards of behavior in these photos have been investigated and held accountable. There is no debate as to whether what is reflected in those photos is wrong, and nothing has been concealed to absolve perpetrators of crimes. However, it was my judgment - informed by my national security team - that releasing these photos would inflame anti-American opinion, and allow our enemies to paint U.S. troops with a broad, damning and inaccurate brush, endangering them in theaters of war.

In short, there is a clear and compelling reason to not release these particular photos. There are nearly 200,000 Americans who are serving in harm's way, and I have a solemn responsibility for their safety as Commander-in-Chief. Nothing would be gained by the release of these photos that matters more than the lives of our young men and women serving in harm's way.

In each of these cases, I had to strike the right balance between transparency and national security. This balance brings with it a precious responsibility. And there is no doubt that the American people have seen this balance tested. In the images from Abu Ghraib and the brutal interrogation techniques made public long before I was President, the American people learned of actions taken in their name that bear no resemblance to the ideals that generations of Americans have fought for. And whether it was the run-up to the Iraq War or the revelation of secret programs, Americans often felt like part of the story had been unnecessarily withheld from them. That causes suspicion to build up. That leads to a thirst for accountability.

I ran for President promising transparency, and I meant what I said. That is why, whenever possible, we will make information available to the American people so that they can make informed judgments and hold us accountable. But I have never argued - and never will - that our most sensitive national security matters should be an open book. I will never abandon - and I will vigorously defend - the necessity of classification to defend our troops at war; to protect sources and methods; and to safeguard confidential actions that keep the American people safe. And so, whenever we cannot release certain information to the public for valid national security reasons, I will insist that there is oversight of my actions - by Congress or by the courts.

We are launching a review of current policies by all of those agencies responsible for the classification of documents to determine where reforms are possible, and to assure that the other branches of government will be in a position to review executive branch decisions on these matters. Because in our system of checks and balances, someone must always watch over the watchers - especially when it comes to sensitive information.

Along those same lines, my Administration is also confronting challenges to what is known as the "State Secrets" privilege. This is a doctrine that allows the government to challenge legal cases involving secret programs. It has been used by many past Presidents - Republican and Democrat - for many decades. And while this principle is absolutely necessary to protect national security, I am concerned that it has been over-used. We must not protect information merely because it reveals the violation of a law or embarrasses the government. That is why my Administration is nearing completion of a thorough review of this practice.

We plan to embrace several principles for reform. We will apply a stricter legal test to material that can be protected under the State Secrets privilege. We will not assert the privilege in court without first following a formal process, including review by a Justice Department committee and the personal approval of the Attorney General. Finally, each year we will voluntarily report to Congress when we have invoked the privilege and why, because there must be proper oversight of our actions.

On all of these matter related to the disclosure of sensitive information, I wish I could say that there is a simple formula. But there is not. These are tough calls involving competing concerns, and they require a surgical approach. But the common thread that runs through all of my decisions is simple: we will safeguard what we must to protect the American people, but we will also ensure the accountability and oversight that is the hallmark of our constitutional system. I will never hide the truth because it is uncomfortable. I will deal with Congress and the courts as co-equal branches of government. I will tell the American people what I know and don't know, and when I release something publicly or keep something secret, I will tell you why.

In all of the areas that I have discussed today, the policies that I have proposed represent a new direction from the last eight years. To protect the American people and our values, we have banned enhanced interrogation techniques. We are closing the prison at Guantanamo. We are reforming Military Commissions, and we will pursue a new legal regime to detain terrorists. We are declassifying more information and embracing more oversight of our actions, and narrowing our use of the State Secrets privilege. These are dramatic changes that will put our approach to national security on a surer, safer and more sustainable footing, and their implementation will take time.

There is a core principle that we will apply to all of our actions: even as we clean up the mess at Guantanamo, we will constantly re-evaluate our approach, subject our decisions to review from the other branches of government, and seek the strongest and most sustainable legal framework for addressing these issues in the long-term. By doing that, we can leave behind a legacy that outlasts my Administration, and that endures for the next President and the President after that; a legacy that protects the American people, and enjoys broad legitimacy at home and abroad.

That is what I mean when I say that we need to focus on the future. I recognize that many still have a strong desire to focus on the past. When it comes to the actions of the last eight years, some Americans are angry; others want to re-fight debates that have been settled, most clearly at the ballot box in November. And I know that these debates lead directly to a call for a fuller accounting, perhaps through an Independent Commission.

I have opposed the creation of such a Commission because I believe that our existing democratic institutions are strong enough to deliver accountability. The Congress can review abuses of our values, and there are ongoing inquiries by the Congress into matters like enhanced interrogation techniques. The Department of Justice and our courts can work through and punish any violations of our laws.

I understand that it is no secret that there is a tendency in Washington to spend our time pointing fingers at one another. And our media culture feeds the impulses that lead to a good fight. Nothing will contribute more to that than an extended re-litigation of the last eight years. Already, we have seen how that kind of effort only leads those in Washington to different sides laying blame, and can distract us from focusing our time, our effort, and our politics on the challenges of the future.

We see that, above all, in how the recent debate has been obscured by two opposite and absolutist ends. On one side of the spectrum, there are those who make little allowance for the unique challenges posed by terrorism, and who would almost never put national security over transparency. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who embrace a view that can be summarized in two words: "anything goes." Their arguments suggest that the ends of fighting terrorism can be used to justify any means, and that the President should have blanket authority to do whatever he wants - provided that it is a President with whom they agree.

Both sides may be sincere in their views, but neither side is right. The American people are not absolutist, and they don't elect us to impose a rigid ideology on our problems. They know that we need not sacrifice our security for our values, nor sacrifice our values for our security, so long as we approach difficult questions with honesty, and care, and a dose of common sense. That, after all, is the unique genius of America. That is the challenge laid down by our Constitution. That has been the source of our strength through the ages. That is what makes the United States of America different as a nation.

I can stand here today, as President of the United States, and say without exception or equivocation that we do not torture, and that we will vigorously protect our people while forging a strong and durable framework that allows us to fight terrorism while abiding by the rule of law. Make no mistake: if we fail to turn the page on the approach that was taken over the past several years, then I will not be able to say that as President. And if we cannot stand for those core values, then we are not keeping faith with the documents that are enshrined in this hall.

The Framers who drafted the Constitution could not have foreseen the challenges that have unfolded over the last two hundred and twenty two years. But our Constitution has endured through secession and civil rights - through World War and Cold War - because it provides a foundation of principles that can be applied pragmatically; it provides a compass that can help us find our way. It hasn't always been easy. We are an imperfect people. Every now and then, there are those who think that America's safety and success requires us to walk away from the sacred principles enshrined in this building. We hear such voices today. But the American people have resisted that temptation. And though we have made our share of mistakes and course corrections, we have held fast to the principles that have been the source of our strength, and a beacon to the world.

Now, this generation faces a great test in the specter of terrorism. Unlike the Civil War or World War II, we cannot count on a surrender ceremony to bring this journey to an end. Right now, in distant training camps and in crowded cities, there are people plotting to take American lives. That will be the case a year from now, five years from now, and - in all probability - ten years from now. Neither I nor anyone else can standing here today can say that there will not be another terrorist attack that takes American lives. But I can say with certainty that my Administration - along with our extraordinary troops and the patriotic men and women who defend our national security - will do everything in our power to keep the American people safe. And I do know with certainty that we can defeat al Qaeda. Because the terrorists can only succeed if they swell their ranks and alienate America from our allies, and they will never be able to do that if we stay true to who we are; if we forge tough and durable approaches to fighting terrorism that are anchored in our timeless ideals.

This must be our common purpose. I ran for President because I believe that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together. We will not be safe if we see national security as a wedge that divides America - it can and must be a cause that unites us as one people, as one nation. We have done so before in times that were more perilous than ours. We will do so once again. Thank you, God Bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


My problem is that when things drive me crazy I feel like writing. Just pacing around and seething feels unhealthy. Ranting to my wife, while, like certain other things, feels better than handling it myself, is a little like spousal abuse. So I write. But at the same time (I've liked that phrase since hearing Lou Pinella say it in about every interview, when he was manager of the Mariners, and before and after), I know it's an entirely useless bit of self-indulgence which matters not a whit in the larger order of things. Were this stuff to wash over me like a wave, I'd be happier; of that there's no doubt. (Great video in that last link, by the way.) I've tried ignoring it, I've tried just not writing; nothing really works. I'm pretty sure the healthiest option would be to push an icepick up my nose eye socket and lobotomize myself (that's how it was done, originally, if you didn't know).

Among the latest ladling of idiocy is the vacuous and disingenuous hyperbole in Congress over the idea of "releasing" terrorists from Guantanamo into the US. What, they're gonna sneak them into your town in a van with its lights off, open the door, boot 'em out, and drive away under cover of darkness? And, y'know, if the ACLU has anything to do with it, they'll be given US passports, guns, and ammo. If the revolt had started with the Dems, you'd expect the Repubs would be claiming they're dissing the loyal prison workers who've managed to keep all sorts of terrible people wrapped up in high-security facilities. (And whadya know, just after writing that sentence, I see this, while searching for a quote on another subject I'd seen earlier.)

Of course we've all come to expect this sort of nonsense from Congressional Republicans and the RWS™. There's no level of stupidity below which they won't sink. But now it's Harry Reid, too. What a waste of skin and bone he is. How frustrating must it be for President Obama to know when he deals with these people he's the only adult in the room.

It's beyond parody. It's mortally depressing. And these guys are writing laws!

Like the credit card one, into which Tom Coburn inserted an amendment allowing visitors to bring concealed and loaded weapons into national parks. (How long before some drunk camper kills a guy in the next tent because he thought he was a bear?) Do Republicans really approve credit card protections only when there are Sams in Yosemite? More importantly, why do lawmakers get to decorate bills with entirely unrelated pet projects? And will Obama find no way around it?

So you see my problem. There's an endless stream of stupidity coming from Washington at a time when intelligence is most needed, impossible to ignore. I'm trying to make something out of the tail end of my life, wanting to have a little pleasure as the sun sets, a measure of security, the ability to stop worrying whether I'll even have a future, let alone be able to afford it. Much as I'd love to, I can't turn it off. And given the certainty that there's nothing meaningful I can do about it at this point, I find myself drawn back to writing, even as I know it's a waste of time. Ever since English 1-2 at Amherst, I've found that writing clarifies and crystallizes; it's inseparable from thinking. And even if it's like "Spirit," the poor old Mars rover, well past its time of usefulness, spinning its wheels in sand, I guess I'm doomed to continue. For now. It's not as if there's not plenty of substrate.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Posted Without Comment

"Ronald Reagan never lived in the past. Ronald Reagan was all about the future. If President Reagan were here today he would have no patience for Americans who looked backward."

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I Believe In Dog

Count me a major dog-lover. Growing up I always had one; now it's my son's luguvalab that gets my full affection. Anyhow, it's no surprise to me or to anyone who loves dogs that a study reveals the depth of their emotions, and their moral life. From a sidebar to the article:

RESEARCHER Marc Bekoff says there's a long list of observable emotional and ethical behavior of dogs. It will seem familiar to most people who have dogs:

• Dogs have a sense of fair play. They dislike cheaters. They experience joy in play. They delight in friends. Big dogs handicap themselves in games with little dogs.

• Dogs get jealous when a rival gets more or better treats or treatment. They are resentful, unnerved or saddened by unfair behavior. They are made anxious by suspense. They get afraid.

• They are embarrassed when they mess up or do something clumsy. They feel remorse or regret when they do something wrong. They seek justice. They remember the bad things done to them, but sometimes choose to forgive.

• Dogs have affection and compassion for their animal and human friends and family. They defend loved ones. They grieve their losses. They have hope.
They also laugh, evidently. Read the article.

I suppose some of this accounts for the unique relationship people have with dogs. Cats are admirable, of course, and provide companionship of a sort, and entertainment. But I'm guessing even those who think cats are way cooler than I do would agree their social skills leave something to be desired; not much on the above list applies. I say this as a person who tolerated the presence of a cat for fourteen recent years, and even got to like the little bastard and to enjoy (somewhat) the daily struggle for ownership of my recliner.

But here's the reason I mention it: among the most common arguments of theists is that you can't have morality or ethics absent belief in god or gods of some sort. How do you know right from wrong, they ask. And I've always answered that it's pretty obvious that there are behaviors that promote safety and community, both of which have clear evolutionary advantages. We are good to one another (except when, often under the influence of religious fervor, we're not) because it makes sense to do so, independent of belief in gods or heavenly reward or hellish punishment. That dogs exhibit "moral" behavior is, in my mind, confirmatory.

I grew up in the time before leash laws. Like everyone else in our neighborhood we let our dogs roam free. It could be that when they were absent from view they might have been gathering together to pray.

But I doubt it.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Yet Another Nail

As we witness the continuing spectacle of Dick Cheney polluting the airways while being fawned over by the usual RWS™ and their enablers, it's well to remember how wrong he and the president he controlled were on everything Iraq. From the costs, the time requirements, the liberator-greetings, to the idea of installing Ahmed Chalabi, the failings of the US citizen-rulers, the resistance to holding elections and to the writing of a constitution (how quickly we forget), it's pretty damning. And now, there's this:

In an eye-opening article in Vanity Fair, the one remaining feather in a rotting headdress is taken away, leaving mere smoke. There's nothing those guys said or did that was right. The "working," as in "the surge is working," could have happened years before it did. It's generally understood by all but the most idiotic that the real reason the "surge" worked is that the Sunni tribal leaders agreed to put down their arms: the so-called Sunni awakening. What the article says is that they offered to do so years earlier, the officers on the ground supported it, and the Bush administration rejected it.

After the Awakening, the Sunnis helped obliterate al-Qaeda’s networks in most of Sunni Iraq, a development that many believe did more to dampen the violence than the subsequent “surge” in American troop numbers. Having reached a peak in 2006 and early 2007, the casualty rates for combatants and civilians quickly plummeted.

What the history books should also record, revealed here for the first time, is that the Sunni insurgents had offered to come to terms with the Americans 30 months earlier, in the summer of 2004, during secret talks with senior U.S. officials and military commanders....

...For a variety of reasons, some of them petty, some of them ideological, and some of them still obscure, these men were blocked by superiors in the State Department, the Pentagon, and the White House.
The article includes this quote from a Jerry Jones, then special assistant to Rumsfeld:

“From July ’04 to mid-’07,” he points out, “you can directly attribute almost all those K.I.A. [killed in action] in the Sunni regions of Iraq to this fatal error, and if we hadn’t been fighting the Sunni, we’d have had a lot more resources for dealing with Shia militia leaders like Moqtada al-Sadr in places such as Baghdad. It didn’t have to happen. Those lives did not have to be lost.”
This is pretty strong stuff. And yet, like some sort of undead wraith wailing from a grave he refuses to occupy, Cheney is still out there, criticizing everything Obama, defending everything he did: the indefensible. The demonstrably failed. Worse, he's still given a platform, still given credence. And in Congress, his defenders and apologists do everything they can to block the changes we need, and the people who intend to carry them out.

As difficult are the challenges we face, we shouldn't have to be wasting time arguing over the obvious.

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