Archive for the ‘US Politics’ Category

The Rage Is Not About Health Care

March 28, 2010

It was obvious to me, and to most people I know, that the rage we’ve witnessed since Obama won the Democratic nomination in 2008, was a symptom of the profound societal changes our country is going through rather than a reaction to any specific political issue. I am talking about the fact that we will soon be in a situation where white Anglo-Saxons will represent less than 50% of the population for the first time in this nation’s history.

I was surprised that no preeminent columnist and/or political analyst dared to clearly frame the situation in those terms. New-York Times Frank Rich seizes the opportunity of the completely irrational reactions to the passing of Health Care Reform legislation to put them into a broader context:

That a tsunami of anger is gathering today is illogical, given that what the right calls “Obamacare” is less provocative than either the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or Medicare, an epic entitlement that actually did precipitate a government takeover of a sizable chunk of American health care. But the explanation is plain: the health care bill is not the main source of this anger and never has been. It’s merely a handy excuse. The real source of the over-the-top rage of 2010 is the same kind of national existential reordering that roiled America in 1964.

In fact, the current surge of anger — and the accompanying rise in right-wing extremism — predates the entire health care debate. The first signs were the shrieks of “traitor” and “off with his head” at Palin rallies as Obama’s election became more likely in October 2008. Those passions have spiraled ever since — from Gov. Rick Perry’s kowtowing to secessionists at a Tea Party rally in Texas to the gratuitous brandishing of assault weapons at Obama health care rallies last summer to “You lie!” piercing the president’s address to Congress last fall like an ominous shot.

If Obama’s first legislative priority had been immigration or financial reform or climate change, we would have seen the same trajectory. The conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House — topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay Congressional committee chairman — would sow fears of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country no matter what policies were in play. It’s not happenstance that Frank, Lewis and Cleaver — none of them major Democratic players in the health care push — received a major share of last weekend’s abuse. When you hear demonstrators chant the slogan “Take our country back!,” these are the people they want to take the country back from.

They can’t. Demographics are avatars of a change bigger than any bill contemplated by Obama or Congress. The week before the health care vote, The Times reported that births to Asian, black and Hispanic women accounted for 48 percent of all births in America in the 12 months ending in July 2008. By 2012, the next presidential election year, non-Hispanic white births will be in the minority. The Tea Party movement is virtually all white. The Republicans haven’t had a single African-American in the Senate or the House since 2003 and have had only three in total since 1935. Their anxieties about a rapidly changing America are well-grounded.

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Great Man With a Huge Sense of Humor

March 25, 2010

Here’s what Gen. David Petraeus had to say on Wednesday during a press conference prior to a scheduled speech at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, on speculation that he might be run for president:

“I thought I’d said no about as many ways as I could. I really do mean no. We have all these artful ways of doing it. I’ve tried Shermanesque responses, which everybody goes and finds out what Sherman said was pretty unequivocally no. I’ve done several different ways. I’ve tried quoting the country song, ‘What Part of No Don’t You Understand?’ I mean, I really do mean that. I feel very privileged to be able to serve our country. I’m honored to continue to do that as long as I can contribute, but I will not, ever, run for political office, I can assure you. And again, we have said that repeatedly and I’m hoping that people realize at a certain point you say it so many times that you could never flip, and start your career by flip-flopping into it.”

It must be nerve wrecking for someone as no-nonsense as Gen. David Petraeus to be constantly asked this same stupid question by the punditocracy.

Conservative lawyers criticize attacks on DOJ lawyers

March 8, 2010

Bill Kristol just launched a pre-emptive assault on a statement criticizing his and Liz Cheney’s group, Keep America Safe, which bears the signature of Brookings’ Ben Wittes, a prominent lawyer who’s typically a Cheney ally.

Ben Smith at Politico obtained a copy of the statement:

The past several days have seen a shameful series of attacks on attorneys in the Department of Justice who, in previous legal practice, either represented Guantanamo detainees or advocated for changes to detention policy. As attorneys, former officials, and policy specialists who have worked on detention issues, we consider these attacks both unjust to the individuals in question and destructive of any attempt to build lasting mechanisms for counterterrorism adjudications.

The American tradition of zealous representation of unpopular clients is at least as old as John Adams’ representation of the British soldiers charged in the Boston massacre. People come to serve in the Justice Department with a diverse array of prior private clients; that is one of the department’s strengths. The War on Terror raised any number of novel legal questions, which collectively created a significant role in judicial, executive and legislative forums alike for honorable advocacy on behalf of detainees. In several key cases, detainee advocates prevailed before the Supreme Court. To suggest that the Justice Department should not employ talented lawyers who have advocated on behalf of detainees maligns the patriotism of people who have taken honorable positions on contested questions and demands a uniformity of background and view in government service from which no administration would benefit.

Such attacks also undermine the Justice system more broadly. In terrorism detentions and trials alike, defense lawyers are playing, and will continue to play, a key role. Whether one believes in trial by military commission or in federal court, detainees will have access to counsel. Guantanamo detainees likewise have access to lawyers for purposes of habeas review, and the reach of that habeas corpus could eventually extend beyond this population. Good defense counsel is thus key to ensuring that military commissions, federal juries, and federal judges have access to the best arguments and most rigorous factual presentations before making crucial decisions that affect both national security and paramount liberty interests. To delegitimize the role detainee counsel play is to demand adjudications and policymaking stripped of a full record. Whatever systems America develops to handle difficult detention questions will rely, at least some of the time, on an aggressive defense bar; those who take up that function do a service to the system.

* *

* *

*Benjamin Wittes*
·Senior Fellow and Research Director in Public Law, The Brookings Institution

*Robert Chesney*
Charles I. Francis Professor in Law, University of Texas School of Law
Nonresident, Senior Fellow, Governance Studies, The Brookings Institution

*Matthew Waxman*
Associate Professor, Columbia Law School
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs

*David Rivkin*
Partner, Washington, D.C. Office, Baker Hostetler, L.L.P.
Former Deputy Director, Office of Policy Development, Department of Justice, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush Administrations
Former Associate General Counsel, Department of Energy

*Philip Bobbitt*
Herbert Wechsler Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the Center for National Security, Columbia Law School

*Peter Keisler*
Former Assistant Attorney General, Civil Division
Former Acting Attorney General, Department of Justice

Talking About Activist Judges

January 22, 2010

The Supreme Court’s conservative majority re-wrote the Constitution to give corporations — never mentioned in the Constitution — the same right to influence the electoral process as ‘We the People.’ As the NYT’s Adam Liptak explains,

Sweeping aside a century-old understanding and overruling two important precedents, a bitterly divided Supreme Court … ruled that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections.

The justices did what many, on both sides of the aisle, feared for months it would do: hold that long-standing restrictions on corporate campaign spending violate the First Amendment.

The five opinions in Thursday’s decision ran to more than 180 pages, with Justice John Paul Stevens contributing a passionate 90-page dissent. In sometimes halting fashion, he summarized it for some 20 minutes from the bench on Thursday morning.

Joined by the other three members of the court’s liberal wing, Justice Stevens said the majority had committed a grave error in treating corporate speech the same as that of human beings.

The only (tiny) silver lining is that the ruling leaves the door open for legislative measures to push back against excessive influence of corporate funding:

Eight of the justices did agree that Congress can require corporations to disclose their spending and to run disclaimers with their advertisements, at least in the absence of proof of threats or reprisals. “Disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way,” Justice Kennedy wrote. Justice Clarence Thomas dissented on this point.

Prop 8 Was a Front Organization for Religious Groups

January 21, 2010

The transcripts for the Prop 8 trial are now online. Brian Moulton looks over the documents and finds clear evidence that not only were some churches very involved, but they tried to hide their involvement:

Perhaps the most interesting evidence presented so far were documents that detailed the coordination involved between the Catholic and Mormon churches and the Yes on 8 campaign. A letter from the Yes side’s leader thanked the Catholics for their “unusual” support and the Mormons for their “financial, organizational, and managerial contributions.” The Courage Campaign quotes a document between the Yes campaign and the LDS church as saying, the church will “… not to take the lead so as to provide plausible deniability or respectable distance so as not to show that church is directly involved.”

“Plausible deniability”. In other words, Prop 8 was a front organization for religious groups to strip others of their civil rights on doctrinal grounds. And it was governed by a Big Lie, which is odd for a church to endorse, don’t you think?

Goldman’s Cayman Casino

January 13, 2010

The Real News Network interviews McClatchy’s Greg Gordon about Goldman Sachs’ complicated offshore transactions in the Cayman Islands.

Keep Politcs Out of Terrorism Fight Ctd

January 10, 2010

Another commentary railing against the politicization of the fight against terrorism. This time from The Kansas City Star’s Mary Sanchez:

Sure, the young Nigerian failed to blow up that Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day. His mission foundered on his own bumbling and the quick action of crew and passengers in tamping the flames.

But considered from another perspective, he hit the bulls-eye. Killing people, by whatever means, is just the terrorist’s method. The goal is to disrupt, to strike fear, to sew discord among the enemy. And listen to us now, so willing to oblige.

Fed Delayed Disclosure of Controversial AIG Payout

January 10, 2010

McClatchy Newspapers’ Greg Gordon reports:

Emails between the Fed and AIG made public Thursday reveal a months-long disagreement over how much the public should be told about what ultimately became a back-door bailout of AIG by taxpayers.

One series of emails describes how a lawyer for the Fed scratched out language from a regulatory filing prepared by AIG saying it had paid “100 percent of the par value” to satisfy the exotic bets, called credit-default swaps.

The payments, including $13.9 billion to Wall Street behemoth Goldman Sachs, have been a flashpoint for controversy. A special inspector general tracking the use of bailout money recently criticized the New York Fed for overriding AIG’s attempts to settle the swaps for lesser sums.

What strikes me here is not only that the taxpayer was kept in the dark, but also that AIG was forced to pay it’s credit default swaps to banks in full without negotiating. In other words, it was a stealth bank bailout.

Accountability Deficit

January 9, 2010

Bill Moyers talks with MOTHER JONES journalists David Corn and Kevin Drum who offer a hard look at the obstacles to real reform of the financial industry.

MOTHER JONES’ special report on the nexus between Wall Street and Congress is very much worth the reading:

MAYBE WALL STREET should open a casino right there on the corner of Broad, because these guys simply cannot lose. After kneecapping the global economy, costing millions their homes and livelihoods, and saddling our grandchildren with massive debt—after all that, they’re cashing in their bonuses from 2008. That’s right, 2008—when amid the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over the $700 billion TARP legislation (a mere 5 percent of a $14 trillion bailout; see “The Real Size of the Bailout”), humiliated banks rolled back executive bonuses. Or so we thought: In fact, those bonuses were simply reconfigured to have a higher proportion of company stock. Those shares weren’t worth so much at the time, as the execs made a point of telling Congress, but that meant they could only go up, and by the time they did, the public (suckers!) would have forgotten the whole exercise. It worked out beautifully: The value of JPMorgan Chase’s 2008 bonuses has increased 20 percent to $10.5 billion, an average of nearly $6 million for the top 200 execs. Goldman’s 2008 bonuses are worth $7.8 billion.

They make an important point. Namely that, as citizens, our means for action is Congress. I.e. the only thing politicians need more than money is votes, and that is where the heat might well come from:

So is Wall Street in the clear? Just a few new regulations here and there, and then it’s game on? The pollsters I consulted agreed that anyone tracking popular anger in the coming months should be watching not the Dow but the unemployment numbers. Anger prompted by joblessness will focus on politicians, not hedge fund managers. Which means that if politicians let Wall Street get away with shenanigans that kill jobs, they could end up paying for it with their careers. “Wall Street has probably weathered the worst,” Rep. Sherman says ruefully. “And Washington has not faced the worst.”

As they point out in the interview, even the Wall Street Journal reports that there is Much Talk, But Little Changed on Wall Street

Keep politics out of terrorism fight

January 8, 2010

The Miami Herald’s Leonard Pitts Jr. seems to share my disgust at the politicization of the Christmas Bomber:

Just as a factual matter, it’s difficult to see how the GOP can carry off this argument with a straight face. If Abdulmutallab’s bungled attempt to blow up a jetliner on President Obama’s watch proves Democrats are soft on terrorism, it stands to reason that Richard Reid’s bungled attempt to blow up a jetliner on President Bush’s watch proves the same about Republicans. I’m just sayin’.

So polarized has our leadership become that it is incapable of seeing in any dimension beyond the political. When attempted mass murder is seen as an “opportunity” on the one side and a signal to circle the wagons on the other, one can only conclude that for some, partisanship literally matters more than life itself.

I know what you’re thinking and for the record, yes: I did indeed make this same argument — repeatedly — when Democrats tried to use 9/11 to damage George W. Bush.