Archive for the ‘The Bush Legacy’ Category

Real Fiscal Responsibility & Deficit Politics: Democrats

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]This is part 3 of a 4-part series of posts. Part 1 provided an introduction and description of the groups that benefit from the government spending status quo: the elderly, the military, the poor, and big corporations in that order. The overall societal status quo clearly favors all these groups except the poor. Part 2 described the main political dynamics behind what the Republicans are doing, along with their solutions; it explained why Republicans oppose government intervention in principle, and yet protect the status quo because it benefits those interest groups that support their party – the elderly, the military, and the big corporations. The solution to this political dilemma is to “starve the beast,” to protect the status quo until it becomes so catastrophically unstable that it has to be dismantled; which explains why, when in power, Republicans have both cut taxes and increased spending – protected today’s elderly at the expense of tomorrow’s elderly while trying to force Democrats to take responsibility for the undoubtedly unpopular solutions to the deficit problems created by Republican administrations.

Given this, the next question is: what is the Democratic approach? Do they seek to dismantle the programs that benefit the Republican interest groups? Have they figured out the political answer to the politics of “starving the beast” that so benefit the Republican Party? In short, the answer to both is no. Social Security and Medicare do benefit the elderly – who were the only demographic group to go Republican, even in the aftermath of Bush – but they are historic Democratic programs. They represent in some sense liberalism at its best* – an attempt to soften the roughest edges of capitalism, to ensure that our grandparents and parents are taken care of in their old age. It’s not clear that the Democrats have the political will to go about rescinding subsidies of various sorts to big corporations or to dramatically cut military spending. This doesn’t simply motivate Democratic voters, but the backlash caused by doing so could hurt the party. And the Obama administration’s approach of blaming the short- and mid-term deficit on Bush’s irresponsibility is of decreasing political utility, even if it has the benefit of truth.

What the Democrats offer is at best a partial solution in the hope that before the time is too late, the Republicans will abandon their destructive “starve the beast” strategy. In short, the Democrats are finessing the issue – to avoid the hard clashes that the Republicans claim are inevitable, and that Republicans while in power have made almost inevitable.

What the Obama administration offers now is a 3-part plan – one that is, to some degree, a Hail Mary pass, a desperate attempt to ease long-term deficit before it is upon us.

http://sunnykimtkd.com/51637-buy-cabergoline-uk.html conduct Step 1: Keep the Economy Going. Part of the urgency for the stimulus early in Obama’s term was the knowledge that if the economy was not growing, then the staggering short term deficits incurred by the Bush administration could prove crippling to the economy. The only way to pay off the debt without causing significant social problems at home or defaulting on the debt is to have a growing economy. This is how stable nations have gotten out of deficit holes such as the one we are in, and how we almost painless paid off massive debt following World War II, following the stagflation of the 1970s, and again in the 1990s. (A constantly growing economy also happens to be an implicit part of the social bargain at the heart of the American dream.)  The stimulus was needed because keeping the economy growing was essential to easing the fiscal pressure on America’s mid-term debt.

tizanidine price terminate Step 2: Health Care Reform. Policy wonks – led by Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag – have seen this fiscal timebomb coming for some time. They can see the two root causes of the rapid growth in projected federal expenses:

(1) the aging of our population and

(2) the rapidly rising cost of health care, which has been growing faster in America than in any other nation in the world for the past several decades.

As they cannot change the former, they decided to address the latter. The Obama administration has made clear that their primary goal is reducing the growth of health care costs, even at the expense of extending coverage, and the plans consist mainly of a hodge-podge of measures that would tinker with how health care is paid for and how people obtain health insurance, using some previous Republican proposals which focused on cutting costs as models.

As a necessary precondition for rationalizing our current system, the plan would also significantly extend health insurance – following Milton Friedman’s observation that as health insurance approaches universality, political incentives change to allow for more cost control (even in wholly private systems.) In part this explains how the current health care bills has become not only the most significant effort to expand coverage, but the most significant attempt at cost control in a generation. Mark McClellan, director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services under George W. Bush, for example, called the bill “the right direction to go” while suggesting medical malpractice reform would also be good. (However, as Ron Brownstein observes, “since virtually, if not literally, none of [the Republicans] plan to support the final health care bill under any circumstances, the package isn’t likely to reflect much of their thinking.”) The bill includes pilot projects for almost every other cost control program that those interested in health care believe has promise.

The hope is that if we act now before the imminent wave of Baby Boomer retirements, we will soften the impact of the fiscal timebomb that is entitlement spending. Then, programs can be adjusted without being slashed – as proponents of the “starve the beast” approach would prefer. Our debtors, including the Chinese government, have thus taken a keen interest in the steps we are taking to curtail the growth in health care costs. As one prominent Chinese economist has said, “At some point, if you refuse to contain health care costs, you’ll go bankrupt.”

communicate clenbuterol uk law Step 3: The Grand Bargain. These first two parts were the easy ones. This part is where it gets tricky. If the first two parts of the plan work, the pressure for massive change will be relieved. The mid-term deficit incurred during Bush’s term and during the early Obama years will be less painful in the face of a growing economy. The long-term deficit will still be a problem, but not an insurmountable one if health care costs stop growing so rapidly. Each of these will take tremendous pressure off of our fiscal situation – but neither are enough to make the status quo sustainable. At this point, Obama has said he hopes to strike a “grand bargain,” putting everything on the table, and engaging in a frank discussion of tax reform and entitlement reform, of how America collects money and what it spends the money on. At the moment, with the idiocrats dominating the public debate, this doesn’t seem a very promising route.

Tackling these issues would be many times more explosive than health care as so many groups have a stake in maintaining the status quo. And the biggest flaw in the plan is that by relieving the pressure, the Obama administration may simply put off the day it will be dealt with – no matter how determined they are to deal with these issues. But breaking the grip of the idiocrats was at the core of the promise of Obama’s campaign. And these are core issues Obama was elected to address.

*Contemporary Democrats do not – contrary to the caricature Republicans push – think government and centralized control is the solution to everything; but they do believe that government can be a force for good, that through democracy we can make modest steps and institute policies that improve our society. And despite an organized campaign to suggest otherwise, history has demonstrated this to be true, from the the founding of our nation, the building up of our infrastructure, to that giant social engineering project called abolition, to Social Security and bank regulation, to the Civil Right Movement.

Real Fiscal Responsibility & Deficit Politics: Republicans

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]See Part 1: An Introduction here. Parts 3 and 4 discussing the Democratic approach and then lessons from this moment of “welfare scleroris/imperial overstretch” coming tomorrow and Friday.

Republicans have called themselves, and are once again trying to position themselves, as the party of fiscal responsibility. This is the pendulum swing of deficit politics in its second repetition – as Republicans run up massive deficits during their time in power and then attempt to pass off the blame for raising taxes or cutting programs onto the Democrats who succeed them in office.

The political challenge the Republicans face is intriguing. Their ideology holds the solution to the deficit is to shrink the size of the government. Yet the Republican base consists of corporate America, the military, and the elderly – the largest beneficiaries of current government spending. Given this, it’s not surprising that while in power Republicans have expanded rather than shrinking government. Bush expanded Medicare further than anyone since LBJ created it all while cutting taxes and engaging in two wars and allowing Congress to engorge itself with discretionary spending increases never before allowed. Bush was not an isolated example. Like his apparent role model, Ronald Reagan, he saw deficit spending as a way to win politically in the short term as you gave everyone what they wanted – and protected those interest groups who supported you – while in the long term the incredible irresponsibility would force government to shrink, and perhaps even discredit the idea of a competent or sustainable government program. In other words, deficits were the way to “starve the beast.”

Republicans did not jettison this approach along with Bush when they began to repudiate his legacy. John McCain – for all his talk of fiscal rectitude – offered more of the same in his campaign agenda. He proposed dramatic tax cuts without commensurate spending cuts (while masking this by proposing the elimination of pork barrel spending which represents a minuscule portion of the federal budget.) As an alternative to the stimulus, McCain and the Republicans attempted the same trick – attacking the plan for adding to the deficit with spending while proposing a plan that would add even more to the deficit through tax cuts (which the Congressional Budget Office determined was a less effective way to stimulate the economy.) For Republicans, increasing the deficit by cutting taxes is “fiscally responsible” – while increasing the deficit with spending is “generational theft.”

What’s tricky is how Republicans position themselves with regards to the looming fiscal crisis. The business conservatives who make up an influential portion of the Republican base tend to propose pragmatic but politically impossible solutions like cutting spending to the other core Republican constituencies – the elderly and the military, and sometimes, even the tax and other subsidies to big corporations. The other groups seem primarily concerned with ensuring that their own government dollars continuing to grow. The past two times a liberal has taken office following several terms of extreme fiscal irresponsibility by a Republican though, a semi-independent movement has sprung up, thus changing the political dynamics in the Republican party. This movement of citizens concerned about the size of government, of government debt, and especially of liberals being in charge of this government (which suddenly seems more intrusive now that it is in the control of those they don’t sympathize with) was incarnated in Ross Perot’s two presidential campaigns, the 1994 Republican Revolution, and today, the Tea Parties. In each instance, this movement has coalesced around an inchoate frustration with the way things are coupled with the remarkably fixed position of opposing everything the Democrats do, opposing tax increases, and supporting the reduction of the deficit. Though this logically must lead to cutting government programs, which programs will be cut always remains vague which works well enough until a Republican gets in power.

To balance and rally these constituencies while out of power – the anti-tax fiscal hawks, the elderly relying on government programs, the military reliant on government spending, and the corporations who profit from government favors – Republicans have adopted a framework whereby they condemn any new spending as “generational theft” while protecting the status quo. Within this framework, Republicans claim their protection of the status quo which is screwing over my generation is actually about protecting my generation. This language also comforts the elderly who don’t wish to see any reduction in their benefits. Under the Republican approach, the only elderly who will see a reduction in benefits under the Republican plan are the eventual elderly of the younger generations – as the government programs they are now paying for cease.

The challenge Obama has given to the Republicans though is to propose a solution to the looming fiscal crisis through health care reform. Republicans have responded by claiming that the plans will add to the deficit (contrary to the Congressional Budget Office) while at the same time they have been attacking any measures in the plan which might actually cut costs. For example, Senator Coburn has said, “If you’re a senior and you’re on Medicare, you better be afraid of this bill” – which is a difficult position to maintain while at the same time holding that any deficit spending today is “generational theft.” But it is of course, the only political answer they have.

The Republicans – for short term political expediency – are creating an interesting political dynamic (and an impossible situation for the country.) They are telling the elderly that any spending that adds to the deficit is stealing from their grandchildren and children – while telling them to be afraid of any cuts to the programs they like. Meanwhile, as they filibuster any attempts to alleviate the situation, they inculcate the belief among the younger generation that the government cannot do anything right – pointing to the approaching fiscal disaster as proof. The hope must be that if they are correct that this disaster cannot be averted, their obstruction of any attempt to avoid it will be forgiven, especially if the disaster itself discredits the government, thus bringing the younger generation ideologically closer to the Republican position.

Thus is the logic of deficit politics and starve-the-beast governance.

Dueling Op-Eds

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Last Friday saw two sets of dueling op-eds on the opinion pages of the Washington Post and the New York Times.

At the Post, Charles Krauthammer, professional pundit, accuses the Obama administration of aiding Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in giving “voice” to the “propaganda of the deed” that was September 11. Krauthammer accepts no justification offered and launches one after another attack on the very idea of trying KSM, and most of all, on the Obama administration for bringing him to trial. Reading Krauthammer, it is difficult to understand why Attorney General Holder made the decision he did. It seems unfathomable and downright un-American.

Elsewhere in the section, two former top Bush Justice Department officials – Jack Goldsmith and James Comey – make the case that Attorney General Holder’s decision was reasonable, though there may be reason to disagree with it. They go through some of the advantages of the Attorney General’s decision, and conclude:

The wisdom of that difficult judgment will be determined by future events. But Holder’s critics do not help their case by understating the criminal justice system’s capacities, overstating the military system’s virtues and bumper-stickering a reasonable decision.

Over at the New York Times, David Brooks and Paul Krugman have a more evenly balanced argument over Timothy Geithner.

Brooks’s conclusion was that Geither’s intervention was effective:

On the other hand, you would also have to say that Geithner, like many top members of the Obama economic team, is extremely context-sensitive. He’s less defined by any preset political doctrine than by the situation he happens to find himself in…In the administration’s first big test, that sort of pragmatism paid off.

Krugman though concludes Geither is part of the problem, and even if he got the short-term economics right, the political situation won’t allow for any significant course corrections because the initial steps were so against the popular mood:

Throughout the financial crisis key officials — most notably Timothy Geithner, who was president of the New York Fed in 2008 and is now Treasury secretary — have shied away from doing anything that might rattle Wall Street. And the bitter paradox is that this play-it-safe approach has ended up undermining prospects for economic recovery.

It’s interesting to see such jousting on the same op-ed page. As opposing sides make their case, one can often learn more than from reading mere news.

The Emotional Logic of Trying KSM in Federal Court

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]This is the response of a friend of mine on her Facebook page to the news that Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and 4 other detainees were going to be tried in federal court in New York.

When I heard the news, my first response was different: “Good. Finally we’re starting to deal with this mess,” the mess being the uncertain state of detainees and whether along with the many unresolved issues stemming from September 11. There was a kind of satisfaction – that we would finally be making progress, that decisions were being made, that the limbo that has been in place since September 11 would finally be resolved.

But I hadn’t anticipated the emotion it would stir up in many others, who reacted with a kind of visceral disgust. Most of the various reasons used to justify this disgust are manageable issues: the disclosure of classified information; the use of the trial as a platform for Al Qaeda propaganda; the security threat to New York City; the possibility of an acquittal; and whether terrorism should be treated as a crime or an act of war.

I don’t see any of these reasons as explaining the visceral reaction. They are the rational explanations we reach for after we reach our decision, rather than what compels us to come to the decision.

It is my opinion – and I want to make that clear as I am merely speculating as to what other people believe – that this issue has been such an emotional one because a trial of KSM would represent a kind of emotional closure to the trauma of September 11. Thus, the stakes are high. For 8 years, the Bush administration seemed unwilling or unable to move beyond the trauma of that day. They created an ad hoc legal structure to deal with terrorism that was often parallel and inferior to what was already in place. Surely compromised in their panic, they authorized the brutal torture of many guilty men and some innocent. Without in depth knowledge of the organization or the area of the world in which it operated, they simply decided to use their most valuable resource: money; they offered bounties to militias for each person they brought in, without any consistent way of evaluating whether these people brought in were guilty of anything or were knowledgeable about anything relevant. They were unwilling to let any person who had been captured free, on the chance that they might be wrong, and so held innocents as prisoners for years. In this climate of fear, a hunch of an investigator was enough to hold a man prisoner for years without any evidence and without any trial and without any accountability. While the Bush administration gradually scaled back the worst abuses, often due to court or rarely, Congressional, intervention, it never repudiated the precedents it set in the panic, precedents that if invoked would create an authoritarian executive.

This is what bothered most of the liberals, what they feared. They saw in Bush’s immediate response an understandable panic, but in the precedents he set by refusing to repudiate the measures he took, the seeds of the destruction of our republic.

On the other hand, what I believe underlies right wingers’ (and others’) defense of these precedents is a lack of faith in America’s system of justice. This lack of faith is evidenced by the right wing characterization of our courts as “liberal” or ‘left-wing” despite the fact that a sizable majority of judges have been appointed by Republican presidents. It is evidenced by the caricature of our criminal justice system and our tort system that the right wing promotes – a caricature in which hard-working, innocent corporations are persecuted by greedy trial lawyers and criminals are set free on technicalities. (See Footnote.) Those who already distrusted our justice system found in September 11 further proof of this – as they blamed our courts for releasing information to Al Qaeda, for letting terrorists free, and for undermining investigations into terrorism. An alternative justice system was created within the military to deal with those suspected of terrorism, one in which initially, suspects had few rights – whether to call witnesses in their defense, to question their accusers, to be presumed innocent, to see evidence held against them, or even to be released if despite all of this, they were found innocent. Not surprisingly, this unjust system caused a number of the military’s judge advocates and prosecutors (including the Chief Prosecutor) to resign in protest. Some of the worst flaws in this military commission system have been fixed, as courts and Congress intervened – but the system has been delegitimized in the view of much of the world. Most defenders of this system of military commissions opposed the fixes at the time as well.

This is where we stand today. There is an emotional logic to the decision and to the responses that informs the debate far more than the mere facts and policy issues.

The purpose of terrorism is to undermine the legitimacy of the state. The rule of law and our justice system is at the core of what makes a state legitimate, what allows a state to gain the informed consent of the governed. By creating an alternative justice system to deal with terrorism, we – to put the matter in the strongest terms – preemptively give up one of the core foundations of the state’s legitimacy. This only makes sense if our justice system itself is fundamentally corrupt and/or illegitimate, or if terrorism in some way invalidates it.

Trying Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in an open trial in federal court in a system with well-known precedents and rules demonstrates that the 3 successful attacks on September 11 failed to bring down our justice system along with the towers. He will be tried; given the evidence against him, he will almost certainly be found guilty; and then he will be executed. (Though I oppose the death penalty, but there are exceptions to every rule.) That will be the sternest measure of justice we can give him on earth. After that, we must trust to powers beyond our own to mete out the appropriate suffering.

Footnote: There are examples which demonstrate this caricature, and which refute it, and there are common sense reforms which could reduce the instances of abuse of the system.

Deconstructing the Right Wing Appropriation of the Term “Appeasement”

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]I’ve tried hard to find something to respect about Victor Davis Hanson – as he takes himself seriously, and is taken seriously, including by people whom I take seriously – but for the most part, his pieces are just less hysterical attempts to push right wing memes. Only in a world of Sean Hannitys, Glenn Becks, Sarah Palins, Jonah Goldbergs, Kathryn Lopezes, Michelle Malins, and Ann Coulters, is he a moderate.

But he has an interesting post over at The Corner, making a good point in defense of George W. Bush (though in the service of a meme that so many of these independent, individualistic conservatives promote in a synchronized fashion: that Obama should stop blaming George W. Bush for what he inherited.) Hanson points out that Bush inherited some bad “stuff” from Bill Clinton – including a mild recession, simmering issues with Iraq and the Middle East, and Osama bin Laden on the loose – and left some improved areas to Barack Obama – including an Iraq much improved from its chaos earlier in Bush’s term, relationships with Europe much improved from earlier in Bush’s term, a Libya that had given up its nuclear program, and a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon.  Obama inherited a more challenging set of issues than Bush though: Two wars, the worst economic conditions in 80 years, a deficit doubled in 8 years and having grown so large it threatens America’s fiscal solvency, America at its lowest standing in the world community in a generation, Osama Bin Laden still at large, an Iranian regime strengthened and emboldened as America took away every check on its power, etcetera, etcetera.

But even while making this valid point, Hanson resorts to propagandic measures – none of which actively undermine the point he is trying to make – but all of which together demonstrate that he is merely attempting to write propaganda rather than engage with the issues. He only cites those facts that prove his point, ignores the large amount of contradictory evidence, and makes a number of questionable assertions. (Is Kim Jong Il really on better terms with Obama than Bush? Ahmadinejad? Putin – into whose eyes Bush looked and got “a sense of his soul“?)

But perhaps most telling, is his use of the buzzword, “appease.” To quote George Orwell in his “Politics and the English Language,” propagandists organize their thoughts as collections of  “phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.” Rather than choose words based on their meaning, they instead choose those which best serve their ideology. For example, Orwell, writes that some words, “now [have] no meaning except in so far as [they] signify[…] ‘something not desirable.’ ” He uses word “Fascism” as an example of this – and the word “democracy” as an example of a word that is used to mean merely “something good.” Hanson’s writing doesn’t always have that prefabricated henhouse feel – as some writers do (Kathryn Lopez, I’m looking at you!) – but he does misuse language in the manner Orwell discussed.

The most glaring issue is his use of a single word. Hanson writes:

George W. Bush inherited…a pattern of minocycline cost photograph appeasing radical Islam after its serial attacks (on the World Trade Center, the Khobar Towers, U.S. embassies, and the U.S.S. Cole). [my emphasis]

Think about the use of the word “appease” in this context. The word means “to make peace with” often by “acceding to demands or granting concessions.” Bill Clinton’s response to these attacks – prosecuting the perpetrators, bombing locations we believed were related to Al Qaeda, and attempting to assassinate Osama bin Laden – doesn’t fit into what anyone would call “making peace with” or “acceding” to any demands. The word “appease” then was chosen not because of its meaning, but because of its place in Hanson’s ideology. The word “appease” – as used by right wingers – has evolved from its literal definition. They use it to call forth comparisons to the single historical moment that has defined neoconservative thinking: Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Adolf Hitler at Munich. Chamberlain famously gather buy tylenol did seek to appease Hitler, offering him Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia in return for peace. And just as famously, it did not work.

Right wingers now though seem to see every national security issue as a binary choice between Appeasement and Confrontation. Obama wants to try terrorists in federal court instead of military commissions? Appeasement. Democrats oppose sending a surge of troops into Iraq? Appeasement. Iran wants to negotiate peace with the United States? If we even talk to them, it’s Appeasement, so we must choose Confrontation and ignore them. Only if every national security decision is seen as a binary choice between Appeasement and Confrontation does the disastrous first term decisions by Bush make sense. Orwell warned that “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” Language is corrupted in order to “defend the indefensible” and to “make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Thus, words such as “appease” are now used by right wingers to distract and obfuscate from the history that was and to suggest an enhanced and alternate view of the history that proves them correct.

[Image in the public domain.]

Chinese Racism, Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Power, Andrew Sullivan’s Catholicism, America’s Decline (?), and Megan Fox’s Savvy Self-Creation

Friday, November 13th, 2009

buy cheap augmentin Chinese Racism. Reiham Salam posits that China’s ethnocentrism will retard it’s development into a superpower – especially given the demographic obstacles it is facing thanks to it’s One Child Policy.

buy Depakote overnight delivery Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Power. Gabriel Sherman describes the world of Andrew Ross Sorkin, star financial reporter for the New York Times, in New York magazine. He describes the unique amount of power Sorkin has accumulated in financial circles, all from the paper that was traditionally lagging behind the others in financial journalism. Attending a book party, Sherman observes the way Sorkin is treated by the many powerful titans of Wall Street:

“What you noticed when you went was how many powerful Wall Street people were there to kiss his ring,” adds The New Yorker‘s Ken Auletta, a party guest. “He’s a 32-yeard old guy, and there were all these titans of Wall Street crowding around to say hello and make nice to Andrew.”

That type of praise only makes your job harder of course.

Andrew Sullivan’s Catholicism. Andrew periodically writes these moving pieces about his Catholicism, and why he is still a Catholic. Yesterday, in an emotional response to a number of recent events, he writes:

Maybe I am too weak to leave and be done with it. But in my prayer life, I detect no vocation to do so. In fact, in so far as I can glean a vocation, it is to stay and bear witness, to be a thorn in the side, even if the thorn turns inward so often, and hurts and wounds me too.

I stay because I believe. And I stay because I hope. What I find hard is the third essential part: to love. So I stay away when the anger eclipses that. But the love for this church remains through the anger and despair: the goodness of so many in it, the truth of its sacraments, the knowledge that nothing is perfect and nothing is improved if you are not there to help it.

America’s Decline (?). John Plender writing in the Financial Times pokes several more holes in the growing consensus that China’s power will soon eclipse America’s. Rather, he sees China as returning to it’s historic position of economic power – increasing relative to America, but not eclipsing it given the various problems they are facing.


Megan Fox’s Savvy Self-Creation. When I saw the New York Times Magazine was writing a major article about Megan Fox I was intrigued. What about her might be interesting enough to hold up a feature? It turns out that there was quite enough. Lynn Hirschberg writes about a starlet whose main focus is her own image, the character she plays in the media. Fox deliberately holds herself apart from this character:

I’ve learned that being a celebrity is like being a sacrificial lamb. At some point, no matter how high the pedestal that they put you on, they’re going to tear you down. And I created a character as an offering for the sacrifice. I’m not willing to give my true self up. It’s a testament to my real personality that I would go so far as to make up another personality to give to the world. The reality is, I’m hidden amongst all the insanity. Nobody can find me.

As she studies Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor, and other Hollywood icons, almost all of whom were overwhelmed by their characters, Fox seems to be searching for lessons she can take herself:

Monroe was her own brand before branding existed. “She lived her whole life as a character playing other characters,” Fox said. “And that was her defense mechanism. But Marilyn stumbled and lost her way. She became overwhelmed by the character she created. Hollywood is filled with women who have tried to cope. I like to study them. I like to see how they’ve succeeded. And how they’ve failed.”

Hirschberg didn’t seem to know whether Fox’s obsession with Monroe and other starlets would foreshadow Fox’s own decline, or whether it could be managed. The last lines Hirschberg leaves her readers with are plaintive:

In a few short weeks, she had gone from happily outrageous to virginal and controlled. It was, perhaps, a healthier attitude, but pale by comparison. “I have to pull back a little bit now,” Fox said. “I do live in a glass box. And I am on display for men to pay to look at me. And that bothers me. I don’t want to live that character.”

The perfect encapsulation of the liberal attacks on George W. Bush

Friday, November 13th, 2009

Gene Lyons in Salon wrote the most awesome line. It is perhaps the perfect encapsulation of the liberal attacks on George W. Bush – and as such, is also practically a caricature of those attacks. I read it, cringed a bit, and then thought, “Well…..I’m not sure which part I would disagree with.”

If Pakistani terrorists had done to New Orleans what Bush’s hapless FEMA appointees did after Katrina, he’d have invaded Iran…

The Escalating War Over Judicial Appointments

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

I recall the Wall Street Journal editorial page making a big deal about the “unprecedented” blocking of appointees to the Judiciary while George W. Bush was in power. The editors considered it a travesty that the a minority would take such “unprecedented” and “anti-constitutional” steps to preserve their “last toehold on power” using “not-so-democratic tactics” (the filibuster) to “block, delay and besmirch” Bush’s judicial nominees in an “assault on democracy” whose purpose was “judicial Armageddon.” (I’ve excerpted some examples below the fold.)

Clearly, the Wall Street Journal opposes “judicial filibusters” (though it wrongly credits the Democratic Party for inventing them.) So you would think that they would make a point – just to appear consistent – of calling on the Republicans to stop the practice of judicial filibustering. (There was one guest editorial to this effect since Obama’s election that my research has found.) Instead, most readers of the editorial page would have no idea that Republicans have in fact escalated the judicial war that has been going on since the 1980s. As Doug Kendall writes in Slate:

Over the past several decades, senators in both parties have used an escalating set of procedural tactics to block confirmations, particularly near the end of an out-going president’s term in office. To date, however, the tit-for-tat game has played out within a fairly narrow category of nominees who are deemed controversial. [my emphasis]

Now, Kendall points out, the Republicans are slowing down all judicial appointments rather than just the handful of controversial ones.

Kendall compares how Bush nominees fared at the end of Bush’s term with the Congress controlled by Democrats:

In the last two years of Bush’s term with a Democrat-controlled Congress, 26 of 68 nominees were confirmed less than three months after the president nominated them, with 100 confirmations total during that time.
In the first nine months of Obama’s term with an even more Democrat-controlled Congress, 0 of 22 nominees were confirmed less than three months after the president nominated them, with 3 confirmations total during that time.

Kendall points out that Obama’s nominees have all been uncontroversial so far – supported by their home state senators, even when they are conservative Republicans. (The support of your home state senator is an important measure used for judging nominees.) And that they have been blocked even when passing the Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support:

Two additional nominees, Andre Davis of Maryland and David Hamilton of Indiana, cleared the Senate judiciary committee way back on June 4—144 days ago. Yet their floor votes are still pending.

Davis and Hamilton have spent longer in this particular form of limbo than any Bush nominee confirmed from 2007-08. Yet Davis cleared the judiciary committee by a bipartisan vote of 16-3 and can’t remotely be considered controversial. Hamilton has the strong support of his home state Republican senator, Richard Lugar. Beverly Martin, an appeals court nominee supported by Georgia’s two conservative Republican senators, was unanimously reported out of the Senate judiciary committee by a voice vote more than 46 days ago. She, too, has not received a Senate floor vote. Five other Obama nominees, all well-qualified and without any serious opposition, similarly await floor action.

I personally would not begrudge the Republicans the ability to filibuster and try to block nominees whose views they deemed controversial. I would oppose any justice who believed the president possessed the powers of a monarch in times of war (as Justices Alito and Roberts seem to) and I can see grounds for opposing some leftist nominees as well. But to hold up the entire judicial appointment process is a clear abuse. I await the Wall Street Journal‘s imminent essay on the “judicial Armageddon” that these “anti-democratic” and “anti-constitutional” actions by the Republican Party they sympathize with will clearly lead to. Especially as the Republicans in Congress have pushed the filibuster to historically unprecedented levels.

(more…)

Former Bush Attorney General: American Justice System Led to September 11

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]I already commented on this Mukasey piece – but I wanted to follow up and make clear why this piece from a well-respected “conservative” demonstrates how far the conservative movement, the right wing, and the Republican Party have fallen. First, it’s important to note Mukasey’s position under Bush – as the chief proponent and custodian of our justice system. Second, one should remember that he was long considered a moderate in the party.

Yet Mukasey literally blames September 11 on American values, on the American justice system:

[W]e put our vaunted civilian justice system on display in these [previous terrorism] cases…

In return, we got the 9/11 attacks and the murder of nearly 3,000 innocents….

Or, as the subhead put it:

We tried the first World Trade Center bombers in civilian courts. In return we got 9/11 and the murder of nearly 3,000 innocents.

This is not a conservative approach to the issue. It is a radical one. The accumulated wisdom of our forerunners is thrown out the window in the favor of a shiny, new and “improved” justice system. And even worse the barratuve being built is clearly unhinged from reality. Its only purpose seems to be the same as Cheney’s – to preemptively politicize the aftermath of the next attack. Reading his argument analytically, it’s hard to see how he reaches the conclusion he does regarding the American justice system. The list of deficiencies are all manageable – perhaps with some tweaks – within our legal system. Perhaps they suggest we should try a system of national security courts. But Mukasey concludes instead that they necessitate throwing out our values and the institutions which represent the accumulated wisdom of our democracy.

This leap comes from the narrative. The rationale Mukasey offers is deeper than any of the actual facts he cites – and is emotional rather than logical. For him, September 11 happened because our justice system doesn’t work against terrorism. It is an argument parallel to Cheney’s – that September 11 happened because we were weak – and as a result of this mindset, Cheney set out demonstrating our strength by bullying other nations, withdrawing from treaties, avoiding multilateral institutions, invading Iraq, avoiding the Middle East peace processes, refusing to talk to our adversaries, labeling them evil. But in each case, despite the emotional “logic,” the narrative itself is unhinged from reality.

The fact that a “moderate” in the Republican Party has been so radicalized demonstrates how far from common sense the right wing movement has fallen.

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The Fallacies of Mukasey

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]Michael Mukasey’s editorial in the Wall Street Journal yesterday continues to demonstrate the collapse of common sense in the Republican Party. His thesis is that “civilian courts are no place to try terrorists.” His main supporting argument – and the subheadline – suggests that there is a direct link between trying terrorists in a criminal proceeding and September 11. He doesn’t explain the link anywhere in the piece – but as the subhead says:

We tried the first World Trade Center bombers in civilian courts. In return we got 9/11 and the murder of nearly 3,000 innocents.

Mukasey himself concludes his piece:

Nevertheless, critics of Guantanamo seem to believe that if we put our vaunted civilian justice system on display in these cases, then we will reap benefits in the coin of world opinion, and perhaps even in that part of the world that wishes us ill. Of course, we did just that after the first World Trade Center bombing, after the plot to blow up airliners over the Pacific, and after the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

In return, we got the 9/11 attacks and the murder of nearly 3,000 innocents. True, this won us a great deal of goodwill abroad—people around the globe lined up for blocks outside our embassies to sign the condolence books. That is the kind of goodwill we can do without. [my emphasis]

The “if…then…” relationship between these two is tenuous – and if you read the piece, you notice that Mukasey does not try to make it. And his laziness is evident elsewhere as he tries to attack Attorney General Eric Holder’s contention that a certain group of terrorists was prosecuted successfully on the grounds that (a) they were not executed because a jury member lied about his willingness to impose the death penalty; and (b) because one prisoner attacked a guard and injured him seriously.

The bulk of his piece does not attempt to further the narrative about how American justice leads to terrorist attacks on America – it instead raises a number of other issues, which have often been gone over. There is some legitimacy to this critique – so I do not mean to dismiss it outright. Phillip Bobbitt and some other legal scholars on the left have used it to make the case for “National Security Courts” which would solely deal with issues of terrorism and national security threats. Mukasey though uses them to make the more radical argument that our justice system itself is incapable of dealing with the threat – and so he proposes a kind of preemptive surrender of values.

These are the basic issues he raises:

  • Trying terrorists would require extra security for judges, jurors, prosecutors, etcetera.
  • This extra security (and additional caseload) would further burden an overloaded system.
  • The court itself would become a target.
  • Trying terrorists in a court would encourage litigation of national security issues.
  • If terrorists are convicted and put into the general prison population, they would be able to try to recruit converts to jihad.
  • Those suspected terrorists held by George W. Bush weren’t treated consistently with American standards of justice – and due to various reasons, we cannot make any case against many of them.
  • Part of our justice system involves the full disclosure of evidence to the defendants; this would allow information to leak, including possibly about intelligence means and methods.

Only the last two are legitimate issues that are difficult to deal with. The first five all have relatively easy solutions if we decide that our American justice system is capable of handling the threat from terrorism. We will provide the extra security. We will hire more judges and prosecutors and get the necessary resources to handle the additional caseload – getting this done would be as much a priority as having enough troops to accomplish a mission in Iraq. We would house terrorists separately from the general prison population – and I haven’t seen anyone suggest otherwise. (Though it’s worth noting that the example Mukasey gives is of a man who was radicalized in prison without being housed with terrorists.)

The issue of what to do with the prisoners George W. Bush was responsible for is a thorny one. Bush and Mukasey left the situation unresolved, and however it is resolved, it will prove politically and legally hazardous. But Obama seems to be approaching this situation pragmatically – and avoiding letting a desire for consistency to constrain him. This is the overall right approach, though the details could obviously be resolved poorly.

Regarding the last issue, Mukasy raises a very salient point – one which a National Security Court would resolve. This issue was also raised with respect to the War on Drugs and efforts to prosecute organized crime, and in each case, a new court with a new justice system was proposed. But our justice system proved able to handle these issues after early setbacks. Perhaps a new court is needed here, as our adversarial system can work to the advantage of organized groups opposing it. This is an issue to be debated – and a serious one. I would tend to believe that our courts – perhaps with some extra rules or procedures designed to mitigate the downsides – can handle these cases.

[Image by threecee licensed under Creative Commons.]

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