The Goracle

I found this to more funny than angering. Except for this:

The Goracle’s powers seem to come from his ability to scare the bejesus out of people.

And this is different than Republican strategy over the past eight years how?

Published in: on January 31, 2009 at 10:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Selective Prosecution

Glenn Greenwald has a wonderful post expressing one of the most galling things about the argument against torture prosecutions – the hypocrisy of so many of those making the argument.

Under all circumstances, arguing that high political officials should be immunized from prosecution when they commit felonies such as illegal eavesdropping and torture would be both destructive and wrong… But what makes it so much worse, so much more corrupted, is the fact that this “ignore-the-past-and-forget-retribution” rationale is invoked by our media elites only for a tiny, special class of people — our political leaders — while the exact opposite rationale (“ignore their lame excuses, lock them up and throw away the key”) is applied to everyone else.  That, by definition, is what a “two-tiered system of justice” means and that, more than anything else, is what characterizes (and sustains) deeply corrupt political systems.   That’s the two-tiered system which, for obvious reasons, our political and media elites are now vehemently arguing must be preserved.

While I think the argument is fairly clear, I do nevertheless think a further explanation needs to be made. I believe that  mandatory minimums and three-strikes laws should be eliminated and that the American approach to nonviolent drug offenses and parole violations is massively misguided. More importantly, they are an anchor that is helping to sink the ship of state, especially in California.

This does not necessitate that I correspondingly think that torture shouldn’t be prosecuted. I do not think that sentencing reform needs to occur because we should “forget the past.” I think

it needs to occur because our current system is poisoning the country by slowly undermining our commitment to justice. I believe that letting war criminals go free will do the same.

Published in: on January 29, 2009 at 10:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The “Benefits” of Bipartisanship

There are times for bipartisanship. There are issues on which members of both political parties agree, and sometimes those issues produce landmark legislation. There are also times when, like in diplomacy, compromise is necessary to achieve anything at all. However, I am convinced that bipartisanship for bipartisanship’s sake is not a virtue.

Without getting excessively Hegelian, I believe that there is an element of truth in the operation of a dialectic, especially regarding the reform of government. Where honest debate and honest intentions exist, a conflict between different reforming priorities should produce a synthesis containing the best of each world view. This is largely the dynamic that drove the British reforms of the 19th century, which expanded the franchise, introduced labor laws, and created the beginnings of a social safety net (see footnote below).

Unfortunately, bipartisanship, especially the version practiced in America whereby Democrats water down their principles to attract (unnecessary) Republican votes, preempts this dynamic. Years of milquetoast Democratic rule neither corrects the excesses of the previous Republican rule, nor does it sufficiently advance the goals of progressive ideology to allow for a true synthesis. The result is a political system in which the ‘centrist’ point of view is inexorably pulled to the right. I do not believe that this reflects the viewpoints of Americans in general, but rather the scope of ‘permitted discourse’ as represented in the media (see this wonderful discussion of this phenomenon here.) This then shapes the world view of the next generation.

All of this goes to say that I am very disappointed in President Obama’s approach to passing the stimulus plan. More on the flip.


Published in: on January 29, 2009 at 9:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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John Yoo: Shameless

A further reason for torture prosecutions is so that John Yoo is forced out of polite society. He can take his misleading and inaccurate op-eds with him.

The CIA must now conduct interrogations according to the rules of the Army Field Manual, which prohibits coercive techniques, threats and promises, and the good-cop bad-cop routines used in police stations throughout America. Mr. Obama has also ordered that al Qaeda leaders are to be protected from “outrages on personal dignity” and “humiliating and degrading treatment” in accord with the Geneva Conventions. His new order amounts to requiring — on penalty of prosecution — that CIA interrogators be polite. Coercive measures are unwisely banned with no exceptions, regardless of the danger confronting the country.

Of course, he’ll have to excuse me if I decide to listen to retired generals instead.

[President Obama] noted that he would be criticized if the United States faced another terrorist attack. Yet, he said he was convinced that a clear anti-torture policy would make us safer. General Paul Kern – a four-star General who co-led an investigation into abuses at Abu Ghraib – told the President that our group of Generals and Admirals was there to support him precisely because humane interrogation tactics will put us in a stronger position to achieve our national security objectives [emphasis added].

If we ‘look forward’, without first looking back, then people like John Yoo will be around for the next Republican administration, and work their way back into positions of authority. Just like those implicated in Iran-Contra found new places in the George W. Bush administration. One of the reasons we punish criminals is to prevent and deter them from committing future crimes.

Published in: on January 29, 2009 at 8:07 am  Comments (2)  
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UN Official: US Obligated to Prosecute Torture

So it begins.

“Judicially speaking, the United States has a clear obligation” to bring proceedings against Bush and Rumsfeld, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak said, in remarks to be broadcast on Germany’s ZDF television Tuesday evening.

He noted Washington had ratified the UN convention on torture which required “all means, particularly penal law” to be used to bring proceedings against those violating it.

“We have all these documents that are now publicly available that prove that these methods of interrogation were intentionally ordered by Rumsfeld,” against detainees at the US prison facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Nowak said.

War crimes have ‘universal jurisidiction’, meaning that any country may bring charges against suspected war criminals. This was the theory underwhich Augusto Pinochet was arrested in 1998 in London on charges in a Spanish court. One of the charges was for the use of torture. If America does not prosecute, or at the very least, publicly investigate potential war criminals in its midst, then eventually another country will. Most importantly, it will undermine America’s standing as a model for the rule of law; a crowning glorious collapse of the remains of America’s international prestige.

As an aside, human rights groups and the Arab League are calling for an investigation by the International Criminal Court into suspected war crimes committed by Israel in the recent fighting in Gaza, particularly the use of white phosphorus in civilian areas. See stories here and here. While it is unlikely that the ICC would find it has jurisdiction, it may still have interesting implications for the United States on the torture front. Of course, there is also the issue of Security Council Resolution 1422 that granted immunity to non-States Parties in UN authorized missions between 2002 and 2004, which makes prosecution by the ICC even less likely.

Sheldon Whitehouse Argues for ‘Looking Back’

Senator Whitehouse (D-RI) makes an eloquent argument for why ‘looking back’ at the actions of the Bush administration is necessary for American democracy.

If we blind ourselves to this history, if we pull an invisibility cloak over it, we will deny ourselves its lessons. Those lessons came at too painful a cost to ignore. Those lessons merit discovery, disclosure and discussion. Indeed, disclosure and discussion is the difference between a valuable lesson for the bright upward forces of our democracy, and a blueprint for darker forces to return and do it all over again.

A little bright, healthy sunshine and fresh air, so that an educated population knows what was done and how, can show where the tunnels were bored, when the truth was subordinated; what institutions were subverted; how our democracy was compromised; so this grim history is not condemned to repeat itself; so a knowing public in the clarity of day can say, “Never, never, never, again;” so we can keep that light – that light that is at once America’s greatest gift and greatest strength – brightly shining. To do this, I submit, we must look back.

Unfortunately, Whitehouse agrees with a common argument against torture prosecutions.

Our new Attorney-General designate has said, we should not criminalize policy differences. I agree.

Some of what the Bush administration done can be considered a policy difference, their commitment to the rapine exploitation of the environment, for example. However, I don’t think that any illegal act can be considered ‘a policy difference’. Neither can acts that undermine the balance of powers and the constitution. More importantly, policy is enacted in full public view and in the legal manner. The Bush administration used secret and dubious arguments about the scope of executive authority to conduct many of their most problematic programs; programs that are so extreme that they cannot possibly be relegated to the scope of mere ‘policy differences’.

Yes, we do not prosecute policy differences. However, Attorney General-Designate Eric Holder, Senator Whitehouse, and President Obama should be more careful how they define the acceptable scope of a ‘policy debate’. Some things are beyond the pale.

Published in: on January 25, 2009 at 11:24 pm  Comments (2)  
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Good News for California and Climate Change

This is good news.

With a new occupant in the White House, California could soon start enforcing its landmark 2002 law requiring a sharp reduction in vehicle emissions.

State leaders and environmentalists are pressing for quick approval of a waiver that would let California and at least 13 other states impose tougher air-quality standards than allowed under federal law. The Bush administration rejected the request a year ago, but that could be reversed by President Barack Obama and his environmental team.

During the presidential campaign, Obama said he backed the California law. Last year, he co-sponsored a bill by Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California to approve the waiver.

“If I’m confirmed, I will immediately revisit the waiver,” Lisa Jackson, Obama’s choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, told Boxer at her confirmation hearing last week.

Elections have consequences. Of course, I’d rather see new federal fuel efficiency standards than these state-level workarounds. Hopefully we’ll see movement on that front soon, especially with Waxman chairing the Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Republicans – No Respect for the Rule of Law

Consider this. According to Senator Whitehouse (D-RI), Republicans are pressuring Eric Holder to commit not to prosecute Bush administration officials for the use of torture.

Republicans on the Judiciary Committee have asked Eric Holder to make a commitment, before he is even confirmed, that he will not prosecute any Bush Administration officials for their involvement in acts of torture during the last administration.

I suppose that after the past eight years, I shouldn’t be surprised that Republicans don’t want political appointees to do their jobs. But this is especially appalling. It would be unbelievably improper for Holder to make that commitment. The decision on whether to prosecute must be made only after investigation. They are asking him not to do his job, as a condition for taking the job. We may as well abolish the position.

Furthermore, I’m not sure that this makes political sense. The Obama administration has been fairly clear in their reluctance to prosecute on torture issues. What possible reason could there be to publicize this in this way? Now, if Holder doesn’t prosecute, he caved to the Republicans. If he does, then he was just upholding the integrity of the law. It seems to me that this would make it easier to make a public argument in favor of prosecution.

Additionally, the traditional media has been almost universally united in their consensus that prosecutions would be divisive and distracting. This move just reopens the debate, and does so in a way that more clearly places Republicans in the wrong.

Israel: A One State Solution?

It is a very strange turn of events that I find myself agreeing on anything with Muammar Qaddafi. He argues that the two-state solution of Israel and Palestine isn’t possible, and calls for a single state that would include the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

The history of Israel/Palestine is not remarkable by regional standards — a country inhabited by different peoples, with rule passing among many tribes, nations and ethnic groups; a country that has withstood many wars and waves of peoples from all directions. This is why it gets so complicated when members of either party claims the right to assert that it is their land.

In absolute terms, the two movements must remain in perpetual war or a compromise must be reached. The compromise is one state for all, an “Isratine” that would allow the people in each party to feel that they live in all of the disputed land and they are not deprived of any one part of it.

I certainly don’t agree with all that he says, but I do agree that a Palestinian state in just the West Bank, or in the West Bank and Gaza, is not likely to be viable. In addition to the unacceptable long-term security threat to Israel that Qaddafi cites, there is also the issue of water security. Currently, Israel controls the vast majority of water resources for the region, and consumption is already at unsustainably high levels. Salt water intrusion into aquifers is the cost of making the desert bloom. A Palestinian state would be in constant fear of a water shortage, especially in the face of population growth, which would contribute to on-going security crises with Israel.

I don’t know that I agree that a single ‘Isratine’ is the solution. I suspect that any resolution will need to involve considerable absorption of refugees, and perhaps territory, into Egypt and Jordan, or other Arab states. But I do think that the on-going international commitment to the two-state solution hampers the creation and discussion of other alternatives. Palestinians have for generations been fed on false promises. Everyone in the region needs to take a harsh look at reality.

Published in: on January 23, 2009 at 11:22 am  Leave a Comment  
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Speaking of Stimulus

I wholeheartedly agree with this.

California’s delegation needs to push for General Fund relief in the recovery package, as well as federal guarantees for our municipal bonds, which would frankly jump-start projects faster than anything.  If it’s good enough for the banks, it should be good enough for California.

Published in: on January 22, 2009 at 9:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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