Monday, July 23, 2007

What Impressed Me This Week

It was, from my point of view, a grim week. You may not have noticed, because most of the mainstream media either didn't cover the worst of it or made it sound a whole lot more ordinary than I think it was.

Update on the Constitutional Crisis. You may have heard the words unitary executive as an explanation of the Bush administration's theory of government. If you've ever wondered what it meant, we found out this week when some anonymous administration officials talked to the Washington Post about executive privilege.

Here's the context: Former White House counsel (and Supreme Court nominee) Harriet Miers refused to show up when Congress subpoenaed her to talk about the White House's role in the firing of nine U.S. attorneys. Congress can either shrug and say "I didn't really want to talk to her anyway" or it can find her in contempt. But here's the rub:
"A U.S. attorney would not be permitted to bring contempt charges or convene a grand jury in an executive privilege case," said a senior official, who said his remarks reflect a consensus within the administration. "And a U.S. attorney wouldn't be permitted to argue against the reasoned legal opinion that the Justice Department provided. No one should expect that to happen."
Why not? Here's the really scary part. As explained by former Bush official David Rifkin: "U.S. attorneys are emanations of a president's will." So once the President has decided that Congress doesn't need to know certain things, how could an "emanation of his will" challenge that finding in court? This is how the American system of checks and balances unravels: The executive decides on its own what information it will or will not release, and no one is in a position to challenge that decision. (Short of impeachment, which is just about the only arrow Congress has left in its quiver.)

That is the unitary executive theory in a nutshell. Up until now, America has been governed according to the belief that government employees had a duty to serve the country and the law. But under unitary executive theory, only the president has that duty. Everybody else in the executive branch serves the president, not the country or the law.

That's what's behind the Freudian slip Sara Taylor made when she testified on July 11. "I took an oath to the president," she said. Senator Leahy responded: "Did you mean, perhaps, that you took an oath to the Constitution?"

My entirely toothless protest is that I plan to ban the word dictator from my vocabulary. From now on I will refer to people like Saddam or Hitler or Stalin as unitary executives.

If you want more detail. Glenn Greenwald is all over this.

Congress? What Congress?
As if that wasn't enough, check out this tidbit. There's an executive order that explains how the government plans to continue operations if a major terrorist attack takes out its normal mode of functioning. Want to read it? You can't. It's classified.

That bothered some suspicious (paranoid? realistic?) Oregonians, so they asked their congressman, Peter DeFazio, to check it out. DeFazio is on the Homeland Security Committee, so he asked for the order to be delivered to Congress' classified "Bubble Room" where he could look at it.

Request denied. DeFazio's conclusion: "Maybe the people who think there's a conspiracy out there are right."

Check out Max Blumenthal's hilarious video Generation Chickenhawk about his trip to the national convention of the College Republicans. Chickenhawk is liberal slang for people who support war, but avoid military service. Dick Cheney is a founding chickenhawk, but he has hatched an entire brood in this generation of young people.

Islam for Dummies
Novelist Mohsin Hamid (The Reluctant Fundamentalist) gives a serious answer to the question "Why do they hate us?"
America's strength has made it a sort of Gulliver in world affairs: By wiggling its toes it can, often inadvertently, break the arm of a Lilliputian.
He recalls what happened to his childhood home: Lahore, Pakistan. In 1980 the US decided to use Pakistan as its base in aiding the Afghan resistance against the Soviets. Suddenly Lahore was overrun with well-armed Islamic fundamentalists and the cheap Afghan heroin they used to fund their rebellion. Pakistan has never been the same since. Pakistanis all remember this, while most Americans don't even know about it. Hamid's conclusion is striking:
The challenge that the United States faces today boils down to a choice. It can insist on its primacy as a superpower, or it can accept the universality of its values. If it chooses the former, it will heighten the resentment of foreigners and increase the likelihood of visiting disaster upon distant populations -- and vice versa. If it chooses the latter, it will discover something it appears to have forgotten: that the world is full of potential allies.
Harry and His Peers
You can't talk about this week without mentioning Harry Potter, who sold more than 8 million books on Saturday, including one to me. The best Harry article I found was this one by Laurel Wamsley, who belongs to Harry's generation. "The real fantasy of these novels," she writes, "was not a world where magic exists, but a world in which we were all chosen ones."
I now realize what I didn't get at 14, or even at 20: I am a full-blood muggle. Everyone I know is a muggle. Even my heroes are muggles.
If you want more insight into the generation who grew up in parallel with Harry Potter (and were probably too cool to read what their younger siblings were reading) check out the book Generation Me by Jean Twenge.

So that's what impressed me this week.


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