Monday, August 27, 2007

What Impressed Me This Week: the War About the War

This morning I heard that Alberto Gonzales is resigning. Don't ask me why. Don't ask me what it means. I didn't expect it and haven't figured it out yet.

My Week
Sunday I saw John Edwards in Manchester. I've already blogged about it here, so right now I'll just say that I was impressed and plan to vote for him in the New Hampshire primary.

My article Not My Father's Religion about the problems Unitarian Universalism has relating to the working class is on the cover of the current issue of UU World. And the latest edition of my bimonthly column is on the web site. It's called Drops of Water Turn a Mill and it speculates about whether the Internet will be a better medium for liberal religion than television has been.

This week I read the book Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick, from which I draw this: Everything you really need to know about counter-insurgency is already in King Phillip's War of 1675-76. The Pilgrims eventually won not by killing Indians but by turning tribes.

The War About the War

This week the media battle leading up to General Petraeus' report in September (and the Congressional votes on Iraq that will follow) started in earnest. The best summary so far is from Bill Maher: "The phrase 'the Surge is working' is working." (His whole six-minute routine is worth hearing.)

For me the low point in the week was Tuesday, when NPR interviewed Congressman Brian Baird of Washington. Baird really is what a number of other people have only pretended to be: a Democrat who was against the war, but has changed his mind after a trip to Iraq. What I found most discouraging was not just that he now wants to delay withdrawal another "six to eight months," but that he has started using all the administration catch-phrases. We are "making progress" and withdrawal is always preceded by an adjective like precipitous or premature. And of course the progress Baird sees is not based on anything the rest of us can check. He assures us that if we could meet with General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, and if we could talk to the same (hand-picked) Iraqi leaders and American troops, we'd agree with him.

Representative Jan Schakowsky of Illinois was on the same trip and presumably met with the same people, but was not persuaded. What struck her about General Petraeus' briefing was his assessment that it would take "another decade" to stabilize the country. (That's the thing about "making progress." Depending on where you're going and how fast you're getting there, you can make progress for a long, long time without arriving.)

Also Tuesday, Democratic Senator Carl Levin called for the ouster of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, about which I'll have more to say later. I can't figure out what Levin was doing, and at the very least he was seriously off of any useful message. Glenn Greenwald interpreted it this way:
Senate Democrats largely will not challenge, but rather will embrace and celebrate, the notion that The Surge Is Working and that we are making "military progress," whatever that might mean this month. To "oppose the war," they instead will follow the strategy Hillary Clinton has adopted this year -- namely, blaming the Iraqis for failing to take advantage of the great opportunities we are creating for them. Levin's demand that Prime Minister Maliki be replaced is designed to accomplish exactly that. Democrats are afraid to challenge the U.S. military's claims that we are Winning, and are even afraid to oppose the Surge, so instead, they will take the safest course -- heaping the blame on the Iraqi government and demanding that they improve.
The previous day, Hillary Clinton didn't actually say "the Surge is working," but that's how it got reported. Anti-war forces seemed to be in full disarray and retreat.

Evaluating Iraq
Politics aside, what's really happening? It's hard to cut through all the spin, but I think most of the honest expert opinion is starting to say something that I don't think anybody wants to hear: Whatever progress there might be in Iraq is really slow. If we stay with the current counter-insurgency strategy and things go well, Iraq might be a peaceful country in ten years. If we leave sooner than that, a civil war might start that will make the current situation look tame. Pick your poison: Commit another trillion dollars and thousands of American deaths, or get ready to take responsibility for a bigger bloodbath.

Of course, if the experts are wrong (not an unreasonable thing to wonder about) we might be in even worse shape ten years from now.

A bunch of bogus statistics are being tossed around to try to demonstrate dramatic progress in Iraq. The best job of debunking them was done by Kevin Drum at the blog Political Animal. The short version is that violence in Iraq is seasonal. Insurgency is a career that lets you choose your own hours, so you tend to lay low in the summer when it's 120 degrees. (Bill Maher: "Al Qaeda in Iraq is currently al Qaeda in Cancun.") So violence statistics from July are down from what they were in May, but that doesn't mean the Surge is working. If you really want to know how things are going, you compare July of this year to July of last year. That's what Kevin does, and it's not pretty.

What about the Surge's big success story, al Anbar province? CNN's Michael Ware explained it like this to Anderson Cooper:
But the real success, Anderson, is coming from something totally different [than the Surge], and that is coming from America cutting deals with its former enemies, principally the Ba'athist insurgents, the Sunni insurgents. It's by cutting a deal with the Ba'ath Party on the terms that the Ba'ath Party offered America four years ago -- and had to wait for America to be battered into submission to accept -- that the tide has turned against al Qaeda. ... What the U.S. troops are doing is giving a set of numbers, a series of data, a number of lowered attack figures that may give the military the political cover it needs in Washington. But at the end of the day, by cutting these deals the seeds are being sown for a much broader, more entrenched civil war that America will leave behind.
Thursday the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq was released. It's depressing reading whether you support the war or not. The closing paragraph warns against withdrawal, but the rest of the report contains little optimism about what we can accomplish by staying. The good news is that things aren't worse:
The steep escalation of rates of violence has been checked for now
It predicts slow improvement in the security situation, which to me sounded like support for Petraeus' view that it will take a decade to secure the country.
Sunni Arab resistance to [al Qaeda in Iraq] has expanded in the last six to nine months but has not yet translated into broad Sunni Arab support for the Iraqi Government or widespread willingness to work with the Shia. The Iraqi Government’s Shia leaders fear these groups will ultimately side with armed opponents of the government
which sounds like the same point Michael Ware was making.

If you want to get a closer-to-the-ground view, here are some interesting links:
  • Democracy Now's Amy Goodman interviews Nir Rosen about the refugee problem in Iraq and the problem of ethnic cleansing.
  • The Global Policy Forum keeps track of public opinion polls in Iraq. It's a little weird that we don't hear more about these polls, because Iraq is supposed to be a democracy and we're supposedly there to help the Iraqi people. President Bush keeps talking about how we should listen to "the commanders on the ground" in Iraq. But the people who are really "on the ground" are the Iraqis. Maybe we should be listening to them. What I learned from one of the most recent polls is that Iraqis are getting increasingly pessimistic about their own futures and the future of their country.
How to Become Prime Minister of Iraq
Friday Glenn Greenwald gave us a glimpse behind the curtain into the corrupt world of lobbyists and the media. Here's the story in brief: Remember Ayad Allawi? He's the guy that we appointed to run Iraq back in the days before we started giving the Iraqis any say in the matter. He thinks he should be returned to power, so rather than stage a coup, he hires a Washington lobbying firm that is well connected to the Bush White House.

Guess what happens? Suddenly the Washington Post gives him space for an op-ed column in which he blames all of Iraq's problems on the Maliki government. And just as suddenly all sorts of people start pushing for Maliki to be removed (including Carl Levin, see above). Tuesday President Bush seems to be hinting he agrees, but then Wednesday he says "Prime Minister Maliki is a good guy."

ABC News discusses this issue on camera with an former administration official who, unknown to them, is on the payroll of the lobbying firm that Allawi hired. He gives strong hints that Maliki might be on his way out.

Since this all came out, appropriate denials have been issued by all concerned, which Glenn has dutifully published without backing off of his assertion that this is all pretty slimy.

Random Interesting Stuff
Digby has preserved an article that even the Family Security Foundation realized needed to be scrubbed from its Family Security Matters web site. Philip Atkinson's article suggested that President Bush follow the example of Julius Caesar, depopulate Iraq, and then declare himself President for Life. It seems not to have been a joke. The article identifies Atkinson as a contributing editor of Family Security Matters, but I haven't been able to verify that.

A new Fox Attacks video from Brave New Films pulls together Fox News' fear-mongering about Iran.

TPM has an amusing video suggesting that the Republicans may have lost the 2006 elections because of widespread "cognitive difficulties" among the White House staff. TPM makes this point by pulling together excerpts of staffers' Congressional testimony, in which they seem unable to remember much of anything, to understand simple questions, or to perform other basic mental functions.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Edwards Wins Two Votes in NH

My wife Deb and I were two of the 200-250 people waiting for John and Elizabeth Edwards at City Hall Plaza in Manchester Sunday morning.

There we are, surrounded by the combination of seriousness and wackiness that I've come to expect in New Hampshire politics. PrioritiesNH (a group that wants our defense budget redistributed into programs that help people) has a few people handing out cookies whose icing is a pie chart of the federal discretionary budget, while some others drive past in the topsy-turvy bus, which you just have to see. People are wearing a variety of t-shirts to advertise their organizations: Health Care Voters, the ONE Campaign, and seven members of the letter carrier's union. Oh, and I'm carrying my Yearly Kos tote bag.

I've been trying hard to stay objective about Edwards. A lot of people I respect are for him, and my wife was just about sold on him already a few weeks ago. I like what he's been saying, but I'm trying not to be too influenced by the sense of personal identification I feel because Deb has had cancer. (I've written about Elizabeth's situation before. I'm not an optimist.) That can't be enough to vote for him, and besides, I have irrational reasons to like Obama too. When I read the chapter in The Audacity of Hope where Barack is flying in a borrowed private jet and wondering how these experiences might change him, I thought his writing voice sounded a lot like mine. It's hard not to root for a guy once I've made that observation.

So the Edwards campaign bus pulls up with Sheryl Crow's "A Change Will Do You Good" on the sound system. The song is from 1996 when Deb was in treatment. That year we spent a lot of time sitting on the couch watching VH-1, so I've seen the video many, many times and know exactly where I was when I did.

Maybe objectivity is over-rated.

Elizabeth is off the bus before John, and she looks good. Trust me on this, I know the signs. She either has her own hair, or a wig that handles wind better than any I've ever seen. She moves well and doesn't look like she has recently gained or lost much weight. She seems sharp mentally. At one point during the question period she bounded out of her front-row seat to add something to John's answer. (Then she handed John's microphone back and said, "Your turn, hon.") So he's not dragging her around and she's not going through the motions. She's campaigning.

Card chairs are arranged in a circle about four deep. Edwards' path into the circle goes right past me and I shake his hand, which I don't usually do at campaign events. In Elizabeth's introduction, she tells a story that deserves to be true: When John was campaigning in Manchester in the 2004 cycle, a guy tried to jab at John's career as a trial lawyer by showing up in a head-to-toe shark costume. John pointed him out to the crowd and said, "I agree with you. We really do need to save the dolphins." The guy tried to say that he's a shark, not a dolphin, but the suit muffled his voice and hardly anybody heard him.

Now that he's been introduced, Edwards makes prepared remarks for about five minutes. His lead point is that the system is rigged and broken. "The reason we don't have universal health care is very simple: drug companies, insurance companies, and their lobbyists in Washington. We're going to have to take those people on." He says we need to elect Democrats in 2008, but just sending new people into the same corrupt system won't be enough. We need a deeper kind of change.

His statement on the war is something I might have written myself. After Congress comes back from vacation in September, General Petraeus is going to report on the Surge, and then there will be a battle about funding another year of the war. The question Edwards thinks we should focus on is: "Has the Surge had any effect in reaching a political settlement in Iraq? Because there is no military solution." He believes the answer is no, and then asks "How long do we keep this many troops in Iraq if there is no political progress?"

The mandate of the 2006 elections, Edwards says, was: "Make George Bush end this war. That's what the American people said. Congress needs to stand its ground." He says that the Democrats should "use every tool including the filibuster to make sure that no Iraq funding bill goes to the President without a timetable for withdrawal." This is exactly what I want to hear. And I retain just enough objectivity to wonder if he could take this position if he were still in the Senate.

He answers questions for about 20 minutes. In the 2004 cycle I was uncanny at getting to ask questions, but I haven't been called on once in this cycle. Maybe I'm not the target voter this year. But the questions are good and Edwards handles them well. I won't try to list them. On trade policy and jobs, he says that current policies are based on what is good for the profits of multinational corporations, and that he will ask himself what is good for the middle-class worker. He talks about his father working in the textile mills and says, "I've seen what happens when the jobs leave."

Asked a question about No Child Left Behind, Edwards says one of those lines that you have to have a southern accent to pull off: "You don't fatten a hog by weighing it." He says that taking money away from a school because its students are performing badly is "insane".

The final question is from a middle-aged guy who says he's choosing between Edwards and Obama, because he'd rather vote for Giuliani than Hillary. (Scattered boos come from the crowd.) Edwards ducks the invitation to bash Hillary or Obama, but says that he stands out because he is a fighter. The fighting theme segues back to the drug and insurance companies. "If you give them a seat at the table, they'll eat all the food. You have to beat them." Without accusing Obama of being too nice, he tells us that "you can't be nice to these people. We've been nice to them. That's the problem. And they haven't given up anything voluntarily."

That's a theme I could stand to hear more of. It's not just about drug and insurance companies. It's about Bush on Iraq. For that matter, it's about the administration on almost everything. It's Congress going hat in hand to the Justice Department or the Vice President's office and asking pretty-please will they respond to our subpoenas now that we've relaxed the deadlines twice already. Pretty-please will they start obeying the surveillance laws now that we've made it more convenient for them? Pretty-please can the attorney general stop lying under oath?

Nice doesn't cut it with these people. They aren't giving up anything voluntarily. We have to take it from them.

I think that means I'm sold. Edwards has sound positions and (unlike Gore) can express them in terms ordinary people can understand. He grasps (unlike Clinton and Obama) that the way for a Democrat to project strength is not to borrow militaristic rhetoric from the Republicans, but to stand strong for progressive values. He knows his message, and (unlike Richardson) stays on it.

So I'm finally sold. Deb was here weeks ago, but I'm slow. Two votes for Edwards.

The Business Cycle: a simple introduction

In view of the recent problems in the housing market and with the mortgage companies, you might be wondering why we have these periodic panics. If the economy is growing over the long term, why can't it grow consistently over the short term? Why do we have bubbles? Why recessions? Why can't things be nice and stable?

I'd like to explain the business cycle -- the cycle of booms and busts -- with a simple example. Let's imagine a town that has ten restaurants. The town has grown a little lately and people have been going out to eat more often, so all the restaurants are doing well. On Friday and Saturday nights, you have to wait a long time to get a table. The restaurant business is so good that a rational observer who looked at the trends would conclude that the town can actually support 12 restaurants.

What happens? It depends on the economic system.

In a Communist system the government would have to open those two new restaurants. There's a restaurant commissar whose paycheck won't increase at all if there are two more restaurants. He'll have more headaches, and in fact his income might go down. As things stand now, people are willing to bribe him to make sure they get a table on Friday or Saturday night. If he opens enough restaurants to serve everybody quickly, that income stream will dry up. Ten restaurants is plenty.

In a system with a privately owned restaurant monopoly, the monopolist also thinks long lines are good. His reaction will be: "I can raise my prices." Or maybe he'll open one new restaurant and raise prices too.

But now imagine that the ten restaurants are owned by ten different people and financed by ten different bankers. They'll all look at their crowded restaurants and say, "I could open a second restaurant on the other side of town." Their bankers will look at their business plans and agree. Five of the new restaurants open at more-or-less the same time.

Suddenly a town that can support 12 restaurants has 15. They compete not just for customers but for staff as well. Wages go up, business goes down. The plans for the other five new restaurants get canceled. All the restaurants -- not just the new ones -- start losing money. Some of them -- some new, some old -- eventually go under. The town might wind up with the 12 restaurants it can support. Or 11. Or 13.

That's if the general economy behaves itself and the previous trends continue. But now imagine that something unexpected happens just as those five new restaurants open. Maybe a local factory gets moved to China. Maybe there's a natural disaster or the market for the local farm crop goes down. Rational people expected that the town would be able to support 12 restaurants. They had ten. The restaurant owners opened 15. Actually the town can support eight. What happens?

Now the 15 restaurants start losing money hand-over-fist, and the bankers get scared. The restaurant business is a bad business. You don't want anything to do with the restaurant business. Any time a restaurant loan comes due, you take what you can get and get out. The more restaurants go bankrupt, the clearer it becomes that it's a bad business. The 15 become 12, then 9. Then 8, 6, 4.

Somehow the four restaurants hang on. Eventually things stabilize. Now there are four restaurants in a market than can support eight. Business is good. Maybe we should expand.

It all starts over.

What's the lesson here? The business cycle is rooted in the nature of the capitalist system and in the human responses of greed and fear. The government can do a few things to lessen the severity of panics (like the FDIC making sure depositors don't start a run on the bank when news of the bad restaurant loans hits the media), but constant stable growth is a mirage. Businesses are going to compete for new markets or growing markets, and sometimes they will compete based on over-optimistic projections. So there will be overbuilding, and some businesses will go under. Trying to cushion that blow can backfire. If they thought the government would bail them out in case of trouble, the restaurant owners might have opened 20 new restaurants.

What you can do to protect yourself personally is to learn how to recognize greed and fear in yourself and in the people around you. Don't be afraid to be left out when everyone around you thinks they're going to get rich. And when everyone is panicking, try to hang on.

Monday, August 20, 2007

What Impressed Me This Week: Jose, counter-insurgency

Jose Padilla is convicted of conspiracy

Thursday a jury of his peers found Jose Padilla guilty of conspiracy to commit various acts of terrorism. The verdict touched off a very interesting discussion both online and in a few places in the press. I've been following Padilla's situation for years, because I regard it as the clearest example of the Bush administration's threat to American civil liberties and the rule of law. The verdict seemed strangely anticlimactic, for reasons I'll try to make clear.

The story so far

First you need some background on the case. Padilla has been in custody since May of 2002. I started writing about him in April, 2003, when I summarized his situation this way:
The government arrested Padilla in O'Hare Airport after he returned from Pakistan. He is an American citizen. He can be held indefinitely without charges because President Bush has declared him to be an "enemy combatant".
The government denied having any obligation to either charge Padilla with something or let him go. Ever. Various issues related to his imprisonment have gone up and down the ladder of courts since then. His habeas corpus plea reached the Supreme Court in June of 2004, where it was rejected on a technicality about where it was filed. It was refiled in the proper district and started working its way back up to the Supremes.

A district court found in Padilla's favor, but was over-ruled by the Appeals Court, in an opinion written by Judge J. Michael Luttig, who was at the time on the administration's short list for a Supreme Court nomination. Luttig's opinion supported the Bush administration in every respect, but when the Supreme Court was getting ready to hear the case the administration abruptly changed course, indicted Padilla of criminal charges, and asked to have him transferred from military to civilian authorities. And that apparently is when Luttig realized that the government was operating in bad faith. He briefly blocked Padilla's transfer and wrote a caustic justification:
On an issue of such surpassing importance, we believe that the rule of law is best served by maintaining on appeal the status quo in all respects and allowing Supreme Court consideration of the case in the ordinary course, rather than by an eleventh-hour transfer and vacatur on grounds and under circumstances that would further a perception that dismissal may have been sought for the purpose of avoiding consideration by the Supreme Court.
A few months later, Luttig resigned from the Appeals Court, a decision analyzed this way by Reason Magazine:
Luttig's resignation from the most pro-government (or at least pro-executive branch) of the circuit courts, to become general counsel of Boeing, resulted, according to the Journal, from a breakdown of trust between Luttig and the Bush administration. Simply put, after years of helping legitimize the legal legerdemain of the administration and the Department of Justice, Luttig got burned by his own allies.
Nonetheless, the government successfully avoided a Supreme Court ruling, so Luttig's opinion is still the ranking precedent on the enemy combatant question. With Luttig's help, the administration had gamed the system and won.

Is isolation torture?

And then there's the way Padilla was held: in a military brig rather than a civilian prison. Two days before the verdict, the Christian Science Monitor had a long article giving some of the details of Padilla's treatment. He was held in total isolation, in a cell surrounded by empty cells so that he would have no trace of human contact other than with his interrogators.

When then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved isolation as an aggressive interrogation technique for use at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Defense Department lawyers included a warning. "This technique is not known to have been generally used for interrogation purposes for longer than 30 days," the April 2003 memo reads in part. Longer than that required Mr. Rumsfeld's approval. By April 2003, Padilla had already spent 10 months in isolation at the brig. Ultimately, he was housed in the same cell, alone in his wing, for three years and seven months, according to court documents.

A psychologist hired by Padilla's lawyers said, "It was not unusual for Mr. Padilla to go four, five, or six days without even brief [visual checks] by the brig staff, who were, in any event, under instruction not to converse with him." The Monitor comments:
Those who haven't experienced solitary confinement can imagine that life locked in a small space would be inconvenient and boring. But according to a broad range of experts who have studied the issue, isolation can be psychologically devastating. Extreme isolation, in concert with other coercive techniques, can literally drive a person insane, these experts say. And that makes it a potential instrument of torture, they add.
The Soviets, the article claims, used such techniques to break a prisoner's will in four to six weeks, not three and a half years. A second psychologist, Angela Hegarty, described the effect of this treatment on Padilla in an interview on Democracy Now:
Number one, his family, more than anything, and his friends, who had a chance to see him by the time I spoke with them, said he was changed. There was something wrong. There was something very “weird” -- was the word one of his siblings used -- something weird about him. There was something not right. He was a different man. And the second thing was his absolute state of terror, terror alternating with numbness, largely. It was as though the interrogators were in the room with us. He was like -- perhaps like a trauma victim who knew that they were going to be sent back to the person who hurt them and that he would, as I said earlier, he would subsequently pay a price if he revealed what happened. So I think those would be the two main things. Also he had developed, actually, a third thing. He had developed really a tremendous identification with the goals and interests of the government. I really considered a diagnosis of Stockholm syndrome. For example, at one point in the proceedings, his attorneys had, you know, done well at cross-examining an FBI agent, and instead of feeling happy about it like all the other defendants I’ve seen over the years, he was actually very angry with them. He was very angry that the civil proceedings were “unfair to the commander-in-chief,” quote/unquote. And in fact, one of the things that happened that disturbed me particularly was when he saw his mother. He wanted her to contact President Bush to help him, help him out of his dilemma. He expected that the government might help him, if he was “good,” quote/unquote.
Apparently he loves Big Brother now.

What the verdict means

There are several ways to interpret Thursday's verdict. On one hand, it vindicates the Bush administration from the charge that it has persecuted an innocent man. (Not that anyone was making that charge. The innocent man they had tortured was Maher Arar.) I used to say that the only difference between Padilla and me or you was that President Bush had signed a piece of paper declaring Padilla an enemy combatant. But now Padilla has been convicted of something. The New York Daily News was triumphant:

Oh, what a grievous blow it must be to those who kept braying that the Bush administration was keeping poor, hapless Jose Padilla in enemy-combatant status solely because it couldn't possibly sustain any charges against him in an actual court of law. Turns out that Padilla, per a Miami federal jury's verdict yesterday, is every bit the dangerous terrorist rat his captors alleged him to be all along.

Looking at the same facts from the opposite side, Phillip Carter at Intel Dump writes:
The Padilla verdict essentially ratifies what was done to him over the past 5 years. There's strong reason to believe he was subjected to a highly coercive interrogation regime while in custody, to the point where defense lawyers claim he was unfit for trial because of the lasting effects of sensory deprivation and isolation. He was deprived of counsel; held without charges; and held without trial for years. In nearly any other case, a judge would have set him free, and Padilla would now be filing a Bivens action against the Defense and Justice Departments. But that's not the case. I'm somewhat disturbed by the outcome in this case, because it seems to rubber-stamp a long list of conduct that I find to be both abhorrent and unlawful.
A second way to look at the verdict is to ask: What has this all been about? If the ordinary criminal justice system could convict Padilla of a crime, why have we gone through this whole tyrannical process? That was the view Jenny Martinez expressed in the Washington Post:
The conclusion of Jose Padilla's criminal trial in a federal court yesterday shows that waging the "war on terror" does not require giving up our constitutional values or substituting military rule for the rule of law. The jury's guilty verdict should be appealed, but the verdict on the Constitution is in: We should keep it.
The third view is to wonder: What the heck was he actually convicted of? "Conspiracy" is an extremely vague charge. There are conspiracies and then there are conspiracies. If you're sitting behind the wheel of a get-away car, you've conspired to rob a bank even if the police stop your accomplices before the bank is actually robbed. But what if you're arrested the day before the bank was supposed to be robbed? What if your gang has talked about robbing a bank, but hasn't picked one out yet? What if you were hanging around in a bar when one of your buddies said, "We ought to rob a bank"? At what point does talk turn into criminal conspiracy?

Pretty early, apparently, when the talk is about terrorism. Scott Horton at Harpers describes Padilla's conspiracy charge as a "thought crime". (His article doesn't start with Padilla. Scroll down a few paragraphs.) It isn't just that the terrorist acts Padilla was convicted of conspiring to perform never happened; they never even started to happen. It's not clear they were even planned in much detail.
As the Bush Administration is conceptualizing and implementing this law, the fact that Padilla thought bad thoughts about the United States and its Government is enough to lock him up for life. There is no requirement that he have actually taken a material step towards a plot to actually do something bad.
Horton compares this to the Star Chamber in 17th century England:
In the state security court of that era, there was no need to demonstrate that a person actually had taken a step to act on a plan—it was enough to show his sympathies and his entrance into a conspiracy. The American Republic was founded upon a repudiation of this notion. But in this area again, the Bush Administration has worked with determination to undo three hundred years of legal history and to reinstate tyrannical practices of the past.


The most important opinion article of the week was "The War as We Saw It" in Sunday's New York Times. It was written by seven soldiers in the 82nd Airborne division.
Viewed from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched.
The gaffe of the week was by Army Chief of Staff George Casey. Worried about those soldiers who have to serve 15-month deployments rather than the usual 12 months? Don't be. According to ABC News:
"Ninety days in Iraq goes like that," he said, snapping his fingers.
I'd love to ask the guys in the 82nd about that comment.

While we're talking counter-insurgency, former captain Nathaniel Fick had a very good article in the Washington Post, Fight Less, Win More, about what he taught at the counter-insurgency academy in Afghanistan.
The third paradox hammered home at the academy is that the more force you use, the less effective you may be. Civilian casualties in Afghanistan are notoriously difficult to tally, but 300-500 noncombatants have probably been killed already this year, mostly in U.S. and coalition air strikes. Killing civilians, even in error, is not only a serious moral transgression but also a lethal strategic misstep.
Of course, when Barack Obama made this same point, Mitt Romney went after him as naive and inexperienced. Check out this TPM-TV video.

And it's got nothing to do with Iraq or Padilla, but you may be amused by Steven Colbert's interview with DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas.

Monday, August 13, 2007

What Impressed Me This Week

Progressive Activists Are Picking Edwards

This week I checked out an impression I picked up at Yearly Kos: That the kind of people who got behind Howard Dean four years ago -- my people, in other words -- are settling on John Edwards this time around. It seems to be true. Edwards has been leading the DailyKos straw poll all year. He was clearly the crowd favorite at the Yearly Kos presidential debate. PsiFighter37 on Kos made the case for Edwards this way: Edwards is the only top-tier candidate who isn't buying into the idea that Democrats have to make hawkish statements in order to prove that they're tough. Obama thinks that the way to appear strong is to rattle his sabre at Pakistan. Edwards isn't going for that.

It's not just Kossacks who are starting to commit. Rolling Stone anointed Edwards as the real liberal in the race. And Paul Krugman wrote:

There is, by contrast, a lot of substance on the Democratic side, with John Edwards forcing the pace. Most notably, in February, Mr. Edwards transformed the whole health care debate with a plan that offers a politically and fiscally plausible path to universal health insurance. ... Mr. Edwards has also offered a detailed, sensible plan for tax reform, and some serious antipoverty initiatives.

Grist says that Edwards has "far and away the strongest, most comprehensive climate and energy plan among the three Democratic front-runners."

In addition to what Krugman calls "the substance thing," there's the style. Where Obama puts a can't-we-all-get-along wrapper on all his proposals, Edwards is openly combative. Here's Edwards at Yearly Kos:
Who will be about change? And how do you bring about change? Now, I just listened to some conversation about negotiating and compromise. Here's my belief: I don't think insurance companies, drug companies, and oil companies are going to voluntarily give away their power. They never have. They're not going to today. ... To bring about change, you need somebody who has fought these people their entire life and has beaten them over and over and over. They're not going to give away their power voluntarily. We need to take their power from them.
If you substitute a Louisiana drawl for Edwards' North Carolina accent, you can almost hear Willie Stark from All the King's Men. I think he's onto something here: There's a way to sound strong as a Democrat. You don't have to ape Republican rhetoric about bombing people.

The other thing Edwards has going is just pure tactical competence. Again and again I run into example of Edwards doing the little things right. James Hoffa at Yearly Kos challenged the Democratic candidates to put forward a labor platform "like John Edwards has." Edwards was the first Democratic candidate to pull out of the now-cancelled Fox News debate. One of the booths at Yearly Kos was for the event-planning site They were demonstrating a feature of their site that allows you to "demand" an event. You describe an event you want, like a concert in your home town by your favorite band, and if other people agree your event can move up the list of demanded events. Well, the demonstration was that John Edwards had promised to go to whatever town most demanded his appearance. Any candidate could have done that, but nobody else thought of it.

While I can observe my tribe lining up behind Edwards and I can understand why, I'm not there yet. Back when he was in the Senate, Edwards was one of the most hawkish Democrats. He voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq and (like every Senate Democrat but Feingold) he voted for the Patriot Act. When I asked him about it in 2003, I wasn't wild about his answer. At the time he favored protecting civil liberties with oversight processes within the executive branch, not repealing the Act or insisting on more oversight by Congress or the judiciary. I need to do more research before I make my decision.

And this week's humor is Bill O'Reilly wondering why Edwards won't come on Fox News when they've been treating him so well. TPM video collects the evidence.

De-mythologizing Giuliani
For some reason, it was Giuliani take-down week. The Village Voice demolished all the "America's Mayor" myth-making in Rudy Giuliani: Five Big Lies About 9/11. On DailyKos, Devilstower reminded us of this Orwellian Rudy quote:
Freedom is not a concept in which people can do anything they want, be anything they can be. Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do.
It comes from a New York Times account of a speech Giuliani gave in 1994. And in The New Yorker Peter J. Boyer did a longer, more balanced view of Giuliani that still gives a person pause, because he reproduces so many of the character flaws of President Bush. Someone who worked for Giuliani when he was U. S. attorney said:
I’ve always thought that he had a surprisingly small inner circle—and they were not always the best and the brightest.
Another said:
Rudy was a person for whom the world was only black-and-white.
Boyer says:
Giuliani admitted no dissent from his vision, and that ruthless reprisal often seemed his first resort when anyone disagreed. ... he sometimes seemed to be deliberating inside an echo chamber. Loyalty is the virtue that he most prizes, and its absence in an aide is the surest route to exile.
He quotes Giuliani's top foreign policy advisor, neo-conservative Norman Podhoretz, who says that if Bush doesn't get around to bombing Iran by the end of his term, "Rudy seems to me to be the best bet for doing what is necessary."

And of course, nothing is as damning as the 12-minute video put together by the IAFF fire-fighters union. On 9/11 when the second tower came down, 121 firefighters and zero policemen were still in the building. Why? Because the police radios worked. They got the evacuation order. The firefighters died because of equipment that was known to be defective. The idea that Giuliani is running on his 9/11 competence really grates at the IAFF.

The DLC Strikes Back
The other debate going on this week was whether the Democrats are in danger of going too far left, or if maybe some people's impressions of "the center" are actually too far right. The Democratic Leadership Council has long been a force trying to push the Democratic Party to the right, and its leader Harold Ford had a hand-wringing op-ed in the Washington Post. The best response I found was from the Southern progressive blog Left in Alabama.
being a Democrat is no longer a terminal disease, even in the South. Americans agree with many progressive ideas and more people consider themselves Democrats than Republicans. Among Independent voters Democrats have about a 10 point advantage. This is the time for Democratic candidates to stop running away from their party.
Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos debated Ford on Meet the Press Sunday. Markos did well, but I thought the host (David Gregory) framed the discussion in a slanted way as "liberal vs. centrist". Whether or not Ford is actually in the center is what the debate is all about.

The Propaganda Continues
You may have heard about Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institute, and his eye-opening trip to Iraq. The media cycle started with his op-ed A War We Just Might Win in the New York Times on July 30. For the next several days O'Hanlon and his co-author Kevin Pollack were on all the talk shows pushing the same story: They were war critics from the liberal Brookings Institute, but they went to Iraq and saw all the progress we're making with the Surge. Now they support Bush's policies.

Well, as usual, the parts of this story that aren't completely false are merely misleading. Glenn Greenwald interviews O'Hanlon and explains the con here.

One of the most striking panels at Yearly Kos was when Glenn went head-to-head with guys from Time and the Politico. The Politico guy explained that his organization isn't as big as we think: only 50 people. I whispered to a friend, "Did he say 50? Five-oh?" He did. Glenn, of course, is just Glenn -- without 49 other folks. But somehow he manages to do the background research that the mainstream organizations don't get around to. This story is a great example.

Impeachment Update
This week I read Elizabeth Holtzman's book The Impeachment of George W. Bush. It's from early in 2006, so it's a little out of date. She gives several grounds for impeachment, some of which (like "reckless indifference to human life" in his response to Hurricane Katrina) seem like a stretch. But the March, 2007 issue of Foreign Policy she cut it down to two: wiretapping outside of the FISA process and going to war under false pretenses in Iraq. I'm still looking for a better reference.

One key point Holtzman makes is the importance of impeachment as a way of rejecting the Bush legacy. If we just run out the clock until a new administration takes over, we'll probably see all these same abuses again soon. And Congress' inaction now will be an argument for not acting then.

This is also the problem with the "but then Cheney will be president" objection. Impeachment isn't how you choose a president; we have elections for that. Impeachment is about setting limits. Future presidents need to know that Bush went too far.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

What Impressed Me This Week

Yearly Kos
I spent comparatively little time cruising the Internet this week, because I was watching a big chunk of my usual Internet experience come to life: I went to Yearly Kos, the annual convention of the DailyKos bloggers. For three days in Chicago 1500 bloggers re-enacted the old-fashioned experience of talking face-to-face. It was a little like going to Plymouth Plantation.

From a pure fanboy point of view, I got to meet a bunch of the people I read and quote and link to: George Lakoff, Juan Cole, Max Blumenthal, and Kos himself. (I now have a signed copy of a Juan Cole book that won’t be released until September.) I saw Glenn Greenwald in two different workshops and John Dean in one. I had several chances to introduce myself if I could have thought of anything to say. I heard that other A-list bloggers like Digby and Atrios were there, but since I don’t know them by sight I couldn’t say.

Bloggers are considered opinion makers now, so politicians came to talk to us. We hosted a debate with all the Democratic presidential candidates other than Biden, and afterwards each of them (other than Kucinich) held a break-out session to answer questions from the audience. (Edwards was clearly the crowd favorite. I went to the Hillary Clinton breakout session, because I expected more sparks to fly there. She handled herself very well.) I met two of the New Hampshire Democrats competing for my vote for the senate: Mayor Steve Marchand of Portsmouth and Dartmouth medical researcher (and one-time crew member on the space shuttle Columbia) Jay Buckey. It’s a little weird that I had to go to Chicago to do that, but I was glad to have the opportunity. Both impressed me, and I'll have to do more research before deciding who to support. Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid were scheduled, but had to cancel when Congress ran late.

Other parts of the progressive establishment made welcome-to-the-neighborhood gestures. The Teamsters held a cook-out for us, with a rabble-rousing speech by Jim Hoffa. SEIU President Andy Stern answered questions about the future of the union movement in a long and interesting session over another union-sponsored meal. And if I had known that all those people were going to give me t-shirts, I wouldn't have packed so much.

The two politicians who weren’t running for anything got the warmest receptions. The blogosphere was Howard Dean’s base of support in 2004, and he’s still looked on as the home-town boy. He gave a keynote address that had the room on its feet again and again. And Wes Clark continues to be our favorite ex-general. I listened to his talk with several friends from California who hadn’t seen Clark before; they came out dazzled. (His talk is Chapter 5 of TPM's video series.) He combines idealism, insight, and reasonability in an almost unique package. It's too late for him to run for president in 08, but he's definite VP material.

The best collection of Yearly Kos video is at Talking Points Memo.

From my point of view, it was interesting to watch the blogosphere growing up. I believe we're a collective intelligence that is learning rapidly. A few years ago people were just learning how campaigns work. (The Howard Dean campaign in 2004 had a lot of energy, but much of it was wasted.) We got better at canvassing, at fund-raising, and at working within the system, and Kos was not totally off-base to claim that we made the difference in 2006. (Democrats only won the Senate by one vote, so a lot of people can claim to have made the difference.) This time I saw people trying to learn how to work with Congress. A lot of conversations revolved around the theme of: You helped elect this guy, now how do you make sure he does what you elected him to do? What's the most constructive response if he doesn't?

Buffalo Girl is on the same wavelength: "We don't know how to lobby. We should LEARN how to lobby."

I don't think that as a community we've acquired this skill set yet, but I'm developing great confidence in the collective intelligence: We'll figure it out.

FISA Gets Worse
A great test case happened during the convention itself: Congress revised the FISA law to give Bush more power to spy on people. I'm pretty sure that's not what people had in mind when they voted Democratic in 2006. What are we going to do about it?

Marty Lederman at the Balkinization blog analyzes it like this:
The key provision of S.1927 is new section 105A of FISA (see page 2), which categorically excludes from FISA's requirements any and all "surveillance directed at a person reasonably believed to be located outside of the United States."
So if you drive into Canada, the government can tap your calls without any legal process whatever. Or if you're right at home, but they "reasonably believe" you're in Canada. Or if they can claim to have directed their surveillance at someone they thought was outside the US, but they recorded your phone call by mistake, that's OK too.

I don't know how you square that with this:
FOURTH AMENDMENT. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Glenn Greenwald makes no excuses for the Democrats who caved in to Bush's demands:
With each day that passes, the radicalism and extremism originally spawned in secret by the Bush presidency becomes less and less his fault and more and more the fault of those who -- having discovered what they have been doing and having been given the power to stop it -- instead acquiesce to it and, worse, enable and endorse it.
If you want a humorous take on the whole thing, blueness gives us In The Vaults Where The Dry Powder Is Stored.
Like you, I have heard these Democrats say, every time, as they raced past in headlong retreat, that they were just "keeping our powder dry" for more propitious moments in which to strike blows against the Empire. Some months ago it hit me: damn, that must be a helluva lot of powder they've got stored up by now. Stored . . . somewhere. But where, I wondered, was it?
The Fox Debate
I'll have more about the content of Yearly Kos next week. (It just ended this morning, and I'm still digesting it. I'm sending WIMTW out early this week because I don't know if I'll find an Internet connection tomorrow.) But one workshop fits into the lobbying theme: Outfoxing Fox on Thursday morning.

The subject of the workshop was how activists got the Democratic candidates to pull out of a proposed debate hosted by Fox News. The speakers described a cycle of viral video (the Fox Attacks series by Brave New Films), online petitions, and traditional news coverage that put pressure on the Democratic candidates until they dropped out of the Fox debate. It worked, and the debate was cancelled.

The point of canceling the debate was that by letting Fox pose as an impartial debate host, the Democrats were giving Fox a credibility it doesn't deserve and will ultimately use against them. This was just one chapter in an anti-Fox-News war, the goal of which is to "rebrand" Fox as a mouthpiece of the Republican Party. MoveOn's Adam Green put it this way:
When a story breaks on Fox, it should be treated no differently than a Republican National Committee press release.
Somebody wrote me last week to ask if I had a good reference on impeachment and what the case against President Bush would be. I didn't give a good answer, but I'm looking for one. I don't want to have to write it myself.

The problem is that there are a bunch of possible cases, and they each have their own virtues and vices. Warrantless wiretapping was a clear breach of the FISA law, so it makes the best legal case. Lying to Congress (and the country) to get support for the Iraq invasion was much worse morally, but harder to present as a crime. The U.S. attorneys scandal has a lot of smoke, but so far the stonewalling has worked: We know that everybody's story contradicts everybody else's, but exactly what they're hiding is not so clear. It's just common sense that you wouldn't lie to Congress (which is a crime) unless you were covering up an even bigger crime. But exactly what that crime is, we don't know.

I'll report back next week on what I find.