A Man with a Flashlight

Small war, big fear

Two former Reagan appointees notice an odd difference between today’s Permanent Emergency (popularly labeled the War on Terror) and World War Two and Vietnam:

To date in the war on terrorism, including the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and all U.S. military personnel killed in action in Afghanistan and Iraq, America’s losses total about 2 percent of the forces we lost in World War II and less than 7 percent of those killed in Vietnam. Yet we did not find it necessary to compromise our honor or abandon our commitment to the rule of law to defeat Nazi Germany or imperial Japan, or to resist communist aggression in Indochina. On the contrary, in Vietnam — where we both proudly served twice — America voluntarily extended the protections of the full Geneva Convention on prisoners of war to Viet Cong guerrillas who, like al-Qaeda, did not even arguably qualify for such protections.

I have seen remarkably little discussion of how this happened. In fact I cannot, at the moment, recall reading a single explanation of why, after shouldering the bitter weight of World War Two with such aplomb, and maintaining our principles, if not our winning streak, in Vietnam – what caused us to lose our nerve now, and to condone such desperate, doomed solutions from our President?

Are we simply spoiled? Has sixty years of wealth and comfort made us so desperate to avoid a fight that we will give up honor, if only we can buy a little more time, and be saved from death?

That is Bush’s bargain: betray the principles of our fathers, and I will give you safety from death. Let those take it who will, but forgive me if I don’t have the stomach for it.

King of America watch
July 23, 2007, 11:30 pm
Filed under: Politics

Some people are beginning to notice that the constitution gives the power to wage war to congress not the president. And to ask why they might have done such a thing. Good quote:

The Constitution cannot enforce itself. It is, as the constitutional scholar Edwin Corwin famously observed, an “invitation to struggle” among the branches, but the founders wisely bequeathed to Congress some powerful tools for engaging in the struggle. It is no surprise that the current debate over a deeply unpopular war is arising in the context of a Congressional spending bill. That is precisely what the founders intended.

Are we approaching a constitutional crisis that will make the 2000 election showdown look like a minor judicial matter?

Maliki to US: Get Out
July 15, 2007, 3:49 pm
Filed under: Politics, The War on Terror, Uncategorized


Where to begin? At first Maliki’s statement seems like shocking ingratitude. His office and the government it directs were paid for with American blood. But think about what he’s saying – and his advisor’s complaints about the recent Anbar successes Bush is rightly proud of. Don’t get it yet? Here’s how it works: Maliki is pissed off because we’re not helping him conduct a civil war against the Sunnis. Meaning whatever successes the surge has achieved are against the will of the Maliki government. We are trying to establish security; he prefers instability which can be exploited against the Sunni enemy.

Imagine what it means to the average Iraqi in the street that the man who for better or worse leads their country has told us to leave. What is it we think we can achieve here again? And who is going to help us achieve it?

From today forward, any soldier dying in Iraq is dying for a government which doesn’t want our help and has asked us to leave. Our mission is opposed by most Iraqis and the Iraqi government. And most Americans think it should be ended. Against that, we have the faith of a president who has spent all his political capital. You may not like the way the wind blows, but you can’t pretend it’s blowing the other way. The time for realism has come.

New York firefighters on Giuliani
July 14, 2007, 7:21 pm
Filed under: Politics, The War on Terror

It seems some of them don’t like him.

I’ve gone off on Giuliani before and I’ll probably do it again, but I want to say that I actually admire his aggressiveness about fighting terrorism. Immediately following 9/11, his black and white mind was a reassuring presence. But some things have happened between now and then, like Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, secret rendition to torturing regimes, the President’s unilateral, extralegal wiretapping of US citizens, and the occupation of Iraq, which we fumbled in front of the whole world – after the whole world had told us not to do it. So while Rudy does seem like a good guy to have around, I just can’t allow myself to vote for someone who doesn’t even seem to view these as major problems, someone who just wants to keep on chooglin’. We’ve had enough monarchy for a while. It’s time to elect a President.

Gravel calls bullshit on Hillary, Obama, Edwards, and the HRC
July 14, 2007, 4:16 pm
Filed under: Politics

You gotta love Mike Gravel. A, because he establishes some pretty mean credentials in the stand against the politically expedient homophobia Bush and Rove contributed to the national debate. And B, because like Ron Paul, Gravel seems to take pleasure in staking out positions that are well out of the mainstream, but eminently sensible. Edwards, Clinton, and Obama must view him with envy and annoyance.

For the record, all the Democratic candidates say they would change Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, though Gravel claims that Hillary still defends it as a good policy at the time it was created. Only Gravel and Kucinich support gay marriage. (See the HRC scorecard – and why aren’t they letting Gravel come to their debate again?)

I have no idea how self-identified conservatives can oppose gay marriage. Isn’t a central tenet of conservatism (and one with which I agree) the idea that the government governs best which governs least? And how is the relationship between two people the business of any prince or legislature?

2007: Year of the grumpy old men. Let’s hope 2008 finds them even grumpier.

Contempt of Congress
July 13, 2007, 1:08 pm
Filed under: Politics, The War on Terror

At yesterday’s press conference, Bush was asked how he would win Republican legislators to the cause of staying the course in Iraq. His answer was simple: he didn’t have to. Congress has no business making war policy.

I respect those republicans that you’re referring to, I presume you’re referring to friends of mine like Lugar, or, Senator Lugar, Domineci, yeah. These are good honorable people. I’ve spoken to them, and I listen very carefully to what they have to say. First of all, they share my concern that a precipitous withdrawal would embolden Al Qaeda. And they also understand that we cant let al Qaeda gain safe haven inside of Iraq. I appreciate, you know, their calls. And I appreciate their desire to work with the White House to be in a position where we can sustain a presence in Iraq. What I tell them is this, just as I’ve told you, which is as commander in chief of the greatest military ever I have an obligation, a sincere and serious obligation, to hear out my commander on the ground. And I will take his recommendation and, as I mentioned, talk to Bob Gates about it, as well as the Joint Chiefs about it, as well as consult with members of the Congress, both Republics (sic) and Democrats, as I make a decision about the way forward in Iraq. And so, you know, I value the advice of those Senators. I appreciate their concerns about the situation in Iraq. And I will continue listening to them.

Note how radically his language would limit the power of Congress: I listen very carefully to what they have to say (no mention of Congress actually, you know, making law). As commander in chief I have an obligation. As I make a decision about the way forward. I will continue listening to them. The corollary, you see, of the Unitary Executive, is the Advisory Congress. Call it America 2.0.

Bush used 9/11 to create a war with no geographical limit, which can be prolonged indefinitely. He may be losing against al Qaeda, but he has racked up a series of stunning victories on the front of expanding government power and attacking American liberties. Ask yourself how much of that agenda could have been achieved without the favorable environment of the “war on terror”? Welcome to the permanent emergency. And check out a Republican presidential candidate with a different view.

Remember when the power to begin – and end – war lay with the Congress? To borrow a line from Star Wars, those were the days of the Old Republic – before the Empire came.

July 11, 2007, 10:03 am
Filed under: Politics

I second Andrew Sullivan’s call to impeach Cheney. I mean, what’s the man’s next act? A press conference featuring him, a copy of the Constitution, and a lighter?

Decision time. Will we turn back towards the path of a nation of law? Or slide further into political hackery, secret government, and rulers to whom no law applies?

A nice TPM post on this topic from last year.

Is whoring a serious sin? David Vitter represents.
July 11, 2007, 12:24 am
Filed under: Politics

Now, Jimmy Carter famously admitted to having sinned in his heart. Louisiana congressman David Vitter, on the other hand, went ahead and sinned with the body (sin according to him, not me). I wonder if that isn’t just the difference between Georgia and New Orleans.

Vitter’s name was among those on phone records made public by “D.C. Madame” Deborah Jeane Palfrey (who is in the process of getting done for pimping) in what looks awfully like a ruined attempt at blackmail. What Palfrey did shouldn’t be illegal, but, like many successful businesspeople, she’s not all that sweet and she’s not all that straight.

Vitter deserves credit for respecting our intelligence, if nothing else. Everybody else involved is telling stories like they think we think magic is real. Like deputy secretary of state Randall Tobias, who was just getting a massage – or Madame Palfrey herself, who apparently thought the johns were paying for a few hours of platonic friendship, or perhaps intelligent conversation (they were college girls after all). Her business success must have been quite a surprise to her.

All this fuss for a business transaction which has been outlawed countless times and places, but never prevented. When will we learn that to alter human nature is beyond the power of government?

Quote of the day
July 6, 2007, 8:03 am
Filed under: Politics, The Earth

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” – W.H. Murray of the Scottish Himalaya Expedition, often wrongly attributed to Goethe himself.

Note to Mike Gravel, Bill Richardson, John Edwards, Barack Obama: propose a large tax on gasoline. This writer, and others, will have new respect for your seriousness on a range of issues, from peace in the Middle East to addressing the environmental catastrophe.

And he was driving a Prius
July 5, 2007, 11:58 pm
Filed under: Drug Prohibition, Politics, The Earth

Can you get greener than being Al Gore’s son, cruising along the San Diego freeway and smoking green buds?

I’m sure I won’t be the first to ask if the marijuana was as hybrid as the car. Yuk yuk yuk.

Strange to say, but my first reaction is a slight tinge of envy. It must be my hippie roots. There’s something strange, even dreamlike, about the whole situation. It seems to come straight from the subconscious of the Left. Does Al Gore III stand for something in all of us, the rampaging id of the gentle liberal psyche?

The trouble with Bill
July 5, 2007, 11:47 pm
Filed under: Politics

Since posting about Bill Richardson I got email from his campaign suggesting I could link to his site. This is the blogosphere’s way of telling you you are kissing too much ass, so let’s mention the funny thing about Bill Richardson: he wants to pull completely out of Iraq, and he wants to do it yesterday. He would literally leave no troops there whatsoever – not to train the Iraqi army, not to secure Kurdistan, not to secure the borders. Coming from someone with Richardson’s foreign policy experience, I can only interpret this as a bone he figures smells pretty juicy to Democratic primary voters, because as a strategy for peace in the middle east it is pie in the sky. An Iraq pullout would be far worse than America’s withdrawal from Vietnam, which at least abandoned the field to a clear victor: Communism. In Iraq we would leave nothing but a vacuum. Richardson is using this to try and set himself apart from the other Democratic candidates, but for me, his sensible policies on medical marijuana, the use of diplomacy, CLOSING GUANTANAMO, and keeping the government the hell out of people’s sex lives does a fine job already. Anyway for now I like him more than Obama, partly because he is much clearer about where he stands (perhaps as a forgotten candidate he has little choice about this, but anyway it interests me).

Oh yeah… Bill Richardson
July 3, 2007, 10:58 am
Filed under: Politics

For those of you who’d forgotten (I had), New Mexico governor Bill Richardson is running for the Democratic nomination. I caught his June 19th speech at the Commonwealth Club of California on NPR. Richardson talks policy with more substance than any of the Democratic frontrunners (that’s why they call them frontrunners, they run for office by fronting).

Richardson would end “don’t ask, don’t tell,” end federal raids on patients legally using marijuana; allow civil unions for gays and lesbians; make nuclear arms reduction a foreign policy priority; and he says he doesn’t believe in raising taxes. How reasonable – and these days, how unusual.

He’s also a self-effacing, low-key guy from New Mexico, none of the Massachussetts ego that keeps sinking the Democratic party. And he doesn’t mind making light of himself:

“His great virtue and his weakness”
June 30, 2007, 9:07 am
Filed under: Hell, Let's Call it Torture, Politics, The War on Terror

I just finished part 2 of the Washington Post’s Cheney profile. Read it if you have any interest in understanding the mindset of an American who comes to embrace torture – and understand it we must, if we are resolved to begin the long and hard work of removing this stain from our honor.

It is striking to me that the torture crowd paints themselves as the realists in this debate. I submit that the entire foundation of their argument rests on a singular fantasy – the fantasy that if we just try hard enough, and compromise enough of our core values, we can ensure that Americans will be safe from another terrorist attack. If you believe this then all else follows. It means our historical disdain (and proud disdain) for torture is meaningless. It means the public interest in privacy and protection from government scrutiny is a bygone. And it may come to mean many other things, to our lasting regret. This fantasy – this dangerous fantasy – can justify anything, and it will, until we give it up for good.

My opposition to torture is not idealistic, it is realistic. I know – though of course I wish it were otherwise – that any government’s promise of security is hollow. When politicians bring us their sweet offers of safety – think Rudy Giuliani – I see the shrewd self-interest that lies beneath their reassuring strength. When has a politican ever won office by telling people what they do not want to admit? We are being targeted by killers, and they are bent on murder, and we can not stop all of them. That is the truth, and we can “double Guantanamo,” as Mitt Romney bravely suggests, and it will make no difference.

This is not defeatism; I believe we can defeat the jihadists, and we must. But show me the terrorist movement or insurgency that was defeated by torturing those who were captured. Show me one. You will find no examples of this, only examples of the opposite; movements which were fueled by oppression, and strengthened by it, and given the one thing we should find most repugnant to give them: a sense of justification.

We can never hope to erase the risk of attack, but it is completely within our power to uphold the traditions of democracy. Bush and Cheney notwithstanding, limits to the power of kings are an enduring monument of our civilization. That achievement probably took more toil than erecting the pyramids. Unlike the pyramids, it passes on a sweet benefit to every new generation, for as long as we can find the strength to honor and defend it. Also unlike the pyramids, it is being dismantled.

Two U.S. laws
May 19, 2007, 12:28 pm
Filed under: Hell, Let's Call it Torture, Politics

that the President might want to consider his own exposure to.

TITLE 18 > PART I > CHAPTER 113C > § 2340A

§ 2340A. Torture

(a) Offense.— Whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.
(b) Jurisdiction.— There is jurisdiction over the activity prohibited in subsection (a) if—
(1) the alleged offender is a national of the United States; or
(2) the alleged offender is present in the United States, irrespective of the nationality of the victim or alleged offender.
(c) Conspiracy.— A person who conspires to commit an offense under this section shall be subject to the same penalties (other than the penalty of death) as the penalties prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the conspiracy.

TITLE 18 > PART I > CHAPTER 118 > § 2441

§ 2441. War crimes

(a) Offense.— Whoever, whether inside or outside the United States, commits a war crime, in any of the circumstances described in subsection (b), shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for life or any term of years, or both, and if death results to the victim, shall also be subject to the penalty of death.
(b) Circumstances.— The circumstances referred to in subsection (a) are that the person committing such war crime or the victim of such war crime is a member of the Armed Forces of the United States or a national of the United States (as defined in section 101 of the Immigration and Nationality Act).
(c) Definition.— As used in this section the term “war crime” means any conduct—
(1) defined as a grave breach in any of the international conventions signed at Geneva 12 August 1949, or any protocol to such convention to which the United States is a party;
(2) prohibited by Article 23, 25, 27, or 28 of the Annex to the Hague Convention IV, Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, signed 18 October 1907;
(3) which constitutes a violation of common Article 3 of the international conventions signed at Geneva, 12 August 1949, or any protocol to such convention to which the United States is a party and which deals with non-international armed conflict; or
(4) of a person who, in relation to an armed conflict and contrary to the provisions of the Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby-Traps and Other Devices as amended at Geneva on 3 May 1996 (Protocol II as amended on 3 May 1996), when the United States is a party to such Protocol, willfully kills or causes serious injury to civilians.

A glimpse into the Death Star
May 18, 2007, 11:13 am
Filed under: Politics

that the Bush white house has been these six years. Alberto Gonzales (when he was still on his way to the top, and a hot prospect for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court) and White House chief of staff Andrew Card tried to extract John Ashcroft’s approval for their illegal wiretapping program at his hospital bed, when he was so incapacitated that he was not the acting attorney general. Ashcroft stood up to them even though he was lying down. I must say I gave the man too little credit.

Oh, and they were sent by the President, according to Bush appointee James Comey’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee (free partisan HQ).

Comey’s testimony caused Chuck Hagel to join the ranks of Republican senators calling for Gonzales to resign. The Washington Post reads Gonzales’ demise in the stars. Pray that they speak true. If ending American torture were a video game, Gonzales would be the boss at the end of level 1.

Politics in America start breathing again
May 18, 2007, 11:06 am
Filed under: Politics

Is this an unfair characterization? For several hair-raising years, it seemed that the opportunity provided by the 9/11 attacks would be successfully exploited by a cabal within the Republican party to seize the Congress’s (the voters’) power, re-draw the boundaries of freedom within the country on much smaller lines, and strangle all dissent.

I am by no means sanguine about what the Democrats can deliver – to me their mettle is not yet proven, and there is much reason to doubt them. But Senators Leahy and Spector (yes, not all Republicans surrendered) are trying to breathe life back into democracy. Letters like this one are a sign of life for our republic that I have been waiting far, far too long to see.

Somehow I don’t think the 1 Rove email that Justice found after “scouring” their computers will satisfy Leahy and Spector. Nor should it.

Right on the nail, from Ron Paul
May 18, 2007, 10:55 am
Filed under: Politics

“We should have a strong president – strong enough to resist the temptation of taking power that a president shouldn’t have.”

Paul cuts open the central fallacies of the Bush administration like so many tomatoes. And he exposes Giuliani and Romney for the fearful, compromised men that they are. You can see why the Republican establishment is terrified.

Then again, he also opposes the law giving citizenship by birth on American soil, blames volcanoes for global warming, and doesn’t seem to think Israel deserves our support. So I am charmed but not won.

Gonzales’ testimony in the House
May 12, 2007, 12:42 pm
Filed under: Politics

Keith Olbermann observes Gonzales reading from the same script he used in April:

“So that’s why you’re not going to answer the question, because you want to protect the integrity of the investigations.” Conyers speaks with deceptive slowness, but before you know it he’s around your neck like a boa constrictor.

Congressman Schiff used to be an Assistant U.S. Attorney. He seems to relish the twist of fate which now lets him grill the U.S. Attorneys’ boss. And he’s about the only one in the House who brings the sort of heat that the Senate brought to bear on Gonzales in April.

On the whole, a disappointing performance by the Representatives after April’s Senate hearings. Schumer alone, in his shark-like attack, made for great television then. These hearings were sleepy by comparison.

The Washington Post covers related stories here and here.

The Dems: waiting for a better opportunity???
May 12, 2007, 10:55 am
Filed under: Politics

The president is weak, unpopular, and embroiled by scandal. The war continues to deteriorate and the public opposes it. Republicans are calling for the close of Guantanamo and the restoration of Habeas Corpus has bipartisan support.

So why are the Dems so shy about restoring Habeas Corpus? At the end of the day, are they made of anything more than pretty talk?

It’s like you’re playing basketball and you cherry-pick a pass with no defenders around, it’s just you and the basket. There is no more perfect setup for the Democrats to take action. This is a downhill charge in every respect, the wind is favorable, the sun is shining. If they do nothing now, I will never forget it.

Obama: close Guantanamo and restore Habeas Corpus
May 12, 2007, 10:36 am
Filed under: Hell, Let's Call it Torture, Politics

“We need to bring to a close this sad chapter in American history, and begin a chapter that passes the might of our military to the freedom of our diplomacy and the power of our alliances. And while we are at it, we can close down Guantanamo and we can restore habeas corpus and we can lead with our ideas and our values.”
Barack Obama, Richmond, VA, May 8th