Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 31, 2009

GEORGE TILLER ASSASSINATED.... George Tiller, a Wichita physician, was assassinated this morning while attending church serves in Kansas.

Tiller, 67, was shot just after 10 a.m. at Reformation Lutheran Church at 7601 E. 13th, where he was a member of the congregation. Witnesses and a police source confirmed Tiller was the victim.

No information has been released about whether a suspect is in custody. Police said they are looking for white male who was driving a 1990s powder blue Ford Taurus with Kansas license plate 225 BAB. [...]

Tiller has long been a focal point of protest by abortion opponents because his clinic, Women's Health Care Services at 5701 E. Kellogg, is one of the few in the country where late-term abortions are performed.

Tiller has long been a target for right-wing criticism, and had been shot before. His medical clinic, a constant target, had been vandalized earlier this month.

As Amanda Marcotte recently noted, "[Tiller] is one of the two doctors in the country that specializes in the very small percentage of abortions performed late in pregnancy (but before viability) done for health reasons, usually because the pregnancy is a danger to a woman's health or life, or because the fetus is dead or dying.... He's been shot in both arms, stalked by the attorney general's office under Phill Kline ... and charged with the crime of performing a bunch of illegal abortions, for which he was acquitted."

I emphasize this because it's a point that may go overlooked in much of the media coverage -- Tiller performed therapeutic abortions for women who wanted children.

Tiller, in other words, worked past the constant threats of violence to provide a service to women that few would. Today, he was apparently murdered for his efforts.

Steve Benen 2:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (97)

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IFILL MAKES IT PLAIN.... Gwen Ifill made a good point this morning on ABC's "This Week" that we don't often see on major network news shows.

"I've spent the last year talking to a lot of people who got elected -- black elected officials -- for a book, and all of them talked about 'identity politics,'" Ifill explained. "They defined it as being part of what you are, but not all of what you are. And I think that's what the defenders of Sonia Sotomayor are trying to say. Which is that her point was, yes, what she is, and what we all are, shapes us. But it's not all that shapes you.

"I always try to take arguments like this and turn them on their heads. And I never hear people say that for a white male that it's identity politics if he is shaped by his white maleness, and by the things that affected his life, and whether privilege affected his life. That's never considered to be a negative.

"It's only considered to be a negative when ethnicity is involved, or race is involved, or gender is involved."

Good for Ifill. Somehow, this is a point that seems to go largely ignored, if not completely ignored, at major news outlets.

Steve Benen 12:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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COMMON GROUND.... It looks like the president was sincere when he committed to reaching out to those with whom he disagrees, searching for common ground. Focus on the Family issued this press release the other day. (via Kyle at Right Wing Watch)

The White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships hosted adoption leaders from across the country Wednesday to talk about how to better serve the needs of kids in foster care.

Kelly Rosati, adoptive mother of four and senior director of Focus on the Family's Sanctity of Human Life department, was among those in attendance.

"The Obama administration is really listening," she said, "and wanted to know from those on the front lines what could be better done to serve the kids in America's foster care system."

Unfortunately, the president supports placing some of those kids with homosexual couples.

Rosati said the White House expressed its appreciation for Focus' commitment to the issue.

"One of the things that emerged from the meeting," she said, "was that adoption recruiting events, such as Focus' Wait No More, are essential to our ability to find families for those waiting kids."

Focus on the Family anticipates ongoing dialogue with the White House on adoption.

Just so we're clear, there's only one group called "Focus on the Family." This isn't a statement issued by some other organization that happens to have the same name. It's a press release from the religious right group, created by James Dobson, which is apparently impressed by the Obama White House's efforts on adoption and foster care.

It's striking to think Focus representatives and Obama administration officials would get together to discuss policy, and have a fruitful discussion, but that's apparently what transpired. To put this in perspective, imagine George W. Bush aides agreeing to meet with representatives of the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and/or People for the American Way, to explore common ground on any issue.

If that sounds like a ridiculous scenario, then you can appreciate why this meeting is unusual.

Obama has repeatedly emphasized his desire to find common purpose with the right, looking for areas in which their agendas overlap. I guess he meant it.

Any chance the religious right, appreciative of productive outreach like this, will be less hateful and vicious towards the president? I doubt it, but it's nice of the White House to give it a try anyway.

Steve Benen 11:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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REJECTING TEMPORARY INSANITY AS AN EXCUSE.... Richard Clarke has been listening to Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, and other leading Bush administration officials, offer excuses for their national security policies, pointing to the terrorism crisis. Today, Clarke has a Washington Post op-ed, explaining why he's sick of what he called the "White House 9/11 trauma defense."

Rice has said those of outside the administration "cannot possibly imagine the dilemmas" the president's team faced "unless you were there, in a position of responsibility after September 11." Clarke was there -- in his office at the White House compound, a gas mask on his desk -- and he doesn't think Rice knows what she's talking about.

[L]istening to Cheney and Rice, it seems that they want to be excused for the measures they authorized after the attacks on the grounds that 9/11 was traumatic.... I have little sympathy for this argument. Yes, we went for days with little sleep, and we all assumed that more attacks were coming. But the decisions that Bush officials made in the following months and years -- on Iraq, on detentions, on interrogations, on wiretapping -- were not appropriate. Careful analysis could have replaced the impulse to break all the rules, even more so because the Sept. 11 attacks, though horrifying, should not have surprised senior officials. Cheney's admission that 9/11 caused him to reassess the threats to the nation only underscores how, for months, top officials had ignored warnings from the CIA and the NSC staff that urgent action was needed to preempt a major al-Qaeda attack.

Thus, when Bush's inner circle first really came to grips with the threat of terrorism, they did so in a state of shock -- a bad state in which to develop a coherent response. Fearful of new attacks, they authorized the most extreme measures available, without assessing whether they were really a good idea. [...]

Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice may have been surprised by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- but it was because they had not listened. And their surprise led them to adopt extreme counterterrorism techniques -- but it was because they rejected, without analysis, the tactics the Clinton administration had used. The measures they uncritically adopted, which they simply assumed were the best available, were in fact unnecessary and counterproductive.

I'd just add, though, that I might find the "White House 9/11 trauma defense" more compelling if the Bushies were explicit about it. The debate, such as it is, about the Bush administration's "excesses" might be more productive if more leading officials simply came forward to say, "Look, there was a panic and we crossed lines we shouldn't have. Cooler heads should have prevailed, but didn't. For a short while, we lost our heads, but we eventually got back on track. It was a regrettable lapse of judgment, but our intentions were good, and we've all learned valuable lessons about what should and shouldn't be done during a crisis." The idea would be something akin to "temporary insanity."

But what we're actually hearing is something in between. As Clarke noted, folks like Cheney and Rice want to emphasize the "trauma defense" to rationalize wrongdoing. But in the next breath, these same top officials say every decision they made was sound, legal, justified. They want sympathy for decisions made in the midst of trauma, and they want credit for not crossing any lines despite the trauma.

To be sure, like Clarke, I'm not buying the "temporary insanity" argument anyway. But Bushies trying to have it both ways only makes the larger argument impossible to take seriously.

Steve Benen 10:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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THERE'S STILL NO CAR DEALER CONSPIRACY.... In case any additional proof was needed, the Obama administration really didn't target Chrysler dealerships owned by Republican campaign donors. As far-right conspiracy theories go, this was sillier than most, but given the excitement about the "story," it never hurts to have more evidence that sets the record straight.

In Macomb County, three dealerships were closed in the Chrysler bankruptcy process and seven were saved. The FEC records show no noticeable difference in the political leanings of the owners of the 10 businesses.

Anthony Viviano, president of the Metro Detroit Dodge dealers' association and owner of Sterling Heights Dodge, which will remain in operation, said politics was never a factor in the process.

"That's just a bunch of baloney," said Viviano, former president of the Detroit Area Dealers Association.

Of course it is. But it's often amazing to see how popular nonsense can be.

For the record, Viviano is not some Democratic activist, anxious to debunk Republican talking points -- 90% of his political donations have gone to Republican candidates.

As Eric Boehlert noted yesterday, "Trust us, this was a very big deal among right-wing true believers this week even though, as we tried to point out, all the bloggers' dogged research was able to confirm was that car dealers in general give lots of money to Republican politicians. Meaning there's nothing to indicate that the dealerships that survived were big Democratic donors. Clueless bloggers simply confirmed that dealers that got closed had given to the GOP in the past and then deduced the evil connection."

Keep in mind, as silly as this conspiracy theory was, not only did conservatives continue to push it after it had been debunked, but the right's interest led a Fox News "reporter" to ask the president's press secretary about the "story" at a White House press briefing this week. (Robert Gibbs explained that the administration had nothing to do with choosing which dealerships were shut down.)

That ridiculous accusations with no grounding in reality can reach the level of a White House press briefing only helps underscore the problems with the political discourse.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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LAYING DOWN A MARKER.... The argument over national security policy faded from the front page this week, but the New York Times' Frank Rich does a nice job reminding readers about a point that shouldn't go overlooked. The headline reads, "Who Is to Blame for the Next Attack?"

Cheney's "no middle ground" speech on torture ... struck the same cynical note as the [Republican National Committee's] ads, as if the G.O.P. was almost rooting for a terrorist attack on Obama's watch....The new president, he said, is unraveling "the very policies that kept our people safe since 9/11." In other words, when the next attack comes, it will be all Obama's fault. A new ad shouting "We told you so!" awaits only the updated video. [...]

The harrowing truth remains unchanged from what it was before Cheney emerged from his bunker to set Washington atwitter. The Bush administration did not make us safer either before or after 9/11. Obama is not making us less safe. If there's another terrorist attack, it will be because the mess the Bush administration ignored in Pakistan and Afghanistan spun beyond anyone's control well before Americans could throw the bums out.

In a very good New Yorker piece last week, Jeffrey Toobin touched on the same issue.

Even worse than Cheney's distortions was the political agenda behind them. The speech was, as politicians say, a marker -- a warning to the new Administration. "Just remember: it is a serious step to begin unravelling some of the very policies that have kept our people safe since 9/11," Cheney said. "Seven and a half years without a repeat is not a record to be rebuked and scorned, much less criminalized. It is a record to be continued until the danger has passed." Cheney's all but explicit message was that the blame for any new attack against American people or interests would be laid not on the terrorists, or on the worldwide climate of anti-Americanism created by the Bush-Cheney Administration, but on Barack Obama.

For many months after the 9/11 attacks, Democrats refrained from engaging in the blame game with the Bush Administration. Cheney's speech makes it clear that, should terrorists strike again, Republicans may not respond in kind.

This generally goes unsaid, but it's a key aspect of the recent Cheney crusade -- if something horrible happens, we're not supposed to blame the team that left this mess for Obama to clean up, we're supposed to blame Obama himself. If only the president kept torturing people like Cheney wanted, we'd all remain safe indefinitely.

This isn't especially new, but it seems to be increasingly common. Back in January, just 48 hours after the president's inauguration, Marc Thiessen, George W. Bush's former chief speechwriter, argued, "During the campaign, Obama pledged to dismantle many of [Bush's] policies. He follows through on those pledges at America's peril -- and his own. If Obama weakens any of the defenses Bush put in place and terrorists strike our country again, Americans will hold Obama responsible -- and the Democratic Party could find itself unelectable for a generation.... President Obama has inherited a set of tools that successfully protected the country for 2,688 days -- and he cannot dismantle those tools without risking catastrophic consequences."

Jason Zengerle noted at the time, "You almost get the sense guys like Thiessen are hoping for an attack so that they can blame Obama when it happens."

That attitude hasn't changed. Should tragedy strike, a few too many loyal Bushies will want to tear this country apart, and they already seem to be laying the groundwork.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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SOMETIMES, A DATE IS JUST A DATE.... Ordinarily, this is the kind of human-interest story that I wouldn't even read. Apparently, though, it's angered quite a few Republicans, so I guess we might as well take a look at.

The first couple, known for having weekend date nights, later made a visit Saturday night to New York City for what the White House is calling a personal visit. The New York Times reports that the Obamas are seeing the Broadway show, "Joe Turner's Come and Gone."

According to a White House spokesperson, Obama said he was taking his wife to the Big Apple "because I promised her during the campaign that I would take her to a Broadway show after it was all finished."

Good for them; I'm sure it's nice for the Obamas to get out once in a while. Their date led to some street closings in NYC, but folks in the city nevertheless seemed pleased to see the First Couple: "As the motorcade left the West Village and drove up Sixth Avenue to the theater, crowds of people, at times about eight deep, gathered on the sidewalks of the blockaded streets to wave as the Obamas passed. Some cheered.... The Obamas left the theater after the play and were greeted by more cheers from enthusiastic bystanders along New York streets as they headed back for the flight to Washington."

So, what's the problem? "The Republican National Committee slammed the outing in an 'RNC Research Piece': 'As President Obama prepares to wing into Manhattan's theater district on Air Force One to take in a Broadway show, GM is preparing to file bankruptcy and families across America continue to struggle to pay their bills."

First, the Obamas didn't take the usual Air Force One jet. It's a short flight, and the First Couple took a smaller plane (technically, any plane the president is on automatically becomes Air Force One, but the point is, the Obamas didn't take the Air Force One).

Second, by the RNC's reasoning, the Obamas would never be able to enjoy a nice evening out, since there's always something going on in the world. ("The president went to his daughter's soccer game in the midst of two wars? Outrageous!")

And third, isn't this whining unusually small-minded, even by RNC standards? The President took the First Lady on a date to NYC. They didn't even spend the night in the city. Is everything grounds for petty, partisan sniping?

Far-right blogs seem to think so. One prominent blogger complained, without a hint of humor, "[N]ote that the Obamas went to a 'black' show. When does he ever pay homage to his white side?" Another added, "Obama also promised a middle class tax cut and healthcare reform, but obviously those can wait."

Rumor has it, Obama occasionally eats and sleeps, too. The nerve. Doesn't the president realize he has things to do?

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (76)

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By: Hilzoy

Ugly

Matt Yglesias:

"As anyone who knows me can attest, I don't have what you'd call a strong "Hispanic" identity. (...) But for all that, I have to say that I am really truly deeply and personally pissed off my the tenor of a lot of the commentary on Sonia Sotomayor. The idea that any time a person with a Spanish last name is tapped for a job, his or her entire lifetime of accomplishments is going to be wiped out in a riptide of bitching and moaning about "identity politics" is not a fun concept for me to contemplated. Qualifications like time at Princeton, Yale Law, and on the Circuit Court that work well for guys with Italian names suddenly don't work if you have a Spanish name. Heaven forbid someone were to decide that there ought to be at least one Hispanic columnist at a major American newspaper.

Somehow, when George W. Bush affects a Texas accent, that's not identity politics. When John Edwards gets a VP nomination, that's not identity politics. But Sonia Sotomayor! Oh my heavens!"

Julian Sanchez:

"I'll cop to sharing some of Yglesias' irritation at the treatment of Sonia Sotomayor, and if Republicans are managing to get a rise out of my pallid ass, I can only imagine the kind of damage they're doing to their brand among, you know, real Latinos. (...)

Look, it's not racist to oppose a Latina judicial nominee, or to oppose affirmative action, or to point out genuine evidence of ethnic bias on the part of minorities. What we're seeing here, though, is people clinging to the belief that Sotomayor has to be some mediocrity who struck the ethnic jackpot, that whatever benefit she got from affirmative action must be vastly more significant than her own qualities, that she's got to be a harpy boiling with hatred for whitey, however overwhelming the evidence against all these propositions is. This is really profoundly ugly. Like Yglesias, I don't think I'm especially sensitive to stuff like this, or particularly easily moved to anger, but I'm angry. I don't think Republican pundits really appreciate the kind of damage they're probably doing, for no reason I can discern given the slim odds of actually blocking the nomination. Which, perhaps, goes to Sotomayor's point: They really have no idea how they sound to anyone else."

I don't think they do either.

Look: I'm angry, and I'm not Hispanic at all. For the record, I am not writing about Sonia Sotomayor because I think she's the greatest thing since sliced bread. I don't. I think she's a fine nominee and will be a very good Supreme Court justice, but she does not make my heart go ding-a-ling. I'm writing about her because when people tell lies about someone who does not deserve it, it makes me angry. And if there's any point to blogging at all, it's that it gives me the opportunity to do things like actually read the Ricci case and write about what I find, thereby making it just that little bit less likely that those lies will work.

This is what comes of letting crazy people run a party. It's what comes of making pissing off liberals into a goal in itself. And it's what comes of fine-tuning ways of dismissing all criticism and all contrary evidence, so that you end up living in an epistemic cocoon. Bad news? It's the liberal media. Someone claiming that Bush did something bad? Quick: look for evidence that that person is writing a book, and disregard the fact that while some people will say anything to sell books or promote themselves, other people will not. Someone criticizing any Republican policy anywhere? That person obviously hates America/white people/success/whatever. If nothing else works, try thinking about kerning.

Go down that road and you lose the capacity to actually consider the facts. All you have left are your own preconceptions, floating free of any actual connection to evidence or reality. And if your preconceptions lead you to think that any Latina must be "some mediocrity who struck the ethnic jackpot", then no amount of actual achievement -- graduating at the top of her class, editing the Yale Law Journal, sitting on the Second Circuit -- will dissuade you.

A fantasy world in which your own preconceptions are always confirmed is a pretty sorry substitute for the actual world around us, in all its unexpected richness. But it's even worse when your own preconceptions are so very, very ugly.

Hilzoy 1:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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May 30, 2009
By: Hilzoy

Shameful

From the Washington Post:

"The Obama administration, picking up the argument of its predecessor, is opposing the release of Chinese Muslim detainees at Guantanamo Bay into the United States.

In papers filed with the Supreme Court late Friday, the administration says a group of Uighurs (pronounced WEE'-gurz) are being lawfully held at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba even though they are not considered enemy combatants. (...)

The Uighurs' "continued presence at Guantanamo Bay is not unlawful detention, but rather the consequence of their lawful exclusion from the United States," Solicitor General Elena Kagan told the court.

The men are held apart from the other detainees, in the least restrictive conditions, Kagan said. "They are free to leave Guantanamo Bay to go to any country that is willing to accept them," she said."

The administration's brief is here (pdf). One note: I think it's not quite accurate to say that the administration is "opposing the release" of the Uighurs in this brief; it is arguing that it cannot be compelled to do so by court order. That said:

I have no idea whether or not the administration's argument is correct as a matter of law. Moreover, I don't care. Whatever the law says about whether it can be forced to admit the Uighurs, the administration has the right to admit them voluntarily. If it cannot find another country that is willing to take them, then it should.

We set up a system that gave people incentives to turn over people they claimed were foreign fighters, whether they were or not. We then dismantled all our normal procedures for separating combatants from non-combatants. It should not surprise anyone that we ended up detaining people who were innocent.

I have no problem with the government taking some reasonable period of time to try to identify another country that is willing to take detainees who cannot be returned to their own countries. But these detainees have been held for seven and a half years. That's not a reasonable amount of time to tie up loose ends; it's a tenth of a normal lifespan.

We screwed up. We should step up to the plate and do what's right. Seven and a half years is too long.

And one other thing: the administration says this about the Uighurs: "Petitioners would like the federal courts to order that they be brought to the United States, because they are unwilling to return to their home country." (p. 11) As Registan notes, this is false. The reason we cannot send them back to China is not that they are "unwilling" to go back; it's that we believe, with good reason, that they would be tortured or killed if they were repatriated. That means that it would be illegal for us to send them back.

It's also a bit disingenuous for the administration to argue that the Uighurs are free to leave. The Bush administration has previously argued that they cannot be set free in Guantanamo, for the perfectly good reason that Guantanamo is a military base, and we do not normally allow people free access to military bases.

Hilzoy 7:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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By: Hilzoy

Barbarians At The Gate, Barbarians In Your Heart

A couple of weeks ago, Rod Dreher wrote an article about what he calls our "astonishing, and astonishingly rapid, cultural collapse" in the face of "a barbaric mainstream culture that has grown hostile to our fundamental values":

"Conservatives have worked so hard over the past few decades to fight for civilized standards against a short checklist of modern barbarisms -- abortion, gay marriage, political correctness, and so forth. What we failed to consider was that we had become barbarians ourselves."

What Dreher means is that conservatives have "accepted rootlessness", worshipped capitalism uncritically, and so forth. I agree on those points, more or less (and with exceptions), but of course I think that many of the conservatives Dreher is talking about are becoming barbaric in other ways as well. I thought about this as I read this article in the NYT, about one manifestation of what Dreher calls barbarism: two women who were fixed up while one was out of town, and who fell in love over email:

"Ms. Diaz said she was at first "a little sheepish about telling people" of their love before first sight. But a little more than a year later, on May 8, the couple were legally married by Jeanne Laughlin, a Connecticut justice of the peace, in a conference room at the Stamford Government Center.

They exchanged yellow pipe-cleaner rings, saving their engraved gold bands for their public ceremony the next day, when Mr. Rogers -- who had introduced them -- led them through their vows in the three-story atrium of 632 on Hudson, an event space in a 19th-century New York town house.

"All my life I searched for you, but never thought I'd find you," Ms. Adamick said. "All my life I dreamed of you, but never dreamed you were real."

Mr. Rogers said, "You may both kiss the bride," and their 96 friends and family cheered as the couple smiled exuberantly.

"My cheeks physically hurt since I've known her," Ms. Diaz said, her radiance undiminished.

But she was troubled. "Part of my identity is being a cynical New Yorker and hard-bitten lawyer," she said. "By being so happy, am I going to lose my edge?""

Read the whole thing: it's so sweet that I began to wonder whether it might cause tooth decay. Then ask yourself: what sort of person would not only forswear gay marriage for him- or herself, but actively work to deny this kind of happiness to those who do not share his or her religious views? Why would anyone think that this story is a threat to Western civilization? If two women in their forties want to get married, what sort of person would think that allowing them to do so brings the barbarians one step closer to the walls?

Dreher wonders: "How do you argue persuasively for a politics based on traditional virtue in a therapeutic postmodern capitalist culture where individual autonomy -- especially in matters sexual and economic -- is widely considered the highest good?" I don't think this is all that hard. You just try to make the best case you can for honor and decency, and to work out the difference between valuing individual autonomy -- the kind that allows Dreher to choose a set of religious beliefs that he thinks are deeply out of fashion -- and thinking that anything goes.

It helps, though, to take seriously the possibility that one has become a barbarian oneself, and that, as Dreher notes, one way to do this is to define others as barbarians in order to remove oneself from scrutiny. This is a standing danger for anyone who cares about morality, and the only defense against it that I'm aware of is to question your own motives, and never to forget that the place where you can most effectively combat barbarism is in your own heart and your own life.

If I were Dreher, I would ask myself: of all the things in the world to be concerned about, why on earth would this couple's happiness be anywhere near the top of the list? Even if you were concerned above all with sexual morality, why not argue against people who don't treat sex or human relationships with the respect they deserve, rather than inveighing against two women who want to cleave to one another, forsaking all others, until death do them part?

Christ commanded his followers to love one another. There are plenty of things that Christians disapprove of in which love plays no part: anger, pride, envy, cruelty, vanity. The worst a Christian should say about these two women is that while, by loving one another and taking their love fully seriously, they get one very important thing very, very right, by falling in love with the wrong person, they have gotten another thing somewhat wrong. Of course, if these women are not Christian, or take a different view of the handful of passages in the Bible that concern homosexuality, they might not agree, which makes Dreher's desire to impose his religious views on them all the more peculiar. (He would surely not accept my right to impose secularism on him, supposing I had any desire to do so.)

But even in Christian terms, why not concentrate on any one of the innumerable things in which there is much less good to be found, if any, rather than trying to force his views on people who are genuinely in love, want only to be able to marry, and do not accept any of the religious views on which Rod bases his view that gay marriage is wrong?

Hilzoy 12:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (71)

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PETRAEUS CONTINUES TO REJECT GOP TALKING POINTS.... It didn't generate a lot of attention, but Gen. David Petraeus spoke to Radio Free Europe last weekend, and made some politically salient comments. Specifically, Petraeus endorsed President Obama's decisions on "enhanced interrogation techniques" and closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, explaining that both steps will improve the nation's national security goals.

Yesterday, Petraeus sat down with Fox News' Martha MacCallum, who seemed anxious to bait the head of U.S. Central Command into endorsing the Republicans' national security arguments. He ended up doing largely the opposite. (Crooks & Liars has the video.)

On Guantanamo Bay:

"Gitmo has caused us problems; there's no question about it. I oversee a region in which the existence of Gitmo has indeed been used by the enemy against us. We have not been without missteps or mistakes in our activities since 9/11. And again, Gitmo is a lingering reminder for the use of some in that regard."

On the notion that we should fear Gitmo detainees entering the U.S. justice system:

"...I don't think we should be afraid to live our values. That is what we're fighting for and it's what we stand for. So, indeed, we need to embrace them and we need to operationalize them in how we carry out what it is we're doing on the battlefield and everywhere else. So one has to have some faith I think, in the legal system. One has to have a degree of confidence that individuals that have conducted such extremist activity would indeed be found guilty in courts of law."

On the notion that terrorists might be emboldened because the administration has forsworn Bush-era torture techniques:

"What I would ask is, does that not take away from our enemies a tool, which again they have beaten us around the head and shoulders in the court of public opinion? When we have taken steps that have violated the Geneva Convention, we rightly have been criticized. And so as we move forward, I think it is important to again live our values to live the agreements that we have made in the international justice arena and to practice those."

It's probably not the kind of interview the Cheneys and their allies wanted to see.

Publius raises a good point that shouldn't go overlooked: "I'm a little wary of relying too much on any argument that begins, 'Well, I'm right because General Petraeus says X.' ... And more generally, I don't like the idea of relying heavily on the public statements of active military officials in political policy debates. But I do think this passage shows Petraeus's political dexterity. He's someone who can go on Fox News and articulate Obama's political message, while simultaneously retaining the sympathies of all parties."

Quite right. I'd just add that Petraeus' comments are also politically problematic for President Obama's Republican detractors, who are counting on torture and Gitmo as killer issues for a GOP comeback. In some conservative circles, there's practically a religious reverence for Petraeus, and yet he now has no use for the right's single most important arguments of the day.

For folks like Bill Kristol, there is a temptation to say, "Well, I'm right because General Petraeus says X." Except, in this case, Petraeus has endorsed Obama's position on these issues (as has Bush's Defense Secretary, Bush's chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Bush's Secretary of State).

That doesn't mean Obama and Petraeus are, by definition, correct. It does mean the right's argument is that much more difficult to make, given that a) they're wrong; b) they have no credulity on the issue; and c) their heroes are taking the administration's side.

Steve Benen 11:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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AWKWARD.... GOP leaders like Michael Steele and John Cornyn are none too pleased to have so many of the party's most prominent voices using offensive, insulting, and bigoted attacks against Sonia Sotomayor. But if you think they're in a difficult spot, imagine being a Republican strategist responsible for Hispanic outreach.

"Of course this disturbs me," said Lionel Sosa, one of the more influential Hispanic media advisers in the GOP. "I'm not surprised at Rush Limbaugh but I'm very surprised at Speaker Gingrich because he is one of the key people who knows the importance of the Latino vote to the Republican Party. He must realize how his rhetoric, if it does influence any Hispanics, how damaging it could be. This [confirmation] is something that is going to happen anyway. For a senator to have strong opposition to her, they are either not aware of the impact Latinos will have on the next election or they don't care."

Sosa certainly knows what makes the Hispanic voter tick. He has helped with or worked on seven Republican presidential campaigns since 1980, including John McCain's and both of George W. Bush's. He was joined in his lament by several other Hispanic strategists who spoke to the Huffington Post. Even those Republican Hispanics who have served in government said they were deeply worried about the Sotomayor pushback, though they cautioned that it was coming almost entirely from outside the party establishment.

That last point -- it's the party's activists, not the party's establishment that's smearing Sotomayor -- is a very tough sell. Clowns like Limbaugh, Gingrich, and Rove may not hold elected office or maintain official roles in the party, but they clearly have positions of power and authority in the Republican Party (Cornyn hasn't cancelled Gingrich's big fundraiser for the NRSC, for example).

Besides, as we talked about yesterday, most Americans are unlikely to make a distinction between Republican activists and Republican officials. When the activists smear the first Latina nominee for the Supreme Court, it's the latter that will feel the electoral repercussions. The takeaway is "Republicans attack Sotomayor, using bigoted tactics." It's not much of a defense to say, "Yeah, but Gingrich is only a GOP leader, not a GOP official."

What's more, there's the further complication that Republicans responsible for Hispanic outreach are not only insulted, and not only cut off at the knees, but they're now less likely to appear in the media to criticize Sotomayor. Why? Because they're probably not looking forward to hearing reporters say, "I'd like to get your reaction to the following ridiculous attacks your Republican brethren have directed at Hispanics this week...."

Steve Benen 11:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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GOVERNMENT ISN'T SCARY, BUT TAXES STILL ARE.... Near the top of the list of Republican talking points on health care reform is the prospect of government playing too large a role in the system. An interesting new poll from CNN suggests it's the wrong way to attack reform efforts.

A new national poll indicates that most Americans are receptive to having more government influence over their health care in return for lower costs and more coverage.

Sixty-three percent of people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released Friday said they would favor an increase in the federal government's influence over their own health-care plans in an attempt to lower costs and provide coverage to more Americans; 36 percent were opposed.

The poll also suggests that slightly more than six out of 10 think the government should guarantee health care for all Americans, with 38 percent opposed.

That's pretty encouraging. If more than six out of 10 Americans want government to have more of a role in the health care system -- nice job, insurance companies -- the right will need to change its focus if it hopes to derail efforts to fix the system and expand access.

The poll seems to offer conservatives a hint in this regard. Respondents were asked, "Would you prefer a health care reform plan that raises taxes in order to provide health insurance to all Americans, or a plan that does not provide health insurance to all Americans but keeps taxes at current levels?" The result: 47% would accept the tax cut as a tradeoff, 47% would not.

With that in mind, expect to hear a lot of "reform = tax increases" in the very near future.

I'm curious, though, how much the results would change if people were presented with a fuller picture of the potential tradeoff. In other words, would people concerned about taxes going up feel differently if they knew their premiums would also go down?

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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THIS WEEK IN GOD.... First up from the God Machine this week is a church-state story that we've been following, about the ongoing complaints about the new visitor center that opened in December on Capitol Hill.

Some religious right activists and far-right lawmakers, led in large part by South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint (R), are outraged that the visitor center is largely secular. For example, near the center's entrance, there's an engraving: "We have built no temple but the Capitol. We consult no common oracle but the Constitution." The quote comes from Rufus Choate, who served in the House and Senate in the 1830s, and DeMint described the quote as "offensive."

This week, Roll Call reported that some GOP lawmakers are pushing a bill that would spend $150,000 in taxpayer money to etch a reference to "In God We Trust" as the national motto into stone, and placed prominently in the Capitol Visitor Center.

"There are number of references or appropriate religious references in the Capitol Visitor Center, but this is something I think is important," said Rep. Dan Lungren (Calif.), the bill's lead sponsor and the top Republican on the House Administration Committee. "We do have 'In God We Trust' over the rostrum in the House ... [and] it has a relationship to the Founding Fathers' documents."

Actually, Lungren's wrong; "In God We Trust" doesn't appear in any of the "Founding Fathers' documents." Literally, not one. In fact, the nation's founders chose "e pluribus unum" as a national motto -- a reference to the nation's unique diversity -- and Lungren, the Heritage Foundation, and other conservatives want references to it replaced.

Lungren's bill, submitted last Wednesday, currently has four co-sponsors in the House. Expect that number to grow.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* Liberty University, the evangelical college in Virginia started by televangelist Jerry Falwell, caused some controversy last week when it yanked official recognition for the on-campus student group for Democrats. This week, my friends at Americans United for Separation of Church and State asked the Internal Revenue Service to review the tax-exempt status of the school, arguing that Liberty, as a tax-exempt institution, cannot legally favor one political party over another.

* Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, oddly enough, will not oppose Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination. "I like the fact that she is not brandishing her religion," Donohue told Steven Waldman. "I do not want Catholic judges to rule as Catholics but as judges. I am all for Catholic legislators having a Catholic-informed opinion, but a judge has a different charge. Unless something pops that we don't know about, I am not going to oppose her. Indeed, the experiences I had working with the Puerto Rican community lead me to quietly root for her."

* And finally, in Miami, the Rev. Alberto Cutie, a Cuban-American priest, is a celebrity, often referred to as "Father Oprah." He has hosted shows on Telemundo, is a syndicated Spanish-language columnist, and headed the archdiocese's Radio Paz and Radio Peace broadcasts, heard throughout the Americas and in Spain. Cutie ran into a little trouble recently when he was photographed showing quite a bit of affection for his girlfriend -- which is generally frowned upon among Roman Catholic priests. This week, Cutie left the Catholic Church, was received into the Episcopal Church, and announced his wedding engagement.

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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LOOKING OUTSIDE THE REPUBLICAN COALITION.... It's getting ugly out there. There's no shortage of angry conservative Republicans doing their best to smear Sonia Sotomayor (Gingrich, Limbaugh, Rove, Tancredo, Barnes, Liddy), and there's no shortage of angry conservative Republicans who want the first group to please shut up (Cornyn, Steele, Hatch, Sessions, Noonan).

The LAT had a pretty good piece this morning on the divisions between the two like-minded camps, which clearly aren't on the same page.

"Whether or not Barack Obama gets his nominee is not going to determine the future of our party," said Terry Holt, an advisor to George W. Bush's 2004 reelection campaign. "He's a popular president with the votes to confirm his nominee. That's not our best fight or our worst problem to deal with."

Whit Ayres, a GOP pollster, said: "Any kind of ad hominem attacks are not helpful to the party's reputation, certainly not in attracting independents, which is our challenge at the moment."

But some conservative activists are urging Senate Republicans to mount a vigorous opposition to Sotomayor's nomination in order to fire up the party's demoralized base. Waging an aggressive fight might also send a warning shot to Obama about court battles to come and highlight the differing legal philosophies of the two parties.

"It will help in uniting the Republican coalition," said Curt Levey, head of the conservative Committee for Justice.

At first blush, that's not crazy. Chances are, both Republican factions know full well that Sotomayor will be confirmed, and there's not much they can do about it, other than craft a game plan to get the most benefit out of defeat. They're going to lose, but they want to lose in a way that helps the GOP and conservatives going forward. Fine.

But the idea that unhinged attacks will "help in uniting the Republican coalition" doesn't make sense. For one thing, it's clearly not "uniting" anyone -- the right spent nearly as much time yesterday dealing with each other's smears as they did addressing the nominee. For another, the Republican coalition is shrinking, and by launching racially-charged, misogynistic attacks against a clearly qualified Supreme Court nominee, the Gingrich-led faction is only driving away everyone else, while insulting the nation's fastest growing demographic.

I'd just add that the right had time to come up with a sound strategy here. They knew the nomination was coming, and they know that Sotomayor was a likely frontrunner. Did it not occur to them to figure out a sensible plan in advance? Or is the offensive fiasco we've seen this week their idea of a sensible plan?

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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TAGUBA TACKLES TELEGRAPH.... The Daily Telegraph, a British paper with a dubious reputation, published a report this week quoting Major General Antonio Taguba describing torture photos the Obama White House hopes to keep under wraps. According to the Telegraph's report, Taguba said, "These pictures show torture, abuse, rape and every indecency."

It was obviously a shocking quote, raising new questions about the photos the administration doesn't want released. The problem, however, is that Taguba told Salon's Mark Benjamin last night that the Telegraph's report is wrong.

...Taguba says he wasn't talking about the 44 photographs that are the subject of an ongoing ACLU lawsuit that Obama is fighting.

"The photographs in that lawsuit, I have not seen," Taguba told Salon Friday night. The actual quote in the Telegraph was accurate, Taguba said -- but he was referring to the hundreds of images he reviewed as an investigator of the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq -- not the photos of abuse that Obama is seeking to suppress.

What's more, as Alex Koppelman reported last night, many of the photos that have been reported as being part of the unreleased set have, in fact, already been published by Salon.

So, there's the set of photos the ACLU is seeking, and which the administration is trying to keep shielded from public view, but those aren't the photos Taguba was referring to, and despite the recent discussion, they're not the pictures Salon published three years ago. As digby explained, "[T]hat seems to clear up the question of whether or not the pictures are worse than what we've seen before --- and whether or not the administration is covering up some crimes which have gone uninvestigated. The pictures are not the lurid images the Telegraph said they were."

I'd just add that White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs took some heat this week when he questioned the quality of The Daily Telegraph, which touched off an angry response from the paper. It now appears Gibbs was right.

Steve Benen 8:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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TANCREDO'S SKEPTICISM.... In one of his latest hysterical tirades, Rush Limbaugh argued that the only way to get "promoted in the Barack Obama administration" is by "hating white people or even saying you do or that they're not good -- put them down, whatever."

Appearing on MSNBC yesterday, former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) was asked whether he agreed with the right-wing shock-jock. "Oh," Tancredo said, "I don't know."

When pressed by David Shuster on his uncertainty, Tancredo replied, "What do I -- I have no idea if they hate white people or not. But I will tell you this: I am sick of having people suggest that because I am Caucasian, I cannot -- and that's the suggestion here -- is that if you are white, Caucasian, male, you cannot comment on this sort of thing."

Tancredo, in other words, is feeling sorry for himself. He wants to say outrageous and offensive things to as large an audience as possible, without feeling put upon.

As for Tancredo's insane argument that the National Council of La Raza is a "Latino KKK," the former congressman was asked if he'd apologize for the remark. Tancredo literally laughed at the idea.

For all of the Democrats' various problems, they are blessed to have ridiculous rivals.

Steve Benen 8:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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LAUGHING AT CHENEY'S EXPENSE.... I don't usually post these, but I liked my appearance on last night's "Rachel Maddow Show," in large part because Rachel laughed when I made fun of Dick Cheney. (The segment follows up on this post from yesterday.)

Two quick, pre-emptive responses. First, the fake-book backdrop really isn't my fault; it's there for all of my appearances; and I seem to be stuck with it. I try not to think about it.

Second, if it seems my hair looks funny, it's because I'd just gotten a haircut a few hours before the appearance.

Steve Benen 7:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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By: Hilzoy

Sotomayor: Actual Facts!

As more or less everyone has already noted, a lot of people have been claiming that Sonia Sotomayor is a racist, would decide cases based on racial solidarity rather than on the law, and so forth. One natural way to check this would be to examine her actual record. She has, after all, been a judge for quite a while, so it should not be all that hard to see how she actually makes decisions.

Over at SCOTUSBlog, Tom Goldstein decided to do just that. He has been reading through all of Sotomayor's opinions in cases involving race. He promises to write more about them tomorrow, but here is what his analysis shows:

"Other than Ricci, Judge Sotomayor has decided 96 race-related cases while on the court of appeals.

Of the 96 cases, Judge Sotomayor and the panel rejected the claim of discrimination roughly 78 times and agreed with the claim of discrimination 10 times; the remaining 8 involved other kinds of claims or dispositions. Of the 10 cases favoring claims of discrimination, 9 were unanimous. (Many, by the way, were procedural victories rather than judgments that discrimination had occurred.) Of those 9, in 7, the unanimous panel included at least one Republican-appointed judge. In the one divided panel opinion, the dissent's point dealt only with the technical question of whether the criminal defendant in that case had forfeited his challenge to the jury selection in his case. So Judge Sotomayor rejected discrimination-related claims by a margin of roughly 8 to 1.

Of the roughly 75 panel opinions rejecting claims of discrimination, Judge Sotomayor dissented 2 times. In Neilson v. Colgate-Palmolive Co., 199 F.3d 642 (1999), she dissented from the affirmance of the district court's order appointing a guardian for the plaintiff, an issue unrelated to race. In Gant v. Wallingford Bd. of Educ., 195 F.3d 134 (1999), she would have allowed a black kindergartner to proceed with the claim that he was discriminated against in a school transfer. A third dissent did not relate to race discrimination: In Pappas v. Giuliani, 290 F.3d 143 (2002), she dissented from the majority's holding that the NYPD could fire a white employee for distributing racist materials.

As noted in the post below, Judge Sotomayor was twice on panels reversing district court decisions agreeing with race-related claims - i.e., reversing a finding of impermissible race-based decisions. Both were criminal cases involving jury selection. (...)

In sum, in an eleven-year career on the Second Circuit, Judge Sotomayor has participated in roughly 100 panel decisions involving questions of race and has disagreed with her colleagues in those cases (a fair measure of whether she is an outlier) a total of 4 times. Only one case (Gant) in that entire eleven years actually involved the question whether race discrimination may have occurred. (In another case (Pappas) she dissented to favor a white bigot.) She particulated in two other panels rejecting district court rulings agreeing with race-based jury-selection claims. Given that record, it seems absurd to say that Judge Sotomayor allows race to infect her decisionmaking."

I honestly don't know why so many people focus so much attention on their somewhat overwrought interpretations of one line in a speech and so little attention on ascertaining what kind of judge Sonia Sotomayor has been. Her decisions are not classified documents. They are public, and anyone can read them. Moreover, they plainly provide the best evidence of the kind of judge she will be.

I cannot imagine why more journalists have not done the kind of analysis that Tom Goldstein has -- the ratio of reporting on what someone thinks s/he can discern in one line of Sotomayor's speech to reporting on actual cases is just about the reverse of what it ought to be. That makes me all the more grateful to SCOTUSBlog for giving us the kind of analysis we need, but get far too rarely.

One other interesting point: Sotomayor's panel has been criticized for not explaining their reasoning in the Ricci case. Whether this is plausibly construed as an attempt to duck the issues depends in part on how common it is for a panel on the Second Circuit to affirm a district court opinion without explaining why. Goldstein therefore checked this point as he was going through the race-related cases:

"In the roughly 55 cases in which the panel affirmed district court decisions rejecting a claim of employment discrimination or retaliation, the panel published its opinion or order only 5 times."

Good to know.

Hilzoy 1:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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May 29, 2009
By: Hilzoy

They Can't Help Themselves

Even by Republican standards, the Sotomayor meltdown is pretty impressive. Tom Tancredo calls La Raza, which is a pretty ordinary advocacy group, "a Latino KKK without the hoods or the nooses." Newt Gingrich writes that we cannot accept Sotomayor's rather anodyne remarks about experience being helpful in judging "if Civil War, suffrage, and Civil Rights are to mean anything", which would surely be news to all the African-Americans who are not presently enslaved.

Rush Limbaugh compares Sotomayor to David Duke. Michael Goldfarb and John Derbyshire's readers are going on about the vast privileges enjoyed by Puerto Ricans who grow up poor in the projects. The Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes thinks her summa doesn't mean much, since "there's some schools and maybe Princeton's not one of them, where if you don't get Summa Cum Laude then or some kind of Cum Laude, you then, you're a D+ student." (For the record, when I was there, Princeton gave summas to around 5% of its students.)

But really, nothing quite compares to G. Gordon Liddy saying not just that she is a member of La Raza, "which means in illegal alien, "the race"", but this:

"Let's hope that the key conferences aren't when she's menstruating or something, or just before she's going to menstruate. That would really be bad. Lord knows what we would get then."

Think of the possibilities. She could get into one of her quaint native costumes, go berserk, and start writing on the walls in menstrual blood with a tampon, like so:
Liddy's Nightmare

(Yes, of course I know that Quetzalcoatl is an Aztec God, and Aztlan is the mythical home of the Aztecs, and Aztecs are Mexican, and Sonia Sotomayor is Puerto Rican. But I'm channeling G. Gordon Liddy's nightmares here, and do you think he knows the difference?)

Seriously: Obama is a serious student of the civil rights movement, which in turn drew a lot of inspiration from Gandhi. Both Gandhi and the Civil Rights movement made brilliant use of the following method: you do something right, which you suspect might lead your opponents to do something wrong. If you are right about them, they discredit themselves, without your having to lift a finger. If you're wrong, you are pleasantly surprised. But you do not have to do anything wrong or underhanded yourself, nor do you in any way have to hope that your opponents are bad people.

That's what he's doing now. He has chosen a judge who is by any standard exceptionally qualified, and who has, in addition, a fairly conservative judicial temperament. She sticks close to the law; she follows precedent; having read several of her opinions, if I have any criticism of her, it's that not seen much evidence of an overarching judicial philosophy other than restraint. (To be clear: if a judge has to lack something, I'd rather it be an overarching philosophy than devotion to the law as written. But I'd rather have both.)

But she is also a Puerto Rican woman. If the Republican Party were led by sane and decent people, this would not matter. But they aren't. As a result, they seem to be unable to see anything about her besides her ethnicity and her gender. The idea that she must be a practitioner of identity politics, a person whose every success is due to preferential treatment, etc., is apparently one they absolutely cannot resist.

All Obama had to do was nominate an excellent justice, and all that is made plain.

And I hate it. I want to have a reasonable opposition party. I also don't want people of color, and especially kids, to have to listen to all this bigotry. We should be better than this.

Hilzoy 8:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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FRIDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* UAW members approved General Motors concessions this afternoon.

* North Korea, not only test fired yet another short-range missile today, it "warned it would act in "self-defense" if provoked by the U.N. Security Council."

* The bad news is, the nation's GDP fell at a 5.7% annual rate in the first quarter. The good news is, previous estimates put the number at 6.1%.

* Federal investigators issued subpoenas to Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.) today, as part of the larger investigation into the PMA Group. Visclosky's former chief of staff had lobbied for the firm.

* It's good to see the White House take cyber-security seriously (without sacrificing net neutrality).

* By one new estimate, climate-change disasters "kill around 300,000 people a year and cause about $125 billion in economic losses."

* Robert Gibbs walked back Sotomayor's "wise Latina" quote today, telling reporters, "I've not talked specifically with her about this, but I think that -- I think she'd say that her word choice in 2001 was poor, that she was simply making the point that personal experiences are relevant to the process of judging."

* At this point, President Obama's approval ratings seem to be holding up quite well.

* Howard Dean is on board with Chuck Schumer's public-option compromise.

* Is Obama "getting tough" with Israel?

* Krugman explains why the hype surrounding inflation is almost certainly misguided (and probably politically motivated).

* National Security Advisor Gen. Jim Jones isn't impressed by Dick Cheney's recent arguments.

* The Times-Observer in Warren, Pa., ran a classified ad yesterday that seemed to call for the president's assassination. The publisher said it was "unfortunate" the ad made it into the paper, and the editors will be cooperating with law enforcement officials.

* A crackdown on the tossing of cigarette butts would be most welcome.

* President Obama is doing wonders for D.C. eating establishments.

* You know Gingrich is pushing the envelope when Rove thinks he's gone a little too far.

* And finally, the strangest headline of the day: "Romney won't rule out Sotomayor filibuster." I'm pretty sure he won't get a vote.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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CLARENCE THOMAS IS A MEMBER OF THE CLUB, TOO.... Samuel Alito believes empathy is an important quality in a Supreme Court justice. So does George H.W. Bush. Sandra Day O'Connor had the audacity to concede that jurists can and should consider gender and race when weighing the merits of a case.

As it turns out, even Clarence Thomas, hardly a high court liberal, sees the value of empathy. From his 1991 confirmation hearing:

"...I believe, Senator, that I can make a contribution, that I can bring something different to the Court, that I can walk in the shoes of the people who are affected by what the Court does. You know, on my current court I have occasion to look out the window that faces C Street, and there are converted buses that bring in the criminal defendants to our criminal justice system, bus load after bus load. And you look out and you say to yourself, and I say to myself almost every day, 'But for the grace of God there go I.'"

I suspect many on the right have come to believe, "Empathy is fine, so long as it's coming from the right," but that's hardly a persuasive talking point.

Remember, as far as the loudest conservatives are concerned, the notion that a judge would look outside the confines of the law and consider what it's like to "walk in the shoes of the people who are affected by what the court does," is not only wrong, it's literally dangerous.

As the popular metaphor argues, judges are like umpires, responsible for calling balls and strikes, not what it's like to be the batter or pitcher "affected" by what the umpire calls.

I'm not sure which genius thought it was a good idea to launch a war on empathy, but it was clearly a dumb mistake.

Steve Benen 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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PLAYING GROWN-UP.... The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan today referred to some of Sonia Sotomayor's far-right critics as "idiots." She went on to offer her party some reasonable advice.

"Let's play grown-up." When I was a child, that's what we said when we ran out of things to do like playing potsie or throwing rocks in the vacant lot. You'd go in and take your father's hat and your mother's purse and walk around saying, "Would you like tea?" In retrospect we weren't imitating our parents but parents on TV, who wore pearls and suits. But the point is we amused ourselves trying to be little adults.

And that's what the GOP should do right now: play grown-up.

I'm trying to decide which part of this is more interesting: Noonan's assumption that Republican Party would have to pretend to be grown-up, or that Noonan thinks there's still time for the GOP to, as John Cole put it, "dial back the crazy" on the Sotomayor nomination.

Steve Benen 4:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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LEAVE IT TO LIDDY.... And here I thought Tom Tancredo, Newt Gingrich, and Rush Limbaugh would be the most offensive conservative critics of Sonia Sotomayor. How could I forget this clown?

Yesterday on his radio show, conservative host G. Gordon Liddy continued the right wing's all-out assault on Judge Sonia Sotomayor. [...]

"I understand that they found out today that Miss Sotomayor is a member of La Raza, which means in illegal alien, 'the race.' And that should not surprise anyone because she's already on record with a number of racist comments." [...]

"Let's hope that the key conferences aren't when she's menstruating or something, or just before she's going to menstruate. That would really be bad. Lord knows what we would get then."

So, according to this prominent conservative media personality, the Spanish language is synonymous with "illegal alien," and women are, by nature, poorly suited to serving as justices.

I'm not sure what I expected, exactly, from the right during this confirmation process. It was easy to imagine them attacking Sotomayor, but I more or less assumed they'd be subtle. The racist and misogynistic attitudes would be there, I assumed, but they would be vague, indirect, and phrased in a way to make deniability plausible.

But here we are, just a few days after Sotomayor's introduction, and some corners of the right just can't seem to help themselves. They know it's hateful, they know it's offensive, they even know it's likely to do long-term damage to their party.

And yet, they do it anyway. It's like a sickness.

Steve Benen 3:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

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TESTING THE LIMITS OF CORNYN'S DISAPPOINTMENT.... Newt Gingrich doubles down.

Newt Gingrich grabbed cable news chatter all week after Twittering that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor was a "Latina woman racist." The ensuing controversy has not moderated his opposition.

Today, Renewing American Leadership, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that he heads, sent out an email to supporters calling on them to both "send blast faxes" to U.S. Senators demanding opposition to Sotomayor and contribute money to help the fight.

Gingrich's email repeats a series of debunked lies, before arguing that Sotomayor is "a bigot" who should be "FORCED to WITHDRAW." His letter goes on to say that Sotomayor is "a judge who will interpret the law based on her ethnic background, rather than based on the LAW.... [T]his judge is making it CLEAR that she thinks she SHOULD be biased and partial, based on her ethnicity and gender!" (All-caps in the original.)

Chances are, Gingrich is throwing a ridiculous tantrum because he thinks it will help fundraising. The more hysterical he gets, the more checks come in.

But I'm curious about what Newt's buddies might think about this. Late yesterday, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, denounced Gingrich's attacks as "terrible" and "wrong" -- and that was before today's hysterics. Cornyn told NPR, "This is not the kind of tone any of us want to set when it comes to performing our constitutional responsibilities of advise and consent.... I certainly don't endorse it."

As it turns out, Cornyn will have a chance to show how much he means that.

Lost in the hoopla over NRSC Chairman John Cornyn's (R-Texas) criticism of Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh is that fact that one of these men is set to help him raise lots of money. [...]

[O]n June 8, Gingrich is the headliner for one of the biggest GOP fundraisers of the election cycle, where the NRSC and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) will raise millions.

So, Sen. Cornyn, is Gingrich still invited? Should Republican candidates seek fundraising support from someone who engages in these ugly, race-based smears?

Steve Benen 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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JEALOUSY IS SO UNATTRACTIVE.... Stuart Taylor, one of Sonia Sotomayor's more enthusiastic detractors, offers this anecdote from the judge's time at Princeton.

In October 1974, Princeton allowed Sotomayor and two other students to initiate a seminar, for full credit and with the university's blessings, on the Puerto Rican experience and its relation to contemporary America.

Now, I look at that as pretty impressive. Willow Rosenberg notwithstanding, students are rarely offered opportunities to teach before they graduate. That Princeton extended Sotomayor a chance to lead a for-credit seminar, in addition to her summa cum laude degree and the prestigious Pyne Prize, suggests she must have been quite remarkable young woman.

The Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb doesn't see it that way. His headline reads, "More Preferential Treatment?"

I went to Princeton but somehow I never got to teach my own class, or grade my own work. One wonders how Sotomayor judged her work in that class, and whether the grade helped or hindered her efforts to graduate with honors.

Hmm. When a prestigious university offers a Latina student an opportunity to teach, and fails to offer a white male student the same opportunity, it could be the result of "preferential treatment" relating to the Latina student's ethnicity. Then again, it could have something to do with -- and I'm just throwing this out there as a possibility -- the fact that the Latina student was simply smarter and more impressive than the white guy. Really, it happens.

Where Goldfarb sees evidence of "preferential treatment," I see evidence of excellence. Chalk it up to competing worldviews, I guess.

Post Script: Also, note Goldfarb's suggestion that Sotomayor's seminar may have "helped" her graduate summa cum laude. The argument seems to be that she may have graduated with honors, but that was made possible by her "preferential treatment," such as the chance to "grade [her] own work."

In other words, we're to believe Sotomayor's summa cum laude honor is less than what it appears to be. How sad.

Update: Making matters worse, it looks like Goldfarb's criticism isn't even based on fact -- Sotomayor didn't teach her own class.

Steve Benen 1:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (72)

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'SLAMMIN' AND RAMMIN'.... The tension between party officials and party activists has become increasingly apparent this morning. Republicans focused on Sonia Sotomayor's nomination just don't seem to be on the same page.

I initially thought it would be an outsourcing situation, in which the GOP would rely on activists to say what officials couldn't. But as of this morning, party officials seem to think the activists are just embarrassing the whole gang.

RNC chair Michael Steele, guest-hosting on Bill Bennett's radio show early this morning, repeatedly distanced himself from Republicans and conservatives who have been harshly attacking Sonia Sotomayor, saying the assault risked damaging the party. [...]

In what seemed like an effort to distance the party from claims that Sotomayor is "racist" and an "Affirmative Action" pick, Steele repeatedly said that Republicans should be hailing the historic nature of Obama's pick.

"I'm excited that a Hispanic woman is in this position," Steele said. He added that instead of "slammin' and rammin'" on Sotomayor, Republicans should "acknowledge" the "historic aspect" of the pick and make a "cogent, articulate argument" against her for purely substantive reasons.

Steele warned that because of the attacks, "we get painted as a party that's against the first Hispanic woman" picked for the Supreme Court.

This came shortly after Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, denounced attacks from Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich as "terrible" and "wrong."

These are the responses of party leaders who see a debate going in a very unhelpful direction. Steele's awkward rhetoric notwithstanding, the fact that he felt compelled to issue this warning to his own party suggests the RNC chairman is getting awfully nervous.

As well as he should be, given the rhetoric coming from Gingrich, Limbaugh, Rove, Barnes, Tancredo, et al.

There's probably a realization -- if there's not, there should be -- that most Americans are unlikely to make a distinction between Republican activists and Republican elected officials. When the activists smear the first Latina nominee for the Supreme Court, it's the latter that will feel the electoral repercussions. The takeaway is "Republicans attack Sotomayor, using racist tactics." That's obviously a repugnant development for people of decency, but in a political context, it's a disaster for the party.

No wonder Steele and Cornyn are scrambling.

Post Script: Yes, it's possible that Steele and Cornyn are cheering on the unhinged activists behind the scenes, knowing that Newt and Rush can get away with screeds that those in positions of responsibility cannot. But I doubt it. GOP officials, I suspect, know this is hurting their party. There's no upside to the attacks.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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FRIDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* With just five months until the election, the latest Research 2000 poll in New Jersey for Daily Kos shows Gov. Jon Corzine (D) continuing to trail in his re-election fight. In a match-up against former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie (R), the likely Republican challenger, Corzine is down by seven, 46% to 39%.

* And speaking of New Jersey's gubernatorial race, Mitt Romney threw his support to Christie yesterday, prompting former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, Christie's GOP rival, to attack them both. "Mitt Romney was rejected by Republican Primary voters because he was a moderate trying to pass himself off as a conservative just in time to win an election," Lonegan said. "Chris Christie has done the exact same thing in this race." The primary is Tuesday.

* Sen. Chris Dodd (D), who enters his re-election bid in Connecticut as an underdog, launched his first television ad of the cycle today, which highlights his recent successes on credit card reform. The ad works hard to connect Dodd to President Obama.

* Will Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) seek re-election next year? He has pushed off a decision on the race, announcing yesterday he won't say either way until the summer. If Pawlenty runs and loses, his presidential aspirations will almost certainly be ruined.

* In Kentucky, Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo (D) released an internal poll yesterday showing him ahead of state Attorney General Jack Conway (D) in their Senate primary. The winner will likely be favored against incumbent Sen. Jim Bunning (R), if he stays in the race.

* And Ralph Nader is weighing in on the Democratic gubernatorial primary in Virginia, yesterday accusing Terry McAuliffe of trying to bribe him in 2004 -- with "an unspecified amount of money" -- to stay out of battleground states, in order to help John Kerry against George W. Bush. McAuliffe isn't exactly denying the charge, though his spokesperson added, "It looks like Ralph Nader misses seeing his name in the press. Terry's focused on talking with Virginians about jobs, not feeding Ralph Nader's ego."

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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REAGAN WORSHIP GONE AWRY.... This month has been more all-Reagan, all-the-time than the norm for Republicans. It started with a debate over whether Reagan should be the template for GOP rebranding. It continued with Michael Steele's pitch that the GOP must be "forward looking ... [and] take a lesson from Ronald Reagan."

And as the month wraps up, we're treated to a 4,000-word cover story in the Weekly Standard: "Reagan in Opposition: The lessons of 1977," by Noemie Emerie.

I suppose Emerie's point is obvious -- in 1977, Republicans were struggling as a small minority party, as is the case in 2009. What should the GOP do to get back on track in the future? Ponder the "lessons" offered by Reagan 32 years ago, of course. Mori Dinauer jokes, "Reading the piece, I think the main lesson is, 'Reagan was effing awesome.'"

And while that's no doubt the purpose of the exercise, Emerie's article doesn't exactly offer modern Republican leaders a road map. According to the piece, Reagan, for example, spent much of 1977 emphasizing a hawkish approach to the Soviet Union. In 2009, there is no Cold War. In 1977, Reagan also encouraged the party to work in concert with the fledgling religious right movement. However, the religious right is no longer fledgling, it's already part of the GOP coalition, and isn't much of a movement anymore.

The piece concludes:

He understood that the Republican party has no obligation to present the conservative movement with a nominee to its liking, but that the conservative movement has the obligation to lay out its case in so convincing a manner that it persuades most Republicans, most independents, and even some Democrats to follow its banner. This is what Reagan did while in opposition. It is what conservatives could start doing right now.

Oh, is that all? If conservatives present an agenda/worldview that resonates with Republicans, independents, and Democrats, they'll win national elections? You don't say.

The article never quite gets around to explaining why Reagan's efforts in 1977 have any relevance at all today, but I suppose it has a certain prima facie quality among the Weekly Standard's readers: Reagan did it then, so we should do it now. To reference Reagan is to be self-evidently correct -- no explanation necessary.

A few weeks ago, Jon Chait explained that the conservatives' approach too often consists of "latching onto an old president, glossing over the reality of his record, and trying to recreate all of his actions whether or not they have any bearing upon the circumstances of the present day.... The 'philosophical content' of Reagan-worship is a cult-like process for circumscribing original thought."

And it shows no signs of letting up.

Steve Benen 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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CARL LEVIN PUSHES BACK AGAINST CHENEY.... Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) addressed the Foreign Policy Association last night, and offered a pretty forceful response to Dick Cheney's recent offensive on national security.

Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, covered a fair amount of ground, debunking the former vice president's claims about "enhanced interrogation" techniques, for example.

But perhaps Levin's most newsworthy remarks referenced the classified materials Cheney believes document the alleged terror attacks prevented by torture.

"Mr. Cheney has also claimed that the release of classified documents would prove his view that the techniques worked. But those classified documents say nothing about numbers of lives saved, nor do the documents connect acquisition of valuable intelligence to the use of the abusive techniques. I hope that the documents are declassified so that people can judge for themselves what is fact and what is fiction."

It's worth emphasizing that Levin is, of course, privy to the same materials Cheney has been talking about.

His remarks are hardly surprising, but it's nevertheless helpful to hear Levin reject the most common claim Cheney has pushed for months now -- the documents in question don't say what Cheney thinks they say.

Greg Sargent added that cable networks have let Cheney (and his daughter) talk endlessly about the alleged torture-works memos, which the mean ol' president won't release to help boost the Bush/Cheney legacy. "These claims have gone almost entirely unchallenged, due to the classified nature of the documents," Greg explained. "You'd think that a contrary claim from a well-respected Senator who has also seen the docs would merit a few passing mentions, too."

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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FRED BARNES' ASSUMPTIONS.... Within an hour of Sonia Sotomayor's introduction as a Supreme Court nominee, the Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes was on Fox News, parroting the line that the judge is "not the smartest."

While that was in line with the garden-variety smear that's predictable from Barnes, yesterday, on Bill Bennett's radio show, he went further.

BARNES: I think you can make the case that she's one of those who has benefited from affirmative action over the years tremendously.

BENNETT: Yeah, well, maybe so. Did she get into Princeton on affirmative action, one wonders.

BARNES: One wonders.

BENNETT: Summa Cum Laude, I don't think you get on affirmative action. I don't know what her major was, but Summa Cum Laude's a pretty big deal.

BARNES: I guess it is, but you know, there's some schools and maybe Princeton's not one of them, where if you don't get Summa Cum Laude then or some kind of Cum Laude, you then, you're a D+ student.

Barnes' comments were probably just par for the course this week, but here's the follow-up question: how do you know Sotomayor has "benefited from affirmative action over the years tremendously"? The entire smear is predicated on ugly assumptions: a young Puerto Rican woman from the Bronx, raised in a single-parent household, couldn't have found success without affirmative action. He doesn't try to defend it; he just knows it.

It's this insidious bigotry, perhaps not as blatant as that of Tancredo, that lingers too often on the right. Sotomayor couldn't have earned her accomplishments, Barnes (and Limbaugh, and Buchanan) assumes. Even if it were true that her ethnicity helped Sotomayor reach an elite Ivy League institution, she obviously thrived in a competitive environment, based on nothing but her own skills and hard work. But when told the judge graduated Summa Cum Laude from Princeton, Barnes still can't get past his original supposition.

Adam Serwer asked the question the other day I'd love to hear Barnes answer: "[H]ow many Ivy League degrees does a person of color have to have before they're as good as a white person, and no longer reducible to an 'affirmative action hire'?"

Steve Benen 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (78)

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SHARING THE BURDEN, REDUX.... It appears that our European allies have noticed the rhetoric -- and recent bipartisan votes -- from Congress on Gitmo.

The Obama administration's push to resettle at least 50 Guantanamo Bay prisoners in Europe is meeting fresh resistance as European officials demand that the United States first give asylum to some inmates before they will do the same.

Rising opposition in the U.S. Congress to allowing Guantanamo prisoners on American soil has not gone over well in Europe. Officials from countries that previously indicated they were willing to accept inmates now say it may be politically impossible for them to do so if the United States does not reciprocate.

"If the U.S. refuses to take these people, why should we?" said Thomas Silberhorn, a member of the German Parliament from Bavaria, where the White House wants to relocate nine Chinese Uighur prisoners. "If all 50 states in America say, 'Sorry, we can't take them,' this is not very convincing."

Imagine that. These European governments were largely inclined to help out when they assumed a wide variety of nations would share the detention burden. But now that these foreign officials have heard U.S. lawmakers -- from both parties -- suddenly come to believe that Guantanamo detainees are far too dangerous for U.S. soil, their willingness to cooperate is waning.

American politicians are assuming that their constituents will never tolerate a process that allows dangerous detainees in their states/districts. European politicians are, not surprisingly, wondering how they'll respond to their own constituents about the same dynamic, especially if U.S. lawmakers are unwilling to accept any detainees at all.

This is especially true of Uighurs who were bound for Germany, which has the continent's largest expatriate community of Uighurs, and where the group would likely find temporary homes and job opportunities. German diplomats expressed a willingness to accept nine Uighurs, a position that grew stronger after a meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder. The director of social services for the city of Munich said, "If the Uighurs should come to Munich, we would take care of them."

Then German officials heard rhetoric from members of Congress, which has put the arrangement in jeopardy.

Congressional cowardice has not gone unnoticed on the international stage. It's a real problem.

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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THE RIGHT RESPONSE.... The Politico had an odd item late yesterday, arguing that with so many unhinged conservatives accusing Sonia Sotomayor of "racism," it's incumbent on the White House to address the issue.

"Some Democrats and political analysts are urging the White House to shift course and concede that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor made an error when she suggested in 2001 that Hispanic women would make better judges than white men," Josh Gerstein reported, before quoting Lanny Davis and Chris Lehane.

But she didn't "suggest" Hispanic women would make better judges than white men. An honest reading of the 2001 speech in question makes this clear (even to conservatives who are disinclined to support her nomination). She explained, quite clearly, that one's background and experiences can help shape a judge's perspective, but added that he or she must remain cognizant of that to prevent biases from dictating outcomes. Indeed, her detractors have it backwards -- Sotomayor said in the same speech she's committed to "complete vigilance in checking my assumptions, presumptions and perspectives."

In reality, it's not the White House that needs to respond to bogus Republican accusations of "racism," it's GOP leaders who need to weigh in. Yesterday, that's exactly what happened.

A top Senate Republican is taking aim at recent statements from conservative commentators Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich suggesting Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is a "racist."

"I think it's terrible," Sen. John Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told NPR's "All Things Considered" Thursday. "This is not the kind of tone any of us want to set when it comes to performing our constitutional responsibilities of advise and consent." [...]

"Neither one of these men [Gingrich and Limbaugh] are elected Republican officials. I just don't think it's appropriate. I certainly don't endorse it. I think it's wrong," he said.

Good call. Cornyn no doubt realizes the damage -- short and long term -- that Republican leaders like Gingrich and Limbaugh are doing to their party, and it makes sense to have a top GOP official like Cornyn disavowing their offensive attacks.

It's what makes the Politico article all the more mistaken. When prominent Republican voices launch ridiculous attacks, it's not up to the White House to lend the criticism credibility; it's up to the GOP to disassociate itself from the nonsense.

And better yet, it's up to political reporters at major outlets to explain to the public why the attacks are false. I can't help but notice that isn't happening much.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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REFLEXIVE REACTIONARIES.... There's been a lot of talk this week about President Obama helping the Democratic Party solidify ties with Hispanic voters by nominating Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court. But that's an incomplete look at the bigger picture -- it's far more likely the right-wing reaction to the nomination will have a more sweeping effect than the nomination itself.

The immediate responses to the nomination have included ugly talk about affirmative action, bizarre references to Puerto Rican food, criticism of the way in which Sotomayor's family pronounces their own name, baseless accusations of "racism," and at least one U.S. senator arguing publicly that Sotomayor's ability "to rule fairly without undue influence from her own personal race, gender, or political preferences" is in doubt.

But leave it to former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), whose record on race is notorious for a reason, to go the extra mile. On CNN yesterday, Tancredo attacked Sotomayor over her association with the National Council of La Raza.

"If you belong to an organization called La Raza, in this case, which is, from my point of view anyway, nothing more than a Latino -- it's a counterpart -- a Latino KKK without the hoods or the nooses. If you belong to something like that in a way that's going to convince me and a lot of other people that it's got nothing to do with race. Even though the logo of La Raza is 'All for the race. Nothing for the rest.' What does that tell you?"

Actually, it tells me quite a bit, though it says very little about La Raza or Sotomayor.

I'm hesitant to dignify Tancredo's nonsense, but for those who aren't familiar with La Raza, it's more or less the equivalent of the NAACP or B'nai Brith. It's an entirely mainstream organization, which has strong ties to both major political parties (John McCain, for example, has twice addressed the group's annual convention). The "nothing for the rest" line is something Tancredo simply made up.

But the larger political truth is that the right is well aware of the dynamics here. Conservatives know that bigoted attacks against Sotomayor will only weaken the right's credibility, make confirmation more likely, and make Republican outreach to the Hispanic community that much more difficult. It's like we're watching a test play out in real time -- can the right criticize a Democratic president's Supreme Court nominee on the merits, and steer clear of racism?

Just three days into the process, it's a test too many on the right are failing. Badly.

I suspect some Republican leaders will distance themselves from Tancredo's madness today, which would be wise. But it obviously throws the GOP off message -- instead of going on the offensive, party leaders will have to spend time keeping one of the their own at arm's length.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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By: Hilzoy

Eat Your Spinach!

This is one of those dull bills that really matters:

"The nation's complex food supply chain would become more transparent, inspections of food facilities would become more frequent and manufacturers would be required to take steps aimed at preventing food-borne illnesses under legislation proposed yesterday by key House leaders who have pledged to modernize the food safety system.

The bill, introduced by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), would give the Food and Drug Administration broad new enforcement tools, including the authority to recall tainted food, the ability to "quarantine" suspect food, and the power to impose civil penalties and increased criminal sanctions on violators.

Among other things, the proposal would put greater responsibility on growers, manufacturers and food handlers by requiring them to identify contamination risks, document the steps they take to prevent them and provide those records to federal regulators. The legislation also would allow the FDA to require private laboratories used by food manufacturers to report the detection of pathogens in food products directly to the government.

"This is a major step forward," said Erik Olson, director of food and consumer product safety at the Pew Charitable Trusts. "This has really been needed for decades. We're still operating under a food and drug law signed by Teddy Roosevelt.""

Rick Perlstein coined the wonderful phrase "e. coli conservatism". We've been living with, and in some cases dying from, e. coli conservatism for years. It's nice to know that we're getting back to serious food safety liberalism, which, frankly, ought to be just plain common sense, and perfectly acceptable to any conservatives who care about a strong defense. After all, food-borne illness kills about 2,000 more people every year than died on 9/11; why we should spend over half a trillion dollars a year defending ourselves against human invaders while leaving ourselves open to bacteria that are every bit as lethal is a mystery that passeth all understanding.

***

Special FDA bonus: the new FDA commissioner and her principal deputy have an article outlining their plans for the agency in the New England Journal of Medicine. It's quite good. Merrill Goozner has some good analysis here.

Hilzoy 2:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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May 28, 2009

THURSDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* GM struck a deal with creditors today, which "would give them a 10 percent stake in the new company and the ability to buy more shares if the recovery of the automaker goes well."

* Unrest in Pakistan: "Multiple bombs exploded in two Pakistani cities on Thursday, just hours after Taliban groups issued an extraordinary warning for people to evacuate several large cities, saying they were preparing 'major attacks.'"

* The foreclosure crisis isn't even close to being over.

* Americans seem generally impressed with Sotomayor so far.

* For no apparent reason, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) wants to delay a vote on Sotomayor until September, as compared to August.

* Sen. Pat Roberts (R) of Kansas announced today he'll vote against the Sotomayor nomination.

* The NRA, to conservatives' dismay, isn't inclined to go after Sotomayor.

* The White House, meanwhile, seems optimistic that Sotomayor is, in fact, pro-choice.

* Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah believes it's "highly likely" that Sotomayor will be confirmed.

* The administration is eyeing the creation of one agency that would be responsible for regulating the banking industry.

* Those with health insurance pay a bundle in higher premiums every year to make up for those with no insurance.

* Look for the FBI to begin playing a larger role in international counter-terrorism.

* Apparently under the impression that he's helping his party, Karl Rove has now gone after Sotomayor as "sort of a schoolmarm," who is overly reliant on "emotion."

* No, Cardozo doesn't count as the first Hispanic justice.

* Glenn Beck is still talking about ACORN?

* Nice column from Gail Collins on the need to reform the student loan system.

* Bill O'Reilly seems to have a real hang-up about blogs. This time, he's annoyed the left and the right, apparently because he and his producers have never heard of "nutpicking."

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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FEET TO THE FIRE.... Responding to the latest conspiracy theory from the right -- the one about Obama and Republican car dealerships -- Kevin Drum raises a very good point, which I hadn't considered. After noting that the argument didn't stand up well to scrutiny, Kevin notes:

So that's that. But I want to defend Doug Ross and the RedState folks who publicized this anyway. I'm serious. Sure, it turned out that nothing was going on, but you know what? If George Bush's administration had gone down this road, I'd want someone to watch them like a hawk too. The crackpotty writing may be a source of amusement, and I have no doubt that these guys are, as usual, going to embarrass themselves in an Ahab-like quest to prove that Obama really did force Chrysler to target Republican donors -- with the lapdog mainstream media covering up for him because, you know, that's what they do.

But even so, I say dig away. Even blind squirrels find nuts occasionally, and if the government is going to be running car companies, then this is exactly the kind of thing people should be watching out for. That's what opposition parties are for.

I agree with just about all of this. There's nothing wrong with due diligence, and if conservative bloggers want to hold elected officials' feet to the fire, more power to 'em. It's what being politically engaged is all about.

The only small caveat I'd add is that the right, in the midst of its digging, should also recognize the problems associated with embarrassing themselves in Ahab-like quests too much. Outlets need at least a shred of credibility for when they really do find a story that's legit.

When the boy who cried wolf actually saw a wolf, as I recall, no one much cared. Similarly, conservative bloggers and talk-radio hosts are constantly finding scandalous schemes and outrageous abuses relating to the White House. Some are transparently ridiculous, and some take a few seconds on Google to debunk, but either way, they shout a lot of nonsense. Eternal vigilance is generally wise, but if the opposition party finds a real gem in its 1000th try, it'll be easier to ignore if the first 999 tries were nonsensical.

It reminds me of a tabloid, which routinely publishes thinly-sourced garbage, but once in a great while, has a legitimate scoop. The real story would be easier to believe if the tabloids weren't consistenly such an embarrassment.

Kevin's right; conservative blogs should keep on digging. But once "right-wing blogger" becomes synonymous with "trashy check-out aisle tabloid," it might be too late for their news to matter.

Steve Benen 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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STARTING TO LOOK A BIT LIKE CONNECTICUT '06.... Whether he deserves it or not, Sen. Arlen Specter will, like all Democratic incumbents, enjoy the support of the party establishment, including the White House. Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), who's all but certain to challenge Specter in a Democratic primary, told Greg Sargent this afternoon that even a call from the president wouldn't discourage him.

Asked what he would do if Obama himself made the request, Sestak reiterated his respect for the President but said it wouldn't make a difference. "At the end of the day my responsibility is to [the people] here in Pennsylvania," he said.

Obama has said he'll back Specter to the hilt for re-election, but Sestak said even a Presidential endorsement isn't insurmountable for him. "As important as the President's endorsement is, and who wouldn't want President Obama's endorsement, at the end of the day I don't believe that most voters vote because someone else endorsed someone," Sestak said.

I not only think that's true, I also think Sestak understands very well how this game is played. Obama will support the Democratic incumbent, and then support the Democratic nominee. If Sestak wins the primary, he'll have Obama's support.

We saw a similar dynamic in Connecticut in 2006*. Joe Lieberman was the Democratic incumbent, and party leaders (including Obama) rallied to support his campaign. When he lost the primary, those same party leaders threw their support (with varying degrees of enthusiasm) to Ned Lamont.

So, from Sestak's perspective, why not run? It may look like he's bucking the party's leadership, but that'll be the same leadership that embraces him with both arms should he win the primary.

* Post Script: The difference between Pennsylvania and Connecticut, in case there's any lingering confusion, is that Specter wouldn't be able to run as an independent after the primary. He who loses the primary will have to wait until the next election cycle.

Steve Benen 4:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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IF REVERSAL RATES MATTER.... The conservative Washington Times ran a headline yesterday that read, "Sotomayor reversed 60% by high court." The article quoted a right-wing activist saying, "Her high reversal rate alone should be enough for us to pause and take a good look at her record."

Rachel Maddow had a great segment on this GOP talking point last night, and it's worth keeping in mind as the debate over Sonia Sotomayor's nomination continues, not only because it's likely to be repeated quite a bit, but also because it points to a certain desperation in the judge's detractors.

Sotomayor has been on the appeals court federal bench for over a decade, and during her career, she's written 380 rulings for the 2nd Circuit's majority. Of those 380, five have been considered on appeal to the Supreme Court. And of those five, three have reversed the lower court's decision. That's how the right gets to a 60% reversal rating -- three out of five, as opposed to three out of 380.

Of course, if that 60% figure were really scandalous, the right should have balked at the Alito nomination -- he had two of his rulings considered by the high court, and both were overturned. (That's a 100% rating! He must have been a horrible judge!)

The irony is, Sotomayor's reversal numbers are actually better than the norm, not worse. Media Matters noted yesterday, "[A]ccording to data compiled by SCOTUSblog, Sotomayor's reported 60 percent reversal rate is lower than the overall Supreme Court reversal rate for all lower court decisions from the 2004 term through the present -- both overall and for each individual Supreme Court term."

And yet, conservative media personalities nevertheless continue to tout this as evidence of a Sotomayor weakness, either unaware or unconcerned about how completely wrong the argument is.

I don't doubt there are legitimate areas of criticism regarding Sotomayor's lengthy legal career. The right seems to be having trouble, though, finding them.

Steve Benen 3:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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By: Hilzoy

Historical Amnesia

This is a very silly thing to say:

"Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court is a historic milestone for Latinos, but it resonates well beyond Hispanic pride. It is perhaps the most potent symbol yet of a 21st century rapprochement between the U.S.'s two largest minorities, Latino Americans and African Americans, who in the 20th century could be as violently distrustful of each other as blacks and whites were."

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

"One must be clear about what constituted "violent" distrust "between" blacks and whites in the 20th century. It meant thousands of whites, in Atlanta, in 1906, assembling on the streets to randomly murder black people. In Springfield, Illinois, in 1908, it meant whites pillaging a Jewish businesses for arms, and then proceeding to the black side of town, attacking black business and black homes, and thousands of black people fleeing for their lives. It meant whites--across the nation--in 1910 assembling in mobs and murdering random black people (On the 4th of July!). The cause? Jack Johnson had the temerity to win the championship. It meant whites in East St. Louis, in 1918, perpetrating a pogrom against the city's black population, and killing over 100 black people because, "southern niggers need a lynching."

I have not known Latinos in the 20th Century to perpetrate a Red Summer. I have not known blacks to lynch Latino veterans, returning from war, in their uniforms. The fact is that there was no violent distrust between blacks and whites in the 20th century. Rather there was a one-sided war waged against black people by white terrorists, which government, in the best cases, failed to prevent, in many cases, stood idly by, and in the worst cases actually aided and abetted. I'm sorry but comparing that to whatever's happening between blacks and Latinos, is a slander against both those groups, and an amazingly naive take on the history of white America in regards to race."

There seems to be a rash of naivete on this subject lately. Here's Rush Limbaugh, quoted in TAPPED:

"If ever a civil rights movement was needed in America, it is for the Republican Party. If ever we needed to start marching for freedom and Constitutional rights, it's for the Republican Party. The Republican Party is today's oppressed minority. It knows how to behave as one. It shuts up. It doesn't cross bridges, it doesn't run into the Bull Connors of the Democrat Party. It is afraid of the firehouses and the dogs, it's compliant. The Republican Party today has become totally complacent. They are an oppressed minority, they know their position, they know their place. They go to the back of the bus, they don't use the right restroom and the right drinking fountain, and they shut up."

Leaving aside the peculiar claim that the Republican Party is non-confrontational at present, the idea that Republicans are being denied their civil rights the way blacks were under Jim Crow -- that they do not have the right to vote, and are beaten up or killed when they try to exercise it, for instance -- is just bizarre beyond belief.

Hyperbole is one thing, but complete distortion of history is another. I don't expect better from Limbaugh -- John Cole wrote that "the right wing apparently spent the last eight years combining the highly successful tactics of Code Pink and the comedic stylings of Hee Haw!", and he's right -- but the first paragraph I quoted appeared in Time. And Time's columnists should know better than to confuse friction between members of two groups with a government-enforced regime of terror that lasted for centuries.

Hilzoy 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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REASON FOR OPTIMISM.... Plenty of things can still go wrong, but the health care debate seems to be moving in an encouraging direction.

The push to include a public health care option as part of a system-wide overhaul benefited from two major boosts Wednesday. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the chairman of the Finance Committee and lead health care negotiator, is "fighting tooth and nail to include that in any final deal," his chief of staff John Selib said at a town hall meeting in Montana, according to the Billings Gazette.

Meanwhile, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) backed off his opposition to a public option in a meeting with health care advocates on Wednesday in Nebraska.

Nelson, according to two people in the room, told the group that he was open to a public option, the primary Democratic goal of reform and anathema to conservatives. [...]

Jane Kleeb, a top Democratic powerbroker in Nebraska, said Nelson's openness to a public option was the biggest takeaway from the meeting.

"He made it clear that he is open to the public option. That's not a line in the sand where he says it must be off the table for him to move forward on health care reform," she said.

Both of these are encouraging developments. Baucus, of course, is taking a leading role in shaping the Senate version of the bill, and if he's prepared to fight "tooth and nail" for a public option, it's a lot more likely to happen.

As for Nelson, just a few weeks ago, the Nebraskan said a public option in the reform package would be a "deal breaker," because it would simply be too attractive to and popular with American consumers. What's more, he vowed to put together a "coalition of like-minded centrists opposed to the creation of a public plan," to help ensure that the final bill relies exclusively on private insurers.

Today, however, meeting with representatives of SEIU, AARP, the American Cancer Society, the reform coalition Healthcare for America NOW, and the Center for Rural Affairs, Nelson reportedly sang a very different tune.

Maybe the heat Nelson was taking as a result of his position led him to reconsider his obstinacy.

It's hardly a lock, of course. Nelson apparently told these groups that he's "open" to the idea, which is better than the line he took a few weeks ago. But the larger truth is that the reform is effort is clearly on track -- and with a reconciliation process in place, the final bill needs just 50 votes.

Steve Benen 2:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (7)

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STOP DIGGING.... The National Review's Mark Krikorian received quite a bit of criticism yesterday (including some from me) following a couple of posts about the pronunciation of Sonia Sotomayor's name. Krikorian argued that the proper pronunciation, preferred by the judge and her family, is "unnatural in English," and "something we shouldn't be giving in to." It wasn't clear which group of people constituted "we."

Krikorian added that "newcomers" should "adapt" to how "countrymen say your name." To do otherwise would be a failure of "multiculturalism." He knows how to pronounce the Supreme Court nominee's name, but he doesn't like it, and would like others to join him in pronouncing it incorrectly.

Today, after noting the variety of responses to his argument -- Olbermann labeled him the Worst Person in the World last night -- Krikorian thought it wise to return to the subject again today.

[F]or those actually interested in the point, here's what I was trying to get across: While in the past there may well have been too much social pressure for what sociologists call Anglo-conformity, now there isn't enough. I think that's a concern that most Americans share at some level, which is the root of the angst over excessive immigration, bilingual education, official English, etc.

I'm not sure how this helps.

The right would be less reactionary on issues like immigration and English as the "official" language if more families like Sotomayor's would say their names without their accent? If more Spanish-speaking families would simply give up some of their culture and heritage, conservatives would be less narrow-minded?

Krikorian probably should have quit while he was behind.

Steve Benen 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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THERE IS NO CAR-DEALER CONSPIRACY.... A whole lot of right-wing blogs are worked up today over a report about the political affiliations of Chrysler dealers who've been shut down.

Evidence appears to be mounting that the Obama administration has systematically targeted for closing Chrysler dealers who contributed to Repubicans [sic]. What started earlier this week as mainly a rumbling on the Right side of the Blogosphere has gathered some steam today with revelations that among the dealers being shut down are a GOP congressman and closing of competitors to a dealership chain partly owned by former Clinton White House chief of staff Mack McLarty.

The basic issue raised here is this: How do we account for the fact millions of dollars were contributed to GOP candidates by Chrysler who are being closed by the government, but only one has been found so far that is being closed that contributed to the Obama campaign in 2008?

Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), who has a dealership that will close, called this "an outrage." A variety of far-right bloggers chose more colorful language.

And what is the "evidence" of a partisan conspiracy that "appears to be mounting"? As you might have guessed, like most conservative theories, this one is extremely thin. The argument, in a nutshell, is that Chrysler dealers owned by a variety of Republican donors are being closed, the government is now involved with Chrysler's restructuring, so that points to "evidence" that the Obama administration is deliberately punishing GOP contributors.

Nate Silver, who has a nasty habit of using pesky things like facts to respond to silly arguments, explained, "There is just one problem with this theory. Nobody has bothered to look up data for the control group: the list of dealerships which aren't being closed. It turns out that all car dealers are, in fact, overwhelmingly more likely to donate to Republicans than to Democrats -- not just those who are having their doors closed."

There is no conspiracy. The Obama administration is not using Chrysler's bankruptcy to punish individual Republican contributors. Conservative blogs jumped on this before thinking it through.

Nothing to see here; move along.

Steve Benen 1:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (65)

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THE 2003 TACTICS REPUBLICANS WOULD PREFER TO FORGET.... Following up on an item from earlier, Republicans are pointing to the 2003 fight over Miguel Estrada's judicial nominee as offering key lessons in 2009. I think that's true, but for far different reasons.

For some, the point is that Democrats opposed Estrada, but didn't suffer political consequences, so Republicans need not worry about taking on Sonia Sotomayor and losing support from Hispanic voters now. It's a misguided comparison, for a variety of reasons.

But the reference to Estrada is nevertheless a helpful reminder. In 2003, the mainstream Republican attack -- repeated over and again, by officials at a variety of levels -- was that opposition to a Hispanic judicial nominee was necessarily evidence of Democratic racism. I pointed earlier to Trent Lott and Rush Limbaugh making the argument.

The Media Matters Action Network found plenty of additional examples.

Republican Sen. Jon Kyl Said "I See This, Really, As A Slap At Hispanics." As reported by the Washington Times: "Republicans have seized on Mr. Estrada's stalled nomination to drive a wedge between the Democratic Party and Hispanic voters, whose ranks are growing faster than any other minority group in America. 'I see this, really, as a slap at Hispanics,' Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, said Wednesday." [Washington Times, 3/14/03; emphasis added] ...

Republican Rep. Henry Bonilla Said Opposition To Estrada Was "The Biggest Anti-Hispanic Crusade This City Has Ever Seen." As reported by the Washington Times: "Senate Democrats yesterday again blocked the nomination of lawyer Miguel A. Estrada to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The vote sustained for the second time a Democratic filibuster of the Estrada nomination. His supporters responded with accusations of racism and President Bush declared that 'the judicial confirmation process is broken.' 'It's a sad day,' Rep. Henry Bonilla, Texas Republican, said after the vote. 'This is the biggest anti-Hispanic crusade this city has ever seen.'" [Washington Times, 3/14/03; emphasis added]

In case the point isn't entirely obvious, these attacks were pathetic for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that Democratic opposition had nothing to do with ethnicity. Republicans were engaged in the laziest thinking possible: Estrada was a Hispanic nominee, so to oppose him was to be anti-Hispanic.

I suspect these same Republicans -- Jon Kyl is now the #2 GOP leader in the Senate -- would be outraged to see the same standard they used in 2003 applied to themselves in 2009.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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THURSDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* A new Quinnipiac poll out of Pennsylvania shows Arlen Specter leading Pat Toomey in a hypothetical general-election match-up by nine points, 46% to 37%, which is a significantly closer race than a Quinnipiac poll taken earlier in the month.

* The same poll shows Specter leading Joe Sestak in a Democratic primary match-up, 50% to 21%.

* In a signal of where Florida's Senate race is headed, the Club for Growth went after Charlie Crist (R) yesterday for being insufficiently conservative on taxes.

* Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters yesterday that he will not support Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) next year, should Burris seek a full term.

* Given recent revelations, Burris would be wise to gracefully retire, rather than seek a full term of his own.

* With state Attorney General Roy Cooper (D) passing on the Senate race next year, Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) is reportedly giving the race another look.

* Ethan Berkowitz (D), who nearly defeated Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) last year, now intends to run against Gov. Sarah Palin in 2010, if she seeks a second term.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (6)

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SHE'S PRO-CHOICE, RIGHT?.... There was never any real doubt that President Obama would select pro-choice nominees for the Supreme Court. But Sonia Sotomayor's record on the issue is thin, and it's apparently prompting a few observers to hesitate, or at a minimum, seek clarification.

In nearly 11 years as a federal appeals court judge, President Obama's choice for the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, has never directly ruled on whether the Constitution protects a woman's right to an abortion. But when she has written opinions that touched tangentially on abortion disputes, she has reached outcomes in some cases that were favorable to abortion opponents.

Now, some abortion rights advocates are quietly expressing unease that Judge Sotomayor may not be a reliable vote to uphold Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 abortion rights decision. In a letter, Nancy Keenan, president of Naral Pro-Choice America, urged supporters to press senators to demand that Judge Sotomayor reveal her views on privacy rights before any confirmation vote.

"Discussion about Roe v. Wade will -- and must -- be part of this nomination process," Ms. Keenan wrote. "As you know, choice hangs in the balance on the Supreme Court as the last two major choice-related cases were decided by a 5-to-4 margin."

Shortly after Sotomayor was introduced as the nominee, Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, quickly blasted her as "a radical pick" who "believes the role of the court is to set policy which is exactly the philosophy that led to the Supreme Court turning into the National Abortion Control Board."

What was that based on? Apparently nothing. The right assumes she's pro-choice; the left assumes she's pro-choice. But no one seems to know whether she's pro-choice or not.

Chances are, this will come up during the confirmation hearings. If Sotomayor sticks to the usual script, she'll say she would approach every case with an open mind, without a preconceived position on any issues. Asked if she's ever taken a firm stand on Roe, Sotomayor will probably claim a faulty memory. It is, after all, what most nominees do.

For what it's worth, I'd love to hear Sotomayor follow Ruth Bader Ginsburg's example. When she was a high court nominee, Ginsburg sidestepped questions about specific cases, but didn't hesitate to state her positions on key issues, including abortion.

"[The right to an abortion] is something central to a woman's life, to her dignity. It's a decision that she must make for herself," Ginsburg told the Judiciary Committee. "And when government controls that decision for her, she's being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices."

None other than Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who voted for Ginsburg's nomination, praised the nominee for having been "very specific in talking about abortion."

Any chance Sotomayor might offer a similar response this summer? Any chance Republicans will be equally generous with their praise?

Steve Benen 11:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (79)

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NO COMPARISON.... After noting some of the political complications associated with Republicans attacking the first Latina Supreme Court nominee, Time's Jay Newton-Small noted, "A GOP birdie reminds me that the Dems paid little heed to Hispanic voters when they filibustered Miguel Estrada's nomination to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, often seen as a stepping stone to the Supreme Court."

Apparently, this is going around. Karl Rove raised the same point in his Wall Street Journal column today.

The media has also quickly adopted the story line that Republicans will damage themselves with Hispanics if they oppose Ms. Sotomayor. But what damage did Democrats suffer when they viciously attacked Miguel Estrada's nomination by President George W. Bush to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the nation's second-highest court?

If this is going to continue to be a regular part of the Republican message, it's probably explaining why it's an absurd comparison (though it does point to one key larger truth).

First, as Newton-Small added, the political landscape has changed since Estrada's nomination was defeated in 2003, most notably after the fight over immigration reform.

Second, as Jon Chait explained, the two nominations are hardly identical: "[T]he GOP has a bad reputation among Hispanics and the Democrats don't, and the Supreme Court plays an ever-so-slightly larger role in the public imagination than the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals."

Third, Rove is making a foolish assumption, suggesting that Latino voters resent politicians who oppose Latino nominees. That's wrong. Rove may have forgotten, but the Democrats' position was bolstered by the fact that Estrada was opposed by Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute, and the William C. Velasquez Institute.

But let's also take this opportunity to take a stroll down memory lane. I followed the Estrada nomination pretty closely six years ago, and it's worth reminding the political world of the shameless identity politics Republicans played at the time.

Trent Lott -- Trent Lott! -- said of Democrats, "They don't want Miguel Estrada because he's Hispanic." When Florida Sen. Bob Graham (D) voted against Estrada, none other than Rush Limbaugh ran a statement on his website with a headline that read, "Bob Graham's Crusade Against Hispanic Judges."

In 2003, a variety of Republicans argued that Democratic opposition to a Hispanic judicial nominee was necessarily evidence of Democratic racism. Now that conservatives are worked up over Sonia Sotomayor, I wonder whether Republicans are prepared to be held to the same standard.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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THE LIMITS OF SCRUTINY.... When I first saw this report yesterday, I sincerely thought it was a joke.

Sotomayor also claimed: "For me, a very special part of my being Latina is the mucho platos de arroz, gandoles y pernir -- rice, beans and pork -- that I have eaten at countless family holidays and special events."

This has prompted some Republicans to muse privately about whether Sotomayor is suggesting that distinctive Puerto Rican cuisine such as patitas de cerdo con garbanzo -- pigs' feet with chickpeas -- would somehow, in some small way influence her verdicts from the bench.

Curt Levey, the executive director of the Committee for Justice, a conservative-leaning advocacy group, said he wasn't certain whether Sotomayor had claimed her palate would color her view of legal facts but he said that President Obama's Supreme Court nominee clearly touts her subjective approach to the law.

First, that's not a good translation of the Puerto Rican dishes. (Update: The original article included a bad translation. The above reflects the corrected language.)

Second, The Hill's Alexander Bolton, who wrote the report, said some conservatives really are scrutinizing the connection between Sotomayor's favorite dishes and her judicial responsibilities.

[Bolton] confirmed, saying, "a source I spoke to said people were discussing that her [speech] had brought attention...she intimates that what she eats somehow helps her decide cases better."

Bolton said the source was drawing, "a deductive link," between Sotomayor's thoughts on Puerto Rican food and her other statements. And I guess the chain goes something like this: 1). Sotomayor implied that her Latina identity informs her jurisprudence, 2). She also implied that Puerto Rican cuisine is a crucial part of her Latina identity, 3). Ergo, her gastronomical proclivities will be a non-negligible factor for her when she's considering cases before the Supreme Court.

I realize the right hasn't launched a serious campaign against a Democratic president's Supreme Court nominee in the modern political era, so conservatives are a little out of practice. But once they start over-thinking the nominee's favorite meals, it's clear a few too many on the right have gone from zero to hysterical in less than 48 hours.

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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A SESTAK-SPECTER STAND-OFF.... When Arlen Specter announced his party switch last month, he acknowledged he might be trading one primary fight for another. "I am ready, willing and anxious to take on all comers and have my candidacy for re-election determined in a general election," Specter said.

Whether Specter meant it or not, one of those comers will almost certainly be Joe Sestak. Brian Beutler reported last night:

Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) appeared on CNN moments ago and confirmed what I first reported earlier today -- that he intends to jump into the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary against Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA), pending the blessing of his family.

Sestak has recently begun reaching out to donors in his state, informing them of his plans and asking them to contribute to his campaign in advance of the June 30 FEC filing deadline.

This is not, apparently, an official launch, at least not yet. Sestak continued to emphasize late yesterday that he'll sit down with his wife and daughter very soon to make sure they're on board with his plan.

But all indicators clearly point to a big primary fight in the Keystone State. Sestak told CNN he intends to run; he told MSNBC he intends to run; and he told prospective donors he intends to run. If he walks like a Senate candidate, and talks like a Senate candidate....

This is almost certainly a healthy development. Joe Klein made the case for a primary the other day, and I found it very compelling: "Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but it seems to me that if a sitting U.S. Senator decides to change parties simply because he perceives a better chance of winning reelection -- that is, if he does so out of zero personal conviction -- then he deserves to be primaried simply for form's sake, to find out what he actually believes."

Who's likely to win this primary? It's fair to say Sestak would enter the contest as the underdog. A recent Research 2000 poll showed Specter leading Sestak among Pennsylvania Dems by 45 points, with the incumbent benefitting from a huge name-recognition advantage.

But I wouldn't bet against Sestak. He's proven himself a capable lawmaker; he has an impressive military background; he's a life-long Dem; he has some money in the bank; and Pennsylvania Democrats are far from sold on Specter, who has given them plenty of reasons lately to question his fealty to his new party.

Should be interesting.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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LOOKING BEYOND THE NARROW CONFINES OF THE LAW.... In light of all the talk about "empathy" and allowing personal background to "influence" application of the law, part of me can understand why a quote like this one, from a Supreme Court nominee, might seem inappropriate to conservatives.

"[W]hen a case comes before me involving, let's say, someone who is an immigrant -- and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases -- I can't help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn't that long ago when they were in that position.

"And so it's my job to apply the law. It's not my job to change the law or to bend the law to achieve any result. But when I look at those cases, I have to say to myself, and I do say to myself, 'You know, this could be your grandfather, this could be your grandmother. They were not citizens at one time, and they were people who came to this country.' ...

"When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account."

As has been obvious this week, the right considers this kind of thinking outrageous. Impartial judges are tasked with following and applying the law, without bias or preconceived prejudices. They are, to borrow the popular metaphor, umpires responsible for calling balls and strikes. Thinking about one's "ancestors," and feeling "empathy" for struggling defendants, is a recipe, conservatives have told us, for judicial disaster.

When a nominee says, "It's not my job to change the law or to bend the law to achieve any result," it's not acceptable, we're told, for the next word to be, "but...." The rule of law simply cannot withstand this approach to jurisprudence.

Except, the above quote didn't come from Sonia Sotomayor; it came from Samuel Alito, during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing. What's more, he was responding to a question from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), one of the Senate most ardent conservatives, who didn't find Alito's response controversial in the slightest.

At the time, Alito's remarks were, oddly enough, considered a selling point. He's not a cold-hearted conservative, we were told, because Alito is willing to look beyond the letter of the law and consider his own family's background when ruling on all kinds of cases.

If our surprisingly strident right-wing friends care to explain why this sentiment is a disqualifier for a Latina nominee, but a strength for an Italian male nominee, I'd sure appreciate it.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (51)

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May 27, 2009
By: Hilzoy

The Ricci Case

One of the criticisms of Sonia Sotomayor is that she was part of a panel that affirmed a district court ruling in Ricci v. DeStefano. Here are the basics of the case:

"In 2003, the New Haven Fire Department decided to base promotions to the positions of captain and lieutenant primarily on a written exam. But the next year the city threw out the test results when all but one of the eligible candidates for promotion proved to be white. New Haven firefighter Frank Ricci, a high scorer on the test who is white, sued for reverse discrimination."

I have read many professions of outrage about this decision, but most of them focus on whether it is a good thing or a bad thing that Frank Ricci didn't get his promotion, rather than what the law requires. This puzzled me. Many of the same people who are outraged by the decision also criticize Judge Sotomayor on the grounds that she will substitute her personal preferences for the requirements of the law as written. One might therefore expect them to consider what the law required in this case, rather than simply asking whether the outcome she affirmed was the one they preferred. Oddly enough, however, they didn't.

So I decided to read the case for myself. As best I can tell, the argument in the district court ruling, which the Second Circuit accepts, is as follows:

Ricci and his fellow plaintiffs allege that New Haven's decision to throw out the test was an act of intentional discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. To prove this allegation, the plaintiffs must first show that there is a prima facie case that they were discriminated against. Next, the defendants can argue that despite this prima facie case, they had a legitimate reason for doing what they did. If they cannot do so, the plaintiffs win; if they can, we move on to step three: the plaintiffs can argue that this supposed reason is a mere pretext disguising discriminatory intent. If they succeed, they win; if not, they don't.

The District Court found that the plaintiffs had established their prima facie case. However, they also found that New Haven had a legitimate reason for acting as it did: wanting to comply with the very same Title VII under which they are being sued. And they found that this reason was not, as the plaintiffs alleged, a mere pretext. Thus, they found for New Haven.

A lot turns on their finding that New Haven had a legitimate reason for throwing out the test. Here, the central points seem to be as follows: first, New Haven's concern about violating Title VII was not just an idle worry. Title VII requires employers not just to inspect their hearts and not find any discriminatory intent, but to consider the racial impact of things like tests. And the EEOC, in interpreting this requirement, has given clear guidance about what impact counts as suspect:

"A selection rate for any race, sex, or ethnic group which is less than four-fifths (4/5) (or eighty percent) of the rate for the group with the highest rate will generally be regarded by the Federal enforcement agencies as evidence of adverse impact, while a greater than four-fifths rate will generally not be regarded by Federal enforcement agencies as evidence of adverse impact."

The rates at which blacks and Hispanics passed the New Haven tests were well below 80% of the rate at which whites passed. That means that those tests were presumptively in violation of the law.

There are various things an employer can do to show that a test that has a disparate impact on some racial group is nonetheless OK. New Haven did not do any of these things, though it does seem to have spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out what accounted for the disparate impact, without success. But the steps New Haven did not take are not required: to get on the right side of the law, you can either take those steps or avoid the disparate impact by scrapping the measure that produces it -- unless, of course, scrapping that measure is itself a violation of Title VII.

The plaintiffs argued that scrapping the tests was a violation of Title VII. The Court disagreed. Here again, though, they didn't pull this conclusion out of thin air. This question is governed by precedents, which the District Court discusses on pp. 31-40. I read one of them (Bushey v. New York State Civil Service Commission), and it is very much on point; I'm not a lawyer, but I think that the court would have had to overturn it in order to decide this case differently. Their basic point, as summarized by the Second Circuit, is this:

"These cases clearly establish for the circuit that a public employer, faced with a prima facie case of disparate-impact liability under Title VII, does not violate Title VII or the Equal Protection Clause by taking facially neutral, albeit race-conscious, actions to avoid such liability."

Scrapping the test was race-conscious: the point was to avoid running afoul of Title VII by having a test that so few blacks and Hispanics passed. But it was facially neutral: New Haven did not require that whites pass the test but waive those requirements for blacks, or anything like that; they cancelled the whole test, for everyone. You might wonder whether this really counts as neutral, but the precedents seem pretty clear to me: in Bushey, the action the court said was OK was race-norming their exams (i.e., setting up different curves for different races, so that each race had about the same percentage of people passing.) It's hard to see how one could say that that's not discrimination, but scrapping an exam in order to come up with a new one is.

A District Court cannot overturn a previous appellate court decision, but an appellate court can. The Second Circuit could have overturned its own precedents had it seen fit. They did not, for reasons that they explain here.

The basic point of all this is: both the District Court and the Second Circuit seem to me to have been applying the law in accordance with clear precedents. This is what judges are supposed to do. And anyone who thinks that this decision (made by this court) is problematic should not go on to criticize Judge Sotomayor for judicial activism, since no one who genuinely thought there was a problem with substituting one's own views about what the law ought to be for what it actually says would object to this decision.

Hilzoy 10:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

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WEDNESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* North Korea's government believes it is no longer bound by the 1953 armistice that halted the Korean War. It also threatened "a powerful military strike," apparently against South Korea, if any of its trade ships are stopped for inspection.

* In Pakistan, "suicide attackers spraying gunfire rammed a carload of explosives into a building housing an ambulance service" today, killing at least 23 and wounding nearly 300.

* A bomb exploded on a western Baghdad street today, killing an American soldier and four Iraqi civilians. The death toll for American troops in Iraq this month (20) is the highest since last September.

* Cyclone Aila in eastern India and Bangladesh has killed at least 191 people.

* Given the ugly nature of the attacks, I wonder if Republican Party leaders realize the kind of damage its base and allies are doing.

* Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said this morning that Judge Sotomayor "has serious problems," though he was unclear as to what those problems were. He added, however, "I don't sense a filibuster in the works."

* Also taking the wind from the right-wing sails, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a member of the Judiciary Committee, told C-SPAN this morning that Sotomayor will be confirmed.

* Two new ads are reaching television sets, one supporting Sotomayor's nomination, and one opposing.

* The RNC has pulled its shameful "Pussy Galore" parody.

* Competing national polls have offered a variety of results, but the latest Gallup poll shows a majority of Americans opposing marriage equality.

* What's Ted Olson up to, and what's his role in trying to overturn California's Prop. 8?

* It still amuses me to think Bush/Cheney wanted Bernie Kerik, who was indicted yesterday for lying to the White House during his vetting, to be the Secretary of Homeland Security.

* Christopher Nelson, a long-time Asia policy expert and author of the Nelson Report, tackles the five basic questions about what's going on with North Korea.

* Funny thing about conservative opposition to gay marriage -- even far-right lawmakers have a hard time explaining what's wrong with it.

* And finally, Glenn Beck offers up the mixed-metaphor Quote of the Day: "Right now, it's the bottom of the ninth and we are down to our last out and our last strike. Will our government take strike three looking? Or, will they wake up and save the day with a heroic three pointer on a penalty shot?"

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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'A LOT LESS PROVOCATIVE AND TROUBLING'.... It's a 32-word quote: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life." That line, from a speech Judge Sonia Sotomayor delivered in 2001, is necessarily a disqualifying remark for a Supreme Court nominee, according to a variety of conservatives.

Indeed, those 32 words not only have prompted some of the right's more unhinged activists (Gingrich, et al) to call for Sotomayor to withdraw from high court consideration, it's also prompted many more conservative leaders (Limbaugh, et al) to smear the nominee as a "racist" and a "bigot."

It's why I was I was impressed by this item from conservative writer Rod Dreher, who took the time to read the entire 2001 speech. The headline of his piece today reads, "I was wrong about Sotomayor speech."

Taken in context, the speech was about how the context in which we were raised affects how judges see the world, and that it's unrealistic to pretend otherwise. Yet -- and this is a key point -- she admits that as a jurist, one is obligated to strive for neutrality. It seems to me that Judge Sotomayor in this speech dwelled on the inescapability of social context in shaping the character of a jurist. That doesn't seem to me to be a controversial point, and I am relieved by this passage:

"While recognizing the potential effect of individual experiences on perception, Judge Cedarbaum nevertheless believes that judges must transcend their personal sympathies and prejudices and aspire to achieve a greater degree of fairness and integrity based on the reason of law. Although I agree with and attempt to work toward Judge Cedarbaum's aspiration, I wonder whether achieving that goal is possible in all or even in most cases."

Relieved, because it strikes me as both idealistic and realistic. I am sure Sotomayor and I have very different views on the justice, or injustice, of affirmative action, and I'm quite sure that I won't much care for her rulings as a SCOTUS justice on issues that I care about. But seeing her controversial comment in its larger context makes it look a lot less provocative and troubling.

Good for Dreher. He and I agree on practically nothing, but I appreciate the fact that he took the time to read Sotomayor's speech and was willing to admit that he was mistaken about its meaning.

I suspect any intellectually honest and serious observer would read the same speech and reach the same conclusion. The "controversy" over the remark is little more than a foolish exercise, launched by partisans who couldn't be bothered to do with Dreher did: read the whole thing.

This "wise Latina" matter may be at the top of the right's list of talking points, and I really doubt Limbaugh, Gingrich, & Co. care about the integrity of their criticisms, but if this is the best they've got against Sotomayor, it says more about them than her.

Steve Benen 4:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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'THE SHOT THAT CHANGED THE REPUBLIC'.... This is one of those must-read stories that left me shaking my head in disbelief.

It was called "the shot that changed the republic."

The killing in 1967 of an unarmed demonstrator by a police officer in West Berlin set off a left-wing protest movement and put conservative West Germany on course to evolve into the progressive country it has become today.

Now a discovery in the archives of the East German secret police, known as the Stasi, has upended Germany's perception of its postwar history. The killer, Karl-Heinz Kurras, though working for the West Berlin police, was at the time also acting as a Stasi spy for East Germany.

It is as if the shooting deaths of four students at Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard had been committed by an undercover K.G.B. officer, though the reverberations in Germany seemed to have run deeper.

"It makes a hell of a difference whether John F. Kennedy was killed by just a loose cannon running around or a Secret Service agent working for the East," said Stefan Aust, the former editor in chief of the weekly newsmagazine Der Spiegel. "I would never, never, ever have thought that this could be true."

And yet, the killing that effectively caused the summer of '68 uprising and led to the founding of the terrorist Red Army Faction, seems to have actually happened. It's extraordinary.

This is of particular interest right now because the new issue of the Washington Monthly has a book review from Paul Hockenos on Stefan Aust's book on the Red Army Faction.

The irony, with these new revelations in mind, is that the shooting helped lead to the creation of the Red Army Faction, but it also triggered a movement of non-violent students. Eventually, the turmoil led to a healthier, stronger, more-democratic West Germany.

Probably not what the Stasi shooter and his/her superiors had in mind.

Steve Benen 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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'REVERSE' RACISM.... The right keeps coming up with odd phrases in which the apparent meaning bears no resemblance to the actual meaning. "Opposite marriage" was a popular one a few weeks ago, despite the fact that it was not referring to the opposite of marriage.

Matt Yglesias flags a new one.

Rush Limbaugh thinks Sonia Sotomayor is a "hack" and worse, "Here you have a racist -- you might want to soften that, and you might want to say a reverse racist."

This seems very confused. Being a "reverse racist" can't be similar to being a "racist," it needs to be the reverse of being a racist. Limbaugh clearly just thinks Sotomayor is a racist. She hates white people. For a Latina to hate white people isn't "reverse" racism, it's racism. Reverse racism would be if you had a white person who hates white people. It would be like racism, where you hate people of other races, but in reverse.

I had the same reaction, but I'd take this just a little further.

If we accept Limbaugh's argument at face value, he argues that a Latina like Sotomayor is a "reverse racist," as opposed to being a generic, garden-variety racist, because he thinks she hates white people. Putting aside the fact that the accusation is insane, the key to Limbaugh's case is the race of the injured party -- those bigoted against white people aren't racists, they're reverse racists. Presumably, then, those bigoted against non-white people are actual racists.

That's the reasoning here. Those who hate whites are reverse racists; whites hate others are regular ol' racists.

I vaguely recall a panel discussion when I was an undergrad, sponsored by the Black Student Union, in which participants debated whether it was possible for African Americans to be racists. It never occurred to me that Limbaugh would argue against it, but here we are.

Steve Benen 3:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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DISGRACED FORMER LAWMAKER REFUSES TO GO AWAY.... The lead story on CNN's political blog right now:

Rush Limbaugh isn't the only one calling Sonia Sotomayor a racist. Newt Gingrich is, too -- and he's demanding that Obama's pick to the Supreme Court withdraw her nomination. [...]

On Wednesday, Gingrich tweeted: "Imagine a judicial nominee said 'my experience as a white man makes me better than a latina woman.' new racism is no better than old racism."

Moments later, he followed up with the message: "White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw."

I see. The disgraced former House Speaker, who hasn't served in public office for over a decade, and has no relevance or influence in the Senate at all, wants to see Judge Sotomayor withdraw. I guess the administration won't have much choice but to get right on that.

As hard as this may be to believe, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs encouraged the public and members of the Senate to "look at more than just the blog of a former lawmaker."

(I know, I know, Gingrich's Twitter feed isn't the same thing as Gingrich's blog. The prior features Newt's madness in smaller bursts.)

So, once again, we're back to the common question: why are Newt Gingrich's silly ideas the lead story at CNN's political site right now? And why does CNN treat his rants as political news on a nearly daily basis? Were his screeds surprising? Were his accusations of racism against Sotomayor compelling? Is there any chance at all that anyone will actually care whether Newt wants to see the nominee withdraw?

Steve Benen 2:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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LIZ CHENEY'S LECTURE ON THE 'RULE OF LAW'.... Liz Cheney -- who appears on national television so often, her mail is now sent directly to network green-rooms -- was on Fox News again this morning. She seems to be expanding her repertoire a bit, moving beyond attacking Obama over torture, and now attacking Obama over the judiciary.

"[Y[ou know, you're not supposed to make decisions based on how you want the law to come out -- how you want the results to come out," Liz Cheney argued. "If you're a judge or a Justice, obviously one would hope that you would be just strictly interpreting the law, and I think we've heard in a number of instances President Obama talk about, sort of, a results-oriented approach to the law, or you know, making these determinations based on your heart or your empathy. And I think that's dangerous. I think that moves us away from the rule of law."

There's quite a bit of nonsense here, most notably the fact that President Obama has never "talked about" a "results-oriented approach to the law." Cheney just wants to smear, but she's a little too lazy to worry about details like facts and accuracy.

But the more hilarious aspect of this was hearing Liz Cheney lecture the Obama administration about the rule of law. This is, of course, the same Liz Cheney who has spent months insisting that no one from the Bush administration be held accountable, in any way, for systematic illegal abuse of detainees, authorized and endorsed by officials at the highest levels.

Last week, when the issue was torture, Cheney was unfazed by the prospecting of "moving us away from the rule of law." This week, the issue is apparently "empathy," and Cheney feels justified in lecturing the administration cleaning up her father's legal mess about the concept of impartial application of the law.

That she has no idea how ridiculous this sounds only adds insult to injury.

Steve Benen 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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EMPATHY CAN CUT BOTH WAYS.... It's tempting to point to every conservative who's complained of late about President Obama, the Supreme Court, and "empathy," but it would take too long. Like a child overly attached to a blanket, this has become the talking point the right simply can't live without. (Michael Steele's "I'll give you empathy; empathize right on your behind" remains a personal favorite.)

At first blush, this seems like a political loser. Republicans seem to expect Americans to recoil at the idea of an "empathetic" judge, but the typical person, I suspect, will not see this as some kind of dreaded "code" word.

But there are two arguably more important angles to this. The first is that the right, a little too anxious to wage a "war on empathy," seems to have lost sight of what the word means. As Dahlia Lithwick recently explained, "Empathy in a judge does not mean stopping midtrial to tenderly clutch the defendant to your heart and weep. It doesn't mean reflexively giving one class of people an advantage over another because their lives are sad or difficult. When the president talks about empathy, he talks not of legal outcomes but of an intellectual and ethical process: the ability to think about the law from more than one perspective."

The second is a point Adam Serwer makes very effectively today. Conservative jurists consider empathy in application of the law all the time -- they simply feel empathetic towards a different group of people.

Conservatives want their justices to empathize with the religious, the unborn, and powerful corporate interests. Liberals want their justices to empathize with women and minorities, workers and the downtrodden.

For all the pearl-clutching horror coming from the right, the conservative legal movement has picked its plaintiffs carefully, with an eye towards catching the winds of public opinion through sympathetic plaintiffs such as Frank Ricci, the white firefighter who was denied a promotion, or Terri Schiavo's parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, who sought to keep her on life support despite her husband's claim that she expressed a desire not to be kept alive in a persistent vegetative state. Empathy is an important element of the conservative legal movement on both sides of the bench. Most recently, it's been conservatives who have been arguing for empathy for the architects and perpetrators of torture on the grounds that they broke the law ostensibly in the interest of the country, while liberals have called for rigidity in upholding laws against torture.

Excellent point. In abortion rights cases, conservative justices have expressed empathy for fetuses, hypothetical mothers, and would-be fathers. In gay rights cases, conservative justices have expressed empathy for conservative families. In cases involving public funding of private religious schools, conservative justices have expressed empathy for parents in underperforming public school districts.

In each case, the larger conservative movement didn't express outrage at the judges' willingness to break with the mechanical application of the law; they were thrilled. Empathy matters to the right, just so long as the "proper" person or group is the beneficiary.

Indeed, this comes up even in the midst of the complaints about empathy. We've heard quite a bit over the last two days about Connecticut firefighter Frank Ricci, who, despite dyslexia, worked hard to do well on a written exam established by the local fire department for a promotion. He was passed over, however, because the test results were thrown out, when officials feared the exam was discriminatory against African Americans.

The legal question was a narrow one: "[T]he only real question before the court was whether New Haven had reason to believe that if the city used the test results it would be sued under Title VII. Mr. Ricci's specific circumstances -- his race, his dyslexia, and his professional aggravation -- have no bearing on that legal question at all."

So why are conservatives so quick to point to these details? Because they want the courts and the public to feel empathy for Ricci, appreciating the details that make him feel aggrieved.

The right may not like it, but empathy cuts both ways.

Steve Benen 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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PRONUNCIATION GUIDE.... One of the low points in the right's criticism of Obama during the presidential campaign came in October, when some conservatives started complaining about the Democrat's pronunciation of "Pakistan," with a soft "a."

The National Review's Mark Stein complained at the time that Obama prefers the "exotic pronunciation." He added, "[O]ne thing I like about Sarah Palin is the way she says 'Eye-raq'." The National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez posted an email that argued, "[N]o one in flyover country says Pock-i-stahn. It's annoying."

Keeping this spirit alive, the National Review's Mark Krikorian argued that the proper pronunciation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor's name doesn't work for him, and he'd like to see other join him in rejecting it. Krikorian started this yesterday...

So, are we supposed to use the Spanish pronunciation, so-toe-my-OR, or the natural English pronunciation, SO-tuh-my-er, like Niedermeyer?

...and expanded on this today.

Deferring to people's own pronunciation of their names should obviously be our first inclination, but there ought to be limits. Putting the emphasis on the final syllable of Sotomayor is unnatural in English (which is why the president stopped doing it after the first time at his press conference) ... and insisting on an unnatural pronunciation is something we shouldn't be giving in to. [...]

This may seem like carping, but it's not. Part of our success in assimilation has been to leave whole areas of culture up to the individual, so that newcomers have whatever cuisine or religion or so on they want, limiting the demand for conformity to a smaller field than most other places would. But one of the areas where conformity is appropriate is how your new countrymen say your name, since that's not something the rest of us can just ignore, unlike what church you go to or what you eat for lunch. And there are basically two options -- the newcomer adapts to us, or we adapt to him. And multiculturalism means there's a lot more of the latter going on than there should be.

Remember, Krikorian wants us to know this isn't "carping"; it's just a white conservative who doesn't like pronouncing a Latina Supreme Court nominee's name the way she and her family pronounce it. To "give in" on this would be yet another blow to our collective "assimilation" efforts.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that Krikorian doesn't say Scall'-ee-a or Al'-it-o, and has "adapted" just fine. That nefarious "multiculturalism" strikes again.

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (114)

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WEDNESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Marco Rubio's (R) Senate campaign in Florida got a little help today, with endorsements from Mike Huckabee and Jeb Bush, Jr. (the former governor's son).

* Liz Cheney, who was on national television again yesterday (natch), said she's not focused on seeking elected office "right now."

* New York Gov. David Paterson's (D) re-elections chances remain pretty awful. A new Siena College poll put his favorability rating statewide at 27%.

* Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Pa.), now in his 19th term, will face a primary challenge for the first time. Former naval officer Ryan Bucchianeri, a graduate of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, announced yesterday he will take on the incumbent.

* Florida may be one of the nation's most diverse states, but the Republican Party will run a slate of middle-aged white men in all of the major statewide races next year.

* According to a new Quinnipiac poll, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) is still struggling in his re-election chances next year, but he seems to have turned a corner. He now trails former Rep. Rob Simmons by six (45% to 39%), after trailing by 16 points in April.

* Speaking of Dodd, Peter Schiff, a libertarian brokerage firm owner who predicted the U.S. financial meltdown, is "leaning towards" a Senate campaign in Connecticut next year.

* Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) announced this morning that he is not running for mayor in NYC. City Comptroller William Thompson is now the likely Democratic nominee.

* Retired professional football player Mike Minter (R) had been slated to run against Larry Kissell (D) in North Carolina next year, but yesterday, Minter took a pass on the race.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (6)

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THE LAST REFUGE OF SCOUNDRELS.... It's understandable to take at least some notice of political "firsts." Barack Obama is the first African-American president. Hillary Clinton was the first woman with a strong chance of winning the White House. Kennedy was the first Catholic president, Lieberman was the first Jewish candidate on a national ticket, etc. These are breakthrough moments in American history, and they should be a source of national pride.

To that end, there's nothing wrong with appreciating the diversity that Sonia Sotomayor would bring to the Supreme Court. She would be the first Latina justice and the third woman to ever serve on the high court. It's an encouraging development, to be sure.

But just one day after the announcement, the discussion surrounding this "first" has already veered in some insulting directions. Dana Goldstein noted this morning:

One of the clear effects of the Sotomayor nomination is that we're going to be talking -- a lot -- about affirmative action, for the first time in awhile. Of course, there is the rehearsed sense of outrage, from conservatives, that this Hispanic woman was nominated at all. So many qualified white men were available for the job! But is there any evidence that Judge Sotomayor's actual legal opinions on matters of race and gender vary from those of the white dude she would replace on the Court, David Souter? In short, no -- at least not yet.

And that, in short, should be the end of it.

Except, of course, it's not. The right wants Americans to believe Sotomayor is a "racist." George Will, using language we're going to hear a lot of over the next couple of months, insisted that Sotomayor "embraces identity politics," including the notion that "members of a particular category can be represented -- understood, empathized with -- only by persons of the same identity." Pat Buchanan, always a paragon of respect and tolerance, described her as an "affirmative action pick."

Michael Goldfarb, after scrutinizing Sotomayor's efforts as an undergrad in 1974, suggested this morning that Sotomayor "has been the recipient of preferential treatment for most of her life."

And Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) believes, without proof, that Sotomayor's ability "to rule fairly without undue influence from her own personal race, gender, or political preferences" is in doubt.

It's been one day. It's only going to get worse.

Steve Benen 11:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (74)

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STRAW MEN.... One of the more common Republican criticisms of the president is Obama's alleged use of "straw men" arguments. Karl Rove recently wrote a column on the president's reliance on "the lazy rhetorical device of 'straw men.'" Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), chairman of the House Republican Conference and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) have made the same complaint.

With this in mind, it was only natural that the media follow suit. The New York Times' Helene Cooper had this 1,000-word piece the other day.

Democrats often complained about President George W. Bush's frequent use of a rhetorical device as old as rhetoric itself: creating the illusion of refuting an opponent's argument by mischaracterizing it and then knocking down that mischaracterization.

There was much outrage in 2006, for example, when Mr. Bush said that when it came to battling terrorists, "I need members of Congress who understand that you can't negotiate with these folks," implying that Democrats backed talks with Al Qaeda. That assertion was promptly, and angrily, disputed by Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Now that there is a new team at the White House, guess who is knocking down straw men left and right?

The right, not surprisingly, was delighted to see the piece. There was only one small problem with the article: it's wrong.

As publius explained, "The difference between Bush and Obama's arguments is fairly simple -- Bush just made stuff up, while Obama's critics are actually making the critiques that Obama attributes to them. Somewhat hilariously, Cooper herself concedes this on several of the supposed examples of Obama's 'strawman' arguments."

Exactly. If the president responds to actual arguments presented by his real-life detractors, that's not a straw-man argument; that's the opposite of a straw-man argument. Consider this example from the article:

Mr. Obama's straw men are not limited to the economy. On his maiden overseas trip, he shot down one after another in quick succession, for the benefit of students in Istanbul. "Some people say that maybe I'm being too idealistic," he said. "I made a speech in Prague about reducing and ultimately eliminating nuclear weapons, and some people said, ah, that will never happen. And some people have said, why are you discussing the Middle East when it's not going to be possible for the Israelis and the Palestinians to come together? Or why are you reaching out to the Iranians, because the U.S. and Iran can never agree on anything?"

Who would not be ready to cheer the knockdown of such pessimism after all that? "If we don't try, if we don't reach high, then we won't make any progress," Mr. Obama concluded.

To Mr. Obama's credit, several pundits, including the Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum (who called his no-nukes speech "quixotic"), dumped cold water on the idea of getting to a nuclear-free world anytime soon. And White House officials pointed to columns in both The New York Times (William Kristol) and The Washington Times (Jeffrey Kuhner) that criticized Mr. Obama for trying engagement with Iran's leaders.

It's just a bizarre case against the president. The article accuses Obama of using straw men, and then points to examples proving the opposite.

I have no idea why articles like these get published.

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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INTELLECTUAL INFRASTRUCTURE.... About 10 years ago, one of the more common concerns on the left was the advantage conservatives had on infrastructure. The right had think tanks, activist groups, talk radio, a sophisticated direct-mail program, book publishers, and news outlets. Liberals would routinely ask, "Why don't we have any of that?"

It's striking to see how the tables have turned over the decade. Now, the right wants its own MoveOn.org, a conservative Media Matters, a right-wing version of "The Daily Show," a conservative TPM enterprise, and to duplicate the success of the netroots. Just yesterday, Tucker Carlson said he wants to create a Huffington Post for the right. None other than disgraced former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R) acknowledged after last year's election how impressed he is with "liberal infrastructure," which he believes "dwarfs conservatism's in size, scope, and sophistication," and will be "setting and helping to impose the national agenda for the coming years."

In an odd twist, Douglas Holtz-Eakin told CQ he'd even like to see a "Center for American Progress for the right."

As John McCain's top domestic and economic policy adviser during last year's presidential campaign, Douglas Holtz-Eakin got a firsthand look at the broad problems the Republican Party now faces: a shrinking base, a narrowing appeal among different demographic groups and an inability -- in his view -- to generate fresh ideas or effectively sell the ones it has.

In the wake of another chastening set of GOP defeats at the polls, Holtz-Eakin is now setting out to address those problems head-on. He's developing a proposal for a new think tank that he describes as a "Center for American Progress for the right" -- a reference to the liberal think tank that has supplied staff and policy proposals to the Obama administration and developed new ways to market its ideas. [...]

The irony, of course, is that the Center for American Progress itself was developed as a liberal answer to the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank that has been a source of Republican policy ideas for decades. But Holtz-Eakin says established think tanks of the right, like Heritage and the American Enterprise Institute, were "not helpful" during the McCain campaign because they weren't politically engaged or innovative in their media strategies.

There's some value, I suppose, to conservatives rethinking their approach to the larger policy debate, beyond superficial "rebranding" efforts. But like Matt Yglesias, I think the idea of a CAP for the right is "pretty misguided."

Holtz-Eakin acknowledges there are already powerful conservative think tanks. Indeed, their existence prompted the creation of the Center for American Progress in the first place. Why create yet another think tank for the right? I suspect the answer is that leading conservatives like Holtz-Eakin have noticed that outfits like Heritage and AEI are slow, narrowly focused, hopelessly confused, wedded to outdated ideas, lacking in creativity, and fundamentally unserious about public policy.

But that's a flaw with modern conservatism, which has nothing to do with the number of think tanks the right manages to create. Holtz-Eakin seems to have noticed the problem. It's his solution that needs work.

Steve Benen 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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WASN'T LUNTZ SUPPOSED TO GO AWAY?.... We talked over the weekend about Republican pollster Frank Luntz, and his 28-page memo, "The Language of Health Care," written to help Republican lawmakers undermine health care reform efforts. In an interview with the New York Times, Luntz was asked some of his more misleading policy claims. "I'm not a policy person," Luntz replied. "I'm a language person."

And while it's obviously unsatisfying to hear Luntz argue, in effect, that he can do his job without knowing what he's talking about, Jay Rosen reminded me of another important angle: didn't Frank Luntz promise to move to Hollywood and stop bothering us with deceptive rhetorical strategies? This report ran exactly one month ago today.

One of politics' unlikeliest figures has come to Hollywood, looking to change his stripes.

Frank Luntz, the arch-conservative pollster known as the research hammer by which the Gingrich revolution came down hard on President Bill Clinton, wants to take over research for the entertainment industry. [...]

[T]he pollster and Fox News analyst is serious about making his play. He's bought a home in Santa Monica and is already doing survey work for Universal's marketing chief Adam Fogelson and speaking to producers about other projects.

Asked why he would give up a lucrative career in political manipulation, Luntz said, "I'm tired of selling reality. Reality sucks. It's mean. Divisive. Negative. What Hollywood offers is a chance to create a new reality, in two hours time." He added, "I don't like what politics has become.... I don't want to create a 30-second spot that makes people feel like s---."

A few weeks later, Luntz, hired by a client he refuses to identify, released an extensive strategy memo, encouraging Republicans to kill the best chance Americans have had at health care reform in decades, relying on little more than fear and deception.

Any chance Luntz can be encouraged to go back to Hollywood and leave the political world alone?

What's more, I'd be remiss if I passed up the easy joke here. Luntz is "tired of selling reality." Frank, I've read your "Language of Health Care" memo -- and you're still not selling reality.

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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HEALTH CARE VS. HEALTH SCARE.... As the debate over health care reform progresses, it was inevitable we'd see some pretty deceptive advertising from the right. But what they've come up with so far tells us quite a bit -- some conservatives, left with no credible options, are just making up nonsense.

There's a project, for example, called "Patients United Now," organized by the same outfit that sponsored Sam "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher's anti-EFCA efforts. The group, Americans for Prosperity, has a new television ad featuring a Canadian woman who said she came to the United States to be treated for brain cancer, because in Canada, she would have had to wait six months to see a specialist, a delay that would have killed her.

To hear the woman tell it, Canada's system is a dystopian nightmare, in which the government forces taxpayers to "wait a year for vital surgeries," and bureaucrats restrict access to medicine and treatments. She concludes by telling the viewer, "Now Washington wants to bring Canadian-style healthcare to the U.S., but government should never come in between your family and your doctor." She encourages Americans, "Don't give up your rights."

Now, I can't speak to the woman's claims about her personal medical experiences; they may very well be true. But as Jonathan Cohn explained, the message of the ad is completely wrong.

For those who'd like a review: Canadian health care has strengths and weaknesses. The strengths include superb primary care, administrative simplicity, and the kind of cradle-to-grave financial security virtually no Americans enjoy now. The weaknesses include some long waits for specialty care -- although statistics suggest Canadians are not, on the whole, ending up in worse health than Americans because of them.

The real lie here, though, is in ad's broader implication: That, by reforming health care, "Washington" (a.k.a. President Obama and his allies) would import "Canadian-style healthcare" and, as a result, deny people life-saving treatment. This is demonstrably false.

Remember, Canada has a single-payer plan -- one in which the government insures everybody directly, with virtually no role for private insurance. No politician with serious influence is talking about creating such a plan here (even though, for the record, I think such a plan could work pretty well if designed properly).... Reformed health care in the U.S. would, in all likelihood, look more like what you find in France, the Netherlands, or Switzerland. These countries don't have problems with chronic waiting times. In fact, access to some services -- particularly primary and emergency care -- is easier and quicker than it is in the U.S. But these countries also make sure everybody has insurance coverage -- and generous coverage at that.

This is consistent with the larger trend. Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina is launching a campaign in opposition to reform, and the message is wildly misleading. Rick Scott's Conservatives for Patients' Rights have ads up, and they're no better.

There's got to be a better way to have this debate.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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OFF ON THE RIGHT FOOT.... I can appreciate the importance of getting a political push started effectively, especially when it comes to taking on a Supreme Court nominee. If a jurist is seen from the outset as qualified, intelligent, experienced, and part of the ideological mainstream, it's extremely difficult to change those perceptions after they've taken root.

It's why, nearly 24 hours after learning of Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination, conservative activists have reason to feel discouraged. They put together a strategy, but the right seems to have come up with little more than some out-of-context quotes. In a Senate with a 59-seat Democratic majority, this won't do.

We've heard a lot about Sotomayor saying that appeals courts are "where policy is made," but this is easily debunked as a controversy. The right was also excited yesterday about this 2001 quote: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion [as a judge] than a white male who hasn't lived that life." But, again, there's even less here than meets the eye.

The right wants us to believe Sotomayor has been reversed repeatedly by the Supreme Court, but this doesn't stand up well to scrutiny. Some conservatives think the judge is "soft" on "corruption," but this is easily dismissed nonsense.

Dahlia Lithwick recommends the right approach this from an entirely different angle.

Instead of wading into a bruising identity politics war they cannot possibly win, conservatives -- even the angriest conservatives -- should wade into Sotomayor's vast legal writings. There are hundreds of cases for them to read and parse and quote out of context. Let's have this confirmation battle on the merits, rather than in the sinkhole of unfounded character attacks. The real problem for Sotomayor's opponents is that anyone who has closely read her opinions won't find much to build a case on. As the indefatigable team at SCOTUSblog has chronicled here and here, on the appeals court, Judge Sotomayor has taken a fairly moderate, text-based approach to the cases before her, placing her much closer to retiring Justice David Souter than to the late Justice William Brennan on the judicial activism spectrum.

She has been overturned three times at the Supreme Court, and may well be again soon. But she was also a state prosecutor, a corporate lawyer, and a Bush I appointee to the federal bench. As the White House points out in its talking points today, "In cases where Sotomayor and at least one judge appointed by a Republican president were on the three-judge panel, Sotomayor and the Republican appointee(s) agreed on the outcome 95% of the time."

What evidence does anyone anywhere have that Sotomayor has spent her career departing from the letter of the law to impose her personal preferences? Her participation in the (poorly handled) decision in the New Haven firefighters case was anything but judicial activism, much as it will be spun as symbolic of her lifelong hatred of white men. On a conference call with reporters today, a senior administration official noted that in the New Haven case, Judge Sotomayor did nothing more than apply the case law: "You can't say she's a judicial activist and then criticize her for applying 2nd Circuit precedent." Her judicial record reveals a lot more humility than hubris.

So, attacking isolated quotes, wrenched from context, is a losing gambit. Combing through Sotomayor's rulings won't get the right very far. Attacking her personally is political suicide.

What does that leave the right with? Not much, but that probably won't stop a whole lot of conservatives from throwing a whole lot of tantrums.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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By: Hilzoy

Sotomayor: The Record

This is one of the things I love most about blogs: Barack Obama nominates Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court; I, a non-lawyer, wonder what her record is like, and find the summaries in newspapers much too shallow and focussed on the politics of her appointment rather than her record; but voila! SCOTUSBlog has anticipated my every whim by running a series summarizing a whole lot of her decisions. The first one has gotten some attention, but there are more! (1, 2, 3, 4.)

They are really worth reading, especially if you are not a lawyer, since they'll give you a much richer sense of the kinds of decisions she has made than anything I've read so far in newspapers. To pick one example: you'll have a much more informed response to the idea that Judge Sotomayor will reflexively support the interests of minorities if you know about her dissent in Pappas v. Giuliani, which SCOTUSBlog summarizes as follows:

"One of her more controversial cases was Pappas v. Giuliani, 290 F.3d 143 (2d Cir. 2002), involving an employee of the New York City Police Department who was terminated from his desk job because, when he received mailings requesting that he make charitable contributions, he responded by mailing back racist and bigoted materials. On appeal, the panel majority held that the NYPD could terminate Pappas for his behavior without violating his First Amendment right to free speech. Sotomayor dissented from the majority's decision to award summary judgment to the police department. She acknowledged that the speech was "patently offensive, hateful, and insulting," but cautioned the majority against "gloss[ing] over three decades of jurisprudence and the centrality of First Amendment freedoms in our lives just because it is confronted with speech it does not like." In her view, Supreme Court precedent required the court to consider not only the NYPD's mission and community relations but also that Pappas was neither a policymaker nor a cop on the beat. Moreover, Pappas's speech was anonymous, "occur[ring] away from the office on [his] own time." She expressed sympathy for the NYPD's "concerns about race relations in the community," which she described as "especially poignant," but at the same time emphasized that the NYPD had substantially contributed to the problem by disclosing the results of its investigation into the racist mailings to the public. In the end, she concluded, the NYPD's race relations concerns "are so removed from the effective functioning of the public employer that they cannot prevail over the free speech rights of the public employee.""

It's worth noting that the speech in question is genuinely offensive:

"The fliers asserted white supremacy, ridiculed black people and their culture, warned against the "Negro wolf... destroying American civilization with rape, robbery, and murder," and declaimed against "how the Jews control the TV networks and why they should be in the hands of the American public and not the Jews."

If you read Sotomayor's actual dissent, she makes very good points. While I am not qualified to say whether it's a valid legal argument, it is a subtler and (to my mind) deeper take on the relevant issues than that in the majority opinion. The justification for firing Pappas was the damage it would do to the NYPD's mission if it were known that one of their employees was mailing such racist screeds. Sotomayor notes, correctly, that this is often a good reason for firing someone: if, for instance, a beat cop held such views, one might legitimately worry about how he might treat any African-Americans or Jews he happened to encounter.

But Pappas was not a cop on the beat, a police commissioner, etc. He worked on the NYPD's computer systems. Moreover, he mailed the offensive literature anonymously, on his own time, and it took a police investigation, involving sending more charitable appeals out in special coded envelopes, to show that he had sent it. But besides making those points, Sotomayor also said this:

"The majority's core concern seems to be that, even though Pappas was a low-level employee with no public contact who was speaking privately and anonymously, the possibility remained that the news would get "out into the world" that the NYPD was employing a racist. I agree this is a significant issue, and I do not take it lightly. (...)

This case differs from others we have confronted in a critical respect. In the typical public employee speech case where negative publicity is at issue, the government has reacted to speech which others have publicized in an effort to diffuse some potential disruption. In this case, whatever disruption occurred was the result of the police department's decision to publicize the results of its investigation, which revealed the source of the anonymous mailings. It was, apparently, the NYPD itself that disclosed this information to the media and the public. Thus it is not empty rhetoric when Pappas argues that he was terminated because of his opinions. Ante, at 147-48. The majority's decision allows a government employer to launch an investigation, ferret out an employee's views anonymously expressed away from the workplace and unrelated to the employee's job, bring the speech to the attention of the media and the community, hold a public disciplinary hearing, and then terminate the employee because, at that point, the government "reasonably believed that the speech would potentially... disrupt the government's activities." Heil v. Santoro, 147 F.3d 103, 109 (2d Cir.1998). This is a perversion of our "reasonable belief" standard, and does not give due respect to the First Amendment interests at stake."

Or, in short: the NYPD claims it has to fire Pappas because if word got out that they employed someone with his beliefs, that would hurt their ability to do their job. But they were the ones who first investigated these anonymous mailings, figured out who had sent them, and then publicized the fact that it was an NYPD employee. That makes it hard to argue that it was Pappas' mailing offensive stuff that harmed the NYPD: but for the NYPD's own actions, that harm would never have occurred. (It reminds me of someone I used to work with: when our college reached decisions he didn't like, he used to foment huge pseudo-controversies about them and then say: we can't go ahead with this; it's just too controversial!)

This is a really good point. As I said, I'm not competent to say whether it is or is not the best reading of the Pickering test, but I do think it's a subtler analysis than the majority's, and one that takes the First Amendment issues more seriously, and engages more seriously with the underlying rationale behind curtailing them. More to the point, however, knowing that in a case like this, where political correctness was plainly on the side of the majority, Justice Sotomayor was in dissent. And whether she was right or wrong, this case is worth knowing about, given how often we're likely to hear that she is all about identity politics at the expense of the rule of law.

And that's just one example. The whole series is worth reading.

Hilzoy 12:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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May 26, 2009

TUESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Undeterred by yesterday's international condemnations, North Korea "reportedly fired two more short-range missiles into waters off its east coast" earlier today.

* Exceeding all expectations, consumer confidence numbers soared over the last month. This, in turn, helped rally Wall Street.

* In more discouraging economic news, American home values are still awful.

* Two more New Yorkers have died of the H1N1 virus.

* Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seems to be, slowly but surely, coming around to a more sensible approach on Gitmo detainees.

* President Obama today praised Judge Sonia Sotomayor for having "great empathy." Wait, did I say Obama and Sotomayor? Actually, that was George H.W. Bush's quote, when he introduced Clarence Thomas.

* If Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is offended by something Sotomayor wrote in 1996, why did he vote for her nomination in 1998?

* I really doubt Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) will support a Sotomayor filibuster.

* Obama will stop in Riyadh on June 3, discussing Middle East peace with Saudi King Abdullah.

* Yesterday, Obama maintained the presidential tradition of having a wreath placed at a Confederate monument at Arlington National Cemetery, but started a new tradition by also sending a wreath to the African American Civil War Memorial.

* Norm Coleman is under the mistaken impression that his opinion on the Sotomayor nomination is important.

* Whether Robert Samuelson likes it or not, there is no Social Security crisis.

* Tucker Carlson thinks he can create a credible rival to the Huffington Post. What could possibly go wrong?

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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INHOFE'S STANDARDS.... A whole lot of senators issued statements today in response to Judge Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination, and most were polite and inconsequential. Sen. James Inhofe's (R-Okla.) press release, however, stood out.

"Without doubt, Judge Sotomayor's personal life story is truly inspiring. I congratulate her on being nominated. As the U.S. Senate begins the confirmation process, I look forward to looking closer at her recent rulings and her judicial philosophy.

"Of primary concern to me is whether or not Judge Sotomayor follows the proper role of judges and refrains from legislating from the bench. Some of her recent comments on this matter have given me cause for great concern. In the months ahead, it will be important for those of us in the U.S. Senate to weigh her qualifications and character as well as her ability to rule fairly without undue influence from her own personal race, gender, or political preferences." [emphasis added]

Melinda Warner asked, "What does that even mean?" I've been wondering the same thing.

Inhofe, who no one has ever accused of being the sharpest tool in the shed, could have easily just made veiled references to Sotomayor's ideology, and wrapped it up by hinting at his inevitable opposition to her nomination. But the Oklahoma Republican just had to go the extra mile here, and introduce race and gender into the equation.

Chances are, from Inhofe's perspective, he wouldn't want a Supreme Court justice who allowed one's personal background to interfere with their legal judgment. But that's not what he said -- and it's certainly not a standard he's laid out for other high court nominees.

Put it this way: when was the last time James Inhofe questioned whether a white nominee for the federal bench had an ability to rule "without undue influence" from his race? Would he worry about the Vatican having "undue influence" over a Roman Catholic nominee? Has he ever checked to make sure a male nominee was not overly influenced by his gender?

The very idea, I suspect, would strike Inhofe as unnecessary, which is precisely the point. That it only occurs to him to ask this of Sotomayor, and not her contemporaries, reinforces the insulting double standard.

Steve Benen 4:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (79)

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ROMNEY AND HUCKABEE?.... I often wonder what the standard is for major news outlets that receive press releases from political figures who no longer hold public office. How do editors decide what constitutes actual news, when these folks issue a statement about something?

We know, for example, that Newt Gingrich's every thought is frequently considered news worthy, despite the fact that he hasn't held public office in more than a decade. Today, Mitt Romney's dissatisfaction with Judge Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination was also deemed news.

Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney issued a statement Tuesday on Sotomayor's nomination:

"The nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court is troubling. Her public statements make it clear she has an expansive view of the role of the judiciary. Historically, the Court is where judges interpret the Constitution and apply the law. It should never be the place 'where policy is made,' as Judge Sotomayor has said. Like any nominee, she deserves a fair and thorough hearing. What the American public deserves is a judge who will put the law above her own personal political philosophy."

This is pretty hackish, of course, but content aside, who cares what Mitt Romney thinks about a judicial nominee? He finds Sotomayor "troubling." So? There are plenty of former governors out there; Romney's thoughts on Supreme Court vacancies are as relevant as theirs are.

Around the same time, Mike Huckabee weighed in, too.

Former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee issued a statement Tuesday on Sotomayor's nomination:

"The appointment of Maria Sotomayor for the Supreme Court is the clearest indication yet that President Obama's campaign promises to be a centrist and think in a bi-partisan way were mere rhetoric. Sotomayor comes from the far left and will likely leave us with something akin to the 'Extreme Court' that could mark a major shift. The notion that appellate court decisions are to be interpreted by the 'feelings' of the judge is a direct affront of the basic premise of our judicial system that is supposed to apply the law without personal emotion. If she is confirmed, then we need to take the blindfold off Lady Justice."

As a substantive matter, Huckabee's whining is blisteringly dumb. But in terms of actual news, the only thing interesting about the former governor's press release is that Huckabee, after weeks of coverage about Sotomayor and her prospective nomination, is under the impression that her first name is "Maria."

Collectively, Romney and Huckabee have no power, no influence, and no public responsibilities. So why would CNN run their silly public statements as news?

I suppose this is a lesson on why so many politicians flirt with possible presidential campaigns -- it prompts major news outlets to pay attention to your press releases. Otherwise, various rants from Romney, Huckabee, and Gingrich would -- I hope -- be easier for editors to ignore.

Steve Benen 4:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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STRATEGERY.... It's only been about six hours since the political world learned of Judge Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination, but a battle-plan has been coming together since Justice Souter announced his retirement. That Sotomayor was a leading candidate from the outset means the president's Republican detractors don't have to scramble -- they've been planning for this announcement for at least four weeks.

But that doesn't mean there's a GOP consensus.

Rush Limbaugh ironically called Sotomayor a "racist," and said the shrinking Senate Republican caucus has to fight her nomination "as far as they can take it." Scott Reed, a Republican consultant and manager of Bob Dole's presidential campaign, said, "The G.O.P. has to make a stand. This is what the base and social conservatives really care about."

Some fairly high-profile Republicans are offering some very different advice.

[S]ome Republicans warned that the image of Republicans throwing a roadblock before an historic nomination could prove politically devastating.... "If Republicans make a big deal of opposing Sotomayor, we will be hurling ourselves off a cliff," said Mark McKinnon, a senior adviser to Mr. Bush and a long-time advocate of expanding the party's appeal. "Death will not be assured. But major injury will be."

Matthew Dowd, another one-time adviser to Mr. Bush, said ... barring any revelation about Ms. Sotomayor's background, Republicans could doom themselves to long-term minority status if they are perceived as preventing Ms. Sotomayor from becoming a judge. He argued that the party could not even be seen as threatening a filibuster.

"Because you'll have a bunch of white males who lead the Judiciary Committee leading the charge taking on an Hispanic women and everybody from this day forward is going to know she's totally qualified," he said. "It's a bad visual. It's bad symbolism for the Republicans."

"Republicans have to tread very lightly," he said. "They can't look they are going after her in any kind of personal or mean way. There's no way they can even threaten a filibuster; I think a threat of that sort would be a problem, even if they didn't do it."

Whether the party takes this advice seriously will depend, at least in part, on whether Republican officials believe they can get away with it. The GOP base is, predictably, throwing a fit, and is making all kinds of demands of their party.

And while this fit puts the Republican Party in an awkward position, it's also, as Kevin Drum noted, helpful for the White House's larger strategy: "The wingnut wing of the Republican Party seems hugely energized by Sotomayor's nomination and ready to go ballistic over it. This might be good for them in the short term (it's a nice fundraising opportunity, brings internal factions together, etc.), but Obama, as usual, is looking a few moves ahead and understands that a shrieking meltdown from the usual suspects will mostly help the liberal cause: the American public already thinks the conservative rump running the Republican Party is crazy, after all, and this will help cast that feeling in stone. Most normal people think empathy is a good thing, not a code word for the dictatorship of the proletariat."

Quite a conundrum for the GOP.

Steve Benen 3:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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ATTACKING SOTOMAYOR'S INTELLECT.... Attacking Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor for being insufficiently right-wing makes perfect sense. Attacking her intelligence is not only ridiculous, it's offensive.

Sotomayor, a lower-court nominee of both the H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations, has a background that should shield her from such nonsense: top of her class at Princeton, Yale Law School (editor of the Yale Law Journal), successful big-city prosecutor, corporate litigator, trial judge, district court judge, appeals court judge. She's earned the respect and admiration of her clerks, colleagues, and the lawyers who've argued before her. Sotomayor's intellect is not in doubt.

And yet, it's the issue some of the far-right's leading activists have decided to hang their hat on.

This morning on Fox News, Karl Rove questioned whether she was smart enough to be on the Supreme Court. "I'm not really certain how intellectually strong she would be, she has not been very strong on the second circuit," he said. Citing Rosen, Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes said that Sotomayor was "not the smartest."

This is, alas, not new. Two of the guys on the National Review's crew said Sotomayor is "dumb." In a now-infamous piece, Jeffrey Rosen quoted unnamed sources arguing that the judge is "not that smart." This morning, Curt Levey, executive director of the right-wing Committee for Justice, said Harriet Miers was an "intellectual lightweight" -- and Sotomayor is like Miers.

Adam Serwer noted, "[T]he subtext of such arguments, which any person of color in the Ivy League has faced, is that people of color who accomplish anything resembling success are simply the undeserving recipients of preferential treatment. Note that this line of argument was raised against the president of the United States, and persisted among the right for some time. Isn't it a funny coincidence that all accomplished people of color are secretly dumb?"

I'd just add that if Rove, Barnes, Levey and their conservative cohorts -- a group that is in no position to question anyone's intellectual prowess -- have legitimate evidence to back up these doubts about the judge, they should present it. Otherwise, this entire line of attack is cheap and insulting.

Steve Benen 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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PETRAEUS WEIGHS IN, SUPPORTS OBAMA POLICY.... When Defense Secretary Robert Gates endorsed President Obama's policies on torture and closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Republicans were unmoved. Gates doesn't count, they said. He may have been Bush's Pentagon chief, but he's not a neocon, and he now serves at Obama's pleasure.

When Colin Powell (Bush cabinet) endorsed the same policies, Republicans were still unconvinced. Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a Bush appointee, doesn't count, either.

Fine. How about David Petraeus?

General David Petraeus said this past weekend that President Obama's decision to close down Gitmo and end harsh interrogation techniques would benefit the United States in the broader war on terror.

In an appearance on Radio Free Europe Sunday, the man hailed by conservatives as the preeminent military figure of his generation left little room for doubt about where he stands on some of Obama's most contentious policies.

Indeed, Petraeus seemed to reject the Republican arguments altogether, embracing only those interrogation techniques "that are completely in line with the Geneva Convention." The administration's plan for Guantanamo, Petraeus added "sends an important message to the world, as does the commitment of the United States to observe the Geneva Convention when it comes to the treatment of detainees."

Sam Stein added, "The remarks appear to be the first from Petraeus since the closure of Guantanamo and Bush Administration use of enhanced interrogation techniques became hot-button partisan issues. They couldn't come at a better time for Obama."

Now, I've been critical at times of Petraeus (and Powell, for the matter), and I'm not suggesting their arguments have merit only when I agree with their conclusions.

The point is that Petraeus' position makes the Republican attacks that much less credible. In most GOP circles, there's practically a religious reverence for Petraeus, and yet he now seems to have no use for the right's single most important arguments of the day.

As a matter of policy, Obama is obviously right and his detractors are clearly wrong. But as a matter of political optics, we're now dealing with a situation in which the president's position -- the one the right thinks is dangerous, naive, and terrorist-friendly -- has been endorsed by Bush's Defense Secretary (Gates), Bush's chairman of the Joint Chiefs (Mullen), Bush's Secretary of State (Powell), and the general Bush tapped to head U.S. Central Command (Petraeus).

On the other side, we have Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, and some craven members of Congress.

Steve Benen 2:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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CALIF. COURT UPHOLDS PROP. 8.... The ruling is not unexpected, and it comes with a small silver lining, but the news from the California Supreme Court this afternoon is nevertheless disappointing.

The California Supreme Court today upheld Proposition 8's ban on same-sex marriage but also ruled that gay couples who wed before the election will continue to be married under state law. [...]

Although the court split 6-1 on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the justices were unanimous in deciding to keep intact the marriages of as many as 18,000 gay couples who exchanged vows before the election. The marriages began last June, after a 4-3 state high court ruling striking down the marriage ban last May.

In an opinion written by Chief Justice Ronald M. George, the state high court ruled today that the November initiative was not an illegal constitutional revision, as gay rights lawyers contended, nor unconstitutional because it took away an inalienable right, as Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown argued.

This is, of course, the same state Supreme Court that ruled in favor of marriage equality just last year, months before the vote on Prop. 8.

"In a sense, petitioners' and the attorney general's complaint is that it is just too easy to amend the California constitution through the initiative process. But it is not a proper function of this court to curtail that process; we are constitutionally bound to uphold it," the ruling said.

The LAT added that California voters are likely to consider the same issue next year, with another ballot measure to repeal the ban on same-sex marriage.

Steve Benen 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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RNC 'TALKING POINTS' ARE 'ACCIDENTALLY' LEAKED.... Once in a while, a "leak" is made to look like an accident. This one, for example, seems a little odd.

Whoops. The Republican National Committee (RNC) has released to the media its list of talking points on the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

The talking points went to 500 influential Republicans who were the intended recipients. Unfortunately for the RNC, members of the media were also on the list.

With that kind of lead in, one might think the talking points are going to be pretty rough, at a minimum the kind of thing that might embarrass the RNC.

But looking over the list of talking points, it's quite tame. The word "liberal" is thrown around, and there are a few misleading claims, but in general, this is one of the mildest set of arguments the RNC has put together in a very long time.

For example, "Republicans are committed to a fair confirmation process and will reserve judgment until more is known about Judge Sotomayor's legal views, judicial record and qualifications," is one of the first points. It was soon followed by, "Republicans will avoid partisanship and knee-jerk judgments."

Do you suppose this is one of those deliberate "accidents," intended to make the party appear more responsible?

For that matter, given the tenor of the talking points, it's a reminder of what the larger Republican strategy is likely to look like -- if the party is going to mount a serious challenge to the Sotomayor nomination, it's going to rely more on surrogates and media allies to do the heavy lifting, and less on GOP elected officials.

Steve Benen 12:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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TUESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* While Rep. Joe Sestak (D) is getting some grassroots (and netroots) encouragement to run against Sen. Arlen Specter in a Democratic primary next year, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the White House will be pushing Sestak in the other direction.

* On a related note, Specter is doing quite a bit of outreach to local Democratic leaders in Pennsylvania, some of whom are less amenable than others.

* In a big setback for Republican recruiting efforts, former U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin (R) announced over the weekend that he is not running for the Senate next year in Arkansas. Griffin had been the leading challenger to take on Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D). For now, Lincoln's leading opponent is state Sen. Kim Hendren (R), best known for recently calling Chuck Schumer "that Jew."

* President Obama will be in Las Vegas later today, appearing at a fundraiser for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

* And speaking of Reid, a right-wing political action committee called "Our Country Deserves Better" is launching an ad blitz, attacking the Senate Majority Leader.

* Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) is still vulnerable, but with no top-tier Dems running, the latest survey from Public Policy Polling shows Burr leading his remaining potential opponents by healthy margins.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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'A NEAR LOCK'.... Whether you find Mark Halperin's analysis helpful or not, it's fair to say he has a sense of what the political establishment is thinking. And this morning, Halperin described Judge Sonia Sotomayor as "a near lock," not only for confirmation, but for an easy confirmation.

Assuming nothing surfaces in Sotomayor's background that causes controversy, expect her to be seated when the court opens for its new term in October, after thorough confirmation hearings that will seem more like a lovefest than a legal firing squad. By both design and luck, Obama faces a Supreme Court-pick process that has been drained of the tension and combat that has characterized such moments in the past several decades. [...]

Obama has chosen a mainstream progressive, rather than a wild-eyed liberal. And he has chosen a rags-to-riches Hispanic woman. Her life story is inspirational -- a political consultant's dream. Since she is certain to be confirmed, there are plenty of smart conservatives who will, by midday Tuesday, have done the political cost-benefit analysis: at a time when Republicans are trying to demonstrate that their party can reach beyond rich white men, what mileage is there in doing anything but celebrating such a historic choice? [...]

[U]nless Administration background checkers failed to find what they needed to know about Sotomayor's history, those spoiling for a battle are not going to get one.

I mention this in large part because Halperin's take often reflects, if not helps dictate, the conventional wisdom among pundits and the media establishment. If he's saying this nomination is already a done deal, it makes it that much more difficult to wage an effective campaign against Sotomayor.

Greg Sargent asked this morning, "How do Republicans oppose the first potential Hispanic Supreme Court justice, given their much-vaunted outreach to Latinos in 2006 and 2008, the losses the GOP has suffered with this group given the party's immigration stands, and the party's desperate need to expand racially and demographically among such groups?"

Given Sotomayor's experience, qualifications, and personal background, the answer seems to be, "They don't."

Steve Benen 11:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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THE SENATE'S HISTORY WITH SOTOMAYOR.... This morning at the White House, when President Obama introduced Judge Sonia Sotomayor as his Supreme Court nominee, he noted that he'd like to see the Senate act swiftly on her nomination -- as they have "twice before."

It was a reminder that when Sotomayor sits before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and her nomination heads to the Senate floor, it won't be the first time these lawmakers have consider her qualifications for the federal bench.

In 1998, the Senate confirmed Sotomayor for the court of appeals, 67 to 29. Every Democrat voted in support -- yes, that means you too, Ben Nelson -- and as Eric Kleefeld noted this morning, seven Republican senators who are still in the chamber also voted for Sotomayor's conformation.

Robert Bennett (R-Utah)
Thad Cochran (R-Miss.)
Susan Collins (R-Maine)
Judd Gregg (R-N.H.)
Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)
Richard Lugar (R-Ind.)
Olympia Snowe (R-Maine)

Arlen Specter also voted for Sotomayor, but has since switched parties.

This isn't to say some of these senators won't balk at the prospect of elevating Sotomayor to the high court -- consistency is often in short supply with this gang -- but realistically, it seems unlikely all of them will oppose and deny Sotomayor an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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ANTICIPATING ONE OF THE TALKING POINTS.... We're still about 15 minutes away from the formal introduction of Judge Sonia Sotomayor as the president's nominee for the Supreme Court, but one of the central criticisms against her in recent weeks is likely to come up again and again during the confirmation process.

There's a video of Sotomayor speaking at Duke University Law School four years ago, in which the judge said appeals courts are "where policy is made." Conservative activists and Republican senators have seized on those four words as evidence of "judicial activism." After all, they argue, "policy" shouldn't be "made" in the courts; it should come from the legislative process. To do otherwise, the theory goes, is to "legislate from the bench."

Reiterating a post from a few weeks ago, it's worth knocking this down. A.L. did a nice job explaining why the argument is misguided.

The entire video clip can be found here. The context, as Orin Kerr helpfully explains in this post, is that Sotomayor was explaining the differences between clerking at the District Court level and clerking at the Court of Appeals level. Her point, which is unquestionably true as a descriptive matter, is that judicial decision making at the Court of Appeals level is more about setting policy, whereas judging at the District Court level is a more about deciding individual cases and disputes. And the reason for this is obvious. Decisions at the Court of Appeals level don't just determine the fates of individual litigants; they serve as controlling precedent for all District Court judges within that circuit. Thus any decision by a Court of Appeals becomes the policy of that circuit, at least until it's overruled by the Supreme Court (which is rare).

There is nothing remotely controversial about this. Cases get appealed to the Circuit Court level for one reason: because the answer to the question being litigated is not clear.... But in Simplistic Republican World, none of this actually happens. Good conservative judges don't "make policy," they simply enforce the law. The law is apparently always clear. Indeed it's a wonder that lawyers even bother to appeal cases in the Fourth Circuit. After all, they should know that the conservative jurists in that circuit will simply "enforce the law" (because they wouldn't dream of "making policy"), so the outcome should be very predictable.

Sotomayor will no doubt face all kinds of criticisms, and some may be more persuasive than others. This one is just silly.

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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MEET THE NOMINEE.... Judge Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination is not a surprise. She has long been considered a frontrunner for the vacancy -- George Stephanopoulos predicted Sotomayor's nomination back in March, before Souter's retirement.

And while much of the focus will be on Sotomayor's gender and ethnicity -- if confirmed, she will be the high court's first Hispanic justice -- she's had a pretty remarkable career. This NYT piece from a couple of weeks ago notes the judge's role in ending the 1995 major league baseball strike, but also notes a fascinating personal background.

[H]er potential appeal to President Obama as a nominee to the Supreme Court also derives in part from her personal story, a version of the up-from-modest-circumstances tales that have long been used to build political support. Judge Sotomayor, 54, grew up in a Bronx housing project, a child of Puerto Rican parents. She would be the court's first Hispanic justice.

Her father died when she was 9, leaving her mother to raise her and a brother. In speeches to Latino groups over the years, Judge Sotomayor has recalled how her mother worked six days a week as a nurse to send her and her brother to Catholic school, purchased the only set of encyclopedias in the neighborhood and kept a warm pot of rice and beans on the stove every day for their friends.

She loved Nancy Drew mysteries, she once said, and yearned to be a police detective. But a doctor who diagnosed her childhood diabetes suggested that would be difficult. She traded her adoration of Nancy for an allegiance to Perry -- she became a fan of Perry Mason on television, she said, and decided to become a lawyer.

She went to Princeton, which she has described as a life-changing experience. When she arrived on campus from the Bronx, she said it was like "a visitor landing in an alien country." She never raised her hand in her first year there. "I was too embarrassed and too intimidated to ask questions," Judge Sotomayor said.

In one speech, she sounded some themes similar to Mr. Obama's description of his social uncertainties as a biracial youth in a largely white society.

"I have spent my years since Princeton, while at law school and in my various professional jobs, not feeling completely a part of the worlds I inhabit," she said, adding that that despite her accomplishments, "I am always looking over my shoulder wondering if I measure up."

After graduating summa cum laude from Princeton, she went to Yale Law School, worked for Robert M. Morgenthau in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office and spent time in private practice before being named to the bench.

H.W. Bush nominated her for the district court in 1992 (she'd been recommended by Daniel Patrick Moynihan), and Clinton nominated her for the appeals court bench five years later. Senate Republicans, as is their habit, held up Sotomayor's nomination for more than a year, "because they believed that as a Hispanic appellate judge she would be a formidable candidate for the Supreme Court."

This month, as it appeared increasingly likely that Sotomayor would be Obama's nominee, the judge has been the target of a whisper campaign, and many leading far-right activists -- including Limbaugh and Fox News personalities -- started the offensive against her weeks ago.

For what it's worth, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said earlier this month that Sotomayor would face stiff GOP opposition if she were nominated for the high court. Since that would be true of any Obama nominee, it hardly matters.

Steve Benen 9:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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SOTOMAYOR.... It's possible that all of the major news outlets are all making the same mistake at the same time, but as of this minute, it looks like Sonia Sotomayor will be President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court.

President Obama will nominate Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit as his first appointment to the court, officials said Tuesday, and has scheduled an announcement for 10:15 a.m. at the White House.

If confirmed by the Democratic-controlled Senate, Judge Sotomayor, 54, would replace Justice David H. Souter to become the second woman on the court and only the third female justice in the history of the Supreme Court. She also would be the first Hispanic justice to serve on the Supreme Court.

CNN, NBC, the Washington Post, and the AP are all reporting the same thing.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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SHARING A BURDEN.... Appearing on Fox News over the weekend, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, made a comment about where Gitmo detainees can and should go.

"I think they need to be kept elsewhere, wherever that is. I don't want to see them come on American soil."

Now, we already know the various problems with Nelson's assumptions (there are already terrorists in U.S. maximum-security facilities, for example). But I was struck by the notion that detainees should be locked up outside the country, "wherever that is." Nelson doesn't have any idea; he just knows where the detainees shouldn't go (i.e., here).

Some U.S. allies may be willing to give us a hand. Just yesterday, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi told CNN that Italy is prepared to help by accepting an unspecified number of Gitmo detainees. "If we can do this favor for the American people and the U.S. government, we will certainly do it," he said.

That's no doubt welcome news to the administration, but our allies' generosity is not without limits.

Diplomatic sources said [last week] that any ban on resettling detainees in the United States would probably undermine the State Department's efforts to get European countries to accept those cleared for release. European officials have told their American counterparts that they are unwilling to assume a burden that the United States will not share.

And that's hardly an unreasonable position to take. Lawmakers like Nelson seem to think U.S. officials can go to our allies and say, "These guys are just too dangerous for us. Do you mind taking them off our hands? Let's make a deal. We'll take zero. How many will you take?"

We may be able to receive some assistance from international allies, but if Congress insists that no U.S. detainee step foot on American soil, our outreach efforts will fail.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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A LIBERAL SCALIA IS UNLIKELY.... The last two presidents each got to fill two Supreme Court vacancies, but each approached the process from different directions. Clinton wanted to avoid a bitter fight with Republicans, so he picked jurists who were part of the center-left mainstream, but who were hardly strident ideologues.

Bush didn't much care about whether senators balked. His goal -- the Miers debacle notwithstanding -- was to pick young, rigid conservatives, who could be counted on to deliver consistently for the right for decades to come. His party was in the majority, and the threat of a filibuster didn't faze him.

If recent reports are accurate, President Obama seems to prefer the Clinton approach.

Pamela S. Karlan is a champion of gay rights, criminal defendants' rights and voting rights. She is considered brilliant, outspoken and, in her own words, "sort of snarky." To liberal supporters, she is an Antonin Scalia for the left.

But Ms. Karlan does not expect President Obama to appoint her to succeed Justice David H. Souter, who is retiring. "Would I like to be on the Supreme Court?" she asked in graduation remarks a couple of weeks ago at Stanford Law School, where she teaches. "You bet I would. But not enough to have trimmed my sails for half a lifetime."

While there are clear political advantages to Mr. Obama if the perception is that he has avoided an ideological choice, Ms. Karlan's absence from his list of finalists has frustrated part of the president's base, which hungers for a full-throated, unapologetic liberal torchbearer to counter conservatives like Justice Scalia.

It has been more than 40 years since a Democratic president appointed someone who truly excited the left, but Mr. Obama appears to be following President Bill Clinton's lead in choosing someone with more moderate sensibilities.

Those hoping for a liberal Scalia -- and I include myself in this group -- should adjust expectations accordingly. Obama isn't going to nominate a conservative, but by all appearances, the appropriate label will be more "center-left" and less "liberal."

And that is, in all likelihood, part of the point of an article like this one in the NYT. The White House has been pretty tight-lipped about the search process, but it dished to the Times, probably as part of the larger strategy of shaping perceptions in advance. The signal is obvious -- Obama's pick isn't one of those wild-eyed liberals; she's entirely mainstream. As Scott Lemieux noted, "I do suspect ... that there's at least some political positioning going on here, emphasizing the moderation of even pretty liberal picks."

And who's on the shortlist? "The president has narrowed his list to four, according to people close to the White House -- two federal appeals judges, Sonia Sotomayor of New York and Diane P. Wood of Chicago, and two members of his administration, Solicitor General Elena Kagan and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano."

The announcement could come as early as today.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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CAN WASHINGTON JUMPSTART ENTREPRENEURSHIP?.... When the economic recovery finally comes (and it will soon, we hope) will it be a jobs-producing, income-boosting boom like the 1990s, or a relative dud like the Bush years? The answer will largely come down to the state of small business, source of nearly all net job growth in the U.S. economy for decades.

So what can Washington do now to open up new opportunities for America's cutting-edge entrepreneurs? We take on this vital -- and largely unasked -- question in a special report in the latest issue of the Washington Monthly. We think you'll find our answers illuminating and surprising.

Investor and blogger Paul Kedrosky explains that Lincoln and FDR both took advantage of crises to create new economic platforms on which entrepreneurs could generate growth, and Obama has the opportunity to do likewise.

MIT economist Jonathan Gruber argues than universal health care, if done right, could be a boon to entrepreneurship.

Washington Monthly editor Mariah Blake reports that creating a so-called "smart grid" could yield not only vast energy efficiency gains but a new wave of high-tech ventures -- if Washington gets the regulations right.

Wired magazine senior editor Nicholas Thompson warns that America is falling behind in the global race to provide high-speed broadband, but that we can regain our momentum -- and economic edge -- if Washington chooses wisely.

New America Foundation fellow T.A. Frank bemoans the fact that the U.S. educates brilliant students from around the world, then sends them home to work for our competitors.

Finally, in Paul Glastris' Editors Note, the Monthly's editor-in-chief wonders how different the world might be today if the trillions of dollars that the Bush administration helped direct into real estate and its attendant Wall Street exotica had instead been invested in the new platforms for entrepreneurs that technologists were talking about eight years ago? It's a depressing thought, but it's not too late for America to reach the next stage of capitalism that can benefit us all.

Steve Benen 6:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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May 25, 2009
By: Hilzoy

Memorial Day

To all those who died in combat operations -- the 4300 reported dead in Iraq, the 687 reported dead in Afghanistan, those who killed themselves during or because of their service, or whose deaths are in some other way attributable to their service in combat: we honor you, and we will not forget.

Every Memorial Day (and not only then), I try to remind myself of what it means that people who serve in the military are willing to fight and die when our civilian leaders ask them to, whether they agree with those leaders or not. That's a stunning act of faith in American democracy. In return, we owe everyone who serves the effort to be the best citizens we can be, and to elect the people who are most likely to exercise good judgment about whether and when to ask them to risk their lives.

(We also owe that to the citizens of other countries whom someone might think of invading, and to ourselves, but those are obligations to recall on a different day.)

Hilzoy 10:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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MEMORIAL DAY MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* The U.N. Security Council began meeting this afternoon to explore options in response to North Korea's nuclear test.

* H1N1 claims its 12th U.S. victim, this time in Chicago. According to an AP report, the CDC has documented more than 6,700 cases in the U.S., most of them mild.

* Colin Powell -- the one Republican conservatives seem most anxious to drive out of the GOP -- remains a popular national figure. Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh aren't.

* It didn't generate a lot of attention on Friday, but President Obama signed into a law a measure on military procurement that's likely to save taxpayers a lot of money.

* Charles Bolden, a retired Marine general and former space shuttle pilot, has been nominated as the next NASA administrator. He'll be NASA's first African-American chief.

* Roh Moo-hyun, a former president of South Korea, committed suicide over the weekend, jumping off a cliff. Roh had been mired in a corruption scandal.

* Some Dem senators see some signs of progress in Afghanistan.

* Hillary Clinton surprised Yale grads today at their commencement.

* Sam Schulman's case against gay marriage in the Weekly Standard is extraordinarily unpersuasive.

* Whether he realizes it or not, Newt Gingrich is not the Speaker of the House.

* Zakaria on Iran.

* At least one conservative Republican lawmaker didn't care for the RNC's tasteless James Bond spoof/ad.

* And in 1972, a New York Times reporter and editor had the Watergate story, but didn't pursue it. The reporter left the paper to go to law school and the editor focused his attention on the 1972 Republican convention. Amazing.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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REBUKES.... If North Korea's nuclear test was the latest in a series of cries for attention, it was something of a success. North Korea wanted the world to take notice? Mission accomplished.

As the NYT noted this afternoon, the test "drew condemnation and criticism around the world, with some governments threatening to press for tighter sanctions at a special meeting of the United Nations Security Council scheduled for later in the afternoon."

If North Korea had hoped for support from China, its largest trading partner, it was out of luck. China's Foreign Ministry issued a statement explaining that it was "resolutely opposed" to the test. Russia's reaction was similar, noting that North Korea's actions "seriously destabilize the situation in Northeast Asia."

President Obama issued a condemnation in a press statement early this morning, and followed it up with public comments at the White House this afternoon, calling the nuclear test and subsequent firing of short-range missiles a "grave threat to the peace and security of the world and I strongly condemn their reckless action."

The president added that North Korea's actions are "a blatant violation of international law" and a contradiction of the country's "own prior commitments." Obama concluded, "North Korea will not find security and respect through threats and illegal weapons."

As for what North Korea hopes to achieve, if recent history is any guide, the goal is to get some semblance of international stature, which Kim Jung Il believes is the byproduct of being a "nuclear power." Today's test, like April's missile launch, is supposed to a) get major powers to take North Korea seriously; and b) give the country leverage in future negotiations.

That is, of course, a fairly narrow agenda, and in the realm of international diplomacy, it sounds a bit like a child playing with some very dangerous toys. As dday put it, "The North Koreans historically have sought headlines rather than peace or stability. They are the screaming baby in the corner demanding attention. It's unclear what they want after that attention is paid."

Steve Benen 2:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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MONDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Sen. Chris Dodd's (D-Conn.) re-election chances are in doubt, but President Obama seems anxious to give him a hand.

* Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) was asked late last week whether he'd be "proud" to campaign with Dick Cheney. "Would I be proud? Nobody's offering," Crist said. "Let's see. I don't want to deal in hypotheticals." He added, however, that he believes Cheney "did a great job for President Bush."

* Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge (R), who recently announced he isn't running for the Senate, said yesterday he's not prepared to endorse former Rep. Pat Toomey, currently the leading GOP candidate.

* Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) now says it's "very unlikely" she'll run for governor in 2010. She added that she's tired of being asked.

* In Oklahoma, former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) seemed to be inching towards a gubernatorial campaign next year, but has instead decided to skip the race, citing "business and contractual obligations."

* And in 2012 news, in case Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour's (R) upcoming visit to Iowa wasn't explicit enough, Barbour will also make a stop in New Hampshire on June 24.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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ANOTHER ONE?.... Let's see, Liz Cheney practically lives on cable news. She also lies routinely, accuses the president of helping terrorists, and is so mindless in her attacks on the nation's elected leadership, she's something of a national embarrassment.

And for Republican recruiters, apparently she's perfect.

The hottest Republican property out there isn't former Vice President Dick Cheney but his daughter Liz, who has taken to the airwaves to defend her dad and the whole Bush administration on national security and Guantánamo Bay issues. Liz Cheney, who followed the former veep's hard-hitting speech criticizing President Obama's policies with a CNN appearance, is becoming so popular in conservative circles that some want her to run for office. "She's awesome. Everyone wants her to run," said a close friend.

But others say that she is unlikely to run for office now because she is raising five young children, helping to write her father's book, and working on other major conservative projects. "She's a chip off the block!" said a longtime friend.

A forceful defender of the administration and her dad, Liz Cheney has been appearing on TV with greater regularity. She brings to the screen a combination of her dad's steely focus and her mom's softer touch. "It's a two-fer. She comes off a bit better than he does sometimes," a conservative consultant said.

The U.S. News report envisions a plan in which she sets up shop at a right-wing think, where she could "build a base of support." From there, the next time there's a Republican president, the younger Cheney "could take the policy under secretary's position in a Republican administration when her children are older."

I can't help but find all of this rather ridiculous. For one thing, Liz Cheney's penchant for dishonesty rivals that of her father's. For another, the "Cheney" name is not exactly a strong political "brand" right now.

"Everyone wants her to run"? Who are these people?

Steve Benen 11:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

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QUITE A FEW GITMO ENDORSEMENTS.... Colin Powell offered some subtle criticism yesterday of President Obama's handling of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, arguing the White House should have articulated a more detailed plan for the detainees before starting the process. But Powell's general take (pdf) was a rather forceful endorsement of the president's general approach on the issue.

"I felt Guantanamo should be closed for the past six years, and I lobbied and presented reasons to President Bush. And Mr. Cheney is not only disagreeing with President Obama's policy. He's disagreeing with President Bush's policy. President Bush stated repeatedly to international audiences and to the country that he wanted to close Guantanamo. [...]

"Guantanamo has caused us a great deal of trouble throughout the world. And Mr. Cheney the other day said, 'Well, we're doing it to satisfy European intellectuals' or something like that. No. We're doing it to reassure Europeans, Muslims, Arabs, all the people around the world that we are a nation of law. [...]

"This business about making the country less safe by bringing these people to our prison system, we have got two million people in jail in America. The highest incarceration rate in the world. And they all had lawyers. They had all had access to the writ of habeas corpus and they're all in jail. And I don't know, Bob, if you've ever seen some of these prison reality shows on television where they show you what a super lock-up is. I'm not terribly about worried one of these guys going to a super lock-up."

Hearing this, it occurred to me that the list of leading Republican officials -- or officials appointed by a Republican president -- who support shutting down the Gitmo facility includes quite a few names. Bush's Secretary of State (Powell), Bush's Defense Secretary (Robert Gates), Bush's chairman of the Joint Chiefs (Mullen), even Bush himself, all believe the nation's security interests would be well served by shutting down the detention facility.

Now, that doesn't necessarily translate into merit. It's a lazy argument to say, "Group A believes this is a good policy, therefore the policy is worthwhile." Obviously, Powell, Gates, Mullen, et al can be wrong about this.

I mention it, though, because the Republican Party has decided that this is the killer issue upon which the GOP can build a comeback. They decided quite some time ago -- even before last year's election -- that public fear and confusion were ripe for exploitation, and the party that couldn't make headway on anything of substance could turn Gitmo into demagogic gold.

It creates an odd dynamic. The one issue Republicans believe is the president's Achilles' heel is the same issue in which Obama enjoys the support of Colin Powell, Bush's Defense Secretary, and the Bush-appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Collectively, they're up against Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, and craven members of Congress.

In terms of public credibility, it's a match-up that seems to favor the White House -- or at least it would, if more congressional Dems stopped being so cowardly about this.

Steve Benen 10:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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MAKING LIEBERMAN LOOK LOYAL BY COMPARISON.... Did you happen to catch Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska on Fox News yesterday?

President Obama said on Saturday that a Supreme Court nominee is coming soon, but Republicans in the Senate have spent weeks working to frame the type of judicial resume that would be unacceptable on the bench. On Sunday, the GOP got what could be a bit of a boost, as a key moderate Democrat left the door open to filibustering a possible Obama Court nominee.

Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Sen. Ben Nelson warned the president against appointing an activist judge to replace the retiring David Souter. In the process, the Nebraska Democrat acknowledged that the scenario could present itself where he joined the GOP in voting against cloture.

"I think that's the test, will they be an activist or not?" Nelson said. "And I would hope that there wouldn't be any circumstances that would be so extreme with any of the president's nominees that the other side would feel the need to filibuster or that I might feel the need to filibuster in the case of extraordinary circumstances." [emphasis added]

Nelson added that he wants to see Guantanamo detainees incarcerated in other countries ("I don't want to see them come on American soil") and said he's open to maintaining Bush-era torture policies ("What we need to do is make sure that the intelligence information that's gathered is accurate, that we do everything within our power to get good intelligence, and it may or may not consist of coming from enhanced techniques").

This comes about a week after Nelson voiced his support for a Republican filibuster of Dawn Johnsen's nomination to head the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel -- because she has the audacity to be pro-choice -- taking a much harder line on Obama nominees than Bush nominees.

Whenever you hear talk about Dems having a "filibuster-proof majority" after Al Franken is seated, remember that Ben Nelson is one of the 60, and he'll betray his allies whenever it suits his purposes.

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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NORTH KOREA'S DANGEROUS TANTRUM.... After a provocative missile test in April, North Korea was rebuked by the U.N. Security Council. The country soon after threatened a nuclear test unless the Security Council apologized for being mean to North Korea.

Two weeks ago, the country was clearly moving towards its second nuclear test in three years, and this morning, that's precisely what North Korea did.

North Korea announced on Monday that it had successfully conducted its second nuclear test, defying international warnings and dramatically raising the stakes in a global effort to persuade the recalcitrant Communist state to give up its weapons program.

The North's official news agency, KCNA, said, "The Democratic People's Republic of Korea successfully conducted one more underground nuclear test on May 25 as part of the measures to bolster up its nuclear deterrent for self-defense in every way as requested by its scientists and technicians."

The test was safely conducted "on a new higher level in terms of its explosive power and technology of its control," the agency said. "The results of the test helped satisfactorily settle the scientific and technological problems arising in further increasing the power of nuclear weapons and steadily developing nuclear technology." [...]

Hours after the test was reported, South Korea's Yonhap news agency, quoting an unidentified intelligence source in Seoul, said the North had test-fired two more short-range, surface-to-air missiles after earlier test-firing a similar projectile. The three missiles were launched towards the sea between North Korea and Japan and had a range of 80 miles, according to the news agency. They were fired from a base not far from the nuclear test site in northeast North Korea, Yonhap said.

The White House issued a statement this morning, noting that while North Korea's nuclear test isn't a surprise, the country's actions "are a matter of grave concern to all nations" and "a threat to international peace and security."

"By acting in blatant defiance of the United Nations Security Council, North Korea is directly and recklessly challenging the international community," President Obama said in the statement. "North Korea's behavior increases tensions and undermines stability in Northeast Asia. Such provocations will only serve to deepen North Korea's isolation. It will not find international acceptance unless it abandons its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery."

Russia's ambassador to the U.N. indicated that the U.N. Security Council would likely hold an emergency meeting today.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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POWELL WEIGHS IN.... Several leading Republican figures, including Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh, have targeted Colin Powell lately, holding Bush's former Secretary of State out as an example of what the GOP should avoid.

Yesterday, Powell responded to the criticisms, extending the prolonged discussion about the Republicans' future.

"If we don't reach out more, the party is going to be sitting on a very, very narrow base," Powell said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "You can only do two things with a base. You can sit on it and watch the world go by, or you can build on the base." [...]

Democrats won the presidency and control of both chambers of Congress, he said, with a more inclusive approach that appealed even to many traditional Republican voting blocs. A retired four-star army general who also served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell called on Republicans to "define who we are, and not just listen to the diktats that have come down from the right wing of the party."

Powell went on to argue that the efforts from Cheney and Limbaugh on ideological rigidity were a threat to Republicans, noting that the party "should be more inclusive" than it has been.

Powell added, "The Republican Party has to take a hard look at itself and decide, what kind of party are we? Are we simply moving farther to the right and by so doing simply opening up the right of center and the center to be taken over by independents and to be taken over by the Democrats?"

None of this is helpful to the GOP. Putting aside the argument over whether his reputation is deserved, Powell remains a respected public figure, held in high regard by most Americans. That he's been marginalized by unpopular Republican leaders, forcing Powell to speak out as he did yesterday, only reinforces the perception that the GOP is out of step with the mainstream.

That said, even after having been ridiculed, even though he sees a party following "the diktats" of the far-right, even though he believes the party isn't inclusive enough, and even though he sees the GOP giving up on the center, Powell nevertheless concluded, "Rush will not get his wish. And Mr. Cheney was misinformed. I am still a Republican."

He did not, however, explain why.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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May 24, 2009

LUNTZ AND BEGALA.... Republican pollster Frank Luntz recently distributed a 28-page memo, "The Language of Health Care," to help Republican lawmakers undermine health care reform efforts. He talked to the NYT's Deborah Solomon this week, but wasn't exactly prepared to discuss the issue at hand.

After Luntz explained that "takeover" is "a word that grabs attention," which is why he and other Republicans "want to avoid 'a Washington takeover,'" Solomon noted the phrasing is fundamentally misleading: "What the Democrats want is for everyone to be able to choose between their old, private health-insurance plan and an all-new, public health-insurance option."

Luntz replied, "I'm not a policy person. I'm a language person."

Those are nine words that say an awful lot. Luntz's job is to help kill important legislation through rhetorical manipulation. His job is not, however, to know what he's talking about. The debate isn't about what (or who) is right; it's about what Luntz thinks he can get away with. (Asked who paid him to write the health care memo, Luntz refused to answer, saying the issue is "not relevant.")

Democratic strategist Paul Begala, to his credit, put together a pretty detailed, point-by-point response, to the Luntz memo, with some advice for Democrats about how to approach the debate.

Veteran Republican pollster Frank Luntz has circulated a memo which attempts to teach Republicans how to kill health care reform by misleading people. Because they know they cannot win the argument honestly, Republicans are resorting to mendacity. Democrats must not let them get away with it.

There is one fact that animates the Republicans' strategy. It should animate yours as well. That fact is this: the overwhelming majority of American support health care reform. In fact, Dr. Luntz himself notes that voters trust Democrats over Republicans by a whopping 20 percent on health care. If health care reform were unpopular, Republicans would not resort to misleading rhetoric to mask their opposition. The striking thing about Luntz's memo is how the rhetoric he advocates apes our message. The Republicans have three goals:

1. Co-opt our messaging; 2. Confuse voters; and 3. Kill health care reform.

Democrats should take their cue from Sen. Mitchell. Voters are not going to fall for Republican rhetoric -- as long as we don't.

Igor Volsky added, "Progressives need to answer conservative attacks by defending progressive proposals on their merits -- as Begala does -- rather than resorting to the comfortable/familiar rhetoric of 'affordable health care for all' or 'shared responsibility.' Such buzz language has doomed past reform efforts. As Haynes Johnson and David Broder argue in their analysis of President Clinton's failed health care reform effort, by relying on hollow buzz words, rather than policy specifics, the Clintons allowed the opposition to ascribe meaning to reform rhetoric. Let's hope we don't make that same mistake again."

In the meantime, GOP leaders are carefully following Luntz's script. It's prompted some to begin playing "Frank Luntz Bingo."

Steve Benen 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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'THEY DON'T POSE A THREAT'.... During the Bush/Cheney years, it was common to hear GOP officials insist that politicians should honor the national security decisions reached by military leaders. At the time, this made it easier for Republicans to oppose an end to the war in Iraq -- they could point to the brass, some of whom opposed withdrawal.

But if GOP lawmakers still believe that elected officials should take notice when military leaders make a policy pronouncement, I hope they were listening to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff this morning.

President Barack Obama's top military adviser said the Pentagon is working to meet the president's deadline of closing Guantanamo Bay by January 2010.

"I've advocated for a long time now that it needs to be closed," Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said on "This Week" Sunday, "President Obama made a decision very early after his inauguration to do that by next January and we're all working very hard to meet that deadline."

George Stephanopoulos noted that "everybody's big concern" is that detainees "would pose a danger" if brought onto U.S. soil. Mullen conceded that closing the detention center is a "challenge," but went on to note reality: "We have terrorists in jail right now, have had for some time. They're in supermax prisons. And they don't pose a threat."

So, we have the man Bush/Cheney asked to be Defense Secretary and the man Bush/Cheney asked to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs in agreement: Obama's right about closing Gitmo and lawmakers are wrong about potential dangers.

It seems, if the situations were reversed, and Democratic lawmakers were on the opposite side of the Commander in Chief, the Republican Defense Secretary, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs -- in the midst of two wars -- we might hear a little more talk about why Dems were at odds with the U.S. military.

Except, in this case, it's the entire Republican Party fighting the White House, the Pentagon, and the brass.

Steve Benen 12:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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A BURGEONING NIMBY CONSENSUS?.... This seems to be an increasingly common sentiment.

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), the assistant majority leader, said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he would accept Guantanamo detainees in his home state as long as they were held in super-maximum prisons, where inmates are held 23 hours a day in small cells with slits for windows.

Moderator David Gregory asked: "Would you be OK with al Qaeda prisoners -- those currently at Guantanamo Bay -- in a prison in Illinois?"

Durbin responded: "Well, I'd be OK with it in a supermax facility, because we've never had an escape from one."

Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Pa.) said the other day that if the government wants to build a supermax prison in his district, he'd be happy to have detainees sent to his area. This week, Carl Levin (D-Mich.) extended a similar offer, suggesting the construction of a new maximum-security in Michigan would help his state. (Former Michigan Gov. John Engler (R) raised the specter of a "Guantanamo North" in the U.P.)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told reporters Wednesday, "Yes, we have maximum security prisons in California eminently capable of holding these people as well, and from which people -- trust me -- do not escape."

This seems like a sensible response for lawmakers to make when asked if they'd accept Gitmo detainees in their state/district. If there's a maximum-security facility in their state/district, and corrections officers are going to keep the bad guy locked up for 23 hours a day, and even attempted escapes are impossible, of course officials should be willing to accept these prisoners. Why wouldn't they?

That's a rhetorical question, of course, but the answer is, because some politicians have been so craven on this issue, they can have a supermax and still oppose the idea.

Perhaps it's time to introduce a new series of questions into the debate. Maybe lawmakers should be asked, "Would you be OK with convicted serial killers being held in a maximum-security prison in your state? How about rapists? Or child molesters?"

We can probably get to a point at which some cowardly politicians will oppose any dangerous criminals in their state.

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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RIDGE SEEKS RESPECTFUL REPUBLICANS.... Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge (R), who was considered for the Republicans' presidential ticket last year and was recruited to run for the Senate next year, believes the GOP has become a regional party. Appearing on CNN, Ridge offered a suggestion to help get the party back on track.

Former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge says the Republican Party needs to be much less judgmental about disagreements within the party -- and far more judgmental about disagreements with Democrats.

Ridge -- a former Pennsylvania governor -- also says conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh conveys his point of view in ways that offend many people.

Ridge says Republicans should respect other people's opinions and not attack individuals -- only their ideas. He says it's important to explain in what he calls "a rational, thoughtful, responsible and reasonable way" why Republican ideas should be more acceptable to the average American.

This sounds about half-right. Ridge's advice about a party that conducts itself in a more responsible fashion is a helpful suggestion. The GOP gave up on sensible politics quite a while ago, and acting like grown-ups for a change might help the American mainstream give Republicans another look.

But even if the party took on a more respectful, adult-like tone, the GOP is still suffering from some fundamental flaws. The party's ideas, for example, don't work. Given a chance to govern, the party produced a series of disasters. Even if Republican officials were to become more rational -- a move that appears nowhere on the horizon -- it wouldn't address the fact that the party doesn't take policy matters seriously, and has precious little to offer in terms of solutions to pressing issues (their proposed solutions to the economic crisis included a five-year spending freeze and a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, for example).

Tactically, Ridge's point is well taken, and the GOP would be well served by a new approach to politics. It would, at a minimum, be a step in the right direction. But given the systemic problems holding the party back, it's not even close to being enough.

Steve Benen 10:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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BIRTHERS AND BILLBOARDS.... If the left were drawing up a script for the right to follow, which would make conservatives look hopelessly ridiculous, they might come up with something like this. (via John Cole)

The electoral system has failed to satisfy lingering questions about Barack Obama's eligibility to serve as president.

The press has failed to satisfy those questions. The courts have failed to satisfy those questions. The Congress has failed to satisfy those questions.

But the people are still asking.

That's how Joseph Farah, editor and chief executive officer of WND, explains the petition he initiated several months ago that has collected nearly 400,000 names of Americans demanding answers as to Obama's elidibility [sic] as well as the outpouring of financial support for his new campaign to erect billboards around the country asking the simple question: "Where's the birth certificate?"

In just five days, the billboard campaign has been backed by about $45,000 in donations.

Obviously, the Birthers' argument is nuts. But the fact that they're still at it, seven months after the election, is extraordinary.

For Democrats, it's extraordinarily helpful, in large part because it makes the president's detractors appear insane. Former Clinton White House press secretary Jake Siewert said a few months ago, "At some level, they're not that bad to have around because it reminds people that under the mainstream conservative press there's this bubbling up of really irrational hatred for the guy."

But that's just among those who hear about this. As DougJ noted, there's the inconvenient fact that most Americans will see a billboard that reads, "Where's the birth certificate?" and won't have the foggiest idea what that means.

That the right-wing website claims to have raised "about $45,000 in donations" is especially great for Democrats, since that means $45,000 from far-right donors that won't go to something that might actually matter.

For the left in general, it's a win-win: unhinged conservatives waste their time on a silly exercise, devoting time and money to a campaign that only makes the right look even more wacky. The DNC ought to send WND a thank-you note.

Steve Benen 8:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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ROVE'S SKEWED REALITY.... In his speech on national security this week, President Obama noted that while it might be tempting to "start from scratch" when dealing with the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, that isn't an option. "We are cleaning up something that is -- quite simply -- a mess," Obama said, "a misguided experiment that has left in its wake a flood of legal challenges that my Administration is forced to deal with on a constant basis, and that consumes the time of government officials whose time should be spent on better protecting our country.

This seemed self-evidently true. There's an argument about whether the president's preferred method to clean up the mess is a good one, but that the system Bush/Cheney left in place is a legal, political, and practical morass seems uncontroversial.

Karl Rove doesn't quite see it that way.

"What's ironic to me is that yesterday he said 'this is a mess that was left to me by my predecessors.' No. This is a mess, to the extent that it is a mess, left to him by his friends and allies like Attorney General Eric Holder. Remember, there are DOJ appointees of this president who are in court arguing against the government's position on these kind of things. I mean, it is his friends and allies and in some instances, his appointees who are in court arguing for an expansion of the rights of the terrorists and arguing for an end to the military commissions."

Usually, when Rove is spouting nonsense, I can more or less figure out what he's trying to say. But this is just bizarre. It's almost as if he couldn't think of a real answer, so Rove just started making up new attacks off the top of his head.

As Satyam Khanna explained, "It's unclear what cases Rove is referring to. There has been no litigation on the military commissions since Obama took office in January. The lingering legal mess at Guantanamo, of course, was created by Bush."

What do you suppose the weather is like in Rove's reality?

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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May 23, 2009

VANDEVELD'S ENDORSEMENT.... One of the more contentious decisions of the Obama administration of late was the reintroduction of military commissions. The president has expanded the rights of the accused within the commissions process, but there are only so many ways to make a fundamentally suspect system look better.

In tomorrow's Washington Post, however, Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld offers some encouraging words about the new process, suggesting Obama is, at a minimum, on the right track.

Military commissions have a long history in the United States, not all of it commendable. (One wonders what Samuel Mudd, the physician who set John Wilkes Booth's broken leg after Lincoln's assassination and who received a life sentence from a military commission for his Hippocratic efforts, might make of the Military Commissions Act of 2006; Mudd escaped capital punishment by one vote.)

Nonetheless, the Bush-Cheney administration left President Obama with a limited number of alternatives, all of them bad, and he has made rational decisions, devoid of hysteria or false emotion. The worst aspects of the commissions appear to be on their way to correction. It is impossible to criticize or condemn the president for acting decisively and quickly to restore America's role -- always an aspiration, imperfectly realized -- as an exemplar of transparency and fairness. As someone who has risked his life on the battlefield in Iraq, I can only express support for the commander in chief as he undertakes these enormously complex -- and costly -- decisions.

Vandeveld's perspective is pretty relevant here, given his background.

When Army Lt. Col. Darrell Vandeveld began his work in May 2007 as a prosecutor at the Guantánamo Bay military commissions, the Iraq war veteran was one of the most enthusiastic and tenacious lawyers working on behalf of the Bush administration. He took on seven cases. In court hearings he dismissed claims of prisoner abuse as "embellishment" and "exaggeration." Once, when a detainee asked for legal representation only for the purpose of challenging the legitimacy of the military commissions, Vandeveld ridiculed the request as "idiotic."

So it came as a shock in mid-September when Vandeveld announced that he was resigning as a prosecutor because he had grave doubts about the integrity of the system he had so vigorously defended.

In the days following his resignation -- now testifying, remarkably, for the defense counsel in one of his own cases -- Vandeveld said that he went from being a "true believer" in the military commissions to feeling "truly deceived" about them. His deep ethical qualms hinged foremost on the fact that potentially critical evidence had been withheld from the defense by the government.

If Vandeveld believes the improvements mandated by the Obama administration are a step in the right direction, that seems like a significant endorsement -- and further evidence of the mistakes embraced by the Bush administration.

Steve Benen 3:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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THE ETERNAL DEBATE.... For years now, many of us have pondered the question: conservative Republicans don't actually believe their arguments, do they? Publius considers this in the context of the hopelessly bizarre debate over the closing of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. The right is probably lying, hoping to exploit the politics of fear, but what if conservatives have come to accept their own nonsense?

[T]here's actually one thing even more disturbing than Republican dishonesty -- the possibility that they are sincerely afraid of transferring the detainees. Some critics are clearly lying -- no argument there. But it may well be that other Republicans are sincerely worried that the detainees' evilness cannot be contained by any prison, or that they will brainwash their hapless prisonmates. [...]

[W]hat's truly disturbing is that a sizeable chunk of the public still fears that the Gitmo detainees are so dangerous that they could break out and destroy towns in America with laser beams from their eyes. Some of the detainees are, of course, very bad and dangerous people. But the idea that America is so very fragile and helpless in the face of these overpowering evil forces that we can't transfer the detainees to another prison (or give them real trials) is absurd.

So let's hope the GOP really is lying on this one.

That would be more comforting. Blatant dishonesty for partisan gain is much easier to understand than rampant stupidity among leading federal lawmakers.

It's hard to say with any certainty, and there's no doubt some variety within the group -- some liars and some fools -- but for what it's worth, there's ample evidence to support the "blatant dishonesty for partisan gain" theory. The Wall Street Journal reports today that Republicans see the debate over Gitmo as "the culmination of a carefully developed GOP strategy," which they hope to use as "the beginning of a political comeback."

The goal, apparently, was to identify a "favorable issue" on which the party could go on the offensive; "tarnish" Democratic leaders; and attack until the criticisms "begin to seem counterproductive."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) concluded more than a year ago that Mr. Obama might be vulnerable on Guantanamo -- and the unease voters would have over the prospect of transferring suspected terrorists to U.S. soil. Since April 20 he has delivered 17 floor speeches on the issue. Mr. McConnell beat back party dissent over his strategy, as some argued it was a losing battle when the president enjoyed such high poll numbers.

The attacks, in other words, are largely a cynical ploy, predicated on Republican hopes that public fear will outweigh public reason, and that most Americans won't realize how spectacularly dishonest the whole argument is.

That beats widespread stupidity, I suppose.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (56)

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AN ALTERNATIVE MOTIVATION.... So, why has Dick Cheney been so desperate to hit the airwaves as part of his crusade against the White House? Explanations differ, but his desire to sell a memoir to publishers might have at least something to do with his efforts.

With his sustained blitz of television appearances and speeches, former Vice President Dick Cheney has established himself as perhaps the leading Republican voice against President Obama.

Not a bad time, then, to be in the market for a multimillion-dollar book contract.... A person familiar with discussions Mr. Cheney has had with publishers said he was seeking more than $2 million for his advance. That sum may prove hard to get in this economic climate, especially given his generally low approval ratings, which publishers view as a potential -- but not certain -- harbinger for sales.

Reports indicate Cheney may end up with a deal with Simon & Schuster, because it's home to an imprint run by Mary Matalin, who is also publishing Karl Rove's book.

This might offer at least some hints about Cheney's recent motivations. A book written by a failed former vice president may not compel publishers to pay the big bucks, but a book written by one of the leaders of the modern Republican Party, and the GOP's leading attack dog of the nation's elected leadership, might generate a more sizable advance.

What I don't quite understand is why anyone would expect Cheney's book to be successful. After all, the former vice president has a well-deserved reputation for almost comical dishonesty. Who's going to pony up $29.95 for a book written by someone who routinely blurs the line between fact and fiction?

If Cheney were prepared to write a juicy tell-all, with fascinating behind-the-scenes insights, it might have a better shot at becoming a best seller. But it seems unlikely that the secretive former vice president would reveal anything that would make his administration look bad.

And then there's the matter of yet another Bushie writing yet another book about a period most Americans are anxious to leave in the past. For eight years, every decision Cheney made turned out to be wrong, if not completely disastrous. How many book buyers will want to relive the Bush years through Cheney's eyes?

Steve Benen 11:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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TASTELESSNESS GALORE.... Remember this week, when the RNC chairman vowed to attack Democrats with "class" and "dignity"? It was a vow that didn't even last a day.

She's the 69-year-old speaker of the House of Representatives, second in the line of succession and the most powerful woman in U.S. history.

But when you see Nancy Pelosi, the Republican National Committee wants you to think "Pussy Galore."

At least that's the takeaway from a video released by the committee this week -- a video that puts Pelosi side-by-side with the aforementioned villainess from the 1964 James Bond film "Goldfinger."

The RNC video, which begins with the speaker's head in the iconic spy-series gun sight, implies that Pelosi has used her feminine wiles to dodge the truth about whether or not she was briefed by the CIA on the use of waterboarding in 2002. While the P-word is never mentioned directly, in one section the speaker appears in a split screen alongside the Bond nemesis -- and the video's tagline is "Democrats Galore."

The wisdom of equating the first woman speaker of the House with a character whose first name also happens to be among the most vulgar terms for a part of the female anatomy might be debated -- if the RNC were willing to do so, which it was not. An RNC spokesperson refused repeated requests by POLITICO to explain the point of the video, or the intended connection between Pelosi and Galore.

These tactics are not, however, limited to the RNC. Right-wing talk-show host Jim Quinn has taken to calling the Speaker of the House "this bitch." Former comedian Dennis Miller was on Fox News calling Pelosi a "shrieking harridan magpie." Neal Boortz called her a "hag." Media Matters had a report on Monday noting the attacks from various far-right media personalities -- including Limbaugh, Michael Savage, and CNN's Alex Castellanos -- all of whom attacked the House Speaker, not over her remarks about the CIA, but because of their dissatisfaction with her appearance.

The Politico's report noted that these tactics are "bad politics." Ann Lewis said, "It's an attempt to demean your opponent, rather than debate them. If they're serious that this is an issue of national security, then you'd think that one would want to debate it on the merits. It's almost as if they can't help themselves."

I think it's true that, politically, the right's misogynistic attacks against Pelosi are insane. Conservatives think they have the Speaker on the run -- why overreach and begin making sexist attacks?

Ultimately, though, political strategy isn't nearly as important as basic human decency here. It's a quality the right is lacking, and this recent pathetic display against Pelosi says far more about them than it does about the Speaker.

Steve Benen 10:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (65)

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GROUNDHOG DAY.... On Tuesday, "The Daily Show" ran a good segment on why the right's arguments about Guantanamo Bay don't make any sense. If it seemed familiar, it's probably because the same show ran a very similar segment in January.

The problem isn't that the show is repetitious; the problem is the ridiculous debate is stuck in neutral, and the discourse is just spinning its wheels. Jon Stewart's commentary was just as applicable now as it was four months ago because the debate hasn't made any progress.

Indeed, we keep having the same arguments. The right will ask, "Is waterboarding really torture?" The rest of us will calmly explain the situation, point to the law, the science, and the history, and explain why it's torture. The right will respond, "OK, but is waterboarding really torture?" Months go by, and conservatives keep asking the same question, learning the answer, and then asking the same question again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

This week, we kept hearing that torture prevented terrorist attacks. We know there's no evidence to support that, conservatives know we know that, but the right keeps saying it anyway.

Twice in the last two weeks -- including during his speaking duel with President Obama on Thursday -- [Dick] Cheney has said that the Bush administration's approach may have saved "hundreds of thousands" of lives. [...]

[T]errorism experts said that though it is possible to envision scenarios that involve casualties of that magnitude, no evidence has emerged about the plots disrupted during the Bush administration to suggest that Cheney's claim is true.

This article appeared in the LA Times today, but it could have run a month ago. Or five months ago. Or a year ago.

Policy debates aren't supposed to work this way. One side makes a dubious claim, and their rivals respond. If the claim is debunked, the first side moves onto new claims. The right refuses to play by these rules -- they make bogus arguments, they fail, and then they repeat the exact same arguments again. It's like the entire conservative movement is suffering from a short-term memory problem. That, or they assume Americans are idiots, and repeating lies improves the likelihood we'll believe them.

Just yesterday, over the span of a few hours, we heard Republicans argue that torture prevented an attack on the Library Tower in Los Angeles; torture didn't improve terrorist recruiting; and detainees only provided information after they'd been tortured. We know all of these claims are completely wrong, but more importantly, we've known this for a very long time.

As a movie, "Groundhog Day" was occasionally difficult to watch. As a national security debate, it's just painful.

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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THIS WEEK IN GOD.... First up from the God Machine this week is a story that received pretty wide play yesterday, about a certain Christian college and the decision to crack down on students who are Democrats.

Liberty University, the evangelical school in Virginia founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, is drawing heat Friday for its decision to revoke recognition of the College Democrats' chapter on campus.

According to the Lynchburg News & Advance, the school decided a week ago the organization "stood against the moral principles" held by the school and therefore could no longer be sanctioned.

Maria Childress, the staff adviser to the club, told the paper the school -- which opposes abortion rights and gay marriage -- had issues with the Democratic Party platform.

Childress says she was told by Mark Hine, the vice president of student affairs, that "'You can't be a Democrat and be a Christian and be a university representative.'"

Now, Regent, an evangelical school in Virginia started by a different TV preacher (Pat Robertson), already has a chapter of the College Democrats, which enjoys university recognition. Liberty, however, formally recognized the Dems in October, only to suspend the group, for no apparent reason, eight days ago. LU's College Republican chapter remains unaffected.

Liberty is a private evangelical college and can do as it pleases, but the decision seems tough to defend. If the school wanted to restrict students from organizing a Democratic student organization, it shouldn't have recognized the student group eight months ago.

But for me, the most interesting part of this is the fact that there are students at Falwell's Liberty University who are Democrats. In fact, they're so enthusiastic about their support for the party, they want an active chapter of the College Democrats on campus. At the group's first meeting, more than 50 students showed up.

This, again, speaks to key shifts among younger evangelicals. For Falwell's generation and these students' parents, to be politically active was to be a conservative Republican. To care about "moral issues" was to focus exclusively on gays and abortion. All of that's changing, slowly but surely, and the GOP lock on evangelicals is loosening.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* Giavonni Maria Vian, editor-in-chief of L'Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper, does not believe that President Obama is a threat to Roman Catholic values. In a seeming rebuke to those who protested the president's address at Notre Dame last week, Vain praised Obama's appearance, adding, "Obama is not a pro-abortion president." I assume that Bill Donohue and others like him will now attack the Vatican's newspaper for being anti-Catholic.

* A 2,600-page report was released this week in Dublin, documenting horrific sexual, emotional, and psychological abuse of boys and girls in Irish orphanages and reform schools run by the Roman Catholic Church from the 1930s to 1990s. The report from the Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse, based on a nine-year investigation, pointed to sadistic treatment of tens of thousands of Irish children, which state and church leaders preferred to ignore.

* And in Ohio this summer, Alysa Stanton will break new ground, becoming the first African-American woman ever to be ordained as a rabbi and the first African-American rabbi to lead a majority white congregation.

Steve Benen 8:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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RIGHT MOVIE, WRONG LESSON.... Over the years, the debate over U.S. interrogation policies has featured quite a few references to fictional works, most commonly with the right referencing Jack Bauer and "24." Yesterday, we heard a twist, with the introduction of Col. Jessup and "A Few Good Men."

MSNBC's Joe Scarborough sees a parallel, with President Obama as Kaffee, and Dick Cheney as Jessup. Ryan Powers reported on Scarborough's on-air comments, in which the former Republican lawmaker described the two national-security speeches from Thursday:

"This scene yesterday...I'm serious here, this comes straight out of 'A Few Good Men.' The reason why the closing scene with Jack Nicholson on the stand worked so well, is, of course, we were all rooting for the young attractive Tom Cruise, just like more Americans are probably rooting for President Obama. But at the same time, what was said on that stand by Nicholson...I was struck by that contrast."

The comparison is not, on its face, absurd. If you've seen the movie, you know that Jessup believed the ends justified the means, and that a security-at-all-costs attitude was used to rationalize illegal conduct. It's a belief that sounds rather familiar.

But Scarborough seems to have forgotten the ending. Jessup lied under oath, orchestrated a conspiracy to cover up his crimes, ordered the torture (and accidental death) of a United States Marine, and was eventually arrested to face criminal charges. In other words, the audience wasn't just "rooting for the young attractive Tom Cruise"; the audience was supposed to realize that Col. Jessup was the villain in this story.

Indeed, it worries me a bit that Scarborough would watch "A Few Good Men" and think, "You know, maybe Kaffee really did 'weaken a country' with his efforts."

It's like watching "Bob Roberts" and thinking you'd like to vote for the protagonist.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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May 22, 2009

FRIDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* President Obama shared some words of wisdom with the graduating class at the Naval Academy this afternoon. He also had shared a warm exchange with a graduate by the name of John McCain IV.

* A week from now, the administration is likely to send GM into bankruptcy.

* Good: "A federal appeals court on Friday agreed with the major elements of a 2006 landmark ruling that found the nation's top tobacco companies guilty of racketeering and fraud for deceiving the public about the dangers of smoking. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington unanimously upheld requirements that manufacturers change the way they market cigarettes."

* The Feds seized Florida's BankUnited FSB late yesterday, which appears to represent the largest bank failure since the current crisis began.

* The war supplemental passed the Senate with minimal opposition.

* Roadblock Republicans are already blocking Judge David Hamilton's appeals court nomination, and the process has barely started.

* Remember that NYT front-page article about one in seven Gitmo detainees "returning" to terrorism? It looked shaky yesterday; it looks worse now.

* Supreme Court interviews continue at the White House, and we may see a nominee next week.

* Speaker Pelosi held her weekly press conference this morning, but would not go beyond her previous comments regarding the CIA and Bush-era torture.

* The State Department intends to end the workplace discrimination against gay employees.

* The U.N. is seeking $543 million for Pakistan refugees.

* The California Supreme Court's ruling on Prop. 8 will come down on Tuesday.

* Tom Ridge isn't buying Cheney's torture argument.

* Every time I see Lawrence O'Donnell on television, I like him more.

* There is something deeply wrong with right-wing talk-show host Mark Levin. Seriously.

* Joe Scarborough is contagious, and some of his oddities are rubbing off on Mika Brzezinski.

* And in San Angelo, Texas, which happens to be a very conservative area on issues like gays and immigration, four-term mayor J.W. Lown had a pretty fascinating revelation this week.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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LOOKING FOR READER ADVICE.... It's Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend, so I hope readers won't mind if I solicit some suggestions. (If you do mind, just scroll down for news and analysis....)

I've had this Twitter account for a few weeks now, and I usually do about a half-dozen tweets a day. Occasionally, I'll use it to let folks know if I'm going to be on TV or do a radio interview. But in general, I'm not sure I'm getting the most out of it. I'd love some suggestions.

For example, I don't tweet every post from Political Animal, because readers who already check in on the site might find that tedious. On the other hand, Twitter is sometimes easier to read throughout the day, so perhaps folks might prefer that I tweet every post. Thoughts?

Also, I'm generally reluctant to tweet non-political content, because I'm not sure if anyone cares what I think about, say, the "Dollhouse" season finale. Then again, maybe that's what gives a feed some personality. Beats me.

I'm open to suggestion. For those of you on Twitter -- if not, none of this applies anyway -- what kind of content do you want to see?

Post Script: Yes, I realize that some of you consider blogging about Twitter even worse than blogging about blogging. Consider this a one-time thing.

Steve Benen 5:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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CREDIT CARD REFORM.... It's been a busy week, and the "Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act" hasn't gotten much in the way of attention. That's a shame, because it's a pretty good bill, which President Obama signed into law this afternoon.

President Obama this afternoon signed into law a bill that prevents credit card companies from raising interest rates arbitrarily and limits the fees they can charge, meeting his own deadline of enacting the bill before Memorial Day.

"With this bill, we're putting in place some common sense reforms designed to protect consumers . . . ," Obama said moments before signing the bill in the White House Rose Garden. "I want to be clear about this: Credit card companies provide a valuable service. We don't begrudge them turning a profit. We just want to make sure that they do so while upholding basic standards of fairness, transparency and accountability."

He stressed that officials cannot "excuse irresponsibility" by consumers but said too often credit card practices made it very difficult for people to work their way out of debt and the credit cards become "less of a lifeline and more of an anchor."

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), isn't perfect, but it's a huge step in the right direction and imposes some limits on the industry that are long overdue.

For example, before a credit card company changes a consumer's interest rates, fees, or finance charges, the company needs to give 45 days' notice. Consumers who get an introductory promotional rate get to keep it for at least six months, and interest rates can't be increased for the first year. There are also specific provisions that help young people and students.

Perhaps most important, companies can't increase interest rates on existing balances until consumers are more than 60 days behind on payment.

Peter Garuccio, a spokesman for the American Bankers Association, said this week the bill represents "the biggest reforms of the industry since the invention of credit cards." In this case, that's a good thing.

What's more, despite the industry's influence on the Hill, this was a bipartisan effort. The measure passed the House 361 to 64 (63 of the 64 "nay" votes were Republicans), and passed the Senate 90 to 5 (4 of the 5 opponents were Republicans).

For all of the valid concerns about obstructionism and legislative paralysis, this bill is a pretty significant accomplishment, and something for policymakers at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to brag about over the Memorial Day break.

Steve Benen 4:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING.... It's Friday. You know what that means -- Michael Steele is guest-hosting Bill Bennett's radio show again. Will he say something ridiculous? Of course he will.

Apparently unable to learn from egregious mistakes from the recent past, RNC Chairman Michael Steele once again took to the radio airwaves today as a guest host for Bill Bennett. Earlier this week, Steele declared "an end to the era of Republicans looking backward." This morning, however, Steele revisited the 2008 election to insist that President Obama had never been "vetted" because the press "fell in love with the black man":

"The problem that we have with this president is that we don't know [Obama]. He was not vetted, folks. ... He was not vetted, because the press fell in love with the black man running for the office. 'Oh gee, wouldn't it be neat to do that? Gee, wouldn't it make all of our liberal guilt just go away? We can continue to ride around in our limousines and feel so lucky to live in an America with a black president.'"

Specifically, Steele wanted to see more "dissecting" during the campaign of Jeremiah Wright's relationship with the president.

It's hard to even know where to start with such an absurd remark. How offensive is all of this? Let us count the ways: 1) if Wright drew any more media attention last year, people might have begun thinking he was the candidate; 2) Steele just said Republicans have to stop looking backwards; 3) Obama was a candidate for nearly two full years and couldn't have been vetted any more thoroughly; 4) Steele has personally had to fight against the idea that he got ahead based on his race, so this is uniquely insulting coming from him; 5) if the RNC is still obsessed with Jeremiah Wright, it's in bigger trouble than I thought; 6) I've never heard of campaign reporters who get to ride around in limousines.

But Adam Serwer gets at the point that must not go overlooked: "Michael Steele tells black people different things than he tells white people."

When Steele has a black audience, Obama's victory is "a testament to struggle, perseverance, and opportunity." When Steele has a white audience, he thinks Obama is a "magic negro" who just won because of liberal white guilt.

It's practically the definition of a sell-out.

Post Script: And to keep harping on my Dean comparison, will political reporters now ask Republican leaders on the Hill whether they agree with their party's chairman that President Obama only succeeded because of the color of his skin? Or do they think the RNC chairman should apologize?

Steve Benen 3:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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'IT IS WAY WORSE THAN I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE'.... I'm generally inclined to ignore publicity stunts, but this one might serve a greater goal.

Chicago radio talk-show host Erich Muller, aka "Mancow," apparently decided he'd subject himself to waterboarding. His admitted goal, which Mancow conceded on the air, was to prove that waterboarding was not, in fact, torture.

This morning, Mancow, who is nationally syndicated, went into a storage room next to his radio studio. The results were predictable.

"The average person can take this for 14 seconds," Marine Sergeant Clay South answered, adding, "He's going to wiggle, he's going to scream, he's going to wish he never did this."

With a Chicago Fire Department paramedic on hand, Mancow was placed on a 7-foot long table, his legs were elevated, and his feet were tied up.

Turns out the stunt wasn't so funny. Witnesses said Muller thrashed on the table, and even instantly threw the toy cow he was holding as his emergency tool to signify when he wanted the experiment to stop. He only lasted 6 or 7 seconds.

"I wanted to prove it wasn't torture," Mancow said. "They cut off our heads, we put water on their face ... I got voted to do this [by his listening audience] but I really thought, 'I'm going to laugh this off.'"

He didn't. In fact, he explained afterwards, "It is way worse than I thought it would be, and that's no joke." (Christopher Hitchens had a similar reaction last year.)

I mention this, not to give a radio host more publicity, but because it's common to hear torture apologists insist that waterboarding is "no big deal." This is not only absurd, it defies common sense: if this wasn't torture, we wouldn't have done it. The whole point is to do something so horrific that the detainee would feel compelled to give up information. If it were merely a "splash in the face," as some on the right have argued, why would Bush administration officials think it might be effective?

What's more, also note the circumstances/context here. Mancow was in a familiar setting; he knew his life was not being threatened; and he know he could stop the procedure at any time. Despite all of this, he still recognized this as torture, despite wanting to prove the opposite.

Steve Benen 3:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (88)

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THE LIMITS OF FEDERALISM.... Earlier this month, the D.C. City Council voted 12 to 1 to recognize same-sex marriages from states that have already passed marriage equality laws. The next day, Rep. John Chaffetz (R) of Utah, the ranking Republican on a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee that oversees the District, vowed to intervene.

Mike Madden reports that the right's efforts began in earnest yesterday.

A group of conservative House members who believe in limiting federal involvement in local affairs introduced legislation Thursday that would block Washington, D.C., from recognizing gay marriages performed elsewhere in the United State. The bill would overturn local legislation that the D.C. Council passed last month. The nearly three dozen small-government conservatives who sponsored the House bill evidently decided the risk of letting gays and lesbians marry was far more dangerous than whatever evil might come from letting the federal government muck around with local business.

"The family is truly the foundational institution of our nation, and marriage is its cornerstone," Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, said in a statement.

Yes, one of the bedrock federalist principles of conservative lawmakers is the notion that the federal government shouldn't interfere in local matters like these. And yet, we have conservatives from Ohio, Utah, Oklahoma, and elsewhere, deciding that the elected representatives of the District of Columbia are incapable of representing the constituents who elected them to public office. How D.C.'s city council governs in D.C. is fine, just so long as conservative lawmakers from far outside D.C. approve.

Or, put another way, Republican principles go right out the window if the question involves gays or guns.

For what it's worth, this conservative effort, co-sponsored by a couple of center-right Democrats, isn't likely to go anywhere. To override the decision of the city council, the measure would need to be passed by both chambers and signed by the president.

It seems likely, then, that on this purely local issue, D.C. will be able to run its city the way it sees fit.

Steve Benen 2:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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A REMINDER OF THE OBVIOUS.... Somehow, the nation has managed to do pretty well despite all of these terrorists living in our "neighborhoods," coming to our "communities," and "living among us."

[T]he apocalyptic rhetoric rarely addresses this: Thirty-three international terrorists, many with ties to al-Qaeda, reside in a single federal prison in Florence, Colo., with little public notice.

Detained in the supermax facility in Colorado are Ramzi Yousef, who headed the group that carried out the first bombing of the World Trade Center in February 1993; Zacarias Moussaoui, convicted of conspiring in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; Ahmed Ressam, of the Dec. 31, 1999, Los Angeles airport millennium attack plots; Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, conspirator in several plots, including one to assassinate President George W. Bush; and Wadih el-Hage, convicted of the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kenya.

Inmates in Florence and those at the maximum-security disciplinary barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., rarely see other prisoners. At Leavenworth, the toughest prisoners are allowed outside their cells only one hour a day when they are moved with their legs shackled and accompanied by three guards.

Terrorists in the community of Leavenworth, Kansas? But that's the heartland! Won't someone think of the children? (Sen. Pat Roberts on Kansas this week insisted that Army officers would no longer want to train at Ft Leavenworth if there are terrorists held there. Sounds like Roberts doesn't know what he's talking about.)

Philip Zelikow, a top official in the Bush administration's State Department, explained to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, "We have a vast amount of experience in how to judge the continued incarceration of highly dangerous prisoners, since we do this with thousands of prisoners every month, all over the United States, including some really quite dangerous people."

It's a shame articles like these are even necessary, since reality seems so obvious. And yet, a few too many lawmakers, who presumably know better, are just hysterical.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) put his foot down. "We're not going to bring al-Qaeda to Big Sky Country -- no way, not on my watch," he told Time magazine this month.

What an embarrassment.

Steve Benen 1:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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STILL STUNTING THE STIMULUS.... We're approaching the end of May, and it seems like the debate over the economic recovery package has been over for a long while, but there are still some pockets of obstinacy. For example, there's Alaska:

Gov. Sarah Palin on Thursday became the only governor to turn down federal stimulus money for energy efficiency, a move that legislators called "disappointing" for a state with some of the country's highest energy costs.

In announcing the veto of $28.6 million in funds, Palin said she wouldn't accept money tied to adoption of building codes by local governments. [...]

State budget director Karen Rehfeld said the Republican governor was concerned that in accepting the money, she would be required to promote the adoption of local building codes. To qualify for the federal money, 90 percent of new and renovated structures in the state would have to be constructed under energy efficiency standards between 2009 and 2017.

State lawmakers responded that this is a misguided reason for opposition, since Alaska had largely already met the federal mandate. And since Alaska could benefit from efficiency and energy reduction programs, lawmakers from both parties said Palin's concerns don't add up. The legislature will try to override the governor, and accept the $28.6 million. If not, it will be divvied up among the rest of the states.

And then there's South Carolina:

Gov. Mark Sanford is taking the General Assembly to court after lawmakers required him to accept $350 million in disputed federal money by overriding his budget vetoes.

Sanford quickly announced the federal suit after the Senate voted 34-11 on a state budget that forces him to accept the money.

"We know a suit will be filed against us on this issue, and as such we've filed a suit tonight in response," Sanford said in a prepared statement. "We believe the Legislature's end-around move won't pass constitutional muster."

Yes, the governor would rather sue his legislature than accept federal funding that would go to bolster schools and public safety.

I guess Palin and Sanford must really want to impress that GOP base.

Steve Benen 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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WHAT BLAIR ACTUALLY SAID.... This morning on Fox News, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), said President Obama was "factually inaccurate" when he said that torture doesn't work. King added that Obama's "own Director of National Intelligence says [the previous administration's torture policies] did work."

Dick Cheney made a very similar point yesterday, citing Adm. Dennis Blair, President Obama's national intelligence director, who said Cheney's preferred tactics produced "high-value information."

It's been about a month since this was news, and King and Cheney probably hope Americans have forgotten the details, so let's quickly set the record straight (again).

In mid-April, Blair told colleagues in a private memo that the Bush administration's abusive tactics did, in fact, produce "high-value information" about al Qaeda. Blair added, however, that had he been in a position of authority when these interrogation techniques were approved, he "would not have approved those methods."

And why not? If torture produced "high-value information," and we need "high-value information," why would the Admiral reject the tactics? It's not complicated:

"The information gained from these techniques was valuable in some instances, but there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means. The bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security."

Republicans are citing the national intelligence director as a source of support, when he clearly is taking the polar opposite position. Blair believes the "enhanced interrogation program" was not only unnecessary, but also proved counterproductive to our interests.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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FRIDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* In Virginia's Democratic gubernatorial primary, state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds received some rare good news this morning, earning the endorsement of the Washington Post. "Deeds may not be the obvious choice in the June 9 primary," the paper's editorial board said, "but he's the right one."

* Speaking of the race in Virginia, the latest Research 2000 poll for Daily Kos is largely in line with other recent gubernatorial surveys in the state: Terry McAuliffe is out in front with 36%, Brian Moran trailed with 22%, and Deeds is in third with 13%. In terms of general-election match-ups, all three Dems trail former state Attorney General Bob McDonnell (R).

* In Florida, Gov. Charlie Crist (R) quickly won the NRSC endorsement for his Senate campaign, but the state Republican Party will not take sides in the primary.

* Also in Florida, state Attorney General Bill McCollum (R) will likely avoid a primary in his gubernatorial campaign.

* While Rep. Joe Sestak (D) is getting grassroots encouragement to challenge Sen. Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania next year, Sestak isn't hearing any positive signals from the national party.

* Confirming months of rumors, former Rep. Scott McInnis (R) officially kicked off his gubernatorial campaign in Colorado yesterday.

* Stormy Daniels, an adult-film actress, formed an exploratory committee yesterday for the 2010 Senate race in Louisiana.

* And in 2012 news, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) will be spending some time in Iowa next month. That doesn't necessarily mean he's thinking about running for president, but it's not exactly a stretch, either.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

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NEPOTISM REIGNS.... Mid-day yesterday, I noticed that Mark Halperin had a headline that read, "Round 2: Liz Cheney vs Axe." Round 1, apparently, was President Obama and former Vice President Cheney, and Round 2's "Axe" refers to David Axelrod, Senior White House Advisor to the president.

Halperin added, "The two surrogates weigh in on the Cheney vs. Obama debate shortly after their speeches in MSNBC interviews. Must-see video...."

Notice the problem? Liz Cheney was brought on to offer analysis of her own father's speech, and parrot her dad's criticism of the president. (What a surprise -- she found her dad's argument very persuasive.)

What's more, as part of a full-throated defense of her dad's torture policies, Liz Cheney has been all over the television news. I asked my friends at Media Matters to check on just how many interviews Cheney has done lately. They came up with this list that spans the last 10 days (and today isn't over yet):

* On the May 22 edition of ABC's "Good Morning America"

* On the May 22 edition of MSNBC's "Morning Joe"

* On the May 22 edition of CNN's "American Morning"

* On the May 21 edition of CNN's "AC360"

* On the May 21 edition of Fox News' "Hannity"

* On the May 21 edition of "MSNBC News Live"

* On the May 20 edition of Fox News' "Your World"

* On the May 17 edition of ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos"

* On the May 16 edition of Fox News' "Fox & Friends Saturday"

* On the May 15 edition of Fox News' "On the Record"

* On the May 12 edition of Fox News' "Live Desk"

* On the May 12 edition of MSNBC's "Morning Joe"

That's 12 appearances, in nine and a half days, spanning four networks. (On today's "Morning Joe," Liz Cheney was on for an entire hour -- effectively becoming a co-host of the program.) And this is just television, and doesn't include Liz Cheney's interviews on radio or with print media.

There's no modern precedent for such a ridiculous arrangement. Dick Cheney launches a crusade against the White House, and major outlets look for analysis from Cheney's daughter? Who everyone already realizes agrees with everything he says about torture?

This is just crazy.

Steve Benen 11:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

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A RUNNING MATE FOR 2010.... With Dick Cheney positioning himself as one of the de facto leaders of the nation in the post-Bush/Cheney era, it's not unreasonable to ask Republican incumbents a straightforward question: do you want to campaign alongside the former vice president?

A few GOP leaders are willing to put on a brave face, but those who may face competitive races next year are a little cagey on the subject.

Asked whether he'd like Cheney to campaign with him, Utah Sen. Robert Bennett -- who faces a primary challenge in 2010 -- said: "The most powerful national politician in Utah is Mitt Romney, and he's already come to Utah to campaign for me. And I think I'll leave it at that."

Asked if he'd want Cheney on the campaign trail for him, North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr said: "I'm not going to go there yet." Pressed on the matter, Burr -- a top target for Democrats -- said Cheney is "trying to set the record straight on his administration." But Burr said he didn't want to discuss "what's going to happen in my campaign. I don't even have an opponent."

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told reporters yesterday that he'd be "proud to appear with the vice president anywhere, anytime." When pressed on whether they share that view, Florida's Charlie Crist, Ohio's Rob Portman, and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski said they didn't want to talk about it. Arizona John McCain, who's also seeking another term next year, responded, "I don't have the time or energy to discuss that -- or the inclination."

There were a few Republicans -- including Georgia's Johnny Isakson and Oklahoma's Tom Coburn -- who said they'd gladly accept help from the former vice president, but they represent some very "red" states.

Expect to hear more of this. I suspect the DSCC will have some fun with it.

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

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AN ENCOURAGING FIRST STEP.... Generally, when a House committee approves a bill, it's not an especially important development. But the Waxman-Markey bill isn't just another piece of legislation, global warming isn't just another policy challenge, and yesterday wasn't just another committee vote.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, splitting largely along party lines, approved on Thursday the most ambitious energy and global warming legislation ever debated in Congress. [...]

Mr. Obama did not play a major public role in the committee's work, but intervened quietly on several occasions, calling nervous conservative Democrats to assure them that a vote for the bill would not hurt them politically. Two weeks ago, he gathered all of the panel's Democrats at the White House to urge them to set aside their differences to produce a bill that met his goals of energy conservation and global warming abatement.

The measure approved by the House committee runs more than 930 pages. It establishes a cap-and-trade program to control climate-altering emissions; dictates an increase in the use of renewable energy sources; and sets new efficiency standards for buildings, lighting and industrial facilities. It calls for a 17 percent reduction in emissions of heat-trapping gases from 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050.

It was the object of one of the biggest lobbying campaigns of any piece of environmental legislation, with millions of dollars spent on both sides in the months leading up to Thursday's vote. Lawmakers heard from former Vice President Al Gore, local utility companies, hunters and fishermen, national environmental groups, agricultural interests and the coal, oil and natural gas industries.

The final committee vote was 33 to 25, with three Blue Dogs joining the Republicans in opposition, and one GOP lawmaker (California Republican Rep. Mary Bono Mack) joining Dems in support. Waxman, the committee chairman, had vowed to get the bill through committee by Thursday, and though few thought it would happen, he got it done.

This was, of course, the first test. Legislative choke-points abound, and the bill still has a ways to go. In the House, Waxman-Markey will need approval from committees on Ways and Means, Transportation, Natural Resources, and perhaps most important, Agriculture. (Democrats on the Ag Committee have vowed to block the bill unless it exempts ethanol from EPA regulation.) Senate passage will be even more difficult, since Republicans will use the same obstructionist tactics they always use, and Blue Dogs like Evan Bayh are bound to break party ranks.

That said, yesterday was a good start.

Post Script: Remember the speed-reader I mentioned the other day? It turns out, Texas Rep. Joe Barton (R) backed off his threats to delay the bill, but he, like everyone else, was nevertheless curious to see what the speed-reader sounded like reading the bill. The result was highly entertaining.

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (7)

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'DAISY,' REDUX.... In 1964, LBJ's presidential campaign aired its infamous "Daisy" ad, just once, to drive home the point that it wouldn't be an especially good idea to have Barry Goldwater with his finger on the button.

Periodically, Republicans have tried to respond with "Daisy" ads of their own. In 2006, the RNC tried to scare the bejesus out of voters, suggesting a vote for Democratic congressional candidates is a vote for a nuclear attack by al Qaeda.

This didn't work. Today, the RNC is trying again.

The RNC is launching a Web ad on Friday highlighting Democrats' divisions over the future of Guantanamo Bay, ABC News has learned.

The ad intersperses video from one of the most famous and controversial political ads of all time -- Lyndon Johnson's "Daisy" ad from the 1964 presidential campaign against Barry Goldwater.

"To close it? To close it not?" a voice asks several times, with video playing of the little girl from the LBJ ad.

The ad shows several clips of Democrats -- including Obama, Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. -- contradicting each other over what the fate of Guantanamo should be.

The Web ad fades with a single word on the screen: "Really?"

This isn't an actual ad that television viewers will see; it's a web ad that the RNC expects news networks to air, over and over again, for free. I suspect that part of the strategy will work pretty well.

For that matter, the video reinforces the consequences of Democrats on the Hill caving to conservative complaints and buying into the right's fearmongering.

But the message itself is hopelessly absurd. To equate closing a detention facility with the threat of a nuclear war only suggests the RNC has a child-like understanding of national security threats.

It's a desperate move from hapless RNC leaders.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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EVERY DAY IS GINGRICH DAY.... Chris Hayes had a tweet on Wednesday morning that really resonated with me: "Every morning I wake up, anxious to see what Newt Gingrich has to say about the issues of the day."

Chris was, of course, being sarcastic. The problem, though, is that major news outlets seem to genuinely believe Americans really do wake up, anxious to see what the disgraced former House Speaker has to say about current events.

This morning, for example, the Washington Post offers readers an 800-word op-ed from Gingrich about public attitudes on the size of government. Wouldn't you know it, Gingrich thinks there's a mass movement of people out there who think exactly the same way he does.

In the great tradition of political movements rising against arrogant, corrupt elites, there will soon be a party of people rooting out the party of government. This party may be Republican; it may be Democratic; in some states it may be a third party. The politicians have been warned.

Anxious to hear more? You're in luck -- Newt Gingrich will be the featured guest on "Meet the Press" this weekend.

He was lying on Fox News yesterday. He was lying on "Good Morning America" on Wednesday. More of the same on "The Daily Show" on Tuesday. Looking over CNN's political blog, which tends to keep up pretty well with the big political stories of a given day, Gingrich's various attacks have generated "news" every other day for a week.

As Atrios asked the other day: "[Y]ou know, disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has precisely zero power but his every pronouncement is treated as Incredibly Important News. Any journalists want to explain why?"

I try to pay at least some attention to what Gingrich is popping off on, in part because many GOP leaders are inclined to follow his lead, no matter how little sense he makes.

But the constant media coverage has been embarrassing for a while, and it seems to be getting worse.

Eric Boehlert's take the other day -- before the WaPo op-ed and "Meet the Press" announcement -- was spot-on: ["A]s often happens when I read breaking, this-is-what-Newt-said dispatches, I couldn't help thinking, 'Who cares what Newt Gingrich thinks?' And I don't mean that in the partisan sense. I mean it in the journalistic sense: How do Gingrich's daily pronouncements about the fundamental dishonesty of Democrats (Newt's favorite phrase) translate into news? Why does the press, 10 years after Gingrich was forced out of office, still treat his every partisan utterance as a newsworthy occurrence? In other words, why does the press still treat him like he's speaker of the House? It's unprecedented."

I'm still waiting to see the media frenzy surrounding the latest pronouncements from Jim Wright and Tom Foley. I have a hunch I'm going to be waiting for a long time.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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NO ONE SHOULD BE MEAN TO CHENEY.... Once in a while, during his briefings, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs will get in little digs at the administration's detractors, with varying degrees of sarcasm. Opinions will vary, but his sense of humor tends to work for me.

What's interesting, though, is that some members of the press corps seem taken aback when Gibbs fails to show deference to Dick Cheney.

One of the odder things we've seen from some members of the White House press corps this year is a kind of zealous over-protectiveness of the previous administration -- Dick Cheney, in particular. [...]

[During yesterday's] briefing, another reporter (I'm not sure who) attacked Gibbs again for being mean to Cheney. The reporter said Gibbs had taken a "swipe" at Cheney. What was the swipe? Earlier in the briefing, Gibbs had responded to Cheney's attack by puckishly saying he had a lot of time on his hands. That was the swipe.

This is just weird.

It is, indeed. Dick Cheney has been waging a crusade to undermine public confidence in the White House, dropping any pretense of institutional and/or historic norms. Indeed, the former vice president had just wrapped up a ridiculous and spectacularly dishonest tirade against the president. Gibbs makes a subtle dig about Cheney having nothing else to do with his time, and some reporters think Gibbs ought to show Cheney more respect?

This isn't the first time. In March, after one of the former VP's other petty attacks, Gibbs joked, "I guess Rush Limbaugh was busy. So they trotted out the next most popular member of the Republican cabal." ABC, CBS, and MSNBC all expressed their disappointment that the press secretary would take such a disrespectful tone towards Cheney.

To be sure, there are lines that shouldn't be crossed. If Gibbs started leveling personal attacks against Cheney from the briefing room podium, I could understand some pushback. But Cheney is on a crusade against the White House. Why can't the press secretary give as good as he gets?

Cheney is a big boy. I think he can handle it.

If these reporters were at least as concerned about the former vice president's dishonesty as they were about Gibbs being mean to him, the coverage would probably be better.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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By: Hilzoy

Just Shoot Me Now

I liked most of Obama's speech. If it weren't for that one little bit about preventive detention, I'd be as happy as a clam. But there it was:

"But even when this process is complete, there may be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, in some cases because evidence may be tainted, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States. Examples of that threat include people who've received extensive explosives training at al Qaeda training camps, or commanded Taliban troops in battle, or expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden, or otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans. These are people who, in effect, remain at war with the United States.

Let me repeat: I am not going to release individuals who endanger the American people. Al Qaeda terrorists and their affiliates are at war with the United States, and those that we capture -- like other prisoners of war -- must be prevented from attacking us again. Having said that, we must recognize that these detention policies cannot be unbounded. They can't be based simply on what I or the executive branch decide alone. That's why my administration has begun to reshape the standards that apply to ensure that they are in line with the rule of law. We must have clear, defensible, and lawful standards for those who fall into this category. We must have fair procedures so that we don't make mistakes. We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified.

I know that creating such a system poses unique challenges. And other countries have grappled with this question; now, so must we. But I want to be very clear that our goal is to construct a legitimate legal framework for the remaining Guantanamo detainees that cannot be transferred. Our goal is not to avoid a legitimate legal framework. In our constitutional system, prolonged detention should not be the decision of any one man. If and when we determine that the United States must hold individuals to keep them from carrying out an act of war, we will do so within a system that involves judicial and congressional oversight. And so, going forward, my administration will work with Congress to develop an appropriate legal regime so that our efforts are consistent with our values and our Constitution."

Let's start with the good part. If we have to have preventive detention, it ought to be subject to the kind of oversight Obama is talking about. There should be rules. There should be checks and balances. I like that part.

But that's like saying: if we have to have censorship or prohibitions on particular religions, they ought to be subject to judicial oversight. Yay for judicial oversight. Hurrah for explicit legal frameworks. Whoopee. That said:

Preventive detention????????

No. Wrong answer.

If we don't have enough evidence to charge someone with a crime, we don't have enough evidence to hold them. Period.

The power to detain people without filing criminal charges against them is a dictatorial power. It is inherently arbitrary. What is it that they are supposed to have done? If it is not a crime, why on earth not make it one? If it is a crime, and we have evidence that this person committed it, but that evidence was extracted under torture, then perhaps we need to remind ourselves of the fact that torture is unreliable. If we just don't have enough evidence, that's a problem, but it's also a problem with detaining them in the first place.

What puzzles me even more is this, from a New York Times story about this:

"The two participants (...) said Mr. Obama told them he was thinking about "the long game" -- how to establish a legal system that would endure for future presidents."

The long game? If we have a need for preventive detention, which I do not accept, it's a short-term need produced by Messrs. Bush and Cheney. The long game is the preservation of our republic. It is not a game that we can win by forfeiting our freedom.

People seem to be operating under the assumption that there is something we can do that will bring us perfect safety. There is no such thing. We can try our best, and do all the things the previous administration failed to do -- secure Russian loose nukes, harden our critical infrastructure, not invade irrelevant countries, etc. -- but we will never be completely safe. Not even if we give up the freedom that is our most precious inheritance as Americans.

Freedom is not always easy, and it is not always safe. Neither is doing the right thing. Nonetheless, we ought to be willing to try. I wish I saw the slightest reason to believe that we are.

Hilzoy 3:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (81)

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May 21, 2009

THURSDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Iraq: "Three U.S. soldiers and 12 Iraqis were killed Thursday by a bomb at a crowded market in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Doura, residents and U.S. and Iraqi officials said."

* The U.S. death toll from H1N1 reached 10 today.

* Edward Liddy, CEO of AIG, is stepping down from his post.

* GM and UAW have reached a new deal that could save the company billions.

* Ahmed Ghailani, a "high value" Gitmo detainee will stand trial in New York City in a civilian criminal court.

* The latest data on global warming paints a bleak picture.

* When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Ted Kennedy's cancer had gone into remission, it's possible that Reid didn't know what he was talking about.

* Reid and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) will meet tonight to strategize on an EFCA compromise.

* Overhauling the federal student-loan program moves forward.

* A week after filibustering David Hayes' Interior Department nomination, Sens. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) and Lisa Murkowski (R- Alaska) backed off and allowed Hayes to be confirmed last night.

* Will Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee derail energy reform?

* Will California get a bailout?

* How about a law mandating a week of paid vacation?

* For all the right-wing panic over Obama and gun control, Tom Coburn's measure about loaded firearms in national parks is poised to become law.

* Steven Pearlstein is making sense about the costs of health care reform.

* Glenn Beck sure does whine a lot about people being mean to him.

* Evan Bayh is doing his best to make Joe Lieberman look like Democrat of the Year.

* Ed Schultz vs. the entire cast of "Morning Joe."

* The RNC makes a lot of dumb attacks, but this one is dumber than most.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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KILLER IDEOLOGIES.... Michael Steele has a way with words. Consider these remarks to Human Events, a right-wing magazine.

"The Republican Party's credibility as the reliably conservative choice has been damaged, and it's up to us to fix it. Faith, freedom, personal responsibility, respect for life and prosperity" Then he added, "Like a bad diet, liberalism will kill you. It's a drug we don't need to be hooked on. We are what stand between an America of prosperity or dependency. Which one do you want?"

Following up on an item from a couple of weeks ago, I keep thinking about Howard Dean's tenure in early 2005, shortly after he took over as DNC chairman. He had a tendency to make some provocative comments -- including telling a California audience that Republicans are "a pretty monolithic party. They all behave the same. They all look the same. It's pretty much a white Christian party."

If you go back and look at that period, you'll notice that reporters (and Republicans) pressed Democratic leaders on whether they agreed with Dean, every time the party chairman would say something controversial. In the case of the "white Christian party," John Edwards, Joe Biden, and Bill Richardson all publicly distanced themselves from Dean.

If Dean had ever dared to tell a strident political magazine that "conservatism will kill you" -- a day after emphasizing the importance of "class" and "dignity" -- I suspect the response would have been pretty intense. Every Democratic leader would be asked whether they're comfortable with Dean's attacks.

But I get the sense that Steele is perceived as such a loose cannon, comments like these hardly seem controversial anymore.

Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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DRAGGING THE STUNT OUT ANOTHER DAY.... Maybe it's just me, but when I saw another story about a new round of Republican attacks on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D), my first reaction was, "Wait, they're still talking about that?"

A member of the House Republican Conference will offer a resolution on the House floor Thursday calling for a bipartisan investigation into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's claim that the CIA misled her on the use of waterboarding, two Republican sources tell CNN.

"The speaker has had a full week now to either produce the evidence or retract and apologize, and she's done neither," a senior Republican aide told CNN. "There is no choice now. A bipartisan investigation is needed to get to the facts."

Just so we're clear, if a Democrat says, in reference to credible allegations of widespread Bush administration wrongdoing, "There is no choice now. A bipartisan investigation is needed to get to the facts," that Democrat is a bitter partisan, stuck in the past, anxious to undermine national security. If a Republican says the same thing about Pelosi, he/she is simply supporting accountability.

Of course, the resolution is just another stunt, which is an extension of the larger stunt. There's no way the Democratic House majority is going to support this resolution. Indeed, if the House were to launch a bipartisan investigation every time a lawmaker questioned the honesty of the CIA, Congress would never get anything done and a fair amount of the Republican caucus would quickly find itself at the center of a probe.

Indeed, just yesterday, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) agreed with the Ranking Intelligence Committee Member Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) about the CIA having misled the House.

In the meantime, John Kerry is backing up Pelosi; Arlen Specter thinks Pelosi is right; and Time magazine pulled together the available information and concluded the Pelosi is "probably right." Best of all, "New questions surfaced Wednesday about the accuracy of a CIA document meant to settle who in Congress knew about severe interrogation methods approved by the Bush administration."

And yet, tomorrow morning, there will be a whole new round of whining from House Republicans, and the media will find Newt Gingrich's concerns on the subject utterly fascinating.

Steve Benen 4:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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'REFORMING' THE STATE SECRETS PRIVILEGE.... On a list of civil liberties concerns where the Obama White House has come up short, use of the "state secrets" privilege would be fairly high on the list, and was one of the first red flags from this administration. I was glad, then, to see the president mention reform this morning.

"[W]hile this principle is absolutely necessary in some circumstances to protect national security, I am concerned that it has been over-used.... So let me lay out some principles here. We must not protect information merely because it reveals the violation of a law or embarrassment to the government. And that's why my administration is nearing completion of a thorough review of this practice.

"And we plan to embrace several principles for reform. We will apply a stricter legal test to material that can be protected under the state secrets privilege. We will not assert the privilege in court without first following our own formal process, including review by a Justice Department committee and the personal approval of the Attorney General. And each year we will voluntarily report to Congress when we have invoked the privilege and why because, as I said before, there must be proper oversight over our actions.

"On all these matters related to the disclosure of sensitive information, I wish I could say that there was some simple formula out there to be had. There is not. These often involve tough calls, involve competing concerns, and they require a surgical approach. But the common thread that runs through all of my decisions is simple: We will safeguard what we must to protect the American people, but we will also ensure the accountability and oversight that is the hallmark of our constitutional system. I will never hide the truth because it's uncomfortable. I will deal with Congress and the courts as co-equal branches of government. I will tell the American people what I know and don't know, and when I release something publicly or keep something secret, I will tell you why."

That's a start. What's more, within an hour or so of Obama's speech, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) referenced the president's comments on this to reemphasize his State Secrets Protection Act, which Leahy argues would codify the privilege "in an effective way that balances the protection of national security with appropriate judicial review."

Leahy's bill has picked up some high-profile co-sponsors (Specter, Kennedy, and Feingold, among others), and in light of the president's comments, maybe there will be some movement on this.

Steve Benen 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (3)

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MR. POPULARITY.... Some on the right will no doubt be pleased to learn that Dick Cheney isn't quite as unpopular as he used to be. They probably shouldn't get too excited, though.

As Dick Cheney prepares to give a major speech on the battle against terrorism, a new national poll suggests that favorable opinions of the former vice president are on the rise.

But the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey, released Wednesday morning, indicates that a majority of Americans still have an unfavorable opinion of Cheney.

Fifty-five percent of people questioned in the poll say they have an unfavorable opinion of the former vice president. Thirty-seven percent say they have a favorable opinion of Cheney, up eight points from January when he left office.

Has Cheney's anti-Obama public-relations offensive given him a poll boost? It doesn't look like it -- the same CNN poll showed George W. Bush getting a similar increase, and he's kept a very low profile. It seems more likely that some of the emotional reactions to the former administration have faded a bit now that they're out of office, with some conservatives having a more favorable opinion with hindsight.

So, with his 35% favorable opinion, does that mean Cheney is no longer politically radioactive? Republicans shouldn't count on it. For one thing, the former vice president, despite the recent increase, is still slightly less popular among Americans than Fidel Castro's Cuba and Hugo Chavez's Venezuela. For another, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is encouraging candidates to "press GOP candidates to take a stand on whether they want Dick Cheney to campaign for them." It doesn't sound like the Democratic leadership is especially worried about Cheney's budding popularity.

As for the rest of the CNN poll, it also found that 63% believe President Obama's policies will "move the country in the right direction." The number for Republicans was 39%.

Steve Benen 3:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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WORST OF THE WORST.... John Cole raises a point that used to be more commonly known, but which has apparently been overlooked of late.

CNN just had James Inhofe on talking about how we could not bring the Gitmo folks to the states because they are too dangerous, and it reminded me of something that has been bothering me the last few days. There seems to be an effort to pretend that we chose to put these people in Gitmo for security reasons.

That is simply nonsense on stilts. It was little more than barbed-wire and plywood when we started detaining them there, and we had to build the damned place.

Indeed, given the recent debates, one might be led to believe that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay is some kind of technological marvel, a prison to end all prisons, an imposing structure surrounded by sharks with frickin' lasers on their heads, all because the detainees there are so uniquely, extraordinarily dangerous.

This isn't even close to the truth. As Adam Serwer explained, "The point wasn't that U.S. prison facilities were incapable of holding dangerous people -- we know they are capable because we've held them there before, and we continue to do so. The original point of Gitmo was to put terrorist suspects in a location beyond the reach of U.S. law, so they couldn't take advantage of constitutional protections."

President Obama drove this point home nicely this morning.

"There is also no question that Guantanamo set back the moral authority that is America's strongest currency in the world. Instead of building a durable framework for the struggle against al Qaeda that drew upon our deeply held values and traditions, our government was defending positions that undermined the rule of law. In fact, part of the rationale for establishing Guantanamo in the first place was the misplaced notion that a prison there would be beyond the law -- a proposition that the Supreme Court soundly rejected. Meanwhile, instead of serving as a tool to counter terrorism, Guantanamo became a symbol that helped al Qaeda recruit terrorists to its cause. Indeed, the existence of Guantanamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained." [emphasis added]

Something to keep in mind the next time Congress takes up the issue. If keeping suspected terrorists locked up in secure, maximum-security facilities is a top priority, keeping them at Gitmo doesn't make any sense at all.

Steve Benen 2:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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RESPECT FOR ONE'S AUDIENCE.... Most of Joe Klein's take on this morning's speeches struck me as persuasive.

"From the very first -- the notion that those who oppose his policies saw 9/11 as a "one-off" -- Cheney proceeded to mischaracterize, oversimplify and distort the views of those who saw his policies as extreme and unconstitutional, to say nothing of the views of the current Administration. This is the habit of demagogues. Cheney's snarling performance was revelatory and valuable: it showed exactly the sort of man Cheney is, and the sort of advice he gave, when his location was disclosed. I hope he continues to speak out. We need his voice to remind us what we've happily escaped.

"Contrast that with the President. He spoke with reason and dignity. He treated his audience -- the American people -- as adults, capable of assimilating a difficult argument. He presented the views of his opponents, on both sides, fairly. His speech acknowledged the difficulty in balancing our democratic values against our very real national security needs."

Now, when it comes to Klein's take on the appropriate "balance" between security and values, I'd put the fulcrum in a different place.

But his larger point sounds right to me. Watching Cheney's speech, the one phrase that kept coming to mind was, "He must think we're idiots."

It'd take too long to fact check the entire address, but the deliberate deceptions were constant and unavoidable. While the president went out of his way to be principled and candid, Cheney argued that to disagree with him is to fail to take 9/11 seriously. To come to different conclusions on these controversial questions is to think we're permanently free of a terrorist threat.

He even rolled out the old canard: the very debate over torture gives terrorists "just what they were hoping for."

Cheney hoped to link Saddam to terrorists, hoping the audience wouldn't look too close. Cheney insisted that torture saved lives, expecting those who heard him not to know the difference. He said Obama had backed off his opposition to torture, hoping we wouldn't pick up on the deception.

It's too late, but if the media insists on characterizing this as some kind of face-off between competitors of equal stature, the least news outlets could do is to point out that Cheney was simply outclassed today. As tempting as it may be to compare the substance of the president's speech with the former vice president's, that's just not possible. Obama treated the nation like adults; Cheney treated us like the target of a con.

For an even more spirited response, I'd encourage folks to check out Larry O'Donnell's reaction to Cheney on MSNBC.

Steve Benen 2:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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REJOINING THE FIGHT.... It's easy to see how this story is going to be misused and misunderstood.

An unreleased Pentagon report concludes that about one in seven of the 534 prisoners already transferred abroad from the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has returned to terrorism or militant activity, according to administration officials.

The conclusion could strengthen the arguments of critics who have warned against the transfer or release of any more detainees as part of President Obama's plan to shut down the prison by January.

There's ample room for skepticism on this. It's practically impossible to verify the Pentagon's numbers, since officials have "provided no way of authenticating" the recidivists, and "only a few of the 29 people identified by name can be independently verified as having engaged in terrorism since their release. Many of the 29 are simply described as associating with terrorists or training with terrorists, with almost no other details provided."

For that matter, if the number is accurate, a recidivism rate of about 14% is low by most incarceration standards. Seton Hall University School of Law professor Mark Denbeaux, who has raised credible doubts about these Pentagon reports, told the NYT, "We've never said there weren't some people who would return to the fight. It seems to be unavoidable. Nothing is perfect."

True, but it's also worth noting just how far from perfection the Gitmo system was under Bush/Cheney. Indeed, President Obama addressed this point directly in his speech this morning.

"We are currently in the process of reviewing each of the detainee cases at Guantanamo to determine the appropriate policy for dealing with them. As we do so, we are acutely aware that under the last administration, detainees were released only to return to the battlefield. That is why we are doing away with the poorly planned, haphazard approach that let those detainees go in the past. Instead, we are treating these cases with the care and attention that the law requires and our security demands."

Good thinking. In fact, the unstated truth from the NYT story is that the Bush/Cheney administration was truly awful in figuring out what to do with detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and it's another one of the inherited messes Obama is working to clean up.

Steve Benen 1:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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A NOUN, A VERB, AND 9/11.... Now that it's over, Dick Cheney's speech on national security was clearly a mistake. It's been easy for the former vice president to show up on various news programs and attack the president, but today's appearance at a conservative think tank put Cheney in a position in which he had to present an actual vision. He would have been better off repeating talking point to Hannity and Limbaugh.

Note, for example, that Cheney referenced 9/11 25 times. It was enough to make Rudy Giuliani blush.

For that matter, the speech was striking in its lack of anything new or compelling. Even casual political observers probably could have sketched out the framework of the speech in advance, and been pretty close to the actual thing. Looking at counter-terrorism as a law-enforcement matter is a mistake; Obama, Democrats, and the New York Times are putting us at risk; except for all of the spectacular failures, Cheney's approach to national security was effective; torture is good, but releasing torture memos is bad; the rule of law is "an elaborate legal proceeding"; Obama is only worried about impressing Europe; and someday, historians will agree that Bush/Cheney was just terrific.

It's almost as if Cheney just grabbed a couple of copies of the Weekly Standard from January and pasted them together.

One of the concerns that stood out for me, though, was Cheney's frequent references to "euphemisms."

"Behind the overwrought reaction to enhanced interrogations is a broader misconception about the threats that still face our country. You can sense the problem in the emergence of euphemisms that strive to put an imaginary distance between the American people and the terrorist enemy.... In the category of euphemism, the prizewinning entry would be ... It's one thing to adopt the euphemisms that suggest ... "

Since when does Cheney find "euphemisms" so offensive? We are, after all, talking about the leader of an administration that came up with some doozies in the euphemism department.

"Terrorist surveillance program" is euphemism for warrantless wiretaps. "Enhanced interrogation program" is a euphemism for torture. Indeed, the previous administration used euphemisms as the basis for an entire national-security strategy: "war on terror," "weapons of mass destruction," and "mushroom clouds" were standards for quite a while.

Cheney probably thought it would raise his stature to speak after the president on the same subject. The strategy was half-successful -- he got the media to characterize this as some kind of showdown between relative equals. But the other half was a humiliating failure -- Cheney came across as a small, petty man, trying a little too hard to undermine the nation's elected leadership while salvaging some shred of personal credibility.

He failed.

Steve Benen 1:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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By: Hilzoy

Dick Cheney

As I was walking up the stair
I met a man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today.
I wish, I wish he'd stay away.

-- Hughes Mearns

Hilzoy 12:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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OBAMA MAKES THE CASE ON GITMO.... The Senate has been reluctant to follow President Obama's lead on closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. I'm assuming lawmakers were paying attention to the president's speech today.

"There is ... no question that Guantanamo set back the moral authority that is America's strongest currency in the world. Instead of building a durable framework for the struggle against al Qaeda that drew upon our deeply held values and traditions, our government was defending positions that undermined the rule of law. Indeed, part of the rationale for establishing Guantanamo in the first place was the misplaced notion that a prison there would be beyond the law -- a proposition that the Supreme Court soundly rejected. Meanwhile, instead of serving as a tool to counter-terrorism, Guantanamo became a symbol that helped al Qaeda recruit terrorists to its cause. Indeed, the existence of Guantanamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.

"So the record is clear: rather than keep us safer, the prison at Guantanamo has weakened American national security. It is a rallying cry for our enemies. It sets back the willingness of our allies to work with us in fighting an enemy that operates in scores of countries. By any measure, the costs of keeping it open far exceed the complications involved in closing it. That is why I argued that it should be closed throughout my campaign. And that is why I ordered it closed within one year."

Of course, that's the easiest part of the case to make.

Obama noted that this system that he's trying to clean up is a nightmare that he inherited, not one he created: "We are cleaning up something that is -- quite simply -- a mess; a misguided experiment that has left in its wake a flood of legal challenges that my Administration is forced to deal with on a constant -- almost daily -- basis, and that consumes the time of government officials whose time should be spent on better protecting our country." He added that the debate over what to do with detainees isn't the byproduct of his decision to close the facility -- it would have been necessary anyway, given court rulings under Bush.

The president went on to note the political dynamic: "Listening to the recent debate, I've heard words that are calculated to scare people rather than educate them; words that have more to do with politics than protecting our country."

Republicans, I think he's talking to you.

Obama also took the most common of conservative talking points.

"[W]e are not going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security, nor will we release detainees within the United States who endanger the American people. Where demanded by justice and national security, we will seek to transfer some detainees to the same type of facilities in which we hold all manner of dangerous and violent criminals within our borders -- highly secure prisons that ensure the public safety. As we make these decisions, bear in mind the following fact: nobody has ever escaped from one of our federal 'supermax' prisons, which hold hundreds of convicted terrorists. As Senator Lindsey Graham said: 'The idea that we cannot find a place to securely house 250-plus detainees within the United States is not rational.'"

So, what happens next? Obama said there will be five groups. The first includes trying those who've have violated American criminal laws in American federal courts, something we've already done with success before. The second group will be those who've "violated the laws of war and are best tried through Military Commissions." The president said his improved legal framework will add legitimacy to the process and keep in line with the rule of, though it's clearly a debatable point. The third group is made up of people who'll be released in response to court orders. The fourth will be sent overseas.

And then there's a fifth group who "cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people," which includes those who've received training at al Qaeda training camps. Obama said, "We must have clear, defensible and lawful standards for those who fall in this category. We must have fair procedures so that we don't make mistakes. We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified."

He was a little vague on the details. I'm not surprised -- Obama was describing a system of indefinite detention without charges. He added that his administration would submit such a system to checks and balances, and "will work with Congress to develop an appropriate legal regime so that our efforts are consistent with our values and our Constitution."

Good luck with that.

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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THURSDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Joe Biden used the DNC's Organizing for America email list to promote Arlen Specter this morning. "Three weeks ago," the vice president wrote, "my friend Senator Arlen Specter added one more feat to his long and impressive career -- he became a Democrat."

* How can Norm Coleman afford to keep paying his legal bills? A party official told CNN yesterday that the National Republican Senatorial Committee has chipped in $750,000 to help the former senator keep his legal fights going.

* Terry McAuliffe still looks to be leading the pack in Virginia's gubernatorial Democratic primary. A new poll from SurveyUSA shows McAuliffe out in front with 37% support, followed by Creigh Deeds at 26%, and Brian Moran at 22%.

* In Utah, state Attorney General Mark Shurtleff (R) launched a primary challenge yesterday against Sen. Bob Bennett (R), taking on the incumbent from the far-right.

* It looked like Sen. David Vitter (R) might avoid a primary challenge next year, but Republican Suzanne Haik Terrell, who narrowly lost to Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) in 2002, is reportedly eyeing the race.

* The White House has helped Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) by convincing some potential Democratic challengers to skip the race, but Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) conceded yesterday that he's considering taking Gillibrand on anyway.

* And Chris Kennedy, one of Robert F. Kennedy's sons, is poised to launch a Senate campaign in Illinois. Kennedy is a Chicago-area businessman who has not previously held elected office.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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THE OTHER SIDE OF NIMBY.... The conventional wisdom on bringing Gitmo detainees to U.S. soil isn't quite right.

During the May 20 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, NBC News correspondent Savannah Guthrie falsely claimed of detainees held at the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba: "No congressman wants these detainees in their district."

One of the more interesting developments of the past several days is seeing how untrue this is. Media Matters noted that Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), for example, has offered use of the Albert V. Bryan U.S. Courthouse and Detention Center in Alexandria, Virginia. Likewise, Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Pa.) said if the government wants to built a maximum security prison in his district, he'd be happy to have detainees sent to his area.

Yesterday, Carl Levin (D-Mich.) extended a similar offer, suggesting the construction of a new maximum-security in Michigan would help his state. (Former Michigan Gov. John Engler (R) raised the specter of a "Guantanamo North" in the U.P.)

What's more, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told reporters yesterday, "Yes, we have maximum security prisons in California eminently capable of holding these people as well, and from which people -- trust me -- do not escape."

And then there's the town of Hardin, Montana, where the city council voted unanimously to tell federal officials that they'd take the detainees no one else wants.

In this case, the NIMBY problem is clearly not universal.

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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WELL, IF MAGNETO CAN DO IT.... Glenn Greenwald noted yesterday how much success the U.S. has had in locking up terrorists on U.S. soil.

What are all the bad and scary things that have happened as a result? The answer is: "nothing." Take note, Chris Cillizza and friends: while it's true that "not a single prisoner has escaped from Gitmo since it was created," it's also true that no Muslim Terrorists have escaped from American prisons and our SuperMax prison "has had no escapes or serious attempts to escape." Actually, the only person to even make an escape attempt from a SuperMax is Green Arrow, who hasn't succeeded despite the help of Joker and Lex Luthor.

I really want to know: when our nation's stalwart right-wing warriors (along with Harry "Fighting the Good Fight" Reid) become petrified at the thought of keeping Muslim Terrorists in our prisons, what exactly do they fantasize will happen? What bad things specifically do they fear are going to occur?

I know Glenn was kidding with the Green Arrow reference, but it speaks to an underlying truth: the right really seems to believe that suspected terrorists -- many of whom are nuts who've lived in caves -- have some kind of superpowers. They seem to think, "I saw 'X-Men 2,' and if maximum security wasn't good enough to hold Magneto, maybe it won't be enough for KSM, either!"

(Update: Adam Serwer was all over this yesterday: "Greenwald clearly doesn't remember the Magneto incident of 2003, in which the mutant supervillain escaped from his glass prison facility after Mystique increased the iron content in his guard's blood, which Magneto extracted using his ferrokinetic powers and then used to destroy his cell. Obviously, we need to discover if Gitmo inmates do have mutant abilities, which will undoubtedly require more waterboarding, and this has to be done before the administration gets a dime to close Guantanamo. In fact, I'm pretty sure Nancy Pelosi was briefed on the subject in 2002.")

It's why that Fox News report Glenn cited was actually pretty helpful. Noting information from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the report offered some details on the supermax facility in Florence, Colorado, which holds, among others, Zacarias Moussaoui. And as Glenn noted, the grand total of escapes from this penitentiary is zero. The grand total of attempted escapes is zero.

Until we start locking up supervillains with superpowers, these facilities and the personnel who work there will do just fine in keeping us safe.

Something to keep in mind as the "debate" continues over the possibility of bringing Gitmo detainees to American soil.

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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THWARTED TERROR PLOT IN NYC.... Following up on an overnight item, reports this morning suggest the suspected domestic terrorists arrested in New York last night weren't especially close to executing the plot, but it's nevertheless a heartening success story on U.S. counter-terrorism efforts.

The FBI and NYPD busted a four-man homegrown terror cell Wednesday night that was plotting to blow up two Bronx synagogues while simultaneously shooting a plane out of the sky, sources told the Daily News.

The idea was to create a "fireball that would make the country gasp," one law enforcement said.

Little did they know the plastic explosives packed into their car bombs and the plane-downing Stinger missile in their backseat were all phony -- supplied by undercover agents posing as Pakistani militants linked to Al Qaeda.

The plan was hatched by four men -- three Americans and one Haitian immigrant -- most of whom are apparently jailhouse converts to a radical strain of Islam. Their plot included car bombs outside two NYC temples and an attack at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, Orange County, where the would-be terrorists apparently wanted to shoot down a cargo plane headed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Thanks to the efforts on the FBI and the NYPD, these radicals were never able to procure actual weapons. For all the rhetoric from the right about why U.S. officials shouldn't look at counter-terrorism as a law-enforcement/intelligence-gathering matter, success stories like this one help prove otherwise.

It's also worth remembering what prompted the year-long investigation in the first place: "[A]n informant connected to a mosque in Newburgh said he knew men who wanted to buy explosives."

The more Muslim Americans feel comfortable reaching out to law enforcement officials, letting them know about suspicious activities, the better. The more Muslim Americans feel alienated and unduly profiled, the less likely they are to come forward with information like this.

What's more, as Hilzoy noted overnight, the terrorist suspects are being held on U.S. soil, will face charges in U.S. courts, and if convicted, will be locked up in U.S. prisons. I look forward to lawmakers -- apparently from both parties -- explaining to us why this is a bad thing.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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BRODER BEING BRODER.... The basic gist of David Broder's new column is that President Obama may have angered the left with his decisions on military tribunals, photos of abused detainees, and delaying DADT repeal, but he's really just begun to take "on the mind-set and priorities of a commander in chief."

It's a strange argument. In fact, it's not really an argument at all. Broder didn't weigh in on whether the president's policies are correct; he merely concludes that the president "has learned what it means to be commander in chief." Why? Because Obama has moved away from some of the positions he took during the campaign. It's not exactly a persuasive pitch.

But more troubling is Broder's case that Democratic presidents struggle more with national security issues, in part because "the prevailing ideology of grass-roots Democratic activists has been hostile to American military actions and skeptical of the military itself." If Broder has any evidence to back this up, he chose not to include it. He added:

...Democrats really are isolated from the military. Harry Truman had been an artillery captain; John Kennedy and Carter, Navy officers. But Bill Clinton did everything possible to avoid the draft, and Obama, motivated as he was to public service, never gave a thought to volunteering for the military.

Consider a slightly different take. George W. Bush avoided Vietnam and failed to complete his obligations to the Texas Air National Guard, while Dick Cheney sought and received five deferments. In the House, neither the Minority Leader nor the Minority Whip served in the military. In the Senate, neither the Minority Leader nor the Minority Whip served in the military. Prominent Republican governors eyeing the 2012 presidential race -- Jindal, Sanford, Palin, Romney, Crist -- have no military background. Leading Republican voices outside government -- Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly, Beck -- chose to never wear the uniform.

Does Broder believe Republicans "really are isolated from the military," too?

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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THE RNC AND ITS RESOLUTIONS.... Republican National Committee members invested quite a bit of time and energy recently on a resolution that would beg the Democratic Party to change its name. The more the RNC pushed this, the sillier the party appeared.

Yesterday, the party backed off a little, approving a merely foolish resolution, as compared to a blisteringly foolish resolution.

The Republican National Committee backed away Wednesday from a resolution that officially called Democrats the "Democrat Socialist Party," but instead voted to condemn Democrats for what it called a "march toward socialism."

The voice-vote came after an unusual special meeting of the party that underlined fractures among Republicans on how to deal with President Obama and the Democratic Party. The original resolution was backed by some of the party's more conservative members but was opposed by the party chairman, Michael Steele, as well as other Republican leaders. The opponents said the proposal to impose a new name on the Democrats made the Republican party appear trite and overly partisan, and would prove politically embarrassing. [...]

[W]hile stopping short of officially trying to rename the Democratic Party, the resolution said the Republican National Committee members "recognize that the Democratic Party is dedicated to restructuring American society along socialist ideals."

In other words, this isn't really a win for "moderation" at the RNC.

Indeed, the time invested in this "debate" among committee members only helped magnify the party's difficulties. Given all of the problems Republicans are facing, who thought it would be a good idea for prolonged debate about urging the majority party to name itself the "Democrat Socialist Party"? Is that really the best use of the RNC's time right now?

As Josh Marshall noted the other day, "I haven't seen a nugget that so perfectly typifies the current GOP's mix of ideological obscurantism and dingbat sloganeering as this."

In 2005, after Democrats saw Republicans take control of the White House, Senate, and House by wide margins, Howard Dean took control of the DNC and put a 50-state strategy in place. Four years later, Republicans saw Dems take control over the same institutions, and began a lengthy debate over use of the phrase "Democrat Socialist Party."

Nothing says "comeback" quite like a pointless argument over a name-calling resolution that wouldn't accomplish anything.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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THE MEDIA LOVES ITS (MANUFACTURED) SHOWDOWNS.... Dick Cheney, as you may have heard, will give a speech this morning about how great his approach to national security was and is. If you're interested in watching, don't worry, you'll have plenty of chances to see it.

Looks like Dick Cheney's big national security speech at the American Enterprise Institute ... is going to get wall-to-wall cable coverage -- giving a major assist to those who hope that his speech will be seen as "dueling" with the one that Obama is planning to give on the same topic tomorrow.

Both CNN and MSNBC will be carrying Cheney's speech live tomorrow, in addition to carrying Obama's, spokespeople for both networks confirm to me, barring the intrusion of some major news event.

I haven't seen official word from Fox News about its plans, but I'm going to assume the network will air the speech live, just as soon as its reporters finish feeding Cheney grapes while he lounges in the AEI green-room.

Because President Obama will be delivering an important speech on national security policy this morning -- not to be confused with Cheney's efforts -- news outlets are excited about the notion of a "duel" or a "boxing match" between the two. CNN's Wolf Blitzer sees today as a confrontation between two powerful opposing forces.

This is no doubt exactly the frame Republicans are desperate to see the media embrace, but that doesn't change the fact that it's terribly misguided. As Katia Bachko explained very well yesterday, "[I]t's completely unreasonable to frame these two speeches as an actual debate between two equals. We have a democratically elected president, and an unpopular former politician who are not directly engaging with one another. The question of national security is too important to sidestep in favor of a falsely construed schoolyard fight between a bully and the class president. What's more, to set up these speeches as a contest presupposes that there might be an actual winner. But this sort of shallow, politics-as-a-game coverage only makes losers -- of the press and of the public."

The president's speech begins at 10 a.m. (eastern), to be delivered at the National Archives. Cheney's think-tank speech is scheduled to begin 45 minutes later, though if Obama goes long, I suspect the former vice president will delay his remarks for maximum media impact.

Post Script: Some emailers noted yesterday that Al Gore, had he delivered a major speech early on in the Bush/Cheney presidency, might have received similar media attention. It's hard to say for sure, since Gore bit his tongue for two years, as is consistent with the historical norms.

But I'd add, for the record, that Gore delivered some extraordinary speeches early in 2004 -- one at an event sponsored by MoveOn, the other at the New School in New York. Neither was covered live by the cable networks.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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By: Hilzoy

We're Doomed!

From the New York Times:

"Four men from upstate New York were arrested Wednesday night in what the authorities said was a plot to bomb two synagogues in the Bronx and shoot down military planes at Stewart Air National Guard base in Newburgh, N.Y.

The men were arrested around 9 p.m. after planting what they believed to be bombs in cars outside the Riverdale Temple and the nearby Riverdale Jewish Center, officials said. But the men did not know the bombs, provided by an informant with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, were fake.

The arrests capped what officials described as a "painstaking investigation" that began in June 2008 involving an F.B.I. agent who had been told of the men's desire to attack targets in America by a federal informant. As part of the plot, the men intended to fire guided stinger missiles at military aircraft at Stewart International Airport, officials said."

This raises the difficult question: what should we do with these would-be terrorists while they await trial? And if they are convicted, what then? I assume that if it's too dangerous to move people at Guantanamo to the United States, it must be much too dangerous to allow these jihadists to run loose in our prisons. After all, they might provide financing for other jihadists from their supermax cells, or radicalize other prisoners, or use special Terrorist Mind Control Techniques to create a whole army of brainwashed convicts under their complete control.

I'd suggest killing them, cutting them into pieces, and shipping their parts to parts unknown immediately (trials? who can afford trials under these circumstances?), if I weren't afraid that some hitherto unknown al Qaeda trick might allow their reanimated body parts to slither around in search of one another and, eventually, reconstitute themselves as the Islamofascist Undead. Earlier, I thought we should send prisoners into space, but that was before I realized that that would allow them to join forces with the Klingons.

In fact, I can't think of a single thing to do that would not make matters worse.

We're doomed.

Hilzoy 12:38 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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May 20, 2009

WEDNESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* The credit card bill is on its way to the president's desk.

* As expected, the Senate voted to deny funding, for now, to shut down Gitmo. The final vote was 90 to 6.

* Bloodshed in Baghdad: "A car bomb exploded Wednesday near several restaurants in a Shiite neighborhood of northwest Baghdad, killing 41 people and injuring more than 70, police and hospital officials said."

* Ahmadinejad announced this morning that "Iran had test-fired an upgraded surface-to-surface missile with a range of about 1,200 miles, according to the IRNA news agency."

* Nice to see Arlen Specter acknowledge publicly today, "The CIA has a very bad record when it comes to -- I was about to say candid, that's too mild -- to honesty."

* In a disappointing setback, marriage equality fell short in the New Hampshire state House today.

* Are Afghan security forces helping arm Afghan insurgents? It sure looks like it.

* On a related note, international aid to Afghanistan is made more difficult by systemic corruption.

* The creation of a Financial Markets Commission isn't getting the attention it deserves.

* Nice to see the estimable Ilan Goldenberg get a key job in the Obama administration.

* California's finances are a complete mess.

* Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) starts to play some hardball on an EFCA compromise.

* Gingrich said last night, "No one has suggested -- no one, even the most bitter partisan, has suggested -- that enhanced interrogation should be used on Nancy Pelosi." That's completely untrue.

* No one can take a stand for "traditional marriage" like Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons (R).

* I like the idea of "jerrytaylor" becoming a verb.

* Sign of the times: Lawrence Roberts, investigations editor at the Washington Post, is headed for the Huffington Post.

* Impressive: "America's poor donate more, in percentage terms, than higher-income groups do, surveys of charitable giving show."

* The Heritage Foundation fact-checked a Media Matters fact-check. In response, Media Matters fact-checked the Heritage fact-check.

* And finally, Bill O'Reilly told viewers last night, "I consider myself a middle-class guy." Bill O'Reilly makes about $10 million a year.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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KEEPING THE DANCE GOING.... Digby had a nice summary of the annoying, ongoing "controversy" surrounding Speaker Pelosi: "Uhm, everyone recognizes that this Pelosi flap is a manufactured hissy fit, right? The point is to make the whole discussion of torture politically radioactive for Democrats in the same way that questioning the surge became radioactive after Betrayus. It's a classic political kabuki designed to twist the Democrats into pretzels."

That's clearly true, and just as importantly, Republicans have figured out how to keep the hysteria going, with new attacks every day, which immediately get amplified by reporters enjoying the "story" about Pelosi questioning the veracity of the CIA.

Today, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), for example, said the Speaker has committed "a terrible slander against the leading intelligence service in the U.S at a time when we're fighting two wars," which in turn "makes it impossible for her to function." Newt Gingrich said Pelosi has shown "contempt for the men and women who protect our nation," and added that the Speaker's comments have increased the risk of a terrorist attack against the United States. (He seemed to be serious.)

Michael Gerson is on message, as is Rudy Giuliani. Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) said today that Pelosi has launched a "massive attack on our intelligence community," and added that it's "outrageous" for the Speaker to "call our terror-fighters liars."

Now, I can't read their minds, obviously, but I suspect most of these hacks realize what they're saying is ridiculous, but have received instructions from the party and are doing their duty to attack the Speaker, whether it makes sense or not.

One of these days, though, it might occur to them, and the reporters keeping the story alive, that questions from lawmakers about the intelligence agencies' honesty aren't terribly unusual -- and plenty of Republicans have made remarks similar to Pelosi.

Steve M., for example, notes that in 2003, David Frum and Richard Perle wrote a book that argued:

... because the CIA, like all intelligence organizations, deals in lies, it all too easily crosses the line between lying abroad to protect the nation and lying at home to protect itself.

But this extends to the Hill, too. Rep. Peter Hoekstra, the leading Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, has not only accused the CIA of "lying," he's even initiated a congressional investigation into allegations that the CIA misled Congress about a 2001 incident in Peru.

Zachary Roth brought it all together this afternoon.

We really shouldn't have to do this. As we've said before, the idea that it's some kind of outlandish and unconscionable slur to point out that the CIA -- the CIA, for chrissakes! -- can sometimes be economical with the truth is absurd on its face. But the Republican attacks on Nancy Pelosi for daring to make that claim just keep coming, so it looks like we're going to have to point this out:

Shocking as it sounds, the GOP hasn't always been so sensitive about harsh criticism of the CIA -- including leveling the charge that the CIA is being deliberately deceptive -- when it's served the party's political interest.

Based on the palaver we've been hearing from Republicans lately, leaders of their own party have spent recent years "slandering" intelligence officials, showing "contempt" for the CIA, "attacking" the intelligence community, and increasing the risk of a domestic terrorist attack.

I know the GOP has perfected the art of manufactured hissy fits, but this one is unusually foolish.

Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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QUOTE OF THE DAY.... I just loved this.

"No good purpose is served by allowing known terrorists, who trained at terrorist training camps, to come to the U.S. and live among us," said Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the senior Republican on the [House Judiciary Committee]. "Guantanamo Bay was never meant to be an Ellis Island."

Lamar Smith was so proud of this quote, it's the lead "story" on his House website this afternoon.

Over the past couple of weeks, Republicans have generally played fast and loose with the language, so as to not blatantly lie. They'll say, for example, that terrorists might "come to our communities," which might be technically true if you found a neighborhood within 100 miles of a supermax detention facility and defined it as a "community."

But Smith went the extra mile today, and warned of having terrorists "living among us," as if the Obama administration might just have al Qaeda members going to the movies, heading to the malls, and perusing the aisles of your local supermarket. Indeed, he compares the situation to immigration, as if we're welcoming huddled masses from Gitmo, yearning to breathe free, with open arms.

On a more serious note, Smith made the silly remarks during a hearing with FBI Director Robert Mueller, who, surprisingly enough, agreed that there may be some security concerns associated with bringing prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to U.S. soil, even if they're locked up in maximum-security prisons.

Specifically, Mueller raised the specter of terrorists of "radicalizing others." Presumably, the fear is, an al Qaeda member could start chatting up a serial killer, and then the terrorist's radical ideology might spread.

Now, I'll concede that I'm unfamiliar with the inner workings of a maximum-security detention facility. There may be practical difficulties in keeping specific prisoners isolated indefinitely.

But I'd like to hear more about this, because at first blush, the concern seems pretty unpersuasive. We're talking about the worst of the worst -- the kind of criminals who aren't going to get let out. Whether Khalid Sheikh Mohammed tries to chat up Timothy McVeigh* seems largely irrelevant -- neither of them are ever going to be released or get out on parole.

For that matter, at the risk of beating a dead horse, we already have Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, Ramzi Yousef, Zacarias Moussaoui, and Richard Reid locked up on U.S. soil. Are we concerned with them potentially "radicalizing others"? By this logic, isn't it dangerous to have any prisoners in U.S. facilities who might harbor a radical ideology?

* Update: Yes, McVeigh was executed several years ago. My point wasn't really about McVeigh, per se, but about the possibility of Foreign Bad Guy A corrupting Domestic Bad Guy B. The example wasn't meant to be literal -- I don't think Khalid Sheikh Mohammed speaks enough English to chat up Americans anyway.

Steve Benen 3:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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KATRINA AND THE PUBLIC OPTION.... Congressional Republicans went after the public option in the Democratic health care plan with some of the rhetoric we heard during the presidential campaign:

"The federal government would run a health care system -- or a public plan option -- with the compassion of the IRS, the efficiency of the post office, and the incompetence of Katrina."

That's a cute little phrase, and I'm sure we'll be hearing it again and again in the coming months. That said, is it me, or is it strange to hear Republicans use the government response to Katrina as the quintessential example of incompetence? Isn't that the Democrats' line?

What's more, as Brian Beutler notes, the substance of the argument doesn't stand up well to scrutiny: "[T]he government fully runs one health care system -- the Veterans Health Administration -- and it's considered to be just about the best system in the country."

Quite right. In fact, the GOP talking point is as much an argument against the federal government doing literally anything as it is against a public option. (Look at the sentence again and replace "run a health care system" with "protect Americans' national security interests" to see how lazy this thinking is.)

For that matter, Republicans have learned the wrong lessons in response to the Katrina fiasco. The 2005 breakdown wasn't the result of flawed reliance on government support, it was the result of incompetent government. FEMA used to be extremely well run and fully capable of helping areas in need of disaster assistance. To hear the GOP tell it, government can't respond to a hurricane, so it certainly can't bring access to quality healthcare to Americans. In reality, it can do both with competent leadership in positions of authority.

The entire approach to attacking the public option is misguided. Matt Yglesias had a good piece on this yesterday.

The proposals currently before Congress would not, of course, create a government-run health care system. There is, however, a proposal to create a health care system that would include a widely available public health insurance option. The point of this would be to try and see if private industry actually can do better than a government-run insurance plan. After all, if the public option offered rationing and low-quality care, why would anyone sign up for it? Nobody would. That kind of low-quality public option would give private insurance nothing to fear. But what they really fear isn't that a public option would be bad, it's that it would be good -- putting effective cost-controls in place without compromising patient care, thus threatening private industry's business model.

That, however, is one of the best ways at our disposal to make health reform really work. A public option that strives to achieve public goals -- quality care at an affordable price -- will challenge private industry to do a better job. Then competition between plans will drive improvements in quality and efficiency. Without a public option, the risk is that private plans will compete by trying to screen out sick patients. That's a viable root to private sector profits, but it does nothing to improve quality or control costs.


Steve Benen 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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By: Hilzoy

We Dodged A Bullet!

From CNN:

"A top Mexican drug cartel suspect has been arrested along with 12 accomplices, including five women, federal authorities said. (...)

Rodolfo Lopez Ibarra, known as El Nito and believed to be a top lieutenant in the Beltran Leyva cartel, was arrested Monday at an airport in Nuevo Leon state, said the Mexican National Defense secretary.

Along with the suspects, officials said they also confiscated a Cessna 550 airplane, two cars, a large quantity of drugs and cash, firearms and a hand grenade. (...)

The Beltran Leyva cartel is one of the top drug organizations in Mexico, allied with the Gulf cartel in its battle against the Sinaloa organized crime syndicate. The Beltran Leyva group was formerly allied with the Sinaloa cartel, considered the largest drug-trafficking organization in the nation. The two other major drug organizations in Mexico are the Juarez and Tijuana cartels."

I am so, so very relieved that we didn't arrest Mr. Lopez Ibarra here in this country. Unlike Mexico, we do not have secure facilities here in the United States. We do have "prisons", but they are just a charade designed to lull unsuspecting citizens into complacency. In fact, all of our prisons were eliminated years ago as a result of Republican budget cuts. When Ebenezer Scrooge asked "Are there no prisons?", he was thinking of us.

I have it on good authority that the leaders of the Cali Cartel slip out for eight hours every day to pursue their boyhood dreams of working at Applebee's. Ramzi Yousuf rearranges his body into a highly diffuse gas, slithers between the molecules of his cell walls, and floats about in the sky above his supermax facility in Florence Colorado. The Blind Sheikh manages to bend steel bars through the sheer force of his faith, leaps through the opening onto a winged white horse, and he is taken to paradise, where, much to his disappointment, he is given bunches of grapes.

And he's blind! Just think what an actual drug kingpin could do, with all five senses intact and an army of henchmen at his back waiting to terrify the local citizenry. Thank God he was captured by a country that actually has secure prisons in which he can be safely locked away. The damage he might have wrought from the "confines" of a supermax "prison" in this country is too dreadful to contemplate.

Hilzoy 2:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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DIANE WOOD'S TRAVEL PLANS.... We haven't had any good scuttlebutt on possible Supreme Court nominees in a while. In fact, as searches go, this one has been pretty quiet and seen few, if any, leaks.

It's what made this report from ABC's Jan Crawford Greenburg pretty interesting.

Federal Appeals Court Judge Diane Wood, one of the leading contenders to replace David Souter, is in Washington today. The highly regarded Wood is here, ostensibly, to attend a legal conference at Georgetown. But the timing is curious, and here's why.

According to a student, she didn't teach her first-year civil procedure class at the University of Chicago Law School yesterday afternoon and provided no advance notice or explanation. That's apparently because she was flying to DC -- to attend the long-scheduled judicial conference, even though she is not on the program as a panelist or participant. [...]

[Wood] is among the top three prospects Obama is considering, along with Judge Sonia Sotomayor and Solicitor General Elena Kagan, sources tell me.... [O]f the three, Wood comes closest to meeting the criteria he has laid out in a justice. She could be his home run pick: She brings the intellectual heft and collegiality that would command respect on the Supreme Court, along with the life experiences that Obama has indicated he wants in his nominee. What's more, Obama knows her. They both taught at the University of Chicago Law School.

The Washington Post added that President Obama has "already sat down with" Wood, as part of the review of Supreme Court candidates.

For more on Wood and what she'd bring to the high court, Jeffrey Rosen has a good piece on her today.

Steve Benen 1:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

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STRONG SUPPORT FOR ROE RULING.... A couple of polls last week on abortion rights surprised much of the political world, especially an odd Gallup poll showing "pro-life" surging past "pro-choice" -- by a healthy margin -- for the first time in recent history.

The polls had a few flaws. Ron Chusid points out a new CNN poll that asked the abortion question in a more salient, and politically relevant, way.

The 1973 Roe versus Wade decision established a woman's constitutional right to an abortion, at least in the first three months of pregnancy. Would you like to see the Supreme Court completely overturn its Roe versus Wade decision, or not?

30% Yes, overturn
68% No, not overturn

Now, I realize the obvious danger of dismissing poll results I don't like as "outliers" and embracing poll results I do like as "reliable." That said, these new results from CNN certainly seem more in line with expectations and other Roe-related polls in recent years.

While it's interesting that "pro-life" numbers have improved, at least in some surveys, there are inherent ambiguities. Many, for example, might say they're personally "pro-life," but don't want to see the government mandate their beliefs on everyone else.

It's more important, then, to see that Americans strongly prefer to see the Roe precedent remain in place.

Steve Benen 1:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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MAYBE DURBIN READS POLITICAL ANIMAL.... Yesterday, I argued that if congressional Democrats were smart, they'd turn the Guantanamo Bay issue around and go on the offensive. They might even try to look at this the way Republicans would.

If the situations were reversed, and Dems resisted a Bush plan to bring Gitmo detainees onto U.S. soil, I suggested this would be the talking point: "If Democrats have proof that the nation's prisons are incapable of housing 241 suspected bad guys, or have evidence that these guards who protect us from the bad guys are untrustworthy, they should offer it. Otherwise, they should apologize to the wardens, guards, and security teams, who do important work day in and day out, and who've just been insulted."

A few hours later, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) was on the Senate floor, responding to Sen. Robert Bennett's (R-Utah) argument that U.S. prison guards would "have no idea what they're getting into" if Guantanamo detainees were held in U.S. prisons. Durbin responded:

"Some of my Republican colleagues argue that Guantanamo is the only appropriate place to hold the detainees and they said, and I quote, 'We don't have a facility that could handle this in the United States,' end of quote. And American prison guards, they went on to say, quote, 'have no idea what they're getting into,' close quote.

"Well, I would just say to my colleagues who made those statements, you ought to take a look at some of our security facilities in the United States, and you ought to have a little more respect for the men and women who are corrections officers and put their lives on the line every single day to keep us safe and to make sure that those who are dangerous are detained and incarcerated. The reality is that we're holding some of the most dangerous terrorists in the world right now in our federal prisons, including the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the shoe bomber, the Unibomber, and many others." [emphasis added]

See? Was that so hard?

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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WEDNESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* The efforts of far-right bloggers to derail Charlie Crist's Senate campaign in Florida are off to a rough start. A Mason-Dixon poll shows Crist leading his GOP primary opponent, former state House Speaker Marco Rubio, 53% to 18%. The same poll shows the governor with huge leads over his likely Democratic opponents, though neither are well known statewide.

* It seems the two Republican senators from Kentucky really do hate each other. Yesterday, Sen. Jim Bunning (R) told reporters, "If Mitch McConnell doesn't endorse me that may be the best thing that could happen to me in Kentucky."

* As Norm Coleman continues to drag out his election defeat, the fiasco is taking its toll on Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), whose approval rating is down to just 44%.

* On a related note, a lobbyist who heads up a fundraising group for Coleman said this morning, "Is [the Senate seat] better empty than in Franken's hands? Hell, yeah."

* Judy Chu, vice-chairwoman of the California's Board of Equalization, appears to have won the special election yesterday to replace former Rep. Hilda Solis (D), who has joined the Obama administration.

* In New Jersey, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Gov. Jon Corzine (D) continuing to trail former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie (R), 45% to 38%. The same poll shows Christie pulling away from his GOP primary opponent, former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan. Last month, Christie led Lonegan by nine; this month, it's 56% to 33%.

* It's early, but Rep. Artur Davis' (D) gubernatorial campaign in Alabama is off to a promising start.

* And Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's (D-N.Y.) potential primary opponents are quickly disappearing. Yesterday, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who had already formed an exploratory committee, ended his bid, citing President Obama's stated preference.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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STRUGGLING WITH SERIOUSNESS.... The Washington Times, a project of cult leader Sun Myung Moon, wants to be considered a real newspaper. It's candid about its conservative bias, but nevertheless believes it has something to contribute to the discourse. It even hires conservatives away from real news publications -- the Times is run by a conservative reporter who used to work at the Washington Post -- as part of its bid for credibility.

It's going to have to try a lot harder. David Weigel has a good catch this morning.

Kerry Picket of The Washington Times trekked to Baltimore to hear former Weatherman Bill Ayers speak yesterday and sparked an exchange that the paper is teasing on its op-ed page with a lot of huffing about Ayers's terrorist past ("His radicalism and chosen profession bring to mind Oscar Wilde's quip that, 'Everybody who is incapable of learning has taken to teaching.'"). Curiously, the paper doesn't mention what Picket actually asked Ayers about -- the conspiracy theory that he ghost-wrote President Obama's first book, "Dreams From My Father."

The Times' "reporter" suggested to Ayers that the former Weatherman "may have had a collaboration with "Dreams of [sic] My Father." When Ayers said that never happened, Picket asked again anyway.

The very idea that Ayers had some role in writing the president's first book has always been a bizarre conspiracy theory, peddled by unhinged right-wing activists during the presidential campaign.

And yet, there was the Washington Times, even now, hoping to probe the matter further.

The conservative paper has never really been perceived as a credible outlet, but the past few weeks have been especially painful. It published pictures of the president's daughters alongside a story about youth homicides; it's gotten key details wrong about Speaker Pelosi and the CIA; it's wrenched quotes from context to go after the president; it was even forced to issue a retraction of a factually-challenged editorial that hoped to prove how "unpopular" Obama is.

Perhaps the Times should just give up on the whole idea of being taken seriously?

Steve Benen 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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TALK ABOUT HOT AIR.... If you missed it, Ali Frick had a great item yesterday on Rep. Joe Barton's (R-Exxon) appearance on C-SPAN to discuss global warming. Barton, one of Congress' most ardent pollution supporters, turned in a performance that was a classic for the genre.

It's worth watching in full, but there were a couple of head-shaking quotes that stood out. Barton argued, for example, that carbon dioxide can't be a pollutant. "I am creating it as I talk to you," he said. "It's in your Coca-Cola, you're Dr. Pepper, your Perrier water. It is necessary for human life. It is odorless, colorless, tasteless, does not cause cancer, does not cause asthma."

He added, "[S]omething that the Democrat [sic] sponsors do not point out, a lot of the CO2 that is created in the United States is naturally created. You can't regulate God. Not even the Democratic majority in the U.S. Congress can regulate God."

Now, this isn't just about pointing and laughing at the fool. I'm bringing this up for two reasons.

First, Barton is not just some random right-wing blogger; he's not even just some random backbencher on the Hill. Republicans have made Barton the go-to guy on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, taking the lead on climate change policy for the House GOP caucus. It speaks volumes about the party's interest in global warming.

And second, this talk about small amounts of carbon dioxide is increasingly common in conservative circles, so it's probably worth noting how very silly it is. EPA regulations, as Kate Sheppard recently noted, are targeting "major industrial sources emitting at least 25,000 metric tons of carbon per year, as well as the transportation sector."

It's not about individuals speaking, or soft drinks, or "regulating God."

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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THERE'S NO COMPARISON.... Tomorrow will feature two speeches on national security, one of which will matter. This piece, from the Politico's Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, frames the two speeches in an unhelpful way.

President Barack Obama will attempt to regain control of a boiling debate over anti-terrorism policy with a major speech on Thursday -- an address that comes on the same day that former Vice President Dick Cheney will be weighing in with his own speech on the same theme.

The dueling speeches amount to the most direct engagement so far between Obama and his conservative critics in the volatile argument over what tactics are justified in detaining and interrogating suspected enemy combatants.

Look, there is no "duel." Setting these addresses up as some kind of book-end speeches is silly.

President Obama is the Commander in Chief in a time of two wars. He'll be delivering a lengthy speech about U.S. national security, his recent decisions on matters like Gitmo and military commissions, and where U.S. policy is headed.

Dick Cheney used to hold office, but he's now a cranky private citizen, who's taken it upon himself to undermine the current administration. He'll be speaking at a think tank about how right he thinks he was, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, and why he'd like to see the White House's decisions fall in line with his own.

One of these speeches is consequential. The other will be delivered by Dick Cheney. He may have been vice president, but compared to Obama's address tomorrow, Cheney's thoughts on national security are about as relevant as my thoughts on the issue.

Update: Mark Halperin loves this "Obama vs. Cheney" dynamic, doing two items on this, characterizing the speeches as some kind of boxing match between competitive heavyweights. Sigh.

Steve Benen 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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A LEADER WHO WON'T LEAD.... Hilzoy mentioned this overnight, but the more I think about it, the more I bang my head against my desk.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), responding to questions about the Senate's reluctance to fund the shutdown of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, told reporters yesterday, "We will never allow terrorists to be released into the United States.... We don't want them around the United States." It led to this painful exchange.

REID: I'm saying that the United States Senate, Democrats and Republicans, do not want terrorists to be released in the United States. That's very clear.

QUESTION: No one's talking about releasing them. We're talking about putting them in prison somewhere in the United States.

REID: Can't put them in prison unless you release them.

QUESTION: Sir, are you going to clarify that a little bit? ...

REID: I can't make it any more clear than the statement I have given to you. We will never allow terrorists to be released in the United States.

"Can't put them in prison unless you release them"? What does that even mean? Isn't locking someone up the opposite of releasing them?

At this point, the only difference between Reid's ridiculous remarks and those of Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) is that Reid is smart enough to know and acknowledge reality. Otherwise, the arguments are identical. In this sense, the Majority Leader's nonsense is considerably worse, and far more insulting.

To be sure, there was a reasonable argument for Senate skeptics to make here. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said the administration should have requested the money with a more specific plan for transferring Gitmo detainees. "The feeling was at this point we were defending the unknown. We were being asked to defend a plan that hasn't been announced," Durbin said. "And the administration said, 'Understood. Give us time to put together that plan and we'll come to you in the next appropriations bill.'" Indeed, Robert Gibbs said yesterday that the lawmakers' move was not unreasonable.

But what Reid said -- repeating transparently wrong right-wing talking points -- was far different. That he repeated this nonsense the same day as a poll showed him struggling with voters in his home state is probably not a coincidence.

This isn't complicated. Reid is the leader of a Senate in which the minority party only has 40 votes. And yet, Reid isn't leading very well.

President Obama has asked Reid and his colleagues to shoulder a heavy burden, and work with the White House on some pretty monumental tasks. Is Reid ready to step up or not?

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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GO, SPEED READER, GO.... Conservative Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have threatened to do everything imaginable, and perhaps a few measures beyond imaginable, to delay progress on a Democratic climate-change bill. Most notably, Rep. Joe Barton (R) of Texas, arguably Congress' most enthusiastic fan of pollution, has raised the specter of forcing the committee to consider several hundred proposed amendments, all of which will fail, and all of which would be introduced solely to slow down the process.

To their credit, the committee's majority came up with a clever idea.

Democrats in the House Energy and Commerce Committee have taken a novel step to head off Republican efforts to slow action this week on a sweeping climate bill: Hiring a speed reader.

Committee Republicans, who largely oppose the measure, have said they may force the reading of the entire 946-page bill, as well as major amendments totaling several hundred pages. So far, Republicans have decided not to use the procedural maneuver, but Chairman Henry Waxman of California is prepared. [...]

A committee spokeswoman said the young man, who's doing door duty at the hearing as he awaits his possible call to the microphone, was hired to help career staff. After years of practice, the panel's clerks can certainly read rapidly, but she says the speed reader is a lot faster.

"A lot" is key here. Those of you who know me personally know that I tend to speak pretty quickly. But I'm a rank amateur compared to this guy, who speed reads professionally.

The new "staff assistant," who declined to give his name, told the WSJ, "Judging by the size of the amendments, I can read a page about every 34 seconds." That's damn impressive.

And under the circumstances, probably necessary. It's a huge bill, and by the speed-reader's estimation, he'd need about nine hours to read the entire thing.

Waxman intends to finish committee work by end of business tomorrow, so it can be sent to the floor by Memorial Day. That's certainly ambitious, if not wildly unrealistic.

Expect the speed reader to get a real workout.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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LT. COL. FEHRENBACH.... Rachel Maddow's introduction of the segment on Lieutenant Colonel Victor J. Fehrenbach last night told a rather remarkable story.

"[Fehrenbach is] an F-15 fighter pilot, 18-year veteran of the United States Air Force," Rachel explained. "On Sept. 11, Lt. Col. Fehrenbach was picked to be part of the initial alert crew immediately after the 9/11 attacks. The following years, in 2002, he deployed to Kuwait, where he flew combat missions over Afghanistan, attacking Taliban and al Qaeda targets. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Lt. Col. Fehrenbach deployed there, flying combat missions in support of mission Iraqi Freedom.

"Over the span of his career, he has flown 88 combat missions, including missions that were the longest mission sorties in the history of his squadron. He's logged more than 2,000 flying hours, nearly 1,500 fighting hours, 400 combat hours. Lt. Col. Fehrenbach is also highly decorated -- he's received nine air medals, including one for heroism. After 18 years of active duty in the Air Force, this experienced, decorated fighter pilot says he is ready and willing to deploy again. He's ready to do what his country and the United States Air Force ask of him."

Except, Fehrenbach will no longer able to serve, because the Air Force is kicking him out of the military because he's gay. This genuine American war hero, who's put his life on the line over and over again, and who the U.S. government has invested $25 million in training, is two years from retirement. Instead of thanking him for his extraordinary service, the country he's served with honor and distinction is firing him for his sexual orientation.

Just once, I wanted to hear someone explain why the United States is stronger, safer, and more secure with Lt. Col. Fehrenbach out of the military.

The news comes the same day as word from the Pentagon that officials have barely begun to review the policy.

This is not only unacceptable, it's inexplicable. In the midst of two wars, these decisions are nothing short of madness.

The White House continues to say the president supports repealing DADT, but is looking for Congress to change the law. Fine. In the meantime, as the LA Times reports today, the president has short-term alternatives: "Under the 'stop-loss' provision, Obama can issue executive orders to retain any soldier deemed necessary to the service in a time of national emergency, the report said. The president also could halt the work of Pentagon review panels that brand troops as gay and thus excluded from service, the report said. And Obama and his Defense secretary could revise discharge procedures, as allowed under the 1993 law banning gays in the military."

I realize the administration would catch some flak for this. Obama should do it anyway.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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By: Hilzoy

Coward

Oh, and Harry Reid? Try showing some courage. Try leadership. You never know; it just might suit you. This certainly doesn't:

"QUESTION: If the United States -- if the United States thinks that these people should be held, why shouldn't they be held in the United States? Why shouldn't the U.S. take those risks, the attendant risk of holding them, since it's the one that says they should be held?

REID: I think there's a general feeling, as I've already said, that the American people, and certainly the Senate, overwhelmingly doesn't want terrorists to be released in the United States. And I think we're going to stick with that.

QUESTION: What about in imprisoned in the United States?

REID: If you're...

(CROSSTALK)

REID: If people are -- if terrorists are released in the United States, part of what we don't want is them be put in prisons in the United States. We don't want them around the United States."

I'm disgusted, and ashamed of my party.

Hilzoy 1:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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By: Hilzoy

The Uighurs: Coda

Newt Gingrich talking to Chris Wallace on Fox News (h/t):

"WALLACE: Well, let me get -- let's take one example, the Chinese Uighurs, Chinese Muslims...

GINGRICH: Right.

WALLACE: ... who were arrested in Afghanistan, brought to this country. The Pentagon says they're not enemy combatants. At least one federal judge has said they're not a threat. But if they go back to China, they're going to be prosecuted.

GINGRICH: Why is that our problem? I mean, why -- what -- if the -- if the -- what -- what is it -- why are we protecting these guys? Why does it become an American problem?

WALLACE: So what, send them to China and...

GINGRICH: Send them to China. If a third country wants to receive them, send them to a third country. But setting this precedent that if you get picked up by Americans -- I mean, the Somalian who was recently brought here who's a pirate -- I mean, if you get picked up by the Americans, you show up in the United States, a lawyer files an amicus brief on your behalf for free, a year later you have citizenship because, after all, how can we not give you citizenship since you're now here, and in between our taxpayers pay for you -- this is, I think -- verges on insanity."

Obviously, we can't send them back to China. They would be tortured or killed there, and knowing that, we are forbidden under international law to send them there.

The Uighurs became our problem when we imprisoned them. We were the ones who set up a system whereby we paid bounties to people for turning in foreign fighters. We were also the ones who decided (pdf), against decades of precedent, not to hold Article 5 Tribunals to determine which of the people we captured were actually combatants and which were not. That is: we set up a system in which people had incentives to turn in the innocent, and then we decided that we could dismantle our normal systems for telling the innocent from the guilty.

We have kept these men in jail for seven and a half years. They have wives and families who spent (pdf) the first four years of their imprisonment not knowing whether they were dead or alive. Some of them have children they have never met -- children who are seven years old now. If this is not our problem, I do not know what is.

I was brought up to believe that when I made a mistake, I should admit it and try to do whatever I could to make it right. I think this is true of me, and I think that it is true of my country. We should not let innocent people languish in prison just because we are afraid, despite all evidence to the contrary, that they might do something bad. It's foolish -- it's not as though no one will be able to keep track of the Uighurs if they are released. But more than that, it's cowardly and ignoble.

I would hope that my country is better than that. I hope that we have the minimal decency not to allow ourselves to be convinced by demagogues that we should be afraid to admit our mistakes and try to make things right. I would hope that we would actually investigate charges that people were "trained mass killers instructed by the same terrorists responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001" before we decided to let them rot in jail for no good reason.

I'd hope we would have the grace to do this even if the person making the charges wasn't someone who blamed liberals for a murder in which a woman cut another woman's abdomen open and stole her unborn child.

And I would hope that politicians would show some leadership and remind us that we are better than this. (Here I want to give a shout-out to Rep. James Moran, who has been very strong on this issue.) We do not have to be at the mercy of our most groundless fears. We do not have to let bullies like Newt Gingrich or blowhards like Jonah Goldberg dictate the terms of debate.

We can be better than that.

My main motivation for doing this is just the thought: the Uighurs are innocent, and they deserve better than this. But it's also worth noting what rides on this, and what is, I suspect, motivating some of the politicians who are using the Uighurs to score political points.

Barack Obama wants to close Guantanamo. To do so, he needs to find countries to take some of the detainees in. Many countries are quite understandably asking: if the United States won't take them in, why should we?

The Uighurs are the most obviously innocent of all the detainees. Uighur communities have offered to take them in and help them resettle. There are a lot of things in their favor. If Republicans block their release in this country, they can block the release of any detainee in this country. And if they do that, then the task of closing Guantanamo down will become much, much more difficult, perhaps impossible.

We should not let that happen without a fight.

Hilzoy 12:09 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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May 19, 2009
By: Hilzoy

The Uighurs: Compilation

This is a post compiling the questionable and/or false claims that have been made about the Uighurs. It contains a few things I have not said in any of my earlier posts, but its main purpose is to collect these points in one convenient location. I have tried to be thorough; those of you who are already bored with this topic might want to skip this one.

As before, I'm taking Newt Gingrich's column as my starting point, since it conveniently collects these false or questionable claims in one piece of irresponsible prose. Here are the claims Gingrich makes; I've added numbers to his claims for convenient reference.

"Seventeen of the 241 terrorist detainees currently being held at Guantanamo Bay are Chinese Muslims known as Uighurs. These Uighurs have been allied with and trained by al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups. (1) The goal of the Uighurs is to establish a separate sharia state. (2) (...)

At Guantanamo Bay, the Uighurs are known for picking up television sets on which women with bared arms appear and hurling them across the room. (3) (...)

By their own admission, Uighurs being held at Guantanamo Bay are members of or associated with the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) (4), an al Qaeda-affiliated group designated as a terrorist organization under U.S law. (...) (5)

Prior to 9/11, the Uighurs received jihadist training in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, a known al Qaeda and Taliban training ground. (6) What's more, they were trained, most likely in the weapons, explosives and ideology of mass killing, by Abdul Haq, a member of al Qaeda's shura , or top advisory council. (7) President Obama's own interagency review board found that at least some of the Uighurs are dangerous. (8) (...)

Even if you accept the argument made by their defenders that the Uighurs' true targets are Chinese, not Americans, it does nothing to change the fact that they are trained mass killers instructed by the same terrorists responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001. (9)"

Taking these claims in order:

(1) "These Uighurs have been allied with and trained by al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups." The Uighurs deny that they were members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which is the "al Qaeda-affiliated group" the government accuses them of being "affiliated" with. They were present at what is variously described as a camp or a village where Uighurs were trained by the ETIM. From this brief (pdf):

"The village itself was no more than a handful of houses bisected by dirt tracks. Each Petitioner, as well as five Uighurs who would later be determined non-combatants, lived in this village in October, 2001. In return for food and shelter, the Uighur men did odd jobs and manual labor. They helped build houses and a mosque."

The training consisted in being taught to assemble and disassemble a rifle, and (in some cases) firing a few rounds from it. From the same brief:

"In the village there was a single AK-47 Kalashnikov rifle and a pistol. Sixteen of the eighteen Uighurs (including all Petitioners and all five of the Uighurs later determined to be noncombatants) freely admit that they were shown the Kalashnikov, and how to assemble and disassemble the weapon. Some engaged in target practice. (Akhtar Qassim, later determined not to be an enemy combatant, shot three or four rounds.)"

From this CSRT transcript:

"Q. What other activities were going on at the camp?

A. There was no typical training, whoever volunteered, once in a while people would run or exercise. I would carry wood, water came from far away, bring stone to build houses.

Q. I want to make sure that I understand, you only trained on the rifle for two or three days between the time you arrived and the time you left the camp?

A. I don't remember the exact date, maybe June 10th or the end of June. One day they showed us an old rusty rifle for about a half hour. Then the second day we shot three to five bullets."

(2) "The goal of the Uighurs is to establish a separate sharia state." I have no idea which Uighurs Gingrich is talking about here, but the Uighurs in detention at Guantanamo have consistently denied this. To my knowledge, there is no evidence at all that it is true.

(3) "At Guantanamo Bay, the Uighurs are known for picking up television sets on which women with bared arms appear and hurling them across the room." According to their translator:

"Abbas, however, says that the detainee who went off on the TV has already been released to Albania and that it had nothing to do with any bare arms. Rather, he had repeatedly requested to speak to camp supervisors and had been ignored, so he chose to cause a scene."

No bare arms. Wrong detainee. Enough said.

(4) "By their own admission, Uighurs being held at Guantanamo Bay are members of or associated with the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM)". -- Again, they have consistently denied this. From the Parhat decision (pdf), written by judges who (unlike me) have seen the evidence on which the government bases its allegation that Parhat was a member of ETIM:

"To support the contention that Parhat was "part of or supporting" ETIM, the government relies on evidence that comes almost entirely from Parhat's own statements and those of other Uighur detainees. Parhat stated that, when he decided to leave China, he headed for a Uighur camp, widely known in Xinjiang province, that was located in the Tora Bora mountains of Afghanistan. See CSRT Exhibit R7, at 1-2 (App. 51-52) (FBI interview report dated May 11, 2002). At the camp, he received training on a Kalashnikov rifle and a pistol, which "consisted of weapon disassembly and cleaning," Pet'r Br. 18 n.22 (quoting CSRT Exhibit R3, at 2 (App. 37))3; performed guard duty, see CSRT Exhibit R7, at 2 (App. 52); and helped to build a house, see CSRT Decision, encl. 3, at 6 (App. 24). He sought the training, he said, only to fight the Chinese government. Id. encl. 1, at 2 (App. 12); id. encl. 3, at 3-4 (App. 21-22).

Parhat testified that a man named Hassan Maksum, whom the government has identified as a leader of ETIM, was a leader at the camp. See id. encl. 3, at 6 (App. 24). Parhat maintains that the fact that Maksum was a leader of the camp is not enough to make it an "ETIM camp," and that the kind of activities in which Parhat participated at the camp are not enough to establish that he was "part of or supporting" ETIM. The government argues to the contrary."

The judges did not decide on the reliability of these allegations, since they found that the government's case was inadequate on other grounds: it did not establish that ETIM was associated with al Qaeda or the Taliban, or that it engaged in hostilities against the US or its coalition partners. Which brings us to:

(5) "the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an al Qaeda-affiliated group designated as a terrorist organization under U.S law." ETIM is now affiliated with al Qaeda. Its leader has apparently been a member of the al Qaeda shura since 2005. In 2008, they issued a video threatening the Beijing Olympics. However, since the Uighur detainees were arrested in 2001, and since the organization has changed considerably in the intervening years, I have no idea what this has to do with them.

The US designated it as a terrorist group in 2002. At the time, independent observers seemed puzzled by this designation, and it was widely regarded as a concession made to the Chinese government in exchange for their not vetoing the Iraq war resolution in the Security Council, and generally acquiescing in our invasion of Iraq.

The Parhat decision (pdf) is, in my opinion, a good place to look for evidence that ETIM was affiliated with al Qaeda or the Taliban at the time. The government's evidence for this claim is laid out on pp. 18-22, and assessed on pp. 24-30. Apparently, it consists of four redacted documents and one interview with another detainee, who claimed that the Taliban provided the Uighurs with their camp. Taking the interview first: the Court finds two problems with it. First:

"Parhat's own statement was that the camp was given to the Uighurs by the "Afghani Government." CSRT Exhibit R6, at 1-2 (App. 49-50) (FBI interview report dated July 19, 2003).6 Of course, the Taliban was the "Afghani Government" in 2001, and not all entities provided with housing by that government -- which no doubt ranged from orphanages to terrorist organizations like al Qaida -- were "associated" with the Taliban in a sense that would make them enemy combatants."

Or, in short: that the Taliban gave the Uighurs a site to live on is a pretty weak reed on which to rest the claim that they are enemy combatants. Second:

"Although the report states that Basit said he had been told that the camp was provided to the Uighurs by the Taliban, Parhat's appellate counsel has called our attention to evidence from another Uighur's CSRT to the effect that the Uighur camp was actually in existence prior to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan."

So even that weak reed might not exist.

The redacted documents are, of course, harder to assess, since they are, well, redacted. However, here's the judges' take:

"As Part III indicates, the principal evidence against Parhat regarding the second and third elements of DOD’s definition of enemy combatant consists of four government intelligence documents. The documents make assertions -- often in haec verba -- about activities undertaken by ETIM, and about that organization's relationship to al Qaida and the Taliban. The documents repeatedly describe those activities and relationships as having "reportedly" occurred, as being "said to" or "reported to" have happened, and as things that "may" be true or are "suspected of" having taken place. But in virtually every instance, the documents do not say who "reported" or "said" or "suspected" those things. Nor do they provide any of the underlying reporting upon which the documents' bottom-line assertions are founded, nor any assessment of the reliability of that reporting. Because of those omissions, the Tribunal could not and this court cannot assess the reliability of the assertions in the documents. And because of this deficiency, those bare assertions cannot sustain the determination that Parhat is an enemy combatant."

Moreover:

"Parhat contends that the ultimate source of key assertions in the four intelligence documents is the government of the People's Republic of China, and he offers substantial support for that contention. Parhat further maintains that Chinese reporting on the subject of the Uighurs cannot be regarded as objective, and offers substantial support for that proposition as well."

I have not seen the government's evidence. These judges have. The Chief Judge, David Sentelle, was appointed by Reagan; he voted to uphold the Military Commissions Act's suspension of habeas corpus for Guantanamo detainees. The other two judges were appointed by Clinton and George W. Bush. It's not what I would call a court full of liberals. But they found the evidence that ETIM was affiliated with al Qaeda or the Taliban while the detainees were at the camp inadequate.

(6) "Prior to 9/11, the Uighurs received jihadist training in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, a known al Qaeda and Taliban training ground." About the training: see (1) above. If occasional runs, half an hour with a rusty rifle, and shooting three to five rounds count as jihadist training, I guess I'm a jihadist, based on my sporadic attempts to get in shape and my experiences at Camp Thoreau when I was 10. (Yes, I did go to a camp called Camp Thoreau.)

About Tora Bora: the Tora Bora mountains cover a fair amount of territory. The Uighurs were not at the al Qaeda complex in the Tora Bora mountains, and I know of no evidence that they were in contact with them.

(7) "What's more, they were trained, most likely in the weapons, explosives and ideology of mass killing, by Abdul Haq, a member of al Qaeda's shura , or top advisory council." -- As noted above, Abdul Haq has been a member of al Qaeda's shura since 2005, four years after the Uighurs were detained. Thus, they were trained by someone who became a member of the shura four years later, but not by someone who was a member of the shura, or (as far as I can tell) of al Qaeda, at the time. (See the evidence in (5) above.)

They were not trained in "the weapons, explosives, and ideology of al Qaeda" (see (1) above.)

(8) "President Obama's own interagency review board found that at least some of the Uighurs are dangerous." There is no evidence that this is true.

(9) "they are trained mass killers instructed by the same terrorists responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001." See (1) about their training, (4) about their connection to ETIM, (5) about ETIM's connection to al Qaeda and the Taliban at the time.

This is an incredibly serious accusation. There is no evidence whatsoever that it is true -- i.e., that the Uighurs were instructed by al Qaeda -- and a whole lot of evidence that it is false. If the government had any evidence that they had been instructed by al Qaeda, is it even remotely plausible that the Bush administration would have found that they were not enemy combatants? I don't think so.

Hilzoy 10:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

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By: Hilzoy

The Uighurs: 5

Ryan Grim at the Huffington Post talks to the Uighurs' translator, Rushan Abbas, about their reaction to Newt Gingrich's column:

"Gingrich pushed further in an op-ed, claiming that '[b]y their own admission, Uighurs being held at Guantanamo Bay are members of or associated with the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an al Qaeda-affiliated group designated as a terrorist organization under U.S law."

No, they have never admitted that, says Abbas, adding that the Uighurs call the claim "baseless, factless slander against them." Abbas returned from Guantanamo Monday. She now works with the Uighurs' defense attorneys.

The Uighurs call relatives in the United States and Europe often, she says, so stay up on the news. They were surprised to hear the accusation from the former Speaker of the House.

"Why does he hate us so much and say those kinds of things? He doesn't know us. He should talk to our attorneys if he's curious about our background," Abbas relates. "How could he speak in such major media with nothing based in fact? They were very disappointed how Newt Gingrich was linking them to ETIM which they never even heard of the name ETIM until they came to Guantanamo Bay."

The Uighurs are apparently under the misconception that American columnists are fact-checked for accuracy. "They just cannot understand," she says. "How come the media doesn't even verify the story? How could they just publish something like that without checking whether what he says is true or not?""

Beats me.

Grim also says this about the story about the Uighurs smashing a TV set that showed a woman with bare arms:

"Abbas, however, says that the detainee who went off on the TV has already been released to Albania and that it had nothing to do with any bare arms. Rather, he had repeatedly requested to speak to camp supervisors and had been ignored, so he chose to cause a scene. Scandling said Wolf's account of the TV smashing came from a story in the L.A. Times."

I had heard that as well, after writing my last post on the subject, and was waiting for confirmation before publishing it. Note not just that neither an objection to bare arms nor any other sort of Islamic fundamentalist anything had anything to do with it, but also that the detainee in question is presently living peaceably in Albania.

That means that even if you don't think, as I do, that it is perfectly understandable that someone who had been imprisoned unjustly for seven and a half years might throw a TV to the ground in frustration, and even if you overlook the many US citizens who have tossed the odd appliance around during (say) a bar fight without thereby showing themselves to be terrorists, there is no need to worry about any TV-throwing Uighurs being released into the US. The only Uighurs still in Guantanamo have never thrown any TVs at all.

I can only hope that I would have shown that much forbearance.

Hilzoy 6:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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TUESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* It could have been better, but it's not a bad bill: "The Senate voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to put new restrictions on the credit card industry, passing a bill whose backers say will make card-issuers spell out their terms in fewer words, using plain English, and treat customers more fairly." The vote was 90 to 5.

* The White House event on fuel efficiency and car emissions sounded very encouraging.

* Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry, the new American ambassador to Afghanistan, met today with Afghan survivors of a recent bombing to promise renewed efforts to prevent civilian casualties.

* Congressional balking notwithstanding, the administration still plans to shut down Gitmo in January.

* Hillary Clinton is looking for $110 million in emergency humanitarian aid to Pakistan.

* Speaker Pelosi's concerns about the CIA appear more and more believable all the time.

* The administration is slow-walking the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, but at least it's not going to defend the policy in court.

* Margaret Hamburg, a bioterrorism expert, has been confirmed as the new commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. The Senate approved the nomination late yesterday on a voice vote.

* The details are a little fuzzy, but it seems that Zalmay Khalilzad is poised to get a very powerful role in the Afghan government. (Update: Or, perhaps not.)

* Barney Frank. Michele Bachmann. CNN. Ugh.

* I'm often unimpressed with Lanny Davis, but he's reached the right conclusion about Cheney.

* People tend to like the idea of transparency, but it doesn't always poll well when specific issues are on the line.

* Rumsfeld doesn't seem pleased with the GQ piece.

* Hey look, a new Michael Steele controversy. Just what he needed.

* It's ironic to hear Joe Scarborough complain about people being too "dumb" to be on TV.

* Krugman offers the Quote of the Day: "Look for the golden age of conservative intellectualism in America, and you keep going back, and back, and back -- and eventually you run up against William Buckley in the 1950s declaring that blacks weren't advanced enough to vote, and that Franco was the savior of Spanish civilization."

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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ANOTHER NCNA 'EXPERT'.... Maybe GOP leaders are confused about the whole "rebranding" concept.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has signed on to the latest high-profile effort to re-brand the Republican Party -- but don't expect to see him take a major leadership role for the National Council for a New America, or make a starring appearance at any of the events on the group's national tour.

Organizers of the effort, spearheaded by House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, originally told reporters that Gingrich had not been included in the newly-launched group because his 527, American Solutions, was a partisan entity. (The organization describes itself as a "tri-partisan" network.)

Gingrich supporters dismissed that explanation, pointing out that Mitt Romney -- a member of the NCNA's panel of experts -- headed the explicitly partisan Free and Strong America PAC, which donates to GOP candidates.

Apparently there's some behind-the-scenes drama about Romney wanting to snub Newt. Whatever.

The more interesting angle to me is the assembled group of GOP leaders who will help "rebrand" the party. We have a 72-year-old failed presidential candidate (McCain), a failed president's brother (Jeb Bush), another failed presidential candidate (Romney), and a disgraced former House Speaker who left office more than a decade ago after getting the boot from his own Republican caucus (Gingrich).

I'm not a marketing expert, but I was under the impression that rebranding efforts generally involved offering something (or someone) new and fresh.

To be fair, Cantor, Jindal, and Palin are part of a new generation of conservative GOP leaders, and they're all involved in this endeavor. But when assembling high-profile figures to help get the Republican Party back on track, what genius thought it was wise to invite McCain, Bush, and Gingrich to the get-together? Maybe it was the same genius who thought it was a good idea to host the NCNA's outside-the-Beltway event inside the Beltway. Or perhaps it was the genius who decided the American taxpayers should subsidize the entire partisan effort.

Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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KENNEDY'S CANCER IN REMISSION.... A friend told me this afternoon, "God clearly wants health care reform to happen." It was in reference to the good news from the Hill.

Sen. Edward Kennedy's brain cancer is in remission and the Massachusetts Democrat is expected back in the Senate after the Memorial Day recess, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Sen. Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday that he spoke with Kennedy's wife and was told the 77-year-old lawmaker will return to work full time during the first week of June.

Kennedy, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee has been mostly absent from the chamber for the past year, recovering in Florida and Massachusetts. He is expected to lead a markup of highly anticipated health reform legislation in his first month back -- one of the biggest bills of the year and a signature domestic initiative for President Obama.

Kennedy will reportedly receive a few more treatments before returning to work in June, but Reid told reporters, "He's doing fine."

The Politico added, "Reid gave Kennedy an office right next to the Senate chamber at the beginning of this session of Congress so he could be close to the floor to work on his signature initiative -- health care reform -- and it looks like he'll have a chance to be fully engaged when that debate heats up this summer."

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), a senior member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, added that Kennedy will chair the committee markup on the health care bill upon his return.

Steve Benen 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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HOW MAVERICKY.... Even during the 2008 presidential campaign, no matter how far he shifted to the right, John McCain was generally pretty good about acknowledging the climate crisis. "We need a successor to Kyoto, a cap-and-trade system that delivers the necessary environmental impact in an economically responsible manner," McCain said in 2008.

Now, the specifics of McCain's cap-and-trade proposal were pretty absurd -- it was basically cap and trade without the cap -- but at least he'd occasionally talk a good game. Now, the Arizona Republican is poised to help kill a compromise measure that the nation really needs.

Sen. John McCain now appears to oppose climate-change legislation, an abrupt switch that could seriously threaten any movement on such a bill.

"Nearly 1000 page Climate Change legislation -- appears to be a cap & tax bill that I won't support," McCain wrote in a Twitter message Monday, a reversal of the position he took on the Senate floor in March.

Two months ago, McCain and his close friend Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, took the floor in strong support of climate-change legislation. This marked a return to form for McCain, who co-sponsored a 2002 climate-change bill with longtime friend Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), but had tamped down his rhetoric during the 2008 presidential campaign.

"Let me just say to my colleagues, I'm proud of my record on climate change," McCain said in March. "I've been all over the world and I've seen climate change, and I know it's real, and I'll be glad to continue this debate with my colleagues and people who don't agree with that."

Keep in mind, while reconciliation rules are in place for health care, center-right Democrats made it so that Republican obstructionism can kill climate-change legislation. To get to 60, Dems are going to need quite a few votes from those handful of Republicans who take science and global warming seriously.

McCain was supposed to be one of them. That now appears unlikely.

McCain had an opportunity to help bolster his tarnished reputation, regaining the stature he enjoyed after the 2000 campaign. Instead, he's throwing the opportunity away. He's gone through a variety of personas over the years, but it now seems he's sticking with the one rejected by the country in 2008.

Steve Benen 3:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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FROM A DIFFERENT ANGLE.... Joe Klein laments the latest nonsense on Gitmo.

Guantanamo is a symbol of American brutality that needs to be expunged to the extent possible by closure, as soon as practicable. We have a system of military prisons that would be perfectly adequate to handle the detainees who are not returned to the home countries. Apparently, President Obama is going to give a speech on this topic on Thursday -- but the Senators just couldn't wait 48 hours while the Republicans and cable newsistas were scaring their constituents. Yet another profile in courage.

I agree with all of this, but it got me thinking about how this debate would go if the situations were reversed, and it was a Republican president trying to close the detention facility and it was (primarily) Democrats engaged in silly demagoguery. What would Hannity, Limbaugh, and GOP leaders on the Hill be saying under those circumstances?

* Democrats believe in the midst of two wars and an ongoing terrorist threat, national security decisions should be made by 535 lawmakers instead of the Commander in Chief.

* Democrats don't trust the U.S. military to be able to lock up a couple of hundred nuts.

* If Democrats are scared of these detainees being locked up on U.S. soil, it's up to them to figure out what to do with the terrorists who are already detained in supermax facilities.

* If Democrats have proof that the nation's prisons are incapable of housing 241 suspected bad guys, or have evidence that these guards who protect us from the bad guys are untrustworthy, they should offer it. Otherwise, they should apologize to the wardens, guards, and security teams, who do important work day in and day out, and who've just been insulted.

It's pretty easy, actually. Instead, Dems seem to be afraid of the GOP attacks. It's frustrating to watch.

Steve Benen 3:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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CHANGE COMES 'IN A TEA BAG'.... RNC Chairman Michael Steele's speech to committee members was this afternoon, and I believe it was aired live on all three cable networks. Viewers got to hear Steele's Greatest Hits, including an attack on ACORN, a shot at EFCA, and even a reference to the Fairness Doctrine. I wish I were kidding.

But here's the quote that you're likely to see quite a bit more of:

"Those of you who actually attend Lincoln Day dinners, and county party events, those of you who toil in the vineyards, spending time in communities, in diners, in barber shops, and in coffee shops where real, every day people can be found. You know it is real. You can see it and feel it.

"This change, my friends, is being delivered in a tea bag. And that's a wonderful thing."

Remember when Steele recently described himself as "the gift that keeps on giving"? He wasn't kidding.

On a more serious note, the RNC chairman also vowed, "The Republican Party is again going to emerge as the party of new ideas." He then proceeded to note exactly zero new ideas.

Now, in fairness, it's not Steele's job to craft these policy proposals; his is not a policy job. But it reinforces the problem of a bankrupt GOP agenda.

If Steele is going to tell a national television audience that the Republican Party is going to be the party of new ideas, only to suggest they'll let us know when they eventually think of something, there's a fundamental flaw in the pitch.

Update: After the speech, MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell asked former Republican Rep. Chris Shays what "new ideas" Steele had proposed. Shays responded, "I didn't hear any new ideas. But that's the point -- I mean, we need to be talking about ideas."

Or, put another way, "We'll be the party of new ideas just as soon as we think of some new ideas. In the meantime, socialism, handshake, 9/11."

Steve Benen 2:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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CONTINGENCY PLANS.... Jon Chait ponders a scenario I've been kicking around.

I'm not saying the economy will recover or that Obama will stay popular. Quite possibly, four years from now we could still be mired in a worldwide depression and Obama could be facing dismal -- who knows, even Bush-like -- popularity ratings. The world is unpredictable. But isn't there a pretty decent chance that the economy will have recovered, and Obama's policies will look fairly wise in retrospect? Do Republicans want to make any political plans for this contingency?

The answer, I suspect, is "no." In fact, I'm not even sure if the GOP has given itself any feasible options.

If Obama remains popular, Republicans assume that Democratic congressional candidates will do fairly well and the president will win a second term in 2012. If conditions deteriorate and Obama's popularity crumbles, Republicans assume that they'll be well positioned to take advantage.

In this dynamic, there's no upside to cooperating with the president, because there's minimal payoff. Republicans are limited to a strategy based entirely on "hope" -- hope that the country is worse off, hope that the president fails, hope that voters see the GOP as a credible alternative should everything fall apart.

I'm not even sure what choice the party has. One path has Republicans growing up, rediscovering the benefits of taking policy matters seriously, presenting a sane agenda, and engaging in good-faith cooperation with the majority on key policy measures. This probably wouldn't do much to bring down the president, but it would position the GOP to present itself as a reasonable, mainstream alternative. Under this scenario, many who left the Republican Party might be willing to give it a second look, which would give the GOP stronger long-term prospects.

But the party is almost certain to ignore this path, in large part because the shrunken party base won't consider it.

So they're left with several eggs, one basket, and no contingency plans in the event of Obama success.

Steve Benen 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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ELIMINATING THE SECURITY GAP.... Struggling in most areas of public policy, most notably the economy, Republicans have gone after President Obama on national security grounds -- the one area that has favored the GOP in recent years. It's led to a multi-prong offensive on everything from handshakes to Gitmo to torture.

And based on one new study, it's not working.

A new Democracy Corps poll released by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner today shows that after 100 days in office, President Barack Obama has, at least for now effectively erased doubts that Americans have historically harbored about the Democratic Party's vision and competence on national security.

For the first time in our research, Democrats are at full parity on perceptions of which party would best manage national security, while they have moved far ahead of the GOP on specific challenges such as Afghanistan, Iraq, working with our allies, and improving America's image abroad.

Nearly two-thirds of likely voters -- 64 percent -- approve of the job Obama is doing on national security. That is 6 points higher than his already strong overall job approval rating (at 58 percent, the highest we have yet recorded). On other aspects of national security -- from Iraq, to Afghanistan, to terrorism, to the president's foreign diplomacy -- the same is true: higher job approval ratings than on the President's overall job approval.

Given their approval of the president's performance on foreign affairs, voters flatly reject the claims from former Vice President Cheney and other Republicans that Obama's policies put America at risk. By nearly a 2 to 1 margin, Americans say that President Obama is doing better, not worse, than his predecessor, George W. Bush, when it comes to national security.

In fairness, Democracy Corps is a Democratic outfit, and Stan Greenberg, who conducted the survey, is a Democratic pollster.

But the results don't seem necessarily tilted. In fact, Obama's approval rating in the poll (58%) is lower than in most other national surveys of late.

If accurate, the numbers show the GOP losing its one key policy advantage. While the poll shows Americans preferring Republicans on "ensuring a strong military," Dems now lead on U.S. policy in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and in foreign policy in general. Asked which party they prefer on counter-terrorism, the two parties were tied.

A narrow majority of Americans said Bush's policies "undermined" U.S. security interests, and a large majority said Obama is doing better than his predecessor on national security.

Joe Klein added, "[W]e should not underestimate the significance here: Obama is trying to do something far more complicated and sophisticated than Bush--comprehensive diplomacy takes time and great skill. It doesn't have the immediate satisfactions of a bang-bang, three-week rush to Baghdad.... But, for the moment, the American people seem content with a more nuanced foreign policy, which is very good news, indeed."

Steve Benen 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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THEY NEVER LEARN.... At some point a few weeks ago, Republicans decided that the closing of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay was a political winner. They'd rant and rave about the Obama administration putting terrorists in U.S. "neighborhoods," and Democrats, the theory goes, would back away from a sensible policy.

The argument was absurd, of course, and I'd hoped congressional Democrats would ignore the fearmongering. It looks like the minority party still knows exactly how to push the majority party's buttons.

President Barack Obama's allies in the Senate will not provide funds to close the Guantanamo Bay prison next January, a top Democratic official said Tuesday.

With debate looming on Obama's spending request to cover military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the official says Democrats will deny the Pentagon and Justice Department $80 million to relocate Guantanamo's 241 detainees. [...]

It appears to be a tactical retreat. Once the administration develops a plan to close the facility, congressional Democrats are likely to revisit the topic, provided they are satisfied there are adequate safeguards.

So, this isn't a total collapse in the face of Republican complaints, just a temporary collapse, to be reconsidered later.

As for Republicans, who used to believe the Commander in Chief had complete and exclusive authority over these matters, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) is still pushing a measure to block any and all Gitmo detainees from stepping foot on U.S. soil, for a trial or for their detention. His GOP colleagues are enthusiastic about the measure.

How pathetic. Inhofe may be criminally dimwitted, but even he probably realizes that there are already plenty of terrorists serving out sentences in American facilities, which are awfully good at keeping bad guys locked up for life. Can't GOP lawmakers pretend to be grown-ups on this?

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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TUESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* The bad news for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is that a new Mason-Dixon poll, conducted for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, shows the senator with weak support the year before his re-election bid. The good news for Reid is that Republicans still can't find a credible challenger.

* In light of Brian Moran's latest push, Terry McAuliffe's gubernatorial campaign in Virginia has a new video with evidence that he really did support President Obama's general-election campaign last year.

* Even before the state Supreme Court's consideration of the case, a majority of Minnesotans want to see former Sen. Norm Coleman (R) concede to Al Franken immediately. The same Rasmussen poll showed a 67% majority wants to see Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) sign Franken's election certificate if Coleman loses at the state Supreme Court.

* Merrick Alpert, a former aide to Al Gore and an Air Force officer in Bosnia, announced yesterday that he'll challenge Sen. Chris Dodd in a Democratic primary in Connecticut next year.

* Let's just summarize the latest Rasmussen poll in New York quickly: Gov. David Patterson (D) would easily lose to his likely Republican challengers, while state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (D) would easily win those same match-ups.

* Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) ran into some Ron Paul fans at the state Republican convention the other day, who didn't like it when Graham said, "Ron Paul is not the leader of this party.... I'm not going to give this party over to people who can't win."

* And Republicans may not agree with Bruce Springsteen's liberal politics, but that doesn't mean they mind exploiting his popularity for GOP fundraising efforts.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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NO ONE COULD HAVE IMAGINED.... A major insurance company, trying to undermine health care reform efforts? You don't say.

One week after the nation's health insurance lobby pledged to President Obama to do what it can to constrain rising health costs, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina is putting the finishing touches on a public message campaign aimed at killing a key plank in Obama's reform platform.

As part of what it calls an "informational website," the company has hired an outside PR company to make a series of videos sounding the alarm about a government-sponsored health insurance option, known as the public plan. Obama has consistently maintained that a government-run plan, absent high-paid executives and the need for profits, could be a more affordable option for Americans who have trouble purchasing private insurance. The industry argues that creating a public insurance program will undermine the marketplace and eventually lead to a single-payer style system.

In three 30-second videos, the insurer paints a picture of a future system in which patients wait months for appointments and can't choose their own doctors, according to storyboards of the videos obtained by the Washington Post.

The Media Matters Action Network put together a very thorough take-down of the BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina's "desperate attempt to deceive," with plenty of details about the company's background, and why the company's anti-reform ads are wrong.

I'd just add, though, that the larger effort is sticking closely to the script put together by their Republican consultant, Frank Luntz, with the same deceptive arguments about rationing and long-wait times. (Have I mentioned lately that the status quo already includes rationing and long-wait times?)

Lee Fang added, "Luntz, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and groups like Conservatives for Patients' Rights are all attacking a public health care option with the debunked notion of "rationed care." But of course, Obama's health care plan option is just that, optional. If Americans prefer having insurance companies determine their treatments and costs, no one is forcing them to change. Opponents of reform would prefer to have a monopoly over health care, because the status quo is still quite profitable."

Steve Benen 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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IT'S ALL STRATEGIC.... Republican National Committee members will get together for a big meeting starting today, and high on the agenda is a resolution to beg the Democratic Party to change its name. Can't you just smell the comeback?

As part of the gathering, RNC Chairman Michael Steele has a new column in the Politico arguing that "Republicans are turning a corner." (As I recall, Steele said the exact same thing right before the GOP lost the special election in New York's 20th.)

[T]he Republican Party will be forward-looking -- it is time to stop looking backward. Republicans have spent ample time re-examining the past. It has been a healthy and necessary task. But I believe it is now time for Republicans to focus all of our energies on winning the future by emerging as the party of new ideas.

As part of the Republicans' new-found commitment to a "forward-looking" approach, Steele explains, "The Republican Party has turned a corner, and as we move forward Republicans should take a lesson from Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan always believed Republicans should apply our conservative principles to current and future challenges facing America. . For Reagan's conservatism to take root...."

I see. Steele believes "it is time to stop looking backward," and time to start thinking about the approach embraced by the Republican president who left office 20 years ago. A "forward-looking" approach in 2009, Steele argues, is an emphasis on the mid-1980s.

But it's not just the op-ed.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele will call for an end to the "era of apologizing" in the GOP and urge his fellow party members to "focus all of our energies on winning the future" in a speech today to a gathering of RNC officials in Maryland.

There was an "era of apologizing" in the Republican Party? And I missed it? That's a shame; I would have enjoyed hearing more Republicans apologize for the consequences of their failed attempts at governing.

Steve Benen 10:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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PELOSI'S POPULARITY.... The headline makes it sound like the public has turned on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: "CNN Poll: Pelosi facing Gingrich-like approval ratings." The truth is a little less alarming.

As Nancy Pelosi continues to face a firestorm over what she may have known about aggressive government interrogation techniques, and when, a new survey has more unpleasant news for the House Speaker.

Nearly half of all Americans -- 48 percent -- disapprove of how the California Democrat she is handling her job as Speaker of the House in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released Monday, while 39 percent approve of her performance.

The headline about Pelosi's "Gingrich-like approval ratings" comes from the fact that Gingrich, in his first year as Speaker, had a 37% approval rating, which is just slightly behind Pelosi's rating now.

But that's not the whole story. In 1995, Gingrich's first year, Americans were just learning who he was and what kind of "leader" would be. Pelosi, however, has already been Speaker for more than two years. In an apples-to-apples comparison -- Pelosi after two years vs. Gingrich after two years -- the California Democrat is nowhere near "Gingrich-like approval ratings." Pelosi is at 39%, while the disgraced Georgia Republican was at 25%.

What's more, I have a follow-up question (or two) for CNN: if Gingrich is the template for wildly unpopular politicians, why is it that every time Newt Gingrich pops off, CNN treats it as an important political development? Indeed, the guy's been out of office for more than a decade. If he set a low bar in the 1990s, and it's considered a humiliation to have support anywhere near his in-office poll numbers, then why does CNN place so much significance in his random and incoherent screeds?

Steve Benen 9:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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PRICE IS RIGHT.... We haven't had a good dust-up in a while between a Republican official and Rush Limbaugh, so yesterday was a sight for sore eyes.

Rep. Tom Price, a very conservative Republican from Georgia, chatted with MSNBC's Joe Scarborough about the Republican Party tolerating a variety of views. Scarborough, a former Republican member of Congress, mentioned that Limbaugh wants to see Colin Powell leave the GOP altogether. Price responded, "Look, it's not up to Rush Limbaugh to decide who ought to be in the Republican Party."

Pressing further, Scarborough asked whether Limbaugh and Dick Cheney are "better Republicans" than Colin Powell. Price replied, "No, goodness," prompting the host to add, "God bless you, Congressman. God bless you."

Limbaugh wasn't pleased.

"How in the hell can you say that Dick Cheney is worse for the Republican Party than Colin Powell? It was Colin Powell who endorsed Barack Obama after the Republican party gave Colin Powell the exact kind of nominee he claims to want. [...]

"The Vice President gets results! Do you not see what Dick Cheney was able to pull off last week? You basically have the Bush policy on Gitmo and interrogations intact.... And [Price] says that Dick Cheney is not as good a Republican as Colin Powell is?"

Price, for what it's worth, didn't exactly say that Cheney is worse for the party than Powell, he said Cheney isn't a "better Republican" than Powell. Nevertheless, Cheney really is worse for the GOP than Powell since Americans seem to like Powell, while voters are generally repulsed by the former vice president. It's why Scarborough wants to "bless" Price -- the MSNBC host wants to encourage more Americans to identify with his party.

As for Cheney getting "results," the Bush policy on "Gitmo and interrogations" isn't "intact"; it's the opposite. Obama, despite resistance, hasn't changed his position on closing the detention facility, and also hasn't wavered from scrapping the Bush/Cheney torture policies altogether.

Indeed, that's the point of the "controversy" -- Republicans are furious that the Bush/Cheney approach hasn't been left "intact."

Limbaugh does pay attention to current events, doesn't he?

As for Price, he hasn't apologized to the right-wing talk-show host, but if recent history is any guide, he'll backpedal fairly soon.

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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LEARNING THE WRONG LESSONS.... I don't want to dwell on the controversy surrounding Maureen Dowd using content from TPM without attribution, but some on the right are using the incident to draw the wrong conclusion. A prominent conservative site called Hot Air, a project created by Michelle Malkin, considers the incident evidence of media bias.

After noting a recent blog post at the Anchorage Daily News that quoted the Daily Kos without attribution, Hot Air complains:

This makes twice in the span of four days that a major newspaper's been caught cribbing material from nutroots blogs, which stands to reason. According to a survey of more than 200 journalists recently conducted at BYU, "despite equal awareness [of lefty and righty blogs], journalists spend more time reading posts in the liberal blogosphere." Contain your surprise. [...]

[Journalists are] taking more than just ideas, champ. In fact, the beauty of MoDo's snafu is that not only does it show a major player in the media being led around by nutroots talking points, it involves her lifting stuff from a blog that's actually called "Talking Points." Glorious.

DougJ noted how amusing it is to see "a blog called 'Hot Air' making fun of another blog for being called 'Talking Points.'"

Nevertheless, the larger point is a subject that comes up from time to time. Media professionals who admit to referencing blogs seem more likely to rely on liberal sites than conservative ones (Drudge notwithstanding). For the right, this is powerful evidence -- if journalists are spending time on left-leaning websites, it must mean they're left-leaning, too.

But there's another, more plausible, explanation. Nate Silver explained yesterday, "The reason that liberal blogs are cited more often in the mainstream media is because they are more plentiful and more widely-read than conservative blogs. Traffic on the Internet in general tilts toward the young and the more highly educated, demographics which -- at least for the time being -- are associated with more liberal politics. And yes, I do think that liberal blogs are 'better' on average than conservative ones (with plenty of exceptions on both sides) but you can reach this conclusion without having to invoke qualitative conclusions at all."

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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LOSING GROUND.... There have been plenty of recent polls showing the number of Americans willing to identify themselves as Republican dropping to lows unseen in decades. But late yesterday, Gallup released a more detailed look at this decline, noting that the GOP has lost ground with practically every demographic in the country.

The decline in Republican Party affiliation among Americans in recent years is well documented, but a Gallup analysis now shows that this movement away from the GOP has occurred among nearly every major demographic subgroup. Since the first year of George W. Bush's presidency in 2001, the Republican Party has maintained its support only among frequent churchgoers, with conservatives and senior citizens showing minimal decline.

The results, taken from months of surveys totaling 7,000 adult respondents, are striking. The Republican Party has lost ground in every region, every age group, every ethnicity, every income level, every educational level, every ideology, and both genders. The drop off was strongest among college graduates (down 10%), Americans under 30 (down 9%), Americans making under $75,000, Midwesterners, and self-identified moderates.

Among frequent churchgoers, the GOP broke even, maintaining the same level of support from 2001. The drop off among African Americans and Latinos was modest, but only because Republicans fared poorly with these voters before and limited room to drop further.

Which groups showed GOP gains? There weren't any.

The news for Democrats was far more encouraging. In 2001, respondents were asked for their party affiliation, and independents were encouraged to pick one of the two major parties. Democrats had the narrowest of leads over the GOP, 45% to 44%. This year, Dems are up to 53%, while Republicans have slipped to 39%.

The Republican base -- which is to say, the only voters who are leaving the party slower after the last eight years -- includes frequent churchgoers, self-identified conservatives, and voters 65 and older.

If this doesn't scare GOP leaders, they're just not paying attention.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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By: Hilzoy

Picking Up The Trash

This is a wonderful story:

"A group of young Pakistani friends, sick of hearing their families complain about the government, decided to spite them by taking matters into their own hands: every Sunday they would grab shovels, go out into their city, and pick up garbage.

It was a strange thing to do, particularly for such students from elite private schools, who would normally spend Sunday afternoons relaxing in air-conditioned homes.

But the students were inspired by the recent success of the lawyers' movement, which used a national protest to press the government to reinstate the country's chief justice, and their rush of public consciousness was irrepressible.

"Everybody keeps blaming the government, but no one actually does anything," said Shoaib Ahmed, 21, one of the organizers. "So we thought, why don't we?"

The fact that these students are well-off matters a lot. Class divides run deep in Pakistan, and this is an unusual thing for students at good schools to be doing. Actually, it's an unusual thing for anyone to be doing unpaid:

"A long-term cycle of corrupt, weak governments interrupted by military coups has caused Pakistan's political muscles to atrophy, leaving Pakistani society, particularly its poor, hopeless that it will ever receive the services -- education, water, electricity, health -- that it so desperately needs.

"People say, 'This is nice, but things will never change,'" Mr. Khwaja said, pointing to a hamburger seller who he said was particularly pessimistic. "There is a hopelessness."

That is where the trash cleaning comes in. Locals find it perplexing and helpful in equal measures. One enthusiast who met the group on its first outing in March, Muhamed Zahid, has come to every one since. One man passing by in a rickshaw dismounted to help them shovel for a while. (...)

That brought the students to the most serious discussion of the day, one that is arguably Pakistan's biggest problem: the gap between rich and poor. Generations of poverty and a system of substandard education that keeps people in it have created fertile ground for Islamic militancy, which now poses a serious threat to the stability of the country.

"Here, if you're poor, you're not even a human being," said Pavel Qaiser. "It's the culture we have -- one landlord and the peasants working under him."

And here was a revelation: the trash picking, which the students had intended as an example for shopkeepers and residents, was actually an exercise for themselves.

"The rich don't care, the poor can't do anything, so it's up to the middle class to make the change," Mr. Khwaja said, as a group of friends standing near him nodded in agreement. "We have to lead by example. To change it from inside."

Pakistan is a wonderful country, with some of the kindest and most hospitable people I've ever met. Moreover, unlike a lot of very poor countries, it has enormous reservoirs of talented and decent people with good educations and professional training. The problem is that the system as a whole seems so corrupt as to be beyond the power of any single individual to change, or even to improve. (This has everything to do with the fact that Pakistan has never been allowed to have a civilian government for long: self-government takes practice, and the Pakistani civilian governments have never been allowed to just make their own mistakes and be voted out of office. The military always steps in and takes over instead.)

That young people are taking matters into their own hands and just picking up the trash themselves is one of the most hopeful things I've heard in a while.

Hilzoy 2:07 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (5)

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By: Hilzoy

Emissions Standards

This is wonderful:

"The Obama administration today plans to propose tough standards for tailpipe emissions from new automobiles, establishing the first nationwide regulation for greenhouse gases.

It will also raise fuel efficiency targets to 35.5 miles per gallon for new passenger vehicles and light trucks by 2016, four years earlier than required under the 2007 energy bill, sources close to the administration said. (...)

The deal has been under negotiation since the first days of the administration. It represents a compromise among the White House; the state of California; and the auto industry, which has long sought national mileage standards and has waged an expensive legal battle against the California waiver. The industry will get its national standard, but at the price of one that approximates California's targets. Industry officials said they would drop all related lawsuits."

According to the Post, one of the factors pushing the auto companies to make a deal was the prospect of having their CO2 emissions regulated by the EPA. The deal involves both mileage and tailpipe standards, which the Post describes as roughly equivalent. The state of California, for its part, gets national standards that are almost as stringent as the ones it has tried to set for itself.

Grist adds (quoting a "senior administration official"):

"Another significant change in the new standards is that the new standards will include tougher standards for each class size of vehicles, as well as a higher average across each company's fleet, according to the official. The previous rules covered only the fleet average, which meant that companies could offset a giant SUV with some more fuel efficient models.

"This has the effect of preserving consumer choice," said the official. "You can continue to buy whatever size car you like, all cars get cleaner.""

This will raise the cost of cars. The Washington Post estimates that today's rules will add $600 to the price of an average car, though it's not clear to me whether this figure is for price increases between now and 2016 or for some other time frame. But I think it's well worth it. For one thing, we badly need to reduce our dependence on oil for the sake of the climate. Grist's "senior official" again:

"The official also estimated that this emissions reductions from the CAFE increase will equate to taking 177 million cars off the road, or shutting down 194 coal-fired power plants."

That's a lot of CO2 not being emitted.

For another, if you expect the price of oil to spike again once the world economy revives and to (more or less) stay high as the world's oil supplies dwindle, then it makes sense to take steps to ensure that the transition to more expensive gasoline is as gradual and painless as possible. Getting a good start on more fuel-efficient cars will help a lot.

Good move.

Hilzoy 12:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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May 18, 2009

MONDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* President Obama met today at some length with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with peace talks and the Iranian nuclear program high on the agenda.

* 42 mpg: "New cars and trucks will have to get 30 percent better mileage starting in 2016 under an Obama administration move to curb emissions tied to smog and global warming, sources said Monday."

* The Supreme Court, in yet another 5-4 ruling, concluded that "former attorney general John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller may not be sued by Arab Muslims who were seized in this country after the 2001 terrorist attacks and allege harsh treatment because of their religion and ethnicity." For more, check out Gary Farber's piece on Javaid Iqbal.

* After 25 years, the Tamil Tiger rebels have admitted defeat.

* In the world's largest democracy, India's Congress party won a resounding victory in month-long national elections.

* An NYC assistant principal died of the H1N1 flu over the weekend, bringing the U.S. death toll to six.

* According to congressional briefings, Pakistan is adding to its nuclear arsenal, which doesn't make any sense given its problems with a Taliban insurgency.

* House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) isn't quite ready to talk about Pelosi's ouster. Wise move.

* The UN's new envoy to Haiti: Bill Clinton.

* Stephanie Cutter, counselor to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, is stepping away from the Treasury to help shepherd the next Supreme Court nominee.

* Remember yesterday, when RNC Chairman Michael Steele hinted at support for a truth commission? His office is walking that back now.

* Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) is on board with Henry Waxman's sweeping climate change bill. Good for Dingell.

* The Sierra Club endorsed the legislation today, too.

* Tucker Carlson has listening-comprehension issues.

* Hubble repairs appear to have gone well.

* And finally, congrats to Ezra Klein on his first day at the Washington Post. He's off to a very impressive start, not surprisingly, and all of us here at the Monthly wish him the best with the new endeavor.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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A PEEK BEHIND THE CURTAIN.... Republicans haven't exactly been oblique about their motivations for going after Speaker Pelosi for Bush's torture scandal. It was a pleasant surprise to hear Fox News be so candid about this on the air today.

Greg Sargent flagged this gem, with correspondent Jonathan Hunt telling Shep Smith the truth -- GOP lawmakers are using a manufactured controversy to drive attention away from what really matters.

"Instead of this debate being about national security, what is and isn't torture, what the Bush administration should and shouldn't have allowed and whether anybody in that administration should now be prosecuted, they, the Republicans, are now able to frame this debate as to whether Nancy Pelosi is fit to continue as Speaker," Hunt said. "So, Shep, they are not about to let their foot off the gas in any way, shape, or form right now."

There were some Fox News reports last week hinting in this direction, but today's acknowledgement was quite specific.

I'm still inclined to think this is a flawed strategy. For one thing, before going after Pelosi, Republicans were poised to get what they wanted anyway, and the attacks on the Speaker run the risk of backfiring. For another, the criticisms only make sense if you turn off your brain -- Republicans are demanding to know what Pelosi knew about the Bush administration's crimes and when she knew it, as if the failure to raise adequate objections was more important than the wrongdoing.

But the Fox News candor at least tells the audience the truth. This is about reframing a scandal, nothing more.

Steve Benen 5:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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IRAQ, AL QAEDA, AND TORTURE, REDUX.... McClatchy's Jonathan Landay moves the ball forward on one of the more provocative angles to the Bush administration's torture scandal.

Then-Vice President Dick Cheney, defending the invasion of Iraq, asserted in 2004 that detainees interrogated at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp had revealed that Iraq had trained al Qaida operatives in chemical and biological warfare, an assertion that wasn't true.

Cheney's 2004 comments to the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News were largely overlooked at the time. However, they appear to substantiate recent reports that interrogators at Guantanamo and other prison camps were ordered to find evidence of alleged cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein -- despite CIA reports that there were only sporadic, insignificant contacts between the militant Islamic group and the secular Iraqi dictatorship.

Specifically, Cheney told reporters at the now-defunct paper, "The [al Qaida-Iraq] links go back. We know for example from interrogating detainees in Guantanamo that al Qaida sent individuals to Baghdad to be trained in C.W. and B.W. technology, chemical and biological weapons technology. These are all matters that are there for anybody who wants to look at it."

Of course, those who have looked at it found that there were no meaningful links between the terrorist group and Saddam Hussein's regime. More important in the current context, though, is the fact that Cheney seemed to believe that Gitmo detainees acknowledged connections between the two that didn't exist.

The McClatchy report also quoted retired Army Lt. Col. Brittain Mallow, a former military criminal investigator, who said, "I'm aware of the fact that in late 2002, early 2003, that [the alleged al Qaida-Iraq link] was an interest on the intelligence side. That was something they were tasked to look at."

This comes about a month after McClatchy first reported that Cheney and Rumsfeld were "demanding proof of the links" in 2002 and 2003. When the imaginary evidence wasn't produced, the administration "blew that off and kept insisting that we'd overlooked something, that the interrogators weren't pushing hard enough, that there had to be something more we could do to get that information."

What's more, last week, Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff in Bush's State Department, said he's "learned" that when Bush administration officials authorized detainee abuse, their "principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa'ida." Also last week, former NBC producer Robert Windrem reported that in April 2003, Cheney's office recommended waterboarding an Iraqi prisoner who was suspected of having knowledge of a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.

The notion that the administration started with the preferred answer, and may have worked backwards through torture to help sell an unnecessary war, should help put the Pelosi "controversy" in context.

Steve Benen 4:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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By: Hilzoy

The Uighurs: 4

I'm continuing to try to track down the truth behind the various claims made about the Uighurs. (Previous posts: 1, 2, 3.) This time, I want to consider this one:

"President Obama's own interagency review board found that at least some of the Uighurs are dangerous."

The original (and, to my knowledge, only) source for this claim is this Human Events article:

"White House lawyers are refusing to accept the findings of an inter-agency committee that the Uighur Chinese Muslims held at Guantanamo Bay are too dangerous to release inside the U.S., according to Pentagon sources familiar with the action."

Human Events is not what I normally think of as a credible source. They publish Ann Coulter pieces like "The [sic] Shot The Wrong Lincoln" (Abraham, not Chafee, apparently.) Jed Babbin, in particular, has compared Barack Obama to Madame DeFarge, and opened an interview with Rush Limbaugh by saying: "I'm just so excited talking to you Rush ... I'm jumping out of my skin."

That said, even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and Jed Babbin might, for all I knew, be right on this one. So I decided to ask around. Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch was kind enough to reply. Here's his email (quoted with permission):

"There is no evidence that the panel has found them too dangerous to release; on the contrary, the administration has asked Germany and other European countries to resettle the Uighurs on their soil. And it understands that to persuade other countries to take the Uighurs, it may have to release some in the US to show there is nothing to fear. That doesn't mean the panel concluded that the Uighurs are all goatherds either -- just that they were not involved in terrorism or linked to Al Qaeda or the Taliban and pose no threat to the US or its allies. If there is any real source for the Human Events story, my guess is that it's a Bush hold over at DOD or Justice who wants us to believe that the Bush positions are somehow being vindicated."

If you would like to read a judge's assessment of the evidence against one of the Uighurs, it's here (pdf; start on p. 15.) This is the unclassified version of the decision; however, the judge in question saw the classified information that the Bush administration introduced to support its claim that this detainee was an enemy combatant, so I assume that had that information contained a convincing case, that fact would have been reflected in the opinion. It was not.

Hilzoy 3:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (5)

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WEAVER SEES GOP 'HEADED FOR A BLOWOUT'.... Just a few weeks ago, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) added Republican strategist John Weaver, a long-time John McCain confidant, onto his team. It was a move that signaled Huntsman's interest in the 2012 presidential campaign.

Now, of course, Huntsman is headed to Beijing as the Obama administration's ambassador to China, and Weaver is left to wonder what could have been. In the meantime, Weaver spoke to Byron York about their party's future.

The Republican strategist who helped Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman prepare for a possible presidential run says the Republican party is in for a devastating defeat if its guiding lights are Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney. "If it's 2012 and our party is defined by Palin and Limbaugh and Cheney, then we're headed for a blowout," says strategist John Weaver, who advised Huntsman and was for years a close adviser to Sen. John McCain. "That's just the truth." [...]

"I firmly believe that Huntsman and people like him are the prescription for what ails us," says Weaver. "But I have the feeling that our party maybe won't order that prescription in 2012."

This, not surprisingly, has not gone over well among many conservatives, including the blog at the Weekly Standard.

Seeing this reinforces one of the GOP's fundamental problems right now: it's a shrinking party, and the folks who are left like it just the way it is. Those who want to help drag Republicans back into the mainstream either leave or find themselves pariahs with no influence at all.

It becomes self-perpetuating. Palin, Limbaugh, and Cheney drive people away from the GOP, which in turn leaves Palin, Limbaugh, and Cheney with more power over the smaller, purer party. Their power further alienates those who aren't hard-core conservatives, which keeps the cycle going.

There's a Kevin Drum line from October that continues to ring true: "Sarah Palin isn't the future of their party, she's the future of mine."

Weaver seems to get this. His party is likely to ignore him.

Steve Benen 3:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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THE TRIED AND NOT-SO-TRUE.... It's steep competition, but one of the more infuriating conservative rhetorical devices employed throughout Bush's presidency was the "terrorists are listening" approach. It was wrong, the White House and its allies said, to criticize the president in the midst of two wars, because the "terrorists are listening" and they'll question American resolve if they see U.S. division.

In time, it became something of a catch all. We couldn't question the Bush policy in Iraq because the "terrorists are listening." We couldn't talk about torture because the "terrorists are listening."

Now that Bush-era interrogation policies are making headlines again, Fox News personality Dana Perino, the former White House press secretary, returned to the old standby on the air this morning.

"Every day the House of Representatives is having to deal with this issue. But it's not just the House. They've drug [sic] everybody into this. But my concern is we're not giving due interests as to what the terrorists are taking from this. We need to think about the international audience here. I'm sure the terrorists are having a field day."

The embarrassing cast that hosts "Fox and Friends" found this observation utterly fascinating.

Just once, I'd like to hear Republicans consider the idea that it's the torture policies, not talking about the torture policies, that help terrorists.

Indeed, the terrorists "had a field day" when it came to recruiting and fundraising when Perino's old bosses pursued a ridiculous national security policy, and al Qaeda seems awfully disappointed to see Bush/Cheney leave office.

Steve Benen 2:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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AT LEAST IT WASN'T HAIKU.... Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) has decided to join the conservative attacks on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. That's not terribly surprising.

What is surprising is the preferred medium for Huckabee. In all seriousness, the one-time presidential hopeful has written a poem. He titled his piece of work, "Fancy Nancy," which argues that the House Speaker should resign, and makes his case in a series of increasingly painful rhymes.

Until now, she annoyed us, but her gaffes were mostly funny;
Even though it was painful to watch her waste our tax money.
But now her wacky comments are no laughing matter;
She's either unwilling to tell the truth, or she's mad as a hatter!

She sat in briefings and knew about enhanced interrogation;
But claims she wasn't there, and can't give an explanation.
She disparages the CIA and says they are a bunch of liars;
Even the press aren't buying it and they're stoking their fires.

I think Speaker Pelosi has done too much speaking;
And instead of her trashing our intelligence officials, it's her nose that needs tweaking.

If forced to believe whether the CIA and her colleagues in Congress are lying;
Or it's Speaker Pelosi whose credibility and career is dying.
I believe in the integrity of the men and women who sacrifice to keep us safe;
Not the woman who has been caught flat-footed, lying to our face.

I say it here and I say it rather clear-
It's time for Nancy Pelosi to resign and get out of here.

I wish I could make this up, but it's an actual poem from Mike Huckabee, the former governor, Fox News personality, and presidential candidate. Seriously. It's tempting to fact-check this, and point out its many errors, but that would require treating Huck's verse as if it were credible.

Richard Posner, a well-known conservative and Reagan-appointed federal judge, argued last week that "conservative intellectuals" no longer have a political party. It's an observation Huckabee may want to take to heart.

Steve Benen 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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BIDEN'S NOT-SO-SECRET DISCLOSURE.... Fox News has an attention-getting headline, which is bound to get conservatives talking: "Biden Reveals Location of Secret VP Bunker."

Vice President Joe Biden, well-known for his verbal gaffes, may have finally outdone himself, divulging potentially classified information meant to save the life of a sitting vice president.

According to a report, while recently attending the Gridiron Club dinner in Washington, an annual event where powerful politicians and media elite get a chance to cozy up to one another, Biden told his dinnermates about the existence of a secret bunker under the old U.S. Naval Observatory, which is now the home of the vice president.

The bunker is believed to be the secure, undisclosed location former Vice President Dick Cheney remained under protection in secret after the 9/11 attacks.

As the story goes, Biden, while chatting with head-table dinner attendees back in March, alluded to a bunker-like room in the Naval Observatory. No one who heard the vice president said anything, until Newsweek's Eleanor Clift mentioned it on Friday. This, naturally, prompted Fox News to report that Biden has "revealed" the location of a "secret" bunker at the Naval Observatory.

It seems like the kind of thing that might make the rounds quickly in conservative circles, so let's nip it in the bud.

First, the notion that there might be a bunker-like room at the vice president's residence is hardly a surprise. In 2002, construction crews spent eight months at the Naval Observatory, and the neighborhood complained about a series of blasts that shook nearby homes. Of course they were building a bunker for the vice president. As Michael Crowley noted, "The real surprise might be that there wasn't already a bunker down there."

Second, as Steve M. noted, way back during Bush's first term, Time and a variety of newspapers had reports on something called "Site R," which was described as Cheney's "underground Pentagon," close to the Maryland-Pennsylvania border. That, apparently, was Cheney's "undisclosed location."

Biden's revelation? Not too big a deal.

Steve Benen 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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IT ALWAYS COMES BACK TO THE SENATE BLUE DOGS.... By some measures, today is something of a breakthrough moment for climate-change legislation. The House Energy and Commerce Committee will begin work today on a cap-and-trade bill shaped by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a compromise measure that Joe Romm has called "a stunning legislative achievement."

Paul Krugman noted that the measure, which has been endorsed by Al Gore, has come under fire from conservative global-warming deniers, and some environmental groups that have argued it compromises too much. Krugman argued, however, that it's a big step in the right direction.

[T]he bill represents major action to limit climate change. As the Center for American Progress has pointed out, by 2020 the legislation would have the same effect on global warming as taking 500 million cars off the road. And by all accounts, this bill has a real chance of becoming law in the near future.

So opponents of the proposed legislation have to ask themselves whether they're making the perfect the enemy of the good. I think they are.

After all the years of denial, after all the years of inaction, we finally have a chance to do something major about climate change. Waxman-Markey is imperfect, it's disappointing in some respects, but it's action we can take now. And the planet won't wait.

The "disappointing" aspects of the bill are the result of watering the legislation down to garner support from less progressive Democrats. It worked: Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), a key House centrist, endorsed the bill last week.

Does this point to a chance at real progress on addressing the climate crisis? It might, if it weren't for the Blue Dogs in the Senate. Roll Call reports today that the House compromise has given the legislation some "momentum," but "it still may not be enough to break the logjam in the Senate."

...Senate Democratic aides said that while the House deal is encouraging, it's not clear how lasting it will be or whether it can overcome the deep-seated concerns of a host of moderate Senators. [...]

Another senior aide said Waxman's "pragmatic approach ... will be appreciated in the Senate" but cautioned that the deal is unlikely to fully satisfy Senate moderates who are looking to temper the bill even more.

"Rick Boucher does not equal Evan Bayh does not equal Debbie Stabenow," the senior Senate Democratic aide said of the Democratic Senators from Indiana and Michigan, respectively. Bayh and Stabenow have expressed reservations about cap-and-trade provisions, which would cap emissions and allow industries to trade for pollution permits.

"There are a substantial number of moderate Democrats who are uneasy at best," the knowledgeable Senate Democratic aide noted.

Remember, Boucher is from a coal-rich, conservative district in Southwestern Virginia, and he's on board with the Waxman-Markey compromise. But senators like Bayh and Landrieu are "uneasy," putting the future of the bill in doubt.

At a certain point, Bayh and the Blue Dogs will simply have to decide whether they have the stomach to govern. There are real crises in need of real solutions, and "centrist" Democrats seem reluctant to rise to the occasion.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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MONDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* In a significant setback for Democratic recruiting efforts, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper (D) announced late last week that he will not challenge Sen. Richard Burr (R) next year. Some recent polls showed Cooper faring very well in a hypothetical match-up. Rumor has it, the party will now turn its attention to Rep. Heath Shuler (D).

* As expected, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum (R) announced this morning that he will run for governor next year, now that Charlie Crist (R) is running for the Senate.

* Speaking of Crist, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele declined to say yesterday whether the national party supports Crist's Senate campaign. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has already endorsed the governor's bid.

* Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declined to endorse his fellow Kentucky Republican, Sen. Jim Bunning, during a Fox News interview yesterday. I can't wait to hear Bunning's response to the news.

* Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) announced late last week that he, at President Obama's urging, will not run for the Senate next year. Israel was poised to take on Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in a Democratic primary.

* Obama's intervention on Gillibrand's behalf has not, however, discouraged Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who continues to eye the Senate race.

* Former Bush Budget Director Rob Portman (R) saw his Senate campaign in Ohio get a boost the other day, when state Auditor Mary Taylor, Portman's only credible primary foe, withdrew from consideration.

* And Virginia's Democratic gubernatorial primary took an interesting twist this morning, when Brian Moran launched a new radio ad, going after Terry McAuliffe for criticizing Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential primary process. McAuliffe, Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, supported Obama after Clinton withdrew and endorsed her rival.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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CAN'T TAKE 'YES' FOR AN ANSWER.... For months, a wide variety of Democratic officials and leading progressive voices insisted that some kind of investigation of Bush-era torture, possibly through a "truth commission," would serve the nation's interests. The idea was going nowhere fast -- the Obama White House discouraged the idea, and congressional Republicans were staunchly opposed. In time, proponents grew discouraged, and predicted that their efforts would likely come up short.

And that's the irony of the Republicans' attack on Speaker Pelosi. The idea, by all appearances, was to intimidate Democrats -- if Dems wanted to look into Bush's policies, the GOP would want the same probe to look into Dems' activities during the same period. As Matt Yglesias explained very well, the tactic seems to be backfiring.

What conservatives are missing here is that this is a fight they were winning before they started gunning for Pelosi. Their best ally in this fight was Barack Obama, whose desire to "move forward" rather than focusing on the past had been the subject of much consternation. Had conservatives simply reached out to grab the hand that was being extended to them, they could have gotten what they wanted.

But in their zeal to score a tactical win, the right has made a truth commission more likely not less likely. Obama wanted to avoid a backward-looking focus on torture in part because it distracted from his legislative agenda. But if we're going to be looking backward anyway, thanks to conservatives' insistence on complaining about Pelosi, then the move forward strategy lacks a rationale. And far from forcing a standoff in which Pelosi will abandon her support for an investigation, the right has forced her into a corner from which she can't give in to moderate Democrats' opposition to such a move without looking like she's cravenly attempting to save her own skin.

Exactly. Republicans were getting exactly the result they wanted, right up until they thought to go after Pelosi. Now, the liberal Democratic House Speaker and the conservative Republican RNC chairman are saying the same thing: let's investigate and get the whole story.

Indeed, Pelosi has been using this to great effect. When the right argues that she's lying or was somehow complicit in Bush's alleged crimes, she always responds with the same compelling answer: "Let's have an investigation and see who's right."

As far as the strategy goes, Republicans should have taken "yes" for an answer.

Steve Benen 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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THE ROUTINE REPLACEMENTS.... Late last week, the White House announced six presidential nominees for U.S. Attorney posts. Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters the Justice Department would be sensitive to the "continuity" of the offices, but added that "elections matter," and the DoJ intends to have Obama's choices in place nationwide quickly.

I assumed it was only a matter of time before a confused, high-profile conservative started comparing this to the Bush purge scandal. Sean Hannity, not surprisingly, did just that.

On the May 15 edition of Fox News' Hannity, host Sean Hannity suggested that President Obama's plans to replace current U.S. attorneys with his own appointees are analogous to President Bush's controversial firing of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006. [...]

During the segment, Hannity said: "[R]emember how outraged Democrats were when President Bush replaced a handful of his own U.S. attorneys? Now, liberals claim the prosecutors were unjustly removed for political reasons and argued that President Bush had no right to replace his own appointees. Well, get this -- according to the AP, on the very same day that Karl Rove is reportedly meeting with a prosecutor to discuss President Bush's decision, President Obama is one step closer to ousting a group of U.S. attorneys."

Hannity later aired a clip of Attorney General Eric Holder stating during a May 14 congressional hearing, "Elections matter. It is our intention to have the U.S. attorneys that are selected by President Obama in place as quickly as we can." Hannity then said: "All right. 'Elections matter'? That's your reason? Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that considered politically motivated?"

None of this makes a lick of sense, but the U.S. Attorney purge scandal is a few years old now, and it's possible there might be some confusion about the process.

So, let's set the record straight. The standard practice for new presidents is to replace his predecessor's team of U.S. Attorneys with a new slate of prosecutors. U.S. Attorneys know this when they accept the nomination -- their service will likely follow the president's term in office.

What the Bush White House did, however, was identify specific U.S. Attorneys, in the middle of their term, who fell out of favor because they prosecuted Republicans or failed to prosecute Democrats. The purge of nine U.S. Attorneys in 2006 was without modern precedent, and is currently under investigation.

When Holder said "elections matter," he was noting the obvious: Obama won, so he's going to replace most of Bush's U.S. Attorneys, just as Bush did with Clinton, Clinton did with Bush, Reagan did with Carter, etc. Obama's move is just a simple, routine part of a transition between administrations. This isn't controversial, and it bears no resemblance to the Bush-era controversy.

Hannity specifically said, "Correct me if I'm wrong." Sean, consider yourself corrected.

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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CLUB FOR CONSERVATIVE FEALTY.... One might expect congressional Republicans to be a little less disciplined under the circumstances. When a popular president wins by a wide margin, and governs during a crisis with a popular agenda, it stands to reason the minority party might be at least a little splintered -- especially among those representing states or districts the rival party's president just won.

But that hasn't happened, and there's been near unanimity among Republicans in opposition to President Obama's economic recovery package and budget (among other things). Where's all of this party discipline coming from, especially in a party with no clear leadership?

Chances are, the Club for Growth has had something to do with it.

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter's switch to the Democratic Party underscores the clout of Club For Growth, a conservative group that targets Republicans it brands insufficiently committed to low taxes and small government.

The move also has inflamed a debate within the party: Are the group's tactics good or bad for Republicans?

Mr. Specter fingered Club For Growth as the key factor behind his decision, saying he would have lost the Republican primary to a Club-backed rival. His decision has prompted some Republicans to turn on the organization, saying it backs those who are so conservative that they then lose to Democrats.

"If their goal is to increase the Democrats' numbers in Congress, they're doing a very good job," said Rep. Steven LaTourette (R., Ohio), a moderate who won his seat in 1994. "Do they want a permanent minority of 140 people as pure as Caesar's wife, or a Republican majority that can get them 70% of the issues that are important to them?"

Not surprisingly, the Club for Growth believes Republicans would be wildly successful nationwide, if only every member of the party would agree to cut taxes, slash spending, and reject every Democratic economic idea. The group's leadership really seems to believe the nation is made up of Grover Norquists from coast to coast, and the GOP is in a deep hole because it's just too darn liberal.

The result is an outfit that launches very aggressive primary challenges against key Republican officeholders who stray from the Club for Growth's vision.

It's why DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) told the WSJ that every time they see the Club for Growth take on a Republican, "it brings a smile to our face."

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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MR. SECESSION.... Over the weekend, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) had an op-ed explaining, "I have never advocated for secession and never will." He added that he's "simply sounding the alarm" about taxes, spending, budget deficits, etc.

That Perry even found it necessary to write the op-ed suggests his secession talk in April did some fairly significant harm to his credibility as a governor. The rhetoric probably gave him a boost with the right-wing base in advance of his gubernatorial primary fight with Kay Bailey Hutchison, but Perry seems to realize there's no upside to being known as "the secession governor." (For the record, Perry specifically said last month that while he saw "no reason" to "dissolve" the union, "if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come of that.")

And while all of this is interesting, reader P.B. reminded me of a Perry-related anecdote in Robert Draper's GQ piece on Donald Rumsfeld.

[Frances Fragos Townsend] had received a promotion -- to assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism -- yet was still unable to command Rumsfeld's respect. In the midst of Hurricane Rita, Townsend learned that Texas governor Rick Perry had signaled his willingness to cede control of the National Guard to the federal government. She called Rumsfeld's aide and was told, "The secretary and Mrs. Rumsfeld are at an event."

Townsend knew that. The event was an ambassadors' ball; she was supposed to be there but was instead dealing with the crisis. "Put me in to his detail," she ordered.

A minute later, Townsend was on the phone with Rumsfeld's security agent, who then spoke to the SecDef. "The secretary will talk to you after the event," she was told.

Later in the evening, her phone rang. It was Chief of Staff Andy Card. "Rumsfeld just called," said Card. "What is it you need?"

Livid, Townsend said, "I want to know if the president knows what a fucking asshole Don Rumsfeld is."

Now, the obvious takeaway from this is that Rumsfeld was impossible to work with. But there's also that other part -- Perry was willing to cede control of the Texas National Guard to the federal government? This from a guy who complains bitterly, "We think it's time to draw the line in the sand and tell Washington that no longer are we going to accept their oppressive hand in the state of Texas"?

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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OBAMA AND THE FIGHTING IRISH.... I hadn't heard until this morning that President Obama, after accepting Notre Dame's invitation to deliver a commencement address, had no intention of talking at any length about abortion rights. But in light of the criticism from some conservative corners, the NYT noted that he "decided to devote most of his address to bridging the chasm over abortion and other moral issues."

It was clearly the right call. Indeed, the Washington Post added, "Obama appeared energized by the controversy over his appearance, and he addressed the debate over abortion with relish."

E. J. Dionne's take was spot-on:

Facing down protesters who didn't want him at Notre Dame, President Obama fought back not with harsh words but with the most devastating weapons in his political arsenal: a call for "open hearts," "open minds," "fair-minded words" and a search for "common ground."

There were many messages sent from South Bend. Obama's opponents seek to reignite the culture wars. He doesn't. They would reduce religious faith to a narrow set of issues. He refused to join them. They often see theological arguments as leading to certainty. He opted for humility.

He did all this without skirting the abortion question and without flinching from the "controversy surrounding my visit here." ... By facing their arguments head-on and by demonstrating his attentiveness to Catholic concerns, Obama strengthened moderate and liberal forces inside the church itself. He also struck a forceful blow against those who would keep the nation mired in culture-war politics without end. Obama's opponents on the Catholic right placed a large bet on his Notre Dame visit. And they lost.

In some ways, the half-hour address was a great example of Obama doing precisely what he enjoys doing -- engaging those who disagree with him, extending respect to his rivals, emphasizing the value of dialog, searching for areas of agreement, and all the while, taking the high ground.

Note how he addressed the abortion issue, without backing down from his own long-held position. Obama emphasized, for example, how fair-minded people can work to reduce unwanted pregnancies, which would necessarily lower the number of abortions, and do more to "provide care and support for women who do carry their children to term."

"Now, understand -- understand, Class of 2009, I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. Because no matter how much we may want to fudge it -- indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory -- the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature."

Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins said in introduction, "President Obama has come to Notre Dame, though he knows well that we are fully supportive of Church teaching on the sanctity of human life, and we oppose his policies on abortion and embryonic stem cell research. Others might have avoided this venue for that reason. But President Obama is not someone who stops talking to those who differ with him."

If you missed it, the Politico has the full video, and here's the transcript (which, interestingly enough, included the words of the occasional protestor).

Steve Benen 8:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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WHEN COPYING AND PASTING GOES AWRY.... As you may have heard by now, the New York Times' Maureen Dowd ran into a little trouble over the weekend. A TPM Cafe blogger noticed a phrase in the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist's latest piece that sounded pretty familiar.

Here's Dowd, yesterday:

More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when the Bush crowd was looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq.

And here's TPM's Josh Marshall, in a post on Thursday:

More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when we were looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Where Josh wrote "we were," Dowd wrote "the Bush crowd was." The other 41 words, including every comma, are exactly the same.

I'd assumed that Dowd would chalk this up to a careless error, perhaps pin it on a research assistant, explain that she meant to credit TPM, and express contrition over the mix-up.

But that's not quite what transpired. Dowd told the Huffington Post that the quote was obviously from TPM, but said she doesn't read the blog. "I was talking to a friend of mine Friday about what I was writing who suggested I make this point, expressing it in a cogent -- and I assumed spontaneous -- way and I wanted to weave the idea into my column," Dowd said. "But, clearly, my friend must have read Josh Marshall without mentioning that to me."

That's not much of a response. The friend told Dowd an exact-word quote, including the commas, and she "weaved" it into her column? (It seems more likely to me the friend emailed Dowd the paragraph, Dowd liked it, and pasted the paragraph into her column.)

Dowd's explanation is, to put it mildly, unpersuasive. In fact, Jamison Foser asks the right question: "So how do you think Maureen Dowd would react if, say, Joe Biden ripped off a few dozen of someone else's words, then offered up an excuse this lame? Or if Al Gore did?"

The Biden question is especially relevant, since Dowd personally helped end Biden's presidential campaign in 1987 ... exposing a plagiarism problem.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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HENRY WAXMAN'S MOMENT.... Late last week, members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee reached an agreement on a bill that represents Congress's first serious attempt to wrestle with climate change. Among other things, it seeks to create a cap-and-trade system that would limit the amount of greenhouse gases industries could emit, reducing America's carbon emissions by 17 percent over the next decade.

But the bill has a long road to travel before it becomes law. While the Obama administration has supported the legislation, it has higher priorities this year, and getting together enough votes for cap and trade in the Senate -- where Republicans are almost unanimously opposed and many centrist Democrats remain skeptical -- will be a tall order.

But if there's a reason for supporters of climate change legislation to not be concerned about this, it is the man in charge of guiding the House bill through Congress: Representative Henry Waxman, a California Democrat and the committee chairman. In the May/June issue of the Washington Monthly, Charles Homans looks at Waxman's record as a legislator, which includes decades of battles against the tobacco industry, a surprising series of health care expansions under the Reagan administration, and, most significantly, a decade-long fight to expand the Clean Air Act.

In fact, Homans writes, most of Waxman's accomplishments have been like the battle over cap and trade: struggles that lasted longer -- sometimes much longer -- than a single session of Congress, and were won largely based on the congressman's ability to outlast and outflank the opposition. The bid to regulate climate change is the most daunting assignment Waxman has faced -- but it is one for which he has been preparing his entire career.

Read Homans's profile of Waxman, "Marathon Man."

Steve Benen 2:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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By: Hilzoy

The Uighurs: 3

I'm trying to track down the truth behind the various claims that are being made about the Uighur detainees at Guantanamo. (Previous posts: 1, 2.) One that keeps coming up is this:

"At Guantanamo Bay, the Uighurs are known for picking up television sets on which women with bared arms appear and hurling them across the room."

Jonah Goldberg:

"While watching a televised soccer game, the camera showed women with exposed arms, and the Uighurs went ballistic, picking up the TV and smashing it." [UPDATE: I originally had the Gingrich quote twice. I have no idea how that happened. Sorry. END UPDATE]

As far as I can tell, the source for this story is this paragraph from the LA Times:

"But the TV privileges underscored potential difficulties to come, according to one current and one former U.S. official. Not long after being granted access to TV, some of the Uighurs were watching a soccer game. When a woman with bare arms was shown on the screen, one of the group grabbed the television and threw it to the ground, according to the officials."

I was thinking about this while I was waiting for Obama's Notre Dame speech to start: about the way the story had metamorphosed from one incident into Gingrich's "known for picking up television sets" (apparently not just once, but often enough to acquire a reputation), and Jonah Goldberg's "going ballistic". Suddenly the phone rang; I ran to get it, and realized: if some official with an axe to grind had been in my house, s/he could easily have told the LA Times that I fled the room as soon as the President got up to speak. It would have been true. But it would have been awfully misleading.

So I decided to find out what actually happened. I wrote to the Uighurs' lawyer, Sabin Willett. I have corresponded with him occasionally in the past, he has always been completely trustworthy, and I was hoping that he would be able to tell me the story behind this episode. But guess what? He has no idea what those officials are talking about. From his email (quoted with permission):

"I have seen this reference. I have no idea where it comes from.

from my own observation, our clients are neither violent nor badly disposed to women. our translator is a woman, and some of the attorneys are women, and in our meetings the lawyers do not cover -- ie -- wear a headscarf. The men are extremely courteous toward women, actually.

the idea that the clients are religious extremists is silly. five of their companions have been living in Europe, peaceably, for three years now, in cultures that are primarily western."

If anyone reading this actually knows anything about this episode, please feel free to contact me. Until then, I'm left wondering how an allegation by unnamed officials in one article, concerning an episode that might never have happened, or that might be described very differently, ends up being cited by so many people as though it were gospel.

While I'm on this subject: Senator Webb should know better than to say this:

"The situation with the Chinese Uighurs that you're talking about, on the one hand, it can be argued that they were simply conducting dissident activities against the government of China. On the other, they accepted training from al Qaeda and as a result they have taken part in terrorism. I don't believe they should come to the United States."

This post has a description of the village the Uighurs stayed in, and the training they received. It involved learning to assemble and disassemble a rifle, and firing a few rounds from it. I did as much in summer camp, and I'm not all that dangerous. This post covers the organization they were either staying with or members of. It was not designated as a terrorist organization while they were there; it had no affiliation with al Qaeda; and when it was designated as a terrorist organization later, that designation was widely regarded as a concession the Bush administration made to China in return for China's acquiescence in the UN's Iraq war resolution.

The Uighurs did not "accept al Qaeda training", and Sen. Webb should not say that they did.

Hilzoy 1:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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By: Hilzoy

Sri Lanka

After twenty five long horrible years, one of the longest-running civil wars on earth might just have come to an end:

"The ethnic Tamil separatist rebels of Sri Lanka, one of the world's most feared and enduring guerrilla movements, acknowledged Sunday that their war of more than a quarter-century for a homeland had "reached its bitter end."

The announcement by their group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, coming as the Sri Lankan military said it was conducting final mop-up operations on a tiny sliver of coast that had been the rebels' last refuge, paves the way for the conclusion of Asia's longest-running civil war.

It does not, however, eliminate the possibility of guerrilla strikes. The L.T.T.E., as the rebels are often called, are known for suicide bombings. And the statement by their spokesman, Selvarasa Pathmanathan, posted on the pro-rebel Web site, TamilNet, pointed to the group's "fearless and unending commitment to this cause."

"This battle has reached its bitter end," Mr. Pathmanathan said. "We have decided to silence our guns." The statement made no mention of surrender and did not concede defeat, but the acknowledgment of finality suggested that the rebels knew the war was over. (...)

As the war's climax approached, both sides had rebuffed repeated calls from the United Nations and several foreign countries to spare civilians caught in the war zone. The United Nations estimates that at least 7,000 have died since January.

The government has been pressed to stop shelling known civilian sites, including hospitals. The rebels have been accused of holding their own people hostage. No amount of international pressure has worked, not even appeals from Sri Lanka's powerful neighbor, India, where Tamil refugees have trickled in, via flimsy fishing boats."

Thank God. The fighting has recently focused on a small area on a little spit of land surrounded on three sides by water. The people who lived there were essentially trapped, and the Tamil Tigers were said to be using them as human shields. There were, reportedly, 50,000 of them as of May 15. Aid has not been able to get through for some days. Here are some photos from a report commissioned by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International (via the BBC) that give some sense of the recent damage to this area:

Photobucket

Bear in mind that those photos are of the same area, and that they were taken four days apart. That's how long it took for most of those houses -- which had been set up for displaced persons -- to be obliterated by government shelling.

May the peace hold, and may the people who lived in these houses find refuge, the strength to rebuild their lives, and the help they need.

Hilzoy 12:07 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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May 17, 2009
By: Hilzoy

Keeping Us Safe

I wanted to highlight one other bit of the GQ story on Rumsfeld. The author writes:

"What Rumsfeld was most effective in doing," says a former senior White House official, "was not so much undermining a decision that had yet to be made as finding every way possible to delay the implementation of a decision that had been made and that he didn't like." At meetings, he'd throw up every obstacle he could. "Rumsfeld would say, 'Golly, we haven't had time to read all of these documents! I mean, this is radical change!'" the official adds. "And then, if you suggested that maybe he should've read all the documents when everyone first got them a week ago, he'd say: 'Well! I've been all over the world since then! What have you been doing?'"

What a charmer. Here are some specific examples involving Russia:

"Rumsfeld's office cut against Bush's pledge of cooperation and transparency with Russia on "a whole host of things," says this official: the proposed Russian-American Observation Satellite, the Joint Data Exchange Center, plutonium disposition. By 2005 the Bush-Putin partnership had soured for a variety of reasons, including Russia's growing economic swagger and America's Iraq-induced decline in global prestige. But, the official observes, Rumsfeld "did not help the relationship; that's clear." Russia came to believe that the U.S. wasn't interested in cooperating, and Rumsfeld's actions "devalued what the president had originally said. It made the Russians believe he lacked credibility.""

If you're not an arms policy wonk, you might not recognize some of these examples. That would be a shame, since what this paragraph actually means is that Donald Rumsfeld slow-walked proposals designed to do two things that might strike the casual observer as quite important: keep weapons-grade plutonium out of the hands of terrorists, and prevent the accidental launch of nuclear weapons at our cities.

"Plutonium disposition" is part of the general attempt to secure and destroy Russian nuclear material. If you're worried about al Qaeda getting nuclear weapons, securing Russian loose nukes is the most obvious place to start: so obvious that our failure to prioritize this always struck me as one of the abiding mysteries of the Bush administration. There are nuclear weapons sitting around in enormously insecure locations. (Howard Baker: "I'm talking about finished weapons that are barely protected. I'm talking about doors that have an ordinary padlock on them and sometimes not even that." Quoted in Allison, Nuclear Terrorism, p. 74.)

Plutonium disposition is one part of securing loose nukes: the part where you take weapons-grade plutonium and render it unusable. As of mid-2003, here's what we had done:

"The entire nine year program to date has been focused on investing to prepare for beginning to reduce excess plutonium stockpiles in the future."

"Investing to prepare for beginning to reduce" -- that sounds promising! As of April 2007, things had not improved much:

"Although the original agreement called for each side to start off at a rate of two tons of plutonium a year and seek to move to four tons a year, the four-ton objective appears to have been largely abandoned, and the planned Russian program now stretches to 2040. (...)

A wide range of other obstacles have contributed to these slowing schedules and escalating costs. After delays resulting from a year-long Bush administration policy review, the Bush team delayed matters further by demanding that Russia accept liability provisions that would make Russia liable even for damage caused by intentional sabotage by U.S. personnel, a provision Russian negotiators predictably rejected. Because construction of the U.S. and Russian MOX plants had been linked, this dispute resulted in years of delay in both countries. A liability protocol for plutonium disposition, in which the Bush administration effectively abandoned its earlier demands, was finally signed in September 2006, ironically not long after the linkage between U.S. and Russian construction was dropped."

So that's what Rumsfeld dragging his feet on plutonium disposition meant: not helping to destroy weapons-grade material that was often stored in insecure locations, and which a terrorist might use to build a bomb. Thanks, Don.

Here's a description of the Joint Data Exchange Center from the joint US/Russian press release announcing it:

"This agreement (...) establishes a Joint Data Exchange Center (JDEC) in Moscow for the exchange of information derived from each side's missile launch warning systems on the launches of ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles.

The exchange of this data will strengthen strategic stability by further reducing the danger that ballistic missiles might be launched on the basis of false warning of attack. It will also promote increased mutual confidence in the capabilities of the ballistic missile early warning systems of both sides."

Basically, the fact that the US and Russia have nuclear missiles pointed at one another means that it's rather important to ensure that neither side mistakenly concludes that the other has launched a nuclear strike to which it must respond. After all, you don't want to get into a nuclear war over something like this:

"In 1995 the Russians mistakenly interpreted a Norwegian meteorological missile launch as a launch of a military missile, and the black case of the Russian President was activated for the first time since the end of the Cold War."

The JDEC is basically designed to help prevent that sort of needless catastrophe. But guess what?

"The agreement regarding the JDEC was first signed by Presidents Bill Clinton and Putin at their June 2000 meeting in Moscow. Over the next several years, implementation of the center fell prey to bureaucratic issues between Moscow and Washington such as the question of which side would pay for upgrading the school building that had been selected for the site. In addition, the general disinterest of the Bush administration toward negotiated agreements with Russia, especially when negotiated by earlier presidents, served to shelve the JDEC further. The agreement remains intact, however, and the center could be rapidly established as a venue for confidence building on missile defenses."

The next time you hear Dick Cheney talk about how the Bush administration kept us safe, don't just think about 9/11, the people who have died in the Iraq war, etc. Think about the fact that this administration slow-walked things like mechanisms to keep us from being incinerated because of a mistake and measures to destroy Russian weapons-grade plutonium so that it didn't fall into the hands of terrorists.

Hilzoy 5:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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By: Hilzoy

"The Righteous Nation"

Steve already mentioned GQ's article about Donald Rumsfeld. You should really read the whole thing. I just thought I'd highlight this bit, about the Biblically-themed cover sheets that Rumsfeld attached to the President's daily intelligence briefings on Iraq:

"In the days before the Iraq war, Shaffer's staff had created humorous covers in an attempt to alleviate the stress of preparing for battle. Then, as the body counting began, Shaffer, a Christian, deemed the biblical passages more suitable. Several others in the Pentagon disagreed. At least one Muslim analyst in the building had been greatly offended; others privately worried that if these covers were leaked during a war conducted in an Islamic nation, the fallout -- as one Pentagon staffer would later say -- "would be as bad as Abu Ghraib." (...)

The Scripture-adorned cover sheets illustrate one specific complaint I heard again and again: that Rumsfeld's tactics -- such as playing a religious angle with the president -- often ran counter to sound decision-making and could, occasionally, compromise the administration's best interests. In the case of the sheets, publicly flaunting his own religious views was not at all the SecDef's style -- "Rumsfeld was old-fashioned that way," Shaffer acknowledged when I contacted him about the briefings -- but it was decidedly Bush's style, and Rumsfeld likely saw the Scriptures as a way of making a personal connection with a president who frequently quoted the Bible. No matter that, if leaked, the images would reinforce impressions that the administration was embarking on a religious war and could escalate tensions with the Muslim world. The sheets were not Rumsfeld's direct invention -- and he could thus distance himself from them, should that prove necessary."

Gosh: who could possibly think that something like this could make people think that we were on a crusade against Islam?

righteous nation

The full slideshow is here. I also very much liked the one that said: "Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed" (from Proverbs). In view of Rumsfeld's actual record on this point, it would have been more accurate to say: "Plans? We Don't Need No Stinking Plans!"

Hilzoy 2:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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MCCONNELL'S MALLEABLE PRINCIPLES.... Remember when Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) believed filibustering a president's judicial nominee was just about the worst thing a senator could do? When McConnell was prepared to change the rules, execute the "nuclear option," and declare judicial filibusters unconstitutional?

Well, never mind that now.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Sunday that he would not rule out employing a filibuster to block Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee despite having vehemently opposed the use of the parliamentary procedure over judicial appointments four years ago.

Appearing on Fox News Sunday, the Kentucky Republican said that, per the rules of the Senate, "all things are possible" when it came to the vote on Obama's choice for the Court. When reminded that he threatened to resort to the "nuclear option" when Democrats were threatening to filibuster George W. Bush's Court appointments, McConnell largely embraced his 180 degree turn in position.

"The Senate rejected my advice," he reminded host Chris Wallace. "And the Senate is a place that frequently operates on precedent. So I think the Senate deliberately decided not to take a position one way or the other."

It was just four years ago this week that McConnell had a very different perspective.

"Because of the unprecedented obstruction of our Democratic colleagues, the Republican conference intends to restore the principle that, regardless of party, any President's judicial nominees, after full debate, deserve a simple up-or-down vote. I know that some of our colleagues wish that restoration of this principle were not required. But it is a measured step that my friends on the other side of the aisle have unfortunately made necessary. For the first time in 214 years, they have changed the Senate's 'advise and consent' responsibilities to 'advise and obstruct.' [...]Given those results, many of us had hoped that the politics of obstruction would have been dumped in the dustbin of history. Regretfully, that did not happen." [Senate Floor Speech, 5/19/05]

I can only assume he won't be the only conservative Republican who suddenly finds judicial filibusters a whole lot less outrageous than he used to.

Steve Benen 12:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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COMPETING ENDS OF PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.... White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel seems delighted by recent legislative progress. Beyond the early victories on economic stimulus, S-CHIP, Lily Ledbetter, and the budget, Emanuel sees a productive Spring: "[A] credit card bill, anti-contract waste, the financial fraud bill, a major housing bill, F.D.I.C. finance bill, let alone the supplemental. I challenge you to go back to anybody in a spring session and see something like that."

The near future is likely to prove far more challenging.

In the end, a president and a Congress trying to achieve big things invariably see things differently and at some point Mr. Obama and lawmakers will come to a showdown over the direction they want to take the country. At that point, Mr. Obama's measure will be taken more fully.

The opening of the Obama presidency has been characterized by energy, action and Democratic solidarity but the truly big decisions are only now coming into view over the horizon. While deferential to Mr. Obama's enduring popularity, the Democratic Congress is showing increasing signs of restlessness over his national security policies and has signaled that it will not necessarily bow to his wishes on the form of health care or climate change legislation. His plan to reorient the defense budget away from big-dollar hardware to Special Operations strikes at the heart of many lawmakers' district jobs.

So, there will be conflicts, in part because there are still just enough Republicans and conservative Democrats to paralyze the legislative process in the Senate, and in part because even Democratic allies of the president have their own vision of how best to shape the national agenda.

It's a point Time's Michael Scherer also emphasized this week: "While much of the political chatter continues to focus on the waning Republican opposition, Obama's real challenge comes from within his own party. With increasing frequency, Democrats have been scratching away at the promises Obama made during his campaign, watering down reforms, removing possible revenue sources and protecting key constituencies."

Obviously, Congress is a co-equal branch of government, and it stands to reason that Democratic lawmakers, free of Bush veto threats, would want to govern as they see fit. There's nothing wrong with that, per se, except for the inconvenient fact that too many Dems on the Hill are reluctant to pass truly progressive legislation. This leads them to water good bills down, quietly support GOP obstructionism, and embrace committee tactics that ultimately gum up the works.

If nothing else, this certainly offers an illustrative contrast between Democratic control of the White House and Congress and Republican control. Indeed, it underscores an important difference between the parties -- GOP lawmakers under Bush tended to look at Congress as a Parliament, while Democrats are a notoriously undisciplined bunch. As Matt Yglesias noted the other day, "Congressional Republicans from 2003-2006 showed a strong disposition to pass as much conservative legislation as they felt they could get away with politically whereas large numbers of congressional Democrats seem genuinely inclined to try their utmost to block progressive reform."

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (4)

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