Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I'll have what he's having

Does CAP allow Matthew Yglesias to drink while blogging? He explains his lack of commentary on the Supreme Court vacancy because:
I think conventional wisdom overrates the importance of the Supreme Court in American life
Really? So the 5-4 court decision that put Bush in the White House didn't affect American lives? I suspect the soldiers that were wounded or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as their friends and families, might disagree. I think spending over a trillion dollars on these wars, and another couple trillion dollars on Bush's tax cuts, has affected, and will continue to affect, American lives. If the Supreme Court had allowed the Florida recount in 2000, maybe we could have implemented health care reform by now (without the hyperbolic deficit talk).

If that example is too speculative, consider the issue of abortion. Regardless of one's opinion on the issue of abortion itself, I doubt many people would argue that having a child doesn't affect one's life. In fact, I can't think of many life events that have a bigger impact. Since 1973 (Roe v. Wade), the CDC estimates that around 50 million abortions have been performed in the USA. That's 100 million people who were not forced by the Supreme Court to have children against their will. Sure, a small percentage of these women (and don't forget the men) had multiple abortions, and a small percentage of these would-be mothers and fathers have since died, but that's still nearly one-third of the US population alive today!

I felt a little bad about picking on Yglesias in my previous post--not so this time. Conventional wisdom is right. The Supreme Court very much affects American life. With over-lapping 2-year terms in the House, 4-year terms in the oval office, and 6-year terms in the Senate, bad legislation can be fixed relatively quickly. With lifetime Supreme Court appointments, and a reliance on precedent, bad judicial rulings can linger for lifetimes.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Assassination and Crickets

Usually, your time would be better spent reading Matthew Yglesias or Ezra Klein than reading my blog. They usually provide great insight into complex political issues. However, if you are looking for their thoughts or opinions on Obama's assassination order of an American citizen, you will find nothing.

Unlike me, they have staff, they get paid to offer their opinions, and they do so prodigiously. In addition to covering most of the important stuff, Yglesias finds time to write about NBA basketball, and Klein finds time to write about his dinner recipes. Yet, somehow, neither of them has found time to write about Obama claiming the authority to assassinate an American citizen believed to be a terrorist.

We just went through eight years where the mainstream media dodged controversial issues so as not to upset the Bush administration. I certainly hope the left wing blogosphere doesn't adapt that same behavior toward the Obama administration.

It is not likely that Yglesias and Klein are unaware of Obama's claim of assassination authority (or execution capacity as Ezra might call it). It is also not likely that they don't have opinions on the subject. They have opinions on everything. It's their job. This leads me to conclude one of two things.
  1. They disagree with Obama, but they are afraid of alienating the Obama administration and the Obama-worshippers among their readers. This is cowardly.
  2. They agree with Obama, but are afraid to say so because they are afraid of Glenn Greenwald and alienating those readers, like me, who think the Constitution is not something to be abandoned whenever any president thinks they can get away with it. This is also cowardly.
I don't want to create a false dichotomy--maybe there are other options. Perhaps they think the role of the FISA court should be expanded to authorize assassinations in addition to wiretaps. Maybe they think a different secret court should be created specifically to deal with presidential assassination orders. It could be that they actually support an amendment to the Constitution that would give the President the authority he is claiming.

These are smart guys. Maybe they have some brilliant rationale that my feeble mind can't fathom. They should write about it! At best, they might be able to convince me that my view of the issue is wrong. At worst, I might disagree with them. Either way, at least I would respect them for not dodging the issue.

I hate to pick on Yglesias and Klein. They certainly aren't the only voices yielding to the crickets on this issue. They are just the most disappointing to me because I had come to hold them in such high regard.

UPDATED 9/29/2010: Credit where credit is due. Yglesias finally wrapped his head around this issue. It only took 5 months. Still waiting on Ezra.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Obama comes clean on death panels

As it turns out, Obama really is bringing death panels to America. However, it is not as part of health care reform. It is part of the war on terror. Obama is claiming the right to assassinate American citizens with no judicial oversight if they are deemed to be terrorists by his death panels--the intelligence agencies. The first victim is likely to be Anwar al-Awlaki, an American born Muslim cleric.

When he was a candidate, Obama was against even eavesdropping on American citizens without a warrant. Now, as the President, he thinks it is OK to execute American citizens without a warrant, without charges, and without a trial. This is absurd.

I voted for Obama. At the Democratic primary, I stood up on a chair and emphatically expressed the importance of nominating Obama over Clinton. I thought it was crucial for America not to end up with two presidential candidates who voted for the biggest foreign policy disaster of my lifetime (that would be the not so pre-emptive Iraq War).

I appreciate Obama's efforts on reducing nuclear weapons. I appreciate his efforts on health care reform (though I think he could have done more). On the issue of civil rights, however, he has been a complete disaster.

First, he reversed his position on telecom immunity for warrantless wire-tapping. Then, he proposed closing Guantanamo without eliminating the fundamentally unjust concept of indefinite detention without charges. Now, he is claiming the power to order assassinations of American citizens believed to be terrorists.

Believed by who? Well, the same agencies who were wrong about Iraq's WMD's. The same agencies who thought that Chalabi was credible. The same agencies who were wrong about Canadian resident Maher Arar, wrong about the Chinese Uighurs, wrong about Afghan teenager Mohamed Jawad, wrong about Beaverton's Brandon Mayfield, etc.

People may believe that Obama should have the power to order assassinations of suspected terrorists. What people cannot believe, at least those that have read it, is that our Constitution provides this type of unchecked power. In the Hamdi decision, the Supreme Court ruled that American citizens deemed to be enemy combatants are entitled to due process.

The sad part of this, and there are lot of sad parts (like Obama being a Constitutional lawyer), is that a Supreme Court decision on Obama's assassination policy cannot be made until after someone is assassinated. This provides Obama with a convenient excuse--he did not know at the time that assassinating American citizens was unconstitutional. After all, who knew that assassination was a denial of due process?

For now, the Democrats in congress are silent (even the ones who pretended to be outraged over Bush's civil rights abuses). The Republicans support Obama's assassination policy. Of course they do. It validates the Bush/Cheney approach to fighting terrorism. However, I would not be the least bit surprised to see the Republicans reverse course and attempt to impeach Obama if Anwar al-Awlaki is actually assassinated. If so, I will support them. I am pretty sure that executing an American citizen without charges and without a trial rises to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors.

One thing is for sure, when al-Awlaki is assassinated, you can bet that the Obama administration, intelligence agencies, and the media will not portray it as an outright assassination. Instead, they will tell us that American authorities tried to capture him, but that he resisted, so they had no choice but to kill him in self defense. Another thing is for sure--most Americans will believe them.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The quaint politics of Australia

For the past month, the dominant topic in Australian politics has been the government's failure to deliver on the home insulation scheme. That's right. We're talking about insulation--the itchy, pink fiberglass stuff you have in your attic.

The Australian government is not trying to figure out how to extricate itself from wars of aggression, because it did not start any. It is not trying to figure out how to provide health care for all its citizens, because it figured that out in 1975. It is not trying to figure out how to regulate its financial system to prevent another meltdown, because their financial system was regulated such that it did not have a meltdown. As a result, Australia gets to deal with boring stuff like home insulation.

Here is my understanding of the situation. As an energy efficiency initiative, the goverment of Australia launched a massive program to subsidize home insulation. Not surprisingly, many inexperienced, greedy, and/or fraudulent companies entered into the insulation installation market. To date, 4 installers have died, and around 100 houses have caught fire. The public is outraged. Actually, I think the media is outraged, causing the public to get outraged, but that is another story. In any case, the government was forced to pull the plug on the program.

Interestingly, nobody talks about the companies responsible for the deaths or fires. The right wing opposition party's complaint seems to be about the execution of the program, not about the program itself. They suggest that more scrutiny and regulation of the private market were necessary. More scrutiny and regulation...from the right wing! It is almost like the right wing in Australia accepts that private companies are motivated solely by short term profit and must be regulated accordingly. Weird. Also, the right wing party in Australia is called...The Liberal Party! What the hell? Is there a Coriolis Effect in Australian politics?