Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Real Obama Stands Up

Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope is the kind of book people buy without ever reading.

And there's good reason for that.

Written after Obama was elected to the Senate in 2004, The Audacity of Hope is political boilerplate on how Americans can do a better job of "coming together." The 60 or 70 pages I read aren't very insightful. Or very interesting. And I don't particularly regret not getting any further.

Still, there are a lot of progressives who would have done well to read The Audacity of Hope before they endorsed Obama for the Democratic nomination.

Liberal bloggers are up in arms that Barack Obama is supporting the "compromise" bill on wiretapping and telecom immunity that just passed the House of Representatives on Friday and will most likely be passed by the Senate early next week.

There are two major provisions in the bill.

The most important provision in terms of intelligence operations is that the president is required to obtain approval from a special FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court within a week of initiating a wiretap on communications between people in foreign countries and the U. S. They only had 72 hours of leeway under the FISA Act of 1978.

The second provision is probably the more controversial and contentious. The legislation also provides that telecom companies like AT&T that conducted illegal surveillance at the request of the Bush administration will get immunity from criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits.

Liberal bloggers are outraged because it has become evident that the telecom companies "data mined" the whole American system of telephone communication in search of "suspicious" patterns of phone calls at the request of the Bush administration. And they did so without any kind of warrant. Under the FISA Act of 1978 (which was designed to address the CIA abuses of the 50's and 60's), that kind of surveillance was illegal on the part of both the Bush administration and the telecoms and all parties engaging in such surveillance were subject to criminal penalties.

Even worse, "legal immunity" shields the Bush administration's conduct from scrutiny. More than 40 lawsuits have been filed against the telecoms and progressive activists had hoped that the telecoms would be forced to reveal what the Bush administration actually was doing as they responded to the lawsuits. Without the lawsuits, progressive activists have lost a major vehicle for determing the full criminality of the Bush administration's surveillance program.

To say that liberal bloggers are disappointed, enraged, and dismayed over the legislation and Obama's endorsement is to put the matter mildly. At Daily Kos, Hunter has a long diatribe on how Obama's statement on the legislation shows that he thinks most Americans are stupid. Salon blogging powerhouse Glenn Greenwald can't decide which is the worst thing about the surveillance legislation, the un-American character of the whole warrantless surveillance idea, Democratic leadership's lack of respect for the rule of law, the corruption of the Democrats in saving the bacon of big-time campaign contributors like the telecom companies, or the post hoc bragging by the Republicans that they got a lot more than they thought possible. Greenwald emphasizes that the Democratic Congress still hasn't stood up to President Bush on a major issue and views House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland as the primary agent of Democratic appeasement to the Bush administration and the Republicans.

And as a liberal blogger, I'm just as disgusted with the surveillance legislation as Greenwald and Hunter.

But I wonder how they can be surprised that Obama's supporting the bill.

Obama starts off his statement by saying:
Given the grave threats that we face, our national security agencies must have the capability to gather intelligence and track down terrorists before they strike, while respecting the rule of law and the privacy and civil liberties of the American people.
This is key. Obama views the Bush administration as addressing a legitimate concern for national security in its surveillance programs. Much of the point of the first few chapters of The Audacity of Hope is to argue that Republicans and Democrats have most of the same values, that the Republicans have legitimate points of view, and that the Democrats need to be less suspicious and more empathetic about Republican intentions. Obama specifically criticizes the harder edge of ideological partisanship represented by The Daily Kos and bloggers like Glenn Greenwald and myself.
I understand the frustration of these activists. The ability of Republicans to repeatedly win on the basis of polarizing campaigns is indeed impressive. I recognize the dangers of subtlety and nuance in the face of the conservative movement's passionate intensity. And in my mind at least, there are a host of Bush administration policies that justify righteous indignation.

Ultimately, though, I believe any attempt by Democrats to pursue a more sharply partisan and idological strategy misapprehends the moment we're in. I am convinced that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose. (Audacity of Hope, 40)
In other words, Obama is just like Rep. Steny Hoyer, Sen. Jay Rockefeller and other Democrats who view George Bush and Dick Cheney as having an honest belief that warrantless wiretapping is necessary for American national security. As Democrats, figures like Obama might disagree with Bush about the best way to balance national security and civil liberties and believe that the Bush administration has engaged in a number of abuses.
There is also little doubt that the Bush Administration, with the cooperation of major telecommunications companies, has abused that authority and undermined the
Constitution by intercepting the communications of innocent Americans without
their knowledge or the required court orders.
However, Barack Obama is like Steny Hoyer in believing that the Bush people are decent and being more than willing to compromise some of his values to get important legislation passed. For Obama, this is the only way to get out of what he views as the "either-or" (Audacity, 40) politics of the last eight years and the only way to generate the broad consensus needed for government to better serve the public interest.

That's a long way from my view and the views of the most prominent liberal bloggers. From the liberal blogger point of view, the Bush administration is a criminal enterprise that knowingly and purposefully violated the laws against warrantless wiretapping, crimes against humanity, and politicizing administrative entities like the Justice Department. The major figures in the Bush administration viewed all of these types of laws as "liberal legislation" and saw a willingness to break those laws as a test of political manhood. Likewise, once figures in the Bush administration committed their various crimes, they also engaged in a wholesale cover-up by "misplacing" e-mails, invoking executive privilege, refusing international agencies access to prisoners at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, etc.

While Obama believes that the Bush administration has been sincerely pursuing their ideas of national security even if he disagrees with those ideas, most of the prominent liberal bloggers have concluded that the Bush administration leveraged the national security crisis of 9-11 into the wholesale lawbreaking of laws they didn't like.

I agree with the bloggers and this fundamental disagreement with Obama is the primary reason why I supported Hillary Clinton almost to the bitter end.

Nevertheless, mostly because of their general disgust with the Clinton era and Obama's early opposition to the Iraq War, the activists at Daily Kos and supported Obama.

Now that they can see the real Obama, liberal activists need to form a better understanding of what the Democratic nominee stands for.

They also need to read his book.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Caric's Election Prediction: Obama--57, McCain--43

The Prediction. My not-so fearless prediction for the presidential election is that Obama is going to win and he's going to win big--57-43. I say "not-so-fearless" because predicting such a big win for Obama makes me extremely nervous and . . . well, fearful.

There's so many unpredictable elements in the election that forecasting a landslide for Obama seems risky to the point of recklessness. Nobody knows how Obama's racial status as a mixed-race, African-American is going to play out. Nobody knows how the economy is going to look in October or what's going to be happening in Iraq. And nobody knows where the next Jeremiah Wright, lobbyist, drunk-driving, or patriotism scandal is going to come from.

But I'm still going with Obama 57, McCain 43.

The Reasons. There are several reasons why. John McCain is operating with several severe disadvantages. The biggest disadvantage for McCain is that most of the American public is sick of President Bush, Dick Cheney, and the Republican Party as a whole. Bush's approval numbers are in the 20's and not likely to get better as both gas prices and unemployment go up. Public opposition to the war in Iraq is rock solid at 60-65% despite the relative success of the surge and the financial and sex scandals of Congressional Republicans have branded Republicans as the party of greed, lust, and hypocrisy. Adding everything up, the Democrats have a 55-36 advantage in party identification and most people want to elect a Democrat as president.

There's more. Barack Obama is going to have a huge money advantage. There are some estimates that Obama will be able to raise $500 million for the general election campaign while McCain has taken public financing and is only going to be able to spend the $84 million the government gives him. (bias alert: I've kicked in $150 for Obama myself). What this means mostly is that Obama is going to be doing so much more television advertising that he'll be able to win previously red states like Virginia and Colorado and force McCain to invest scarce resources into "defending" states like North Carolina. The Obama campaign is even talking about putting traditionally Republican Alaska into play. As a result of his financial advantage, Obama will also have many more staffers in place (he already has 700), and will have a much more extensive get out the vote operation than McCain.

The huge financial advantage will work particularly well for Obama because he has a simple message that most Americans already believe--"a vote for a Republican is a vote for four more years of GOP arrogance, incompetence, and corruption."

Of course, McCain won't exactly be helpless. He'll get plenty of free media coverage from a press that genuinely likes him, financial help from the Republican National Committee and some assistance from "527 committees" running negative ads against Obama. But McCain will still be operating at a huge disadvantage at the same time that he has to communicate a set of complex set of "but" messages. McCain's has to convey that he's a straight-line conservative but not like Bush. He's also has to claim that he's a proud Republican but not like other Republicans, and that he's a strong supporter of the war but thinks the war's been conducted very badly.

That's much too much nuance for a budget of "only" 84 million.

The John McCain Problem. The other big problem for the McCain campaign is the candidate himself. McCain and his campaign manager Rick Davis have never been good at organizing campaigns. The McCain campaign was badly out-organized by Karl Rove in 2000 and consequently couldn't take advantage of McCain's big New Hampshire breakthrough. They haven't done any better this time. McCain had almost four months to present himself to the American public as the Republican nominee, build up a reservoir of good will, and motivate GOP activists for the fall campaign. But the McCain campaign frittered away the time by sending him overseas to show his "leadership," putting together a "character" tour of all the places where McCain had grown up, and sending him to poverty spots like Martin County even though McCain doesn't care much about poverty. It was all a waste. The McCain campaign wasn't much better prepared in June than it was in February and Republican insiders have been fretting about it to the media.

McCain also has a very narrow range of effectiveness on the campaign trail. He's great at mixing with the press in the back of the Straight-Talk Express or the campaign plane. He's also very effective in townhall settings. But John McCain is a very poor public speaker who has a ghoulish grin, does applause lines in the most awkward manner imaginable, and is extremely awkward with a teleprompter. McCain's speech in New Orleans on the night Obama clinched was an enormous embarrassment and McCain's speech-making looks particularly bad next to Obama's often inspirational oratory. I can't imagine Republicans are looking forward to his acceptance speech.

McCain's also beginning to slip up on basic facts and get irritable during interviews. The media has yet to put much emphasis on things like McCain referring to Vladimir Putin as the President of Germany or his irritable responses to a series of questions about Obama. But if McCain keeps it up, one of those gaffes might become a symbol of his inadequacy as a candidate.

One of the reasons why I'm predicting a big win for Obama is that McCain is such a weak candidate.

Party Activists. The final reason why McCain is going to lose big is that conservative GOP activists are so suspicious of McCain that they have to decide whether they're going to vote for McCain at all before they think about campaigning for him.

Bush barely won in 2004 because he had a highly motivated conservative and evangelical base. Unless McCain has that kind of excited conservative base in 2008, he won't even be able to keep it close. I don't see that conservative excitement as happening and I don't believe McCain will be able to keep it close.

The Polls. Barack Obama is current running 5.5 points ahead of McCain in the standard RealClearPolitics poll average. That's above the margin of error but still not a big lead.

Nevertheless, there are some indications that Obama has the potential for a big win. Newsweek came out with a poll today that has Obama in a 15 point lead--51-36. Dividing up 12% of the undecided vote evenly between Obama and McCain (leaving 1% for minor candidates) and that would come out as a 57-42 lead for Obama. Almost right on my prediction.

The Newsweek poll is clearly an outlier poll. The other polls give Obama a 4-6 point margin. As a result, the findings should be taken with a big grain of salt until they are further substantiated. However, the Newsweek findings are indirectly confirmed by the fact that Obama has gained considerable ground recently in battlefield states like Ohio (Obama +5.3), Pennsylvania (Obama, +7.3), and Florida (ARG survey, Obama, +5)and formerly red states like Virginia (Obama, +.5)and Georgia (McCain, +1).

If Obama really is only one point behind in Georgia, that's an indication that the landslide is probably already starting to turn significantly in his direction.

Conclusion. It's important to emphasize that Barack Obama is far from nailing down a landslide and John McCain is (still) far from goofing up his campaign on the scale of George McGovern's 1972 race (although I think he can).

But there's enough potential for a big win that I'm sticking with my 57-43 prediction and breaking out the lyrics for the Stevie Nicks classic "Landslide"--"The Landslide brought it down."

Even if I have a lot of trepidation in doing it.

An RSI Program Note

Beginning some time next week or the week after, political posts from RSI are going to be posted at the WEKU Electoral Page web site.

Consequently, I'm going to be reintroducing some basic RSI themes over the next few posts. My apologies to regular readers for the upcoming redundancy.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Obama Opts Out of Public Financing

The news is coming fast and furious this morning. It appears that the House Dems have caved on wireless wiretapping and telecom immunity.

But there is good news.

Barack Obama is opting out of the public financing system.

I'd like to support public financing, but Obama's fundraising might be the best thing to happen to American politics since the early 1980's.

The Obama campaign has created a small-donor river of money--95 million in February and March-- that will ultimately allow progressives to be competitive with corporate money in American politics.

If Obama had accepted public financing, the growing power of progressive politics in American society would have been stymied.

Refusing public financing was the right thing to do both for the current campaign and for the future of American politics.

Gas Prices: It is the Speculators!

Yes, there are evil speculators. It appears that we have speculators in oil futures to thank for gas at $4.50 a gallon.

According to an article by Dick Morris and Eileen McGann, brokerage firms like Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs arranged a way for institutional investors to get around federal limits on oil speculation.

Before 2002, "the federal Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) sharply limited investments by those outside the (oil) business . . . " to prevent speculators from driving up oil prices.

However, the brokerage firms got around those policies by moving "their operations to London [and] setting up the International Commodities Exchange. Now they can buy all the oil futures they want."

As a matter of fact, speculation in oil futures is extremely cheap because the current rules call for only 5% in the way of margins.

As a result, the volume invested in oil futures has expanded from "$13 billion at the end of 2003 to $260 billion by March of 2008. Consequently, the oil futures market is beginning to look like the housing bubble or sub-prime market. Speculation that prices will continue to rise is the engine that fuels the influx of money that actually keeps prices rising.

Excess Profits Tax. In this context, an excess profits tax on the oil companies looks like a highly appropriate policy. Perhaps the oil companies are driving the speculation in oil futures themselves. But it's obvious that the oil companies are making huge profits off the current wave of speculation.

As a result, there's no connection between the extraordinarily high profits of the oil companies and their actual performance in the marketplace. That's a result that isn't good for the oil companies themselves let alone the American economy as a whole. Flush with "unearned" profits, the oil companies have little incentive to be careful, thorough, or smart in figuring out what they're going to do with all the money.

It's best for all concerned if the federal government takes a significant chunk of the current oil boondoggle and applies the money to investment in alternative energy, paying down the national debt, or withdrawing troops from Iraq.

Breaking the Speculators. The federal government also needs to take the further step of breaking the speculators in oil futures. And I mean break them--make sure the big players lose their jobs if not their shirts. The trick is to instantly increase the supply of oil and the best way to do that is to take oil out of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and put it on the market.

Of course, it could be objected that the increase in supply from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve would be marginal.

And that's true.

But the oil futures bubble is like the housing and sub-prime bubbles in that it depends on investor confidence in infinitely increasing prices. Releasing oil from the Strategic Oil Reserve doesn't have to dramatically increase the supply of oil to bring the oil bubble crashing down. All it has to do is to shake speculator confidence that prices will continue to rise.

And the bubble will be killed.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Eagerness of Bush Administration Torture Warriors

The Bush administration took a hard hit on torture today. In a report from the Physicians for Human Rights, former Major General Antonio Taguba is quoted as claiming that the Bush administration engaged in war crimes:
"After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes," Taguba wrote. "The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account."
Unfortunately, there is also the question of whether the obviousness of the Bush administration's war crimes will become as clear to the American public as it is to Gen. Taguba.

Today's McClatchey article contained another interesting statement from a general involved in the Bush administration's human rights situation.

Also this week, a probe by the Senate Armed Services Committee revealed how senior Pentagon officials pushed for harsher interrogation methods over the objections of top military lawyers. Those methods later surfaced in Afghanistan
and Iraq . . . .

There was no "bright line of abuse which could not be transgressed," former Navy general counsel Alberto Mora told the Senate committee.

In fact, the Bush administration was quite eager to cross those lines. Contemptuous of international law and equally contemptuous of the American legal system, the Bush administration was eager to establish its own version of lynch law for the War on Terror.

Israeli Appeasement?

So the Israelis came to a cease-fire agreement with Hamas, are talking up a storm with the Palestinians and Syrians, and are now proposing to talk with the Lebanese.

Talk about appeasement.

We know why the Bush administration tolerates all this negotiation. They're desperate for some kind of achievement before they leave office.

But why doesn't John McCain object.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Why Not Lieberman?

Speculation concerning a McCain/Lieberman ticket is starting to bubble up. I can see it. McCain loves Lieberman to death and trusts Lieberman more than anybody else in political life.

McCain would also be sure that Lieberman would have the political chops needed to stick to the McCain line on the campaign trail. That's important given that McCain changes his mind on so many issues.

Finally, nominating Lieberman would be a big-time maverick move.

According to Walter Shapiro of Salon, the big objection to a Lieberman nomination would be the unhappiness of social conservatives and the religious right.

ButShapiro isn't reading the situation accurately. I don't think the right objects to Lieberman nearly as much as they object to McCain himself. Where the right views McCain as a self-centered opportunist, they see Lieberman as an honest person and as a man of some political principle.

Personally, I think the right would swallow hard and buy Lieberman as long as Lieberman supports McCain on nominating far-right justices for the Supreme Court.

Boumediene, Rights, and Lynch Law

Notes on the Boumedienne case and the controversy surrounding it.

The Case. The issue was whether Boumediene, a detainee at Guantanamo, had a "habeas corpus" right under the U. S. Constitution to demand that the Bush administration show why they were detaining him.

A 5-4 Supreme Court majority held that Boumediene had that right and overtuned a section of the 2006 Military Commissions Act which denied habeas corpus rights to detainees.

The spin from the right and left isn't quite that simple.

Those Supporting the Court Decision include Barack Obama, Glenn Greenwald, and some conservatives like George Will and Steven Taylor. The core argument is that the whole Western legal tradition embodied in the Constitution and extending as far back to the Magna Carta stands against the kind of unlimited power to imprison people that the Bush administration claims in relation to terrorist suspects. A large number of the suspects held at Guantanamo were detained on bad tips, stereotypes, and bounties rather than anything approaching solid information and proved to be completely innocent. The fact that they were held incommunicado for years shows why habeas corpus rights are needed.

Those Opposing the Court Decision include war criminal John Yoo (of "torture memo" fame), George Bush, John McCain, and a host of right-wing commentators. The core argument on the right is that forcing the U. S. government to grant habeas corpus rights will result in known terrorists going free and continuing to fight against the United States. The strongest held subsidiary argument from the right is that the Supreme Court is once again acting as an "imperial judiciary" in overriding the presidency and Congress during a time of war. What the right means by "imperial judiciary" will be taken up later.

The War Crimes Sub-Text. But the spin doesn't get at the enormous can of worms under the surface of the Boumediene decision. The Bush administration has a lot reasons for their extreme reluctance to produce evidence and few of them have anything to do with the war on terrorism. The Bush administration does not want to reveal exactly how flimsy the evidence was for arresting people like al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj who was detained for six years before being released for lack of any evidence. That would be bad publicity for the United States both here and abroad. Given that a considerable amount of the Bush administration's "evidence" was tainted because of interrogration techniques (waterboarding, sensory deprivation, stressful positions, religious harassment, death threats, etc.) that have been traditionally defined as torture, the Bush administration has little confidence that the detentions would stand up to any kind of legal challenge.

Worse than that, the Boumediene decision also implies that the whole Bush administration apparatus for dealing with terrorist suspects is illegal. It appears that the Bush administration is in an awkward either/or situation with their strategies for dealing with terrorist suspects. Either extremely painful and humiliating interrogration techniques, keeping terrorist suspects on prison ships, transfering terrorist suspects to other countries to be tortured, refusing to allow terrorist suspects to have contact with relatives or international agencies, and the like are legal or those actions constitute a system of criminal activity. If the Bush administration has been engaged in systematic crimes against humanity, they should be held legally accountable.

And the question of the criminality of the Bush administration's approach gets down to rights. If detainees like Boumediene have rights, all those involved in the American detention apparatus from the interrogators to George Bush are vulnerable to prosecution as war criminals.

And the Supreme Court found that Boumediene has rights according to American law.

That's one of the reasons why the right has been so outraged over the Boumediene decision.

The Lynch-Law Subtext. One of the issues that left-leaning writers like Glenn Greenwald miss is the right-wing's contempt for the American legal system. In the U. S., the right has never accepted the legitimacy of Supreme Court decisions that expanded the rights of accused criminals to include a guarantee of legal counsel, insistence that accused criminals be informed of their rights, and protection against abusive interrogations and treatment.

According to John Yoo:

Judicial micromanagement will now intrude into the conduct of war. Federal courts will jury-rig a process whose every rule second-guesses our soldiers and intelligence agents in the field. A judge's view on how much "proof" is needed to find that a "suspect" is a terrorist will become the standard applied on the battlefield. Soldiers will have to gather "evidence," which will have to be safeguarded until a court hearing, take statements from "witnesses," and probably provide some kind of Miranda-style warning upon capture. No doubt lawyers will swarm to provide representation for new prisoners.
Evidence, proof, Miranda Rights, swarms of defense lawyers--Yoo has just as much contempt for them in the United States as he has for them in relation to the terrorist suspects.

But why is that the case? I would argue that the Bush administration, right-wing legal activists like Yoo, and conservative defenders of the Bush administration's treatment of detainees are heavily influenced by a second legal tradition that has been very powerful in American history but isn't generally acknowledged by legal theorists.

That's lynch law.

Lynch Law. Lynch law is most often identified with practices in which a black man or woman accused of a crime is apprehended by a crowd of white people and executed a trial, judge, or jury, or any other ability to defend themselves.

However, lynch law should be defined more generally. Lynchings per se were only the most flamboyant manifestation of a legal framework designed primarily to maintain the social system of white supremacy rather than adjudicate competing claims according to law.

There were several other elements in the lynch-law legal system of the American South during the segregation period. These include the exclusion of African-Americans from positions as police officers, lawyers, judges, and members of juries, ignoring evidentiary standards in making criminal accusations against African-Americans, using coercive techniques to gain confessions, and refusing to accept evidence from African-Americans against white people.

The guiding assumption of lynch-law as it applied to the white South was that the overriding goal of the legal apparatus was to maintain white supremacy and that African-Americans had no claims to "rights" that white police, sheriffs, courts, prisons, or crowds needed to recognize.

In this broader sense, lynch law can be said to apply at least partially to the rest of the United States. Authorities were engaged in lynch law to the extent that police authorities viewed the larger social imperative of controlling poor, working-class, Hispanic, or gay populations as overriding the individual rights. From this point of view, public officials and the police themselves believed that police could legitimately instigate conflicts with members of the "fringe" or "suspect" groups, arrest suspects on flimsy evidence, beat up the suspects they arrested, and coerce confessions. Lynch law was not as pervasive in the rest of the United States as it was in the South because it neither included lynchings per se or excluded members of fringe groups from voting or public office.

However, lynch law was the dominant mode by which authorities dealt with those who were outside the circle of social respectability.

Lynch Law vs the Imperial Judiciary. The right doesn't put it this way, but much of right-wing commentary on the post WWII legal system is animated by a nostalgia for lynch law. Most of what has made the Supreme Court an "imperial judiciary" is what the courts have done to de-establish white supremacy and social control as principles guiding the operation of the criminal justice system. In Gideon v Wainwright and Miranda v Arizona, the Warren Court compelled the legal apparatus to recognize members of suspect groups as having the same rights as respectable white people and creating a procedural apparatus to "guarantee" that those rights are recognized in practice. In doing so, the Court overrode the federal government, state governments, and public opinion, and, in that sense, acted as an "imperial judiciary." The same was the case in the South where courageous District Court judges acted to ensure enforcement of civil rights laws and court mandates against the will of governors, state legislatures, and white opinion as a whole.

However, neither the spirit nor the practice of lynch law have died in the United States. The police, conservative legal activists, and Republican administrations were offended by the original court decisions and have done as much to re-establish the original lynch-law system as they could. This includes the police practice of racial profiling (which conservative legal activists have defended to the hilt), efforts to overturn Miranda, introducing various rationales for curtailing Miranda rights, adopting stop and frisk techniques for controlling poor urban populations, etc. A good chunk of Supreme Court history since the 1970's has been taken up with adjudicating the efforts of the right to re-expand the privileges of the police in opposition to the rights of suspect groups.

Guantanamo and the Spirit of Lynch Law. Viewed in relation to this thumbnail sketch of American legal history, it would be fair to say that Bush officials viewed the whole question of how to treat detainees from the perspective of their disgust with the whole system of recognizing the "rights" of accused people according to American and international law. For David Addington (Dick Cheney's legal adviser), John Yoo, and other right-wing legal activists in the Bush administration, the treatment of detainees represented a golden opportunity for them to by-pass the "law of rights" and re-establish a version of lynch law for detainees.

In this context, the purpose of the Bush administration's legal initiative was to institute a system of detention at Guantamo systematically designed to abrogate any sense of individual rights, develop a variety of ways to hide the treatment of detainees from American and international scrutiny, and provide legal justifications for the system.

But the key to understanding the Bush administration's motivations is that they're not ignoring American and international law so much as they're rebelling against a human-rights oriented legal framework that they've never believed in.

In this sense, the Bush administration should be viewed as carrying on the very American tradition of lynch law.

Note: Links later.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Frankly Futile Neo-Con Offensive

There are times when I wonder about the appropriateness of applying war metaphors to neo-conservatives like the Kagans, Robert Kaplan, Michael Yon, and the many laptop heroes of the Weekly Standard.

But the neo-cons are on the offensive again.

And, once again, it looks like they're going to lose.

Much like the neo-cons oversold the invasion in 2003, they're now overselling the surge.

According to the neo-cons, the surge is "oh so close" to securing "victory" in Iraq and they're united in frustration over the failure of the media to trumpet all the successes. For Frederick Kagan, this means that John McCain should become the next president because of his early advocacy of the surge.

What's happened in Kagan's mind is that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has become the Teddy Roosevelt of Iraq. Directing the Iraqi Army personally at one point, al-Maliki has pacified Basra and the Sadr City slum in Baghdad and is now moving on the last al-Qaida stronghold of Mosul. Added to the success of the Anbar Awakening in the Sunni area of Western Iraq and Kagan argues that the surge is meeting American objectives.

As a result, Kagan believes that Iraq has met the Bush administration's stated goals of being a sovereign country, having a democratic form of government, and being an ally of the U. S. in the war on terror.

In many ways, Kagan's position is just more of the same big lies. Certainly, violence is way down in Iraq and Iraq has come back from the state of Somalia-like anarchy that existed in late 2006. But it's also pretty much a mirage. The Maliki/American strategy in both Basra and Sadr City has been to have the Iraqi Army confront the Shiite Mahdi militia with ultimatums to stand down from their "normal" street patrols. What tilted the confrontation in the direction of al-Maliki was that the Iraqi Army was backed up by American military power that was threatening to turn Basra and Sadr City into Iraqi versions of Grozny and Sarajevo.

But the Mahdi Army is still organized and still armed. So are the Sunni militiamen in Anbar and the Kurds in the North. In other words, the U. S. military basically put a tight cover on the Iraqi pressure cooker. Much like the "phony war" in Europe in 1839-1840, Iraq now has a phony peace in which the Iraqi government has terrorized the Shiite population into acquiescence.

But I think neo-con overselling makes withdrawing American troops look like a better idea than ever. Taking the neo-cons at their word, we no longer need 150,000 troops in Iraq, and will consequently be able to withdraw over the next two years without negative consequences.

And that's what Barack Obama would do.

If Obama is elected, he'll begin withdrawing a brigade at a time 60 days after his inauguration and complete the withdrawal in 2010.

That means that the Iraqi government has two more years to prepare to handle their own affairs without their affairs without the iron fist of an occupation army.

Given the progress that the neo-cons are claiming, that should be no problem.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

McCain's Worst VP Pick--Take Two

Sometime last week, I claimed that McCain should nominate Karl Rove for VP is he wants to have the worst presidential campaign since George McGovern in 1972.

But I think former Bush speechwriter David Frum might have one-upped me today by suggesting Rudy Giuliani as McCain's VP.
I have my own personal nomination for vice president for McCain. It's Rudy Giuliani, precisely because he shares the vision of a practical, reforming, war-winning Republican Party that inspires John McCain, plus the stronger-than-usual grounds for hoping that he might be the rare candidate who can make a difference in an essential state--in this case, New Jersey.

I would say that Frum can't be serious, but I know better. Giuliani was practically laughed out of the Republican primaries because of the images of NY cops helping his then mistress walk her precious little dog. The idea that Giuliani had enough gall to provide city security for his mistress encapsulated his over-the-top narcissism, , sleazy business practices, corrupt association with Bernard Kerik, and disgusting treatment of his ex-wife Donna Hanover.

GOP voters practically laughed Giuliani out of the primaries. If McCain was dumb enough to nominate Giuliani for VP, general election voters would be just as brutal with him.

But there is some indication that McCain actually is thinking of Joe Lieberman.

Presidential Historians Predicting Obama

Cheap gas, money, credit, peace, and honesty might all be scarce. But thank God there's no shortage of "presidential historians" analyzing the election for the media.

According to The Politico, Alan Abramowitz has an especially successful model for predicting outcomes.
“It is one of the worst political environments for the party in power since World War II,” added Alan Abramowitz, a professor of public opinion and the presidency at Emory University. His forecasting model — which factors in gross domestic product, whether a party has completed two terms in the White House and net presidential approval rating — gives McCain about the same odds as Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and Carter in 1980 — both of whom were handily defeated in elections that returned the presidency to the previously out-of-power party. “It would be a pretty stunning upset if McCain won,” Abramowitz said
I think Obama's going to win as well, but I can't help but wonder if Abramowitz has factored in the fact that Obama is an African-American into his model. Perhaps the African-American candidates for the two major candidates do better when the economy is growing. But African-American candidates might do worse when their party controls congress or when sales of Birth of a Nation dvd's are growing.

The 2008 presidential election is the first election in which one of the major parties has nominated an African-American. Anybody who wants to predict the outcome has to factor that into the equation.