Wednesday, July 17, 2002
I've grown tired of these French-bashing columns because there's not much left to say about a nation of 200 cheeses and one kind of toilet paper. Besides, the real threat isn't the frogs across the pond. The real threat is their fellow hoppers here at home.I, for one, love the French for all their flaws but frankly don't have much good to say about the goofy radical professors stalking the humanities departments at Harvard except to note that there aren't really as many of them as you'd be led to believe.
The Ninth Circuit, which serves some 54 million people, is immense--almost 60 percent larger than the next biggest circuit. There may be legitimate arguments for dividing the court. But as Murkowski's statement makes clear, this proposal isn't about balancing workloads or improving efficiency. It's about punishing the judiciary for voting the way it did on the Pledge of Allegiance. That's unconscionable.Well, based on this it sounds to me like there is a legitimate argument for dividing the court — it's almost 60 percent larger than the next biggest circuit. I agree that being upset about the Pledge decision (which was totally correct in my book) is the wrong reason to do it, but in politics, especially when you're dealing with a boring procedural issue like the size of judicial circuits, bad reasons are often the only reasons you can get. If a good idea happens to come to the forefront for any reason, I say seize on it.
For decades Republicans have chastised the long-since-buried former President Lyndon B. Johnson for his failure to raise taxes to support the Great Society programs and the Vietnam War. Actually, they usually criticize Johnson for failing to fund the Great Society specifically, ignoring the war (apparently a self-funding endeavor) and forgetting, at least for a moment, that money is a fungible asset.It's not quite the same since we seem to be at a different point in the economic cycle than the country was during the mid-1960s, so I think you could make the case that actually raising taxes to pay for the war would be a bad idea, but it seems like cancelling the planned Bush tax cuts would be the way to go.
And now, facing an expensive war on terrorism of indefinite, perhaps permanent, duration, not only will no one raise the verboten issue of tax increases, no one will consider the idea of rolling back even the most reckless elements of the tax cuts enacted last year -- namely the eventual repeal of the estate tax. (Surely the 10,000 families benefitting from the repeal could be asked to sacrifice just a little.)
Tuesday, July 16, 2002
The most ridiculous argument from the right in light of these corporate scandals has been that the market is "correcting itself". Here's the deal, slappy: The market is a great and beautiful thing if we play by the damn rules. These people aren't playing by the rules.I would add, though, that the sentiment that the market is great and beatiful if and only if we play by the rules only holds on the assumption that the rules we're playing with are good ones. One of the things we've all learned over the past few months is that in many cases they're not. Thus, if it turns out that everything Bush, Cheney, White, et. al. did in their corporate lives was totally legal, that doesn't go to show that there's nothing to object to in them. Of course, if they're willing to back reforms that'll make the rules right, I can forgive them for having stuck to the letter of the law before, but that means they would have to admit to some kind of wrongdoing.
A good analogy, I think, is campaign finance. Obviously, all politicians working today have been working within the campaign finance system we currently have. There's nothing unacceptable with them doing that even though there's everything wrong with the system. But reform is necessary, and a politician who argues that everything he's done was totally kosher simply because it was legal is never going to push for reforms. That's what makes John McCaine's honesty about the corrupting influence of money on his own campaigns so refreshing.
Compared to this, the question of how much income tax you should pay and whether or not the government should seek to legislate the details of consumer product safety don't strike me as being that big a deal. Perhaps as a liberal I can't appreciate how deeply it's possible for people to care about these economic freedoms, but given the fact that most libertarians are willing to accept some taxes in exchange for some government services it seems like the liberal/libertarian debate arrays itself along a spectrum within which reasonable discussion about priorities and tradeoffs is possible, whereas conservatives and libertarians, though they may have some points of agreement on individual policy question are basically coming from two very different approaches to politics.
As for conservative Republicans who don't like Powell's pro-choice, pro-affirmative action stance, they might, of course, stay home. But they would surely not vote for any Democrat currently being mentioned as a presidential candidate.Not only would conservatives be upset about Powell's domestic policy, they'd also be outraged by his foreign policy, since right-wing publications have adopted the strange method of praising the President for whatever they like about the administration's foreign policy and blaming Powell for whatever they don't like. Powell as VP would be a total non-starter with the base and would also impede the administration's effort to reach out to the substantial portion of the electorate that didn't vote for Bush but that now likes his hawkishness. The Condi Rice pick — already discussed ad nauseum in the blogosphere — seems much more likely to me.
UPDATE: See fire Colin Powell for an (unrelated) example of conservative anti-Powell wrath.
"This is a very surprising race in a very surprising place, the political equivalent for Democrats of found money," wrote Charles E. Cook Jr. in the most recent issue of The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan chronicle of electoral politics.Of course, if the Republicans keep floundering around on the economy, there's no telling how many "suprising" races there may be.
Monday, July 15, 2002
A story in the LA Times today gives new information on Bush's sale of Harken stock. The story does seem to clear up some questions that I've been wondering about - one key point is that it seems clear the decision to drop the case was made by lower level investigators and not by Bush appointees.I don't think this matters — those lower-level employees knew perfectly well who the president was, and there's every reason to think that their desire to please their bosses effected their handling of the case. After all, if I were in charge of an organization I would expect my subordinates not to need to come ask me before they figure out that I don't want my son brought up on criminal charges.
Bush's personal attorney at the time, the man who defended him against the SEC, was a man named Robert W. Jordan, formerly a partner at Baker Botts LLP. The Baker referred to therein is none other than James Baker, secretary of state to Bush père and the tactician behind W.'s extra-legal victory in Florida. At W.'s inaugural, Baker Botts threw a private party for, among others, Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar. Later that year Jordan, who knows almost nothing about the Middle East, was appointed U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia.I've really been struck by the fact that conservative pundits and bloggers, all of whom seem to grasp the truth about Saudi Arabia, don't seem to be able to see that it's George Bush — not some PC liberals — who's been maintaining the Big Lie of the War on Terrorism. Not only does Bush not recognize that Saudi Arabia is an enemy (indeed, perhaps the most dangerous enemy) of the United States, he insists it's a friend.
James Baker now has a very influential friend and full-time interlocutor in Riyadh whenever he goes there (which he does often) on behalf of the banking consortium called the Carlyle Group. As it happens, George H.W. is also a highly remunerated senior Carlyle trustee with special responsibilities for Arab and especially Saudi Arab clients. In fact, Bush père traveled to Saudi Arabia shortly after the 2000 election. Prominent among H.W.'s clients was the family of Osama bin Laden, the money of whom was quickly disentangled from Carlyle for purposes of public decency shortly after September 11. Which raises a few questions: Why were Osama's many siblings and cousins who were in the States on September 11 apparently allowed to slip out of the country so quickly and without questioning? Did Ambassador Jordan do anything to facilitate their sudden and surprising departure? Did Jordan call his old partner Jim Baker to facilitate the mass getaway? Or did he go to the pater-familias, who had his own interest in the bin Ladens not suffering any embarrassments? Or did Jordan simply talk directly to his boss? Maybe no one talked to anybody. Which leads back to the original question: Why were the bin Ladens not detained?
Of course, in the Chirac case I hardly think there's anything good to be said about the underlying cause being served so the question of tactics is sort of moot.
Better still, he won't even give an interview about his decision. Real men don't gab to the press. They don't spin, they act. In an age when we read of CEO's robbing their own shareholders for obscene pay-offs, when the last president of the United States declared as ethical only what you could get away with, and when large swathes of the intelligentsia can find reasons to undermine a war to protect a free people from weapons of mass destruction, Tillman is a hero. And a man.I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Tillman's done something very admirable here, as are all of the other men and women serving in our nation's armed forces, and it's unfortunate that his efforts are being hijacked to fuel Andrew Sullivan's strange slander campaign against Bill Clinton and "the intelligentsia."
Sunday, July 14, 2002
Fox’s Tony Snow showed three contrasting clips of network reporting on Klayman. He was always “conservative” when filing suits against Clinton; he was a “watchdog” filing against Cheney.I've noticed this change in labeling too and I've heard other conservatives complain about it. When you think about it, though, the change has really been to the detriment of the Democrats in this case. After all, these lawsuits against Cheney would seem more credible if the media were going around saying things like "even conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch says..."
On the other hand, Clinton did benefit from the public perception that all his persecutors were ideologically-motivated and it would appear based on Klayman's behavior of late that that wasn't the whole truth in his case.
Defenders will claim it's old news, but hey, so was Whitewater. That's nothing that $70 million and an independent counsel couldn't fix.The Independent Counsel statute, of course, is no longer on the books and rightly so. I imagine that as more information comes out that some people will be calling to bring it back. That would be a very bad idea — I think the arguments that the statute was unconstitutional (first made, I think, by the Reagan administration) were solid and that Ken Starr proved definitively that the office was an open invitation to abuse of power.
That said, some investigating is going to have to be done, and the Senate Democrats are going to have to do it. It is, after all, the Congress's responsibility to check the executive branch. During the Independent Counsel era, Congressional majorities of both parties used the law as a way to dodge the statute. By appointing an IC they got to reap the benefits of any scandals unearthed while avoiding taking the heat when it turned out nothing was wrong. Paul Sarbanes and the Banking Committee ought to step up to the plate and launch an investigation of their own.
It does not take a particularly agile mind to figure out that there is nothing contradictory about the terms "isolated incident" and "terrorism" -- what was Timothy McVeigh's Oklahoma City massacre, if not an isolated act of terrorism?The subtext here beyond Hahn is the Bush administration's desire to claim that their counterterrorism strategy is working. The easiest way to do that, of course, is to simply deny that terrorist attacks that they failed to prevent were terrorist attacks at all. Now I don't really see what the government could have done to prevent what went down on July 4, but if we're going to be faced with occassional terrorist attacks that can't be stopped (which I think we are), then the government needs to be frank about that fact and needs to be clear to would-be attackers (whether formally affiliated with terrorist groups or not) that we have no intention of altering our policies to suit the whims of random shooters.
But Hahn and his crisis-team pals surely knew how this false opposition would play out in the trigger-happy media: like a soothing (if temporary) reassurance that we weren't under attack by terrorist neighbors on Independence Day.
Little wonder that when voters consider the subjects they want their local candidates to debate come the fall, about as many mention the economy as mention terrorism. One in five voters in Pew's latest survey say they want this fall's candidates to talk about terrorism and national security. But economic and education issues are cited just as often, and 13 percent mention health care.It sounds to me like the result of this will be an election where Republicans try to convince people that terrorism is the really important issue and that they should ignore the economy and that Democrats will try to do the reverse and just talk about the economy all the time. I think that would be really unfortunate. These are both important issues and the public is not well-served when politicians try to win elections by defining them as being "about" their party's strong issues instead of engaging in substantive debates with their opponents.
A focus on the domestic agenda, and new revelations about corporate wrongdoing, would most likely help Democratic candidates. However, there's no guarantee that Democrats would be able to play the populist card effectively with voters, just as the Republicans have rarely been able to play the moralism card effectively.