Friday, August 25, 2006

Book Review: "The Courage of Our Convictions"

Former CO senator Gary Hart's forthcoming (9/5) book The Courage of Our Convictions: A Manifesto for Democrats is a harsh critique of both the Bush Administration's actions in Iraq and other areas, and also of the failure of Democrats to either stand against those actions or offer an alternative course. It is a call from this "elder statesman" urging his party to re-embrace the ideals of FDR, Truman, JFK and LBJ, and will almost certainly be a much-discussed book in the run-up to this fall's key midterm elections.

Hart is extremely dismissive of centrism, which he derides (glibly and typically as any severe partisan does) as lacking conviction, principle and position. In its worst form, yes, perhaps those things are true, but if Hart could set aside for a moment his desire for pure partisan advantage in favor of genuine progress, he might recognize that a centrist government, in pursuit indeed of many of the policies he espouses, would be the optimal route.

The book offers a reasonably decent discussion of the need for a different course in Iraq (designed much along the lines suggested by Senator Biden, for example), as well as useful plans in such areas as civic responsibility, environmental protection and national security (in which area Hart is a leading thinker). It is only Hart's overweening desire for partisan advantage which diminishes this work, and will make it most palatable to those who share Hart's strong views.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A Break, Apparently

I seem to be taking an unintended and impromptu break from blogging. Things have been busy, and there just hasn't been all that much to say. When there is, I'll say it.

Friday, August 18, 2006


Some things to note about yesterday's court ruling.

- It was made by a fairly liberal federal district court judge, and it will be appealed (presumably to the Supreme Court if need be). While even having it declared unconstitutional at this level is a surprising turn of events, the decision could be reversed (and probably will be at least once before all is said and done).

- During the appeals process, a stay has been put in place that allows the program to continue operating. The next hearing on the matter will be held September 7.

- When asked yesterday about what impact this ruling what have on the efforts of Senator Specter to pass a bill submitting the program to the FISA court for a ruling on its constitutionality, AG Gonzales said that he still didn't think that bill was necessary.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Judge Orders Halt to Warrantless Eavesdrop Program

AP: "A federal judge ruled Thursday that the government's warrantless wiretapping program is unconstitutional and ordered an immediate halt to it. U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit became the first judge to strike down the National Security Agency's program, which she says violates the rights to free speech and privacy."

Wow. More later.

[Update: The ruling (PDF). Expanded article (CNN). Excerpts: program "violates the separation of powers doctrine, the Administrative Procedures Act, the First and Fourth amendments to the United States Constitution, the FISA and Title III." ... "The president of the United States ... has undisputedly violated the Fourth [Amendment] in failing to procure judicial orders."]

McCain's Presidential Priorities

An Iowa voter asked McCain at an event what his priorities would be as president. Here's his response:

"I start by vetoing spending bills. There is just too much pork-barrel spending and we must become fiscally responsible.

I would work more closely with our military allies. We need their support in the struggle that is ahead.

I would speak every two weeks to the American people. You need to know what is happening — about the war and the many serious issues we face.

I would make sure we don’t torture prisoners. I would close Guantanamo Bay."

Doesn't sound too bad to me!

(h/t Hotline On Call)

NY-24 Poll Shows Close Race

In my home congressional district, the retirement of centrist Republican Rep. Sherwood Boehlert has created what may be a golden opportunity for a Democrat to pick up a seat this fall. Michael Arcuri (D) was ahead of Ray Meier (R) by four percentage points in a new poll (which was admittedly commissioned by the Arcuri campaign). There's a long time to go until election day, and things will change drastically between now and then - but for a Democrat to even be competitive in this district at this stage of the game is a much different trend than we've seen for a long time.

(h/t PoliticalWire)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Putting it Perfectly

If you read one thing today, make it Alan Stewart Carl's most recent post about Iraq over at Maverick Views. It's a rare thing when someone can distill the Iraq debate in a clear, concise way ... but Alan has done it. Don't miss this post.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Bemoaning the State of Things

Every year or so one of those polls comes out telling us how many more Americans can identify [insert pop culture reference here] versus how many can identify [insert historical, governmental or news reference here]. Well, it's that time again. Zogby International did the polling, on behalf of a new game show, "Gold Rush." Just over 1,200 Americans were polled, and the margin of errors is +/- 2.9%. Some of the results (mainly just for their scare value):

- 60.4% knew that Bart is Homer's son on "The Simpsons". A combined 20.1% could name one epic poem attributed to the classical poet Homer.

- 56.6% knew that Harry Potter is J.K. Rowling's wizard creation. 49.5% knew that Tony Blair is the current prime minister of England.

- 77% could name two of Snow White's seven dwarfs ... 24% could name two Supreme Court justices (of those, Justice Thomas was the top pick, followed by Scalia).

- 73% could name the Three Stooges, while just 42% knew the three branches of the American government.

- 60% knew that Superman hails from the planet Krypton ... 37% knew that Mercury is the closest planet to our sun.

"Also worth noting is that some topical issues appear to make an impression on Americans both in real life and in fiction. According to the 'Gold Rush' poll, more than 67% of those questioned correctly named President George W. Bush as the world leader who had signed a secret order authorizing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens and foreign nationals."

What scares me about that is that there's 33% or so who thought some other world leader could sign a secret order authorizing the NSA to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens ...

Monday, August 14, 2006

Another Pair

I think we're going to be seeing quite a few of these articles in the next couple months, but two more today discussing the future of centrism in Congress are once again worth reading.

In the Christian Science Monitor, Linda Feldmann questions whether the partisan split on the Hill will deepen after this fall's elections. She suggests "Ultimately, the future of 'centrism' in the Senate is not in as much peril as it is in the House," but of course the departure of any of the few centrists in either chamber would have a big impact. She does note the possibility that some centrists could actually win seats this fall: Bob Casey in PA, Harold Ford Jr. in TN (and I would add Bob Corker, Ford's Republican rival, to that list).

And over in the Washington Post, Jim VandeHei profiles the plight of the northeastern Republican. I like this one because not only does it discuss my home district (NY-24) in decent depth but it also features a quote from a former classmate of mine at Union who left to work for Hillary Clinton's office and is currently assisting with a House race in PA. VandeHei's discussion of the issues and the way these races are being run is quite on target.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Lessons from Lieberman

Related stories in the papers today basically come down to the same question: what does Joe Lieberman's loss (and, although it's going undiscussed, I'll throw in that of Joe Schwarz as well) bode for the politics of centrism?

In the NYTimes, Kate Zernike profiles the Rhode Island Republican Senate primary, which she calls "the flip side" of the Lamont-Lieberman contest in Connecticut. And in the Washington Post, Dan Balz wonders how the two conflicting streams of thought in American politics ("intensified partisan combat in advance of a critical midterm election" and "growing disaffection among many voters with a national capital seen as stalemated by polarization and distrust between the two political parties") will end up impacting the '08 presidential contest.

Both articles are worth reading, and I think Balz makes some very good points about what the CT race could mean as we move forward.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Short Takes

- Juliet Eilperin has a good article in the Washington Post on a recent "flurry of action" by state and local governments to take steps toward reducing carbon emissions and fighting global warming. From international agreements to local standards, leaders below the federal level continue to take this issue seriously enough to act.

- Martin Peretz at TNR blog "The Plank" comments on the Lieberman-Bloomberg alliance. Also, Mark Kennedy [corrected, thanks Dennis!], the GOP senate candidate in Minnesota, has endorsed Lieberman's independent bid.

- Alan Stewart Carl is back from vacation and has, as always, some good posts up on Lieberman, terror alerts and more.

- Brian Keegan at Centerfield asks "Mommy, where do centrists come from?"

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Plot Thwarted

Let us hope that today's preemptive actions against what appears to have been a fairly advanced terrorist plot are enough to prevent it. Many kudos to the investigators in Britain and around the world who cracked this plot and raised the alarm today, and to those who've been inconvenienced by the security crackdown, I hope that you can all come to understand the reasons.

Party First?

In the wake of the Primary-Night Partisan Massacre, some good comments from Lieberman and others about the state of partisanship in America and the state of the two-party system. Lieberman said yesterday on the "Today Show" "I think it's time for somebody to break through the dominance of both parties by the margins of the parties, which happens in primaries. I think it's time for somebody to break through and say, 'Hey, let's cut out the partisan nonsense'. Yes I'm a proud Democrat, but I'm more devoted to my state and my country than I am to my party. And the parties today are getting in the way of our government doing for our people what they need their government to do."

In comments endorsing Lieberman's independent bid, NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg added "This country needs nonpartisan elected officials who think that doing the right thing for the public is more important than supporting some party. The partisan process has just hamstrung Washington; it’s paralyzed government at all different levels," he added - and asked why if he felt that way he hadn't dropped his party affiliation, Bloomberg said there's no reason to, "at the moment." The mayor offered to campaign with Lieberman before the general election. Other Republicans, including Rep. Chris Shays, have also offered their support to Lieberman's independent bid.

Lieberman, Bloomberg, and Shays are right. Party can't be the first priority of our elected leaders - results must be.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A Bad Night for Incumbents

If I were an incumbent congressman or senator facing a strong primary challenge between now and November I would be quaking in my boots this morning. Three incumbents lost to challengers last night in what could (stress could) be a sign of what's to come ... and in two of those cases, the results were not good for centrist politics.

- CT Senator Joe Lieberman lost narrowly to anti-war challenger Ned Lamont; he says he'll run as an independent in the fall ... and if he stays in the race, he's got a decent chance to win. His loss in the Democratic primary bodes ill for non-dogmatic politicians of all stripes - what bodes even more ill is some of the comments from Democratic party leaders. DCCC chair Rahm Emanuel said last night of Lieberman's loss "This shows what blind loyalty to George Bush and being his love child means. This is not about the war. It’s blind loyalty to Bush." What an utterly ridiculous thing to say when Lieberman's entire record is considered; not to mention that this line of argument will hardly suffice to make the Democrats seem a viable alternative on questions of security and national defense.

- GA Rep. Cynthia McKinney was defeated handsomely by former DeKalb County commissioner Hank Johnson in a primary runoff. This is the one race that has no real relevance for centrism, since it had more to do with the fact that McKinney's been out of control for years. Congress (and the Capitol police) will be safer without her.

- MI Rep. Joe Schwarz, a centrist Republican, lost (but made it a fairly close race in the end) to conservative insurgent Tim Walberg, who was backed by the Club for Growth and other outside groups (who pumped more than $1 million in the race). Schwarz said Walberg's win was "probably a victory for right to life, anti-abortion, anti-embryonic stem cell groups but it's a net loss for the Republican party because it just pushes the party farther to the right." Schwarz had received support from Senator John McCain, among others.

Last night saw victories for both the MoveOn crowd and the Club for Growth bunch. This will only embolden them (ugh) for future primaries, including the RI senate race among many others coming in September. Their victory is centrism's defeat, and a win for the status quo of polarizing partisanship. Not good.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Will the Fall Bring a Political Tidal Wave?

As we wait impatiently for the numbers out of Connecticut this evening, some new numbers from a Washington Post/ABC News poll make for very interesting reading. The Washington Post reports today that only 55% of those polled said they approve of the job their representative in Congress is doing - "a seven-percentage-point drop over three months and the lowest such finding since 1994, the last time control of the House switched parties."

While Bush's approval rating rose to 40% in this tally, that's still hardly healthy for a president heading into midterm elections - however, the data indicates that there's still some question about what exactly the Democratic position is on some of the major issues out there (including, most notably, the war in Iraq). "Just 48 percent say Democrats offer a clear direction different from Republicans, while 47 percent say they do not. The public does not think that Bush or the Democrats have a clear plan for Iraq. Even a slight majority of Democrats say their party does not have an Iraq strategy."

And whither the much-sought independent vote? "The survey suggests that it is not just Republicans whose incumbents are in jeopardy. But it includes one important caveat - as of now, few Republicans or Democrats plan to stray from their parties in November. The Democrats' lead stems from a big advantage among independents."

We can certainly say this about the elections this November - they're not going to be boring!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Ney Out

Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) has announced that he will not seek reelection this fall. Ney has been tangled in the Abramoff corruption probe, and said that the strain on him and his family was becoming too great.

Lieberman Makes His Case

As tomorrow's CT-Dem primary approaches, Senator Joe Lieberman spoke out strongly and directly at his critics at an event in Easthaven, CT. The NYT has a report as well as the text of the speech. Calling it his "closing argument", Lieberman outlined his position on the Iraq war and also mentioned many issues on which he has differed with the president's policies.

After that litany Lieberman commented "Now with all that said, I will never hesitate to work across party lines when it helps me get something done for the people of Connecticut. ... That’s something that separates me from my opponent – I don’t hate Republicans. I know that some times the best way to get things done in the Senate for my constituents is through bipartisan cooperation. That doesn’t make me a bad Democrat. It makes me a better Senator."

On the war, Lieberman said that he feels a "heavy responsibility to try to end it as quickly and successfully as possible. ... I want to get our troops home as fast as anyone, probably more than most, and as I have repeatedly said, I am against an open-ended commitment. But if we simply give up and pull out now, like my opponent wants to do, then it would be a disaster to Iraq and to us. We would run a high risk of allowing Iraq to become like Afghanistan when the Taliban were in charge, and Al Qaeda had safe haven from which to strike us. It’s precisely because of the horrible cost of the war, and the impact that has had on public support for our mission in Iraq, that I have tried to present an honest, non-partisan, balanced picture of what’s happening on the ground there. I have been encouraged by the formation of the Iraqi unity government. But like a lot of Americans, both supporters and of opponents of the war, I am increasingly troubled by the sectarian violence in Iraq."

The difference between him and Lamont, Lieberman said, "is that I believe in solving problems. That you can remain true to Democratic ideals and find common ground to get things done for your constituents. That you can be compassionate in domestic policy and tough in foreign policy. That you can stand up for progressive values and still work with the other side to help people make a better life for themselves."

Lieberman's in the fight of his political life, and he knows it. If he loses tomorrow, an independent bid will be costly both financially and politically. I've said it before, and I'll say it again now - I disagree with Senator Lieberman sometimes, but his centrist credentials speak for themselves. The people of Connecticut, the US Senate, the Democratic Party, and the centrist movement in general would be ill-served by a Lieberman loss, in my view. Others will disagree, and they have every right in the world to do so. Whatever happens tomorrow is going to be an important moment in American politics, with major implications for not only this fall's elections, but also the upcoming presidential contest.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Today's Must-Read

If you only read one newspaper article today, make it Carl Hulse's NYT piece "Leveled Colorado District Creates an Election Lab." It profiles Colorado's 7th congressional district, described as "a freak of modern political nature, purposefully drawn to be balanced between the parties and provide a genuine test of the ideals and abilities of the opposing candidates."

"Under boundaries imposed by a Denver judge in 2002, the Seventh District is almost perfectly divided among independents, Democrats and Republicans, each sharing a third of the district, which nearly surrounds Denver. It is a mix of old suburbs and new exurbs that are home to a potent demographic stew, with slightly more women than men, stirred by a healthy mix of Hispanics and other minorities who make up almost a quarter of the district."

Political science professor Bob Loevy says of CO-7 "This really is a district that could only have come out of a court, not a political process," but we know that with real redistricting reform, whole states could look like this.

The race in this district will be "one to watch" this year, and as Hulse concludes, that seems to be exactly what the judge who drew it up wanted; his opinion read in part "The court has concluded that the new district would benefit from what should be a competitive race. The foreseen closeness of the race will hopefully generate much interest of the voters." Exactly.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Short Takes

- The Senate last night failed to invoke cloture on a "trifecta" bill which would have raised the minimum wage, permanently reduced the estate tax, and offered $38 billion in other tax breaks and aid. The vote was 56-42 (60 votes were needed to end debate), with Republicans Chafee and Voinovich siding with the Democrats; Dems Lincoln, Nelson, Nelson, Byrd. Senator Frist switched his vote to no at the last minute so that the measure can be brought up again in the future. I don't particularly disagree with this result - while I strongly support raising the minimum wage, I just as strongly oppose permanent reductions to the millionaire tax.

- Tom DeLay will be on the November ballot in his old district whether he likes it or not, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit said yesterday. The judges agreed with a lower court that the Constitution and Texas law prohibit tampering with candidate lists after primary elections - and that just because DeLay claims to have moved to Virginia, the Texas GOP can't replace him on the ballot. The decision may be appealed to the Supreme Court. On this one, I'm glad to see DeLay getting served with notice that the rule of law applies to him just like everybody else.

- NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg recently dined with key centrist Democrat Al From, increasing speculation that an '08 presidential bid may be in its infancy.

- In Tennessee, Republican voters chose former Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker, a relative centrist, to take on Rep. Harold Ford Jr. in this fall's Senate race to replace the retiring Bill Frist. Corker defeated two more conservative opponents by a significant margin to get the nod. In recent polls, Corker had led Ford in general election matchups while the others had trailed by narrow margins; electability certainly came into play in this primary. This race will probably remain competitive through the fall, but this is probably the GOP's best chance for holding the seat.

- Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee blocked a vote by that body on Senator Specter's NSA eavesdrop program bill; Specter said he'll move the legislation forward eventually, by a party-line vote if need be. As I've said, I oppose the Specter legislation because I think it gives too many inches to the Administration - so bully to the Democrats for holding it off for the moment.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Rummy: "I have never painted a rosy picture"

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and top generals got an earful in a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning, just hours before they were scheduled to appear in a closed-door session with all senators.

First responding to comments from the generals that Iraq is closer to civil war than it's ever been, committee chairman John Warner suggested that Congress might have to revisit the authority it granted to the president for military action in Iraq in light of recent developments there and the growing possibility of sectarian civil war: "I think we have to examine very carefully what Congress authorized the president to do in the context of a situation if we’re faced with all-out civil war and whether we have to come back to the Congress to get further indication of support."

Senator McCain tussled with Rumsfeld as well as generals Pace and Abizaid, accusing the commanders of playing a game of "whack-a-mole" by shifting troops hither and yon around Iraq and not making much progress. He also got both generals to admit that the current level of violence was not foreseen a year ago.

Senator Clinton let fly at the Secretary of Defense, laying out a litany of strategic complaints about the war's management before finishing with "We hear a lot of happy talk and rosy scenarios, but because of the administration's strategic blunders and, frankly, the record of incompetence in executing, you are presiding over a failed policy." "My goodness," Rumsfeld replied, adding "I have never painted a rosy picture. I have been very measured in my words, and you’d have a dickens of a time trying to find instances where I have been excessively optimistic." (Not entirely accurate, as it happens).

I haven't seen a full transcript of the hearing and unfortunately I missed Warner and McCain (I did catch Clinton's questions); Hotline On Call reports that McCain's words "were as pointed as we've ever heard."

Senate Hearings on Terror Courts

Yesterday top military lawyers testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, speaking largely in disagreement with the Administration's draft plan for creating military commissions to try terror suspects. The main points of contention seemed to be rules of evidence - what defendants would be allowed to see, the admissability of evidence obtained through "coercion" and the question of hearsay. The lawyers also said they had concerns about how the appeals process would work.

Later in the day, deputy SecDef Gordon England and AG Gonzales went before the Senate Armed Forces Committee, where they faced tough questions from Senators Warner, McCain, Graham, and Levin. This hearing, which I watched, was notable for an odd exchange between McCain and Gonzales. McCain, taking up the question of coerced testimony, asked whether evidence obtained through "illegal and inhumane treatment" should be allowed into evidence.

Gonzales sat at his table for what seemed like an eternity (the Times says it was "almost a minute"), several times starting to speak and then stopping. Finally he said "The concern that I would have about such a prohibition is, what does it mean? How do you define it? I think if we could all reach agreement about the definition of cruel and inhumane and degrading treatment, then perhaps I could give you an answer." McCain later commented that to use such evidence would be a "radical departure" from American policy. It's clear that the Administration has not taken the passage of last year's McCain amendment to heart at all, since those treatments are precisely what's prohibited under that legislation.

Graham, Warner, McCain, and Levin all made clear their view that the UCMJ ought to be the basis for the new system; Gonzales said this would be the case, but it was clear from his later statements that there are significant departures in the Administration's plan from the way the UCMJ functions. It will be interesting to see how these questions shake out as the legislation is drafted and where things go from here.

On another note in yesterday afternoon's hearing, Senator Clinton used her time to berate Secretary Rumsfeld for not appearing in public before the committee. Late last evening, the Secretary reversed position and said that he will in fact appear before the Armed Services Committee in a hearing this morning at 9:30 a.m. before meeting with all senators behind closed doors later in the day. I'm sure this morning's hearing will be very interesting indeed, and I'll try to catch at least some of it (it'll be carried on C-SPAN).

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


A quick note to readers: this is my politics blog. If you're looking for PhiloBiblos, on all things book, please go here. Sorry for the confusion.

New WH Draft on Terror Trials

The Washington Post reports today on the latest Administration proposals for the creation of a new system for carrying out trials for terror suspects, noting that the draft plan "seeks to expand the reach and authority of such 'commissions' to include trials, for the first time, of people who are not members of al-Qaeda or the Taliban and are not directly involved in acts of international terrorism, according to officials familiar with the proposal." The new system " would also allow the secretary of defense to add crimes at will to those under the military court's jurisdiction." Defendants could also be tried in absentia.

This draft plan will be taken up at two Senate hearings today. I continue to maintain that the Administration ought to work this proposal into the framework already set up by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, but it will be interesting to see what news comes out of the Senate hearings (one of which will be aired at 2:00 on C-SPAN). Watch Warner, McCain, and Graham in particular.

A Sad Day

It's always a shame to lose a good centrist blogger, but Michael Reynolds' decision to end The Mighty Middle is particularly unfortunate. I understand Michael's reasons (fans of the childrens books he's authored were reading the site), but I'll miss his great posts and his razor wit. I think his was the only blog that's ever made me snort food out my nose. It was always one of my first stops in the morning, and the centrist blogosphere will not be the same for The Mighty Middle's departure.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Hagel on the Mideast Crisis

As Israel prepares to widen ground operations and continues its air assault on southern Lebanon even during a putative 48-hour pause, and President Bush maintains his refusal to call for a cease-fire, Republican senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska has broken ranks with the Administration to call for strong steps toward ending the conflict before it expands still further.

In a speech on the Senate flood yesterday, Hagel said "The sickening slaughter on both sides must end and it must end now. President Bush must call for an immediate cease-fire. This madness must stop." The senator noted that America's actions must be examined in context of our wider goal to achieve long-term stability in the Middle East: "How do we realistically believe that a continuation of the systematic destruction of an American friend - the country and people of Lebanon - is going to enhance America's image and give us the trust and credibility to lead a lasting and sustained peace effort in the Middle East?"

A bit more from Hagel: "Our relationship with Israel is special and historic. But it need not and cannot be at the expense of our Arab and Muslim relationships. That is an irresponsible and dangerous false choice." He urged the president to name a "statesman of global stature" as his personal envoy to assist in quelling the crisis, and called for talks with Iran and Syria, who are backing Hezbollah.

I think Hagel's got something right here. While I entirely support Israel's right to defend herself, and deplore the continued attacks on Israeli cities by Hezbollah's terrorists, the world must come together and demand an end to the violence in a way that will guarantee Israel's safety and the sidelining of Hezbollah as a military actor in the region. I agree with Senator Hagel that the punishing attacks on Lebanese infrastructure and civilian populations should be halted - we (the world community, but particularly the United States) should take steps to stabilize the legitimate Lebanese government and provide support for its people so that they don't have to turn to Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah.

This is not going to be an easy fix. But the dismantling of Lebanon must end, and it must end soon to prevent a crisis in that country that will only send the region further into a tailspin. Hagel's right, we've got to stop the madness.