Thursday, September 28, 2006

A Good Man Says Goodbye

Yesterday afternoon, Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords (I) made his valedictory speech before the Senate prior to his retirement at the end of this session. The text is available here. Jeffords took the opportunity to decry the current fiscal insanity with which this Administration and Congress have saddled our country, saying "It seems to me the very least we should do is pay today for the fiscal costs of our policies. Instead, we are floating IOUs written on our children's future. This year we have no budget, and we are unwilling even to debate most of our basic spending bills before the November election."

While Jeffords made no mention of his 2001 bolt to independence, he did suggest "
we would be better served in world affairs today by being less haughty and more humble. I regret that my departure from Congress, like my arrival, finds our country at war. Young and even not-so-young Americans are sacrificing life and limb, while the rest of us are making little or no sacrifice."

Sadly, only a few senators could tear themselves away from their own pressing business and take the time to listen to their colleague's farewell: the AP reports that "at least a half-dozen" Democratic senators were in the chamber, along with Republicans Chuck Grassley and Linc Chafee.

Jeffords worked hard throughout his thirty-two years in Congress on behalf of the environment and education, particularly for those children with special needs. He has been a true centrist throughout his career, one of the old New England guard like John Chafee (Linc's father), Bob Stafford (Jeffords' predecessor) and George Mitchell. The Senate is the worse for his departure, and I wish him all the best in retirement.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Few Good Links

Sorry for the slow-posting, it's been busy and yesterday all Google sites were on strike for me so when I finally did have time to write, I couldn't. Anyway, here are some links I've read lately that I thought might be of interest:

- In today's New York Times, it sounds to me like the Administration's shenanigans continue on the detainee treatment bill; there were some mysterious "technical changes" made over the weekend that seem a little fishy.

- John Bolton's confirmation to as UN Ambassador is dead ... again. Steve Clemons at The Washington Note - by far the greatest and most effective spokesman for the Bolton opposition since day one - has the scoop. Clemons had another great post recently too, on Linc Chafee's refusal to confirm Bolton and the need for more strong centrists of both parties in the Senate.

- Over at Maverick Views (awhile ago, sorry), Alan discusses the "vital center", and concludes there's no such thing. This is a really excellent post about a topic that I find it hard to get my head around. Don't miss this one. Amba has a followup which I also recommend.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Administration Backpedals Already ...

Well it was really only a matter of time. While my initial feelings about the deal struck between the Rebellious Trio and the Administration were positive, it has been made abundantly clear by White House and other executive branch officials that the whole negotiation process was little more than a charade on the part of the Bush team. I should have known: so much for hope springs eternal, not with this crowd.

One important part of the compromise was that the president would issue executive orders outlining specific interrogation techniques "that do not rise to the level of grave breaches [under the Geneva Convention], but are still objectionable," which would be banned under this legislation. Those orders would have to be published in the Federal Register, a step to guarantee transparency and allow Congress (and the public) to monitor those decisions. McCain and the other senators had insisted on this step, and the White House agreed to it. However, spokesman Tony Snow said Friday "that administration lawyers told him that such publication might not be necessary." Strike One.

Another key element: the original legislation from the Senate banned the use of evidence obtained through "cruel, unusual or inhumane treatment" no matter when said evidence was obtained. The Administration argued successfully that the clock should only be started in December '05, when the Detainee Treatment Act was passed - meaning that evidence obtained even through coercive means before that time could be used. I agree with Senator Carl Levin on this point, who said yesterday "This approach, which was insisted upon by the administration, would put our own troops at risk if other countries decide to apply a similar standard, and is abhorrent to American values." Strike Two.

Finally, there is a major concern over what appears to be a major ambiguity in the compromise legislation regarding the right to appeal via habeus corpus procedures (i.e. that some detainees are still going to be stuck in legal limbo without a way to appeal their perpetual detention). Senator Specter has said the Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on this issue on Monday and hopefully they'll be able to amend this away when the bill reaches the floor, but still, this is an issue that needs solving." Strike Three.

Now, that said, I think the senators did get a great deal more than they had originally, and they forced the White House to give up some major points. However, I'm afraid that they took the negotiations at face value, and while it pains me to have to say it, I can draw no other conclusion but that this Administration headed by this president is incapable of good-faith negotiation and honest dealing. As I wrote yesterday, McCain, Warner and Graham deserve some credit for wringing water out of a stone. Unfortunately, it's clear now that that water is undrinkable.

Friday, September 22, 2006


Sticking to my theme of the past week or so I'm going to discuss McCain-Warner-Graham again, but this time to note that the agreement they've reached with the Administration seems almost a total win for the rebellious senators. Now, because I'm taking that only from news reports that have been published so far, I could be way off base here ... and I'm also assuming (as I should never do) that the president will actually honor an agreement that has been made and not foul it up with a signing statement or something typical like that. But, at first glance, this seems alright.

While the White House is spinning this positively (saying they got what they wanted even if it was by taking the "scenic route"), it's clear from all accounts that the Administration backed down in nearly every area. As the Washington Post reports today, "the two sides agreed on a list of specified crimes that could provoke prosecution of CIA interrogators and others," which will be amended to the War Crimes Act. The White House "yielded in its demand to adopt, with congressional approval, a restricted definition of its obligations under Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions."

The New York Times adds that "the senators won agreement that suspects would be allowed to see any evidence the jury sees, which the senators say is in keeping with 200 years of American judicial tradition. But the agreement includes procedures that would strip the evidence of the most sensitive details that lawmakers have worried could be used to plan more attacks." Makes sense to me.

Of course the House now may decide to hold this up if the leadership thinks it's not sufficiently palatable to the White House, but chances are they'll follow orders. While I'd like to have seen a few more legal protections, I think that McCain, Warner and Graham deserve some major credit for wringing water out of a stone here, standing firm and getting the job done.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Growing the Rebellion

As the end of this congressional session nears, it's growing increasingly likely that the Administration will have to blink or sink on the detainee trials legislation they'd like to have passed before the fall elections. We saw the first indications of this Monday night with a new proposal from the White House in which the Administration "dropped its insistence on redefining the obligations of the United States under the Geneva Conventions" and decided to focus on making changes to the War Powers Act instead. Negotiations on that point reportedly are continuing, and Graham said yesterday "I am very pleased with the tone and the progress." Details remained sketchy at best, though, so what will emerge very much remains to be seen.

The two sides are still far apart on the issue of allowing suspects' attorneys to examine classified evidence against their clients and whether CIA operatives would be immune from prosecution based on past and/or future interrogations.

Yesterday Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist threatened, idiotically (but what else is new) to filibuster McCain-Warner-Graham rather than let it pass with the majority support that it has. He also admitted that there was not support for a (rotten) bill to authorize the warrantless eavesdrop program, and has set that aside until next week at the very earliest. Republicans Olympia Snowe, Mike DeWine and Chuck Hagel may block that bill in the Intelligence Committee and hold off action until after the elections.

Meanwhile, on the House side, Republicans Chris Shays, Jim Walsh, Jim Leach and Mike Castle threw their support behind the Warner-McCain-Graham approach on the detainee treatment legislation, saying any House bill must abide by the principles the senators have set down.

I can't remember the last time I've been so proud of our Republican centrists. It's about time they stood up like this, and even though it might get skewered as politically expedient right now, it's also the right thing to do. Don't back down. Never give in!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

More on McCain-Warner-Graham

The NYT has a very interesting article today (team-reported by Carl Hulse, Kate Zernike and Sheryl Gay Stolberg) on the McCain-Warner-Graham rebellion, and how they came to put a halt on Bush's plan to ram through a bad detainee trials policy. They report that the number of Senate Republicans now backing the bill approved by the Armed Services Committee "was widening beyond the 8 or 10 they had anticipated, with lawmakers - heavily influenced by Mr. Powell’s stance - preparing to soon go public with their views."

Over in the Washington Post, Jonathan Weisman adds that the Republican squabble over detainee treatment may wreak havoc with their campaign strategy this fall. You know what? Who cares. This is important stuff, and I say thank goodness we've got good people like McCain, Warner, Graham, Powell, Snowe, Collins, ... to stand up for our country's reputation, the safety of our men and women in uniform, and the good of the world. Never give in, keep fighting this good fight. We're with you!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Second Verse, Same as the First?

It seems like I've written this post before ... but once again, I must give credit to Senators McCain, Warner and Graham for standing up to the Administration on terror detainee policy. The three, joined yesterday by former SecState and CJCS Colin Powell, are pushing back against proposed legislation from the White House which would, they say, effectively gut the Geneva Conventions. Yesterday the Senate Armed Services Committee approved a bipartisan alternative to Bush's bill, while the House is expected to approve the White House legislation next week.

At issue are specific provisions regarding detainees' rights to see the evidence against them and about the meaning of the Geneva Convention's provisions as they apply to terror suspects.

The Financial Times reports that McCain has told aides he's prepared to go to the wall on this, "even if it ruins his chance of becoming president." After CIA direcctor Michael Hayden showed up on Capitol Hill trying to lure senators away from McCain's bill, the senator said "He's trying to protect his reputation at the risk of America's reputation." Meanwhile White House spokesman Tony Snow said Colin Powell was "confused" about the program, adding "They don't understand what we're trying to do here."

I think Powell, McCain, Warner and Graham understand exactly what it is the Administration's trying to do here, and they're doing precisely the right thing in putting the brakes on it. There is no reason to "reinterpret" (to put it nicely) the Geneva Conventions, and doing so only puts the reputation of America and the safety of American men and women in uniform at great risk. Keep up the good fight!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Centrism Wins ... and Loses ... in Primaries

Well it was a divided night last night for centrist candidates, both incumbents and those running for open seats. In Rhode Island, senator Lincoln Chafee held off a strong challenge from Stephen Laffey, winning with approximately 53% of the vote in an election that saw turnout records smashed (more than 63,000 votes were cast, beating the previous high of 45,000).

However, in AZ's 8th CD, conservative Randy Graf defeated centrist Steve Huffman for the Republican nomination; the Democratic candidate is now favored to win that seat in November (it's held now by retiring centrist Jim Kolbe).

In NY, John Spencer defeated KT McFarland for the right to the title of "sacrificial lamb" against Hillary Clinton this fall. In NH's 1st CD, anti-war candidate Carol Shea-Porter upset her primary opponent Jim Craig (the House Minority leader) for the nomination to take on Rep. Jeb Bradley.

Quite a night, with major repercussions for November: Chafee's victory increases the odds that the GOP will hold that seat, while Graf's makes a turnover in AZ's 8th much more likely.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Previewing Today's Primaries

Blogging for Political Wire, CQ's Greg Giroux has an excellent preview of all today's primary matchups.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Link Added

I've added a sidebar link to The Big Tent, and also added the blog to my regular reading rotation.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

New Army Field Manual a Good Step

I haven't had time to read enough into Bush's new terror tribunal proposal to comment on it yet, but I did want to note the release of a new Pentagon field manual which prohibits specific harsh forms of interrogation and takes a big step in the right direction.

"In a new department-wide directive on detention policy and a retooled Army field manual on interrogations, Pentagon officials demonstrated a dramatic shift in the way they view the treatment of detainees, and tacitly acknowledged the failures that led to allegations of abuse in U.S. facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The documents reverse the Bush administration's hard-line stance on the rights afforded to suspected terrorists, and label some previously accepted interrogation tactics as abusive and illegal."

Charles Stimson, a deputy assistant secretary of defense, said that the new manual "unambiguously articulates the values and traditions of our nation, values that John Adams called 'the policy of humanity,' which has been the cornerstone of the American ethos of warfare. More importantly, it provides our forces in the field the policy guidance needed to ensure the safe, secure and humane detention during armed conflicts, however those are characterized."

Of course there is the CIA loophole, which remains a problem, but for the military at least this is an important and welcome development. Much credit must go to those in Congress who have pushed hard for this revision of Pentagon policy: most notably Senators McCain, Warner, Graham, and Levin.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Katie's Debut

Five words: I miss Bob Schieffer already.

Book Review: "Voting to Kill"

Blogger Jim Geraghty's new (forthcoming, 9/19) book, Voting to Kill: How 9/11 Launched the Era of Republican Leadership was pleasantly different than I expected. When I got the review copy in the mail I expected another of those breathless screeds against Democrats and the left ... and there was a little of that (Dan Rather is described as a "stubborn, axe-grinding fossil", for example), but there's more here too. This is an insightful look at how the Republican Party made political hay out of 9/11 and the war on terror - and how the Democrats have driven themselves into a national security ditch.

My guess is that conservatives will be the most likely to read this book. My hope, however, is that liberals will read it and understand how they've come to be viewed. While I disagree with some of what's here, it's hard to argue that Michael Moore and George Soros have helped the Democrats' image as a party which takes national security seriously. Geraghty discusses how the last five years have changed American politics, and how even with the multitudinous missteps made by the Administration in Iraq and elsewhere, the GOP is still seen as having the best/only strategy to combat terrorism at home and abroad.

I found this book surprisingly interesting and thought-provoking. It ought to be required reading for Democrats heading into this fall's elections.