Monday, October 30, 2006

Politics Trumping Science

The WaPo's got a should-read piece today offering up a few more examples of Bush-appointed folks in the Interior Department refusing to listen to the advice of career scientists and specialists in making recommendations for designations of threatened or endangered species. "Staff complaints that their scientific findings were frequently overruled or disparaged at the behest of landowners or industry have led the agency's inspector general to look into the role of Julie MacDonald, who has been deputy assistant secretary of the interior for fish and wildlife and parks since 2004, in decisions on protecting endangered species."

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Real "No-Brainer"

On Tuesday last, Vice President Cheney was being interviewed by WDAY talk radio host Scott Hennen, operating out of Fargo, ND. Hennen asked Cheney "Would you agree that a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?" The Veep responded "Well, it’s a no-brainer for me. But for a while there I was criticized as being the vice president for torture. We don’t torture. That’s not what we’re involved in."

Understandably, Cheney's comments have been interpreted as an personal (if not official) endorsement of certain forms of interrogation, including so-called "waterboarding," which, as the NYT's Neil Lewis points out today "is actually not a dunk in the water, but rather, covering a subject’s face with a constantly soaked cloth to make breathing difficult." Human Rights Watch director Tom Malinowski said this week "If Iran or Syria detained an American, Cheney is saying that it would be perfectly fine for them to hold that American’s head under water until he nearly drowns, if that’s what they need to do to save Iranian or Syrian lives."

White House spokesman Tony Snow tried to tamp down the questions Friday in his briefings by suggesting that Cheney was not referring to waterboarding or any other interrogation technique: "A dunk in the water is a dunk in the water." Earlier in the day, Snow also quipped "You know as a matter of common sense that the vice president of the United States is not going to be talking about water boarding. Never would, never does, never will. ou think Dick Cheney's going to slip up on something like this? No, come on." Lewis adds "One reporter noted that the vice president had once used a profanity on the Senate floor, and also shot a friend in the face during a hunting accident last February."

Today's Washington Post notes that Cheney told reporters last night "that he did not talk about any specific interrogation technique." "I didn't say anything about waterboarding. ... He didn't even use that phrase," Cheney said.

While that's a technically accurate answer, Cheney has thus far failed to respond to the overarching question of what exactly he was terming a "no-brainer." It is clear, in my view, that the radio host was not simply referring to a pleasant swim, and was probably asking indirectly about waterboarding or a similar tactic. To suggest that such methods, which are banned by international law, treaties, and federal statutes, are "a no-brainer" is repulsive and inappropriate, and serves only to further weaken America's reputation and put our men and women in uniform in danger.

A couple weeks ago I began thinking of what sort of "October Surprise" the Republicans could pull that would improve their chances of holding Congress after November's elections. Among the things that came to mind was "ditching Cheney." Picture it: a few days before the election, the Veep announces that he's become a distraction from the Administration's governing strategy (due to [insert your favorite scandal here]) and has decided he can best serve the country by quietly resigning.

With the probable impending release of his visitors' logs (which are expected to show many meetings between his staff and Jack Abramoff & Co.), and now this additional firestorm, I've begun thinking this might not be quite so far-fetched as I originally imagined it. Of course, I still think the odds are miniscule that this will actually happen, but just think about what would happen if, a week or so prior to Election Day, the Vice President who has been so identified with the missteps of the Bush Administration rides off into the sunset. Bush then (quickly) nominates a replacement Veep from the Skeptical Wing of the GOP (someone like John Warner or Jack Danforth, for example, who would be presumed not to run in '08). While "the base" might collectively freak out for a minute, this wouldn't be something that would cause them to stay home - and for wavering Republicans and many independents, this would be exactly the sort of action that would get them back (especially since the Dems still haven't managed - inexplicably - to offer much of an alternative other than "we're not them"). Sure, it'd be more of a totally transparent political stunt than an actual admission of error, but they've certainly been effective before.

Seems to me that's the real "no-brainer" around here, and this new brouhaha may be the perfect cover for it.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Who's It Gonna Be?

Alan's got a great post at Maverick Views outlining all the reasons why he'll be rooting for the Democrats come Election Night. I agree just about entirely with his conclusions:

"The Republicans no longer have a real agenda and are focused mostly on adding pork-filled earmarks onto spending bills and trying to get useless Constitutional amendments passed. Even on national security they seem to have lost much of their clarity and can no longer distinguish necessary actions from politically opportunistic ones.

So let’s find out if the Democrats can do better. Let’s give them a chance to stop complaining and start governing. Have they really skewed unacceptably far to the left or is that just an illusion created by the fundraising power of the liberal base? Are they serious about helping out the least among us without taxing the rest of us to death? Do they have a vision of a better America like they claim?

Give them two years and we’ll see what they got. If they blow it, we’ll vote them out and cast them to the depths. It’s not so much that they’ve earned control of Congress. It’s that the Republicans have lost the right to be in charge. Democrats win by forced forfeiture. They’ll earn no mandate. They’ll have no time for crowing. We’ll give them just enough skeptical trust to allow them to prove whether or not there’s something there.

I offer no ringing endorsement. I simply think we can afford to try a little change."

I cast my absentee ballot on Friday, and for the first time ever I voted a straight party line in all the races for which I could make a choice. And my votes did not go to the party of which I am a registered member.

If you'd told me six years ago that I'd be voting for Hillary Clinton's reelection I'd have laughed in your face. But I did cast that vote this year, without reservation. I voted for Eliot Spitzer to be the next governor, and for Michael Arcuri to replace the retiring centrist Republican Sherwood Boehlert in Congress. (To be fair, if the Republicans had found decent candidates for any of those races I might have considered supporting them - I'm not just reflexively voting Democrat).

Each state's races are very different this year, and for some, the choice won't be as easy as I found it (as Alan notes, the TX gov's race is a good example; I don't know what I'd do there either). But on the whole, I am in agreement with Alan: it's time for a change, and in many cases, we can do better than we've got right now. On November 7, I too will be hoping the Democrats can manage to pull off a win - the GOP simply hasn't earned another two years of congressional control.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Today's Must-Read

If you read one article today, make it Peter Slevin's WaPo piece "Moderates in Kansas Decide They're Not in GOP Anymore." It examines a very interesting trend that's happened in Kansas this year, where nine former Republican officeholders will appear on the ballot in November ... as Democrats. This includes the former chairman of the state Republican party, who's running for lieutenant governor on the Democratic ticket!

While the Kansas situation is hardly translatable to many other states (Democrats there are quite conservative, for example, so these center-right Republicans fit in rather nicely), it's a very intriguing trend to keep an eye on. What's very clear is that the right wing's politics of distraction are no longer working quite so well as they have ... and that, my friends, is a good sign indeed.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

I'm Back

Sorry about that unscheduled disappearance, which was due to a combination of factors, including my inability to find the words to express the disgust and revulsion I felt about the Mark Foley mess, but mostly because my non-blogging life's been a little (okay, a lot) busier than I expected it would be this fall. At any rate, I've got some things that I want to discuss, and I do intend to post more frequently from here to November 7 at the very least.

- On the Foley scandal, since it seems to remain the elephant in the room: I am utterly appalled that this went on, as everyone is, and I'm sickened that it took so long to discover. If any of the umpteen ongoing investigations find that these matters were known about and hushed up in any way, those responsible must resign their posts. It appears that the Ethics Committee is conducting the kind of wide-ranging and open-ended investigation that needs to happen, and I hope that they'll get to the bottom of this sleazy episode.

- On Mark Warner's decision not to run in 2008, I was disappointed. Of course I can see how such a long campaign would be brutal on a family, and I certainly cannot fault him for his decision to forgo the race. Nonetheless, it's a shame to lose one of the most prominent centrist candidates so early in the process. Watch for Evan Bayh and John Edwards to make the most of Warner's departure.

- On the Casey-Santorum race in Pennsylvania: I watched their most recent debate (video here) last night, and I just have to say, Santorum came across as the most desperate, grasping, obnoxious debate participant I've ever watched. From his ridiculous "quiz questions" designed purely to trip Casey up (but which instead made Santorum look like a pompous ass) to his constant refrain of "you didn't answer the question" (which just made it seem like he wasn't listening to anything Casey was saying), Santorum did himself no favors by his actions.

- On the midterms in general: It looks like November 7th may well be a very, very bad night for those who want to maintain Republican control of Congress (I almost just wrote "Republicans" there and then realized that'd be including myself, and I certainly don't want the party to retain control). Given recent trends and ratings changes, it appears quite likely that Democrats will take the House, and odds are moving in their favor on the Senate side as well. See Rothenberg (House, Senate), Hotline (House, Senate). Now, of course, the Democrats could still snatch defeat from the jaws of victory (as they do so well), so I'm not making predictions of my own yet (but I will, as we get closer to the end).

- On Bob Ney's guilty plea: It's about time. Ney, having pleaded guilty yesterday, should resign his seat immediately. There is no question about that. His excuses about "making sure his staff are okay" are lame and unecessary; Ney should get out of town.

- On Bob Woodward's State of Denial: I finished reading the newest Woodward book last night, and have posted a full review here. It's the most disturbing of the "Bush at War" series, and it really portrays the Administration as we now understand it to operate: a bubbled president, being advised by a micromanaging vice president and SecDef who are both thoroughly bubbled themselves and utterly oblivious to dissent, regardless of its source. It's depressing, because there are so many points where I found myself saying "right there" things could gone differently if only there had been a grownup in the room.

- Alan over at Maverick Views has had some great posts up which I ought to have been linking to: a critique of the Dems, and most importantly some more thoughts on the efficacy of the "vital center."

- More soon (no really). Apologies again for the long absence.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

'05 Memo Steamed Rummy

The New York Times reports today that back in June, 2005, then-acting deputy defense secretary Gordon England and State Department counselor Philip Zelikow jointly wrote a 9-page memo calling on the Administration to ask Congress for approval of its detainee treatment policies. England and Zelikow also "called for a return to the minimum standards of treatment in the Geneva Conventions and for eventually closing the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The time had come, they said, for suspects in the 9/11 plot to be taken out of their secret prison cells and tried before military tribunals."

This memo, which the Times says has not been disclosed publicly before now, made SecDef Rumsfeld so angry when he received it that "his aides gathered up copies of the document and had at least some of them shredded." "England's wings got clipped after that," the report quotes one aide as saying; Rumsfeld was displeased that he'd "worked on the memorandum with officials outside the Pentagon without his authorization."

It was only a matter of time before things like this started to appear - surely we've all known that there had to be some dissenters within the Administration to some of the steps that have been taken. Whether this release will open the floodgates or not remains to be seen, but I expect this won't be the last such document that makes its way into the public eye.