Britain should no longer rely on assurances by the United States that it does not torture terrorism suspects, an influential parliamentary committee said in a report released [July 20th].It’s almost turning into drudgery to catalog all the different ways our country’s torture program is a bad idea. One of our closest allies now believes we are untrustworthy, and there’s no reason to fault such a conclusion.
You know you’ve got a weak case when evidence starts getting thrown out of your custom-made kangaroo court.
Memo to Linda Sanchez: Unlike me, you can actually do something about Karl Rove’s illegal defiance of Congress. Leave the blogging to the amateurs, you twit. Just do your job.
The Miami Herald has been doing a fantastic job covering Guantánamo and even has a dedicated page for it. Carol Rosenberg’s latest dispatch (via) reports that the U.S. released one of the actually important suspects it captured, and did so for
no apparent reason. We’ve more or less resigned ourselves to
criminally incompetent behavior from the government on the domestic
front, but as more and more gets revealed about its conduct in foreign
affairs it is becoming increasingly obvious that “heckuva job”-level
hackery is a primary characteristic there as well. Forget bad PR
internationally over torture - the administration might be fighting
transparency and oversight so ferociously because they know what the
American public will think when its abysmal performance is revealed
there as well. (The Herald’s Guantánamo page has been added to my “Window Washers” blogroll, and I certainly hope more lofty recognition is in the offing.)
Finally, a non-executive power note. The video of the President saying “Wall Street got drunk” got lots of attention, but what jumped out at me more than anything was: “The question is, how long [until it sobers up], and not try to do all these fancy financial instruments?” Did he really say “all these fancy financial instruments”? Isn’t it embarrassing that our Harvard MBA President sounds like a rube whose idea of financial planning is stuffing money under a mattress? And isn’t it outrageous that he doesn’t know even the most basic particulars of the meltdown? Isn’t it a damning indictment that he apparently never picked up the phone and said “Paulson, get in here!” That he evidently never asked anyone “what are these here HELOCs I keep hearing about?” I don’t expect the President to be a financial wizard - though lately it seems no one is, just a bunch of impostors - but isn’t it reasonable to expect him to take the time for a quick tutorial on a handful of the major details? “Fancy”?! God help us.
So was born, lived a little space, and died the Progressive party. At its birth it caused the nomination, by the Democrats, and the election, by the people, of Woodrow Wilson. At its death it brought about the nomination of Charles E. Hughes by the Republicans. It forced the writing into the platforms of the more conservative parties of principles and programmes of popular rights and social regeneration. The Progressive party never attained to power, but it wielded a potent power.
The two party system in America is remarkably durable. Just the phrase “third party” conjures up images of John Anderson, Ralph Nader, Ross Perot and George Wallace. These are all people who exited or were never inside the system. It implies actors at the margins engaged in Quixotic (though see here and here) attempts to fundamentally alter conventional politics. It also postulates two parties as though they are fixed poles on the political map. Nearly everything about the way we talk and think about American politics assumes the context of two major parties fighting for majority control.
In general it has served us well and seems reasonable enough. Short version: We have one party for each side of the political spectrum. If you favor a more active government in domestic affairs and a predisposition for collaboration internationally vote Democrat. If you favor less spending on social programs and a more assertive “peace through strength” attitude abroad vote Republican. Anyone anywhere on the political spectrum has to choose one of these, and in doing so the most radical elements on both sides will be usefully channelled into moderate positions, resulting in generally prudent policymaking that changes on a gradual and sustainable slope. You won’t have governments falling every nine months and the kind of turbulence associated with whipsaw changes in direction.
This model only becomes problematic if the tension and adversarial nature assumed in it turn into cooperation and collusion, as in the quadrennial orgy of bribery and corruption at the party conventions. A look at the FISA reform circus tells you all you need to know about how united the Democrats and Republicans are on eroding our civil liberties. Yes, some of the former opposed it (Dodd and Feingold in particular were passionate and articulate) while the latter were nearly unanimous in their support. That difference noted, the Democratic leadership and enough of its members were fully on board, and let’s face it - the end result is all that matters. Glenn Greenwald summed it up beautifully: “While there are substantial, important differences between Republicans and Democrats, critical political debates are at least as often driven not by the GOP/Democrat dichotomy, but by the split between the Beltway political establishment and the rest of the country.”
In a situation like this supporting a third party candidate like Bob Barr or a true major-party maverick like Ron Paul can serve a great purpose. Looked at from a horse race perspective these candidacies are almost uniformly failures. The most successful in the last generation - Ross Perot - did not win a single electoral vote. But he won 19% of the popular vote on a candidacy centered on, if not almost entirely based on, balancing the federal budget. The deficit reached a then-high of 316 billion dollars in July of 1992 - and was balanced by January of 1998! There are plenty of reasons for the turnaround, and the US economy is unfathomably complex; on such a scale it is basically impossible to draw a 1-to-1 correspondence with any kind of cause and effect. But Perot’s candidacy put the issue on the table and made fiscal responsibility in Washington a priority.
Those of us deeply disappointed with the Democrats and who are partially redirecting our energy, time and money elsewhere can aspire to much the same result. No one seems to think the Libertarian Party is poised to replace one of the current major parties (though such seismic shifts have happened occasionally), and there is no reason to expect additional ones as long as the Lani Guinier Heresy is alive and well. But we are not fighting to change the anatomy of the body politic, rather to inject some unpopular ideas into it. Political, media and cultural leaders at the highest levels are very much at ease with a system where criminality is mere mischief and the natural result of policymaking. Such things are to be grappled with in academic settings and think tanks, not prosecuted in court. Changing that environment would result in a great deal of discomfort and there is an enormous predisposition to just look discreetly away. (Please see Andrew Sullivan’s demolition of this monstrous proposition). If we can help to end the polite ignoring of lawlessness, the treating of felonies as shuttlecocks to be batted around as part of a delightful but inconsequential game - if we can get at least some of them to start living by the rules the rest of us must live by - then our efforts will be a success regardless of whether or not they ultimately result in an ongoing movement.
No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post. A copy of this was mailed as a letter to the editor this morning.
My parents always subscribed to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, so I grew up around newspapers; they were as regular a part of our household as our cats. As a kid I’d look at the Sunday comics, and later on the 1980 Browns would prompt me to grab the newspaper every day. I first started reading “real” news in 1984, when the front page of the second section had a columnist slot called “Focal Point”. Mike Royko was featured three times a week, and when that year’s Olympics rolled around he touched off a huge controversy with a series of columns about how he and his buddies decided which of the women’s teams to cheer for based on which ones had the nicest butts. (Memorable headline from a column he wrote at the conclusion: “The Bottom Line”) When his column moved inside to the Op-Ed pages I moved with him. So yes, I first started going to the most high-minded section of the paper when my teen eyes were lured there by T&A.
In college I lived a few houses down from a convenience store, and it was my source for a newspaper in the morning, beer in the evening and cigarettes just about any time. I always thought the first of these would be a constant, though I’ve since given up the others. Instead it was interrupted by a couple of years in Tanzania, a wonderful time that unfortunately also required me to substitute my morning newspaper and coffee with short wave radio and indifferently brewed tea. When I got back to America I eagerly resumed my ritual and it has since been a fixture in my life. But it is with genuine sadness I now write that this habit will go the way of the latter two.
I think papers are best for analysis, investigative pieces and long-range, trend-related reporting. Basically anything that can’t be summarized in two minutes gives newspapers an advantage over TV and online reporting (which may end up with its most popular use in the “email the headlines to my Blackberry” model). They seem to be going in the opposite direction though, trying to “prove” they can summarize news as quickly as their electronic competitors. To me that’s a losing game since newspapers will never be as immediate, and it’s a shame that the industry seems to be so rattled by the “gee whiz” novelty of the Internet. A newspaper is an astonishing piece of technology and can deliver a certain kind of news very efficiently. Its basic form hasn’t substantially changed for several centuries for good reason. There seems to be no confidence left in that fact.
Instead they have engaged in a race to the bottom. In the same week the LA Times announced its latest round of cuts the PD gutted itself and called it a redesign. The result is almost literally unreadable. The sports pages seem least affected (make of that what you will) but there is now a single forum page. Competing for space on it are letters, editorial cartoons, editorials, charts, statistics, and syndicated writers. Even distinctive in-house voices like Elizabeth Sullivan’s are increasingly banished to remote electronic outposts. The front section now has lots of little stories delivering little news. Business is a Potemkin section with a front page and nothing behind it, and Arts & Life is a reduced and chaotic mess. Start to finish I now go through the paper in about fifteen minutes.
Over the weekend the public editor wrote “[n]ewspapers do not have the luxury of standing still…The challenging part of that responsibility is that it often runs headlong into a reality that every newspaper editor learns early in his or her career: Readers Hate Change.” His slightly condescending tone seems to put those of us objecting to such wholesale diminishing of the paper with, say, the cranks who were pissed off when Marmaduke was dropped.
”Rightsizing” seems to be the trend, though, and what ails the PD is ailing most newspapers now. But clearly these new models are not designed with people like me in mind. I may well be a dying breed - someone who wants to sit down at a table and spend at least a half an hour every day reading articles (not summaries) and interested in hearing a variety of voices on lots of topics. Maybe the vast majority who plunk down money for a paper want it packaged to go, as convenient to hold and consume as an Egg McMuffin. If papers have no other choice, if they can no longer cater to my kind, I understand even if I’m not very happy about it. But they won’t have me along for the ride anymore either.
Please cancel my subscription.
The following people (and their colleagues in the House) deserve for their current terms to be their final ones based exclusively on their “yes” vote for HR6304. Whether motivated by laziness, cowardice, corruption, contempt for the Constitution, government aggrandizement or some combination these people have disgraced themselves and are unworthy of the offices they hold. This particular vote is so important because in addition to its gutting of the rule of law, contempt for the Fourth Amendment and further establishment of a separate tier of justice for the sufficiently moneyed it is symbolic of the shoddy work that has characterized Congress for several years now. (Note: Kennedy, McCain and Sessions were not present. Kennedy is not on the list because he missed it for medical reasons. The other two are included because if you really think they were opposed to it you may be a candidate for brain surgery yourself.) The HTML for this table is available as a plain text download over here.