Monday, June 23, 2008

Impossible to Parody

John McCain on the gravest long-term threat to the U.S. economy:

Well, I would think that the absolute gravest threat is the struggle that we're in against Islamic extremism, which can affect, if they prevail, our very existence. Another successful attack on the United States of America could have devastating consequences.

John McCain on general economic policy:

Once we win this ideological war on radical Islamic extremism which will rage for thousands of years, then we will concentrate on the economy.

One comes from a Fortune Magazine interview, one comes from The Onion. Life imitates art.

Read more!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

People Who Think We're Stupid

This guy... this guy is just pissing... he's pissing all over us. He's pissing on you. What does it taste like? Chief, what does it taste like, 'cause you know what, it tastes like piss to me.

But I'm pleased that in Title I, there is enhancement over the existing FISA law. Reaffirmation, I guess that's the word I'd looking for. A reaffirmation that FISA and Title III of the Criminal Code are the authorities under which Americans can be collected upon.

It restores FISA and existing criminal wiretap statutes as the exclusive means to conduct surveillance – making it clear that the President cannot circumvent the law and disregard the civil liberties of the American people. It also firmly re-establishes basic judicial oversight over all domestic surveillance in the future.

There was broad consensus in the Congress that if a suspicious pattern of communications is found and a U.S. person is targeted, there needs to be approval granted by the FISA court. And, as Nancy Pelosi insisted, it needed to be established that the FISA law was the only way to legally wiretap an individual--in other words, under this law the Executive can't just go ahead and do it.

To review: FISA legislation specifically says it "shall be the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance...may be conducted." President Bush chose to ignore that and to this day claims that nebulous Article II powers give him the ability to perform whatever surveillance he wishes, regardless of the law. Now Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama and Joe Klein (among others) tell us that we can rest easy now that we have reaffirmed the very exclusivity that Bush ignored in the past and reserves the right to ignore in the future.

Perhaps the next time we are capture a diabolic serial killer we should remind him that murder is illegal and yes, we totally meant it when we said it the first time -- then let him go free after wagging our fingers slightly. Problem solved!

At some point laws must be enforced but this Democratic Congress has proven repeatedly that it won't enforce the law. Impeachment was off the table from day one. Private citizens are allowed to openly flaunt subpoenas. Now Bush ignores FISA exclusivity without consequence.

Why will Bush honor FISA exclusivity this time around? Not a trick question.

Is Joe Klein dumb enough to believe that simply restating the exclusivity of FISA will prevent Bush from further wrongdoing? Perhaps -- he certainly is a dope about FISA-related issues. (As I've covered previously) Is Nancy Pelosi? I doubt it. Is Barack Obama? Almost certainly not. He cannot honestly believe that "reaffirming" the exclusivity of FISA has meaning. It's just a line to feed to the dumb American public -- AKA us. Up to this point I've been impressed at Obama's willingness to treat the public as something other than rubes and suckers. But the question here is "is he that stupid or does he think we are?"

Perhaps nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public, but feeding nonsense logic-free rationalizations to that public is hardly the politics of change.

Note: Hunter at DailyKos made a very similar set of posts, but similar to how Leibniz and Newton independently invented calculus this is an example of great minds thinking alike.

Read more!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Score One for the Unitary Executive

You may remember that in summer/fall 2007 the Bush Administration decided that the Office of Administration would retroactively stop responding to Freedom of Information Act requests. Now a court decision has validated that action. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the paintiffs, explain the tortured logic of the decision:

In May 2007, CREW sued OA for records regarding missing White House e-mail and the office’s assessment of the scope of the problem. After initially agreeing to provide records, OA changed course and claimed it was not an agency and, therefore, had no obligation to comply with the FOIA. OA made this claim despite the fact that even the White House’s own website described OA as an agency and included regulations for processing FOIA requests.


OA has admitted that it functioned as an agency and processed FOIA requests until August 2007. Although CREW filed its FOIA request in April 2007 – four months before OA changed its position – the court found that OA had no duty to respond to CREW’s FOIA request because OA was never an agency in the first place.

The court found that the Office of Administation does not have "substantial independent authority" and exists solely to "advise and assist" the President. The intent of "advise and assist" is supposed to protect sensitive Presidential conversations, but in this case it was applied quite loosley:

Instead, OA’s charter documents and President Carter’s message to Congress make clear that OA’s function is to support, i.e., assist, the President indirectly [emph. in original] by providing efficient, centralized administrative services to the components within EOP.

This is a win for the theory of the Unitary Executive on two fronts. First it waters down the meaning of "advise and assist", divorcing it from its original intent. Second it further validates the notion that something that looks and acts as an agency, and is generally understood to be an agency even by its own employees, may not actually be one and can have its status changed at any time for the sake of convenience. (Or malfeasance).

According to the theory of the Unitary Executive the President is directly or indirectly in charge of the entire executive branch. Under that interpretation executive branch agencies are extensions of the President and no agency operates with "substantial independent authority" apart from the President. Currently the Department of Justice responds to FOIA requests, but if the "U.S. attorneys are emanations of a president's will" then presumably the DOJ can stop responding to FOIA requests at any time. If you accept the notion that executive agencies are merely appendages of the President then all of them can argue for exemption from the Freedom of Information Act.

Read more!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Swampland Hijinks: Hail to the Queen

"I'm willing to lose a friend over something I write but I'd like to know it was worth it."

Saving the best for last. Searching here for "Ana" (and "Anna" -- I'll go back and fix that at some point I swear) reveals plenty of choice quotes, so rather than rehash them I'll take a slightly different tack.

Both Ana Marie Cox and Michael Scherer possess two different critical writing styles -- normal and McCain. Normal is short, to the point and pithy; McCain is labored, labyrinthine and full of disclaimers, written in a way that turns criticism into compliments. According to Scherer the heat McCain has taken for surrounding himself with lobbyists while decrying their influence is The Downside of Doing the Right Thing -- as opposed to the downside of blatant hypocrisy. And according to Cox, the problem with McCain's Tortured Position is that sometimes McCain is slightly less awesome than his normal full-on awesomeness.

McCain's "tortured position" is that he claims opposition to torture while continuously enabling it. In Cox's typical style that would be a two sentence post, but when the subject is McCain she goes into sprawling, "fair and balanced" mode, writing six paragraphs to explain, or rather confuse, the issue. The final and longest paragraph is a gem (emph. added):

To be sure, McCain's self-scrutiny is withering. (And the estimation of others can be wrong.) If McCain is not always his own worst critic, he is still a vicious and constant one. The level of achievement, honesty and duty to his country that he sets for himself is incredibly high -- higher than most people's, perhaps even "towering." And I am sympathetic to his aides' point that he shouldn't be punished every time his actions meet "normal" standards but fail his own. (This is the obverse of Clinton's claim that since she didn't promise to, for instance, conduct a clean campaign, you can't blame her if she plays dirty.) The problem lies not in the standards themselves, but in his certainty about them, a conviction that may sometimes blind him to even the question of whether he has, even by accident or mistake, blurred them in order to meet them.

This is Cox in microcosm -- six paragraphs to explain away McCain's hypocrisy on torture while heaping superlatives on him. And one parenthetical aside to pick at Clinton while mischaracterizing her position.

Ana Marie Cox likes McCain, something she fully admits to. (In comments in this post.) She also admitted to being biased but bizarrely claimed her "transparency" counterbalances that -- in a post fessing up to the fact that she vacationed at McCain's ranch that she wrote only after commenters caught wind of it through other channels and called her out. Why are even her criticisms of McCain so glowing? She told us:

I think of socializing as part of the larger project: I get to know people and then can then write about them with more depth, and it means that when I do write something critical about them, I take EXTRA care to get it right... I'm willing to lose a friend over something I write but I'd like to know it was worth it.

When it comes to criticizing McCain she takes EXTRA care -- EXTRA parsing, EXTRA benefit of the doubt and EXTRA praise.

Read more!