What We’re Not Talking About

This morning there’s endless speculation on the disappearance and alleged reappearance of Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina. I say “alleged” because I’m not sure he has actually reappeared yet, but aides insist they will be able to conjure him up today. The most recent report I found says the governor took a quickie, unannounced vacation to Buenos Aires to “unwind.” His wife didn’t know where he was. I say the governor has some ‘splainin’ to do.

So far there’s much less chatter about civilians killed by U.S. drones in Pakistan. A drone fired missiles into a funeral of a Taliban militant, killing at least 45 Taliban militants, reports say, but also a number of civilians. The New York Times reports that the attack may have been conducted by the Pakistani Air Force, but “local news reports uniformly attributed it to a United States drone.” This will have been the 23rd drone attack carried out in Pakistan this year.

Pierre Tristam says that most of the casualties of the 23 drones have been civilians. Tristam’s commentary is very much worth reading. I don’t criticize using force to stop the Taliban; it has to be done, and it’s probably true that there’s no other way to do it.

But what does it say about us that we go into a several-day mourning frenzy over one young woman killed in Tehran, but shrug our shoulders over civilians killed in Pakistan? And do we really want the people of Pakistan to associate the U.S. with robot killing machines? Whatever happened to sending CARE packages?

Regarding the protests in Tehran, Juan Cole makes a good point

The kind of unlicensed, city-wide demonstrations being held in Tehran last week would not be allowed to be held in the United States. Senator John McCain led the charge against Obama for not having sufficiently intervened in Iran. At the Republican National Committee convention in St. Paul, 250 protesters were arrested shortly before John McCain took the podium. Most were innocent activists and even journalists. Amy Goodman and her staff were assaulted. In New York in 2004, ‘protest zones’ were assigned, and 1800 protesters were arrested, who have now been awarded civil damages by the courts. Spontaneous, city-wide demonstrations outside designated ‘protest zones’ would be illegal in New York City, apparently.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports,

Documents gathered by lawyers for the families of Sept. 11 victims provide new evidence of extensive financial support for Al Qaeda and other extremist groups by members of the Saudi royal family, but the material may never find its way into court because of legal and diplomatic obstacles.

Back in 2002 and 2003 when the Bushies were stampeding us into the Iraq war, one heard over and over again that Saddam Hussein had to be taken out because he “supported terrorism.” And I don’t doubt he did, although not al Qaeda, and his support was minuscule compared to that of the Saudis. But back then, whenever one brought this up, one was shouted down. We weren’t allowed to talk about it.

What else are we not talking about?

Update: Oh, what the hell — via Betsy Phillips at Nashville Scene, here’s a tribute to Mark Sanford. Enjoy.

Obama Derangement Syndrome

The President and Mrs. Obama went to New York City for a “date night,” dinner and a Broadway show. And the wingnuts are having a fit about it.

The Republican National Committee slammed the outing in an “RNC Research Piece”: “As President Obama prepares to wing into Manhattan’s theater district on Air Force One to take in a Broadway show, GM is preparing to file bankruptcy and families across America continue to struggle to pay their bills. … Have a great Saturday evening – even if you’re not jetting off somewhere at taxpayer expense. … PUTTING ON A SHOW: Obamas Wing Into The City For An Evening Out While Another Iconic American Company Prepares For Bankruptcy.”

Tbogg has a survey of Right Blogosphere reaction. My favorite is this one:

Obama also promised a middle class tax cut and healthcare reform, but obviously those can wait.

It wasn’t even an overnight trip, mind you. They flew back to Washington (which is a half hour trip, by air) after the show. They didn’t take Air Force One but instead flew in a smaller jet.

Let’s review:

George W. Bush took more vacations than any other President in U.S. history.

That’s 487 days at Camp David and 77 trips to Crawford, Texas, where he spent all or part of 490 days. I calculate that to be about two years and eight months.

I don’t know what the travel time is from the White House to Camp David — I assume just a few minutes — but I figure Crawford must be at least three hours one way by air, and I assume there’s no Crawford International Airport, so there’s motorcade time to figure in, also. Assuming a 6 hour two-way trip, times 77 trips, equals 462 hours, or more than 19 days days spent just flying back and forth to Crawford.

Bush was in Crawford when he blew off the memo “Bin Laden determined to attack inside the U.S.” as being too trivial for his attention. As I remember it, he was in Crawford during the great electricity blackout of 2003, and it was several hours before he addressed it. He was in Crawford while two wars were going on in the Mideast.

And need I say … Hurricane Katrina?

For a collection of outraged snark at the Endless Vacation that was the Bush Administration, see Source Watch. I think the only reason there wasn’t more outrage is that Bush was such a bad POTUS, most of the time it didn’t matter whether he was on vacation or not.

Even when he wasn’t officially on vacation, Bush wasn’t famous for staying put in the White House. Especially in his first term, when the War on Terror was still new and sparkly, as I remember he spent about half of his not-vacation time traveling to Republican Party fundraisers. The pattern was to schedule some “official” event like a ribbon-cutting or a speech in a particular city, where by some coincidence there happened to be a GOP fund-raider going on that very evening, so he could take Air Force One on Republican Party business without reimbursing taxpayers. (See, for example, “Taxpayer Mugging for Political Fundraising.”)

But that was not a problem, because, you know, IOKIYAR — It’s OK If You’re A Republican.

Update: A blogger who claims not to be a “sheeple” — I beg to differ — writes (emphasis original),

With the problems we’re facing with the recession and North Korea testing nuclear missiles you would think he would keep it a little on the down low and I don’t want to hear a peep from the loony left that Ron and Nancy Reagan were extravagant. Not a peep!

This blogger was pissed because yesterday the White House couldn’t yet provide expense account of the trip to New York. I don’t believe the Bush Administration ever presented an accounting of all the political trips George and Dick took at taxpayers’ expense. I could be wrong about that, but I googled for it and couldn’t find it. In the first Bush term they were not providing that information, and the Veep’s travel itinerary was something of a state secret at times. We don’t even know how much Dick traveled, never mind the cost.

You’ll like this one — the Broadway show the first couple saw was “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.” It’s a play about African-American life. So this blogger writes,

By the way, note that the Obamas went to a ‘black’ show.

When does he ever pay homage to his white side?

I swear, it’s something like a moth-and-flame thing; they can’t help themselves.

Update: Steve Benen

Rumor has it, Obama occasionally eats and sleeps, too. The nerve. Doesn’t the president realize he has things to do?

Memo to the Titanic

Nate Silver has picked up on my generational political “imprinting” hypothesis, which says that at the point a new generation becomes old enough to be aware of politics, it is “imprinted” with whatever narrative is playing out in politics at the time. That imprinting carries with it political memes and values that will stick with most people of that generation the rest of their lives, no matter what.

My hypothesis was based on pure observation, but Nate, bless him, has real data. And he says that much voter behavior hinges on the question “Who was president when you turned 18?”

Nate has a chart that shows people who turned 18 during the Eisenhower and Reagan administrations are more likely to identify themselves as “Republican” than people who turned 18 during any other recent administration. And if this trend continues, the GOP had better be worried. The crop of young folks who turned 18 during the G.W. Bush administration is the least Republican generation ever.

Nate says this political partisan imprinting can be “quite persistent as the voter moves through her lifecourse.” In other words, once imprinted, the imprinting tends to stick, even if political reality changes. The imprinting going on now will impact politics for the next half century.


Along the same lines, Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais write for the Los Angeles Times that “The Republican Party ignores young ‘millennials’ at its peril.”

The “millennials” — the generation of Americans born between 1982 and 2003 — now identify as Democrats by a ratio of 2 to 1. They are the first in four generations to contain more self-perceived liberals than conservatives. …

…Only 9% of millennials polled expressed a favorable opinion of the Republican Party. Only 7% were positive about the GOP’s congressional leaders. By contrast, 65% of millennials had a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party, and a majority also approved of congressional Democrats.

The authors attribute this shift to how the millennials were raised, but I think the real difference is George W. Bush and the current Republican Party. These young folks came of age during a national train wreck.

For the first time in living memory, young people do not assume their lives will be as financially blessed as their parents were. Even those who go to college and who get “better” jobs spend much of their early adulthood paying off college loans instead of saving for the first house. “Job security” has become an oxymoron. Once they’re too old to be carried on their parents’ health insurance, vast numbers of young people are cut off from receiving medical care.

And the GOP is utterly oblivious to this. Republicans are not addressing these issues at all except to call for continuing the failed policies that created the current reality. This is not to say Democrats will do a better job of addressing these issues, but at least Democrats seem to have a clue.

Millennials tend to be more knowledgeable about environmental issues and more accepting that global climate change is real than previous generations. They also are less homophobic. The current GOP is laissez faire on economics and business, but authoritarian on social issues. But millennials tend to be laissez faire on social issues and want to see government play a more pro-active role in steering the economy. They feel locked out and want the nation’s wealth to be “redistributed,” dammit!

Two other op eds at the Los Angeles Times deserve mention. Mickey Edwards, who appears to be a conservative, argues that “The Nation Needs a Better GOP.”

If Democrats control the legislative and executive branches without meaningful opposition, the country will be the weaker for it. Some of President Obama’s initiatives would dramatically shift the boundaries between public and private, reshape the relationship between citizens and government and alter the lens through which America views its international commitments. These are serious matters and deserve serious, and constructive, engagement.

In the long run it is far better for the country if a broad range of views — or, at least, as broad a range of views as one finds in American politics, which generally isn’t that broad — is represented in government. It’s good when the majority view is challenged intelligently by a thoughtful minority. If nothing else, it keeps the majority on its toes and goads them into thinking through their proposals more clearly. However,

Today, the Republican belief system has degenerated into an embarrassing hodgepodge that worships political victory more than ideas; supports massive deficits; plunges the nation into “just-in-case” wars without adequate troops, supplies or armor; dismisses constitutional strictures; and campaigns on a platform of turning national problem-solving over to “Joe the Plumber.” It’s hard to see how all that points the way to a reawakening of voters to trust in the GOP. …

… Merely attacking administration proposals and labeling Obama a “socialist” will only ensure that instead of rebounding, as the GOP did in 1968, the party will slip even further into irrelevance. And that will not be good for America.

Finally, one other op ed says “What Republicans need is a mutiny.” To take the party away from the troglodytes, yes? Alas, this op ed was written by Richard A. Viguerie, a troglodyte’s troglodyte.

Democrats have nothing to fear from today’s Republican Party leaders. That’s why Democrats have taken to targeting Rush Limbaugh and others who aren’t in formal leadership positions in the GOP but who forcefully articulate a conservative vision.

To paraphrase the Gipper, anyone who thinks Rush Limbaugh is forcefully articulating “a conservative vision” is the problem, not the solution.

Fred Barnes actually wrote this for next week’s Weekly Standard:

Improving the party’s image is a worthy cause, but it isn’t what Republicans ought to be emphasizing right now. They have a more important mission: to be the party of no. And not just a party that bucks Obama and Democrats on easy issues like releasing Gitmo terrorists in this country, but one committed to aggressive, attention-grabbing opposition to the entire Obama agenda.

I hope all Republicans read this and pay close attention to what Fred says.

If Republicans scan their history, they’ll discover unbridled opposition to bad Democratic policies pays off. Those two factors, unattractive policies plus strong opposition, were responsible for the Republican landslides in 1938, 1946, 1966, 1980, and 1994. A similar blowout may be beyond the reach of Republicans in 2010, but stranger things have happened in electoral politics. They’ll lose nothing by trying.

GOP: Barnes is a wise man, and you should do what he says. Please.

Juxtapositions; or Kindle to the Rescue

The latest word on the possible Boston Globe closedown is that the Union blinked. The Globe will stay in business, for now.

Full disclosure: The Boston Globe is owned by the New York Times Company, as is the other site I write for, About.com. A couple of months ago the company announced it was cutting the stipend for those of us who write for About.com on contract. Of course, we don’t have a union, so there wasn’t much we could say about it.

But also in today’s New York Times — will Kindle come to the rescue? I’ve never used one (although if you buy one from Amazon, please click through using the kindle widget on the sidebar so I get a cut, thanks). However, I can foresee a time when most of us will have broadband kindle-type devices with us all the time so we can download and read current news wherever we are. I would like that. No paper, no ink, no printing, big cost savings for newspapers. Not so good for printers, of course.

Paul Krugman discusses falling wage syndrome. Lots of people are taking wage cuts, and falling wages create more economic stagnation. Bill Anderson at LewRockwell sniffs,

You see, Krugman believes that there should be no consequences to an unsustainable boom, and that once a bubble bursts, then the spending that occurred during the boom must be continued at all costs. That is not economics, folks. That is nonsense.

Krugman wrote that an economy needs spending, or else it is stagnate. And if an economy is heading for stagnation, it needs more spending. I don’t see how anyone could argue with that. One thing defines the other; like if it doesn’t rain for a long time, it’s a drought. In other words, it’s not about what should happen, or what Krugman wants to happen, but what will happen. Hardly nonsense. But you know libertarians; Ann Coulter will win the Nobel Peace Prize before libertarians will admit Krugman might be right about something. He could say water flows downhill, and they’d argue with him.

The righties must have worn themselves out over the weekend defending the honor of hedge funds, because so far they’ve been quiet about the President’s plan to crack down on multinational corporations that use tax loopholes to avoid paying U.S. taxes. But Andrew Leonard writes,

But the president’s announcement Monday morning of a push to crack down on tax loopholes that allow multinational corporations to avoid paying what they owe to the U.S. government is already spawning half-hearted chatter on the cable news shows: It’s more proof of Obama’s antipathy to business.

The criticism is muted, however, because it’s just not a winning political proposition to defend multinational businesses that offshore jobs at a time when populist fervor rages so high.

Well, yeah. And if you missed it, be sure to catch the story about the Bush Administration’s American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 and how well that worked. It was great for business but bad for the economy, a circumstance that ought to cause heads to explode at LewRockwell.

Never fear for the rich, folks. Steve M tells us that in the past 100 days they’ve dropped $100 million on the George W. Bush Presidential Library. If they’ve got that much money to waste, I can’t feel too sorry for ’em.


I apologize for writing short posts the past couple of days. I’m kind of swamped right now.

Also, a reminder that tonight at 9 pm EST I’ll be on web radio at Buzz Tok. You can participate in the show by going here. The planned topic is the politics of torture.

On to Pakistan — Apparently the Taliban have overrun large parts of Pakistan. There is genuine concern that Pakistan — nuclear-armed Pakistan, mind you — will devolve into a territory of warlord-led fiefdoms, sort of like Somalia.

The resurgence of the Taliban in Pakistan is not a new thing. This has been unfolding since the end of 2001, when much of al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan were able to escape into Pakistan. I remember sitting in on a panel at the Clinton Global Initiative in 2006, and Thomas Friedman and President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan talked about the Taliban, and how it was a really bad problem for Pakistan, and getting worse.

If you want to say that Pervez Musharraf also was a really bad problem for Pakistan I hear you, but the point is that events in Pakistan now have been building since 2001, at least (some would say you have to go back about 50 years to find the beginning of the story) and what’s happening now is the fruit of more than seven years of failure to deal with it realistically.

And if I had the time I would love to write a long analysis of how and why the Taliban problem wasn’t dealt with realistically. However, the short version is that the Bushies’ simple-minded worldview caused them to sort everyone into two piles, labeled “Evildoers” and “BFFs,” and Musharraf was in the BFFs pile. This in turn led to all kinds of misjudgments and miscalculations about Pakistan. As I said, I wish I had more time to go into it.

Today I noticed some rightie sites expressing new alarm about Pakistan, as if everything in Pakistan had been just hunky-dory until recently. But I also notice leftie sites aren’t dealing with it much at all, yet. Yes, it’s complicated enough to give one a headache, but it’s important.

A few days ago I was chatting with someone with a large presence on the left side of the Web — I won’t name names — and when I mentioned the Taliban in Pakistan he brushed my remark aside — oh, the Taliban are not a problem, he said. I don’t believe this is a majority view on the Left, but I don’t think it’s an uncommon one, either.

Listen, folks, just because the Bush Administration said the Taliban is dangerous doesn’t mean it isn’t.

What should the Obama Administration do? I don’t have a clue. There may be little we can do, at this point.

An aside — many news stories coming out of Pakistan mention Swat or the Swat Valley. I have some historic background on Swat on the other blog.

Prove It

We’ve learned that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in one month. This begs the question: If torture is so good at extracting information, why did it need to be applied 183 times in one month?

Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002. Of this, CIA officials have said,

The methods succeeded in breaking him, and the stories he told of al-Qaeda terrorism plots sent CIA officers around the globe chasing leads.

In the end, though, not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida’s tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida — chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates — was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said.

Before he was waterboarded, Zubaida provided information that led to the capture of Khalid Sheik Mohammed and other al Qaeda operatives. Moreover, before the 83 waterboardings the Bush Administration already knew that Zubaida was not an al Qaeda insider. He wasn’t a member of al Qaeda at all. He worked directly with al Qaeda only after 9/11.

What do you want to bet that the torture of Zubaida and KSM was more about Iraq than al Qaeda? Zubaida was waterboarded in August 2002. We know that the decision to invade Iraq had been made by then, and that Bushies were busily fixing intelligence and facts around policy. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded in March 2003, the same month the Iraq invasion began. The Bushies wanted more “intelligence” that gave them permission to invade Iraq. Whether the intelligence was true or not wasn’t that important.

You cannot get a wingnut or ex-Bush Administration official to admit that waterboarding doesn’t work. As Timothy Rutten writes in today’s Los Angeles Times, since leaving office many Bush officials (especially ex-Veep Dick Cheney) have publicly declared that their “enhanced” interrogation techniques “worked” to extract valuable information from terrorists that foiled real terrorist plots.

The argument that torture gets the job done was made yet again Thursday, when a person identified only as a former top official in the Bush administration told Politico that release of the memos was “damaging because these are techniques that work. … Publicizing the techniques does grave damage to our national security by ensuring they can never be used again — even in a ticking-time-bomb scenario where thousands or even millions of American lives are at stake.”

As John Cole says, “There better be a pretty damned long fuse on that ticking time bomb.”

The part about “not being able to use the techniques again” makes no sense whatsoever. What techniques were used that surprised anyone? Waterboarding goes back to the bleeping Inquisition.

There is copious testimony from people with experience in intelligence that torture is not an effective tool for extracting useful information. For example, Rear Admiral (ret.) John Hutson, former Judge Advocate General for the Navy, said,

“The United States has been a strong, unwavering advocate for human rights and the rule of law for as long as you and I have been alive. I’m not ready to throw in the towel on that just because we are in a battle with some terrible people. In fact, in a war like this, when we are tempted to respond in kind, we must hold ever more dearly to the values that make us Americans. Torture, or “cruel, inhuman or degrading” conduct, are not part of our national character. Another objection is that torture doesn’t work. All the literature and experts say that if we really want usable information, we should go exactly the opposite way and try to gain the trust and confidence of the prisoners. Torture will get you information, but it’s not reliable. Eventually, if you don’t accidentally kill them first, torture victims will tell you something just to make you stop. It may or may not be true. If you torture 100 people, you’ll get 100 different stories. If you gain the confidence of 100 people, you may get one valuable story.” (Legal Affairs “Debate Club” January 27, 2005)

However, what you get from Bushies and Bushie apologists are vague claims and ticking time bomb scenarios. Of course, the perps can always hide behind “national security,” but I would argue that allowing this chapter of our history slide by unexamined is the greater long-term threat to our national security. As Rutten says,

There will be another terrorist attack on American soil eventually. If it occurs in the absence of a clear historical record of what the Bush/Cheney torture policies did or did not accomplish, those who supported the former administration will come roaring out of the weeds to charge that Americans died because their soft-headed countrymen were preoccupied with civil liberties and human rights.

The next time the wingnuts claim torture works, ask them to prove it.


By now you’ve heard the Obama Administration released the memos used by the Bush Administration to justify torture. As Digby says,

This is the very definition of the banality of evil — a dry, legalistic series of justifications for acts of barbaric cruelty.

Many are angry that the President has promised not to prosecute CIA officials involved in torture. About the only justification for this I’ve seen is from the Anonymous Liberal, who writes,

I know many of you disagree with me on this, but I think Obama did the right thing by promising not to prosecute CIA officers who acted in accordance with the OLC’s prior advice. Given the kind of things these folks are asked to do and the important missions entrusted to them, they have to be able to rely on the legal advice they’re given by the government. If we start prosecuting people for conduct they were specifically advised was legal by the OLC, it will severely hamper our ability to conduct future intelligence work. No one will trust the advice they are given, they’ll worry that the rug will be pulled out from under them at some point down the road. That’s an untenable situation.

But also,

The people who should be punished are the people who gave the advice. The lawyers. The Jay Bybees, John Yoos, and David Addingtons of the world. Obama did the right thing by releasing these memos today. It is now up to us to make sure they generate the degree of outrage that they should.

I am uncomfortable with not prosecuting the CIA officials, since “just following orders” hasn’t been a defense since the Nuremberg Trials. However, releasing the memos themselves was the most important thing, and prosecuting the people who gave the advice is the next most important thing. However, I don’t think that what the White House says about the CIA officials necessarily ties Congress’s hands, does it?

Bush Policy on Pirates: Um, Good Luck, Sailor

[Update, for people coming here from a right-wing site who plan to yell at me for “blaming Bush”: Please note that in no place in the post below did I blame Bush for Somali piracy or the present hostage situation. Right-wing bloggers who said that’s what I wrote are liars. — maha]

The Right is blaming Barack Obama for Somali pirates, or at least the lack of a response to the Somali pirates. Short version: Barack Obama is Jimmy Carter.

I thought you might like to read a Wall Street Journal story about Somali pirates published while George W. Bush was still president:

In the waning days of the Bush administration, the National Security Council issued a detailed yet little-noticed plan for combating piracy off the coast of Somalia….

…But the vast majority of the tasks laid out in the plan either were aimed at making sure pirates never reached commercial vessels — encouraging ships to travel at night, increasing intelligence sharing, destroying vessels that appear outfitted for piracy — or ensuring that there were consequences for pirates that were ultimately caught.

It was nearly silent, however, on what to do if a ship is taken by pirates and crew members are held captive. And what little guidance it provided was vague. U.S. naval forces were given authority to “terminate the act of piracy and any included hostage situation.” Just how they were to do that was left unsaid.

Pay close attention:

The reason for the plan’s lack of guidance has now been made clear over the last two days off the coast of the Horn of Africa: The choices facing a hulking navy destroyer as it confronts a ragtag group of Somali pirates holding an American seaman hostage in a small, propulsion-free boat are extremely limited.

Pentagon and U.S. Navy officials have been reticent to engage in the kind of hostage rescues that could spring crewmembers from capture at sea, arguing it would set a precedent that would strain an already thinly deployed naval taskforce in the region and, more importantly, potentially lead to more bloodshed.

In other words, President Obama probably is taking the advice of the commanders on the ground, er, water. But does this mean George W. Bush also was Jimmy Carter? I hate to insult Carter so, but let’s not pull punches here.

John Keegan, who has written some of my favorite military history books, says that the one way to stop the piracy is to sink pirate ships on sight. I suspect he’s right about that. However, that doesn’t solve the present hostage crisis, unless we’re willing to sacrifice the lives of the hostages. But then he says European navies would need to be re-equipped to engage in a pirate ship sinking campaign, which seems odd to me. But Keegan knows military stuff better than I do.

Whose Fault, Again?

I see that North Korea launched a rocket over the Pacific. Without bothering to look I’m guessing the Right Blogosphere is (ignorantly) blaming Bill Clinton/Jimmy Carter. Choe Sang-Hun and David Sanger write for the New York Times,

The motivation for the test appeared as much political as technological: After acquiring the fuel for six or more nuclear weapons during the Bush administration, and negotiating a halt of its main nuclear reactor in return for aid, North Korea’s recent statements appear to be a bid for attention from the Obama administration.

I agree about the “bid for attention” part. Of course, the big reason North Korea is a problem is that its sitting on a pile of plutonium, which it took out of storage and began processing after ham-handed treatment by the Bush II Administration pissed them off. I have a background post on North Korea and its nukes here. See also the North Korea archive.