My Hyper-Detailed, Policy-Heavy, Ridiculously Nuanced State of the Union Reaction
January 27, 2010

Obama said a few things I took strong exception to (sad to see him adopt the old “tightening our belts” cliché in particular). He said many more things I’m in agreement with. The problem is, the speech did nothing to increase my now dangerously depleted confidence that he would actually follow through on any of the more ambitious things he suggested. I mean, if the guy won’t fight to get a comprehensive health care reform bill passed, how can we expect him to get a comprehensive climate change bill through? At least everyone on both sides of the aisle agrees that uninsured sick people exist.

Speaking of comprehensive health care reform: what I think should have been a major part of the speech ended up as a footnote. To goddamn deficit reduction, of all things.

I suppose I can’t really evaluate the speech until at least a couple weeks from now, after we see what he actually does in its wake. Hopefully more than he’s been doing. But if he stays the course, then my first impression won’t change.

For now, I give this speech a rating of two and a half mehs.

What a Difference a Week Makes
January 26, 2010

Right about now is when the smug brigade start crowing about how Obama hasn’t turned out to be the liberal messiah all his progressive supporters expected him to be. But really, that’s not what this is about. You didn’t have to expect very much of him to expect more than what we’ve gotten over the last week.

It is not, for example, very much to ask that the White House not follow in the steps of the Bush administration and detain people without trial indefinitely. And it’s certainly not very much to ask that they not retreat from what they claimed was a centerpiece of their domestic agenda (although, to be frank, I haven’t seen a whole lot of evidence for that claim).

But now the spending freeze. One terrible idea on top of another.

The president’s list of accomplishments may still be thin, but here’s one he can add to the list: he’s made me, and a lot of his other supporters, look very stupid.

A nice cold cup of cynicism
August 21, 2008

It is indeed, as Matt points out, extremely good news that the Bush administration has hammered out an agreement to withdraw combat forces from Iraq. Another underreported yet unambiguously fantastic component of this agreement is that the White House has finally admitted that Blackwater and its ilk aren’t immune from the law of the country their employees are currently stationed in.

These are the most important parts of the story. The domestic political ramifications, and which party this is “good for,” are ridiculously minuscule issues compared to matters like the bloody occupation of a sovereign nation.

That being said, since everyone’s talking about who this is good for anyway, I think Matt’s take is a little off base:

However, the medium to long term effect will be the vindication of Obama’s plan and taking the issue of Iraq off the table as an election issue for the GOP.

(more…)

A mostly rhetorical question
August 11, 2008

Without getting into the intricacies of the conflict – I’ll leave to people far more knowledgeable than I – the conflict between Russia and Georgia has got me wondering again: Why is it that John McCain, Dick Cheney, Bill Kristol and a host of other neoconservatives insist on portraying every single conflict that occurs as a battle between good and evil? This isn’t Middle Earth. Without getting into IR theory, I tend to think of most countries, and most large bureaucracies as a whole as amoral rational actors on their own behalf.

Actually, I just needlessly slurred the good name of JRR Tolkien. Even Gondor (the good guys) had, at one point, a ruler who made poor decisions. That alone is apparently more moral complexity than the neoconservative worldview can handle.

The Way of the World
August 7, 2008

While I was offline, I also missed this, which is frustrating because it’s HUGE.

A new book by the author Ron Suskind claims that the White House ordered the CIA to forge a back-dated, handwritten letter from the head of Iraqi intelligence to Saddam Hussein.

Suskind writes in “The Way of the World,” to be published Tuesday, that the alleged forgery – adamantly denied by the White House – was designed to portray a false link between Hussein’s regime and al Qaeda as a justification for the Iraq war.

Wish I could say that, like Matt, I’m surprised by this, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the stories of illegal wiretapping, torture, black sites, rendition, the Downing Street Memo, and so on and so forth, it’s that the Bush administration recognizes basically no meaningful limits on its authority. And we’ve also learned, unfortunately, that there’s pretty much nothing that House Democrats consider a real, live impeachable offense anymore.

So I guess I’m all caught up with the news now.

Bush: Something or other about Iraq
July 31, 2008

From the AP:

President Bush hailed a

Oops! Gotta pay if I want to show you any more. But the basic gist is that Bush gave a progress report on Iraq in which he said that we’re winning and so now we can have troop reductions and shorter tours of duty for the troops that are still there.

The funny thing is, with all the credibility Bush has right now, his progress report may as well have said that Iraq was overrun by frakkin’ Cylons. There’s really no need to take what he says at face value – all this talk about “winning” in Iraq and troop reductions is an attempt to take the war off the electoral table. And that’s fine with me. Whatever he needs to tell himself to start sending troops home.

Connecting the Dots
July 30, 2008

Looks like the Senate’s investigation into the politicization of the Justice Department might go in an interesting direction.

WASHINGTON — On May 17, 2005, the White House’s political affairs office sent an e-mail message to agencies throughout the executive branch directing them to find jobs for 108 people on a list of “priority candidates” who had “loyally served the president.”

“We simply want to place as many of our Bush loyalists as possible,” the White House emphasized in a follow-up message, according to a little-noticed passage of an internal Justice Department report released Monday about politicization in the department’s hiring of civil-service prosecutors and immigration officials. [Emphasis mine.]

The implication being, of course, that numerous other agencies have been politicized in the same way as the Justice Department. Which we already know (just look at the EPA, for chrissake). But what this article shows is that these weren’t just a bunch of isolated incidents – Monica Goodling making a few political hires here, Cheney squashing a report about climate change there – but instead part of a single, coordinated effort that goes back to the White House. Basically, we’re talking about a return to the spoils system here.

Lucky for us, our ever vigilant White House press corps will probably be all over this.

Raising the Alert from Burnt Umber to Fuschia
July 29, 2008

The Department of Homeland Security is raising the threat level, presumably due to the discovery of some specific or credible new threat information.

The move is based on the nation’s increased vulnerability to a terrorist attack, not on any specific or credible new threat information, spokesman Russ Knocke said.

Okay … maybe not. So why are they raising the alert? Take a look at the lede paragraph, and the list of events that DHS employees need to be increasingly vigilant during:

The Department of Homeland Security is advising employees to be on increased alert beginning next month through next summer because of a series of upcoming high-profile events including the Olympics, both major parties’ nominating conventions, Election Day and the presidential transition.

Huh. Looks like three out of those four events have to do with this election that’s going on right now. Surely, though, the DHS wouldn’t be raising the alert just to try and inspire some Republican-friendly panic. That would be far to cravenly political. Not to mention completely unprecedented.

“To me this is the most novel and interesting of the findings,” said Larry Beutler, director of the National Center on the Psychology of Terrorism in Palo Alto, who reviewed the Columbia team’s research. “There are findings suggesting that the administration’s use of the alert system increased inordinately before the election and each time it did, Bush’s numbers went up about 5 percent.”

Who do you think they are, the Justice Department?

Words
July 16, 2008

The great thing about being an explosively unpopular lame duck president is that you can give the finger to pretty much everyone.

“The Department proposes to define abortion as ‘any of the various procedures — including the prescription and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action — that results in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation.’”

Classic Bush administration. Why try to get Congress to legislate something when it’s easier to just rearrange the English language? That’s why “Spanish Inquisition style-water torture” became “Waterboarding, an interrogation technique that is only slightly more unpleasant than lukewarm coffee.” Hell, pretty much everything we used to think of as “torture” suddenly fell into the amazingly broad category of “interrogation techniques.”

Now they’re trying a reversal: instead of mutilating the English language in order to make unspeakable acts seem more acceptable, they’re mutilating it to allow for more leeway in banning things. And so “abortion” comes to mean “pretty much anything that prevents you from having an unwanted kid.” Great.

Why stop there, though? If the White House was serious about preventing the genocide of spermkind, then they would refer to it as something that is already completely illegal. I recommend “meth.”

That’s a nice legal loophole that could even be used for good. Imagine the evil shit out there we could ban without legislating against it. Beverly Hills Chihuahua? Banned from theaters because the DEA classifies it as “meth.” Early ’90′s nostalgia fashion? Meth! And so on.

Those of us who love strong executives and hate vocabulary should keep our fingers crossed for a McCain presidency. This is the guy, after all, who seems to think “Al Qaeda” is a synonym for “straw man which I can apply to pretty much any conversation.”

Not a salacious tell-all!
July 9, 2008

Today’s Maureen Dowd column brings to mind a few questions.

Still, it’s not a salacious tell-all, and words like “smear” and “gossip” are misplaced. It’s a well-researched book that imagines what lies behind that placid facade of the first lady, a women’s book-club novel by a young woman named Curtis Sittenfeld who has written two best sellers, including “Prep.”

1.) Who the hell actually believes that Maureen Dowd can tell the difference between “salacious tell-alls” and actual journalism?

2.) Why does a subpar review of a work of fiction warrant a whole column in the New York Times when there’s actual news happening in the world?

3.) No, seriously, why is this being printed? Is Tom Friedman off today or something?

Thomas L. Friedman is off today.

Oh.

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