I’m going to Maine for two weeks starting Saturday. That means I’ll probably be blogging at most 2 hours a day on weekdays — yes, it wouldn’t be a true vacation if I couldn’t blog at all.
I will be giving a talk in Portland on Tuesday, August 18th at 7 pm. This is a state with two swing Senators after all! Details to come for all you New Englanders.
I aim to have a fair number of guest posts, though. I’m also trying a small change in my blogging style, to accommodate this trip and the time I need to spend working on my book through mid-September.
Normally, about 2/3 of my posts take me some 60 to 90 minutes to write and about 1/3 take 90 to 180 minutes. I’ve been trying to do more 30-minute posts in the last few days, in case you hadn’t noticed, and I expect to continue that for another month. If it proves successful, I’ll keep doing it.
The New York Times Magazine has a new interview with former Bush attorney general Alberto Gonzales, who is set to begin a job teaching political science at Texas Tech this fall. Gonzales is also currently writing a book — although he doesn’t yet have a publisher — in which he plans to discuss more about why he resigned. In the meantime, Gonzales said that he has been upset at the way his legacy has been ruined:
Would you agree that your reputation was damaged by your service as attorney general?
It has had an effect, a negative effect, no question about it, and at times it makes me angry because it is undeserved. But I don’t want to sound like I am whining. At the end of the day, I’ve been the attorney general of the United States. It’s a remarkable privilege, and I stand behind my service.
Last week, Politico asked the 11 House Republicans co-sponsoring the so-called “birther bill” — legislation requiring presidential candidates to prove they were born in the United States — to provide their own birth certificates. While a number of them complied, Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) explicitly refused to show his proof of birth. His staff instead sent a one-line e-mail response: “Congressman Neugebauer will not be submitting a copy of his birth certificate.” Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) did not respond to the request at all.
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, the focus of tumultuous reaction at a town hall meeting Thursday night, said in an interview this morning that the event has strengthened her conviction to support health care reform.
“It has strengthened my resolve to stand up for families and seniors,” Castor said. “Floridians are bearing a great burden in health care costs, more than almost any other state.”
“A healthy debate is good, but the rude behavior is not helpful,” she said. “I think it backfires. The response we’re receiving today is pretty overwhelming to speak up for families and bring down the cost of health care.”
Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) had a similar reaction after he was targeted at a town hall by the right. “I am more committed than ever to win approval of legislation to offer more individual choice to access affordable health care,” said Doggett in a statement. “An effective public plan is essential to achieve that goal.”
Our guest blogger is Colin Cookman, special assistant for national security at the Center for American Progress
If reports by Pakistani officials and at least two Taliban commanders are confirmed, the United States’ covert Predator drone campaign may have just scored a major hit in killing Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the militant group Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Pakistani and U.S. intelligence blame Mehsud for the December 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the September 2008 bombing of the Islamabad Marriot, and scores of other suicide and bomb attacks within the country. A late night strike Wednesday on the house of Mehsud’s father-in-law, which was initially reported to have killed his second wife and one other person, is now believed to have killed Pakistan’s most wanted terrorist leader as he was undergoing kidney treatments. It was the 28th recorded strike to have taken place during the Obama administration’s tenure.
Taliban leaders are reportedly gathering in a shura council to select a new leader to replace Mehsud as the head of the TTP. Contenders for the position reportedly include Hakimullah Mehsud (not a direct relation), a high-profile subcommander responsible for attacks on NATO supply lines through the Khyber Pass and the June 9th bombing of the Peshawar Pearl Continental; Waliur Rehman, a cousin of Baitullah’s who serves as a deputy to Bajaur commander Faqir Mohammad and who Mehsud is said to have favored as a replacement; and Azmatullah Mehsud, another Baitullah Mehsud relation said to sit on the TTP leadership council.
Under Baitullah Mehsud’s leadership, the umbrella Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan network established links between local militant commanders across Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and into the Northwest Frontier Province, transcending tribal boundaries and eliminating rivals who resisted his efforts to consolidate power. (See this CAP interactive map for profiles of some of the major militant figures and their linkages.) Commanders Sirajuddin Haqqani and Hafiz Gul Bahadur, who participated in the December 2007 council that established Baitullah Mehsud as TTP’s leader but who remain organizationally independent, will likely play an important role in shaping the organization’s future and the broader Taliban movement in Pakistan’s northwest. Foreign Al Qaeda operatives are also believed to play background roles as facilitators between the various Pakistani militant groups, including Punjab sectarian and Kashmir-focused terror outfits, as well as serving as conduits to international donors based in the Persian Gulf. Read more
FreedomWorks, an industry-backed right-wing group led by former GOP congressman Dick Armey, has been heavily engaged in organizing conservatives to ambush Democratic members of Congress supporting health care reform at town halls across the country during the August recess. Its “astroturf” campaign is designed to present the appearance of wide-spread public discontent with health care reform, but the reality is that the town halls have become forums for disruption, extremism and even violence.
Last night on MSNBC, FreedomWorks Vice President Max Pappas boasted about flooding congresspeople’s town hall meetings and “blowing them apart.” “We have about 400,000 on-line members who we can contact with an e-mail database that we have, send them information about when the town halls are, give them briefings on the health care reform plans,” he said.
Pappas was on C-SPAN this morning, and a Republican veteran called in and asked Pappas to “to tell these people to wrap it down.” “We Republicans already have the image of being owned by corporate America. Now we’re getting the image of being owned by wild red-neck America,” the caller complained. But Pappas refused his request, claiming he doesn’t “have the power” to calm down his troops:
PAPPAS: We don’t have the power to control how many people turn out or how they behave there. All we really do is facilitate their participation by letting people know when these town halls are and giving them information about the issues that are going to be discussed The passions are so deep about this issue that we can’t send out an email that says “calm down.”
Another caller who claimed to be from the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) — a group that claims the U.S. is a European country and was founded by a “longtime white-power activist” — praised Pappas. “I want to salute you, you’re a true patriot,” he told Pappas, who later urged the CCC member to join FreedomWorks. “[I]f the caller wants to join FreedomWorks, it’s free. You can sign up on our website and we’ll keep you up to dated on what’s going on on Capitol Hill,” he said. Watch it:
Opponents of health reform have added a new trick to their bag of fear-tactics: pretend that the White House is violating the First Amendment. After the White House sent an e-mail to the President’s supporters asking them to pass along right-wing e-mail forwards that make false claims about health reform — so that the White House can set up a fightthesmears.com-style response to these claims — Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) sent a breathless letter to the President accusing him of violating “the First Amendment and America’s tradition of free speech and public discourse.” By the end of the day, right-wing media exploded with claims that President Obama launched this plan to gather the names of the President’s opponents; former Speaker Newt Gingrich even compared the White House’s fight-the-smears strategy to the Alien and Sedition Acts.
By Thursday afternoon, Fox News even invented a made-up case saying that the President’s actions are unconstitutional:
It’s absolutely unconstitutional, I mean, the Supreme Court has ruled directly on point. When Richard Nixon was worried about anti-war protestors during the Vietnam era, he sent FBI agents undercover—CIA agents undercover—which was against the law for them to be operating in the US. And military in civilian garb to take photographs and to use tape recorders to record the voice, and they sued; it’s a very famous case. And the Supreme Court said . . . . the government is prohibited from intimidating people from exercising free speech, and recording their names or their voices, or asking people to spy on them would be exactly the intimidation the Supreme Court condemned.
We are unable to find a single Supreme Court case fitting this description, and several legal scholars whom the Wonk Room contacted were unable to identify such a case. Although there is one Nixon-era precedent dealing with soldiers spying on left-leaning organizations, that case did not say what Fox says that it said.
In Laird v. Tatum, the plaintiff challenged the Army’s practice of sending undercover intelligence agents to attend meetings that were open to the public, and gather information such as the names of the speakers and the number of attendees. The justices, however, never even reached the merits of the case because the plaintiff never showed that “he has sustained or is immediately in danger of sustaining a direct injury as the result of” the Army’s program.
So President Obama’s fight-the-smears campaign is all kinds of illegal, just so long as you live in the Neighborhood of Make Believe. Maybe next week, Fox and Senator Cornyn will claim that health care reform will drive up costs for unicorns and goblins.
The problem I generally have with these conversations about metrics is that you can’t judge success if you don’t know what the goal is – and frankly I don’t know what the Obama Administration’s goal is in Afghanistan. I’ve been told by the President that it is to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” Al Qaeda. Great. I’m all for that. But how you achieve that goal matters a great deal. For example, counter-insurgency advocates would argue that the way to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a safe haven for Al Qaeda is to prevent a Taliban take-over of the country. And the best way to achieve that goal is to conduct population centric counter-insurgency that strengthens the legitimacy of the Afghan government and convinces Taliban members to effectively switch sides.
Frankly, I think this can get into hair-splitting territory. The good thing about metrics is that they basically provide an ostensive definition of your goals. The setter of the metrics is saying “these are the things I want to achieve, this is what you should hold me accountable to.” But I agree with the spirit of Cohen’s point, I’m worried that we’re defining our objectives in an unduly grandiose manner. Here’s Metric’s “Combat Baby”:
I don’t think we have to “leave” Afghanistan right now, but if it were up to me I’d be assuming that we’ll be leaving relatively soon and trying to come up with the most constructive possible role to play in the short-term. Eight years after the initial invasion seems like a very ill-chosen moment to be getting ready to settle in for a new long-term commitment.
The Service Employees International Union, which supports health care reform, received a call today falsely accusing it of engaging in “thuggish violent tactics” and claiming that if the union does not stop disagreeing with reform’s opponents, “y’all are gonna come up against the Second Amendment.” Listen here:
Amazingly, after threatening to shoot SEIU’s members, the caller concludes by saying “stop the violence.”