I was discussing with a friend the sorry state of things when it comes to getting congress to enact good policies, and he dragged up this quote from Richard Hofstadter’s “Reflections on Violence in the United States”:
When one considers American history as a whole, it is hard to think of any very long period in which it could be said that the country has been consistently well governed. And yet its political system is, on the whole, a resilient and well-seasoned one, and on the strength of its history one must assume that it can summon enough talent and good will to cope with its afflictions. To cope with them — but not, I think, to master them in any thoroughly decisive or admirable fashion. The nation seems to slouch onward into its uncertain future like some huge inarticulate beast, too much attainted by wounds and ailments to be robust, but too strong and resourceful to succumb.
So, you know, the problems of today are hardly unique. It’s always been tough out there.
Ady Barkan has a great piece in Slate about the case of Padilla vs Yoo which he characterizes as the best chance going to see some legal accountability for torture. The key point is that a week ago judge Jeffrey Wright rejected Yoo’s requests to dismiss the case, requests that had actually been supported by the Obama administration. Now we’re in a situation where an actual trial might take place, complete with a discovery process and some light being shined on what was going on. But what role will the Obama administration plan?
Barkan says they have three options:
First, it can accept the decision rather than appeal. This would allow Padilla’s attorneys to proceed with the evidence-gathering of discovery: reviewing Yoo’s classified memos, reading his e-mails, and even questioning him under oath. Although the government could try to keep what Padilla gleans from this confidential, Padilla’s lawyers will correctly argue that the public has a strong interest in seeing the material: The American people deserve to know which officials set our interrogation and detention policies. Scores of detainees would then use the evidence from Padilla’s discovery to establish their own plausible legal claims. The administration isn’t likely to go for any of this.
Second would be to continue down the path Obama’s trailed thus far, and keep on embracing the strong, Bush-style conception of the state secrets doctrine. This, he thinks, “would draw international condemnation and would surely give momentum to the Senate’s current effort to roll back the privilege by statute.” Last, they could simply argue that Yoo should be immune from prosecution which would likely wind up pushing this issue to the Supreme Court. In any essence that ought to lead to the torture accountability issue returning to the front pages.
By Andrea Nill Sanchez on Jun 20, 2009 at 10:00 am
San Francisco’s alternative news source, Beyond Chron, pointed out yesterday that San Francisco Chronicle reporter Jaxon Van Derbeken was honored by the vehemently anti-immigrant group, Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), when they awarded him with their “Eugene Katz Award for Excellence in the Coverage of Immigration” last week.
According to Beyond Chron, Van Derbeken won the same award that was bestowed upon Lou Dobbs for “attacking San Francisco’s two-decade-old Sanctuary Ordinance and perpetuated harmful stereotypes against immigrant children.” Beyond Chron claims that Van Derbeken is partly responsible for Mayor Gavin Newsom’s “hasty” decision to issue a new policy “that puts innocent children in danger and undermines the fundamental right to due process.”
MR. VAN DERBEKEN: Yes, yes, yes. (Laughter.) Hysterical, unfair, biased, awful, evil, anti-Christ, yeah. (Laughter.)
At another point, Van Derbeken was asked who the “voices of sanity” were on the subject of immigration. To which he replied:
MR. VAN DERBEKEN : Well, they’re viewed as lunatics. I mean, the people who are offended by this are thought of as being right-wing lunatics, in the context of this sort of closed loop of San Francisco politics.
It turns out Van Derbeken and CIS share something in common. This past week, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund released a new report that called out CIS, along with several other anti-immigration groups, for having “inflamed the immigration debate by invoking the dehumanizing, racist stereotypes and bigotry of hate groups.” The report tied their hateful rhetoric to an overwhelming rise in hate crimes directed at Latinos and individuals “perceived” as immigrants.
The San Francisco Bay Guardian is also reporting that Van Derbeken accepted a cash prize (he refuses to say how much) from the Center for Immigration Studies. Van Derbeken and his editor reportedly see nothing wrong with accepting the award and money because they didn’t “seek it.”
Conor Friedersdorf had an interesting item yesterday asking why liberal blogs are more into charts than are conservative blogs. The answer, of course, is that young liberals were all big fans of The Postal Service’s 2003 album Give Up featuring the seminal chart-based breakup song “Nothing Better” (poignant!)
“I’ve made charts and graphs that will finally make it real,” sings Jenny Lewis. And a generation of bloggers learned about the joys of the visual display of data.
Yesterday morning, RNC Chairman Michael Steele hosted Bill Bennett’s radio show, where he fearmongered about a non-existent “health police” and advised that President Obama simply “do the deal” to fix health care. He also called the president a “liar” for pledging to fix health care without deepening the national debt:
OBAMA [audiotape]: I’ve made a firm commitment that health care reform will not add to the federal budget deficit over the next decade.
STEELE: [shouting] LIAR! Sorry, I had to get that off my chest. We need to stand up and say this. Come on!
During the commercial break, Steele seemed to realize calling the president a “liar” was bad form. About five minutes later, he backed off his statements, seemingly apologizing for going “a little strong” against Obama:
STEEEL: I get hotheaded from time to time, so I just want to let folks know that in the last segment, I went a little strong in my response to the president’s comment, and I don’t want to go there. Because that’s not what this is about. … For all those folks out there who want to go start blogging, uh, just calm it down, you know. RNC chairman’s not trying to be crazy first thing in the morning.
Steele avoided name-calling for the next hour. But when a caller scolded him for “apologizing” to the president, Steele insisted he had never apologized, and declared that he was “not backing off”:
CALLER: Well I’ve been listening to you, and earlier you called the president a liar, and I said, Yeah, he’s finally got there! He’s finally decided to tell them how it is! And then you apologized —
STEELE: No I didn’t apologize! … Look, I’ve got to be mindful of my, quote, position and so forth. I always took great offense to the fact that the Democrats disparaged President Bush. They disrespected the man, and they disrespected the office that the man held. And I’ve said from the beginning of my chairmanship that we did not want to do that. … I’m not backing off of the fact that I think there’s a lot of misdirection, and there’s not a whole lot of honesty that’s being laid out there for the American people.
Listen to a compilation:
So is Steele apologizing for calling Obama a liar? Or is he “not backing off” his name-calling — name-calling that, he said, “disrespected” the president and “the office that the man held”?
One of the ways that the NYT intellectualized burying this landmark report is that they found a serious scientist who appeared to downplay the report’s importance:
Michael C. MacCracken, a leader of the 2000 study and a principal outside reviewer of the current one, said in an e-mail message that the new report was a useful overview of the state of current climate science in the United States, but “there is not much that is new.”
I said I would email Mike, a friend, to explain this absurd quote. I’ve certainly been misquoted by reporters and bloggers many times, so it’s only fair to allow Mike his full response.
Also, I think this episode provides a very good lesson to anyone who talks to the media on how NOT to get your message out. One of my readers, Anna Haynes, got an even more thorough reply than I did, which she posted here and I’m reprinting below:
Alan Greenspan’s come under a lot of retroactive criticism for having kept interest rates so low in the wake of the tech stock crash in order to help spark the housing boom that’s now come undone. Brad DeLong considers the issue of whether or not this is a fair criticism, and comes down tentatively on Greenspan’s side. I tend to agree with Brad about this. If you’re faced with the choice between “severe recession now” or “mild recession now and possibility of severe recession later” I think it’s difficult to say that picking the “severe recession now” door is the right one. You have to keep in mind, after all, that the “severe recession now” scenario hardly ensures an absence of serious future recessions.
Meanwhile, even in retrospect I don’t see any serious argument that the situation that existed as of January 2005 made the Panic of 2008 inevitable. He lists three real Fed mistakes that came later and contributed to the crisis:
— The Federal Reserve and the Treasury decided to nationalize AIG rather than to support AIG’s counterparties last fall, allowing financiers to pretend that their strategies were fundamentally sound rather than things that would have shut down their firms had the Feds not paid AIG’s bills.
— The Federal Reserve and the Treasury decided to let Lehman Brothers go into an uncontrolled bankruptcy last fall in order to try to teach financiers that having an ill-capitalized counterparty was not riskless and that people should not expect the government to come to their rescue always.
— The long-ago decision was made to eschew principles-based regulation and allow the shadow banking sector to grow unregulated with respect to its leverage and its compensation schemes in the belief that government regulation of finance should be minimal and that the government’s guarantee of the commercial banking system was enough to keep us out of messes like the one we are currently in.
Closer to home, I think you can very fairly tag Greenspan with the charge that having implemented the policy he implemented in 2001–2002 he developed a striking lack of candor about what was happening as of 2004–2005. There was plenty of time for policymakers to start waving people off the implicit assumptions they’d started making about housing prices. The trouble, however, was the trouble you’ll always have when it comes to bubble-popping. George W Bush didn’t want to say that prosperity was being based on a mirage, he wanted to say that prosperity was being based on his wise leadership. Many Bush critics—Paul Krugman, say—were happy to make the mirage argument. But then you had Harry Reid (D-NV) leading the Democratic opposition in the Senate and also representing one of the frothiest bubbles in the country. And individual critiques aside, the general point is that as long as the bubble lasts it’s mostly beneficial to most people, so nobody accountable to the voters is going to want to end the party or even point out that the party must end.
But the Fed is supposed to be insulated from this kind of pressure and more able to call it like it is.