Bush’s false peace offerings

My favorite part of the State of the Union was when Bush delivered the line “Congress did not act last year on my proposal to save Social Security”, and the Democrats all stood up and cheered. Nice to see them acting, at least sporadically, as though they have a backbone.

If I hear one more vapid pundit talk about how much the President “reached out” to Democrats in his address, though, I might lose it. From where I was sitting, Bush’s calls for bipartisanship came bundled with attacks on anyone who disagrees with him. Consider:

Along the way, we have benefited from responsible criticism and counsel offered by Members of Congress of both parties. In the coming year, I will continue to reach out and seek your good advice.

Yet there is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success, and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure. Hindsight alone is not wisdom. And second-guessing is not a strategy.

I have my own ideas about what Bush means by “defeatism” and “second-guessing” here.

Or consider this other passage. These two seemingly unrelated sentences were delivered nearly in the same breath:

With so much in the balance, those of us in public office have a duty to speak with candor. A sudden withdrawal of our forces from Iraq would abandon our Iraqi allies to death and prison … put men like bin Laden and Zarqawi in charge of a strategic country … and show that a pledge from America means little.

Why are these two sentences next to each other? Well, it’s clear, isn’t it? Public officials have a duty to “speak with candor”. Unless, of course, they want American troops to come home, which would be abandonment, betrayal and death. Some olive branch.

Members of Congress: however we feel about the decisions and debates of the past, our Nation has only one option [...]

I don’t even need to tell you what comes next. You can probably write the rest of the sentence yourself. But look at the part that is here: Even if you think I made mistakes in the past, isn’t it obvious that I can’t possibly be wrong now?


Bush’s Imperial Entrance

Is there anything about the State of the Union more nauseating than the President’s imperial entrance? This is how Slate puts it:

Then as the president makes his way to the well of the House of Representatives, members of Congress will pat him and moon at him and shake his hand like children trying to win a prize. Many of them will have skipped dinner to position themselves on the aisle so they can be seen touching Bush in prime time. Leaders who command this kind of sucking-up are usually the kind the president singles out as candidates for regime change.

I was watching the SOTU on ABC, and the commentators were at pains to tell how the members of the House of Representatives are let into the House chamber immediately following the security sweep, and they scurry and elbow each other to claim the prime spots along the aisle in the hopes that they can send their constituent a picture of them fawning over the President as he arrives. I cringed to hear this. It’s hardly a scene becoming the members of two supposedly coequal branches of government, if you ask me.

Slate has some sensible suggestions for how the speech’s staging could be tweaked, including the simple observation that the President could simply come in a back door to skip the gladhanding.

Tim Eyman still a horse’s rear

The Seattle Times reports that before Washington’s brand new H.R. 2661 was even signed into law, Tim Eyman filed two ballot measures to try to block it. H.R. 2661 is the bill recently passed out of the Washington Legislature, after 30 years of trying, that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Tim Eyman’s capsule summary is (emphases mine):

The people oppose the government forcing anyone to impose quotas, set-asides, or other preferential treatment for any group. This measure would prohibit state government from requiring any school, church, employer, or other public or private entity to impose quotas, set-asides, or other preferential treatment to any individual or group based on sexual orientation or sexual preference. Sexual orientation or sexual preference shall not be a specially protected class. The inclusion of this group as a protected class is preferential treatment over other groups not included in this chapter, such as military status, income level, medical history, or political party membership.

The people do not support preferential treatment because the people do not want it to be used as a basis for requiring the legalization of same-sex marriage.

The people know that the Accept-me-or-else-I’ll-sue-you or the Be-nice-to-me-or-else-I’ll-have-you-arrested approach will only increase resentment and conflict among our citizens.

So there you have it: gay people don’t deserve protection from discrimination because there isn’t any such protection for soldiers. Because, you know, lots of people discriminate against soldiers. Oh, and this might get the ball rolling towards letting gay people get married. Horrors.

Even if you’re the kind of person who is made insecure in your heterosexuality by the idea that other people who love each other want to get married, you might take heart in the fact that the forces of social conservatism did manage to get this disclaimer into HR 2661:

Inclusion of sexual orientation in this chapter shall not be construed to modify or supersede state law relating to marriage.

I guess ol Tim didn’t have time to read the entirety of the bill he decided to oppose.

Here are some of the things that RCW 49.60, as amended by the new bill, now prohibits:

My question to Tim Eyman and opponents of the bill is, which of these, or the other prohibited discriminatory activity, do they feel really ought to be allowed? Maybe they think it would be fine for people to list jobs as “gays need not apply”? Or perhaps they’re peeved that their right, which existed until recently, to turn gays away from hotels and public performances is being compromised?

Bush promises to speak more loudly and slowly

The White House’s main talking point ahead of the State of the Union address tomorrow seems to be that Bush will “elevate the tone here in Washington”.

Spake our illustrious leader (long may he live):

“I’ll do my best to elevate the tone here in Washington, D.C., so we can work together to achieve big things for the American people”

I like “big things” as much as the next guy, but I’m not entirely sure what “elevating the tone” entails. I turned to the ever-helpful Scott McClellan for answers:

Q: Let me ask you a question about elevating the tone, because, obviously, a lot of Americans are familiar with this talk from the President, even though it didn’t really come to pass after he was elected in 2000. [...C]ould you be a little bit more specific about what he thinks he can do to elevate the tone?

MR. McCLELLAN: Just exactly what he’s been doing throughout his administration. This President has always worked, whether it was when he was governor of Texas or since he’s been President of the United States, has always worked to reach out and elevate the discourse.

So, apparently Bush has been “elevating the tone” from day one. Initially, I thought this phrase must mean something like conducting more inclusive and thoughtful debate, but now I understand: this means that Bush promises to speak more loudly and slowly in 2006.

To make sure we understand.

Americans save nothing

Well, this is certainly scary. Apparently, the numbers for 2005 are in and Americans’ personal savings rate was minus 0.5% last year. Business Week has the story

The Commerce Department reported Monday that the savings rate fell into negative territory at minus 0.5 percent, meaning that Americans not only spent all of their after-tax income last year but had to dip into previous savings or increase borrowing.

The savings rate has been negative for an entire year only twice before — in 1932 and 1933 — two years when the country was struggling to cope with the Great Depression, a time of massive business failures and job layoffs.

The State of the Union Address leaked early

Strangely, the State of the Union address, showing Bush in front of a full assembly of Congress, was released today, more than a day early. Evidently, to thwart the terrorists (who lurk!), the event was secretly held early.

I recommend watching.

The Pluot Photo Album

As always, here is Ryan Marie to leaven the political ranting:

McCain yodles his objections

[This is all in reference to my previous post]

Guess who else is in Davos, Switzerland? John McCain! He’s there with Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, 12 heads of state, 77 cabinet ministers, 23 religious leaders, 13 union bosses, 735 chairmen or chief executives… and Angelina Jolie. Slackers, all.

While he’s there, though, he’s decided to criticize the Bush administration:

“What I was concerned about and continue to be concerned about is interrogation methods,” McCain told The Associated Press on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum.
“What is critical, is that we adhere to treaties that we are signatories to and observe basic human rights and obey the law that we just passed concerning cruel and inhumane and degrading treatment.”
“All human beings, no matter how evil they are, have the right to some kind of adjudication … There should be some kind of system set up so their cases can be decided.”

Now, I agree with all this. What I find interesting, though, is that McCain is reported as talking from “the sidelines of the World Economic Forum”, which makes it sound like he took a brief pause from a dynamic business meeting, as opposed to Kerry’s “mingling with international business and political leaders”, which sounds like a cocktail party.

Also, nobody is making fun of McCain for criticizing Bush “from the slopes” of Davos, “a five-star ski resort in the Swiss Alps”. No one is lobbing hilarious quips to the effect that that “takes some pretty serious yodeling”. Also conspicuously missing from the report were offhand characterizations of McCain’s efforts to stop torture by the US as “quixotic” and “awkward”.


National Make Fun of John Kerry Day

This is kind of weird. McClellan was asked yesterday about John Kerry attempting to mount a filibuster to the Alito nomination:

Q: Can I also ask you, on Senator Kerry’s comments, what is your reaction to the filibuster call by Senator Kerry, on Judge Alito?

MR. McCLELLAN: On his call yesterday? It was a pretty historic day. This was the first time ever that a Senator has called for a filibuster from the slopes of Davos, Switzerland. I think even for a Senator, it takes some pretty serious yodeling to call for a filibuster from a five-star ski resort in the Swiss Alps. (Laughter.)

Q: But you know he’s not there skiing.

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I didn’t ask you to yodel. I can hear you. (Laughter.)

Har har. So, what’s Kerry doing in Davos? Well, he’s attending the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, which is based in Geneva. Outrageous!

Now, I expect the White House spokesdroid to take cheap, misleading shots at politicians they don’t like, but even mainstream coverage of Kerry’s efforts have a strangely… mocking tone to them. Consider these bits from a New York Times article titled “Kerry Gets Cool Response to Call to Filibuster Alito “:

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts could not attend the Senate debate on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. on Thursday. He was in Davos, Switzerland, mingling with international business and political leaders at the World Economic Forum.

Mingling? Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but doesn’t this choice of words make it sound more like Kerry is attending a cocktail party than the annual meeting of an international business group?

But late Thursday afternoon, Mr. Kerry began calling fellow Democratic senators in a quixotic, last-minute effort for a filibuster to stop the nomination.

Democrats cringed and Republicans jeered at the awkwardness of his gesture, which almost no one in the Senate expects to succeed.

“God bless John Kerry,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican on the Judiciary Committee. “He just cinched this whole nomination. With Senator Kerry, it is Christmas every day.”

The awkwardness of his gesture? Did Kerry drop the phone repeatedly while calling fellow Senators? Did he mispronounce their names? Perhaps he stuttered, or choked on a pretzel and fainted?

In addtion to the Senator Cornyn mouthpiece, the article says a White House spokesperson is of the opinion that Kerry is playing to his “party’s liberal base” back home, that Senator Reid sounded “almost apologetic” about Kerry, and that Senator Biden “he would not support a filibuster and doubted one would happen”.

Added Biden, “nyah nyah nyah”. Also, an anonymous White House spokesperson is quoted as saying that Kerry smells funny and is probably French (just look at him!). There are also unconfirmed reports that Kerry “flip-flopped” on whether to mount a filibuster, and that he is secretly a Communist spy.

OK, I made up the last bit. But seriously, doesn’t the tone of this article seem a little odd?

Discussion of missile strikes in Pakistan

A discussion has sprung up around my my previous post about the missile strikes in Pakistan; it’s worth reading through the thoughtful comments that have been left.

Happy 3 months Ryan Marie!

Ryan Marie turned 3 months old on Sunday, but I kept forgetting to post a blog entry about it. Here she is with some random woman who wandered in off the street:

Was Abramoff really an equal-opportunity corruptor?

More specifically, is the mainstream media carrying a demonstrably false meme that Democrats are equally entangled in the Abramoff scandal?

I was reading a recent post on Shakespeare’s Sister that references a recent Peter Daou post at Salon that argues that the mainstream media is demonstrably biased to the right. By this, he means that the media propagates “narratives, memes, and soundbites: simple, targeted talking points that paint a picture of reality for the American public that favors the right and tarnishes the left”. I was finding this mildly intriguing, but was skeptical, when I stumbled across a specific claim: that the meme being carried by the mainstream media that Democrats are equally entangled in the Abramoff scandal is a flat-out falsehood. The standard-bearer for debunking this claim is Howard Dean; in an interview with Wolf Blitzer, he said (emphases mine):

BLITZER: Should Democrats who took money from Jack Abramoff, who has now pleaded guilty to bribery charges, among other charges, a Republican lobbyist in Washington, should the Democrat who took money from him give that money to charity or give it back?

DEAN: There are no Democrats who took money from Jack Abramoff, not one, not one single Democrat. Every person named in this scandal is a Republican. Every person under investigation is a Republican. Every person indicted is a Republican. This is a Republican finance scandal. There is no evidence that Jack Abramoff ever gave any Democrat any money. And we’ve looked through all of those FEC reports to make sure that’s true.

BLITZER: But through various Abramoff-related organizations and outfits, a bunch of Democrats did take money that presumably originated with Jack Abramoff.

DEAN: That’s not true either. There’s no evidence for that either. There is no evidence…

BLITZER: What about Senator Byron Dorgan?

DEAN: Senator Byron Dorgan and some others took money from Indian tribes. They’re not agents of Jack Abramoff. There’s no evidence that I’ve seen that Jack Abramoff directed any contributions to Democrats. I know the Republican National Committee would like to get the Democrats involved in this. They’re scared. They should be scared. They haven’t told the truth. They have misled the American people. And now it appears they’re stealing from Indian tribes. The Democrats are not involved in this.

BLITZER: Unfortunately Mr. Chairman, we got to leave it right there.

This made me sit up in my chair, because indeed I had repeatedly heard the meme that Abramoff money had been traced to Democrats as well as Republicans, and I even had heard of Democrats returning “tainted” money. With little effort, I turned up a Washington Post article titled “Democrats Also Got Tribal Donations” that points out that Democrats received significant donations from Indian tribes that had employed Abramoff:

But Abramoff didn’t work just with Republicans. He oversaw a team of two dozen lobbyists at the law firm Greenberg Traurig that included many Democrats. Moreover, the campaign contributions that Abramoff directed from the tribes went to Democratic as well as Republican legislators.

The article comes complete with the soundbite “It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Abramoff controversy impact both parties”, from some random website operator.

What does it mean that Abramoff “directed contributions from the tribes”?

According to documents and tribal officials familiar with the Abramoff team’s methods, the lobbyists devised lengthy lists of lawmakers to whom the tribes should donate and then delivered the lists to the tribes. The tribes, in turn, wrote checks to the recommended campaign committees and in the amounts the lobbyists prescribed. The money went to incumbents or selected candidates in open seats.

Is it fair to say that a Democrat who receives, say, money from Indian tribes at Abramoff’s suggestion, counts as being entangled with Abramoff’s shady dealings? There are (at least) three problems with claiming this:

  • The tribes aren’t completely at the mercy of Abramoff’s suggestions; they ultimately make, and are responsible for, their own contribution decisions.
  • Receiving money from some random outfit because Abramoff suggested it might be a good idea for them to donate to a particular politician is not the same as receiving money directly from Abramoff. No evidence shows that Democrats received contributions directly from Abramoff.
  • Receiving legal campaign contributions is a far cry from receiving donations in exchange for official acts, which is of course the heart of the scandal.

An excellent post at firedoglake makes the second and third points. On the first point, from the Washington Post article:

An Abramoff spokesman said: “Each tribe has its own protocol for approving political contributions made by the tribe. Mr. Abramoff and his team provided recommendations on where a tribe should spend its political dollars, but ultimately the tribal council made the final decision on what political contributions to make.”

Also, Senator Patty Murray decided against returning tribal money on the grounds that:

Murray does not know Abramoff and has never met with him, spokeswoman Alex Glass said. “This money is not coming from Jack Abramoff. It is not related to him,” Glass said Wednesday.

On the second point, NewsMeat has a table showing Abramoff campaign contributions, and no Democrat appears on the list.

So, is the mainstream media, as represented here by the Washington Post, carrying an unfairly pro-GOP meme when it runs headlines like “Democrats Also Got Tribal Donations”? I must confess that before I looked into the issue, I had gotten the vague impression from the media blitz that Democrats’ hands were dirty as well as Republicans. Although it’s true that there are Democrats that have received money that in various ways was directed or influenced by Abramoff, it still seems to be the case that none received money directly from him, and, most importantly, none are accused of corruption.

Corruption is the heart of this scandal, and so far it would seem that Democrats are unaffected. So in the most primary and important sense, this remains a Republican scandal.

Overheard at the White House

If you listen carefully, you’ll notice that the White House is trotting out a new talking point about the warrantless domestic spying program (which the White House would prefer be referred to as a “terrorist surveillance program”). Oops, I guess that’s two talking points.

Anyway, the other new talking point is in response to the fact that (as Gonzales first mentioned) the White House had consulted with certain members of Congress about getting legislation passed to empower the President to undertake the kind of monitoring that he ordered anyway. Administrative critics’ impression of those discussions is that the Congresspeople said it was very unlikely that such legislation would pass.

The White House’s talking point is that that’s not what happened: they would have us believe that in the end, they decided that it was best not to pursue legislation because this would tip off the terrorists (don’t forget, they lurk!).

Thus spake McClellan:

[W]e talked with congressional leaders, bipartisan congressional leaders, about this very issue: Should we go and get legislation that would reflect the authority the President already has? And those leaders felt that it could compromise our national security interest and this program if we were to go and get legislation passed. Because we don’t want to let the enemy know about our play book, and the more you talk about this program, the more potential it has to harm our national security interest.

Everything’s OK, see. The White House cared enough about the public to want to “go and get legislation” to let people know what the True Powers of the President are. But it wouldn’t have been prudent.

I feel for McClellan. Lately, he’s been spending almost his entire briefing time answering questions along the lines of “aren’t you, in fact, lying to us right now?” To help him out, I offer this humble rendition of what the consultation with a GOP Flunky Congresscritter (GFC) must have been like:

Bushite: Obviously, the President already has the power to surveil Americans on domestic soil.
GFC: Obviously.
Bushite: I mean, it’s hardly worth bringing up.
GFC: I was wondering why you even mentioned it, so blindingly obvious that it is.
Bushite: The thing is, people might get confused by that language in FISA.
GFC: Oh, you mean the bit about not engaging in “electronic surveillance under color of law except as authorized by statute”?
Bushite: Yeah, that’s the part.
GFC: Hmm; I can see how that could confuse people.
Bushite: I was thinking maybe you could get together with some other GFCs and maybe pass some of that… whatchacallit… legislation? Strictly to clear up the matter, you understand.
GFC: I like your thinking.
Bushite: I was thinking of a nice elegant preamble; something like “WHEREAS all shall prostrate and submit themselves to His Imperial Majesty George…”
GFC [Scribbling notes]: King… George. It’s catchy. I like it.
Bushite: Then, you know, something about affirming his unfettered power as head of the Unitary Executive
GFC: Oh, hey hang on a sec!
Bushite: What? You want to attach a rider outlawing birth control?
GFC: No, we’re planning a Constitutional amendment for that. I was just thinking: won’t this tip of the terrorists that we might be listening to them?
Bushite: Oooh, good point. They lurk, you know.
GFC: I know. That’s what makes me nervous. They lurk.
Bushite: And they might not have heard that for nearly the past 30 years, a secret court can authorize intelligence eavesdropping in the US as long as you can convince a judge that you have probable cause to surveil a foreign agent.
GFC: Right. They’re not that bright.
Bushite: I think you’re right. What should we do?
GFC: I’m not sure.
Bushite [Crestfallen]: I guess we can’t use Congress as a spineless mouthpiece to proclaim the President’s unfettered dominance over the populace.
GFC: It does seem a shame.
Bushite: Oh, well. What they don’t know won’t hurt them. Here, have some money.

The Pluot’s Big Adventure

3.28 BA0048 SEA -> LHR
3.29 BA0856 LHR -> PRG
4.26 BA0853 PRG -> LHR
4.26 BA0049 LHR -> SEA

The Pluot Photo Album

Here’s Ryan with her bonus grandma shortly before midnight on New Year’s Eve:

Were the Pakistan missile attacks justified?

Everyone has now likely heard about the U.S. missile attack in Pakistan that targeted but missed al-Zawahri, Al Qaida’s #2 official. 18 civilians were killed, and it’s now thought that up to four Al Qaida operatives may also have been killed, although this is still muddy. The attacks prompted thousands to protest in Pakistan. The Pakistani government has also protested the strike, which was apparently unauthorized.

Kevin Drum asks on his blog:

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that we had pretty good intelligence telling us that a bunch of al-Qaeda leaders were in the house we bombed. And let’s also assume that we did indeed kill al-Masri and several other major al-Qaeda leaders. Finally, let’s assume that the 18 civilians killed in the attack were genuinely innocent bystanders with no connection to terrorists.

Question: Under those assumptions, was the attack justified? I think the answer is pretty plainly yes, but I’d sure like to see the liberal blogosphere discuss it. And for those who answer no, I’m curious: under what circumstances would such an attack be justified?

Much furious debate ensues. Michael Stickings encourages us to think about the issue. Shakespeare’s Sister, too.

But, much of the discussion around the missile strike, and whether it was “justified”, misses an important point: reasonable people may disagree about which circumstances legitimately compel the use of force, and which do not. The pursuit of terrorists and militants undoubtably requires strong measures. So who’s views should prevail? When shall we judge the use of force to be legitimate, even in the face of differences of opinion on the issue?

Well, see, that’s what laws are for.

The whole idea of the rule of law is that everyone agrees to submit themselves to codified rules about acceptable conduct, even if they don’t agree with all provisions of the law, or would like the laws to be different, because the alternative is might-makes-right and every-man-for-himself. The danger is always that the most powerful people exempt themselves from the law and act unjustly towards everyone else. That’s why it’s important for everyone to genuinely respect the integrity and importance of the law, and for there to be real accountability for its violators.

The debate about the US’ violation of another country’s sovereignty in order to kill a bunch of its citizens seems to mostly revolve around whether or not this was a good decision, as though it’s perfectly natural and obvious that military commanders for the United States should get to sit in a small room, far from the mountains of Pakistan, and decide whether or not they feel like killing people in a foreign country today. Much of the discussion around whether or not they made a “good choice” seems to suggest that we follow our collective conscience in these matters, as though it would be perfectly natural that the US’ institutional conscience would be the only check on its behavior.

Blog comments and discussion boards are full of opinions like “I think the attacks were fine because they killed only 18 innocents, not hundreds, and al-Zawahri is a very bad man”, or “Killing innocent people is never OK”, or “As long as the military tried really hard not to kill any innocents, then the civilian deaths are regrettable but acceptable”. I submit to you that opinions like these are expressions of preference about what the rules ought to be. This sort of debate is healthy and desirable, but only in the context of trying to establish rules we will all live by. If we have no intention of actually establishing and / or respecting a set of rules, it’s utterly pointless to discuss these matters; the reality is that whoever has their finger on the trigger will make up their own mind.

What should therefore be discussed more prominently, I think, is the idea that governments and individuals will always disagree about when it’s OK for one country to invade / attack / decapitate / sanction / blockade another, when it’s OK to kill people with missiles launched from an unmanned drone, assassinate a governmental figure, or what have you. In the face of this, you can resign yourself to the idea that whoever has more firepower will do whatever they want, or you can advocate for the principle of the rule of law to be respected on the international scene.

To its credit, Slate’s “Explainer” article on the bombings doesn’t ask “what are various ways in which people with different political perspectives may argue that the bombings can be justified, in the abstract?”, but rather, “Were the Missile Strikes in Pakistan Illegal?”. It then explains the current state of international law on war. In case you’re curious, the standard is that “civilian deaths are acceptable as long as they are proportional to the overall military objective”.

Do you think this standard is too fuzzy? Perhaps you think it’s the wrong standard alltogether? Maybe it’s missing some important pieces? Perhaps you think that it’s of no consequence because there is no good accountability and enforcement mechanism for international law? I submit to you that what you want is better, or different, international law, and for powerful countries like the US to start actually respecting the strictures of international law, and for institutions like the International Criminal Court and the UN Security Council to be given more relevance, respect, integrity, and teeth.

The Pluot Photo Album

Laura’s brother David seems posessed of a supernatural ability to get Ryan to sleep comfortably. Here are the two of them together over the holidays:

Governmental Doublespeak of the Day

What does the White House think of the recent Human Rights Watch report that criticizes the US’ use of torture, and alleges that the “U.S. government’s embrace of torture and inhumane treatment began at the top”? Let’s go to the tapes (I added emphasis):

Q Scott, can you respond to the human rights report that came out today saying “the U.S. government’s use of offensive torture and inhumane treatment played the largest role in undermining Washington’s ability to promote human rights; in the course of 2005 it became indisputable that U.S. mistreatment of detainees reflected not a failure of training, discipline, or oversight, but a deliberate policy choice”?

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven’t seen the report. I have seen news accounts of it. It appears that the report is based more on a political agenda than on facts. The United States of America does more than any country in the world to advance freedom and promote human rights. Our focus should be on those who are denying people human dignity and who are violating human rights.


Q You say you haven’t seen the report, so how do you know it’s based on politics and not on fact?

MR. McCLELLAN: I’ve seen the reports, the news coverage of the reports, and it specifically references some — or talks in negative terms about some of our efforts in Iraq. And so I think it’s clear from some of the news coverage that it’s based more on a political agenda than on facts, because if you look at the facts, the United States is leading the way when it comes to promoting human rights and promoting human dignity. And we will continue to do so.


Q Scott, are you saying that talk in negative terms about the administration is inherently political? Anybody who says negative things about the administration —

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I didn’t say that; you said that.

So, in a nutshell:

  • The Human Rights Watch report is politically motivated because it is not based on fact.
  • It’s not based on fact because it criticizes the US.
  • It’s axiomatic that the US is a defender of freedom and light the world over.
  • So, any “fact” incompatible with this is obviously just politically motivated slander.
  • So, it’s not necessary to even read the Human Rights Watch report to dismiss it.


Bush wants to know what you Google

MSNBC reports that the Bush administration has subpoenaed Google for information on web searches.

Why? Because the government is trying to document how often pornography is searched for, so it can try to defend an Internet child protection law that the Supreme Court struck down a while ago.

What records is the government seeking? Not much, really: among other things, they would like all Google searches from any one-week period, along with “1 million random Web addresses”.

Not because any specific wrongdoing is suspected, or because a specific person is under investigation, or because a court issued a search warrant that is being carried out, but because the government thinks that this information might possibly be useful to it in arguing a point it is trying to make before the courts.

A sampling of recess appointments

If the Senate is not sitting, the President can unilaterally fill vacancies in positions that normally require Senate confirmation by “recess appointment”. This is how John Bolton, the man who thinks the UN Security Council should have exactly one member (the United States), was installed as US ambassador to the UN (!) despite the gross inappropriateness of this choice, and the fact that his candidacy would most likely not have survived a Senate confirmation hearing.

Lately, the Bush administration has been at it again. Here is a sampling of some recent recess appointments (all bypassing Senate confirmation), all as reported by MSNBC:

  • Julie Myers as head of the Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “Myers is the niece of former Joint Chiefs chairman Richard Myers and the wife of a top aide to Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff”. Her opponents complained of cronyism and a lack of qualifications for the job. Too bad for them; now she’s installed without Senate review.
  • Gordon England as deputy Secretary of Defense. England’s nomination had been blocked by two Republican senators due to a potential conflict of interest: “England once worked for General Dynamics, a leading defense contractor”. No matter; the Senators have been bypassed, and now England gets to help decide which defense contractors get government contracts.
  • Ellen Sauerbrey as assistant secretary of State for population, refugees and migration. She already serves as US ambassador to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Slight problem: Sauerbrey is opposed to abortion, and Democrats opposed her appointment. No problem, says the White House; we’ll appoint her while you’re away.
  • Hans von Spakovksy to the Federal Election Commission. Von Spakovksy was involved in making sure the Justice Department overrode career agency lawyers’ concerns about the Texas redistricting case. The staff lawyers were concerned about the effects on minority voting rights. A flourish of Bush’s imperial pen, and now this guy is staff at the agency that enforces laws on clean elections!

Why make all these controversial recess appointments? Press Secretary McClellan says it’s because Senators have been “playing politics with the nomination process”. To me, that sounds like “because the Senate wouldn’t have confirmed them”.