Archive for April, 2009

What Specter Means for Healthcare

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

Ezra Klein wonders how important Specter’s switch will be for healthcare reform, noting that Specter seems to care an awful lot about reform, and that he was already a likely vote as a Republican. I’ve been trying to game out the incentives for various Senators with Specter effectively in the caucus, and the only thing I can come up with is that Specter as a Democrat makes healthcare reform slighly more inevitable, and may preclude the need for reconcilliation.

Obviously I’m as familiar as anyone with the difficulty of keeping the Democratic caucus together on any vote, so I’m certainly not under the impression that having 60 votes means Harry Reid can pass whatever he wants. Still, healthcare isn’t just another issue, especially not to Democrats. Healthcare reform has been a central principle of the Democratic Party since at least the mid 1990’s. Every Democratic nominee for President since Clinton has enthusiastically supported universal healthcare, and in 2008 every single candidate for President in the Democratic primary supported universal healthcare. It’s not, in other words, an omnibus spending bill, where people will forget your vote in a couple of months anyway and you’re not in danger of killing final passage. Any Democrat who votes against healthcare reform will take a significant hit with more or less every Democratic constituency. Evan Bayh would like to be President of the United States some day, but voting against healthcare reform would make him persona non grata in the national Democratic Party. Arlen Specter can’t vote against reform and expect to survive a Democratic primary in a blue state, even if Jesus Christ himself was trying to keep the field clear for him. Blanche Lincoln has no constituency in Arkansas to be won over by opposing reform. Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu could, in theory, oppose the bill, but to what end? With reconcilliation instructions included there’s no way 2 Democrats can kill the bill, and that’s without considering that the Maine Senators may very possibly vote for the final proposal. With that in mind, any Democrat who votes against healthcare reform, and especially any Democrat who joins a filibuster against healthcare reform, will get all of the scorn and future complications of the vote with no demonstratable benefit. I just don’t see any Democrats who are going to see utility in such a vote.


Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

To follow up on my last post, I should note that there is something of an original precedent for declining to punish war crimes, even very bad war crimes, on the basis that doing so would create very bad outcomes elsewhere, and to the extent that our modern conception of crimes against humanity comes from Nuremburg, it’s important that this case also stems from World War II.

I’m referring of course to the United State’s decision not to prosecute Emperor Hirohito of Japan for war crimes, even though such charges were brought against Hideki Tojo and other leaders of the militarist regime, and some military officers as well. The reasoning was very simple; the emperor’s centrality to Japanese culture, and the religious conception of the emperor, meant that putting Hirohito on trial would have created an unnavigatable post-war situation in Japan  for the United States, and the concious decision was made that punishing Hirohito for his role in the atrocities was not worth jeopardizing the viability of the post-war strategy.

The Rule of Law is No Excuse

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

Tyler Cowen ruminates on the potential downside of torture prosecutions:

At many blogs (Sullivan, Yglesias, DeLong, among others) you will find ongoing arguments for prosecuting the torturers who ran our government for a while.  I am in agreement with the moral stance of these critics but I don’t agree with their practical conclusions.  I believe that a full investigation would lead the U.S. public to, ultimately, side with torture, side with the torturers, and side against the prosecutors.  That’s why we can’t proceed and Obama probably understands that.  If another attack happened this would be all the more true.

I’m not really sure I agree with this or not, but on that note, I definitely don’t agree with the counterargument put forward (earlier) by Greenwald:

But leave aside the question of whether prosecutions would produce good or bad outcomes.  After all, the notion that the law can and should be ignored whenever we think doing so would produce good results or would constitute good policy was the engine that drove Bush lawlessness. 

This is just ridiculous. At best, it’s a dystopian outlook where outcomes are of no consequence, at worst, it’s the flip-side of the “I was just following orders” defense, wherein “I was just applying the letter of the law” becomes a way to shirk responsibilty for whatever outcomes your choices yield. You can imagine a police officer who decides to hold up someone rushing to the emergency room using it to defend himself when someone dies waiting for him to finish writing a speeding ticket on the side of the freeway. Obviously the torture question is a bit more serious, than that, but at the same time, assuming that Greenwald would agree that rushing to the hospital is a legitimate excuse for taking some leniency with traffic laws, and that police officers should be sensitive to such mitigating circumstances, then he would be admitting that discretion in applying the law is a fundamental part of a nation of laws. Or does Glenn think that local police actually should write citations to people mowing there lawns in shorts between the hours of 5 P.M. and 8 P.M. Monday to Friday?

The question then isn’t so much whether discretionary authority exists, but what circumstances make it proper to decline to prosecute. In particular it seems the question is whether the unlikelihood of earning a conviction, or the likelihood of producing a bad outcome in the larger society, is a legitimate reason to decline to prosecute someone. With regards to the former, I think the answer has to be yes. Especially considering double jeopardy protections, if a prosecutor thinks that someone has committed a crime, but feels that a conviction is unlikely, I would argue that he has a  duty not to bring charges, because doing so would prevent action if and when a conviction was more likey (assuming he’s right on both counts). The latter is a bit of a stickier question, but I would imagine there are some circumstances in which the potential cultural outcome is so dire as to compel the use of discretion, although such situations are certainly rare.

But what’s most troubling is Greenwald’s apparent lack of concern for the outcome of actions. Greenwald could certainly disagree with the premise that prosecutions are likely to produce bad outcomes, but I haven’t seen him make those arguments. Rather, I’ve seen him make arguments like the one above, that the question is completely irrelevant. Greenwald should respond to Cowen, and clearly articulate whether he agrees with Cowen’s conclusion or not. If he doesn’t, that’s certainly fair, and Greenwald can make that argument (and again, I’m not really sure if I agree with Cowen or not). But if he does, I don’t see how a logical person can rectify calling for an action you believe will produce bad outcomes. At best, it belies someone who is far too attached to rigidity, and unable to process exigent circumstances or concerns. At worst, David Broder is right, and Greenwald just wants vengeance against political opponents, consequences be damned. And I don’t want David Broder to be right.


Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

One thing about our political discourse that I think makes “good” politics impossible is the ease with which we rely on memes that are mutually exclusive, to a large degree, to understand politicians. One of the more egregious examples, to me, is the question of “principles” in elected officials. We ostensibly want our politicians to “stand for something,” or have “core principles,” or whatever buzz word it is that you like to use for the concept. But when they do, we often complain that they’re insular, and too unresponsive to public opinion. Dick Cheney was, for better or worse, principled. They might have been bad principles, but principles they were. And, of course, he was widely derided (rightfully), for his astounding indifference to the desire of the citizenry. On the other hand, when a politician proves especially responsive to the public, we deride them as being un-principled flip-floppers who don’t believe in anything but getting votes. Which would be fine, except that often it’s the same people who were just complaining that politicians aren’t concerned enough about what the public wants.

Personally, I don’t see how you can really argue that a politician being receptive to the preferences of their constituents, or the larger public, can be a bad thing, assuming of course that they’re not courting public opinion by supporting a popular policy that they know is a bad idea (war with Iraq, for example). As it relates to Arlen Specter, yes, his party switching is nakedly opportunistic, but so what? Pennsylvania has gone from a state that gave George H.W. Bush a comfortable margin of victory in the state in 1988, to a state that narrowly went for Al Gore and John Kerry in 2000 and 2004, to a state that Barack Obama carried by 10% in 2008. What’s more, a whopping 200,000 former Republicans in the state registered as Democrats in 2008. Are we deriding all of them as unprincipled flip-floppers? And given all of that, why shouldn’t someone who is supposed to be representing the interests/preferences of these voters shift with the state? It certainly makes more sense than arguing that he should have stuck with the Republicans, which would have required him to represent the interests of a rump minority in the state that’s clearly out of line with the preferences of the majority of the people in Pennsylvania.

All of which isn’t to say that I prefer “unprincipled” politicians over “principled” ones, because I really don’t have a preference one way or another. I think there’s plenty of merit on both sides to argue that one is better than the other. But I don’t think it makes much sense to flip-flop, as it were, between which one you prefer based on which leaves you the most room to criticize/praise an individual politician.

This Might Be Why You Say Dumb Things

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

At the risk of delving too far back into the realm of criticizing the netroots, I’ve made the point before that I think a lot of netroot progressives thrive on feeling scorned by the Democratic Party, to the point that they need such a feeling, both professionally and personally. And this little missive from Chris Bowers might illustrate that better than anything I’ve ever seen:

So, here is how I understand things:

  1. We get no new votes on legislation from Specter
  2. Democrats are given no opportunity to challenge Specter in either the primary or general election, thereby locking all of his bad votes into place even though he is in a blue state.

So, we not only get no new votes, but we lose the ability to challenge those votes. Apart from the image of total Republican fail, this isn’t a good thing at all. Not only do we have to deal with Specter’s voting record, which is worse than any other Democrat in the entire Senate, but we are denied the opportunity to even challenge him.

This is so absurd, I almost can’t imagine that even Bowers actually believes it. I realize the netroots isn’t big on Harry Reid, and that Bowers was a frequent critic of Barack Obama’s political strategy, but even granting that, surely Bowers realizes that you don’t get to be the leader of the largest Democratic Senate caucus since the late 1970’s, or elected President of the United States when your middle name is “Hussein,” by being as naive about politics as Bowers seems to think the Democratic leadership must be.

Let’s game this out a little bit. What Bowers is basically saying is that Harry Reid and Barack Obama were looking at a Republican Senator who was in a tough spot in his own party, and was holding a seat that Democrats would likely pick up in 2010 anyway, and decided to offer that Senator a very generous offer to join the Democratic Party in exchange for absolutely nothing. That’s just a cartoonishly caricatured level to take the netroot loathing of Harry Reid, and Bowers’s dislike of Obama too. It’s just unspeakably absurd. Did they”promise” Specter that they would try to dissuade challengers from running against him in the primary? Perhaps, but if that’s the best Specter got, netrooters ought to be thrilled, given that there’s no way for them to actually back that promise up. Ed Rendell can’t, in fact, prevent anyone from running against Specter, even someone of high profile in the state. They can support Specter, obviously, but if the next year sees Specter take positions and cast votes that are unalatable to the median Democratic primary voter, it’s going to be very hard for even Ed Rendell to deliver a primary victory to someone who just joined the party after 40+ years in the GOP.

To be as gentle as I can, Chris Bowers needs to grow up.

How Will Specter Vote?

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

I’m actually a bit surprised by the fact that so many in the progressive blogosphere are already wondering whether Specter will just add to the ranks of problematic moderate Senators. I thought there would be at least a day’s worth of happiness before the excitement abated. I guess Specter’s insistence that he’ll continue to oppose the Employee Free Choice Act didn’t help, not did reports that the Pennsylvania Democratic Party promised to keep the primary field clear should Specter decide to run as a Democrat.

Even with all of that in mind, however, I think it’s important to note that Specter is likely to become a much more liberal member of the Senate than he has been, and certainly more liberal than Senators like Ben Nelson, Evan Bayh, and Blanche Lincoln, all of whom can say that they’re represented fairly red areas of the country, whereas Pennsylvania is trending more and more Democratic with every passing year. It’s also highly unlikely that Specter, as a Democrat in one of the most unionized states in the country, will indeed oppose EFCA. He may craft some superficial compromise to support, rather than making another outright change of “opinion” on the present bill, but at the end of the day, he’ll come away with a position that’s palatable to labor. Ed Rendell might try to keep the primary field clear, but if it’s openly known that labor has targeted Specter in 2010 (in a Democratic primary no less), and that their support is completely up for grabs, it will be impossible for the party to keep every potential candidate away from the race. It’s also true that Specter will need to position himself as someone rank-and-file Pennsylvania Democrats can trust, and have a reason to support over a more longtime party member.

All of which is to say that the incentive structure is such that, no matter what he’s saying now, Specter will need to aggressively position himself as an orthodox Democrat over the next year.


Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

A propos of the news that Arlen Specter is switching parties, Chris Cilliza is certainly right to note that the most striking number in the most recent Washington Post/ABC poll is that a mere 21% of respondents identified themselves as Republicans, an all-time low over recorded periods. That means that if you see 5 people standing in line at McDonald’s, odds are that only one of them is a Republican. 35% of respondents identified as Democrats, 38% as Independents.

On the other hand, Cilliza seems surprised that the GOP is becoming more conservative, which doesn’t really make any sense. Presumably the people leaving the GOP are the more moderate members that had identified with the party, meaning that the remnant would have a higher proportion of true-believer wingnuts. It might make sense for party strategists to try to chart a more centrist path to be sure, but it certainly follows that a rump contingent would be more extremist than a “big tent” party. What’s really interesting is that the GOP is basically trapped in a self-inflicted death spiral outside of the Southeast; as the party becomes smaller, it becomes more conservative, which makes it smaller still, and on and on and on. Events could certainly change their fortunes at any moment, but precluding some landscaping changing happening, it will be interesting to see how deep the GOP hole gets before it’s all said and done.

Someone Put Me on Teevee

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

Just Saying.

If you missed it, Arlen Specter has announced tha he’ll be running for re-election in 2010 as a Democrat, and that he’ll immediately change caucuses in the Senate. That means that Senate Democrats will have 60 members once Al Franken is seated, presumably a filibuster proof majority.

To downplay this somewhat, Specter didn’t really have much of a choice. There was no way he was going to win the Republican primary in the state, and he wasn’t going to be able to win a general election without labor support. Basically the introduction of EFCA was a bullet for Specter. Pulling a Lieberman isn’t possible under Pennsylvania law, and it probably wouldn’t have worked for Specter anyway, assuming the state Democrats put up a respectable nominee. But by running full bore as a Democrat, Specter can potentiallytake the nomination and beat Toomey handily in the general election. But there really wasn’t any other option for Specter, assuming he wants to keep his seat.

What’s most interesting, however, is how this will affect this Congress. Pennsylvania Democrats will presumably not hand their nomination to Specter, certainly not if he maintains a similar voting record to the one he had as a Republican, or continues to support Republican causes like opposing EFCA, or blocking Obama nominees. Indeed, it’s hard to see how Specter could even be competitive as a Democrat without labor’s support, which seems to imply that he will be supporting EFCA once again, presumably putting it on the table. In the past, What’s more, party switching has also been related to shifts in legislative ideology in recent years. Southern Dixiecrats who jumped to the GOP became very conservative members of the caucus, and Northern former-Republicans like Jim Jeffords became fairly mainstream liberals after the change. So if Specter keeps with recent history, you can expect his voting record to move to the left quite a bit.

The move to 60 also rearranges a lot of priorities on a number of issues for key Senators. With 59 members of the majority and a united minority, there’s still a high hurdle to clear legislatively, which creates some incenive for deviation from the majority on certain issues. The rush of Democratic Senators announcing that they wouldn’t support EFCA after Specter announced he would oppose cloture is a good example. With cloture blocked and the proposal dead in the water there’s little reason for members to voice support for the bill if they may be hurt by it. But with a baseline of 60 votes for the majority, those marginal members run the risk of being tagged as the person who killed whatever it is you’re talking about. If Blanche Lincoln misjudges the other “moderates” in the Senate and becomes the lone Democrat to oppose cloture on EFCA, then she’s the person who killed it. The clear incentives here, then, are for Democrats to support cloture on things as  rule, and to attempt to establish their “moderation” by voting against bills at the final vote. But with a baseline of 60 Senators, Democrats can afford to lose up to 10 members on any such vote in the Senate and still pass a bill.

This is big, for at least the next year.

Sully Embraces High Broderism

Monday, April 27th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

Andrew Sullivan, on the revelation that Susan Collins and Arlen Specter define their moderation by doing things like delaying the appropriation of funds to fight flu pandemics:

I take the point but a little less partisanship in a public health crisis is surely warranted.

Or…no. I can see where it might seem cheap to “score points” off of a public health issue, but at the same time, public policy has real consequences. And this is one of those times where that seems pretty stark. It would be one thing, I suppose, f there was some level of egregious hypocrisy involved, and I’m personally more than happy to include Ben Nelson in the list of offenders here if that will make Sullivan happier, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with pointing out that a group of policy makers opposed the appropriation of a relatively small amount of money to better prepare our country for a potential pandemic. If that’s “partisan,” it’s only because the Republican Party, at this point in time, is uniquely absurd. And if Republicans, or politicians of any party for that matter, don’t want to be criticized for quashing funding for public health emergencies, then they shouldn’t vote against those sorts of things.

They Like It, They Really Like It

Monday, April 27th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

E.D. Kain, on torture apologist conservatives:

Beyond that, it seems very foolish – very short-sighted – for torture apologists to continue this charade.  It may seem necessary now, to many of them, to rewrite history or clean the slate or whatever – but in the end can this really be anything more than political suicide?  Maybe for the architects – the Cheney’s and the Yoo’s – it makes sense.  They face a real (if unlikely) chance at prosecution.  When the media finally starts using the word “torture” instead of “harsh interrogation tactics” and all of this comes spilling out – the pictures, the video recordings, etc. – is this the side you want to be on?  Standing over there in the spotlight with Cheney and Bush and Bybee and Yoo?

History is merciless.

There’s certainly a seemingly obvious incentive here for the conservative movement, and the Republican Party, to use the opportunity presented by the release of the torture memos to put some distance between themselves and the Bush administration, and many commentors have noted this. On the other hand, I’m not sure people aren’t overestimating this factor. It’s not, after all, the case that we really are just now learning all of these things, and movement conservatives are still reflexively defending all things Bush. This discussion has been ongoing since roughly 2002, and most of the “apologists” have been vigorous defenders of these “enhanced interrogation techniques” since day one. In other words, they’re not just defending Bush & Cheney, they’re defending themselves, and their own positions.

On the other hand, I think it’s time to start admitting the obvious; a lot of these people are just sadists who think that torture is good for its own sake. This is the mentality that’s on display every time a torture defender forgets the “ticking time bomb scenario” or something else they saw on 24 and veers into the realm of “well these are bad people, so who cares if we smacked them around” territory. This is a branch who feel that the detainees deserve everything they get, or worse, and so for them, torture is an end in and of its own right, a sick sort of catharsis. Consider Andy McCarthy, a man the conservative movement regards as a serious legal mind:

“As far as mental suffering is concerned, that involves at least the creation of a fear of imminent death,” said McCarthy. “While it’s a favorite talking point that people were waterboarded 180 times … it undercuts the fear that there was going to be imminent death. After the first or second time you get the point that there’s no death to be feared here.”

I’m hardly the first to point out that this makes no sense. After all, if the detainee does come to learn that he’s in no danger whatsoever from waterboarding the more he endures it, and presuming McCarthy accepts the notion that waterboarding does not induce “severe pain and suffering,” wouldn’t waterboarding someone 183 times in a month (just over 6 times a day, or once every 4 hours) be about the most ineffective thing you could possibly do? Wouldn’t the “interrogation technique” become ineffective by about day 3?

There’s simply no logical conclusion to be drawn from this, other than that Andrew McCarthy and the rest of the right’s torture apologists do, in fact, approve of the use of torture in general. That they realize the nature of American politics won’t let them say that in so many words doesn’t make it any less true. The interesting question is not why the right continues to defend the torture regime they whole-heartedly approved of all along, but how the American right got to this point in the first place.

Obama Still Not Engaging Hamas and Hezbollah

Monday, April 27th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

The New York Times notes Secretary of State Clinton’s remarks in Lebanon:

Hezbollah, which waged a 34-day war against Israel in 2006, has built legitimacy here by providing a network of social services. Britain recently said it would resume contact with the group’s political wing, which has one post in the current Lebanese cabinet.

So far, though, President Obama has stuck with the Bush administration’s refusal to deal with Hezbollah. American officials reject the British distinction between its political and military wings, and they view the group as a proxy for Iranian and Syrian influence in the region.

“We certainly hope the election will be free of intimidation and outside interference, and that the results of the election continue a moderate, positive direction,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Michael Crowley notes that the administration has taken a similar track with Hamas.

This really isn’t a welcome sign, and the United States, and the larger region, would benefit greatly from increased engagement with both groups. Not because Hamas and Hezbollah are not terrorists, of course, but because refusing to engage them is counter-productive, and directly helps both groups. Hamas, in particular, is rather hard to justify; they earned there position within the Palestinian Authority via elections the United States demanded be held. That we subsequently refused to recognize the victors because we didn’t like them undermined what little credibility the US had left as a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and continuing to ignore the elected representatives only deepens the impression that the US is too supportive of Israel to be an honest broker, strengthening Hamas’s position in the process. Hezbollah is a bit of a different nugget, but insomuchas their power base comes from the systematic disenfranchisement of the Lebanese Shia population, and refusing to engage with the largest and most important Shia party is seen as a slight to the larger community, this also directly benefits Hezbollah’s local standing.

Which isn’t, of course, to say that you actually have to concede anything to either group, but in so much as you want to improve relations in the subregion, and by extension want to weaken the radical groups, validating the radical’s talking points is obviously not a good way to go about that.

Republicans Are Bad For Your Health: Susan Collins Edition

Monday, April 27th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

Talk about bad timing:

When House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who has long championed investment in pandemic preparation, included roughly $900 million for that purpose in this year’s emergency stimulus bill, he was ridiculed by conservative operatives and congressional Republicans.

Obey and other advocates for the spending argued, correctly, that a pandemic hitting in the midst of an economic downturn could turn a recession into something far worse — with workers ordered to remain in their homes, workplaces shuttered to avoid the spread of disease, transportation systems grinding to a halt and demand for emergency services and public health interventions skyrocketing. Indeed, they suggested, pandemic preparation was essential to any responsible plan for renewing the U.S. economy.

But former White House political czar Karl Rove and key congressional Republicans — led by Maine Senator Susan Collins — aggressively attacked the notion that there was a connection between pandemic preparation and economic recovery.

Now, as the World Health Organization says a deadly swine flu outbreak that apparently began in Mexico but has spread to the United States has the potential to develop into a pandemic, Obey’s attempt to secure the money seems eerily prescient.

Collins, echoing Rove, was particularly adamant that $870 million directed at preparing for a flu pandemic did not belong in the economic stimulus bill. Because pandemics aren’t bad for economic activity or anything. And, of course, no one could have predicted that “swine flu” would present a potential pandemic all of 3 months later.

But at least Collins is a moderate.

The Washington Times Endorses Mass Civilian Casualties

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

My biggest problem with the “war on terror” terminology is that there are a lot of groups and individuals in the world that engage in terrorism. Because there are a lot of groups, naturally all of those groups don’t have the same aims or motivations. And from a strategic standpoint, the aim of the group is certainly more relevant than the fact that they share tactics with another group. And by conflating these various groups under one heading, you get a situation where people are likely to embrace really bad ideas in the name of “fighting terrorists,” like killing tens of thousands of civilians in order to demolish much of the group’s structural capabilties:

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, one of the world’s most violent terrorist outfits, are surrounded in northern Sri Lanka and about to be destroyed – but Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and European self-styled peacemakers are getting in the way of victory. The meddlers should let Colombo finish off this menace.

In desperation, the Tamil Tigers are using tens of thousands of locals as human shields. The Sri Lankan government declared a cease-fire and called on the Tigers to release their hostages, but unmanned-aerial-vehicle video footage shows the terrorists holding masses of innocents at gunpoint, refusing them freedom. Last week, Mrs. Clinton played into the hands of the terrorists by blaming the Sri Lankan government for the crisis. “The entire world is very disappointed” that they were “causing such untold suffering,” she said.

To be clear, the Tamil Tigers are terrorists. They conscript child soldiers to fight in the Civil War, pioneered the use of the “belt bomb,” etc. The United States, Canada, Australia, and the European Union has designated them as a terrorist group. But they’re not al Qaeda, and have little in common with al Qaeda, outside of the fact that both engage in terrorism as a tactic, which is about as worthy a comparison as to say that North Korea is in the same league as the United States because we both have a military. Whereas al Qaeda is waging a terrorist campaign for religious dominance (and to settle a personal vendetta against the House of Saud), the Tigers are waging a campaign to create a seperate Tamili state out of what is now Sri Lanka.

Also, you have to wonder about anyone who supports killing tens of thousands of civilians in order to squash a group responsible for thousands of death. It’s not uncommon to ponder whether you would be ok with the death of 1 person if it were to save 1,000 people, but it’s rather rare to contemplate the death of 1,000 people to save 1 person. This is, one hopes, the apex of right-wing militarism.

Abolish Appropriations?

Friday, April 24th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

In an update to a brutal takedown of Congressional appropriators, Joe Klein writes:

Various commenters are wondering whether I oppose Congressional oversight. Absolutely not, obviously. But the appropriate committees to question Obama’s Af/Pak policies are Foreign Relations and Armed Services, not Appropriations. In fact, I’d like to see both Appropriations Committees–pork sinkholes that they are–abolished. The money for Af/Pak should be approved by members of Congress who actually know something about foreign and military policy.

Progressive bloggers make a lot of hay out of criticizing the institutional deficiencies of the Senate, but this is arguably one of the more pernicious strucutural problems in Congress, and it’s one shared bythe more progressive (and right-wing) friendly House. Basically both houses of Congress are arranged into committees overseeing broad issue areas (Finance, Foreign Affairs, Banking, etc.). These committees are then broken down into sub-committees dealing with more specific issues in these policy realms. But amidst all of this, you have one committee whose purview is basically nothing but spending money. And all appropriations have to go through this committee. Which means that this group of Congressman, not the committee members you would expect to have some developed expertise over the matter in question, have to approve all appropriations. It really doesn’t make any sense, and eliminating the appropriations committees altogether, or at least giving some level of authority to appropriate to a few of the other committees, would do quite a bit to make government spending more effective. It’s also possible that eliminating a committee that really doesn’t exist to do anything other than spend money could eliminate a lot of truly unnecessary spending.

So what the hell, sign me up Joe!

The Dumbest Senator…

Friday, April 24th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

…strikes again:

At least one conservative Democratic senator, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, is signaling that Johnsen won’t get his support.

“Senator Nelson is very concerned about the nomination of Dawn Johnsen, based on her previous position as Counsel for NARAL. He believes that the Office of Legal Counsel is a position in which personal views can have an impact and is concerned about her outspoken pro-choice views on abortion,” said spokesman Clay Westrope.

I don’t even know where to start with this. Appointing Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel may very well have been the single best appointment Obama has made so far. Senate Republicans are trying to block a vote on her specifically because they know she’ll vigorously roll back the absurdities of the Bush OLC. But there really is no defending this particular apostasy on Nelson’s part.

Putting aside the specter of a Democrat taking an anti-choice stand (there’s nothing that says particular Democrats can’t be rigidly anti-abortion, after all, especially in red states), the “substance” of Nelson’s remarks simply make no sense. Can a person’s personal opinions impact OLC opinions? I suppose, but what does that have to do with either Johnsen, or pro-choice opinions in general? To be clear, standing Supreme Court standards hold that access to abortion is a Constitutionally protected right. Whether you agree with that being the standard or not, it is what it is. So what, exactly, is going to happen? Dawn Johnsen’s personal opinions are going to result in the Office of Legal Counsel issuing opinions that are…in line with Supreme Court rulings on abortion? The horror!

I can give Ben Nelson a good amount of slack, generally. He’s a Democrat representing a very red state, he’s going to have to jump ship an awful lot to maintain his position. If he votes against Johnsen on the final vote, but votes for cloture, I’ll be fine with that. But this argument is just ridiculous.