Sunday, May 18, 2008

Torture, Berkeley and John Yoo

I know people who are very good at word games. I also know people who shudder when they realize that they are capable of arguing any point and they have to stop and think about what that means and what the implications are. Around the world, all kinds of behavior can be justified for the flimsiest of reasons. Sometimes those flimsy reasons can be dressed up in very fancy language. But there comes a point when basic human rights and human values are violated by legal arguments that are simply political rationalizations. That the Bush administration had to look around for a lawyer to rationalize torture says something about the values of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. John Yoo was one of those lawyers and he now teaches at UC Berkeley. Brad DeLong, an economics professor at Berkeley, has a no-nonsense post on the issue (hat tip to Steve Clemons of The Washington Note):
I cannot help but think that it is time for some appropriate arm of the university that is expert enough to have an informed view to consider the matter, and to advise me and the rest of the faculty (a) why John's memo of March 14, 2003 does not, despite appearances, rise to the level of participating in a conspiracy to torture goatherds from Afghanistan who have been sold to the military by clan enemies falsely claiming they are members of Al Qaeda; and (b) why John's memo of March 14, 2003, does not, despite appearances, constitute a breach of the duty of a lawyer to his clients (in this case, the majors and colonels of the U.S. army who did the torturing) of a level equivalent to that of the falsification of evidence in a scholarly work--or to say (c) that in spite of substantial evidence of participation in a conspiracy to torture innocent goatherds and to deceive the majors and colonels who were his clients and acted in reliance on his advice, the Kantorowicz freedom-of-academic-speech position still applies.

Read the comments. Many of them are just as informed as DeLong's post. We need to be careful that we don't keep kicking ball down the road instead of dealing with some of the most critical issues of our time.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

John Edwards Endorsing Barack Obama

I was a big John Edwards fan before I became a Barack Obama supporter. So for me it's good news that Edwards is endorsing Barack Obama. ABC News has the story:
Former Sen. John Edwards is endorsing Sen. Barack Obama's presidential candidacy Wednesday evening, in a dramatic attempt by the Obama campaign to answer concerns regarding Obama's appeal to working-class voters, several senior Democratic sources tell ABC News.
There is also more information from Daily Kos. David Bonoir, of course, was Edwards top man for his campaign and the real thing when it comes to the new progressivism of the Democratic Party.

The story about West Virginia is interesting but it is a part of larger story. Something to keep in mind is that Franklin Roosevelt did well in Appalachia and he did more for the region than any other president up that time. The truth is that Barack Obama is not doing all that well in Appalachia and Hillary Clinton is. If Barack Obama can find a way to reach the people of Appalachia, that would translate into better performance throughout the country. What close observers of Obama are learning is that he's a thoughtful man and a quick learner. I have no doubt that he's thinking about the issue. There are many issues for the Obama team to think about in the next few weeks. Can Obama broaden his appeal? Can he keep John McCain at bay? And people will have to ask themselves if Hillary Clinton or someone with similar credentials (such as Jim Webb) might help the kid from the state of Lincoln in the fall election by running with Obama as vice president.

No one should underestimate Barack Obama's abilities and hard work. Last fall, the senator with the funny name was the underdog while Senator Clinton was raking in the big money and was virtually the presumptive nominee. But Senator Obama and his team were organized and very successful at raising funds from small donors from all over the country from people with all kinds of background. The vast majority of Obama's donors read like Main Street, America. If Barack Obama wins the nominee and the election, it will be an extraordinary story of ordinary people putting a new face and new ideas in the White House. Obama is no radical. He is a pragmatist. Only a pragmatist could have run such an amazing campaign to overtake the favorite.

There's an outside chance that Hillary Clinton might pull off some last minute magic to take the nomination, but it's increasingly unlikely. Think of it. Hillary had the name, the experience, the smarts, the help of an ex-president, a large political machine and she had been running for president for almost eight years, ever since Bill Clinton left office. I can only say it again: something extraordinary is happening. Maybe, just maybe, our country is ready to take on the challenges of the 21st century.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

100 Years? 50 Years? The Price We Are Paying

The war in Afghanistan is now in its seventh year. The terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 have a name, al Qaida, and they came from Osama bin Laden's organization in Afghanistan. The Afghan government refused to turn over the terrorists and it made sense to go after this specific group for the specific action they had taken.

But Afghanistan was a winnable war that got put on the back burner so Bush and the neocons could give our nation a war we did not need. And now we don't quite have the resources to finish either war and we have a president and a Republican candidate who wish to turn both wars into political footballs instead of giving our nation a sensible exit strategy. John McCain and George W. Bush find it convenient to see terrorists everywhere. The term 'terrorist' is in danger of meaning whatever these two characters want it to mean.

John McCain has gone a step further by calling anybody who supposedly is a terrorist a member of al Qaida. It's gibberish of course (when McCain speaks of the 'League of Nations' and a '100 years of war,' we know he isn't the sharp man that he once was). The reality is that the neocons and right wing Republicans are still fighting the Vietnam War, the Cold War and, maybe for John McCain, the Korean War and World War II.

Soldiers are dying for the delusions of right wing Republicans. Soldiers are dying because many otherwise decent Americans have stopped paying attention to how often they have been lied to by George W. Bush and John McCain. The McCain/Bush wars are dragging our nation down. You can't spend $100 billion a year and keep letting our soldiers get killed because powerful people don't want to admit they made a horrible mistake. has been keeping track of the number of Americans killed and wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan for some time now. Their statistics go back to the beginning of the war and those statistics are grim. Our soldiers are doing their best to serve honorably but they have been misled by the Bush Administration and many members of Congress.

Fifty-Two Americans died in Iraq last month. That's lower than the number killed in April of last year; in fact, the deaths for last month are half of what they were a year ago. But Bush's war in Iraq—or the occupation as some now call it—has been going on for over five years. Last month was better than most months since we invaded Iraq. But there are no good months for the families of those who have been killed. And there are no good months for the Iraqis whether they are pro-American, anti-American or just want everybody to go home and leave them be.

Click on and look at the numbers. The numbers are painful to look at but they are nothing compared to the loss of losing a son or a husband or a father. But look at the numbers. We have the full numbers for sixty-two months. Forty-one of those months have been worse or right at 52 deaths. Forty-one months is almost three and a half years. Twenty-one of the sixty-two months have had fewer fatalities than we had in April. Twenty-one months is almost two years. Almost. By the time a new president sits in the White House, we will have been in Iraq almost six years with no end in sight. Wars are not supposed to go on this long.

Call it a war. Call it an occupation. Call it the Bush empire or colony project. Five years and there are still no honest answers from the White House. And John McCain promises more of the same. We have problems at home and the politicians aren't paying attention. We have problems abroad but we are so tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan, we're getting nowhere. Bush and McCain have talked of attacking Iran. They have both lied about the reasons. They both have tried to repeat the false talking points that led us into war in Iraq in the first place. They lied. The war in Iraq was not necessary. More war is not good for America.

We need to change course. The American people have a choice. It's up to the American people to start thinking about the future. It's time to turn our backs on the Republican way of doing business and rediscover who we are as a people and as a democracy. It's time to bring our soldiers home, retrain them for the difficult years ahead and resume our real role as leaders of the free world and a people who want to leave the world a better place for our children and grandchildren.

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