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Category: Politics

What We’ve Lost

Everyone should read this piece at Andrew Sullivan’s blog titled What We’ve Lost. In summary, a reserve soldier who served in Iraq during the invasion writes of Iraqi soldiers surrendering to the Americans because they knew the Americans would treat them fairly. (But don’t take my summary at face value; read the piece.)

But now that’s gone:

I can’t get past that image of the Iraqi, in the hood with the wires and I’m not what you’d call a sensitive type. You know the picture. And now we have a total bust-out in the White House, and a bunch of rubber-stamps in the House, trying to make it so that half-drowning people isn’t torture. That hypothermia isn’t torture. That degradation isn’t torture. We don’t have that reputation for fairness anymore. Just the opposite, I think. And the next real enemy we face will fight like only the cornered and desperate fight. How many Marines’ lives will be lost in the war ahead just because of this asshole who never once risked anything for this country?

To which Andrew replies:

This president must never be forgiven for what he has done to the reputation of this country.

Amen. And not just the reputation but the security of this country. Every candidate for president in 2008 — Democrat or Republican — should be made to address this issue.

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Where have you gone, Benjamin Franklin?

Yesterday, as you may have heard, USA Today (of all places) broke [this story](http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/20060511/1a_secretstory11_dom.art.htm):

> The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.
>
> The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren’t suspected of any crime.

“Wow,” I thought, “now they’ve really done it. Now they’ve gone too far. Now we’ll see some real outrage.”

Today, reading the front page of the [Washington Post](http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/12/AR2006051200375_pf.html), I learn that once again I have overestimated my fellow citizens:

> A majority of Americans initially support a controversial National Security Agency program to collect information on telephone calls made in the United States in an effort to identify and investigate potential terrorist threats, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.
>
> The new survey found that 63 percent of Americans said they found the NSA program to be an acceptable way to investigate terrorism, including 44 percent who strongly endorsed the effort. Another 35 percent said the program was unacceptable, which included 24 percent who strongly objected to it.
>
> A slightly larger majority–66 percent–said they would not be bothered if NSA collected records of personal calls they had made, the poll found.
>
> Underlying those views is the belief that the need to investigate terrorism outweighs privacy concerns. According to the poll, 65 percent of those interviewed said it was more important to investigate potential terrorist threats “even if it intrudes on privacy.”

Look, folks, privacy is not actually the issue here. (Although shouldn’t you be concerned that your government has access to a list of every phone number you’ve ever dialed?) It’s actually _against the law_ (e.g. the Telecommunications Act of 1934) for phone companies to release this kind of information without a court order. And the government can’t just invoke “national security” as an excuse to bypass the law. (Didn’t we go through all this in the 1950s?)

“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” — Benjamin Franklin

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Dear Rita Nelson of Minnesota

We appreciate your commentary on the White House Correspondents’ dinner (reprinted here from [Editor and Publisher](http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1002461891)):

> I thought it was great, except for Colbert, he was terrible, nothing funny there! I love to see what the women wear, and the only thing I can say about Washington is there are a lot of ugly women, in government and the press, who do not have any fashion sense at all.

There is one small problem, however; you signed your letter simply as “Rita Nelson, Minnesota”. Could you please provide us your entire address? We would not want the notice of revocation of your voter registration to get lost in the mail.

Thanks!

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It Can't Happen Here

No theocracy in America, eh?

Air Force to Probe Religious Climate at Colorado Academy:

> Last week, the Washington-based group Americans United for Separation of Church and State issued a 14-page report charging that there is “systematic and pervasive religious bias and intolerance at the highest levels of the Academy command structure.”

> The report said that during basic training, cadets who declined to go to chapel after dinner were organized into a “Heathen Flight” and marched back to their dormitories. It said the Air Force’s “Chaplain of the Year” urged cadets to proselytize among their classmates or “burn in the fires of hell”; that mandatory cadet meetings often began with explicitly Christian prayers; and that numerous faculty members introduced themselves to their classes as born-again Christians and encouraged students to become born again during the term.

[Robert Heinlein](http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0671577808/002-0215128-2780033), call your agent…

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Letter to the editors of Time magazine

I sent the following letter today to _Time_ magazine:

> It shows extremely poor editorial judgment to feature Ann Coulter on [the cover of _Time_](http://www.time.com/time/covers/1101050425/index.html) on the tenth anniversary of the Oklahoma City terrorist attack that killed 168 people, including 19 children.

> Recall that Ms. Coulter once said (as [quoted](http://www.dkosopedia.com/index.php/Quotes/Ann_Coulter) in the New York Observer, Aug. 20, 2002), “My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building.” She later “amended” her statement (in an interview on rightwingnews.com): “Of course I regret it. I should have added, ‘after everyone had left the building except the editors and reporters.'”

> I consider myself a great advocate of free speech, and Ms. Coulter is entitled to her own opinions; but is this really “just having fun”?

[Tip of the hat to This Modern World.]

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Fair is fair…

[Previously](http://www.sprucehill.com/rsf/wp/2004/11/18/) I commented upon the so-called “DeLay Rule” that would allow Tom DeLay to keep his leadership position even if indicted.

Lo and behold, the Republicans in the House have just [reversed this rule](http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story2&u=/ap/20050104/ap_on_go_co/house_ethics), apparently at the request of leadership — that is, Tom DeLay and Speaker Dennis Hastert. (Tip of the hat to [Josh Marshall](http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/week_2005_01_02.php#004333).)

Let’s give credit where credit is due. I sincerely hope this is not an isolated incident, but a trend towards true leadership (on both sides of the aisle — the Democrats also strengthened their own ethics rules).

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The Tres Amigos of Iraq

Al Kamen in the Washington Post (scroll down):

> President Bush announced yesterday he’ll be awarding the presidential Medal of Freedom to the Tres Amigos of Iraq: former CIA chief George J. “Slam Dunk” Tenet, who gave him bad information; retired Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks, who didn’t have enough troops for the postwar occupation; and former Iraq viceroy L. Paul Bremer, who complained about the troop levels too late.

The Medal of Freedom? Are you kidding?

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Who, me?

[Josh Marshall](http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/week_2004_11_14.php#004028) has been trying to find out how many representatives have voted on the “DeLay rule” (the House rule change that will allow Rep. DeLay to keep his leadership position even if he is indicted by a Texas grand jury — which, to be fair, has not happened yet).

This task is made surprisingly difficult by the fact that some GOP representatives are denying that a vote has even taken place, while others say it is a private vote (and even that there are rules against disclosing the result of the vote), and still others say they will only discuss their vote in written letters to their constituents. Some are flatly refusing to say how they voted.

Rep. Christopher Shays, however, says outright [he voted against it](http://www.house.gov/shays/news/2004/november/novrule.htm). Elsewhere he is variously quoted as saying there were a “handful” of other no votes, or [“between 30 and 50”](http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory?id=260959). At present Josh has identified between 16 and 18 members of “Shays’ Handful”.

Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be a single representative who has gone on record as saying they voted *for* the rule change. I wonder why?

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What to Ask the Nominee

[George Will][] has some difficult questions for the nominee for Secretary of State:

[George Will]: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A55690-2004Nov16.html

> In 1991 the secretary of defense, explaining the lack of wisdom of regime change, said: “Once you’ve got Baghdad, it’s not clear what you do with it. It’s not clear what kind of government you would put in place of the one that’s currently there now. Is it going to be a Shia regime, a Sunni regime or a Kurdish regime? Or one that tilts toward the Baathists, or one that tilts toward the Islamic fundamentalists? How much credibility is that government going to have if it’s set up by the United States military when it’s there? How long does the United States military have to stay to protect the people that sign on for that government, and what happens to it once we leave?” Was Dick Cheney right?

Admittedly a question that some raised long ago; but anyway. I don’t often agree with Mr. Will, but he’s more readable than most on the right (and at least doesn’t appear to be a raving lunatic most of the time, like some).

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Sauce for the goose, unnecessary for the gander

Despite this blog’s restart being motivated by the US political situation, I’ve been somewhat remiss in keeping up with this topic, having drifted into a stunned malaise once the initial shock wore off.

I was unaware, for instance, that Rep. Tom DeLay was on the verge of being indicted by a Texas grand jury. (Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.)

However, the House Republicans, unwilling to let a little indictment interfere with the actions of their go-to guy, are [about to change the House rule][WaPo] which would have required DeLay to resign his leadership position if he is indicted.

[WaPo]: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A54572-2004Nov16.html

And who instituted that rule? Why, it was the House GOP, eleven years ago, when they were in the minority and held themselves to higher ethical standards than Democrats like Dan Rostenkowski. Now that they’re in charge, they can’t be bothered to even pretend anymore.

(Oh, wait, I guess they *are* pretending — they’re apparently drawing a distinction between a *state* grand jury indictment, which might be a “political manipulation of the process”, and a *federal* indictment. Wow. Nice one.)

And how should the Democrats respond to this? I like the suggestion of [Matt Deatherage][]:

> [S]top pretending they’re the majority-in-exile, and start being a real opposition party. That doesn’t mean opposing sensible policies for its own sake, as the GOP does — it means making the majority live with every single one of its decisions.

and specifically:

> Democrats have to flood the broadcast, cable, and radio shows now as much as Republicans have ever done, and every story is about Tom DeLay. Every story about legislation is about Tom DeLay’s imminent indictment. Every process story is about how his money controls the House so completely that … most of the GOP members clearly want to adopt a pro-crime rule that says, “We don’t care if our leaders commit felonies to gain more power.” Every political story is about Tom DeLay’s corruption and illegal activities. Every one of them.

[Matt Deatherage]: http://friends.macjournals.com/mattd/2004/11/17#a990

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