Posted by Brad @ 1:28 pm on March 25th 2013

Standing with Rand, Revisited

One can say what you like about the final denouement of Rand Paul’s filibuster – I think it goes without saying that the administration’s “no” on having the ability to kill an American citizen on American soil who was not “actively engaged” with hostilities or whatever could always be gotten out of or defined away. But, all things considered, even getting them to say the word “no” in relation to a potential expansion of power is, I think, a victory.

But really the most important victory was simply the bully pulpit of it. For a week, all talk in Washington, and about Washington, stopped, and instead refocused on the question of the president’s authority to unilaterally execute American citizens (and yes, that IS the question). For years, that was a conversation that had mostly been kept out of “polite” or “serious” mainstream political conversation, but for Rand’s week, for the first time, it could not be avoided. A fair question then is – does that even matter?

I submit to you that it does.

We talk a lot about the handcuffs we perceive politicians have on them. Why they can’t be for or against this or that and why we ought to just give them a pass because surely they actually believe it but we understand they have to lie about it to get the rest of their agenda done. Or why we have to be willing to accept cowardice or incrementalism or even just flat out buckling because of the perceived limitations of the electorate or any given politicians current relationship to it. We treat public opinion, at times, not like a fluid reflection of thought, but as a a solid mass like a wall standing in our way or an ocean we’re adrift on. You can go around or scale the wall, or you can float on the ocean, but it provides a basic physical reality that you’re stuck with, that you have to negotiate against. And sometimes – often times – that’s true.

But that line of thinking always leaves out one important element – political leadership. And the great examples of political leadership – Ronald Reagan on size of government, say, or Bill Clinton on welfare reform, or George W. Bush on AIDs in Africa, or Howard Dean on the Iraq War – are examples of where those analogies don’t hold up – where a person walks up to a wall we all see, and then just wills it away and walks through. (Basically, the opposite of what, say, Obama did on gay marriage.) Where, instead of operating within the restraints of public opinion – which is all we usually ask of them (and thus all we usually get) – they instead actually change public opinion and rid themselves of those restraints that, prior, seemed like just a fact of life that everyone had to live with and oh well.

It is as simple as the difference between following and leading.

There are some things that we just have to accept as a consequence of living in a pluralistic society.

But there are many, many other cases – more than we would think I bet – where just because the needle hasn’t moved doesn’t mean it’s unmovable. It just means that nobody has done so yet or, frustratingly, as in this case, nobody appears to have even ever tried.

Posted by Brad @ 9:47 pm on March 19th 2013

A Reminder

The administration’s top budget official estimated today that the cost of a war with Iraq could be in the range of $50 billion to $60 billion, a figure that is well below earlier estimates from White House officials.

In a telephone interview today, the official, Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., director of the Office of Management and Budget… would not provide specific costs for either a long or a short military campaign against Saddam Hussein. But he said that the administration was budgeting for both, and that earlier estimates of $100 billion to $200 billion in Iraq war costs by Lawrence B. Lindsey, Mr. Bush’s former chief economic adviser, were too high.

Ooooh, I’m sorry. The correct answer was $6 trillion. Yeah, I’m sorry…$6 trillion.

Posted by Brad @ 7:10 pm on March 17th 2013

Selection Sunday

Rooting interests: KU, Temple.

Like both of their draws, except I’d had to hate to go through Georgetown as the #2 seed Elite Eight matchup for Kansas. I think that might be their ceiling. For Temple, NC State depends on which team shows up, but if they win I think they have a shot at Indiana.

And the West – I understand the Gonzaga thing (but I’d have taken Miami), but still, that’s a bracket ripe to be blown up. New Mexico out of that one.

Posted by Brad @ 3:04 pm on March 15th 2013

Music Video of the Week

Clint Eastwood – Trey Anastasio Band feat Jennifer Hartswick

Posted by Brad @ 7:27 pm on March 11th 2013

Sort of Fitting

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sparks a firestorm of controversy for hugging Hugo Chavez’s mother.

Posted by Rojas @ 1:37 am on March 8th 2013

A reminder

We are still not permitted to know the overall position of the White House with regard to the legal parameters of drone operations within and outside the United States. The Attorney General has produced memos on the question, but they remain classified.

The administration’s position remains: maybe, if you ask a specific question, and ask it nicely, we will deign to respond.

Stay mad.

Posted by Brad @ 4:32 pm on March 7th 2013

And What Else Hath Paul Wrought?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/

(more…)

Posted by Brad @ 4:12 pm on March 7th 2013

13 Hours For One Word

Dear Senator Paul: It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: “Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?” The answer to that question is no.

Sincerely, Eric H. Holder, Jr.

That’s Eric Holder’s 43 word answer (well, one, really) to Rand Paul’s fundamental question. It is also the first time that an administration official has ever gone on record giving that answer, sans outs. And on record he is. Jay Carney, in today’s briefing, gave the same answer, on behalf of the President.

Paul will drop his opposition to Brennan, saying “I’m quite happy with the answer and I’m disappointed it took a month and a half and a root canal to get it.”

For all the possible squishiness that may arise, understanding this is not a legal precedent or regulation, and so on and so forth, let it be recorded that it was Republican Senator Rand Paul, of all people – an ophthalmologist from Bowling Green, Kentucky and son of a man often described as one of the fringiest House reps to ever serve in that body – and Senator Paul’s almost nostalgic use of legislative protest and using his small bully pulpit to draw attention in the court of public opinion, who was able to secure that “no” where the ACLU, the United States Congress, courts, a myriad of civil rights lawyers and journalists, and beyond, could not. And he did it with no real partisan or political backing, not as a response to any constituency, spear-heading a micro-movement that didn’t even really exist until he took the floor – which is how we used to understand leadership.

And, in securing that “no”, may even have helped, in a very real way, spur our government to foreclose on the possibility, where they had been inclined to leave it open. And it also represents, for the first time that I can recall since 911, a very practical civil liberties discussion ending in an outcome that presumably limits, rather than expands, government authority.

In the grand scheme of things this may be a small victory. But it is a victory. And it is an important one.

Thank you, Senator Paul.

Posted by Rojas @ 4:09 pm on March 7th 2013

So glad we got that cleared up

Attorney General Eric Holder has written a letter to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) saying that a drone could not be used against a noncombatant American.

This is the first recognition that the administration has offered that its war powers are in any way limited, and all it took was a thirteen hour filibuster and a massive campaign in the social media.

Next question: does the nominee for CIA director agree?

Posted by Brad @ 1:03 pm on March 7th 2013

Quote of the Day

“Mr. President, what it comes down to is every American has the right to know when their government believes that it is allowed to kill them.”

—Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)

Why should anything more need to be said?

H/T Conor

Posted by Rojas @ 1:30 am on March 7th 2013

America held hostage, day 5: sequestration devestation

For some reason, the media seems to have lost interest in the great story of our time: the ongoing meltdown of American society stemming from the suicidal sequestration budget cuts. At Reason.com, Nick Gillespie hits the road to provide snapshots of a nation in crisis.

Posted by Rojas @ 7:42 pm on March 6th 2013

Or, you could have Senator Ashley Judd.

I will speak until I can no longer speak. I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court.

If he’s gonna speak for hours on end, we can surely at least be bothered to throw him a mention. Attaboy, Rand.

Posted by Brad @ 3:37 pm on March 5th 2013

Top of NBC News Right Now

BREAKING NEWS: TSA to let travelers carry small knives, golf clubs, hockey sticks on planes

Damn you sequeeesteeeeeeerrr!!!!!!

Posted by Brad @ 8:49 pm on March 4th 2013

In Defense of Radicalism

In more 10 year Iraq anniversary navel gazing, Ta-Nehisi Coates reflects on his own stance circa 2003. Namely, that all the respectable folks thought war was a good idea, so who were these idiots and cranks protesting against it? He was a liberal hawk who bought into the idea – as many of us did at the time – that people that against the grain of conventional wisdom must be by definition unserious.

I say all this to say that if I regret anything it is my pose of powerlessness — my lack of faith in American democracy, my belief that the war didn’t deserve my hard thinking or hard acting, my cynicism. I am not a radical. But more than anything the Iraq War taught me the folly of mocking radicalism. It seemed, back then, that every “sensible” and “serious” person you knew — left or right — was for the war. And they were all wrong. Never forget that they were all wrong. And never forget that the radicals with their drum circles and their wild hair were right.

Rojas and I did a lot of arguing (against other people) at that time, and I think that impulse bubbled up in both of us as well. And, of course, a lot of those radicals were NOT right – a lot really deserved they scorn they got. As did elements of, say, the Ron Paul movement.

But, I think the lesson I learned, that Coates alludes to, isn’t so much the value of radicals – many of whom are almost by definition wrong more than they’re right (although, when real change comes, it’s usually through them, but that’s another post). Really, it’s the tendency to defer to the “sensible” and the “serious” people, and to let the boundaries of the debate be defined for you.

Posted by Brad @ 1:01 pm on March 4th 2013

Never Forget

I don’t normally go for these things much, but this is both moving and incredible.

Posted by Rojas @ 10:34 pm on March 3rd 2013

Music video of the geekporn

A high school choir decides that the most appropriate material for their spring concert is “Dovahkiin”–the theme from Skyrim.

Not sure about the glow sticks, but the arrangement is impressive.

Posted by Brad @ 8:53 pm on March 1st 2013

Threat Inflation

James Fallows has kind of an interesting, rueful reflection on the Iraq War (very shortly here, 10 years old) and the lessons he’s learned from it. One caught my eye as worth pulling out and just, you know, noting.

As I think about it this war and others the U.S. has contemplated or entered during my conscious life, I realize how strong is the recurrent pattern of threat inflation. Exactly once in the post-WW II era has the real threat been more ominous than officially portrayed. That was during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when the world really came within moments of nuclear destruction.

Otherwise: the “missile gap.” The Gulf of Tonkin. The overall scale of the Soviet menace. Iraq. In each case, the public soberly received official warnings about the imminent threat. In cold retrospect, those warnings were wrong — or contrived, or overblown, or misperceived. Official claims about the evils of these systems were many times justified. Claims about imminent threats were most of the times hyped.

Posted by Brad @ 7:29 pm on March 1st 2013

Great Moments in Local Governance

Great Moments in Live Mics Edition.

I want to personally apologize to the young lady for the comments that I made,” Connecticut state Rep. Ernest Hewett (D) said on Thursday, according to the New London Day, after making a lewd comment to a 17-year-old girl during a committee hearing last month.

The remark came after the girl, an ambassador for the Connecticut Science Center, testified about how the ambassador program helped her overcome her shyness and get over her fear of snakes.

According to an audiotape of the hearing, Hewett then said: “If you’re bashful I got a snake sitting under my desk here.”