Friday, August 29, 2008
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Argentine chiefs jailed for life

Two of the worst oppressors during Argentina’s military rule – known as the Dirty War – have been sentenced to life imprisonment.

Antonio Bussi, 82, and Luciano Benjamin Menendez, 81, were sent to prison for the kidnapping and disappearance of a former senator in April 1976.

The two generals were senior members of the military government that ruled the country during the 1970s and 1980s.

During that time tens of thousands of people were tortured and killed.


Menendez was sentenced to prison earlier this month on another human rights case and there are more charges outstanding against the two men – both now in their eighties.

They were found guilty of responsibility for the disappearance in April 1976 of the former senator, Guillermo Vargas Aignasse.

The military regime that came to power in mid-1970s was one of the most brutal in the history of Latin America. It lasted until 1983 the debacle that was the attempt by the military regime to retake the Malvinas (i.e., the Falkland Islands) as a means of distracting the population from the economic disaster that was unfolding at the time.

After an initial attempt to bring members of the military regime to justice, much of the process stalled.

It took 32 years to bring Bussi and Menendez to trial – the cases against the perpetrators of the darkest period in Argentine history only resumed a couple of years ago.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Iraq’s Sadr extends militia truce

Iraq’s influential Shia cleric, Moqtada Sadr, has indefinitely extended a ceasefire being observed by members of his Mehdi Army militia.


However, he did not say whether the 60,000-strong militia would disarm.

According to some reports I heard yesterday he allegedly said that he would consider disbanding if the US military left Iraq.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008
By Steven L. Taylor

More on this as I digest it, I expect. My short response is that it was an impressive speech and my initial reaction is that it likely accomplished what he needed to do–inspire, attack, and provide specifics.1

Now to the questions of bounce, McCain’s veep and the RNC next week.

  1. I will say that I need to go back and look at the speech to decide how specific the specifics were, as some of it still struck me as vague/platitudinous in terms of how some of the specifics would come about. []
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By Steven L. Taylor

The thing that struck me about Obama’s intro video was that it was a quintessentially American tale. It truly is a story that could only happen here, and regardless of one’s partisan affiliation or basic feelings about the candidate specifically, that should make all Americans quite proud. It is a great testament to the United States that a man of mixed race from a fatherless family and very humble beginning could aspire to the highest office in the land is truly a marvel of our system.

To go to the politics of it, his bio is really the best antidote to the “celebrity” line of attack.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Because of a conversation developing in the comments section of this post, let me say a few things about the politics of Katrina.

First and foremost, regardless of what one’s personal views are on the event and the federal government’s response, there is no denying that there is a widespread view that it wasn’t the Bush administration’s shining moment in the sun (to out it mildly). As such, there is no avoiding the fact that Gustav’s appearance will bring up discussion of the response to Katrina–especially if it has a landfall at NOLA. There’s just no avoiding it.

Now, as I said at the time, the main culprit in the entire affair was the hurricane itself. Further, there was plenty of blame to go around to local, state and federal officials (and even to the decisions of private citizens). However, the bottom line is that FEMA and DHS had specific responsibilities in the wake of the disaster that was the breech of the levees that it failed to handle it very well (again, to put it mildly).

For one thing, Katrina was the first big test after the formation of the Department of Homeland Security and the reorganization of various disaster response mechanisms of the federal government. These changes were supposed to make the feds more responsive in the face of a major terrorist attack. Its response to the levee breeches hardly inspired confidence on that count. As such, the administration that had made protecting the homeland from terrorist attacks a key policy goal hardly did a very good job of preparing for the aftermath of major mayhem in an American city.

The very fact that the man in charge of FEMA, Mike Brown, was highly under-qualified for the job is reason enough to critique the Bush administration. No one with his lack of experience should have been in such an important job. Note the following from the Boston Herald as quoted by Kevin Drum:

Before joining the Bush administration in 2001, Brown spent 11 years as the commissioner of judges and stewards for the International Arabian Horse Association…”This was his full-time job…for 11 years,” [a spokeswoman] added.

Brown was forced out of the position after a spate of lawsuits over alleged supervision failures. “He was asked to resign,” Bill Pennington, president of the IAHA at the time, confirmed last night.

Soon after, Brown was invited to join the administration by his old Oklahoma college roommate Joseph Allbaugh, the previous head of FEMA until he quit in 2003 to work for the president’s re-election campaign.

In other words, the man who would become the head of FEMA came to the agency after being fired from a job not one whit linked to emergency management and done so out of pure cronyism.

And it led to such things as the following:

Mr. Brown stunned several national television interviewers on Sept. 1 with the admission that he did not know about the 20,000 evacuees at the convention center in New Orleans until 24 hours after it was featured in news reports.1

A more detailed telling of that tale:

On Thursday night, Michael D. Brown, the federal government’s point man for managing the response to Hurricane Katrina, made a remarkable confession on live television.

Speaking of the thousands stranded at the convention center in New Orleans without food or water, Mr. Brown said that his agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, had just learned of their plight.

CNN’s Paula Zahn was incredulous. “Sir,” she said, “you aren’t just telling me you just learned that the folks at the convention center didn’t have food and water until today, are you? You had no idea they were completely cut off?”

“Paula,” Mr. Brown replied unequivocally, “the federal government did not even know about the convention center people until today.”

The comment symbolized what some have described as a deeply flawed federal response.2

One had to admit, that was an utterly stunning moment and bespoke of remarkable ineptitude.

Beyond that, it is clear that the administration simply didn’t take the event seriously.

Some other trips down memory lane:

  • Brown preened as New Orleans flooded
  • ‘Can I quit now?’ FEMA chief wrote as Katrina raged
  • Secretary Chertoff: “similarly confident, flew Tuesday to Atlanta for a briefing on avian flu. With power out from the high winds and movement limited, even news reporters in New Orleans remained unaware of the full extent of the levee breaches until Tuesday.”
  • President Bush: “on vacation in Texas, was feeling relieved that New Orleans had “dodged the bullet,” he later recalled.” 3

No, this was more than just a failure of people to evacuate, or simply an unpredictable event. It was a terrible event made magnitudes worse by inept disaster management. As such, there are good reasons that the Bush administration took some serious lumps for Katrina.

And to my Republican friends who would still wish to defend the President in this area, I would ask: read the above again and pretend like Brown was appointed by President Carter, Clinton, Gore or Obama and tell me you would be in a forgiving mood.

  1. Source []
  2. Source []
  3. See this post for the sourcing on the last two bullet points. []
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By Steven L. Taylor

It occurs to me that the timing of Gustav is most inconvenient for the GOP, especially if the storm heads directly for NOLA. Indeed, even with it heading only in the general direction of the city, it is unavoidable that Hurricane Katrina will be brought up, and brought up continually, on the news. And even absent political commentary about the Bush administration’s response to Katrina (and there will be plenty of that), any discussion of the storm will bring back memories that Republicans in general would prefer stay out of sight and mind.

At the moment, the projections put the eye right off the US coast on Monday morning, just at the RNC is starting in the Twin Cities. Invariably, there will be news coverage of the storm alongside the political coverage on all the networks–especially if the storm is heading straight for New Orleans.

It is already being reported that President Bush (who is slated to speak on Monday) might forgo the convention because of the storm. On the one hand, McCain might be happy to have a Dubya-less convention, on the other, he can’t be too happy to have one of Bush’s second term failures (i.e., the administration’s response to Katrina) to be a major story the week he is formally nominated.

This is more, by the way, than simply something that is “gotcha” politics about the past. The response to Katrina was one of several events in the early days of the second Bush term that took the already building frustration with Bush amongst many Republicans over the top. There is a reason that “heckuva a job, Brownie” is emblematic of much of what has been wrong with this administration.

Indeed, 2005 was hardly a good year for Bush, as it contained (amongst other things) the Terri Schiavo situation (March), Katrina (August) and the Harriet Miers debacle (October). The Miers nomination (and subsequent withdrawal) is especially worth mentioning in the context of Katrina, as like with the Brown appointment to FEMA, the Miers pick for SCOTUS underscored poor judgment by the president in terms of appointments (Brown was not qualified to run FEMA and Miers was not qualified to be on the Court).

Indeed, the President’s approval ratings have been a downhill ride since the start of 2005:


In regards to Katrina, here are some past posts on the politics thereof:

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By Steven L. Taylor

We can also keep an eye on Hanna.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Despite the superlatives, I thought that last night was the least important of the convention in terms of political impact. Michelle Obama’s speech on Monday night had the potential to have influence undecided voters, as some have been put off by some of her past comments (the “proud” one being the most prominent). Tuesday’s speech by Hillary Clinton was a massively important step towards unifying and energizing the party.

But last night? Everyone knows Bill Clinton and John Kerry and while the veep nominee’s speech has some general importance, it isn’t as if we won’t be seeing a ton of Biden between now and November.

Of course, tonight’s speech is huge, as I think a lot of people who have otherwise skipped the convention to this point will be tuning in.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008
By Steven L. Taylor

Clinton just made the motion to accept Obama as the nominee of the party by acclamation.

Nancy Pelosi had now taken the floor, and the motion has been seconded.

As such, Clinton did what she needed to do for her party (and her own political future).

With a bang of Pelosi’s gavel, the Democrats now have an official nominee.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the AP: Clinton releases delegates

In an emotional meeting leading up to the Democratic roll call of the states, Hillary Rodham Clinton released her convention delegates Wednesday to vote for certain presidential nominee Barack Obama.

Many in the crowded ballroom yelled back, “No!”

Clinton, speaking a couple of hours before the nomination vote was scheduled, would not instruct her followers on how to vote.

I must confess: at this stage of the game, it is unclear to me why any of the delegates would be holding on to the notion that Clinton should hold her delegates to their pledges. While I respect their right to vote as they like, given the way these conventions work, holding on so emotionally to a candidate who has already conceded strikes me as odd. It is as if some of them still think that there is some hope of a different outcome from the process other than that which has already been ordained. If this was a “real” convention, I might better understand the desire to have a full vote, but given that the party conventions have evolved into nothing more than infomericals/coronations, the intense attachment that some have to Clinton is somewhat baffling1

It will make for a very interesting piece of political theater if, as has been widely suggested, that Clinton herself, in declaring the vote for the New York delegation, is able to make a motion for acceptance of Obama’s nomination via acclamation.

  1. Granted, I have no emotional attachment to any candidate at all this cycle, so that may be playing into my views. []
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