Wednesday, December 31, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the AP: Charles Barkley arrested on suspicion of DUI

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By Steven L. Taylor

Robert Farley at LGM does a good job of spelling out the basic issues in the current Israel-Hamas conflict that I was getting at, albeit more briefly, in my previous post.

Let me be very straight-forward about an essential element that needs to be at the heart of any discussion of any policy-related discussion (and yes, this is a policy-related discussion): what’s the goal and will the action in question further that goal?

In short: efficacy matters. As Robert notes, the idea that this attack will lead to an end to rocket attacks is almost certainly incorrect. And the idea that at the end of the day that Israel will have excised Hamas from Gaza is a fantasy.

Of course, as a commenter noted the other day: if the goal is to show that Livni and Kadema are tough enough in advance of the February elections, then the mission may well have been accomplished.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Israel rejects Gaza truce calls

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has rejected international calls for a 48-hour truce in the Gaza Strip to allow in more humanitarian aid.


“If conditions will ripen, and we think there can be a diplomatic solution that will ensure a better security reality in the south, we will consider it. But at the moment, it’s not there,” he was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying.

Any ceasefire with Hamas had to be permanent, he said, adding that there was international consensus that Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel had to stop.

While certainly a permanent cease fire would be nice (otherwise known as “peace”), it is difficult to see how the current action will result in that outcome. If anything, the history of the region would provide the answer, as this is hardly the first (or second, or third) time that there has been a massive military response by Israel to the Palestinians, and yet here we are again. While it might be nice to think that this time all of Hamas’ violence-making capabilities will be destroyed and this time they will finally see that Israel has the right to exist and this time that the violence won’t lead to the further radicalization of Palestinian civilian population. This all is all rather unlikely.

The death toll to this point:

Palestinian officials say about 391 Palestinians have died in the Israeli air strikes; four Israelis have been killed by rockets fired from Gaza, which is under Hamas control.


The UN says at least 62 Palestinian civilians have died since Saturday. Palestinian medical officials say more than 1,700 people have been injured, overwhelming Gaza’s hospitals.

I can’t help but think that a roughly 100:1 death toll isn’t going to do anything other than increase Palestinian resentment and bolster in their own minds the justice of their actions.

I am not, by the way, defending Hamas rocket attacks, but can’t help but look at the current action and wonder what it will accomplish going forward, and at this point it seems to be nothing more than the latest chapter in the same basic story.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor


The Chicago Tribune’s blog The Swamp notes a potential complication with the appointment:

The Illinois secretary of state, Jesse White, says he will not certify the governor’s appointment. So, if it is not duly certified, there really is no appointment.

This partially answers a question asked here.

And, can there be any less desired endorsement, and more hollow-sounding imprimatur than the following?

“Please don’t allow the allegations against me to taint this good and honest man,” Blagojevich said while introducing Burris at a downtown news conference. (Source)

If one listens to the press conference, it is amazing to listen to Blagojevich act as if he had not choice be to make and appointment. It is also remarkable to listen to him continue to try to assure everyone of how great and appointee Burris is. Granted, this may well be the case, but when looking for character witnesses concerning political integrity, Blago isn’t exactly where one would want to turn.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Ben Smith at reports: Burris ‘unacceptable’.

There isn’t much to report save that an aide provides the following:

Majority Leader Harry Reid views Burris as “unacceptable,” the aide said.

One presumes that the Major Leader will attempt to reject a Blagojevich appointees based on the following language from Article I, section 5:

Each House shall be the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members

Whether that means that the Senate can reject any Senator they simply don’t like, however, remains to be seen.

On a related note, it occurred to me a bit after I initially blogged the news of the appointment that anyone who would take a Blagojevich appointment has got to be nuts, because no matter what may be true about one’s record, once touched by Blagojevich in this way, one is automatically tainted.

Update: TPM Election Central reports that the Senate Democratic Leadership has issued a statement asking Blagojevich not to make an appointment. The statement included the following:

Under these circumstances, anyone appointed by Gov. Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois and, as we have said, will not be seated by the Democratic Caucus

That, of course, simply means that Democrats will not recognize an Blago-appointed Senator as part of their party in the Senate. This issue of whether Burris would be seated at all is a matter for the Senate Leadership to deal with, in conjunction with the entire body. Of course, the fact the Senate is led by the Democratic Caucus is no insignificant matter here.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the AP: Unemployment climbs to 10.8 percent in Colombia.

According to the piece, that is up from 10.1% in October and up from 9.4% at this point last year.

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By Steven L. Taylor

ABC’s Jake Tapper reports: Blago to Appoint Illinois Pol to Obama Senate Seat

Scandalized Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich will today appoint Roland Burris to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Obama.

Burris was Attorney General of Illinois from 1991 until 1995. Then-state senator Obama backed Burris over Blagojevich in the Democratic gubernatorial primary in 2024.

Blagojevich will make this announcement despite his attorney Ed Genson’s Dec. 17 prediction that the governor would not appoint anyone to the Senate seat, citing the Senate Majority Leader’s warning that they might not seat the embattled lawmaker’s pick.


Update: More from CNN: Blagojevich to name Obama successor.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Yesterday I noted a piece about the small v. big government debate (such as it is). I noted then that a lot of “small government conservatives” often ignore one of the biggest expansions of government power in the last eight-years, i.e., the power of the executive, especially in terms of the war on terror.

Along those lines is an excellent piece in the LAT which is part of a series on Bush’s legacy: Bush has successfully defended anti-terrorism policies

in his defense of the war on terrorism, Bush has succeeded in beating back nearly all legal challenges — including those to some of his most controversial policies.

Among them are a domestic surveillance program to intercept international phone calls, the rounding up of Muslim men for questioning after the Sept. 11 attacks, the holding of suspects in military custody in this country without filing charges, harsh interrogations — some have called it torture — of suspects arrested abroad, and the detention of foreign captives at a military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Because of the administration’s successful defense of such policies, they not only will be a part of Bush’s legacy but will be around for his successors. Even if Barack Obama rejects or sharply modifies Bush’s positions, the precedents will remain for future chief executives.

I know many will consider all of this a necessary part of the war on terror, but I find it all to be a chilling increase in the power of the presidency and will be an unfortunate legacy of this administration that is likely to return to cause serious trouble in the future.

There is a reason that most of the Bill of Rights deals with crime and punishment (the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th) and it is because the Founders understood that one of the most significant and dangerous powers that the state holds is the power to arrest and punish. It is a profound capacity that can take away the very humanity of those targeted–and the issues are far more complex than simply guilt or innocence. We have seen what over-zealous investigation in the name of “keeping us all safe” looks like, and it is in the drug war, where it is a regular occurrence for the wrong home to be targeted by police with no-knock warrants and paramilitary tactics. Families are regularly terrorized in the United States of America by uniformed (and non-uninformed) officers who believe that they are doing to right thing to protect society from illicit drugs and other threats.1 It is hardly a stretch to see how such zeal applied to the larger threat of terrorism could be deployed in a very abusive fashion (and, indeed, has already been abused). We have very much set ourselves up for the worst of the drug war seeping into anti-terror policy (indeed, much of the basis of domestic anti-terrorism policy derives from anti-drug policy, and we all know how successful the war on drugs has been…).

Back to Bush specifically, the way in which the administration has achieved its goals is especially vexing, and speaks ill of the other branches of government as well, specifically the Congress, which has not taken its oversight responsibilities as seriously is it ought to have done:

Soon after Sept. 11, Bush said that as commander in chief he had the “inherent” power to act boldly in the nation’s defense, regardless of whether Congress or the courts agreed.

His claim has been much criticized. It also has not been accepted by Congress or endorsed by the Supreme Court. The justices have said the president must act according to the law, not in spite of it.

Nonetheless, Bush’s anti-terrorism policies have not been blocked by the courts or Congress. When the Supreme Court struck down Bush’s use of special military trials at Guantanamo on grounds that he had no legal basis for creating them, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act to authorize the trials.

When critics claimed the National Security Agency was violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by intercepting calls without a warrant, Congress passed a law to authorize such wiretapping. The same measure also granted legal immunity to telephone companies that had cooperated with the administration.

Bush’s tenure has been particularly frustrating for civil libertarians. They had believed that when the government violated the Constitution, someone could go to court and challenge it. But it’s not clear that truism is still true.

Bush’s lawyers have succeeded not by proving the constitutionality of the policies but by using procedural barriers to prevent lawsuits from going forward.

That last sentence is key. On the one hand it shows how the system has failed to provide proper oversight. On the other, I suppose it does leave a glimmer of hope that at some point in the future adequate review could take place. Nevertheless, it is all part of a maddening process to date in which the administration has never actually had to fully defend its actions:

When the American Civil Liberties Union sued over the warrantless wiretapping, Bush’s lawyers said the plaintiffs had no standing because they could not prove that their phones had been tapped. The government also refused to answer questions about whether the plaintiffs had been tapped, pleading national security.

When civil libertarians sued on behalf of men who said they had been wrongly abducted and tortured by the CIA, Bush’s lawyers argued that the cases involved “state secrets.” The courts agreed and dismissed the lawsuits.

“It has been a sad story,” said Melissa Goodman, an ACLU lawyer. “The government has thrown up roadblocks. . . . We have never gotten judges to rule whether their acts have violated the Constitution or whether torture is unconstitutional.”


When the government is sued, its lawyers can throw up an array of barriers. They can say the officials who carried out the policy have immunity from being sued. They can say the plaintiffs do not have standing to sue or lack enough evidence to show the policy is unconstitutional.

“This is a Catch-22,” said Harold Hongju Koh, dean of Yale Law School. “They can say, ‘You don’t know we did it, so you can’t sue.’ Or, ‘If you know we did it, you can’t sue because it’s a state secret.’ The government makes these procedural arguments in every case, and it means you essentially never get a ruling on the merits.”

Most people will dismiss all of this likely on the basis that the only people being harmed are “bad guys.”

However, we know that this is not the case. Not only have numerous examples of mistakes made by the government in regards to detainees (one that I have blogged, that of 17 Uighurs wrongly detained for years at Guantánamo, springs to mind), the LAT piece has the following example:

Khaled Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, was on vacation in the Balkans in 2024 when he was pulled from a tour bus at a border crossing. He was questioned and his passport was taken. After several days, he was turned over to the CIA, which chained him and flew him to Afghanistan. Masri said he was beaten and tortured for weeks.

About six months later, U.S. officials confirmed he was not the wanted terrorist Khalid Masri, who had been living in Germany.

Masri was flown to Albania and dropped off on a country road at night. He made his way back to Germany. With the help of the ACLU, he filed a suit against the CIA and then-Director George J. Tenet, contending that he had been wrongly abducted and tortured. Administration lawyers blocked the suit from being heard because it could expose state secrets.

This is appalling. Imagine you, your brother, father, uncle or friend being taken off of a bus while on vacation, taken to a foreign prison, tortured and then dumped in another foreign country when your captors revealed: “oops, sorry, not the guy we wanted.” This type of action should be an embarrassment to the United States and its citizens. Yet, oh well, mistakes happen. And, after all, he is a foreigner with a funny name. (And if one thinks that the mistaken identity/wrong name problem can only happen abroad, think again). 2

It is all very sad and damning aspect of the Bush legacy. It certainly isn’t “small government” and is, indeed, the worst kind of “big government” and yet many so-called “small government” conservatives will, at best, shrug it off and, as worst, consider it part of policies necessary to “keep us safe.”

  1. For some examples and information on the subject, see here, here, here and here. []
  2. Indeed, the notion that the best we can do is match up names, when we know that many, many people around the world have the same names, is a disturbing commentary on our capabilities. []
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Monday, December 29, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor

Nate Silver asks Like Smaller Government? How About 98 Senators?

Nate notes that it appears quite likely that we will start the 111th Congress with a slightly smaller Senate, at least temporarily due to the only unknown that is the Minnesota seat and the fact that Blagojevich isn’t likely to be filling Obama’s seat any time soon.

So, not only will it be like we lost a state for a little while, but it should also have a key procedural effect:

One interesting application of this is that I believe it will temporarily only require 59 votes to break a filibuster. The Rules of the Senate declare that a cloture motion can pass with “three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn”. From the Senate’s perspective, a senator will have been neither chosen or sworn in Minnesota — nor in Illinois, unless the state gets its act together fast. And three-fifths of 98 is 59 rather than 60.

Seems likely to me that this will be the case as well. Interesting, in any event.

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By Steven L. Taylor

At the NYT as a columnist, that is.

First, there was what I termed the Laziest Column in a Major Paper Ever? and now today there’s this: George, Abe, Rick and Barack. The piece is just a pastiche of thoughts about the inauguration that has a decidedly phoned-in feel to it, including Kristol’s travel plans on the 20th, porta-potties on the Mall and a few thoughts about the Lincoln Bible, George Washington, Rick Warren and smoking.

I know its the holiday season, but gee whiz, there are bloggers who rattle off 800 word essays before breakfast on a daily basis that have more thoughtful content than this.

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