Thursday, January 31, 2008

Michael Mukasey is our new Attorney General. So, how did he do on his first oversight hearing? Quoth Greenwald:

He repeatedly endorsed patently illegal behavior -- including torture -- and refused even to pretend that he cared what the Senate thought about any of it. He even told Republican Senators that they have no right to pass a whistleblower law allowing federal employees who learn of lawbreaking to inform Congress about it, because such a law would infringe on the President's constitutional powers. In Mukasey's worldview, the President has unlimited power and Congress has none. ...

All day long, in response to Mukasey's insistence that patent illegalities were legal, that Congress was basically powerless, and that the administration has no obligation to disclose anything to Congress (and will not), Senators would respond with impotent comments such as: "Well, I'd like to note my disagreement and ask you to re-consider" or "I'm disappointed with your answer and was hoping you would say something different" or "If that's your position, we'll be discussing this again at another point." They were supplicants pleading for some consideration, almost out of a sense of mercy, and both they and Mukasey knew it.

A few months ago, when Mukasey was up for a vote in the Democratic Senate, there were those who quibbled on such minor things as his refusal to say clearly whether one of the Spanish Inquisition's favorite torture techniques was actually torture. They believed that the Democrats needed to stand firm and demand that Mukasey show he clearly believed in accountability and the long-established principles of the rule of law. But these impractical idealists were confronted with the pragmatic realities of the situation: if they failed to confirm Mukasey, we'd all be stuck with a time-serving former deputy of the disgraced Alberto Gonzales, who would do Dubya's bidding and nothing else.

The pragmatists won. The Senate chose to eschew empty, dramatic gestures in favor of its more dignified, established, mature, bipartisan approach. And look how much better off we all are for it.

At the very least, we know what they stand for.

Monday, January 28, 2008

No comment on Dubya's speech. On the Democratic response, I thought it was fitting that Sebelius closed by saying "sleep well". No matter what she was saying, whether about the economy, health care, or the military, she said it like she was reading a bedtime story.

That's not a gender thing, by the way; Barbara Jordan could give a hell of a speech, and Fred Rogers was unsurpassed at the art of the bedtime story. Until now.

But this is an orator who could put you to sleep while the Cloverfield monster was chowing down on the building next door. While she was reading about routes out of town. How on earth did she get elected?

More: Barack Obama shows how to do it. He's still not my favorite among the Democratic candidates, but if I was grading them solely on oratorical skill, he's the best and there's no number two.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A few months ago, there was a huge fuss about an arrest of a doctor in Australia on terrorist charges. It looked bad. The guy's movements were very suspicious, and police said he had been able to provide no coherent explanation at all. Except that he had, as quickly became apparent when his lawyer released the full transcript of his interrogation.

Charges against the doctor have been abandoned as baseless... but the lawyer may lose his license, due to a complaint filed by (among others) the police. As they explain:

Releasing the transcript was “unprofessional and inappropriate,” the federal police said in a statement, and resulted in “a great deal of misinformed and speculative reporting.”
The repeated false statements released by the police themselves, and the unjustified character assassination that followed are, evidently, less of a concern.

It's rare to see such a clear demonstration of the difference between legal "ethics" and real ones.

Headline of the day:

Pakistan Rebuffs Secret U.S. Plea for C.I.A. Buildup
So, Musharraf is no longer telling the United States what it wants to hear. Perhaps because we've already tried to maneuver him out of power once --- a plan that failed when our designated successor, Benazir Bhutto, stood up through the roof of her armored car in the middle of an uncontrolled crowd, and someone in that crowd (it hardly matters who) took the easy shot. But this certainly won't help him last longer.