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::Sigh:: White House Ok’s Gitmo Tribunals

Yes. We. Can. Unless of course, we can’t. In which case, well, that sucks:

White House Says Military Tribunals Can Resume at Guantánamo – NYTimes.com.

A couple things about this: the first is that its an obvious disappointment to have Gitmo remain open when such a big deal was made about closing it. That’s not good politics, because it remains something Republicans can potentially make an “Obama is a pussy Democrat” argument with.

But the second thing is: lets be clear about the actual moral and legal problem. The problem is torture, suspension of habeas corpus and the lack of due process for Gitmo detainees. Closing the Gitmo prison (because remember: its still a military base that will not close) is a very nice thing for optics and politics, but does nothing in and of itself to make things better.

We still have people in Gitmo who have not been charged. And Obama also signed an order allowing the military to continue holding them. That’s probably because we don’t have anything to charge them with because the initial lockup was so poorly executed in the first place. Lest we forget: due process isn’t just a nicety for prisoners, it is also insurance against the kinds of wrongful imprisonments that undermine our rule of law.

We have lots and lots of people at Gitmo that represent (I am assuming) a direct threat to our safety and a direct threat to the legitimacy of our legal system. Scilla and Charybdis, if you will. And when faced with these two poles of certain doom, President Obama has chosen to punt. Again.

Thank you, President George Bush, for fucking up so completely. And thank you, President Barack Obama, for not having come up with a better solution than the status quo.

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To the Extent that Polls are Relevant….

… I’m trying to figure out exactly how to react to this headline, “Obama’s Approval Rating on Deficit Sinks to New Low.”

The headline isn’t wrong: President Obama’s approval rating on the budget deficit has fallen. On the other hand, nearly every other trend line goes up. The Gallup article in question says as much, as does another poll released today from Zogby. So, which is the story? Technically, I suppose, if all other metrics are trending up at a consistent rate, that’s not news: he’s been doing better since the SOTU. Not news, that is, if you think in terms of moment-to-moment politics.

But in terms of the overall two-year average, its the numbers that are improving that are the news: his approval ratings hit the skids almost immediately from taking office. That the general trend is in the opposite direction seems more relevant when you look at the whole picture.

I don’t really think poll numbers are relevant, except to the extent that they get used as cudgels in political fights. Unfortunately, everything these days is a political fight – right down to ICBM treaties with Russia – so the political damage of skewed headlines cannot be entirely discounted. But, they got my dumb ass to click on the link, so I suppose if the goal was CTR and not FYI, that’s game-set-match.

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Compromising Our Way Into Debt

Compromise. It’s what we all say we want out of our leaders in Washington.

But what is the current compromise on the Bush Tax Cuts? Well, not to resolve the issue, certainly. Better to simply kick the can down the road two more years – continuing to borrow money for rich people’s tax cuts, in other words – while at the same time extending unemployment benefits yet again.

How much worse could a compromise possibly be? Not only is it “Not 100% of What [Barack Obama] Want[s] or What the Republicans Want,” its really not anything that either side wants at all. For Democrats, its kicking themselves in the ass in two years time – when another election coincides with another vote on raising taxes – in exchange for a few extra months of unemployment insurance that is a practical vote of no confidence in their ability to lead. For Republicans, its a capitulation on unemployment insurance in exchange for a continued higher national debt.

On the other hand, there is no scenario under which taxes increase that doesn’t make Democrats look bad as the majority party. Paul Krugman‘s idea of letting everything expire and then letting the Republicans try to talk their way out of it ignores the fact that this is precisely what they’re good at.

The dysfunction in Washington seems to have no bounds whatsoever.

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Afghan Minerals and the House of Saud Effect

The big story coming out of this weekend has been the discovery – or rather, the announcement of the discovery – of a trillion-dollar mineral resource in Afghanistan. The Obama Administration is trying to paint this as a potential game-changer and a way out of the mess. Many others are painting this as an excuse to prolong our stay – especially since one of the major mineral deposits is lithium, a critical resource in the development of energy-efficient rechargeable batteries in a post-fossil world. So, is the Obama Administration looking for a reason to stay or a reason to leave? And does it matter one way or the other for the people of Afghanistan?

Because to me, the problem I see brewing with the new mineral deposit cache is one which the Saudi Arabian people have been dealing with for nearly a century, which is that having resources in the country does not do the people any good unless the people can actually work in the jobs that those resources produce. Even in the most coopted countries, common people often do the manual labor that comes with international economic success, but this is not the case in Saudi Arabia. In that country, the Wahabi imams run the schools, which teach a strictly Koran-based syllabus. Such an education does not really help secure a job as an engineer or even as a forklift operator, since math, science or writing are not on the agenda.

The result is an angry population from which many Taliban and al-Qeada recruits are plumbed. Even without the international terrorist scene, riots and hunger are common place problems for the House of Saud. To compensate, the government creates “make busy” projects building monuments and water fountains which do nothing to enrich the people, let alone lifting them from their primary intellectual poverty.

In Afghanistan, literacy rates are around 34% for men and 10% for women. This does not bode well for the economic boon that the mineral deposits supposedly represent. Even if the Afghan government weren’t corrupt, the chances are slim that any real work can be found for the majority of Afghans. So, do we make a commitment to stay and educate a generation of Afghans? Or do we leave them to the fate the Saudi people face? Do we, in finding the exit strategy both the American and Afghan people want, end up leaving behind an even more economically-striated place than we went into?

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Birther Debate: Whoa. That’s Obvious.

Sometimes, the discussion gets so silly that even reasonable people miss the most obvious things. Josh Marshall puts the Birther debate right: what if every soldier’s kid born overseas was ineligible for the presidency? Of course, they aren’t. So, if everyone agrees that Barack Obama’s mother was a US citizen, what would it matter to his eligibility for the presidency if he was born on Mars?

Funny. It seems like every sitcom the Seventies has to offer has an episode dealing with citizenship in some wacky fashion or another. You’d think that, just by osmosis and just through the least-informative media ever, we’d know better.

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Yes, Even With Taxes.

Republicans don’t get it. Democrats only barely get it.

According to a new ABC/Washington Post poll, even with a “penalty tax” on health care benefits, a majority of Americans still support a public-option health care system:

Thinking about health care, one proposal to insure nearly everyone would require all Americans to have health insurance or pay a penalty on their income tax, excluding those with lower incomes. It would require most employers to offer health coverage or pay a fee. There would be a government-run plan to compete with private insurers. And income taxes on people earning more than 280-thousand dollars a year would be raised to help fund the program. Taken together, would you support or oppose this plan? Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?

54% Support, 43% Oppose

I would not call this a ringing endorsement of the benefits taxation plan. It *is* an endorsement for health care reform – and even for the public option – because any proposal that costs money generally drops like a stone in the polls. Any plan that can survive the word “taxes” in a poll and stay above fifty percent is practically immortal.

Other news in that poll is that Obama’s numbers are definitively dropping. Of course they are: he owns the economy and the economy is in the public toilet. My prediction: expect him to get to fifty percent and possibly even lower by the end of the year, followed by an economic recovery and soaring new heights for his poll numbers by mid-terms.

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Personally, I Hope He Did Look at Her Ass

That’s all. Whatever Republicans are making out of the photo of Barack Obama, I really do hope he was looking at her ass. If that’s the worst case scenario, it beats having your parents pay off your mistress or having anonymous gay sex in Minnesota airport bathrooms, Florida park bathrooms or chat sessions with teenage pages…. and then denying the whole thing.

And I gotta say, the picture plays on a couple standard-issue Republican points: a black man looking at a white girl’s ass and a European leader looking right along with him. No wonder this is the stuff of Drudge Reportage.

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The Permanent Campaign

Chuck Todd was just on MSNBC discussing the political apparatus available to the Obama Administration and how that apparatus has come down hard on Dianne Feinstein on the health care reform vote. He points out that, since Senator Feinstein announced that they did not have the votes on the reform bill, MoveOn and other groups have launched attack ads on California television to push her back to the table. Nicole Wallace adds that this illustrates how Obama’s model for this issue is really the same as George Bush’s model: that of the permanent campaign.

The truth I think is much less simple than the pundits would like to make it seem. The left is certainly on the same page in it’s desire for health care reform; indeed the majority of our country seems to be ready for something new. But to assume that the Obama Administration has MoveOn to count as a tool of it’s policy making is probably going a bit far.

But there is no question that the Obama Campaign has shifted to the Obama Administration or that many of the priorities of the campaign have shifted to the priorities of the administration. In fact, they made no apologies immediately after the campaign, telling those of us who volunteered for him that they planned on keeping that network active. Certainly, the campaign continues. On this level, one can certainly compare the Bush Administration and the Obama Administration fairly, but it’s also worth contrasting as well.

There is a substantive difference between how the Bush Administration campaigned from the White House and how the Obama Administration is currently operating. Note the admitted caveat, “currently.” Primarily, the Bush Administration was concerned with winning, not necessarily winning anything specific. If there was a problem with political angling in the Bush Administration and in the Republican Party generally throughout the last eight years, it was that they squandered what was an impressive political machine on silly things like Terry Shiavo and the credit reform bill. The list goes on.

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration awarded campaign donors with plum jobs in the administration. Here we see the real difference between Obama and Bush: George Bush’s policy and procedure were meant to support his campaign, whereas Barack Obama’s campaign supports his policy and procedure.

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I’m a Thinker: Stimulus Money

If the problem with the Stimulus package is that the money’s not going out the door fast enough, perhaps the solution is to give the money to KBR and Bechtel? Anyone even know where that 18 billion went to in Iraq?

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It’s Not About Us

TalkingPointsMemo.com’s Sunday roundup is a great one this week, but I wanted to flag out one specific side of the issue of the president’s response to Iran: ownership.

Beyond the politics of the last thirty years of Iranian/American relations, American involvement in foreign affairs tends to suck all the oxygen out of the room for all other parties. Once it becomes a reality that the United States has decided to get involved in an issue, even the least interested parties tends to suddenly shift their focus to us rather than to the issue at hand.

So, once we own the Iranian revolution, what do we do next? Especially since even the most reform-minded Iranians is completely disinterested in our involvement? Do we send troops? Do we impose sanctions that will inevitably hurt the people we supposedly support more than the leadership? Do we fire a bunch of missiles and act like nothing happened? Or how about another toothless UN resolution?

Apart from using this issue to call the Democratic president a coward to score parochial points, I’m not seeing much in the way of ideas on this issue from the Right.

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Iran’s President on the Ropes?

I’m no expert in Iranian politics, but Friday looks like it could be really interesting. There have been many rumblings over the last month that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s chances of getting reelected were getting slim and now it looks like he’s starting to get desperate.

Experts I have read have suggested that really no president of Iran since the Revolution has ever had much to worry about in elections, suggesting that perhaps Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s problems are a reflection of the ruling clergy’s opinion of him more so than the people’s. And though it would pain him to do it, I am sure, Ahmadinejad might consider taking a queue from the Republican Party’s recent history and recognize that denying economic problems won’t con anyone.

Meanwhile, there are some in the States who are suggesting that Barack Obama’s election to the White House may have something to do with this and the elections in Lebanon. Well certainly, it can’t hurt that we’ve deposed a shit-talking cowboy and elected an intellectual man of peace with an Arab name. It’s just one less talking point. But to suggest Obama’s presence has altered the geography of Lebanese politics – to say nothing of Iranian – is just narcissistic. No, the recent run-in with Israel doubtless had an impact in Lebanon and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust-denying, taunting non-diplomacy has clearly had it’s own.

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Taking on the Tough Issues

Barack Obama declares: there’s no evidence that aliens built the pyramids. Wow.