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The Kennedy Question

[ 0 ] January 22, 2009 |

As someone who could very much do without Kennedy worship in general and JFK worship in particular, I suppose that I’m happy, on balance, that Caroline Kennedy has removed herself from consideration to be New York’s next senator. Unlike many people, though, I never cared enough to even blog about it roughly for the reasons suggested by Dana. First, what matters most about a senator is their votes and Kennedy’s would presumably would be fine. Second, I’m not really convinced that which particular wealthy, especially well-connected person is appointed is some sort of major issue of merit or justice (and nepotism always seems a bigger deal where women are concerned; somehow, I don’t remember all the outrage over the fact that Andrew Cuomo may not have gotten his current position strictly on merit.) And, finally, however unjustified I think JFK’s reputation is the brutal truth is that it is a real political resource.

None of this is to say that I actually wanted Paterson to pick Kennedy; I would prefer a legislator with more experience and (especially) a clearer record of progressive politics, like Carolyn Maloney or Jerrold Nadler. But Kennedy probably would have been fine.

The Krauthammer Unit

[ 0 ] January 21, 2009 |

America’s Shittiest Op-Ed Columnist (Not-Named-Bill-Kristol Division), 16 January 2009:

[Bush] leaves behind the sinews of war, for the creation of which he has been so vilified but which will serve his successor — and his country — well over the coming years. The very continuation by Democrats of Bush’s policies will be grudging, if silent, acknowledgment of how much he got right.


Oh, well. At least now we have a verifiable expiration date for your standard Charles Krauthammer column — I suppose the only question is whether four days is the maximum or median shelf life. In any event, if it wants to avoid an E. Coli outbreak, the Post really ought to consider flash pasteurization.


[ 0 ] January 21, 2009 |

The Bush administration authorized the waterboarding of prisoners. Waterboarding is torture. Torture is prohibited by the Convention Against Torture, to which the U.S. is a signatory. This treaty requires a state to prosecute officals under its jurisdiction who violated the treaty. The U.S. Constitution makes this treaty binding law on U.S. officials, including Barack Obama, who swore an oath yesterday to uphold the former document.

All of this couldn’t be more straightfoward as a matter of the relevant legal rules.

I asked the students in my criminal punishment seminar yesterday why the treaty won’t be enforced by the new administration against officials of the old one. A student responded, “because it would be awkward.”

That’s about right I think.

Oh Glorious Day!

[ 0 ] January 21, 2009 |

Just found a couple weeks worth of research that I believed I had lost. This means, in effect, that I have accomplished two weeks worth of work before 11am. With that under my belt, time for a beer!

Elections Have Consequences. Sometimes, This Can Even Be Good

[ 0 ] January 21, 2009 |

I forgot to post on this earlier in the week, but indeed Marty Lederman taking over the job once held by John Yoo is fantastic news. And, of course, these kinds of actions are even better.

Blackwater-Blackfive Nexus

[ 0 ] January 21, 2009 |

Now this, from David Axe, is a fascinating story:

Susan Katz Keating posted a photo depicting, among others, “Uncle Jimbo” — one of the men behind the popular, and far-right, Blackfive blog — in front of Blackwater’s North Carolina headquarters last week. It seems Jimbo and others flew to Blackwater from the private air terminal attached to the D.C.-area Dulles airport, apparently on Blackwater’s dime.

In other words, Blackwater’s running junkets for press, paying expenses in return for coverage.

Now, junkets are curious things. Many journalists do them — I’ve done them — and most take pains to disclose the fact that their coverage was, in part, paid for by a source. Embeds with combat forces are, in a sense, a form of junket.

Junkets are risky. As long as there’s full disclosure, they can be a legit facet of the news. But in this case, there are extenuating circumstances that make Blackwater’s junketeering particularly vexing — and that’s Jimbo’s involvement. For Jimbo has plans that go beyond journalism and publishing. Jimbo, whose real name is Jim Hanson, has talked about turning Blackfive into an arm of a private military intelligence network, like a low-rent intel version of Blackwater.

I know this because Jimbo tried to recruit me last summer.

I had just returned from Chad. I had drinks with Jimbo and Blackfive boss Matt Burden. While Matt sat quietly, Jimbo told me how he was frustrated with professional reporters who only report facts, and don’t help use those facts to promote U.S. national security. He said he envisioned building a privately run intelligence network that would use freelance reporters, operating under Blackfive’s auspices and sponsored by corporations, to gather information for transmission to intel analysts in the U.S. He asked if I would be interested in joining up.

I said no, in no uncertain terms. In fact, I recall cursing and yelling.

I told Jimbo that if he really did launch a private intel network, and roped some naive young writers into serving as its operations arm, he was going to get some of them killed. I told him about all the occasions when suspicious and hostile sources in Africa and the Middle East have demanded to know whether I was an American spy. I always could honestly answer no. What happens when a reporter is a sort of spy, and gets confronted by people who wouldn’t hesitate to kill or abduct a spy? Not only is spying a clear violation of journalistic ethics, it’s a huge security risk for the reporter.

Jimbo’s plan is lunacy, but precisely the kind of lunacy represented by firms like Blackwater. And seeing Jimbo in front of a Blackwater facility, on a junket organized by the merc company, gives me chills. I can imagine the wicked synergy that might result.

Knowing David, I can say that it is very, very easy for me to imagine the cursing and the yelling.


[ 0 ] January 21, 2009 |

Drop a nickel in the can, if you have a chance.


[ 0 ] January 21, 2009 |

Late for the bus, dashing out the door at 8 this morning, I scrambled to quickly record the inauguration and speech, I absentmindedly recorded CNBC’s coverage. Without getting in to the gruesome specifics, I’ve heard appallingly inane pundits on CNN, Fox News, and I tell you CNBC is a million times worse than all of them combined. I don’t believe my remote control has ever stopped there before, and I hope and pray it never will again. I swear Larry Kudlow actually started talking about what an embarrassment Geitner’s tax problems are while Aretha Franklin was singing.


[ 0 ] January 20, 2009 |

About two years ago, I wrote optimistically about today:

[Dad] outlasted Donald Rumsfeld, Bill Frist and Tom Delay, and he’s optimistic that Alberto Gonzales’ tenure as Attorney General will self-immolate before the [pancreatic] cancer returns, as it most certainly will. It’s a long wait to January 2009, but one way or another I’m planning to spend the next inauguration day with my father and his youngest granddaughter, watching C-SPAN and heckling the worst president since James Buchanan as he leaves office in a hail of eggs.

Almost none of this came to pass. My father died in October 2007; I wasn’t tuned in to C-SPAN this morning; and notwithstanding the usual bromides about the “peaceful transfer of power,” the volleys of produce were rather more figurative than I’d hoped.

Still, I was able to watch the entire thing with my daughter, who was surprisingly enthusiastic about the live CNN feed on my laptop. It’s true that some of the context escaped her understanding; she seemed to think CNN was conducting an elaborate game of peek-a-boo featuring Barack Obama, and she confused Itzhak Perlman with John McCain for some reason. Moreover, I had to keep reassuring her during Obama’s speech that he wasn’t actually “yelling at us” and that he wasn’t yelling at us because he was “crabby.”

On the other hand, she offered the unsolicited observation that George Bush is a “bonehead,” and she asked if Barack Obama was “taking a little nap” during Rick Warren’s benediction, most of which we missed because we were having a conversation about his goatee. Her remarks about Dick Cheney’s “bicycle” were considerably less mean-spirited than mine. All of which probably means she’s ready to begin guest-blogging for me the next time I leave town.

All things considered, it was a pretty good way to spend a morning. I’m usually not vulnerable to much political sentimentalism, but it was actually quite moving to be able to watch the ceremony with a near-three-year-old who — to my great envy — will never be afflicted with living memories of the Bush years. I suppose when I was roughly her age, I may have watched Nixon’s second inauguration with my father, though in all likelihood not. But I remember the end of the Nixon presidency, if somewhat dimly. If everything goes well, my daughter’s first political memories will vastly surpass mine. And her brother — who should arrive in about five weeks — will have the good fortune to be born during an Obama administration, a fact that I hope one day will provide him with as much satisfaction as it will his dad.

False Choices

[ 0 ] January 20, 2009 |

My vote for the best (and most important) passage from the address:

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.

The MSNBC cut to Bush at this point was a nice touch.

A New President

[ 0 ] January 20, 2009 |

Somehow, I liked the non-smooth oath. There’s something reassuring to know that, amidst all the not-terribly-appropriate monarchical pomp, something so genuinely important is happening that even the generally cool new President is nervous.

It’s a great day for the country.

…To be clear, as many commenters pointed out, it was Roberts who flubbed the oath.


[ 0 ] January 20, 2009 |

My Country ‘Tis of Thee? Sweet.