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December 10, 2007

Re: Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, Al Gore, 12/10/07


.... It is time to make peace with the planet.
Now comes the threat of climate crisis — a threat that is real, rising, imminent, and universal. Once again, it is the 11th hour. The penalties for ignoring this challenge are immense and growing, and at some near point would be unsustainable and unrecoverable. For now we still have the power to choose our fate, and the remaining question is only this: Have we the will to act vigorously and in time, or will we remain imprisoned by a dangerous illusion?
There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We need to go far, quickly.

We must abandon the conceit that individual, isolated, private actions are the answer. They can and do help. But they will not take us far enough without collective action. At the same time, we must ensure that in mobilizing globally, we do not invite the establishment of ideological conformity and a new lock-step “ism.”

That means adopting principles, values, laws, and treaties that release creativity and initiative at every level of society in multifold responses originating concurrently and spontaneously.
When we unite for a moral purpose that is manifestly good and true, the spiritual energy unleashed can transform us. The generation that defeated fascism throughout the world in the 1940s found, in rising to meet their awesome challenge, that they had gained the moral authority and long-term vision to launch the Marshall Plan, the United Nations, and a new level of global cooperation and foresight that unified Europe and facilitated the emergence of democracy and prosperity in Germany, Japan, Italy and much of the world. One of their visionary leaders said, “It is time we steered by the stars and not by the lights of every passing ship.”
Just as Hull’s generation found moral authority in rising to solve the world crisis caused by fascism, so too can we find our greatest opportunity in rising to solve the climate crisis. In the Kanji characters used in both Chinese and Japanese, “crisis” is written with two symbols, the first meaning “danger,” the second “opportunity.” By facing and removing the danger of the climate crisis, we have the opportunity to gain the moral authority and vision to vastly increase our own capacity to solve other crises that have been too long ignored.
And most important of all, we need to put a price on carbon — with a CO2 tax that is then rebated back to the people, progressively, according to the laws of each nation, in ways that shift the burden of taxation from employment to pollution. This is by far the most effective and simplest way to accelerate solutions to this crisis.

But the outcome will be decisively influenced by two nations that are now failing to do enough: the United States and China. While India is also growing fast in importance, it should be absolutely clear that it is the two largest CO2 emitters — most of all, my own country —- that will need to make the boldest moves, or stand accountable before history for their failure to act.

Both countries should stop using the other’s behavior as an excuse for stalemate and instead develop an agenda for mutual survival in a shared global environment.
The way ahead is difficult. The outer boundary of what we currently believe is feasible is still far short of what we actually must do. Moreover, between here and there, across the unknown, falls the shadow.

That is just another way of saying that we have to expand the boundaries of what is possible. In the words of the Spanish poet, Antonio Machado, “Pathwalker, there is no path. You must make the path as you walk.”

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December 07, 2007

Sen. Whitehouse Reveals Smoking Gun of White House Claiming Not to Be Bound by Any Law

Sen. S. Whitehouse, after reviewing secret administration rulings, identified three things of concern in the administration's legal opinion, notably the claims that:

An executive order cannot limit a President.  There is no constitutional requirement for a President to issue a new executive order whenever he wishes to depart from the terms of a previous executive order.  Rather than violate an executive order, the President has instead modified or waived it.

The President, exercising his constitutional authority under Article II, can determine whether an action is a lawful exercise of the President's authority under Article II.

The Department of Justice is bound by the President's legal determinations.

While I agree these are of concern, I am concerned that Whitehouse is mixing constitutional and good-government concepts.

(1) Executive orders are not in our Constitution.  They are a method used inside the executive branch to provide direction within the executive branch.  As such, I agree with the administration that, under current law, there is no need to issue a new one or even publish the changes or tell anyone he has.  However, that is obviously bad administration -- for how are people in the administration operating under the executive order to know that it is different/in-operative?  If there are often unannounced changes, people will cease to treat them as operative since they never know if they are or are not.  Furthermore, it is clearly deceptive to We the People and our Congress if the administration is secretly doing something other than what was in the published executive order.  Obviously, only those he secretly tells that that can ignore it.  That's bad.  But it is bad government and deceptive, not necessarily unconstitutional.

Such deceptiveness may well be considered by Congress an impeachable offense.

Possibly congress could pass a law requiring a process for executive orders be made and published and changes be published.

(2) In a narrow technical sense, I would agree the president can determine constitutionality -- but only in this narrow sense: he can determine it for providing guidance within the executive branch.  However, in contrast to the actual position the administration takes, that doesn't mean it can't be adjudicated in court.  And if his determination is in conflict with  a law, then he would be subject to courts and impeachment.  I think Whitehouse is correct in his concern.

(3) I suppose I would agree, again on technical grounds: the DOJ is part of the executive branch which is run by the president, so presumably, though it would be bad government to do so, he could be the final arbiter on legal opinions issued.

But if the president consistently makes bad decisions that undermine the faith of the people in the rule of law, or that countermand laws, congress can always impeach him to teach future presidents a lesson.

I hope to have more, in more detail, to say about this in a few days.  But these are the highlights.

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Re: Who’s Afraid of Barack Obama?

From AlterNet: Hillary Clinton Might Be the Least Electable Democrat:

While Clinton maintains her lead in national polling among Democrats, in direct matchups against Republican presidential candidates, she consistently runs behind both Barack Obama and John Edwards.
By contrast, Obama beats every major Republican candidate: He beats McCain 45 percent to 38 percent; Guiliani 46 percent to 41 percent; Romney 46 percent to 40 percent; Huckabee 46 percent to 40 percent; and, Thompson 47 percent to 40 percent. In other words, Obama consistently runs 8 to 11 percent stronger than Clinton when matched against Republicans. To state the obvious: The Democratic presidential candidate will have to run against a Republican.

Frank Rich noted last Sunday in Who’s Afraid of Barack Obama?:

Were Mr. Obama to best Mrs. Clinton for the Democratic nomination, he may prove harder for the Republicans to rally against and defeat than the all-powerful, battle-tested Clinton machine.
...Clinton-bashing is the last shared article of faith (and last area of indisputable G.O.P. competence) that could yet unite the fractured and dispirited conservative electorate.

The Republicans know this and are so psychologically invested in refighting the Clinton wars that they’re giddy. Karl Rove’s first column for Newsweek last week, “How to Beat Hillary (Next) November,” proceeded from the premise that her nomination was a done deal. In the G.O.P. debates through last Thursday, the candidates mentioned the Clintons some 65 times. Barack Obama’s name has not been said once.
An Obama candidacy would force them to engage. Or try to. A matchup between Mr. Obama and Mr. Giuliani, who was forged in the racial crucible of New York’s police brutality nightmares of the 1990s, or between Mr. Obama and Mitt Romney, who was shaped by a religion that didn’t give blacks equal membership until 1978, would be less a clash of races than of centuries.

Re: No permanent presence without Congress’s consent.

Right sentiment, though long-winded before they get around to one of the key points: the US cannot make such a commitment to another country without a treaty -- that's what a treaty is, is a contractual commitment between the countries.  A point they left out is that the only way to implement is through an appropriation for that purpose.  Such a commitment must be made by law (passed by congress and signed by the sitting president) and that under our constitution no military appropriations can be made for more than two years at a time.

Bush hopes to make this a fait accompli that would be “embarrassing” to congress to overturn.  Bush doesn't care about any “warnings” or advice from Congress -- he will ignore this.  Congressional strategy must be designed around that situation.  The people who need to get the message include especially the Iraqis so that they understand any agreement is provisional until taken to Congress for approval and funding.  Furthermore, congress would be well-advised to pass legislation that says no money shall be used for said purposes as a pre-emptive strike, not merely “remind” Bush that he “should” treat the congress as a co-equal branch.  Don't whine, show some spine.

Re: Webb: No permanent presence without Congress’s consent.:

Bush recently announced a new, “enduring” occupation of Iraq, to be implemented without Congress’ approval. Today, Sens. Jim Webb (D-VA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Robert Byrd (D-WV), Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Carl Levin (D-MI) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) warned Bush against committing the U.S. to a long-term presence without congressional consent:

Romney's divisive break with the constitution

In spite of Romney's careful weaving and appropriate positioning of the role of faith vs public duty of elected officials when he said, “When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, that oath becomes my highest promise to God.”, we need to be aware of the myopic and dangerous vision he imparts as well, one completely at odds with the our Constitution and with the founding principles of this country to provide the blessing of freedom and liberty to all, not just to those of “faith”.

Romney may have said that there should be no religious test for office, but he certainly implied that there is a test to be a freedom-loving American: you must have religious faith in God.  That is unconstitutional, not true, and a declaration of war against non believers in America.  Another “charming” package behind whom lurks conservative tyranny.

Romney has declared his staunch support for a divisiveness in America is a good thing, that the oppression of others OK.

As even conservative pundit David Brooks put it,

From Neuhaus, Romney borrowed the conviction that faith is under assault in America — which is the unifying glue of social conservatism. He argued that the religious have a common enemy: the counter-religion of secularism.
When this country was founded, James Madison envisioned a noisy public square with different religious denominations arguing, competing and balancing each other’s passions. But now the landscape of religious life has changed. Now its most prominent feature is the supposed war between the faithful and the faithless. Mitt Romney didn’t start this war, but speeches like his both exploit and solidify this divide in people’s minds. The supposed war between the faithful and the faithless has exacted casualties.

The first casualty is the national community. Romney described a community yesterday. Observant Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Jews and Muslims are inside that community. The nonobservant are not. There was not even a perfunctory sentence showing respect for the nonreligious. I’m assuming that Romney left that out in order to generate howls of outrage in the liberal press.

The second casualty of the faith war is theology itself. In rallying the armies of faith against their supposed enemies, Romney waved away any theological distinctions among them with the brush of his hand. In this calculus, the faithful become a tribe, marked by ethnic pride, a shared sense of victimization and all the other markers of identity politics.

In Romney’s account, faith ends up as wishy-washy as the most New Age-y secularism. In arguing that the faithful are brothers in a common struggle, Romney insisted that all religions share an equal devotion to all good things. Really? Then why not choose the one with the prettiest buildings?

In order to build a voting majority of the faithful, Romney covered over different and difficult conceptions of the Almighty. When he spoke of God yesterday, he spoke of a bland, smiley-faced God who is the author of liberty and the founder of freedom. There was no hint of Lincoln’s God or Reinhold Niebuhr’s God or the religion most people know — the religion that imposes restraints upon on the passions, appetites and sinfulness of human beings. He wants God in the public square, but then insists that theological differences are anodyne and politically irrelevant.

Romney’s job yesterday was to unite social conservatives behind him. If he succeeded, he did it in two ways. He asked people to rally around the best traditions of America’s civic religion. He also asked people to submerge their religious convictions for the sake of solidarity in a culture war without end.

December 06, 2007

Re: The Ticking Lie Scenario

In some ways, this is the most important fact about the NIE: with Democratic control providing oversight, with progressive movement pressure,  in spite of the administration and its Republican enablers, enough pressure has been coming to bear on the system to begin to get government working in the public interest again.

Re: The Ticking Lie Scenario:

The NIE seems to have been made public as a result of pressure within the intelligence community. The new findings about Iran, if kept secret and distorted, might deeply affect the future of the United States; and so their release became a patriotic obligation. A similar motive can be heard in some recent court decisions and in public statements by leaders of the armed forces.

Romney's new “us versus them”

Clip: TAPPED Archive | The American Prospect:

What Romney's speech today seeks to do is construct a new “us versus them.” Where Huckabee was having some success making the us equal “Christians” and the them equal “Mormons,” Romney is making the us equal “believers” and the them equal “atheists.” The bet is that voters hate “secularists” more than they're unsettled by Mormons, and that if Romney can set himself up as the foremost opponent of atheists in public life, that will be more important than precisely which version of Jesus he believes in, or how many planets he'll be given to rule after his death. It's a speech calling for tolerance, that hinges on a public display of intolerance. It's classic Romney, and totally disgusting.

Romney makes no place at table for non-believers

Mitt Romney declares there is no place in America for those who don't believe in God.  In his entire framing of the issue and of his view of American liberty, it places the rest as second-class citizens with no claim to being part of his America.

Re: Romney's Speech, Annotated:

“Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.”

Furthermore, “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom”, which is obviously an attractive turn of phrase, is too facile but worse is self-evidently false.  What sort of historical proof is there that “religion requires freedom”?  Great oppressions throughout human history have been due to religion.  So although a pluralistic society incorporating multiple religions probably requires freedom, religion as commonly understood does not require freedom.

Does freedom require religion?  Not in the (as written) sense that only a religion can create freedom.  There are free societies that are not obviously based on a religion.  Rather, the reasonable formulation would be that freedom ... must allow for religions ... but that's basically by definition.  If it didn't,  we wouldn't really be free, would we?

More accurate would be “Freedom must allow religions (by definition) and religions require freedom in order to co-exist as co-equals.”

Update (12/7): EJ Dionne notes similarly:

Well. Religion can certainly be conducive to freedom. But does freedom require religion? Is religion always conducive to freedom? Does freedom not also thrive in far more secular societies than our own? Isn’t the better course for our nation to seek solidarity among lovers of liberty, secular as well as religious? After all, it was a coalition of believers and secularists, as the Princeton scholar Jeffrey Stout has noted, that sent a communist dictatorship tumbling down in Pope John Paul II’s native Poland.

When Romney says,

“Americans acknowledge that liberty is a gift of God, not an indulgence of government.

Obviously atheists don't ”acknowledge that liberty is a gift of God“.  I'm not sure Hindus (world's third largest religion) or Buddhists would see it this way.

Gods have been around a long time without giving liberty, including strains of Christianity.  They want freedom for them, but not necessarily for others.  The Christian right in America itself promotes its religion as superior and the basis from which all else should be based.  This is not liberty.

If from anyone, liberty is a gift of the Founders, a gift more fragile and requiring more upkeep than many of us realized growing up in the 60s and 70s, to our dismay in the last 30 years of religious attacks to present versions of Christianity as the ”true“ basis of being American.

It is easy to see how DemocratDad reaches this conclusion from Romney's speech:

Although he addressed the speech to all Americans, he was not talking to me when he gave this speech. Romney made it perfectly clear that as President he would represent non-believers like me with reluctance at best. We do not fit into his idea of Americans; we are an after-thought.

If the two political parties in this country are headed towards the conclusion that, as an atheist, I am not a true American, then my family and I will, in effect, be sent into political exile. For me (as for the ancient Athenians, who also valued political partipation as a part of the core of a person's identity), exile robs life of its meaning.

Romney, unwittingly or not, for reasons of political expediency or not, threatened me with political -- and therefore, for a non-believer, spiritual -- exile in his speech today.

December 05, 2007

Comedian Says Minnesota Run Is a Serious One


Re: Comedian Says Minnesota Run Is a Serious One:

“They were 11 when Bush became president,” he often says of young voters. “Some don’t remember that a president can be articulate. They don’t remember that the federal government worked. And the saddest thing was that they don’t remember that our country was well respected around the world.”

Re: In Iran We Trust?

Re: In Iran We Trust?

The Bomb-Iran crowd has regrouped using the usual right-wing misleading rhetorical devices to respond to the National Intelligence Report consensus report that determined that Iran has not had an active weapons program for years -- strawmen to bat down and fear-mongering.  But even so, they can't help revealing themselves.

The strawman starts off with the headline, “In Iran We Trust?”  Obviously this is not a conclusion drawn by the NIE or any other observer.  Right off the bat, they've put up a strawman that doesn't exist, in order to bat it down and make their opposition look like idiots and them smarter.  During the entire Cold War, we never adopted a “In Russia We Trust” position, why would any observer do so now?  They build this absurd position up to imply those who disagree with them believe that.

While making their case, they ask, “And why, by the way, does Iran even want a nuclear energy program, when it is sitting on an enormous pool of oil that is now skyrocketing in value?”  Well, if your mind wasn't clouded by single-minded fog of fear and war, it would be obvious: oil is their only significant export and they would be stupid to burn it up instead of maximizing its long-term value.  Their interest in nuclear energy is not just cover, but makes sense -- not itself an indication of threat as implied by the authors.

Now, to be clear, Iran continues to have elements that are a concern.  The point is that they are not an imminent threat.

Furthermore, it is significant that the NIE reported that the government of Iran is in fact subject to the same impulses as any sovereign nation: they wish to continue.  They are not nihilists nor outside-the-system types like al Queda.  They have a stake in continued existence.

However, the authors furthermore reveal their contempt for non-political intelligence work -- they want the intelligence to fit their fears and objectives, not meld the methods to the reality.  For example,

This situation is made all the more absurd by the report’s suggestion that international pressure offers the only hope of containing Iran. The report has now made such pressure nearly impossible to obtain. It is hardly surprising that China, which last week seemed ready to approve the next round of economic sanctions against Tehran, has now had a change of heart: its ambassador to the United Nations said yesterday that “we all start from the presumption that now things have changed.”

Gee, sorry the facts are inconvenient for us, but we need to work from the facts forward to policy.  Admittedly, the Bush administration unwillingness to use diplomacy or to do so effectively has set us back years and years across the globe, but let's not blame the intelligence agencies as a scapegoat.

It made the immediacy less urgent, but the other activities (centrifuging that can make weapon-grade materials, etc.) are still issues to be managed and pressure applied.  We have to work from those, real, threats, not manufacture threats that aren't there.

It may make it “harder” to operate in the reality-based world, but that's a consequence of the situation, not a failure of the intelligence estimate, but then again, the threat is lower.  In fact, if we'd taken the “easier” route to continued containment of Saddam, we would be in a better situation today -- we wouldn't have wasted a trillion dollars with almost 4,000 Americans killed and tens of thousands severely wounded, tens of thousands of Iraqis dead, distracted from doing the right thing in Afganistan, and on and one.

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