Sunday, May 31, 2009

The killing of Dr. George Tiller: Political murder is an especially abhorrent evil in our free society

Dr. George Tiller, murdered at his church on Sunday

The cold-blooded shooting death of Dr. George Tiller of Witchita as he attended Sunday services at his church is no ordinary murder. It's a political assassination that likely will have a substantial and long-lasting impact on the ongoing national debate about abortion -- to the detriment of the pro-life forces. It is they who will be saddled for years to come with the need to distinguish themselves from Dr. Tiller's killer.

Police have a suspect in custody already. No doubt, he'll proclaim himself a hero for stopping an abortion doctor who has long been a special target of anti-abortion radicals because he's one of a small number of practitioners willing to perfom late-term abortions. Tiller was shot once before, in 1993, but survived. Whatever this suspect says will likely make matters worse for the pro-life movement. That's monumentally unfair, of course. Pro-lifers are overwhelmingly peaceful, law-abiding citizens. There are only a handful of right-wing extremists in this country who are inclined to engage in violence. But it's a fact, nonetheless, that Americans are horrified by political violence of any sort, so that the actions of the handful can cast a shadow of doubt across a whole movement. The left in America has only recently recovered from the bad rap given to it by the few dozen bomb-throwing radicals in the Weather Underground and the Black Liberation Army.

Political murder is anathema to our constitutional democracy. We settle our differences through elections, representative government, and the rule of law. It is our ability to manage even the most emotional issues and conflicts in a peaceful and orderly way that distinguishes us (and a regrettably small number of other nations) from countries where disputes are settled with guns. It is what makes us different from and better than contemporary Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Burma, Bosnia, Congo, Zimbabwe, and so many others. When a single man takes a gun and shoots someone dead to make a political point -- whatever the issue -- the gun is aimed at all of us.

What do you think? Post a comment.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor will be confirmed handily -- but only after a nasty, if pointless, battle

Sonia from The Bronx with Barack from the South Side

Politics is all about numbers -- of votes. Barack Obama is a liberal Democrat from the South Side of Chicago. He won the election and has now nominated Sonia Sotomayor, a liberal Democrat out of The Bronx, to the Supreme Court. That's how politics works. Yet, many appear to be surprised or offended -- or pretend to be surprised or offended -- that Obama's Court pick is a liberal Democrat, rather than some sort of post-partisan, non-ideological, objective and dispassionate legal and judicial oracle who will apply and interpret the law without regard to Obama, Democrats, liberalism, The Bronx, Cardinal Spellman High School, other Puerto Ricans, women or her Mom.

Sorry, but the truth is that judges are politicians in robes. We Americans used to be more conscious and accepting of this obvious fact. When we were, ironically, appointees from the ex-Republican Governor, Earl Warren, to the distinguished Democratic law professor, Byron White, were more readily accepted and often turned out to be more independent and unpredictable.

Not surprisingly, Obama decided that he would get the most political gain for himself and his party by appointing a second woman and the first Hispanic to the Court. Sotomayor fit the bill. She also had the added advantages of a compelling personal story and long service in the federal courts. The latter gives her a paper trail of decisions and opinions that can be gone over with a fine-tooth comb by political allies and adversaries, alike, without setting off any popular explosions, giving Republicans a lot of ammunition to use against her, or gravely disappointing any major constituent group within his own party. In any case, few politicians will want to take it upon themselves to try to block the nation's first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice.

Let's be clear about this. Since this is politics, recognizing a major ethnic, racial, religious, political, sectional or other bloc on the Court is an exalted tradition, not a PC departure. For more than 200 years, Presidents have sought to "balance" the Court regionally and politically, and beginning with President Wilson's appointment of Justice Louis Brandeis in 1916, ethnicity played a role as well.

By all accounts, Sotomayor is a smart, experienced, diligent and reasonable judge. And while clearly a liberal, she's no fire-breathing ideologue, which has some on the left nervous about her. Barring some astounding skeletons in her closet that White House vetters missed, with Democrats holding 59 seats in the Senate, she is going to be confirmed. No Democrat will vote against her, and at the very least, several Republicans will vote for her. The odds of a filibuster are zero.

On the other hand, conservative forces outside the Senate appear to be intent on waging a rough battle against her. While they have little ammunition at this point (her impolitic comment that Latina women judges make better decisions than white male judges is the best they have so far), a full court press against her is already under way among some conservative bloggers (see here, here, here and here) and on-air personalities like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

To be sure, even conservatives who want a fight concede that they have no chance of defeating the nomination but want to use the confirmation process to lay down markers for the next Court pick. Be that as it may, revving up the GOP conservative base about Sotomayor will make it harder for some "red state" Republicans to avoid grandstanding against the nomination and voting not to confirm. It's hard to see, though, how more than about 15 GOP Senators would wind up voting, no, especially given concerns about alienating Hispanic voters for the future.

Like other confirmation battles in the past, this one will get nasty -- but unlike many, the outcome is a sure thing.

What do you think? Post a comment.

Queen not only one left out of 65th anniversary of D-Day; Canada wasn't invited either!

Canadian assault troops head to Juno Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944

Queen Elizabeth is said to be "fuming" that she was not invited to join Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Barack Obama, along with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, to mark the 65th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6th. It's hard to blame her, since it appears that Sarkozy was hoping to pull off a "Franco-American" affair that would put him in the spotlight with Obama, despite the nettlesome fact that only a handful of Free French troops under British command participated in the Normandy landings.

But there is a more glaring omission: no role for the Canadians!

The D-Day assault force included about 14,000 Canadian troops -- the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, the 2nd Canadian Armored Brigade and a battalion of Canadian airborne soldiers. The Canadians had responsibility for the landing on Juno Beach at the center of the British Second Army's zone. Fighting at Juno Beach was second in ferocity and blood only to that faced by the Americans at Omaha Beach. Casualties among the initial Canadian assault troops were 50% in the first hour of combat. In one sector where troops in the first wave had to cross 200 yards under German fire to reach the defilade of a seawall, only handful of men from an entire Canadian company survived.

After D-Day, many more Canadian troops poured into Normandy, fighting step by step with the Americans and Brits. More than 5,000 Canadians died in the Battle of Normandy.

If I were a Canadian, I'd be a lot more miffed than the Queen, particularly at the French, who played, at best, a bit part in their own liberation.

Thoughts about this? Post a comment.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Longing for a return to the good old days when America was liked? When exactly was that?

President Harry Truman introduces Winston Churchill at Fulton, Missouri, March 1946

So much has been said and written in recent years about the dim view of the United States around the world -- even in allied lands like Britain. Surely there are millions of fair-minded fellow English-speakers who would love to love the former colonies, as they did in olden times, if only America would right its ship of state?

There is little doubt that America -- and Americans -- were better liked and appreciated in many places, including Europe, during the decade that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union and the death of East European Communism, when Westerners generally felt optimistic about the possibility that serious global conflict was finally at an end. Then came 9/11, the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and rising world antagonism toward American policies and the Bush Administration. Pew Research's Global Attitudes Project documented a steep decline in favorable public opinion about the United States in many countries across the world. In Britain, Pew found that while 83% of Britons had a favorable opinion of the United States in 2000, a mere 53% held such a view in 2008.

So there you have it. Even the people we regard as our closest and most steadfast allies and with whom we have enjoyed a "special relationship" for decades have soured on America. It's not like the good old days when we were shoulder to shoulder fighting the Nazi threat!

Well, maybe, maybe not. In the course of reading this book (which I highly recommend), I came across a startling bit of public opinion data from Mass-Observation, an academic social research project that delved deeply into public attitudes in Britain about a host of topics during the Depression and World War II years and beyond. In March 1946, seven months after V-J day and less than a year after the capitulation of Hitler's Germany, only 22% of Britons held a favorable view of America, and the number declined further toward the end of that year. Twenty-two percent! And that was in the very month that the former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill spoke at President Truman's invitation in Fulton, Missouri, and called for the first time upon the "special relationship" between the United States and Britain to counter the evil of a new totalitarianism, as an "Iron Curtain" had descended across Europe. Not so "special" a relationship, apparently, if only one in five Britons thought well of their American cousins.

The news from Mass-Observation was better during the war -- but not all that much better. From 1941 through most of 1944, about 45% of the British people viewed America favorably -- twice as many as in 1946 but still less than that supposedly dismal 53% in Pew's 2008 poll. Only in 1945 -- the year in which millions of American soldiers flooded across Germany -- did a solid majority of Brits, 58%, give the Yanks the high sign. By the end of 1945, the good will already was waning fast.

There are a lot of good reasons for the mostly lukewarm to cool British sentiment during the war and immediately after. By 1946, the average Briton felt that Americans had emerged from the war richer and more powerful, while Britain was impoverished, enfeebled, and perhaps worst of all, in hock to the Americans. All that after Britain had led, bled and paid so much more than those Johnny-come-lately Yanks.

Whatever the reasons, it's striking that even though the US-British wartime alliance was likely the closest and most effective trans-national military effort in history, feelings were not all that positive and were vulnerable enough to post-war strains to plunge to that meager 22%.

Still, it should be noted that this alliance held fast to defeat the Axis Powers and firmed up again to resist Soviet expansionism without the benefit of wildly good feelings all around.

Any thoughts? Post a comment.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Gallup: Americans turn thumbs down on Pelosi's handling of interrogation issue

Speaker Pelosi: "The CIA lied to me."

(Hat tip: The Plum Line)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi is coming up a big loser in her credibility battle with the CIA. In a new Gallup poll, 47% of Americans disapprove of the way she has handled the interrogations issue, while only 31% approve. In sharp contrast, 51% approve of the CIA's handling of the matter, and only 31% disapprove.

To be sure, these results probably reflect the disparate support for Pelosi and the CIA going into the current bitter battle. Republicans in Congress get numbers basically as bad as Pelosi's and Congressional Democrats don't fare much better. Meanwhile, 59% approve of Obama's handling of this issue.

Even so, Pelosi is in a deep hole, and she seems intent on digging it deeper.

Any thoughts? Post a comment.

Obama pushes back on closing Guantanamo and relocating detainees to the U.S.

President Obama talks terrorism at the National Archives

In his much-anticipated speech on counter-terrorism issues, President Obama broke no new ground but offered a strong defense of his decisions to close Guantanamo, create a revised system of military tribunals to try some hard-core al Qaeda detainees, and transfer some detainees from Gitmo to highly secure prisons in the United States. He also took the opportunity presented by former Vice President Dick Cheney's delivering another speech on the same day castigating him for barring harsh interrogations to offer a tough defense of his actions.

However, there was nothing new in this speech. His principal aim seemed to be to push back against bi-partisan Congressional resistance to relocating any detainees to the U.S. no matter where they are housed, as well as opposition from the left of his own party to a renewal of military commissions in any form. If that resistence were to prove unrelenting, Obama's order to close Gitmo by next January would be impossible to fulfill. In my view, the speech was largely an effort to persuade Democrats and some Republicans to give him a chance to work out a system of tribunals that would try some detainees and land them in secure federal, prisons.

[T]he president promised to work with Congress to develop a safe and fair system for dealing with those Guantánamo detainees who cannot be prosecuted “yet who pose a clear danger to the American people.”

“I want to be honest: this is the toughest issue we will face,” the President said.

“I know that creating such a system poses unique challenges,” Mr. Obama said. “Other countries have grappled with this question, and so must we. But I want to be very clear that our goal is to construct a legitimate legal framework for Guantanamo detainees — not to avoid one. In our constitutional system, prolonged detention should not be the decision of any one man.”

Obama also confirmed that he will detain indefinitely some currently at Gitmo who cannot be tried and are too dangerous to release:

Finally, there remains the question of detainees at Guantanamo who cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people.

I want to be honest: this is the toughest issue we will face. We are going to exhaust every avenue that we have to prosecute those at Guantanamo who pose a danger to our country. But even when this process is complete, there may be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States.


These are people who, in effect, remain at war with the United States.

As I said, I am not going to release individuals who endanger the American people. Al Qaeda terrorists and their affiliates are at war with the United States, and those that we capture – like other prisoners of war – must be prevented from attacking us again.

A policy of indefinite detention will put him at odds with a large part of the left, whatever the legal justifications may be.

Of course, he blamed what he called the "mess" of Guantanamo on "hasty decesions" by his predecessor. Be that as it may, President Obama has found that he cannot close Gitmo without establishing much the same system of detention, sometimes indefinte, and trial by military tribunal somewhere else.

What do you think? Post a comment.

F.B.I., cops arrest four American Muslims in plot to bomb synagogues and shoot down airplanes

Busted: Muslim mope James Cromitie wanted to "do jihad"

Four Muslim men from Newburgh, N.Y. -- three native born Americans and one Haitian immigrant, at least three of whom are prison converts to Islam -- were arrested by the F.B.I. and New York cops late Wednesday as they began to carry out their plan to set off car bombs at two Bronx synagogues and shoot down military aircraft at Stewart National Guard Airbase near Newburgh.

Unfortunately for these mopes, the "bombs" and "Stinger missiles" in their terror arsenal were fakes supplied by the F.B.I. through an elaborate sting operation. In fact, the Newburgh four were closely monitored by the F.B.I. since a federal informant first learned of their desire to "do jihad" last June.

[New York City Police Commissioner Raymond] Kelly told Jewish leaders Wednesday evening that the attackers planned simultaneous attacks, and the men planned to leave the bombs in the cars in front of the two synagogues, drive back to Newburgh and retrieve cellphone-detonating devices and then proceed with the attack on the air base — simultaneously shooting down aircraft while remotely setting off the devices in the cars.
And according to a New York Daily News report:

The group's alleged ringleader, James Cromitie, according to the complaint, discussed targets with an undercover agent. "The best target [the World Trade Center] was hit already," he allegedly told the agent. Later, he rejoiced in a terrorist attack on a synagogue.

"I hate those motherf-----s, those f---ing Jewish bastards. . . . I would like to get [destroy] a synagogue."
This was a potentially very serious plot -- yet another in a string hatched by small groups of home-grown Muslim terrorists acting on their own. One of these days, such a group is going to get smart and (a) figure out how to get support from al Qaeda; and (b) learn that the guy at the mosque who offers to help supply weapons is usually the F.B.I. spy.

Any thoughts? Post a comment.

Obama vs. the Left, Part II: President considering preventive detention for terrorists

President said to be looking to the future

No sooner do I write "It's Obama, the Centrist, vs. the Left" than The New York Times reports that the President told human rights advocates at a private White House meeting that he's "mulling the need for a 'preventive detention' system that would establish a legal basis for the United States to incarcerate terrorism suspects who are deemed a threat to national security but cannot be tried."

Whoa. Something big is afoot here. The President has discovered that the nation needs to take extraordinary steps to defend its people. He's using his persuasive ways and his immense popularity to explore possibilities with likely dissenters to co-opt them or at least minimize their opposition. That won't be easy with this crowd:

The two participants, outsiders who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the session was intended to be off the record, said they left the meeting dismayed.

They said Mr. Obama told them he was thinking about “the long game” — how to establish a legal system that would endure for future presidents. He raised the issue of preventive detention himself, but made clear that he had not made a decision on it. Several senior White House officials did not respond to requests for comment on the outsiders’ accounts.

“He was almost ruminating over the need for statutory change to the laws so that we can deal with individuals who we can’t charge and detain,” one participant said. “We’ve known this is on the horizon for many years, but we were able to hold it off with George Bush. The idea that we might find ourselves fighting with the Obama administration over these powers is really stunning.”
Stunning, indeed. Still, I think Obama will be able to keep the bulk of the Democratic Party and a big slice of the commentariat behind him, even on preventive detention, leaving the left isolated.

What's your opinion? Post a comment.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

It's Obama, the Centrist, vs. the Left

The Commander-in-Chief makes a point

Tomorrow, President Obama will give a major speech on national security issues in which he is expected to hit back against criticism from former Veep Dick Cheney and also try to "quiet the ire aimed at him from the political left" over many recent decisions on war and counter-terrorism policies that have infuriated the left wing of his own party.

As I wrote back in November, Obama's choices of people to fill key national security posts pointed to his intention to shape national security policies that are " 'centrist' but, even more to the point, non-political, professional and pragmatic." And that has certainly proved to be true. Obama may attempt in his speech to mollify some of the bruised feelings among his supporters on the left or use Cheney's continued opposition as a foil to score some rhetorical points. But he may have already have crossed the Rubicon on a host of issues, guaranteeing distrust or even hostility in some left-wing quarters.

Writing in The New Republic, former Bush Administration lawyer Jack Goldsmith laid out 11 key elements of counter-terrorism policies where Obama has "copied most of the Bush program, has expanded some of it, and has narrowed only a bit." On detention, rendition, surveillance and even Guantanamo and interrogation, Goldsmith argues, Obama's programs are much the same as Bush's with some changes in emphasis and "packaging." By any reasonable standard, Goldsmith is right -- and that's the problem for the left, which is already, gradually but inexorably, moving into opposition to Obama. In fact, the tone of the language used by some left-leaning pundits and bloggers is already getting eerily similar to anti-Bush tirades.

Take Salon's Glenn Greenwald as an example. Essentially, Greenwald uses Bushie Goldsmith's testimony as proof positive that Obama is a veritable Bush III, not a "centrist." In a way, Obama could be worse than Bush:

What is most damaging about all of this is exactly what Goldsmith celebrated: that Obama's political skills, combined with his status as a Democrat, is strengthening Bush/Cheney terrorism policies and solidifying them further. For the last eight years, roughly half the country -- Republicans, Bush followers -- was trained to cheer for indefinite detention, presidential secrecy, military commissions, warrantless eavesdropping, denial of due process, a blind acceptance of any presidential assertion that these policies are necessary to Keep Us Safe, and the claim that only fringe Far Leftist Purists -- civil liberties extremists -- could possibly object to any of that.

Now, much of the other half of the country, the one that once opposed those policies -- Democrats, Obama supporters -- are now reciting the same lines, adopting the same mentality, because doing so is necessary to justify what Obama is doing.
Greenwald is a smart guy. He recognizes that it's one thing for the left to oppose the tough counter-terrorism policies of a conservative Republican Administration whose leader is not especially liked for many reasons by a wide range of voters who are not Republicans. It's quite another for the left to get any traction in opposing the same kind of policies of a liberal Democratic Administration whose leader is idolized by most Democratic voters.

The way out for lefties who want desperately to avoid conflict with Obama is to keep attacking Bush and Cheney -- and Cheney's front and center vocal opposition to Obama (he's giving a speech tomorrow too!) makes this an irresistible approach. Look for Obama to say something -- anything -- that will clearly distinguish him from Cheney and then watch left-leaning commenters sublimate their disappointment with Obama by having another go at Cheney. The always clever and inventive Maureen Dowd has an interesting twist on this fire-at-Cheney-not-Obama tactic. In her latest column, she imagines Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld hatching Machiavellian schemes to maneuver "the Boy Wonder" (Obama) into backing their policies, just as they supposedly did "Junior."

But the left's disappointment runs deep, and Obama would have to make sweeping changes in policies to satisfy them. He is simply not going to do that. And if Robert Gibbs' apparent cat-out-of-the-bag comment today pans out, the left will go berserk.

What do you think? Post a comment.

Interesting stuff on the Web -- May 20, 2009

If you're looking for a big scare, this "Nightmare Scenario" about Pakistan's nukes in Foreign Policy magazine should do the trick.

Yet another Kennedy is looking for a Senate seat. This Kennedy, though, is willing to challenge others for it and take his chances with the voters.

The voters having shot down by two-to-one margins a battery of tax-raising schemes to cover a huge deficit, Megan McCardle notes that "California is completely, totally, irreparably hosed."

At Donklephant, Alan Stewart Carl asks, "Why we are fat?" and puts the rap on growing portion sizes. But isn't this a chicken-egg thing? We, er, bigger people want big portions, don't we?

JammieWearingFool spotlights a story about why that out-of-control bully, Eliot Spitzer, was hated and feared by most people in Albany long before he became "Client No. 9".

Now, Bristol Palin is on the cover of People magazine with more "advice" for teens. As I blogged before, somebody needs to tell this kid to stay home -- like, maybe, her parents.

Check out these blogs. The Bipartisan Rules has smart writing -- and they really mean the "bipartisan" part. At Right Wing Nut House, which is neither right wing nor nutty, Rick Moran is producing some of the best political analysis and commentary on the GOP anywhere on the Web.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Now, the Democrats don't want to close Guantanamo!

It was inevitable, but even so, it comes as a bit of a surprise.

I posted way back on November 11 that if Obama closed Gitmo, we'd need another Gitmo to hold dangerous guys who no American President or Congress is about to turn loose.

I was off a bit, since at the time, I figured Obama would come up with some new tribunal system to try key detainees in the U.S., in effect, creating a new Gitmo. As it turns out, he and Democrats in Congress have just decided to keep the old one!

First, Obama announced that he is reviving the Military Commissions he placed on hold when he become President, with a few added due process protections for the detainees. And now, Senate Democrats have decided not to provide the funds to implement Obama's plan, whatever it might be, to close Gitmo:

And in a further break with Obama, the Senate's top Democrat said he opposes transferring any Guantanamo prisoners to the United States for their trials or to serve their sentences. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has said 50 to 100 Guantanamo detainees may be transferred to U.S. facilities.

"I can't make it any more clear," Reid said. "We will never allow terrorists to be released in the United States."

Amen to that, Harry.

Reid and company claim they are just holding back on the funding needed to close Gitmo until Obama shows them an "acceptable" plan. But since no one wants to do anything that could result in releasing any of detainees into the U.S. and other countries have so far refused to take all but a handful of the more than 200 remaining, Obama will have to be a magician to devise a plan that Congress accepts.

So that leaves us with at least many detainees to be held at Gitmo and tried at Gitmo before the Military Commissions proposed by Bush and established by Congress several years ago.

Any thoughts? Post a comment.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Newsweek's desperation business model: "If we can't sell it cheap, let's make it more expensive!"

(Welcome Le·gal In·sur·rec·tion readers)

And you thought DirecTV was just joking in this commercial poking fun at cable.

Newsweek magazine has been losing circulation and advertising revenue and bleeding money for years. As recently as 2003, it had a worldwide circulation of 4 million. That dropped to 2.6 million in 2008 and had been expected to fall below 2 million in 2009. The Washington Post Co. which owns Newsweek, admits that the former mass circulation news magazine lost $20 million in the first quarter of 2009 alone.

But Newsweek now has a plan to fight back. It's going to raise its price!

Yep, subscribers will be asked to pay about double what they pay now, and the newstand price will be jacked up another $1.00. Newsweek editor Jon Meacham says the revamped mag will build a smaller but more loyal and elite base of readers who will attract advertising aimed at an upscale demographic. Newsweek will no longer rely on reporting news but fashion itself as a journal of opinion and ideas -- liberal opinion and ideas -- along the lines of its increasingly successful (and far better written) British-based rival, The Economist.

Conservative blogger The Other McCain beat me to it in making the obvious point:

Notice that Meacham's idea is to publish a magazine resembling a magazine that he likes to read. Call it the Narcissus Reflecting Pool Theory of journalism: If the top editor admires a certain publication, then trying to imitate that publication must be a good business strategy. What you are doing, therefore, is producing a publication for your own editors, rather than for the readers.

Exactly. If you're looking for a magazine like The Economist, why wouldn't you just buy The Economist? That's what I've been doing for years. I can't remember the last time I looked at a hard copy of Newsweek except in a doctor's office. Or if you want liberal commentary, why not The New Republic, The Nation or a slew of strictly online outfits like Slate or Salon?

With this as Newsweek's survival plan, McCain adds:

My advice to Newsweek staffers: Update your resumes.

What do you think? Would you subscribe to the new Newsweek? Post a comment.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The real health care debate will start when seniors are paying attention

These are the folks who will decide health care reform debate

Everybody is for health care "reform," including me. Lately, though, there has been a lot of big talk about pushing a bill through Congress this year but precious little in the way of concrete proposals for how to pay for it.

Extending health insurance coverage to the roughly 50 million people who don't have it now (about 250 million do) will cost about $120 billion a year. President Obama included provision in his budget for $60 billion of that, but half of the funding he proposed was to come from eliminating much of the tax deductibility of charitable contributions. Congress has already ruled out that proposal, so we're in a $90 billion hole.

Another possible source of revenue that has some fans is to limit the tax deduction for employer-provided health care plans. But that has been ruled out by House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel. And no one is even seriously mentioning a new tax, because that would be shot down, too.

Where that seems to leave "reform" is hanging by the thin thread of cost reductions. People have been beating that drum for decades, but real cost savings have rarely materialized. Obama made a game effort to rally various health care players behind the idea of savings earlier this week. They all like the "idea" and supposedly pledged to find ways to cut a whopping $2 trillion over the next 10 years. Unfortunately, when some of them realized that Obama was actually putting these numbers out there, some of them said, "Oh we didn't mean that. Never mind!"

The truth is that extending health care coverage to 20% more people than have it today will either cost a great deal in the way of large-scale (and long-term) investments in increasing the numbers of health care practitioners and facilities to treat all those folks, or require some form of rationing, whether through added cost-sharing by patients or regulation.

The major forces driving health care costs are largely independent of the system of paying for it. They are a growing population; the aging of the population as quality care extends life; the high expectations of a prosperous population; and the continuous improvements in medical practice, technologies and therapies that make it possible to diagnose and treat more illness. None of this is going to change.

Even so, the Obama Administration and the Congressional leadership are totally committed to a change -- this year -- and simply cannot back away from it. They will, therefore, wind up hanging their hats on cost controls. That inevitably will mean new limits on services through Medicare and Medicaid and/or higher premiums, deductibles and co-pays for Medicare beneficiaries.

Here is my prediction: seniors are not paying much attention to this whole issue now, because they have health insurance. In all likelihood, they also don't think Obama and a Democratic Congress will monkey with their coverage. When they start to pay attention, watch out on Capitol Hill, because these folks vote. I mean, they ALL vote. And whether you're a member of Congress from New York, Florida, Texas or California, they will make your life miserable.

Have any thoughts about the sleeping senior behemoth? Post a comment.

CIA Director Leon Panetta fires back: "We told Pelosi the truth"

CIA Director Leon Panetta with his boss

In a letter to the agency's employees, CIA Director Leon Panetta fired back at Nancy Pelosi's charge yesterday the the CIA lied to her and mislead Congress:

Let me be clear: It is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress. That is against our laws and our values. As the Agency indicated previously in response to Congressional inquiries, our contemporaneous records from September 2002 indicate that CIA officers briefed truthfully on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, describing “the enhanced techniques that had been employed.” Ultimately, it is up to Congress to evaluate all the evidence and reach its own conclusions about what happened.
Today, some Democrats have been trying to muddy the waters to give Pelosi a hand after her disastrous press conference and explosive charge against the CIA by putting the "lying" charge on the "Bush Administration," not the CIA. But this won't fly because the memo detailing the CIA briefings of Congress came from the CIA headed by Obama appointee and Pelosi (former?) pal Leon Panetta. It was the release of this memo last week that forced Pelosi to change her story yet again and led to yesterday's presser. So when she charges the CIA with lying, she's charging Leon Panetta, at a minimum, with collaborating in and perpetuating that lying. Panetta is about to sit still for that, even if his initial public answer comes in the indirect form of a letter to employees. The spokesman for Panetta's agency is also standing by its account.

Any thoughts? Post a comment.

Obama decides to keep military tribunals to try some Gitmo detainees

January 22, 2009: President Obama signs order to close Guantanamo prison "within a year"

President Obama has decided to keep the system of Military Commissions established by Congress on President Bush's recommendation to try at least some of the approximately 240 detainees still held at Guantanamo. Immediately after taking office, Obama had suspended the tribunals, which he criticized sharply throughout his campaign, and ordered that the Gitmo facility be closed within a year. According to some reports, the Administration plans to try 10 to 20 "high value" detainees, like 9/11 planner Khalid Sheik Mohammed, before the tribunals after revamping them to give the detainees additional due process protections.

As with his decision to oppose the release inflammatory photos of alleged military abuse of al Qaeda prisoners, Obama is showing a willingness to backtrack on his earlier positions and to shrug off pressure from the left wing of the Democratic Party when necessary. In this case, after a close look at the lineup of al Qaeda thugs held at Guantanamo, he appears to have come to the conclusion that the safety and security of the United States demands holding them -- even indefinitely. Good for him.

As I noted back in November, when I posted,"Without Gitmo, we'll need...another Gitmo!", the Obama team was even then hedging its bets. On the one hand, they were sticking to Obama's campaign pledge to close Gitmo -- which he honored by his announcement on January 22. On the other, they were telling reporters that closing Gitmo might "require the creation of a new legal system to handle the classified information inherent in some of the most sensitive cases." That's pretty much what Obama has decided to do in reviving the Military Commissions but revising the way they will operate to better withstand the inevitable judicial review.

What's your opinion of how Obama is doing on this front? Post a comment.

UPDATE -- It's official. The Military Tribunals will be used.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Did Nancy Pelosi help derail the appointment of John Brennan or Jane Harman as CIA Director or boost Leon Panetta?

Pelosi and Obama pow-wow: did she advise him on CIA leadership?

I have no idea what the answer to that question is, but it's a question that should be answered now that Nancy Pelosi has admitted to lying about how much she knew as far back September 2002 about the CIA interrogations, while accusing the CIA of lying to Congress.

As I noted last December, Obama ran into a lot of resistance from the left of the Democratic Party to his naming anyone to the positions of Director of National Intelligence or Director of the CIA who was in any way connected to the intelligence activities that the left had vociferously opposed -- harsh interrogation, extraordinary rendition, "secret prisons" and alleged warrantless communications surveillance. Much of this strong sentiment came from among House Democrats, conspicuously from members (now numbering 71) of the Congressional Progressive Caucus to which Pelosi belonged before she became Minority Leader. Given this background, if I were Obama or his Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel (himself a member of the House Democratic leadership until January 2009), I would certainly not fail to seek the views of Pelosi and other key House Democrats before naming any new spy chiefs.

So let's assume that Obama or Emanuel asked Pelosi for her opinion. These questions should follow:

Did Pelosi help quash an appointment of John O. Brennan to be CIA Director?

Brennan is the CIA veteran who became Obama's principal intelligence advisor during the campaign and, as The New York Times reported, "was widely seen as Mr. Obama’s likeliest choice to head the intelligence agency" until he withdraw his name from consideration within weeks of Obama's victory. Even though Brennan had nothing to do with the harsh interrogations and said he had opposed the practice, his nomination was scotched because of opposition from the left to anyone "tainted" by having worked at the CIA during the post-9/11 years. If Rahm called Nancy to ask for her thoughts, what did she say? Did she give Brennan the thumbs down even though she may have known more about waterboarding than he did in 2003?

Did Pelosi help knock Rep. Jane Harman off Obama's list of possible CIA Directors?

It has been widely reported that Harman, once the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, was considered for the CIA post but was bounced from Obama's list "in part because of her early support for some Bush administration programs like the domestic eavesdropping program." Hmmm. So Harman, like Pelosi, was briefed by CIA about the harsh interrogations. Unlike Pelosi, Harman actually did object in a letter to the Agency but gets no credit from the left for that because she had the audacity not to oppose Bush across the board. To add insult to injury, at her presser today, Pelosi tried to associate herself with Harman's 2003 protest letter and get some credit for it, even though she did not sign it and was not mentioned in it.

There is a lot of bad blood between Pelosi and Harman, stemming from California politics and clashes in the House. Two years ago, Pelosi shunned Harman and named one of her cronies to chair the House Intelligence Committee. If she would publicly reject Harman for a House appointment, wouldn't she be keen to see that she did not get a major executive post?

Did Pelosi boost Leon Panetta for the CIA job?

Pelosi goes back a long way with Panetta. Both Californians, the two served in the House together for six years. And when both Senator Dianne Feinstein and Panetta were eyeing a race for Governor in 1998, Pelosi backed Panetta, a fellow member of a tight-knit group of northern California liberal Representatives.

While Senator Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, openly grumbled about not being consulted on Obama's nomination of Panetta to head CIA, Pelosi issued gushing praise for his "impeccable judgment and unquestioned integrity."

Don't get me wrong. Panetta's a great guy, and there is every reason to believe he can be a great CIA Director. Still, the name of a 71-year-old former White House chief of staff who was long retired from government and never held an intelligence position didn't just pop into Obama's head. His hat got into the ring somehow, and when it did, somebody asked Pelosi what she thought. There is nothing wrong with that, of course -- except now Pelosi has decided to weasel out of just admitting what she knew by opening up an attack on the CIA for lying to Congress. So it matters whether she favored some candidates to lead the agency and/or put the kibosh on others.

It should matter, anyway.

What are your thoughts? Post a comment.

Nancy Pelosi is a big liar

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As her ever-changing stories about what she knew about CIA harsh interrogation methods, including waterboarding, have been demonstrated to be lies, Speaker Nancy Pelosi today held a news conference at which she did two things:

(1) Admitted for the first time that her previous stories, indeed, were lies; and

(2) Claimed that CIA briefers lied to her in 2002.

She dressed up this serious accusation about the CIA by casting it as part and parcel of the Bush Administration's misleading Congress and the American people about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

So Pelosi is forced to acknowledge that she's be lying to us, to the press, and probably to her own Members for years, but shifts the headlines away from this confession by accusing the CIA of misleading her.

No doubt, she thinks that this stratagem will rally the Democratic left to her side, since the there are few targets the left likes to hit more than the CIA. Plus, the CIA will have to be constrained in its response, because it does still generally prefer to operate in secrecy, Nancy Pelosi is still Speaker of the House which holds the purse strings, the President will not be pleased by dragging out this dispute, and the Agency is now headed by a Democrat.

However, Pelosi is far from out of the woods. As WaPo's Chris Cellizza points out, she's adding more fuel to the fire. Republicans are not going to let the issue go away. And even if her shot at the CIA took the headlines today, at least some in the press are going to revisit the questions about her own credibility, given that she just admitted to lying this morning. And while CIA will have little to say officially, current and former CIA officials -- some of whom have just been accused loudly by the Speaker of gross misconduct or even breaking the law -- are unlikely to let this pass.

After all, who is she accusing? Not the mid-level briefers who were, in effect, messengers:

She is accusing George Tenet, then Director of the CIA, a Bill Clinton appointee who has until now held his tongue about this whole "torture" controversy.

She is accusing James Pavitt, a career officer who was Deputy Director for Operations at the agency during the period in question and may be best remembered as a guy who didn't much care for Bush.

She is accusing Stephen Kappes, another career officer who was Pavitt's top assistant in 2002-2003 and who Obama begged to stay on at the agency as Deputy Director under Leon Panetta.

She is accusing John McLaughlin, also a CIA professional, who held the second-in-command post Kappes has now from 2000 to 2004.

She is accusing John Brennan, a CIA veteran and counter-terrorism expert who was Obama's chief campaign advisor on intelligence and now serves as Deputy National Security Advisor in the White House. Brennan served as Deputy Executive Director of the CIA from March 2001 to March 2003.

She is accusing Cofer Black, a senior operations officer who headed the CIA's Counterterroism Center from 1999 through late 2002. Black played a key role in developing the response to 9/11 and no doubt had a hand in the enhanced interrogations.

Some of these guys are Republicans. Some are Democrats. All are professionals. None will appreciate being called liars and worse. Some will leak more stuff about Pelosi to the press. One or two may speak out publicly, to the extent the Agency will allow them. In any event, Pelosi's presser today will not be the last word.

Finally, it's important to keep in mind that whether Pelosi knew about waterboarding in September 2002 or February 2003, she is telling a bald-faced lie when she says there was nothing she could have done about it.

Although the specifics of the requirements to brief Congress about covert operations have changed several times in the past 33 years, the whole point of these requirements has been the same since passage of the Hughes-Ryan Act in 1974: briefing exists for the express purpose of enabling Congress to exercise its legislative and oversight authority by refusing to fund operations or forbidding them through legislation. Pelosi's claim that she was hamstrung by being bound to secrecy is nonsense. Nothing prevented her from proposing legislation. More importantly, nothing prevented her from proposing new limitations on CIA's secret budget that would have barred abuse of detainees.

In any case, the act of objecting strenuously to Tenet and threatening action would have been enough to stop the interrogation program in its tracks. Tenet would have known that to defy the House or the Senate would inevitably result, at a minimum, in leaks that would have outed a secret operation. The President theoretically could have ordered him to proceed anyway, but the interrogation program had been proposed by the CIA, so why would Bush intervene? If he did, he'd have found that a reluctant CIA is fully capable of dodging such orders (and even leaking the orders to Pelosi!).

The long and short of this is that Nancy Pelosi is a big liar who has now decided to make the CIA the whipping boy. My own view about why Pelosi and the others did not object is that at the time (2002-2003), they were just as concerned as anyone at the White House or the CIA about the possibility of a second attack on the U.S., in light of the void of information about al Qaeda, and were prepared to do whatever was necessary. They really ought to have the courage to own up to this. But of course, courage is not a common virtue among politicians.

What do you think of Pelosi's latest line? Post a comment.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

President Obama makes the right decision to fight release of detainee photos

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President Obama has reversed his earlier decision to accede to the release of photos depicting alleged abuse of detainees in U.S. military custody, and the Administration will now oppose their release in court.

Good for him. Obama said today that he made this decision because no interest would be served by releasing the photos, as demanded by the American Civil Liberties Union, and that publicizing them would only “further inflame anti-American opinion" and endanger American troops in the field.

Reaction on the right ranged from graceful commendation to smug satisfaction. WaPo's Chris Cillizza wrote a column entitled, "The Left Rises Up Against Obama," but based on my own quick review of a dozen major left-leaning websites, I'd say the reaction there was fairly tame -- except for a few well-known conspiracy-minded hysterics like this one. I get the feeling that leftie bloggers feel they have to write something critical to mollify their own "base," but realize that they can only beat up so much on a liberal Democrat who's been in office for three months.

In any case, Obama made the right choice, even if he had to make a highly public 180-degree reversal of himself in the process. Being President is vastly different from being a candidate for President. He now has the tremendous responsibility for protecting the nation and commanding hundreds of thousands of service men and women who stand in harm's way in two wars. Obama is showing that he's prepared to shoulder that burden.

What do you think of his decision? Post a comment.

Senators want to tax our soda -- but we've got lots of ways to stay fat!

The Senate Finance Committee can't out-smart these all-American boys who like their pie without sugary soda!

Senate leaders are looking into slapping a three-cent tax on soda and other sugary drinks as one way to cover the estimated $1.2 trillion cost of the new health care plan that President Obama and Congressional Democrats are keen to create this year. And the idea has its boosters:

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based watchdog group that pressures food companies to make healthier products, plans to propose a federal excise tax on soda, certain fruit drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks and ready-to-drink teas. It would not include most diet beverages.
Why soda, you may ask?

Proponents of the tax cite research showing that consuming sugar-sweetened drinks can lead to obesity, diabetes and other ailments. They say the tax would lower consumption, reduce health problems and save medical costs...

"Soda is clearly one of the most harmful products in the food supply, and it's something government should discourage the consumption of," Mr. Jacobson said.
Yeah, yeah. New York's Governor David Patterson was singing the same tune last December when he proposed, among a barrage or 88 new or higher taxes and fees, an "obesity tax" on sugared soda. The Governor's message was the same: lay off the Coke, unless it's sugar free. It's bad for you.

An astonishing number of otherwise sensible people jumped in to agree with Patterson that a tax on Coke, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper was just what the doctor ordered so that New Yorkers can shed the zillion pounds of fat we're carrying around.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof opined almost instantly to the effect that sugary drinks are the new cigarettes. Whereas "some scholars believe they have become a major source of obesity," he wrote, a daily dose of root beer will kill you dead. One such concerned scholar he relies on is -- I could not make this up -- "Barry Popkin, a nutrition specialist at the University of North Carolina and author of the excellent new book, 'The World Is Fat'." Despite such persuasive supporters, the Governor's proposal fizzled.

But here's the thing about all this: like millions of other Americans, I've been trying to lose -- or keep off -- some ugly, unwanted fat for years. But the number of sugared sodas I drank in the past three decades you could count on your fingers.

I don't need no damn Coke to stay fat! Give me ice cream, pasta, potatoes, fried chicken, candy, pie, cake, cookies, tarts, Danishes, bagels with cream cheese, ribs dripping with sauce, quiche, turkey with dressing, eggs benedict, more gravy, extra helpings -- and I can manage to stay quite fat enough, thank you.

In fact, thanks to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I already have to read the number of calories contained in every Starbucks muffin I eat. Now, the handwriting is on the wall:

-- First they taxed Coke, and I said nothing, because I didn't drink Coke.

-- Then, they rationed Cheetos, and I said nothing, because I don't like Cheetos.

-- Then, they banned Big Macs, and I said nothing, because I can live without McDonalds.

-- Then, they shut down Ben & Jerry's, and I still said nothing, because I always like Hagen Daz better.

-- Then, finally, they siezed all the Goobers, Raisenets, Snickers, Twizzlers, Milk Duds and Dots from all the movie concession stands, but all the other junk food addicts had gone on diets and I was too weak to resist.

Enough of this. I'm getting hungry. I need to go get a snack.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Obama sacks a general, hires his own; it's Obama's war for sure, now

Obama's guy: Lieutenant-General Stanley McChrystal

General David McKiernan got the heave-ho as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan and is being replaced by Lieutenant-General Stanley McChrystal, who comes out of the Special Operations Forces. This shake-up is a sure sign that President Obama has assumed responsibility for waging the Afghan war and has made some major decisions about how that's going to happen from here on.

Of course, the word is that General David Petreaus, head of the Central Command that oversees military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and McKiernan's superior, did not have confidence in McKiernan, and that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who is not shy about relieving generals, agreed. Nonetheless, it's not every day that a senior commander gets the boot in the middle of a the war he's running, and the shuffle could not take place without the President fully on board. I don't pretend to know what exactly the Obama-Gates-Petreaus-McChrystal strategy will be, but I am certain now that there is one and that Obama is committed to it.

That's a good sign. One of George W. Bush's greatest failings -- perhaps his greatest -- was his apparent inability to cashier generals or secretaries of defense or anyone else, even if the war was going badly (which is an understatement in the case of Iraq). He sacked Rumsfeld and hired Gates, who then gave the key command to Petreaus, only after three and a half brutal years and under severe political pressure at home in the wake of the 2006 elections.

There is an old adage that no war plan survives the first contact with the enemy. In war, flexibility is a must -- even the willingness to throw out every aspect of a plan and start all over. In these terms, this is a promising start for Obama.

What do you think? Post a comment.

Three cheers for Harold Ford, Jr. and Richard Cohen for talking sense on the "torture" debate

Three cheers for Harold Ford, Jr. for saying the obvious about the "torture" controversy.

Ford is a former Democratic Congressman from Tennessee who lost a Senate race barely in 2006 and now chairs the centrist Democratic Leadership Forum. He's been a talking head on Chris Matthews' "Hardball" and other MSNBC shows over the past couple of years. In that time, I often noted that Ford could talk more sense cogently in 60 seconds than you'd hear from most pols (not to mention MSNBC hosts) in a whole campaign. In the context of discussing Nancy Pelosi's constantly evolving story about how and when she was briefed about CIA harsh interrogation methods, Ford said this:

You have to remember when this was occurring. This is 2002, 2003. The country was in a different place, in a different space. And if you were to say to me, as an American, put aside my partisanship, that we have an opportunity to gain information that would prevent the destruction of an American city, to prevent killings in American cities, and we have to use certain techniques, I’m one of those Americans that would have voted a certain way, Chris. And that polling said it might have been torture, but I’m not as outraged.

Not surprisingly, Matthews reflexively accused Ford of "Cheney talk" and went on the muddy the discussion and try to put Ford on the defensive by dragging in Iraq and WMDs, but Ford held his ground on the main point: in the intelligence void about al Qaeda's structure, plans, methods, membership and leadership that existed after 9/11, no American President (or Speaker of the House or Congressman from Tennessee) would have left any stone unturned to be as sure as humanly possible that there would be no second attack.

Three cheers also for liberal Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen for his column posing the question, "What if Cheney's Right?" The money quote:

[Cheney] says he knows of two CIA memos that support his contention that the harsh interrogation methods worked and that many lives were saved. "That's what's in those memos," he told Schieffer. They talk "specifically about different attack planning that was underway and how it was stopped."

Cheney says he once had the memos in his files and has since asked that they be released. He's got a point. After all, this is not merely some political catfight conducted by bloggers, although it is a bit of that, too. Inescapably, it is about life and death -- not ideology, but people hurling themselves from the burning World Trade Center. If Cheney is right, then let the debate begin: What to do about enhanced interrogation methods? Should they be banned across the board, always and forever? Can we talk about what is and not just what ought to be?

Indeed, these are the right questions. The moral calculus involved in waterboarding Abu Zabaydah and Khalid Sheik Mohammed is not as clear as some would like it to be, when viewed as a grave matter of life and death for innocent Americans.

No doubt, President Obama understands this, which is why he wants to get past the "torture" debate and leave himself and his CIA some future flexibility to cope with terrorist threats. Now if only the rest of his supporters would show the good sense demonstrated by Ford and Cohen.

What's your opinion? Post a comment.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Miss Rhode Island's semi-nude photos didn't result in her losing her title

It seems that Miss Rhode Island/U.S.A., Alysha Castonguay, posed semi-nude for Maxim Magazine, but her exposure did not cost her her title, as may happen to Miss California, Carrie Prejean, because of this picture, which is a lot like the photos in Alysha's Maxim layout (see all of her pics here). Miss California could be stripped of her title as early as Tuesday. Reportedly, Donald Trump, who owns the Miss U.S.A. pageant, will make the call (wouldn't you know it would be The Donald).

Alysha is giving TV interviews in which she's throwing her support to Carrie. So is this a kind of post-feminist sisterhood thing?

My only immediate interest in this is having the chance to post these pictures.

What's your opinion? Post a comment.

Is the politics blogosphere just one big circle jerk?

cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Circle jerk -- A metaphor for any pointless group activity performed for personal gratification.

After writing this blog for six months, I've concluded that the same relatively small bunch of political junkies drive the politics blogosphere by reading each other's blogs to applaud, attack or otherwise comment on each other's posts in one big Internet circle jerk.

The way this works has been spelled out by The Other McCain, a clever writer and thoroughly entertaining right-wing blogger (not so many of them), in his five rules to get a million hits on your blog in less than a year (which he did). Important rules include:

- "Blogwhoring" to get Instapundit and other established sites with huge audiences to link to your blog;

- Making web enemies by knocking other bloggers (both those of your own political persuasion and opponents), so that they will hit back and send you hits in the process; and

- The The Full Metal Jacket Reach-Around (see Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket if you don't get the allusion), through which both political adversaries and friends feed each other's audiences for their mutual satisfaction. As McCain puts it, "hits is hits" whether they come from "linky love" or linky hate."

Actually, I first noticed this in the way other bloggers reacted to Andrew Sullivan, the once-upon-a-time liberal turned conservative turned liberal again, whose Daily Dish has been around for years. From 2001 to sometime in 2004, Sullivan was a fierce advocate of George W. Bush's anti-terror policies and the invasion of Iraq, for which he took daily heaps of abuse from the left side of the blogosphere. Then, Sullivan switched, opposing Bush, the Iraq war and the Bush "torture" policies with all the fervor of a convert. Now, the right wing seems equally obsessed with Sullivan, and blogs like this one rarely let a Sullivan post pass without slamming him and driving traffic to his Atlantic Politics Channel column. So I began to wonder if all these guys are following McCain's axiom, hits is hits. When blogging is your livelihood, it makes sense to feed your friends, former friends and enemies traffic, so they'll return the favor.

A better example: a few days ago, William A. Jacobson, a law professor and conservative blogger posted this on his blog, Le-gal In-sur-rec-tion, scolding MSNBC for its fawning coverage of Barack Obama and Joe Biden's burger outing and its apparent shielding of viewers from hearing Obama order Dijon mustard on his cheeseburger. Jabobson says he was mocking MSNBC for a silly reflexive effort to protect Obama's image. Instapundit dubbed the incident "DijonGate" with a link that tossed Jacobsen an avalanche of hits from sympathetic righties and offended lefties who promptly denounced the prof as a crazed wingnut. Sean Hannity, ever ready to pile onto any anti-Obama theme, took up the cause on his show, spawning more MSM and web comment. The Washington Post chimed in with a story about a "firestorm...raging" over Obama's choice of condiments. Never one to miss an opportunity for hits, McCain added his two cents, while summing up the linky love-linky hate scorecard:

Congratulations to Professor Jacobson. Traffic at his Legal Insurrection blog, which was about 37,000 visits in February, surged to more than 107,000 in just two days Thursday and Friday, because he dared to point out how dishonest news coverage has become.
Jacobson's site was also deluged by comments from the left and the right. His posts typically draw from zero to 10 comments, but his three posts about "DijonGate" have so far racked up 255! Based on a non-scientific review, I'd say at least half the comments were antagonistic, many mocking Jacobson as a "moron" (or attacking him in worse language) but many inexplicably defending Dijon mustard (it's American, made by Kraft, we eat it in Oklahoma, etc.). If the comments are an indicator of the politics of the total universe of visitors to the site, then 50% or more of his boost in traffic came from his enemies!

Even as that was happening, in a dandy Full Reach-Around, Jacobson (and other righties such as McCain, Hotair and Gateway Pundit were sending hits to the lefty blogs by linking to their knocks against Jacobson.

So maybe this whole politics blogosphere thing is one big circle jerk? We fight with the rhetorical gloves off and trash each other with abandon. But as long as you link me and I link you, we're all in the money. Even if there are only a few hundred thousand political junkies of all persuasions out there, as long as they are all hunting for ammunition to use against each other and repeatedly visiting a lot of sites of both friends and enemies, everyone can be happy.

But where does that leave blogs like The Purple Center, where reasoned comment of a generally centrist tone and quality is our watch word -- or Donklephant (where I sometimes cross post), known for its genuine bi-partisanship, or the others in the small contingent of Internet moderates (e.g., see here, here and here)? We've renounced bitter division and hyper-partisanship and won't truck with flaming or defaming, so what are we to do?

Well, one thing we can do is write posts like this one!

What are your thoughts about the circle of linky love-linky hate? Post a comment.