Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Omaha for Obama?

Shameless homer-ism here as I post an article from msnbc.com by Tom Curry (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24617264/) talking about how Nebraska's proportional allocation of electoral votes may put Omaha into play in the 2008 Presidential election. Yes, it's sad that I get excited when my home town is featured prominently in a national publication. And yes, I do get a little schadenfreude reading CongressBoy Lee Terry complain about how Obama might help turn Democrats out against him.

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Nebraska, Maine electoral vote split creates opening
Nebraska and Maine each split their electoral votes; they may be in play
By Tom Curry
National affairs writer
updated 10:38 a.m. CT, Tues., May. 27, 2008

WASHINGTON - On election night in the last two presidential elections political junkies have been obsessed with Wisconsin, Iowa, New Mexico, Ohio, and Florida.

Each of those state were decided by only a couple of percentage points, or a few thousand votes.

This year on the night of Nov. 4, instead of worrying about the margin in Milwaukee, or the absentees in Albuquerque, how about keeping an eye on Omaha?

While 48 states allocate their electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis, Nebraska and Maine allow for theirs to be split among different presidential candidates.

Nebraska has five electoral votes; Maine has four.

If a candidate wins the most votes in one of Nebraska’s three congressional districts, then he would get one of the state’s five electoral votes, even if he gets fewer votes statewide than his opponent.

The Democratic presidential candidate could win one electoral vote by carrying the Second Congressional District, which is anchored in Omaha.

Nelson sees potential in Omaha
“One electoral vote could be significant — it has been in the past,” said Sen. Ben Nelson, D- Neb., an Obama supporter. “It could be this time, and that would put Nebraska in play.”

Nelson and other Democrats think the Democratic presidential candidate could pick up one or more of Nebraska’s electoral votes this year. Nelson said his staff has already discussed this scenario with Obama campaign strategists.

And the man who represents the Second Congressional District, Republican Rep. Lee Terry, said he thinks Obama will be making a play for his district.

“Obama has an office in Omaha, so I assume he is competing for it,” said Terry.

He added, “It’s going to be pretty hard work (for Obama to win the district). I know of a recent poll that had McCain up by seven points in the Second Congressional District. But you never know what can happen in this district this year."

Terry asked, "Does it make sense for Obama to play? Yeah. Does it make sense for the Republican National Committee to ignore it? No, that doesn’t make any sense to me, but that’s what they’re doing. They don’t think they have to put any resources into it.”

He added, “If it drives up the Democratic vote, then it will have an impact on my race. We think that we’ve got enough of a cushion that we can absorb that, but I don’t like absorbing that. We’ve thought long and hard about the effect of Obama in this race on voter turnout.”

Nelson signed in to law Nebraska’s electoral vote-splitting bill when he was Nebraska’s governor. “I thought it would put Nebraska in play, plus I happen to think it’s a better way; I’ve never thought winner-take-all is the way to go,” said Nelson.

How 'winner-take-all' works
“Winner-take-all” means that if a candidate wins a state even by a small margin, he still gets all of that state’s electoral votes.

In a three-person race, he can win with less than 50 percent of the vote in that state.

In 1992, for instance, Bill Clinton, competing with George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot, won only 40 percent of the vote in Ohio. But Clinton got all of Ohio’s 21 electoral votes. This pattern was repeated in 29 of the other states Clinton won.

Does Nelson envision an Obama-in-Omaha campaign come October? “I certainly do,” said the Nebraskan.

If Obama is the Democratic nominee and if he selects Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. as his running mate, he could be in stronger position to win all of the Nebraska’s electoral votes.

But Hagel’s votes to outlaw some types of abortion, to ban marriage between same-sex couples, and to confirm conservative Supreme Court nominees Samuel Alito and John Roberts might make him unpalatable to Democratic activists.

A reality check is in order here. Nebraska has long been one of the most reliably Republican states in presidential elections. In 2004, George W. Bush won Nebraska with two-thirds of the vote.

Since 1940, a Democrat presidential candidate has carried Nebraska only once: Lyndon Johnson in 1964. The only other Democrat who came close was Harry Truman in 1948, when he got 46 percent.

And there may be a bit of bluff or decoy in the Obama/Omaha concept. Campaign strategists sometimes like their opponents to think that a state is competitive when it really is not.

Come October, it will become clearer, assuming Obama is the Democratic nominee and if TV viewers in Omaha begin seeing his ads.

Iowa, Nebaska's next-door neighbor, is certain to be a competitive state this fall. Bush won Iowa by only 10,000 votes, less than one percent, in 2004.

So an Omaha strategy for the Democrats has a certain logic. A TV ad on NBC's Omaha affiliate WOWT would reach about 97,000 households in western Iowa.

McCain competitive in Maine?
As for Maine, maverick third-party candidate Ross Perot came within four percentage points of carrying the state’s Second Congressional District and thus getting one electoral vote in 1992.

Is it feasible for McCain to try to get one of Maine's electoral votes?

Veteran Maine Republican campaign strategist Roy Lenardson said, “I don’t see how McCain could walk away from taking a second look” at the Second Congressional District, which is largely rural, less affluent, and more conservative than the state’s First District, which includes the city of Portland.

“It comes down what is the power of one? Is it worth spending $1 million for one electoral vote?” Lenardson asked.

He explained that biggest city in the Second District, Bangor, has a relatively inexpensive media market.

A television ad buy of “between $50,000 and $100,000 would get you up on the air for a week in a big way” in the Bangor media market, Lenardson said.

He added that McCain’s strong alliance with Maine’s two Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, would help him in the state. Snowe was re-elected with 74 percent of the vote in 2006; Collins faces Democrat Tom Allen in her re-election bid this fall.

© 2008 MSNBC Interactive

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Not-So-Good War?

Fascinating article by Richard Bernstein of the International Herald-Tribune (http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/05/21/america/letter.php) reviewing new books and new thoughts about World War II. The basic premise of this new line of thinking is that WWII wasn't quite the black-and-white, good-versus-evil conflict that we're always presented it to be. Rather, the thinking goes, much of the conflict was generated by the Allies' arrogance and warmongering.

It's strong stuff, to be sure, and I think it's a safe bet Barack Obama won't be touching it with a ten foot pole. But it really is interesting to re-think some of the icons and stories that we think we know already. Perhaps those longing for a "good war" should be reminded that there are shades of gray in everything.

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Rethinking Churchill and the Allied warmongers
By Richard Bernstein

Wednesday, May 21, 2008
NEW YORK: World War II, we know on good authority, was unnecessary, the authority being none other than Winston Churchill. By unnecessary Churchill meant that if the Allies' appeasement of Hitler hadn't taken place earlier, the war wouldn't have to have been to fought later.

Now, in this country at least, a current of opinion is gaining strength that stands Churchill on his head. It wasn't appeasement that brought about the disaster of the conflict, but warmongering on the part of the Allied leaders, Churchill first and foremost among them.

The new revisionism makes no excuses for Hitler, but it sees the war through a lens of moral relativism: Yes, the Nazis were evil, but so were the Allies, whose leaders were mendacious, committed unspeakable atrocities and hoodwinked the public into believing that the war was a noble one, fought on behalf of decency and against an evil more colossal than any previous evil in human history.

For those of us, including myself, who have long believed that the Allied war effort was indeed noble, it might seem that such a point of view could only emanate from the dank quarters of some lunatic fringe, perhaps holed up in a Rocky Mountain redoubt and eating conspiracy theories for breakfast.

But on the contrary, the view seems to be the province of entirely respectable and thoughtful people of literary bent. The most visible proponent of the unnecessary war theory is the novelist Nicholson Baker, an accomplished, gentle and entirely civilized man, whose book "Human Smoke" has made him a darling of leftist critics of the American role in the world.

"Baker shows, step by step, how an alliance dominated by leaders who were bigoted, far more opposed to Communism than to fascism, obsessed with arms sales and itching for a fight coerced the world into war," Mark Kurlansky, whose own books include cultural histories of codfish and salt, wrote in a review of "Human Smoke" that appeared in the entirely mainstream Los Angeles Times Book Review.

Similarly, another novelist, Colm Toibin, writing in The New York Times Sunday Book Review, highly praised Baker's work, calling it "a serious and conscientious contribution to the debate on pacifism."

More is coming along the anti-Churchillian lines. Patrick Buchanan, the conservative commentator and two-time presidential candidate, launches a sustained attack on Churchill in a new, lengthy book, "Churchill, Hitler, and 'The Unnecessary War': How Britain Lost the Empire and the West Lost the World," which will be out later this month.

Let's, in light of this trend, examine for a moment the idea that the United States should have stayed out of the European war. If that had happened, the Hitlerites surely would have conquered all of Europe, minus Britain. There would have been more mass murder of "inferior" peoples. There would also have been no morally tainted alliance with Stalin, no 40-year Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, no firebombings of German cities like Hamburg and Dresden, and no deaths among American soldiers.

Buchanan goes further, arguing (as numerous others have on this point) that had imperialist France and Britain not forced an unjust peace settlement on Germany after World War I, there would have been no rise of Hitler in the first place, no World War II, and no resulting Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.

The Baker/Buchanan argument is a collective refutation of the views of more mainstream historians - presumably those taken in by what Kurlansky calls "one of the biggest and most carefully plotted lies in modern history" - namely, that the war was a good one encouraged by the weak-kneed appeasement that happened before Churchill came to power.

Among those historians is the Budapest-born John Lukacs, who has written several books on Churchill and the origins of World War II, including a new one called "Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat: The Dire Warning." (All of these books, plus one more, were the subject of a recent essay by Geoffrey Wheatcroft in The New York Review of Books).

Lukacs charges that both Baker's and Buchanan's work is full of half-truths, partial and selective samplings of the historical record that, to those not in command of the facts, might seem convincing.

For example, there have long been those in Britain who have argued that, in fact, Hitler posed no direct treat to Britain or to the empire - yet Churchill's policy of total war and unconditional surrender ruled out any possibility of a negotiated peace.

It's true, Lukacs said in a recent telephone interview, that Hitler had no grand designs on the British Empire, but what Churchill understood, Lukacs continued, is that without the United States in the war, Hitler would have won it, and German domination of the rest of Europe would have meant a Britain that was "at best a junior partner of Germany."

To re-examine old assumptions, including almost universally held ones, is of course a good thing, a strength of democracy. But the most radical of the critiques of the Allied leaders - exemplified by Kurlansky's amazing characterization of them as warmongering, arms-selling bigots - seem to illustrate the old notion of the perfect being the enemy of the good.

It may be true that Churchill was an arch-imperialist whose advocacy of tough policies on Germany after World War I was dreadfully mistaken (though, as Wheatcroft points out, recent scholarship indicates that the Treaty of Versailles wasn't actually as onerous as many have believed.) But Churchill and Roosevelt faced the very imminent prospect of a Europe conquered by a genocidal evil genius - not a social anti-Semite worried, as Roosevelt apparently was, that there were too many Jews at Harvard.

"Hitler and the Germans were an extraordinary people," Lukacs said, summing up the argument against pacifism.

"They would probably have defeated Russia, and they probably would have been unbeatable without the Americans in the war," he said.

As for the devil's alliance with Stalin, Lukacs said, "Churchill was very consistent. Either Germany dominates all Europe, or the Russians will dominate half of Europe, and half of Europe is better than none, especially the western half."

Monday, May 12, 2008

Torture - not a good idea

It's a recurring theme here, but it's one that can't be repeated enough. This interaction is taken from Ali Frick of Think Progress (http://www.alternet.org/blogs/peek/84810/), but it quotes a House Subcommittee hearing where Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind) is asking Phillipe Sands about torture. Specifically, snidely, and almost assuredly with a line written for him, Rep. Pence asks if "Oprah Winfrey" methods of interrogation could possibly be successful against the bad guys of the world.

Sands, who is an international lawyer and done quite a bit of research on the issue, knocks the question out of the park. The big takeaway is that the United Kingdom did what we're doing now in fighting the IRA back in the 1970's. Sands said there was broad consensus in the UK that those tactics extended the struggle by 15 to 20 years.

He explains very succinctly why torture doesn't work, why using the phrase "war on terror" ends up doing more harm than good, and ultimately exposing the testoterone-drenched fraud that is our current policy. It's good to get the white male demographic excited and voting, but not so good at other things, like keeping the country safe.

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REP. MIKE PENCE (R-IN): Some have said relationship-building interrogation techniques are preferable and even more reliable in the long run than stress methods. They raise the question though, what about the hard cases? Like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was a mastermind of this a September 11 attacks in this country. How would you respond to the observation that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed probably is not susceptible to relationship-building methods? I can tell by your grin that you acknowledge the somewhat absurd thought that you could move people who have masterminded the death of 3,000 Americans by Oprah Winfrey methods. How would you have sought, how do you think the United States should seek to gain information from a mastermind like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed if he refuses to answer questions voluntarily, when additional American lives could be on the line with information that he is refusing to provide?

PHILLIPE SANDS: Thank you, sir. I very much appreciate that question. That question seems to go to the heart of many of the issues we’re discussing. I’m not sure how thrilled Oprah Winfrey would be to the characterization of her method in that way. I think I’ve got to say by way of outset, I come from a country which spent 15 years involved in facing terrorism on the streets. I grew up in a country where my mother wouldn’t let me go shopping on Oxford Street because bombs were going off at times on a weekly basis. That experience has had a very profound effect on how the United Kingdom addresses precisely the question you have addressed. The thinking in the British military and the thinking across the board politically — it’s is really not a left right issue, it is a broad consensus in the United Kingdom — is that coercion doesn’t work. That the experience of the United Kingdom, which moved in the early 1970’s to use techniques that were very similar to those that were used on Detainee 063, putting stress positions, humiliation, and so on and so forth, didn’t not work. The view is taken in the united Kingdom that it extended the conflict with the IRA probably by between 15 and 20 years. Because what it did was that it outraged the community that was associated with those who were subject to these particular techniques. It created a breeding ground, a recruiting ground which made it impossible for the British government to persuade those who were associated with the IRA but had not crossed the line into the use of violence into thinking in another way. And so, in answering your question, I am profoundly influenced by that experience. One of the great regrets that I have is that the administration never seemed to turn for advice to its closest allies, and to ask them, What was your experience when you faced a similar situation? The answer they would have gotten from whatever government it was, Conservative or Labour, is, Don’ t go down the route of using coercion and don’ t call it a “war on terror.” Why? Because by calling it a “war on terror” you transform criminals into warriors. And you create a context in which they are able to recruit in their struggle. If you notice, neither Prime Minister Blair nor Prime Minister Brown, nor any Conservative leader of the opposition, ever uses the phrase “war on terror,” because of the experience with the IRA.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

A hidden scandal?

Lost in the palaver (love that word) of the Democratic nomination fight is a fascinating story about John McCain and how the current President is helping to make sure that he doesn't have a huge problem with the Federal Election Commission. You see, McCain initially accepted public financing, and used that financing to get himself a loan. Then, he decided he wasn't going to accept public financing any more, but kept the loan anyway.

Sounds fishy, to be sure. The FEC Chairman, David Mason, notified McCain that the loan and subsequent "opt out" might be illegal. So, in keeping with the current President's history, he fired Mason. Now in an editorial from the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/08/opinion/08thu4.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss), the question is raised as to whether the replacement for Mason will be a yes-man for the Republicans and make this little "problem" of McCain's go away.

Look, I don't know a lot about election law. But I know when something smells like a cover-up. And I am confident that once attention is focused on McCain, his "straight-talk" sham is going to fall apart like a house of cards.

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Crippled Election Commission
Published: May 8, 2008

The White House is removing a member of the Federal Election Commission for standing up for clean elections, while trying to install another member whose specialty is keeping eligible voters from casting ballots. The Senate, which must confirm nominees, should insist that President Bush appoint commissioners with a proven record of supporting voting rights and fair elections.

Mr. Bush is purging the current F.E.C. chairman, David Mason, presumably because he was responsible enough to challenge the funding machinations of Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign. Mr. Mason shocked his fellow Republicans by notifying Mr. McCain that he might run afoul of the law by switching from public funding to private donations once he secured the party’s nomination.

The White House proposes to replace Mr. Mason with Donald McGahn, a Republican warhorse. F.E.C. commissioners are expected to be aligned with a party — one of the new Democratic nominees is a staff member of Senator Charles Schumer of New York — but Mr. McGahn has a particularly partisan background. He was the party’s Congressional campaign counsel — and the ethics lawyer for Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader from Texas who left office under multiple clouds.

The six-member commission, which now has four vacancies, has been rendered inoperable. If it is to perform its role as referee of national elections, it urgently needs a full complement — and it needs commissioners with the sort of professionalism displayed by Mr. Mason.

Senate Democrats should push for someone more suitable than Mr. McGahn, and they should continue to oppose Hans von Spakovsky, a terrible nominee with a record as a Justice Department lawyer of aggressive partisanship and opposition to minority voting rights.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

McCain v. McCain

At the risk of becoming a groupie, here's another brilliant article from Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek (www.newsweek.com/id/134317) describing John McCain's foreign policy positions. Zakaria points out the internal inconsistencies of his proposals - part realist wonk, part neoconservative bomb-thrower. Of course, you can't do both, and Zakaria makes the comparison to the current President and his divided cabinet. We all saw how well that went.

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Mccain Vs. Mccain
He seems to think he can magically unite the two main strands in the foreign-policy establishment. He can't.

Fareed Zakaria
NEWSWEEK
Updated: 2:03 PM ET Apr 26, 2008
Amid the din of the dueling democrats, people seem to have forgotten about that other guy in the presidential race—you know, John McCain. McCain is said to be benefiting from this politically because his rivals are tearing each other apart. In fact, few people are paying much attention to what the Republican nominee is saying, or subjecting it to any serious scrutiny.

On March 26, McCain gave a speech on foreign policy in Los Angeles that was billed as his most comprehensive statement on the subject. It contained within it the most radical idea put forward by a major candidate for the presidency in 25 years. Yet almost no one noticed.

In his speech McCain proposed that the United States expel Russia from the G8, the group of advanced industrial countries. Moscow was included in this body in the 1990s to recognize and reward it for peacefully ending the cold war on Western terms, dismantling the Soviet empire and withdrawing from large chunks of the old Russian Empire as well. McCain also proposed that the United States should expand the G8 by taking in India and Brazil—but pointedly excluded China from the councils of power.

We have spent months debating Barack Obama's suggestion that he might, under some circumstances, meet with Iranians and Venezuelans. It is a sign of what is wrong with the foreign-policy debate that this idea is treated as a revolution in U.S. policy while McCain's proposal has barely registered. What McCain has announced is momentous—that the United States should adopt a policy of active exclusion and hostility toward two major global powers. It would reverse a decades-old bipartisan American policy of integrating these two countries into the global order, a policy that began under Richard Nixon (with Beijing) and continued under Ronald Reagan (with Moscow). It is a policy that would alienate many countries in Europe and Asia who would see it as an attempt by Washington to begin a new cold war.

I write this with sadness because I greatly admire John McCain, a man of intelligence, honor and enormous personal and political courage. I also agree with much of what else he said in that speech in Los Angeles. But in recent years, McCain has turned into a foreign-policy schizophrenic, alternating between neoconservative posturing and realist common sense. His speech reads like it was written by two very different people, each one given an allotment of a few paragraphs on every topic.

The neoconservative vision within the speech is essentially an affirmation of ideology. Not only does it declare war on Russia and China, it places the United States in active opposition to all nondemocracies. It proposes a League of Democracies, which would presumably play the role that the United Nations now does, except that all nondemocracies would be cast outside the pale. The approach lacks any strategic framework. What would be the gain from so alienating two great powers? How would the League of Democracies fight terrorism while excluding countries like Jordan, Morocco, Egypt and Singapore? What would be the gain to the average American to lessen our influence with Saudi Arabia, the central banker of oil, in a world in which we are still crucially dependent on that energy source?

The single most important security problem that the United States faces is securing loose nuclear materials. A terrorist group can pose an existential threat to the global order only by getting hold of such material. We also have an interest in stopping proliferation, particularly by rogue regimes like Iran and North Korea. To achieve both of these core objectives—which would make American safe and the world more secure—we need Russian cooperation. How fulsome is that likely to be if we gratuitously initiate hostilities with Moscow? Dissing dictators might make for a stirring speech, but ordinary Americans will have to live with the complications after the applause dies down.

To reorder the G8 without China would be particularly bizarre. The G8 was created to help coordinate problems of the emerging global economy. Every day these problems multiply—involving trade, pollution, currencies—and are in greater need of coordination. To have a body that attempts to do this but excludes the world's second largest economy is to condemn it to failure and irrelevance. International groups are not cheerleading bodies but exist to help solve pressing global crises. Excluding countries won't make the problems go away.

McCain appears to think that he can magically unite the two main strands in the Republican foreign-policy establishment. But he can't. This is not about personalities but about two philosophically divergent views of international affairs. Put together, they will produce infighting and incoherence. We have seen this movie before. We have watched an American president unable to choose between his ideologically driven vice president and his pragmatic secretary of State—and the result was the catastrophe of George W. Bush's first term. Twenty-five years earlier, we watched another president who believed that he could encompass the entire spectrum of foreign policy. He, too, gave speeches that were drafted by advisers with divergent world views: in that case, Cyrus Vance and Zbigniew Brzezinski. It led to the paralyzing internal battles of the Carter years. Does John McCain want to try this experiment one more time?

URL: http://www.newsweek.com/id/134317

Monday, May 05, 2008

The rise of the rest

Brilliant article by Fareed Zakaria from Newsweek (http://www.newsweek.com/id/135380) talking about the changing global structure, and how the United States can benefit from the globalization of the world to make it more peaceful and prosperous, and ensure our strength within it. Whether we will or not, of course, is a separate and far more pernicious question.

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The Rise of the Rest
It's true China is booming, Russia is growing more assertive, terrorism is a threat. But if America is losing the ability to dictate to this new world, it has not lost the ability to lead.

Fareed Zakaria
NEWSWEEK
Updated: 2:24 PM ET May 3, 2008
Americans are glum at the moment. No, I mean really glum. In April, a new poll revealed that 81 percent of the American people believe that the country is on the "wrong track." In the 25 years that pollsters have asked this question, last month's response was by far the most negative. Other polls, asking similar questions, found levels of gloom that were even more alarming, often at 30- and 40-year highs. There are reasons to be pessimistic—a financial panic and looming recession, a seemingly endless war in Iraq, and the ongoing threat of terrorism. But the facts on the ground—unemployment numbers, foreclosure rates, deaths from terror attacks—are simply not dire enough to explain the present atmosphere of malaise.

American anxiety springs from something much deeper, a sense that large and disruptive forces are coursing through the world. In almost every industry, in every aspect of life, it feels like the patterns of the past are being scrambled. "Whirl is king, having driven out Zeus," wrote Aristophanes 2,400 years ago. And—for the first time in living memory—the United States does not seem to be leading the charge. Americans see that a new world is coming into being, but fear it is one being shaped in distant lands and by foreign people.

Look around. The world's tallest building is in Taipei, and will soon be in Dubai. Its largest publicly traded company is in Beijing. Its biggest refinery is being constructed in India. Its largest passenger airplane is built in Europe. The largest investment fund on the planet is in Abu Dhabi; the biggest movie industry is Bollywood, not Hollywood. Once quintessentially American icons have been usurped by the natives. The largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore. The largest casino is in Macao, which overtook Las Vegas in gambling revenues last year. America no longer dominates even its favorite sport, shopping. The Mall of America in Minnesota once boasted that it was the largest shopping mall in the world. Today it wouldn't make the top ten. In the most recent rankings, only two of the world's ten richest people are American. These lists are arbitrary and a bit silly, but consider that only ten years ago, the United States would have serenely topped almost every one of these categories.

These factoids reflect a seismic shift in power and attitudes. It is one that I sense when I travel around the world. In America, we are still debating the nature and extent of anti-Americanism. One side says that the problem is real and worrying and that we must woo the world back. The other says this is the inevitable price of power and that many of these countries are envious—and vaguely French—so we can safely ignore their griping. But while we argue over why they hate us, "they" have moved on, and are now far more interested in other, more dynamic parts of the globe. The world has shifted from anti-Americanism to post-Americanism.

I. The End of Pax Americana
During the 1980s, when I would visit India—where I grew up—most Indians were fascinated by the United States. Their interest, I have to confess, was not in the important power players in Washington or the great intellectuals in Cambridge.

People would often ask me about … Donald Trump. He was the very symbol of the United States—brassy, rich, and modern. He symbolized the feeling that if you wanted to find the biggest and largest anything, you had to look to America. Today, outside of entertainment figures, there is no comparable interest in American personalities. If you wonder why, read India's newspapers or watch its television. There are dozens of Indian businessmen who are now wealthier than the Donald. Indians are obsessed by their own vulgar real estate billionaires. And that newfound interest in their own story is being replicated across much of the world.

How much? Well, consider this fact. In 2006 and 2007, 124 countries grew their economies at over 4 percent a year. That includes more than 30 countries in Africa. Over the last two decades, lands outside the industrialized West have been growing at rates that were once unthinkable. While there have been booms and busts, the overall trend has been unambiguously upward. Antoine van Agtmael, the fund manager who coined the term "emerging markets," has identified the 25 companies most likely to be the world's next great multinationals. His list includes four companies each from Brazil, Mexico, South Korea, and Taiwan; three from India, two from China, and one each from Argentina, Chile, Malaysia, and South Africa. This is something much broader than the much-ballyhooed rise of China or even Asia. It is the rise of the rest—the rest of the world.

We are living through the third great power shift in modern history. The first was the rise of the Western world, around the 15th century. It produced the world as we know it now—science and technology, commerce and capitalism, the industrial and agricultural revolutions. It also led to the prolonged political dominance of the nations of the Western world. The second shift, which took place in the closing years of the 19th century, was the rise of the United States. Once it industrialized, it soon became the most powerful nation in the world, stronger than any likely combination of other nations. For the last 20 years, America's superpower status in every realm has been largely unchallenged—something that's never happened before in history, at least since the Roman Empire dominated the known world 2,000 years ago. During this Pax Americana, the global economy has accelerated dramatically. And that expansion is the driver behind the third great power shift of the modern age—the rise of the rest.

At the military and political level, we still live in a unipolar world. But along every other dimension—industrial, financial, social, cultural—the distribution of power is shifting, moving away from American dominance. In terms of war and peace, economics and business, ideas and art, this will produce a landscape that is quite different from the one we have lived in until now—one defined and directed from many places and by many peoples.

The post-American world is naturally an unsettling prospect for Americans, but it should not be. This will not be a world defined by the decline of America but rather the rise of everyone else. It is the result of a series of positive trends that have been progressing over the last 20 years, trends that have created an international climate of unprecedented peace and prosperity.

I know. That's not the world that people perceive. We are told that we live in dark, dangerous times. Terrorism, rogue states, nuclear proliferation, financial panics, recession, outsourcing, and illegal immigrants all loom large in the national discourse. Al Qaeda, Iran, North Korea, China, Russia are all threats in some way or another. But just how violent is today's world, really?

A team of scholars at the University of Maryland has been tracking deaths caused by organized violence. Their data show that wars of all kinds have been declining since the mid-1980s and that we are now at the lowest levels of global violence since the 1950s. Deaths from terrorism are reported to have risen in recent years. But on closer examination, 80 percent of those casualties come from Afghanistan and Iraq, which are really war zones with ongoing insurgencies—and the overall numbers remain small. Looking at the evidence, Harvard's polymath professor Steven Pinker has ventured to speculate that we are probably living "in the most peaceful time of our species' existence."

Why does it not feel that way? Why do we think we live in scary times? Part of the problem is that as violence has been ebbing, information has been exploding. The last 20 years have produced an information revolution that brings us news and, most crucially, images from around the world all the time. The immediacy of the images and the intensity of the 24-hour news cycle combine to produce constant hype. Every weather disturbance is the "storm of the decade." Every bomb that explodes is BREAKING NEWS. Because the information revolution is so new, we—reporters, writers, readers, viewers—are all just now figuring out how to put everything in context.

We didn't watch daily footage of the two million people who died in Indochina in the 1970s, or the million who perished in the sands of the Iran-Iraq war ten years later. We saw little of the civil war in the Congo in the 1990s, where millions died. But today any bomb that goes off, any rocket that is fired, any death that results, is documented by someone, somewhere and ricochets instantly across the world. Add to this terrorist attacks, which are random and brutal. "That could have been me," you think. Actually, your chances of being killed in a terrorist attack are tiny—for an American, smaller than drowning in your bathtub. But it doesn't feel like that.

The threats we face are real. Islamic jihadists are a nasty bunch—they do want to attack civilians everywhere. But it is increasingly clear that militants and suicide bombers make up a tiny portion of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims. They can do real damage, especially if they get their hands on nuclear weapons. But the combined efforts of the world's governments have effectively put them on the run and continue to track them and their money. Jihad persists, but the jihadists have had to scatter, work in small local cells, and use simple and undetectable weapons. They have not been able to hit big, symbolic targets, especially ones involving Americans. So they blow up bombs in cafés, marketplaces, and subway stations. The problem is that in doing so, they kill locals and alienate ordinary Muslims. Look at the polls. Support for violence of any kind has dropped dramatically over the last five years in all Muslim countries.

Militant groups have reconstituted in certain areas where they exploit a particular local issue or have support from a local ethnic group or sect, most worryingly in Pakistan and Afghanistan where Islamic radicalism has become associated with Pashtun identity politics. But as a result, these groups are becoming more local and less global. Al Qaeda in Iraq, for example, has turned into a group that is more anti-Shiite than anti-American. The bottom line is this: since 9/11, Al Qaeda Central, the gang run by Osama bin Laden, has not been able to launch a single major terror attack in the West or any Arab country—its original targets. They used to do terrorism, now they make videotapes. Of course one day they will get lucky again, but that they have been stymied for almost seven years points out that in this battle between governments and terror groups, the former need not despair.

Some point to the dangers posed by countries like Iran. These rogue states present real problems, but look at them in context. The American economy is 68 times the size of Iran's. Its military budget is 110 times that of the mullahs. Were Iran to attain a nuclear capacity, it would complicate the geopolitics of the Middle East. But none of the problems we face compare with the dangers posed by a rising Germany in the first half of the 20th century or an expansionist Soviet Union in the second half. Those were great global powers bent on world domination. If this is 1938, as some neoconservatives tell us, then Iran is Romania, not Germany.

Others paint a dark picture of a world in which dictators are on the march. China and Russia and assorted other oil potentates are surging. We must draw the battle lines now, they warn, and engage in a great Manichean struggle that will define the next century. Some of John McCain's rhetoric has suggested that he adheres to this dire, dyspeptic view. But before we all sign on for a new Cold War, let's take a deep breath and gain some perspective. Today's rising great powers are relatively benign by historical measure. In the past, when countries grew rich they've wanted to become great military powers, overturn the existing order, and create their own empires or spheres of influence. But since the rise of Japan and Germany in the 1960s and 1970s, none have done this, choosing instead to get rich within the existing international order. China and India are clearly moving in this direction. Even Russia, the most aggressive and revanchist great power today, has done little that compares with past aggressors. The fact that for the first time in history, the United States can contest Russian influence in Ukraine—a country 4,800 miles away from Washington that Russia has dominated or ruled for 350 years—tells us something about the balance of power between the West and Russia.

Compare Russia and China with where they were 35 years ago. At the time both (particularly Russia) were great power threats, actively conspiring against the United States, arming guerrilla movement across the globe, funding insurgencies and civil wars, blocking every American plan in the United Nations. Now they are more integrated into the global economy and society than at any point in at least 100 years. They occupy an uncomfortable gray zone, neither friends nor foes, cooperating with the United States and the West on some issues, obstructing others. But how large is their potential for trouble? Russia's military spending is $35 billion, or 1/20th of the Pentagon's. China has about 20 nuclear missiles that can reach the United States. We have 830 missiles, most with multiple warheads, that can reach China. Who should be worried about whom? Other rising autocracies like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are close U.S. allies that shelter under America's military protection, buy its weapons, invest in its companies, and follow many of its diktats. With Iran's ambitions growing in the region, these countries are likely to become even closer allies, unless America gratuitously alienates them.

II. The Good News
In July 2006, I spoke with a senior member of the Israeli government, a few days after Israel's war with Hezbollah had ended. He was genuinely worried about his country's physical security. Hezbollah's rockets had reached farther into Israel than people had believed possible. The military response had clearly been ineffectual: Hezbollah launched as many rockets on the last day of the war as on the first. Then I asked him about the economy—the area in which he worked. His response was striking. "That's puzzled all of us," he said. "The stock market was higher on the last day of the war than on the first! The same with the shekel." The government was spooked, but the market wasn't.

Or consider the Iraq War, which has produced deep, lasting chaos and dysfunction in that country. Over two million refugees have crowded into neighboring lands. That would seem to be the kind of political crisis guaranteed to spill over. But as I've traveled in the Middle East over the last few years, I've been struck by how little Iraq's troubles have destabilized the region. Everywhere you go, people angrily denounce American foreign policy. But most Middle Eastern countries are booming. Iraq's neighbors—Turkey, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia—are enjoying unprecedented prosperity. The Gulf states are busy modernizing their economies and societies, asking the Louvre, New York University, and Cornell Medical School to set up remote branches in the desert. There's little evidence of chaos, instability, and rampant Islamic fundamentalism.

The underlying reality across the globe is of enormous vitality. For the first time ever, most countries around the world are practicing sensible economics. Consider inflation. Over the past 20 years hyperinflation, a problem that used to bedevil large swaths of the world from Turkey to Brazil to Indonesia, has largely vanished, tamed by successful fiscal and monetary policies. The results are clear and stunning. The share of people living on $1 a day has plummeted from 40 percent in 1981 to 18 percent in 2004 and is estimated to drop to 12 percent by 2015. Poverty is falling in countries that house 80 percent of the world's population. There remains real poverty in the world—most worryingly in 50 basket-case countries that contain 1 billion people—but the overall trend has never been more encouraging. The global economy has more than doubled in size over the last 15 years and is now approaching $54 trillion! Global trade has grown by 133 percent in the same period. The expansion of the global economic pie has been so large, with so many countries participating, that it has become the dominating force of the current era. Wars, terrorism, and civil strife cause disruptions temporarily but eventually they are overwhelmed by the waves of globalization. These circumstances may not last, but it is worth understanding what the world has looked like for the past few decades.

III. A New Nationalism
Of course, global growth is also responsible for some of the biggest problems in the world right now. It has produced tons of money—what businesspeople call liquidity—that moves around the world. The combination of low inflation and lots of cash has meant low interest rates, which in turn have made people act greedily and/or stupidly. So we have witnessed over the last two decades a series of bubbles—in East Asian countries, technology stocks, housing, subprime mortgages, and emerging market equities. Growth also explains one of the signature events of our times—soaring commodity prices. $100 oil is just the tip of the barrel. Almost all commodities are at 200-year highs. Food, only a few decades ago in danger of price collapse, is now in the midst of a scary rise. None of this is due to dramatic fall-offs in supply. It is demand, growing global demand, that is fueling these prices. The effect of more and more people eating, drinking, washing, driving, and consuming will have seismic effects on the global system. These may be high-quality problems, but they are deep problems nonetheless.

The most immediate effect of global growth is the appearance of new economic powerhouses on the scene. It is an accident of history that for the last several centuries, the richest countries in the world have all been very small in terms of population. Denmark has 5.5 million people, the Netherlands has 16.6 million. The United States is the biggest of the bunch and has dominated the advanced industrial world. But the real giants—China, India, Brazil—have been sleeping, unable or unwilling to join the world of functioning economies. Now they are on the move and naturally, given their size, they will have a large footprint on the map of the future. Even if people in these countries remain relatively poor, as nations their total wealth will be massive. Or to put it another way, any number, no matter how small, when multiplied by 2.5 billion becomes a very big number. (2.5 billion is the population of China plus India.)

The rise of China and India is really just the most obvious manifestation of a rising world. In dozens of big countries, one can see the same set of forces at work—a growing economy, a resurgent society, a vibrant culture, and a rising sense of national pride. That pride can morph into something uglier. For me, this was vividly illustrated a few years ago when I was chatting with a young Chinese executive in an Internet café in Shanghai. He wore Western clothes, spoke fluent English, and was immersed in global pop culture. He was a product of globalization and spoke its language of bridge building and cosmopolitan values. At least, he did so until we began talking about Taiwan, Japan, and even the United States. (We did not discuss Tibet, but I'm sure had we done so, I could have added it to this list.) His responses were filled with passion, bellicosity, and intolerance. I felt as if I were in Germany in 1910, speaking to a young German professional, who would have been equally modern and yet also a staunch nationalist.

As economic fortunes rise, so inevitably does nationalism. Imagine that your country has been poor and marginal for centuries. Finally, things turn around and it becomes a symbol of economic progress and success. You would be proud, and anxious that your people win recognition and respect throughout the world.

In many countries such nationalism arises from a pent-up frustration over having to accept an entirely Western, or American, narrative of world history—one in which they are miscast or remain bit players. Russians have long chafed over the manner in which Western countries remember World War II. The American narrative is one in which the United States and Britain heroically defeat the forces of fascism. The Normandy landings are the climactic highpoint of the war—the beginning of the end. The Russians point out, however, that in fact the entire Western front was a sideshow. Three quarters of all German forces were engaged on the Eastern front fighting Russian troops, and Germany suffered 70 percent of its casualties there. The Eastern front involved more land combat than all other theaters of World War II put together.

Such divergent national perspectives always existed. But today, thanks to the information revolution, they are amplified, echoed, and disseminated. Where once there were only the narratives laid out by The New York Times, Time, Newsweek, the BBC, and CNN, there are now dozens of indigenous networks and channels—from Al Jazeera to New Delhi's NDTV to Latin America's Telesur. The result is that the "rest" are now dissecting the assumptions and narratives of the West and providing alternative views. A young Chinese diplomat told me in 2006, "When you tell us that we support a dictatorship in Sudan to have access to its oil, what I want to say is, 'And how is that different from your support of a medieval monarchy in Saudi Arabia?' We see the hypocrisy, we just don't say anything—yet."

The fact that newly rising nations are more strongly asserting their ideas and interests is inevitable in a post-American world. This raises a conundrum—how to get a world of many actors to work together. The traditional mechanisms of international cooperation are fraying. The U.N. Security Council has as its permanent members the victors of a war that ended more than 60 years ago. The G8 does not include China, India or Brazil—the three fastest-growing large economies in the world—and yet claims to represent the movers and shakers of the world economy. By tradition, the IMF is always headed by a European and the World Bank by an American. This "tradition," like the segregated customs of an old country club, might be charming to an insider. But to the majority who live outside the West, it seems bigoted. Our challenge is this: Whether the problem is a trade dispute or a human rights tragedy like Darfur or climate change, the only solutions that will work are those involving many nations. But arriving at solutions when more countries and more non-governmental players are feeling empowered will be harder than ever.

IV. The Next American Century
Many look at the vitality of this emerging world and conclude that the United States has had its day. "Globalization is striking back," Gabor Steingart, an editor at Germany's leading news magazine, Der Spiegel, writes in a best-selling book. As others prosper, he argues, the United States has lost key industries, its people have stopped saving money, and its government has become increasingly indebted to Asian central banks. The current financial crisis has only given greater force to such fears.

But take a step back. Over the last 20 years, globalization has been gaining depth and breadth. America has benefited massively from these trends. It has enjoyed unusually robust growth, low unemployment and inflation, and received hundreds of billions of dollars in investment. These are not signs of economic collapse. Its companies have entered new countries and industries with great success, using global supply chains and technology to stay in the vanguard of efficiency. U.S. exports and manufacturing have actually held their ground and services have boomed.

The United States is currently ranked as the globe's most competitive economy by the World Economic Forum. It remains dominant in many industries of the future like nanotechnology, biotechnology, and dozens of smaller high-tech fields. Its universities are the finest in the world, making up 8 of the top ten and 37 of the top fifty, according to a prominent ranking produced by Shanghai Jiao Tong University. A few years ago the National Science Foundation put out a scary and much-discussed statistic. In 2004, the group said, 950,000 engineers graduated from China and India, while only 70,000 graduated from the United States. But those numbers are wildly off the mark. If you exclude the car mechanics and repairmen—who are all counted as engineers in Chinese and Indian statistics—the numbers look quite different. Per capita, it turns out, the United States trains more engineers than either of the Asian giants.

But America's hidden secret is that most of these engineers are immigrants. Foreign students and immigrants account for almost 50 percent of all science researchers in the country. In 2006 they received 40 percent of all PhDs. By 2010, 75 percent of all science PhDs in this country will be awarded to foreign students. When these graduates settle in the country, they create economic opportunity. Half of all Silicon Valley start-ups have one founder who is an immigrant or first generation American. The potential for a new burst of American productivity depends not on our education system or R&D spending, but on our immigration policies. If these people are allowed and encouraged to stay, then innovation will happen here. If they leave, they'll take it with them.

More broadly, this is America's great—and potentially insurmountable—strength. It remains the most open, flexible society in the world, able to absorb other people, cultures, ideas, goods, and services. The country thrives on the hunger and energy of poor immigrants. Faced with the new technologies of foreign companies, or growing markets overseas, it adapts and adjusts. When you compare this dynamism with the closed and hierarchical nations that were once superpowers, you sense that the United States is different and may not fall into the trap of becoming rich, and fat, and lazy.

American society can adapt to this new world. But can the American government? Washington has gotten used to a world in which all roads led to its doorstep. America has rarely had to worry about benchmarking to the rest of the world—it was always so far ahead. But the natives have gotten good at capitalism and the gap is narrowing. Look at the rise of London. It's now the world's leading financial center—less because of things that the United States did badly than those London did well, like improving regulation and becoming friendlier to foreign capital. Or take the U.S. health care system, which has become a huge liability for American companies. U.S. carmakers now employ more people in Ontario, Canada, than Michigan because in Canada their health care costs are lower. Twenty years ago, the United States had the lowest corporate taxes in the world. Today they are the second-highest. It's not that ours went up. Those of others went down.

American parochialism is particularly evident in foreign policy. Economically, as other countries grow, for the most part the pie expands and everyone wins. But geopolitics is a struggle for influence: as other nations become more active internationally, they will seek greater freedom of action. This necessarily means that America's unimpeded influence will decline. But if the world that's being created has more power centers, nearly all are invested in order, stability and progress. Rather than narrowly obsessing about our own short-term interests and interest groups, our chief priority should be to bring these rising forces into the global system, to integrate them so that they in turn broaden and deepen global economic, political, and cultural ties. If China, India, Russia, Brazil all feel that they have a stake in the existing global order, there will be less danger of war, depression, panics, and breakdowns. There will be lots of problems, crisis, and tensions, but they will occur against a backdrop of systemic stability. This benefits them but also us. It's the ultimate win-win.

To bring others into this world, the United States needs to make its own commitment to the system clear. So far, America has been able to have it both ways. It is the global rule-maker but doesn't always play by the rules. And forget about standards created by others. Only three countries in the world don't use the metric system—Liberia, Myanmar, and the United States. For America to continue to lead the world, we will have to first join it.

Americans—particularly the American government—have not really understood the rise of the rest. This is one of the most thrilling stories in history. Billions of people are escaping from abject poverty. The world will be enriched and ennobled as they become consumers, producers, inventors, thinkers, dreamers, and doers. This is all happening because of American ideas and actions. For 60 years, the United States has pushed countries to open their markets, free up their politics, and embrace trade and technology. American diplomats, businessmen, and intellectuals have urged people in distant lands to be unafraid of change, to join the advanced world, to learn the secrets of our success. Yet just as they are beginning to do so, we are losing faith in such ideas. We have become suspicious of trade, openness, immigration, and investment because now it's not Americans going abroad but foreigners coming to America. Just as the world is opening up, we are closing down.

Generations from now, when historians write about these times, they might note that by the turn of the 21st century, the United States had succeeded in its great, historical mission—globalizing the world. We don't want them to write that along the way, we forgot to globalize ourselves.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Why are gas prices so high?

Excellent post by Brad from Sadly, No! (http://www.alternet.org/blogs/peek/84123/), giving a number of very legitimate reasons why gas prices are so high, why it has lots to do with poor energy policy of the past 20 years, and why the Clinton/McCain gax tax "holiday" is such a laughable idea.

As an aside, if I'm the Obama camp, I'm starting to use the "Clinton/McCain" line a lot more.

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The truth is, we’re basically screwed in the short term and we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Why? Because we as a nation have:

Invested woefully small amounts in improving our rail and public transportation infrastructure - if you’ve ever stayed in Las Vegas, you know how well this has worked out.

Remained dependent on oil and coal instead of looking toward wind, solar and even nuclear power as good solutions where appropriate.

Done jack-squat to improve gas-mileage standards in our cars.

Allowed oil companies to write our national energy policies.

Decided for some bizarre reason that invading and destabilizing a major oil-producing country in the Middle East would somehow create magical oil ponies that would last forever and ever.

All of these stupid-ass decisions mean that our demand for oil and gasoline is highly inelastic in the short term - that is, we can’t reduce our consumption when prices skyrocket because no alternatives exist and we need it to get to work. The solution, of course, will come when we develop alternative fuels and admit to ourselves that destroying a national wildlife refuge just to get less than two years’ worth of new oil is not a sound solution. In the meantime, though, we’re just going to have to deal with the pain (and as someone who has a pretty long commute every morning, I know what the hell I’m talking about).

Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note at this point that none of this stuff is nearly as important as Barack Obama’s bowling score.

UPDATE: As justbrent notes in the comments, the sliding value of the dollar is also obviously a huge part of why we’re paying so much more for gas now than we did at the start of the decade. Also, rising demand from China and India means that prices are highly unlikely to go down at all in the future.

So we have to get off oil as soon as possible. It’ll obviously take some time, but having semi-sane political leadership will be a plus.

UPDATE II: From the Department of Grudgingly Acknowledging Credit Where It’s Due, I think the Mustache gets it right here:

It is great to see that we finally have some national unity on energy policy. Unfortunately, the unifying idea is so ridiculous, so unworthy of the people aspiring to lead our nation, it takes your breath away. Hillary Clinton has decided to line up with John McCain in pushing to suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon, for this summer’s travel season. This is not an energy policy. This is money laundering: we borrow money from China and ship it to Saudi Arabia and take a little cut for ourselves as it goes through our gas tanks. What a way to build our country.

When the summer is over, we will have increased our debt to China, increased our transfer of wealth to Saudi Arabia and increased our contribution to global warming for our kids to inherit.

The one flaw in this piece is that he seems to imply that “both sides” of the debate have been messing up our energy policy. As Rick Perlstein would say, that’s a “Notso!” The real problem is literally that we have a political coalition of wingnuts who are opposed to doing anything but sending more tax dollars to oil companies. That’s all they support, that’s all they want to ever do. That’s why the oil companies keep writing them big campaign checks.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Are fair trials an American value?

Disturbing post by Digby of Hullabaloo (http://www.alternet.org/blogs/peek/83944/) describing in detail how the military commissions used to "try" the Guantanamo detainees are truly show trials, designed to give the illusion of fairness and justice. The most disturbing quote comes from Defense Department counsel William Haynes, as recounted by Air Force Col. Morris Davis:

"He said, 'We can't have acquittals,' " Davis said under questioning from Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer, the military counsel who represents Hamdan. " 'We've been holding these guys for years. How can we explain acquittals? We have to have convictions.' "

Much space here has been devoted already to the tragic lost opportunities of America to claim a world leadership role after 9/11. Now, we're even losing the opportunity to prove the power of a true rule of law binding even the mightiest of forces. But, instead, the current President and his administration are using the power of America as a tyrant would.

And that, my friends, is un-American.

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Another day, another example of the Bush administration illegality. Not that anyone's paying attention, what with the pressing need to obsess over the utterances of an obscure Chicago pastor:


The Defense Department's former chief prosecutor for terrorism cases appeared Monday at the controversial U.S. detention facility here to argue on behalf of a terrorism suspect that the military justice system has been corrupted by politics and inappropriate influence from senior Pentagon officials.


Sitting just feet from the courtroom table where he had once planned to make cases against military detainees, Air Force Col. Morris Davis instead took the witness stand to declare under oath that he felt undue pressure to hurry cases along so that the Bush administration could claim before political elections that the system was working.


[...]


Davis told Navy Capt. Keith J. Allred, who presided over the hearing, that top Pentagon officials, including Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England, made it clear to him that charging some of the highest-profile detainees before elections this year could have "strategic political value."


Davis said he wants to wait until the cases -- and the military commissions system -- have a more solid legal footing. He also said that Defense Department general counsel William J. Haynes II, who announced his retirement in February, once bristled at the suggestion that some defendants could be acquitted, an outcome that Davis said would give the process added legitimacy.


"He said, 'We can't have acquittals,' " Davis said under questioning from Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer, the military counsel who represents Hamdan. " 'We've been holding these guys for years. How can we explain acquittals? We have to have convictions.' "


Davis also decried as unethical a decision by top military officials to allow the use of evidence obtained by coercive interrogation techniques. He said Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann, the legal adviser to the top military official overseeing the commissions process, was improperly willing to use evidence derived from waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning. "To allow or direct a prosecutor to come into the courtroom and offer evidence they felt was torture, it puts a prosecutor in an ethical bind," Davis testified. But he said Hartmann replied that "everything was fair game -- let the judge sort it out."

It doesn't get any more sickeningly corrupt than that and because we know that they did this in the Department of Justice in the US Attorney scandal, it's completely believable.

The ACLU has someone observing the hearings who adds some detail to those observations in this Daily Kos post:


Many of Davis’s direct conflicts were not with Haynes but with Brigadier General Thomas Hartmann, the legal advisor to the commissions. Hartmann was particularly intent on prosecuting the "9/11 cases." He told Davis that the election was coming up in 2008, and "if we don’t get these cases started, the commission system will implode. Once we get the victims’ families energized, we’ll be rolling, and when the train is rolling, it will be hard for the next president to stop."


Hartmann wondered why Davis, who had repeatedly made clear that he would never permit the introduction of evidence extracted through waterboarding, believed he had authority to make that decision. Other senior officials believed that waterboarding was acceptable, said Hartmann, and the judge not Davis, should sort it out. Hartmann also demanded a faster pace in bringing and prosecuting charges, even if that meant proceeding with classified evidence in closed proceedings. Davis insisted on transparency as a key to the commissions’ legitimacy.


In August of 2007, Davis wrote a detailed complaint laying out what he believed to be the improper actions of Hartmann, and delivered the complaint to the military commissions’ chief official, convening authority Susan Crawford. Crawford had left early that day for a Johnny Mathis concert but she responded eventually by informing Davis that Hartmann did not report to her, so she had forwarded the complaint — to Jim Haynes. In October, Davis was summoned to Haynes’s office, where he learned that the chain of command had been altered to place Haynes at the top.


Davis resigned immediately. He explained: "The guy said waterboarding was A-OK. I was not going to take orders from."


Davis then submitted another detailed complaint to the Department of Defense’s Inspector General. In response, he received a one-page, typed letter. It informed him that his complaint had been referred to the department’s "legal expert" — Jim Haynes.

Joseph Heller couldn't have come up with that scenario.

I don't know what will become of all this. All the presidential candidates, including McCain, say they will close Guantanamo so I guess that's something. But the process in this was so deeply corrupt and immoral that the next government simply has to do something about this to expose the wrongdoing and take steps to ensure that it doesn't happen again. Without presidential leadership, I don't see how it will happen.

I'm sure McCain would do nothing. He's part of the culture that did this and has shown a total willingness to provide cover for the military on these issues during the Bush administration. I would really like to hear something more from the other two about what they will do about this if they become president.