Monday, July 28, 2008

Beer - a problem for McCain

Interesting analysis from www.fivethirtyeight.com (which, by the way, is the best election projection site I've found) about how the pending takeover of Anheuser-Busch by a Belgian company could be problematic for John McCain. Why? Well, two reasons. One, the takeover could cost quite a few American jobs. Two, his wife (and therefore he) will probably make a tidy sum on the transfer.

Hmm, let's see. American icon sold to Europeans (Belgians, even). American workers losing their jobs in a lousy economy. Rich heiress and sugar momma wife makes a ton of money off the deal. Think that might be a problem for McCain the populist?

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I got dinner and drinks yesterday with a couple of friends from St. Louis, and inquired whether they had heard about the takeover of Anheuser-Busch by Belgian beer conglomerate InBev. I was met with a couple of incredulous stares. Asking a St. Louisan about whether they've heard about the Anheuser-Busch takeover is tantamount to asking them they've ever seen Albert Pujols hit a fastball. This is very big news in St. Louis and other parts of Missouri.

The objections aren't just a matter of patriotic pride over Anheuser-Busch's flagship Budweiser brand, which might be the most recognizably American brand in the world. Rather, the issue is that it is a near-certainty that InBev will cut jobs. If InBev is smart, it will delay or limit the number of job cuts in St. Louis itself. But consolidation and cost-savings are how money is made in mergers between mature companies, and that means a certain number of 'redundant' positions are going to be eliminated. Indeed, Anheuser-Busch had already announced job cuts of 10-15 percent in June in an effort to trim its fat and make itself a less meaty target for InBev, whose takeover bid it initially considered hostile.

Ordinarily, it would be hard to tie the takeover to the political campaign. Like it or not, this is capitalism at work, and it is not clear that the merger had anything to do with the recession. Alcohol stocks are notoriously recession-proof, and BUD had remained basically flat over the past two years before ticking upward on rumors of the InBev bid, which paid its shareholders a substantial premium.

However, Cindy McCain is the chairwoman of Phoenix-based beer distributor Hensley & Co, which has substantial holdings in Anheuser-Busch. The Wall Street Journal reports that Hensley & Co stands to make around $1 million on the transaction.

This is still an issue involving a candidate's wife, rather than the candidate himself, and so the Obama campaign might need to handle it fairly delicately; it might be territory better suited for a 527 group, for instance. The other issue is that it is not immediately clear what policies might have been implemented to prevent the transaction, as Obama himself said in a trip to St. Louis earlier this month.

There is, however, one potential remedy. The deal arguably runs afoul of antitrust laws, as it increases the amount of consolidation in the domestic macrobrew industry, which SmartMoney.com describes as "basically an oligopoly of Anheuser, SABMiller and Molson Coors. Though InBev does not own any domestic labels, it does owns three of the ten best-selling brands of imported beers: Heineken, Beck's and Amstel Light.

Obama, therefore, could pressure the Federal Trade Commission on the matter, or request oversight hearings from the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition and Consumer Rights.

The ranking member of the Antitrust Committee is Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl; Russ Feingold is also one of its 11 members. The Wisconsin Senators can speak to the the likely job cuts in Milwaukee brought about by the recent Miller-Coors merger, which bypassed both Milwaukee and Denver to place its new headquarters in Chicago. One can imagine Obama and Feingold holding a "Save our Jobs" rally outside Anheuser-Busch headquarters in St. Louis, with Feingold promising to hold hearings on the InBev merger and Obama pledging to appoint FTC commissioners who will aggressively defend American interests. John McCain, because of his wife's interests in the transaction, would be in no position to rebut their proposals.

That's meat-and-potatoes politics at its best, and nothing goes better with meat and potatoes than a little beer.

Successful surge?

Great article by Faiz Shakir of Think Progress (http://www.alternet.org/blogs/waroniraq/92657/), detailing how the "surge" really hasn't done what it was supposed to do. The Republicans, though, have done a really good job of repeating the "surge is successful" line so many times that the press now repeats it as truth. Obama has not done nearly well enough in rebutting that falsehood, and now I think has given McCain a real opening to attack.

Remember, much like the Swift Boaters in 2004, what is actually true doesn't matter. It's what people believe at election time, and I am disturbed very much so that the Noise Machine is working its' magic on the "low-information voters" yet again.

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In an interview on Tuesday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) asserted that the 2007 troop surge in Iraq "began the Anbar awakening," the process by which Sunni tribal leaders allied with U.S. force and turned against al Qaeda in Iraq. McCain also suggested that to disagree with his version of history "does a great disservice to young men and women who are serving and have sacrificed" in Iraq. In fact, it is McCain himself who has done a disservice to history.

The Anbar awakening began in the late summer and early fall of 2006, months before the surge was announced in January 2007. While the Anbar awakening is an important contributor to the drop in violence in Iraq, it is only one of several factors. Meanwhile, the stated goal of the surge -- Iraqi political reconciliation -- remains unmet.

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED: The awakening began in the town of Ramadi in Anbar province in September 2006, under the command of Army Col. Sean MacFarland. MacFarland sought to build ties to local leaders to draw their support away from the insurgency. In his accountof the events in Ramadi, MacFarland wrote: "A growing concern that the U.S. would leave Iraq and leave the Sunnis defenseless against Al-Qaeda and Iranian-supported militias made those younger leaders open to our overtures." Eventually U.S. forces were able to establish credibility with local leaders, who turned against the insurgents. The new approach eventually spread outward to other Iraqi provinces. A second important factor in the decreased violence was the decision by Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to declare a "freeze" of his Jaysh al-Mahdi militia in the wake of violent clashes in the shrine city of Karbala in late August 2007. The Jaysh al-Mahdi had been regarded by the U.S. military as a threat equal to, if not greater than, al Qaeda in Iraq by virtue of their being an indigenous, nationalist movement with strong political support among poor Iraqis. Gen. David Petraeus himself recognized Sadr's cooperation as an essential component in the drop in violence in and around Baghdad. A third factor was the separation of Sunni and Shi'a Iraqis into protected enclaves as a result of a massive and terrifying campaign of sectarian cleansing by Sunni and Shi'a militias in Baghdad, and the construction of concrete barriers around these enclaves. The addition of 20,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq encouraged, supported, and consolidated each of these phenomena, but very likely could not have worked without them.

WHAT COULD GO WRONG: While Gen. Petraeus is credited with reviving the Army's counterinsurgency doctrine, the Anbar strategy that is the center-piece of the surge violates a central tenet of that doctrine in that it does not redirect political authority toward the central government. The deals that have been made are between Sunni tribal militias and U.S. forces, not the Iraqi government. The Sunni militias have not been incorporated into the Iraq Security forces in any substantial numbers, and questions remain as to their loyalties and intentions. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has made clear that he views these militias as a threat to the authority of the central government. In a February 2008 report from the Center for American Progresson the Awakenings movement, Brian Katulis and others wrote that "what has been extolled as a central 'success' of the surge has also exacerbated existing political divisions and fomented new political cleavages in an already fractured and fragile Iraqi body politic. [The Sunni militias] are challenging each other, traditional Sunni Arab political parties, and the Iraqi government." Echoing this, Steven Simon wrote in Foreign Affairs that "the recent short-term gains have come at the expense of the long-term goal of a stable, unitary Iraq." Simon also wrote that the lack of accommodation between the Iraqi government and the Sunni militias "will impede Iraq's political development for years to come unless specific steps are taken in the near term to bring the Sunni army the surge created under the rubric of the state." Simon concludes, "These steps are not being taken."

GOAL OF THE SURGE REMAINS UNMET: When President Bush announced the surge in January 2007, he declared that the goal of greater security was to "help make reconciliation possible." More than a year and a half after that speech, this reconciliation has not occurred in any meaningful way. Though some benchmark legislation has been passed, most of these laws have been worded so vaguely as to make their implementation extremely problematic. On Wednesday, after months of intense negotiating, Iraqi President Jalal Talibani "rejected the recently passed provincial elections law... a move that appears to doom what has been touted as all-important legislation for the country." This is one of many indicators that, as Matthew Duss wrote in the Guardian, "no real consensus yet exists among Iraqis as to what the new Iraq will be." As evidenced by numerous statements from Iraqi government officials over the last months, "consensus does exist ... around the belief that no genuine, sustainable Iraqi unity can develop while the Iraqi government continues to be underwritten by a foreign military presence."

Friday, July 25, 2008

The politics of Batman

Interesting article by Michael Dudley of City States (http://www.alternet.org/movies/92385/?page=1), arguing that the philosophy underlying The Dark Knight is an allegory to the post-9/11 worldview beginning to be embraced by Americans. Slowly, steadily, the author argues, we are stepping back from the premise of surrendering our freedoms for a phantom of security.

Not all of the analogies are perfect of course, most glaringly that the "vigilantism" of the Batman that is supposed to be the analogy to the lawlessness of the current President is, in fact, glorified and viewed as necessary. But in general, it's very well done, and very thought-provoking. I'm particularly pleased to see discussions about a "post-9/11 world" ceasing to look like a Giuliani police-state fantasy and more like the freedoms that have defined the American ideal.

(By the way, don't read this if you haven't seen the movie, as there are spoilers contained therein.)

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"One of the "biggest" ideas of the year, according to James Fallows writing in the Atlantic Magazine, is the End of 9/11 as a metanarrative for American politics. For a growing domestic and international constituency, it is no longer tolerable for the very invocation of those events to warrant overriding every principle of American democracy. That moment of thoughtless panic has passed, and appears now to have been a dream of madness. Casting aside principles in the name of the "war on terror" -- to "work ... the dark side, if you will", as Dick Cheney put it -- is now being recognized as the path to becoming the very evil we feared."

One of the most potent confirmations of this maturing zeitgeist is the overwhelmingly positive critical and public reception of Christopher Nolan's stunning new Batman film The Dark Knight, which, in its careful use of 9/11 visual tropes takes the viewer on a sometimes traumatic but ultimately redemptive and humanistic journey towards a truly post-9/11 ethic.

Many reviewers have already noted that the film is commenting on the "war on terror," and audiences were surely meant to revisit their own painful memories of 9/11 by the chilling advance posters for the film, which feature Batman standing before a skyscraper in which a gigantic flaming gash in the shape of a bat has been blasted. Cues evoking 9/11 build from the opening frames, which propel the viewer into a dark swirling cloud of smoke and then to an aerial shot flying us towards a glass building, through to a series of escalating depictions of urban chaos and destruction. Buildings implode, thousands of people flee Gotham city on foot, and at one point Batman broods in the foreground while firefighters struggle to contain fires amid twisted steel columns. Unlike any other superhero film ever made, The Dark Knight is set in a world of realism we -- sadly -- know only too well.

This realism is significantly owed to the actual urban locations of the film. Previous incarnations of Gotham City were either fascistic sets improbably dominated by statues or fanciful computer-generated creations that never succeeded in convincing us; here, the on-location shooting in downtown Chicago and Hong Kong goes a long way to grounding viewers and thereby preparing them for the moral arguments to come.

The morality play of The Dark Knight is driven by Heath Ledger's astonishing performance as the Joker, who is not so much a character as he is a force of unknowable, abstract evil. By positioning the villain this way, screenwriters Jonathan and Christopher Nolan have made the Joker the very incarnation of a Manichean view of morality: he is not an evil set apart from oneself that can be destroyed, but rather as a potentiality within oneself that must be resisted by our predisposition for good.

What makes The Dark Knight so remarkable is that it frames this resistance to evil with nuanced debates about the natures of human moral agency and decision-making.

In an early scene, when Batman's alter-ego Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), discuss the merits of having one strong man take responsibility for defending society against evil, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) reminds them that when Rome made that choice, it resulted in a dictatorship. For all his wistful temptation for Roman absolutism, however, Dent is a morally principled man who doggedly works within the legal system to put criminals behind bars. So certain is he of his own moral compass that he makes a show of flipping a coin to make crucial decisions -- a coin which is later revealed to have two faces. Wayne admires Dent for his principled, public and fully legal stand and is himself tempted to forsake the lawless vigilantism of Batman and make Dent alone the public face of justice in Gotham.

Between the unaccountability of the Batman and the deontological morality of Dent lies the consequentialism of Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman), a veteran cop whose situational judgments and actions in a corrupt, complex and dangerous environment are criticized by Dent, who once ran an Internal Affairs investigation against Gordon's precinct.

With this moral triad at its core, the film then proceeds to metaphorically -- and not so metaphorically -- demolish the methods, moral vacuity and false ontology of the "war on terror."

First, Batman practices some "enhanced interrogation techniques" on the Joker, only to learn that he was being manipulated by the Joker all along, with fatal results. Then when Bruce uses an advanced and secret project at Wayne Industries to turn every cell phone in Gotham into sonar-based surveillance devices, his partner in Bat-tech, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), is appalled, swearing to resign if the machine isn't destroyed. While they agree to use the mass "unwarranted wiretap" just once, successfully pinpointing the Joker and what appear to be his henchmen in a skyscraper on the waterfront, when Batman arrives in advance of the S.W.A.T. team he is horrified to discover that despite its sophistication his technology was incapable of distinguishing hostages from terrorists, something of which only human presence and judgment is capable.

Next, we see the abandonment of Dent's "constitution." The Joker destroys Harvey Dent by disfiguring him and killing Rachel. Traumatized, grieving and seeking revenge, the formerly principled Dent kills five people, including two corrupt cops, but not before flipping his lucky coin -- which by now is as burnt on one side as he is, thus surrendering all his moral choices to an external force: sheer chance.

But it is in the film's gut-wrenching climax that reveals the supposed existential crisis of the "war on terror" for the cruel and dehumanizing proposition it is.

Fleeing the chaos of Gotham city, two crowded ferries break down in the harbor: one filled with ordinary citizens, the other with convicts clad in Guantanomo-esque orange suits. Each ship's crew discovers the boats are filled with explosives, as well as provided with a gift-wrapped detonator. Over the intercom, the Joker reveals the nature of his "social experiment": the detonators are for the other ship's bombs. If the passengers don't blow up the other ship, he'll blow up both of them at midnight.

For 15 agonizing minutes, the passengers argue amongst themselves and the ship's authorities, who are themselves paralyzed but increasingly tempted to destroy their sister ships. The prison ship is held in particular contempt by some of the passengers, who argue that the men on that boat "made their choice" of lawlessness and may therefore be sacrificed -- in other words, it is best to kill them over there before they kill us over here. Unable to make the final fatal decision, the authorities on both boats abdicate responsibility and turn the detonators over to their passengers -- who ultimately refuse to kill out of fear. In the end, the simple recognition of shared humanity and the insistence on retaining one's own moral agency are shown to be the most heroic acts of all.

At the same time, however, Gotham City's moral leaders are undone. Dent is killed by Batman, who then convinces Gordon that, to preserve Gotham's "constitution" -- the public image of Dent and all he stood for -- Batman and all he stands for must instead accept culpability for Dent's crimes. Unilateral, lawless and unaccountable vigilantism are now publicly discredited. The final scenes of the film show Fox turning his back on and walking away from the machinery of surveillance while Batman flees into the night, chased by police and dogs. Gordon, surrounded by press and members of the public then grimly takes an ax to the bat-beacon, cutting off the state's recourse to vigilantism.

Without either Dent or Batman to intervene on their behalf, Gordon and all of Gotham -- and by extension, the audience -- are left to face a complex, dangerous and interconnected world as a community of individual moral agents, guided by Dent's principles of law, fairness and justice -- as well as their own reclaimed humanism. Even in the face of incomprehensible, implacable evil, The Dark Knight reminds us that these are our only anchors, for without them we betray both them and ourselves.

America may still have that chance. At the moment, however, its Constitution has been mauled, and politicians of both parties long ago surrendered their capacities to stop an illegal war and the looting of the nation's wealth. Now, however, The Dark Knight warns against both abandoning our principles out of fear, grief and hatred, as well as abdicating our moral agency to external authorities -- both of which comprised the hallmark moral syndrome of the years following 9/11.

That audiences and critics have embraced this film gives one hope that the days of uncritically turning to leaders promising to save us from our fears are at an end. As James Fallows says, the 9/11 era is over.

We are all Gothamites now.

Monday, July 14, 2008

McCain, the teflon candidate

Excellent article by Max Bergman of The Huffington Post (http://www.alternet.org/election08/91245/) pointing out the most recent gaffes, mis-statements, and other blunders from John McCain's presidential campaign. The amazing thing, as progressives throughout the country are observing, is how McCain is getting a complete free pass from the national media. We're still talking about Obama's "bittergate," but all of these bombshells from the senior senator from Arizona get almost no attention or are viewed as "cute" in some way.

I guess there's a number of reasons for it:
- Obama's campaign hasn't made much noise about it.
- Obama's way ahead, and a non-competitive race isn't good for TV ratings or newspaper sales.
- McCain's still got his "straight talkin' maverick" image, and many of the "journalists" covering the race are hopelessly lazy.

All of those, I think, factor in. But it's maddeningly frustrating to watch. I keep thinking it will get better, but I thought that in 2004 as well. Keep in mind, the list below is of McCain's missteps last WEEK! And still, not a significant blip on the national stage.

I do worry that Obama is missing an opportunity to land some devastating blows, an opportunity that may not be there in September and October as the race begins to tighten up.

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This is the week that should have effectively ended John McCain's efforts to become the next president of the United States. But you wouldn't know it if you watched any of the mainstream media outlets or followed political reporting in the major newspapers.

During this past week: McCain called the most important entitlement program in the U.S. a disgrace, his top economic adviser called the American people whiners, McCain released an economic plan that no one thought was serious, he flip flopped on Iraq, joked about the deaths of Iranian citizens, and denied making comments that he clearly made --- TWICE. Yet watching and reading the mainstream press you would think McCain was having a pretty decent political week, I mean at least Jesse Jackson didn't say anything about him.

But let's unpack McCain's week in a little more detail.

1. McCain unambiguously called Social Security "an absolute disgrace." This is not a quote taken out of context. John McCain called one of the most successful and popular government programs, which uses the tax revenues of current workers to support retirement benefits for the elderly "an absolute disgrace." This is shocking -- and if uttered from Obama's mouth would dominate the news coverage and the Sunday shows, as pundits would speculate about the massive damage the statement would cause him among retirees in Florida.

2. McCain's top economic policy adviser calls Americans a bunch of "whiners" for being worried about the slumping economy. Words cannot fully explain how devastating this statement should be from Phil Gramm. You would think it would be enough to sink McCain's campaign. Of course McCain only thinks that the economic problems are psychological.

3. Iraqi leaders call for a timetable for U.S. withdrawal, McCain gets caught in a bizarre denial and flip flop. The Iraqis now want us to begin planning our withdrawal -- McCain however wants to stay foooorrreeevvveerrrr. So what does McCain say -- First, he refuses to accept Maliki's statement as being true. Then he concedes that it was an accurate statement, but was probably just a political ploy to curry favor with his own people and WOULD NOT influence his determination to keep US troops in Iraq indefinitely. Yet, McCain in 2004 at the Council on Foreign Relations said that if the Iraqis asked us to leave, we would have to go. No matter what. But that was apparently a younger and less experienced John McCain.

But let's just look at his comment that Maliki's statement is "just politics." If that is true, then it must also be true that the American military presence in Iraq is so unpopular with Iraqis that the government is forced to push for a timetable in order to survive at the ballot box. That's a reason to stay for 100 years.

4. McCain's economic plan to cut the deficit has no details and is simply not believable. There are so many things here. McCain pledges he would eliminate the deficit by the end of his first term (the campaign latter flip flop flipped about whether it was four years or eight years), but does not provide any details about how he would do it. Economists on both sides of the political aisle said that this was simply not believable, especially given McCain's other proposals to a) cut individual and corporate taxes even further, b) extend the Bush tax cuts and c) massively increase defense spending on manpower (200,000 more troops) and d) maintain a long-term sizable military presence in Iraq.

5. McCain's deficit plan includes bringing the troops home represents a major Iraq flip-flop. Speaking of the long-term military presence -- a story that has gotten absolutely no attention is that McCain now believes the war will be over soon. The economic forecasts made by his crack team of economists predict that there will be significant savings during McCain's first term because we will have achieved "victory" in Iraq and Afghanistan. The savings from victory (ie the savings from not having our troops there) will then be used to pay down the deficit. The only way this could have any impact on the deficit in McCain's first time is if troop withdrawals start very soon. So McCain believes victory is in our grasps and we can begin withdraw troops from Iraq pretty much right away --- doesn't sound that different from Obama's plan does it. Someone should at least ask McCain HOW HE DEFINES VICTORY -- and why he thinks we will achieve it in the next couple of years.

6. McCain campaign misled about economists support. In the major press release the McCain campaign issued to tout its Jobs for America economic plan that would balance the budget in 4 years, it included the signatures of more than 300 economists who the campaign claimed to support the plan. Only problem is that the economists were actually asked to sign up to SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. Um, hello?

7. McCain makes a joke about killing Iranians. Haha... that's just McCain being McCain. I am sure that is exactly how it is being reported in Tehran. This guy is running for President not to become a talk radio pundit. Yet according to the AP this was just a humanizing moment between candidate and spouse -- I am not sure when joking about the deaths of civilians became humanizing.

8. McCain denies, flatly, that he ever said that he is not an expert in economics. Are you kidding?

9). McCain distorts his record on veterans benefits in response to a question from Vietnam Veteran, who then proceeds to call McCain out on it.

10.) McCain demonstrates he knows nothing about Afghanistan and Pakistan. McCain said "I think if there is some good news, I think that there is a glimmer of improving relationship between Karzai and the Pakistanis." Pat Barry notes how crazy this comment is..."Just what "glimmer" is McCain talking about?? Maybe he's referring to President Karzai's remarks last month, which threatened military action in Pakistan if cross-border attacks persisted? Or maybe McCain is talking about Afghanistan's allegations that Pakistan's ISI was involved in a recent assassination attempt on Karzai? Maybe in McCain's world you could call that a silver-lining, but in reality-land I'd call it something else."

Any one of these incidents and comments would dominate the news cycle if they came from the Obama campaign. Yet McCain barely gets a mention. The press like to see themselves as political referees -- neutral observers that call them like they see em'. But they want this to be a horse race and so all the calls right now are going one way. How else can you explain the furor last week over the Obama "refine" comment -- which represented zero change in Obama's position on Iraq -- and the "swift boat" mania over Wesley Clark's uncontroversial comments (psss... by the way McCain exploits his POW experience in just about every ad -- yet he says he doesn't like to talk about it).

This Sunday expect the ten incidents above to get short shrift from pundit after pundit, because after all Jesse Jackson said he wanted to cut Obama's nuts off.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The flip-flops of John McCain

Great article by Steven Benen of The Carpetbagger Report (http://www.alternet.org/election08/90956/) documenting 61 of John McCain's flip-flops, organized by topic. I'm not a huge fan of the demonizing of a position change - quite honestly, one of the biggest problems with the current President is his unwillingness to change his mind even when it's painfully clear how wrong he is. But the GOP in general and McCain in particular uses real or perceived "flip-flops" to great advantage, so I think they are fair game.

McCain in particular is deserving of this treatment for his hypocrisy. For heaven's sake, the man drives in the "Straight Talk Express" and has contorted himself tighter than a pretzel just to get the nomination. The media has given him almost a complete pass up to this point, because he's so cute, I guess, but I can't imagine this kind of blatant hypocrisy will go unnoticed between now and November.

If nothing else, the debates should be interesting ...

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Editor's Note: Writer Steve Benen has graciously compiled a comprehensive tally of John McCain's flip-flops on issues ranging from national security to energy. The following is Benen's list of 61 clear 180-degree switches by McCain on the biggest issues of the day.

National Security Policy

1. McCain thought Bush's warrantless wiretap program circumvented the law; now he believes the opposite.

2. McCain insisted that everyone, even "terrible killers," "the worst kind of scum of humanity," and detainees at Guantanamo Bay, "deserve to have some adjudication of their cases," even if that means "releasing some of them." McCain now believes the opposite.

3. He opposed indefinite detention of terrorist suspects. When the Supreme Court reached the same conclusion, he called it "one of the worst decisions in the history of this country."

4. In February, McCain reversed course on prohibiting waterboarding.

5. McCain favored closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay before he was against it.

6. When Barack Obama talked about going after terrorists in Pakistani mountains with Predators, McCain criticized him for it. He's since come to the opposite conclusion.

Foreign Policy

7. McCain was for kicking Russia out of the G8 before he was against it.

8. McCain supported moving "toward normalization of relations" with Cuba. Now he believes the opposite.

9. McCain believed the United States should engage in diplomacy with Hamas. Now he believes the opposite.

10. McCain believed the United States should engage in diplomacy with Syria. Now he believes the opposite.

11. McCain is both for and against a "rogue state rollback" as a focus of his foreign policy vision.

12. McCain used to champion the Law of the Sea convention, even volunteering to testify on the treaty's behalf before a Senate committee. Now he opposes it.

13. McCain was against divestment from South Africa before he was for it.

Military Policy

14. McCain recently claimed that he was the "greatest critic" of Rumsfeld's failed Iraq policy. In December 2003, McCain praised the same strategy as "a mission accomplished." In March 2004, he said, "I'm confident we're on the right course." In December 2005, he said, "Overall, I think a year from now, we will have made a fair amount of progress if we stay the course."

15. McCain has changed his mind about a long-term U.S. military presence in Iraq on multiple occasions, concluding, on multiple occasions, that a Korea-like presence is both a good idea and a bad idea.

16. McCain said before the war in Iraq, "We will win this conflict. We will win it easily." Four years later, McCain said he knew all along that the war in Iraq war was "probably going to be long and hard and tough."

17. McCain has repeatedly said it's a dangerous mistake to tell the "enemy" when U.S. troops would be out of Iraq. In May, McCain announced that most American troops would be home from Iraq by 2013.

18. McCain was against expanding the GI Bill before he was for it.

Domestic Policy

19. McCain defended "privatizing" Social Security. Now he says he's against privatization (though he actually still supports it.)

20. McCain wanted to change the Republican Party platform to protect abortion rights in cases of rape and incest. Now he doesn't.

21. McCain supported storing spent nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Now he believes the opposite.

22. He argued that the NRA should not have a role in the Republican Party's policy making. Now he believes the opposite.

23. In 1998, he championed raising cigarette taxes to fund programs to cut underage smoking, insisting that it would prevent illnesses and provide resources for public health programs. Now, McCain opposes a $0.61-per-pack tax increase, won't commit to supporting a regulation bill he's co-sponsoring, and has hired Philip Morris' former lobbyist as his senior campaign adviser.

24. McCain is both for and against earmarks for Arizona.

25. McCain's first mortgage plan was premised on the notion that homeowners facing foreclosure shouldn't be "rewarded" for acting "irresponsibly." His second mortgage plan took largely the opposite position.

26. McCain went from saying gay marriage should be allowed, to saying gay marriage shouldn't be allowed.

27. McCain opposed a holiday to honor Martin Luther King Jr. before he supported it.

28. McCain was anti-ethanol. Now he's pro-ethanol.

29. McCain was both for and against state promotion of the Confederate flag.

30. In 2005, McCain endorsed intelligent design creationism, a year later he said the opposite, and a few months after that, he was both for and against creationism at the same time.

Economic Policy

31. McCain was against Bush's tax cuts for the very wealthy before he was for them.

32. John McCain initially argued that economics is not an area of expertise for him, saying, "I'm going to be honest: I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues; I still need to be educated," and "The issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should." He now falsely denies ever having made these remarks and insists that he has a "very strong" understanding of economics.

33. McCain vowed, if elected, to balance the federal budget by the end of his first term. Soon after, he decided he would no longer even try to reach that goal. And soon after that, McCain abandoned his second position and went back to his first.

34. McCain said in 2005 that he opposed the tax cuts because they were "too tilted to the wealthy." By 2007, he denied ever having said this, and falsely argued that he opposed the cuts because of increased government spending.

35. McCain thought the estate tax was perfectly fair. Now he believes the opposite.

36. McCain pledged in February 2008 that he would not, under any circumstances, raise taxes. Specifically, McCain was asked if he is a "'read my lips' candidate, no new taxes, no matter what?" referring to George H.W. Bush's 1988 pledge. "No new taxes," McCain responded. Two weeks later, McCain said, "I'm not making a 'read my lips' statement, in that I will not raise taxes."

37. McCain has changed his entire economic worldview on multiple occasions.

38. McCain believes Americans are both better and worse off economically than they were before Bush took office.

Energy Policy

39. McCain supported the moratorium on coastal drilling; now he's against it.

40. McCain recently announced his strong opposition to a windfall tax on oil company profits. Three weeks earlier, he was perfectly comfortable with the idea.

41. McCain endorsed a cap-and-trade policy with a mandatory emissions cap. In mid-June, McCain announced he wants the caps to be voluntary.

42. McCain explained his belief that a temporary suspension of the federal gas tax would provide an immediate economic stimulus. Shortly thereafter, he argued the exact opposite.

43. McCain supported the Lieberman/Warner legislation to combat global warming. Now he doesn't.

Immigration Policy

44. McCain was a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, which would grant legal status to illegal immigrants' kids who graduate from high school. Now he's against it.

45. On immigration policy in general, McCain announced in February 2008 that he would vote against his own bill.

46. In April, McCain promised voters that he would secure the borders "before proceeding to other reform measures." Two months later, he abandoned his public pledge, pretended that he'd never made the promise in the first place, and vowed that a comprehensive immigration reform policy has always been, and would always be, his "top priority."

Judicial Policy and the Rule of Law

47. McCain said he would "not impose a litmus test on any nominee." He used to promise the opposite.

48. McCain believes the telecoms should be forced to explain their role in the administration's warrantless surveillance program as a condition for retroactive immunity. He used to believe the opposite.

49. McCain went from saying he would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade to saying the exact opposite.

Campaign, Ethics, and Lobbying Reform

50. McCain supported his own lobbying-reform legislation from 1997. Now he doesn't.


51. In 2006, McCain sponsored legislation to require grassroots lobbying coalitions to reveal their financial donors. In 2007, after receiving "feedback" on the proposal, McCain told far-right activist groups that he opposes his own measure.

52. McCain supported a campaign-finance bill, which bore his name, on strengthening the public-financing system. In June 2007, he abandoned his own legislation.

Politics and Associations

53. McCain wanted political support from radical televangelist John Hagee. Now he doesn't.

54. McCain wanted political support from radical televangelist Rod Parsley. Now he doesn't.

55. McCain says he considered and did not consider joining John Kerry's Democratic ticket in 2004.

56. McCain is both for and against attacking Barack Obama over his former pastor at his former church.

57. McCain criticized TV preacher Jerry Falwell as "an agent of intolerance" in 2002, but then decided to cozy up to the man who said Americans "deserved" the 9/11 attacks.

58. In 2000, McCain accused Texas businessmen Sam and Charles Wyly of being corrupt, spending "dirty money" to help finance Bush's presidential campaign. McCain not only filed a complaint against the Wylys for allegedly violating campaign finance law, he also lashed out at them publicly. In April, McCain reached out to the Wylys for support.

59. McCain was against presidential candidates campaigning at Bob Jones University before he was for it.

60. McCain decided in 2000 that he didn't want anything to do with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, believing he "would taint the image of the 'Straight Talk Express.'" Kissinger is now the honorary co-chair for his presidential campaign in New York.

61. McCain believed powerful right-wing activist/lobbyist Grover Norquist was "corrupt, a shill for dictators, and (with just a dose of sarcasm) Jack Abramoff's gay lover." McCain now considers Norquist a key political ally.

And while I realize there are some who believe these constant flip-flops are irrelevant, I respectfully disagree.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Why judges matter

Excellent article by Del Quentin Webber and Josh White of the Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/30/AR2008063000814.html?wpisrc=newsletter), describing how a federal court has reversed the military's designation of a Chinese national as an enemy combatant. Apparently, the military tribunal made the enemy combatant determination based entirely on evidence without any reason offered as to why the evidence should be considered reliable.

Remember, being declared an "enemy combatant" is now a big deal. Under the current President, that means you can be held indefinitely without charges, can be tortured, and probably killed at the whim of the government. So I would think being classified as an "enemy combatant" would be pretty serious, and done on more say-so than what's apparently been happening.

When a judge quotes a Lewis Carrol poem in telling the government they haven't proved their case, you know it's pretty flimsy. Could it possibly be that the extra-constitutional fascism that has been practiced by this current President may finally be crumbling?

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Judges Cite Need for Reliable Evidence To Hold Detainees
By Del Quentin Wilber and Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, July 1, 2008; Page A03

In reversing a military tribunal's determination that a Chinese detainee was an "enemy combatant," a federal appeals court criticized the government's evidence and compared its legal theories to a nonsensical 19th-century poem.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit wrote in a 39-page opinion released yesterday that tribunals and courts must be able to assess whether evidence is reliable before determining the fate of detainees.

That did not happen in the case of Huzaifa Parhat, a Chinese Uighur determined to be an enemy combatant by a tribunal that relied heavily on questionable evidence in classified documents, the appeals court found.

The ruling, the first successful appeal of a detainee's designation as an enemy combatant, ordered the government to release, transfer or hold a new hearing for Parhat. The opinion was issued on June 20 and was declassified and released yesterday.

The opinion could have broad implications for scores of other detainees classified as enemy combatants by Combatant Status Review Tribunals. The opinion is also likely to guide federal judges weighing evidence in up-coming hearings.

Justice Department spokesman Erik Ablin said in an e-mail yesterday that "we are evaluating our options." Parhat's lawyer, Susan Baker Manning, said the opinion shows that courts will not just accept "the government's say-so."

At issue was whether a military tribunal fairly weighed evidence that the government alleged linked Parhat to a group with purported ties to al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Parhat, a member of the Muslim Uighur movement that is seeking a separate homeland in western China, left his country in May 2001 to avoid persecution, then lived in a camp in Afghanistan. After a U.S. airstrike, he and other Uighurs fled to Pakistan, where they eventually were handed over to U.S. authorities.

Parhat's tribunal determined that he had not engaged in hostilities against the United States or its allies. But it concluded that he was an enemy combatant because he lived at the Afghan camp, which was allegedly run by the leader of a group tied to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, according to the appellate opinion.

The tribunal reached that conclusion based on evidence in classified documents that "do not state (or, in most instances, even describe) the sources or rationales for those statements," the judges found.

The judges were particularly concerned with government assertions that the evidence was reliable because it was repeated in separate documents and that officials would not have included the information if it were not dependable.

"Lewis Carroll notwithstanding, the fact the government has 'said it thrice' does not make an allegation true," wrote Judge Merrick B. Garland, quoting from Carroll's poem "The Hunting of the Snark."

The panel, which included Chief Judge David B. Sentelle and Judge Thomas B. Griffith, also expressed skepticism about the evidence because the Chinese government may have supplied some of it.

"Parhat has made a credible argument that -- at least for some of the assertions -- the common source is the Chinese government, which may be less than objective with respect to the Uighurs," Garland wrote.

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.