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Thanks, Sandy Baby

Now She Tells Us

Did you catch Sandra Day O'Connor's comments over the weekend? From the Chicago Tribune:

Looking back, O'Connor said, she isn't sure the high court should have taken the case.

"It took the case and decided it at a time when it was still a big election issue," O'Connor said during a talk Friday with the Tribune editorial board. "Maybe the court should have said, 'We're not going to take it, goodbye.'"

The case, she said, "stirred up the public" and "gave the court a less-than-perfect reputation."


Shame on Americans!

Who’s to blame for Gitmo? Republicans, Democrats, and most of all the American people—who refuse to get outraged over this national disgrace. By Michael Tomasky.

I remember how deeply the 1981 hunger strike by Bobby Sands and the other Irish prisoners in Long Kesh shocked my conscience. Maybe it was because it was the first time I’d ever heard of a hunger strike, but I was riveted. I remember that it was big news, too. Huge. Even though it was against another government.


People dress in orange jumpsuits and black hoods as activists demand the closing of the U.S. military's detention facility in Guantánamo during a protest, part of the Nationwide for Guantánamo Day of Action, on April 11 in New York's Times Square. (Stan Honda/AFP/Getty)

The current hunger strike at Guantánamo, against our own government, is generating some coverage, to be sure; but if I walked down the main street of Youngstown, Ohio, or Flagstaff, Arizona, and asked 40 people, I wonder whether even 10 would know about it. And then I wonder how many of those 10 would give a crap. The Gitmo situation is Obama’s fault, and Congress’s, and the national security establishment’s. But it’s ours, too. On these matters, we Americans have become a pretty lousy people.

I don’t care what your political views are—I say there is no way on earth that you could read the recent Times op-ed by Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel and not feel abject shame. He has been detained for 11 years, three months. In that time, he’s never had a trial. He was never even charged with a crime. If you are an American citizen and that doesn’t scandalize you, horrify you, then you are not really an American in any important meaning of the term.

Dems Cave

Sequestration: GOP Wins

It's pretty hard to deny the above after today's House vote on the FAA. The Democrats were supposed to oppose this and defend the poor and those who depend on the government in other ways--scientific reserachers, for instance, whose work is so tied up in government grants. Instead, they did exactly what one feared they would do, which is vote to protect the business traveler and let everyone else suffer.

Now the Republicans know, or can presume until it's proven otherwise at least, that if there's a little discomfort caused by the sequester to any group with a little political power, they can just fix that and do nothing else. The Democrats from Obama down could have tried to exert some leverage here, saying we'll help fix A but in exchange for helping to fix B. Maybe they didn't have any, but they sure won't after today.

Ezra Klein makes an interesting broader point:

It is worth noting how different the Democrats’ approach to sequestration has been to the GOP’s approach to, well, everything. Over the past five years, Republicans have repeatedly accepted short-term political pain for long-term policy gain. That’s the governing political principle behind their threats to shut down the government, breach the debt ceiling, and, for that matter, accept sequestration. Today, Democrats showed they’re not willing to accept even a bit of short-term pain for long-term policy gain. They played a game of chicken with the Republicans, and they lost. Badly.


Did Syria Sarin Itself?

This is pretty out there, from the excellent Julian Borger of The Guardian:

On 19 March, both the Assad regime and the rebels claimed nerve gas had been used against their forces at Khan al-Assal. British officials say Syrian army troops appear to have been affected in that incident but suggest it was either a case of "friendly fire", a projectile going astray, or a deliberate attempt to implicate the rebels.

A deliberate attempt to implicate the rebels? So they sarined some of their own people to set up the FSA? Wow. That is hard core. Like a Bond villian. Or like Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven. If you haven't seen that and don't know what I'm talking about, you should. It's a pretty great movie, and anyway even a bad movie is good if it has Gene Tierney.

Now, being more serious, this is a really frightening situation. I was profoundly concerned when Obama made those remarks about a "red line" months ago, for the obvious reason that we knew this day was going to come. What has he locked us into?

43 & 44

Bush’s Legacy, Obama’s Choice

The stagecraft at the Bush presidential library opening was impressive, says Michael Tomasky. But it can’t undo the Iraq war—a lesson Obama should remember as he confronts today’s Syria news.

History will record—whether ominously or as mild irony remains to be seen—that it was about a half an hour into the dedication of George W. Bush’s library, at this first gathering of our five living presidents in five years, that word moved across the wires that Chuck Hagel had said that we had reason to believe that Syria had used chemical weapons against its own people.

George W. Bush Library and Museum

President Barack Obama, left, former President George W. Bush, center, and former President Clinton arrive for a dedication ceremony at the George W. Bush Library and Museum on April 25, 2013 in Dallas, Texas. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

History might remember this coincidence ominously because, of course, Barack Obama has said that Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people would cross a red line. Well, it’s been crossed. Shortly after Hagel’s slightly wiggle-roomish statement, John Kerry confirmed it in more concrete terms. So what do we do now? Talk about crossing red lines almost has to be followed up by some kind of action. I’d be worried if I were you.

And it’s a reminder, if only so far potentially, that a president’s fortunes can change in very unpredictable ways. Seems worth mentioning at this point that Harry Truman was cruising along in pretty good shape in the spring of 1950, somewhere in the ballpark of 50 percent approval ratings, and then lo and behold, North Korea crossed the 38th parallel and Truman was forced, by circumstances and his own previous rhetorical commitments, into war. He left office at about 25 percent, and although his rehabilitation is thorough and nearly universal these days, believe me, it took a long time. Democrats didn’t talk much about Truman when I was young.


Good Morning from Dallas

Okay then, no internet troubles in the hotel at least. It's 6:40 am as I type this sentence, and by 8 or so I plan to be over at the SMU campus to get myself settled in for the big event.

The Times today focuses on Obama's "delicate task" this morning in finding something nice to say about George W. Bush. This doesn't seem so difficult to me. I would write for Obama something like:

For his first few months in office, President Bush faced the normal struggles any new president faces. Then, terror struck. Some of us, this small fraternity of us on this stage, know what it is like to sit in that Oval Office, and to have to be the one making decisions. But none of us, not even me and other former presidents here gathered, can possibly know what it was like to sit in the Oval Office on that day. Only President Bush can ever know that. Only he can know the weight that added to the job, the special burdens that came with being the president whom history selected to guide America through the age of terror...

You know, that kind of thing. Then you transition to a discussion about this spanking new center and what fine work it's going to do on behalf of humankind, you offer your congratulations, and you pay homage to a country where we can put aside our differences and blah blah blah.


Errors in the Field

I don’t hate electronics. Though not a gadgethead, I’m actually pretty fond of them. But there are days that I hate them. This was one of them, and I’m really curious to know whether this kind of thing happens to you.

So last year, after holding on to an aging laptop for a couple of years too long, just out of laziness and a rationale that my travel was sparse enough that it didn’t really constitute such a great inconvenience, I finally updated. I got an HP Folio laptop, a cute little thing that weighs no more than a dinnerplate, and a Google Nexus 7, then brand new to the market. The old laptop had become close to completely useless. It worked at home as a secondary computer to run Pandora through the stereo and such tasks. Fine.

But when I depended on it—in a hotel room, in a Starbuck’s, what have you—it always disappointed. It couldn’t sniff the network, or would eventually do so after 40 minutes, or would do so and then lose the connection in five minutes, and do that over and over and over again. I would go online to read about why these things happen and carefully work my way through various discussion boards, but these discussions were and are held at levels above my comprehension and might as well have been in Farsi.

Even so, with the new equipment, I thought I was all set. I marveled at the laughing ease with which my little HP located (without my having to do anything!) my home network. I tightened my chest and then released it in exhilaration as my Google machine located the network at my sister-in-law’s house, in a matter of seconds. I was finally going to become one of those people. You know; those people who are so confident in their machines’ ability to deliver them to salvation that if they have even two spare minutes in an airport, they don’t hesitate to pull them out.

Last Friday I went to a small breakfast at Third Way where Joe Manchin was the speaker. This was just two days of course after the failed vote, so interest in his thoughts was keen, and I must say he didn’t disappoint. I’ve sat and listened to a lot of senators, and I have to say Manchin was certainly above average in terms of candor and absence of the usual politician’s fog.

Why did he, a red-state senator who famously took a rifle to the climate bill, take this fight on in the first place? “In my culture, people don’t believe Schumer and Obama are going to protect their Second Amendment rights, so I stepped in.” He never quite said why he stepped in not politically but, if you will, morally; but he clearly seemed shaken after the Newtown shootings, so I guess we’ll just have to go with that as the answer.

He described then the process by which he went about trying to find a Republican co-sponsor because “I knew I had to find an A-rated Republican” (by the NRA) to proceed with something that had a chance. That was Tom Coburn for a while. When Coburn dropped out over a somewhat technical disagreement, he found Pat Toomey, fairly late in the process.

I was most interested in how it all was playing back home, so I asked a question to that effect, and I think his answer said a lot about how Democrats from pro-gun states can navigate this issue. He said he was at a picnic the previous weekend, around 200 to 400 people. When he first came in the room, people were skeptical. But he and a guy named “Frank” simply went through the bill and told people what was in it and what was not in it. “Once people started seeing what was in it, they said, ‘Joe, we’re okay.’”


The System Is Working

I find that I'm turning these days to, an interesting blog about law and national security written by three noted legal eagles, which has been nicely on top of the legal situation post-Boston. You should check it out.

For example, here, the blog summarizes the federal charges brought against Jahar (can I just call him that, by common consent? So much easier to type). This weapons of mass destruction charge seems kind of odd, but it turns out that the relevant federal law, dating to 1986, defines almost any bomb as a WMD.

The blog also notes that Tsarnaev (which I kind like typing) was Mirandized at his bedside. He now has a lawyer. So the system is churning along. Even Glenn Greenwald declared himself (in a tweet) more or less satisfied with the way things have gone so far. Lawfare's Bobby Chesney:

So, what happens next on the interrogation issue?

Dowd wrote a really insipid column yesterday that everyone is piling on, so perhaps this is a little unoriginal of me, but so be it. There's a point that needs making.

She wrote that the failure of the gun bill in the Senate was Obama's fault because he doesn't lead and "no one is scared of him." At the same time that he was supposed to scare people, he was also, she writes, supposed to be nicer to them--calling Tom Coburn to say come on, Tom, you're retiring anyway, take one for the team, or country.

Naturally, Obama is supposed to be more like LBJ. Well, it is true that LBJ was almost surely scarier, to some people anyway, than Obama is. But is that what got all that domestic legislation passed, really?

Or might it have had something to do with the fact that the Congress that passed all those things was the most Democratic Congress in all of history? Kevin Drum made that point. But the point I wish to emphasize is that that Congress was also full to bursting of Republican moderates.

The Paranoid Mind

There’s a common thread linking conservatives’ positions on gun control, immigration, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: the constant need to stoke fear. By Michael Tomasky.

Liberals and civil libertarians shouldn’t yet be saying that there’s utterly no way that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be declared an “enemy combatant.” The post-9/11 law, whatever one’s opinion of it, does say that an American citizen affiliated with al Qaeda, the Taliban, “or associated forces” engaged in hostility with the United States can be declared an enemy combatant. It doesn’t seem like he’s that, but who knows, he may shock everyone when he comes to by saying that he and his brother were precisely that.


House Speaker John Boehner answers questions from reporters on gun control, immigration, and the budget during a news conference on Capitol Hill on April 18. Boehner also expressed appreciation to law enforcement in the wake of the attack on the Boston Marathon and toxic letters mailed to Congress. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

But it isn’t liberals who are jumping the gun here. As usual, conservatives are rushing to judgment, shredding the Constitution, using the bombing as an pretext for derailing immigration reform, and generally seeking any excuse to reimpose their paranoid and authoritarian worldview, which needs fear like a vampire needs blood, on the rest of us.

The cry, which I’m sure will pick up steam this week, was led over the weekend by the usual suspects—John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte, and Peter King. On the basis of what evidence? On the basis of no evidence at all. They know nothing! We’re starting to piece together a portrait of these guys, although it’s more of Tamerlan than of his younger brother. It’s a grim portrait. He evidently did become a radicalized Islamist. But if he and his brother were acting alone, even if the bombing was 100 percent politically motivated, they can’t be called enemy combatants. Period.

The Guardian's Michael Cohen tweeted this, but I was sort of wondering it, too. Was shutting down an entire city really a great idea? Now any would-be terrorist will take it as a challenge to get a city shut down. It's just added incentive.

I can understand authorities wanting less hubbub than usual; can understand that that would make it easier perhaps to track the guy. I can see telling people within a certain radius in Watertown to stay put. But it seems like overreaction to me. The cops are professionals. They train constantly for moments like this. They need to stop all other motion to conduct a manhunt?

If the argument is that it's for people's safety, well...okay, but how many people could this guy really kill? On the day that he set out to kill dozens, he fell well short of that. And what are the odds that any particular individual would cross paths with this guy? When did telling people to use caution and venture only where necessary stop being enough?

And how long is this going to go on? Through the weekend? Seriously? What if the guy is long gone? What if he killed himself somewhere and his body isn't found for days? What if he killed himself and there is no body--he threw himself in an incinerator? Is Boston going to live in perpetual quasi-lockdown? I suppose everything happened so fast overnight and morning rush hour was coming and they had to make a call. But is this really book procedure? It's a bad signal and a large-type invitation to others to shut down other cities.

A Reality Too Complex

After dozing off early I happened to wake up at exactly 12:45. My wife had CNN on and was already watching. We have family in Watertown, about a mile-and-a-half from where it all went down. I've been to that forlorn Watertown Mall several times and took my daughter to play once in the park across the street. We finally called our people at 4 am. They're fine, but pretty...amazed.

It's going to take a while to make sense of this one. The Caucasus may be the one region in the world that Americans know the least about. Literally the least. I include myself. I know some history of the SSRs during the Soviet period, or a little before--from Stalin's youth up throug the war, but that's about the extent of my knowledge, beyond the things that average informed people know about the Chechen-Russian conflict. But I can't tell you if it's important whether they're really Chechen or Dagestani. So maybe this provides us all a good chance to educate ourselves. Not holding my breath on that one, but still.

If you're looking for people who know something, I'm told the person to follow on Twitter is Joshua Foust, who writes for The Atlantic on Afghanistan but whose expertise extends to the Caucasus. He's at @joshuafoust.

I'm sure you've read many of the details I have. Dzokhar Tsarnaev was a happy and friendly person. Tamerlan couldn't find a single American friend. (Even these names--echoes of tsarist Russia and of Tamerlane the conqueror.) Dzokhar ran his brother's dead body over while escaping. Their father says Dzokhar was "a true angel." An uncle apparently said of Tamerlan that he was a "loser" who "deserved" to die.

"Ignored" It?

More on Dr. Gosnell

In my inbox not long ago from a friend landed a good example of the evil liberal media ignoring the Dr. Gosnell case. This is by reproductive health doctor name Lynette Leighton from the web site RH Reality Check, and it is reprinted from back in 2011, back when the liberal media was, you know, ignoring the Gosnell charges the first time they were made public:

I now belong to a wonderful community of primary care doctors who are dedicated to improving women’s health and the treatment they receive, including abortion. We see abortion as inextricable from the full spectrum of medical care a woman might need in her lifetime. We continue to research and refine abortion care while helping to break down barriers separating women from high-quality services.

What a contrast to the Dr. Gosnell case—I was absolutely shocked by the news of an abortion provider who, if the charges prove true, has strayed so far from the principles of our field and the ethics of medicine in general. The news of his clinic’s practices horrifies me. I am sad and angry that Dr. Gosnell’s patients did not benefit from the expertise and empathy I know in the reproductive health world.

When a woman comes to me with an unintended pregnancy, I counsel her thoroughly. If she decides to continue her pregnancy, I talk about vitamins, scheduling prenatal ultrasounds and preparing her older children for the newcomer. When a woman chooses to end her pregnancy, we talk extensively about what to expect, whether she chooses to take medication in the privacy of her home, or have a procedure performed in my office. There are sometimes long discussions about her unique situation, often handholding, and always personal, safe care.


CNN Follies

You know by now that CNN reported that a suspect had been arrested in Boston. But then they had to report that they were wrong. There has been no arrest. Twitter, as you might imagine, has been nothing but CNN jokes for the last 90 minutes or so.

This urge to take enormous risks to be first is crazy in this day and age. Let's say CNN had been right. A year from now, who'd know? Some people in the TV news industry, and that's all. Maybe that matters.

But you get something like this wrong, everybody who pays attention to news remembers. Now CNN will live with the memory of this and its horribly wrong call on the Supreme Court health-care decision.

Now you might also ask if even that matters. Who knows. The BBC has been humiliated recently. Allowing a sexual predator to roam unchecked in your midst is a hell of a lot worse than screwing up a scoop. And yet, I still trust what I see and hear on the BBC. A brand is a powerful thing. But CNN's is diminishing a little more with every one of these embarrassing episodes. 

About the Author

Author headshot

Michael Tomasky

The Daily Beast special correspondent Michael Tomasky is also editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

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