Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Goodbye, Mr. Brooks.

By William Fisher

David Brooks of The New York Times has always been my favorite conservative commentator.

Our worldviews are often different and the same sets of facts often lead us to quite different conclusions. But his thinking has consistently challenged my own. He has forced me rethink some of my own orthodoxies. His arguments are literate, reasoned, and thoughtful. They display an awareness of history that has become rare in these days of soundbites and talking points. And his writing is devoid of the toxic hyperbole that has become the meat-and-potatoes of most of his demagogic conservative colleagues, like Anne Coulter.

That’s why I found his recent encomium for John McCain so outrageously disappointing. Here’s what he wrote in The Times:

“He is not a sophisticated conceptual thinker, but he is a good judge of character.”

OK, not a sophisticated conceptual thinker – I can accept that; it would be a refreshing change to have a thoughtful and – dare I say it? – curious man occupying the Oval Office. But it’s not an absolute prerequisite for the presidency.

But “a good judge of character”? That stretches credulity.

How would a good judge of character choose to hire a campaign manager who owns a company hired to lobby for the very perks John McCain now rails against? How would a good judge of character select as his principal spokesperson a recipient of one of the more golden parachutes of business failure while pledging to put an end to corporate greed? How would a good judge of character choose a principal economic advisor famously known as the father of deregulation while promising real reform and an end to the cowboy culture of Wall Street? And how would a good judge of character choose a running mate who, by even the most charitable measure, is arguably less qualified to be vice president than any other candidate for that office in the history of the country? Much less one who would be a single beat away from a 72-year-old heart?

I can only conclude that David Brooks must have been in some state of total denial when he commended John McCain as a good judge of character. But of all McCain’s character-judgment deficits, none is more revealing than his choice of Sarah Palin.

What does her selection say about the character judgment of a guy who would throw the country under the bus to energize the Republican base?

Even conservatives like Kathleen Parker and George Will are rightfully embarrassed by this wildly cynical judgment by Sen. McCain. And so is the rest of the world, which finds his choice not just laughable, but downright dangerous.

Sarah Palin announced that, after her election, she would be in charge of reform, energy policy and looking out for mothers with special needs children. Big portfolio, that.

But which of us would trust it to a person capable of participating in this exchange with Katie Couric of CBS?

COURIC: Why isn't it better, Governor Palin, to spend $700 billion helping middle-class families struggling with health care, housing, gas and groceries? ... Instead of helping these big financial institutions that played a role in creating this mess?

PALIN: Ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to help shore up the economy -- Oh, it's got to be about job creation too. So health care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions.

During the next four years, our country will face some of its most serious challenges since the Civil War. That John McCain would choose Sarah Palin to help confront these challenges speaks volumes about his judgment of character.

(And, oh, by the way, her acceptance tells us a lot about Governor Palin’s character. A person of real character would have declined the nomination on grounds of her own unpreparedness. Instead, what we got from Sarah was, “A good mother knows how to be good President! that's the bottom line!”)

Well, I find it hard to believe that David Brooks thinks it’s the bottom line. And I find it even harder to believe that David Brooks seriously considered any of this before painting John McCain as such a sterling judge of character. Had he done so, “country first” would have led us down a more responsible road – and have become something more an empty partisan mantra.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


By William Fisher

A woman who was denied asylum in the U.S. despite her fears that she would suffer additional female genital mutilation if she was deported to her native Mali has been given a second chance.

Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey -- whose intervention was sought in a national campaign by women’s and human rights groups -- has reversed a ruling by a federal immigration board that acknowledged that the woman’s genitals had been cut as a child but said that while “reprehensible,” the mutilation could not be repeated.

The Attorney General concluded this month that the ruling was flawed and sent the case back to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) for reconsideration, along with guidance regarding legal errors the BIA had committed.

He said, “As several courts have recognized, female genital mutilation is indeed capable of repetition.”

The woman, Alima Traore, 28, was not identified in the Attorney General’s decision but had earlier been identified in an article in The New York Times. The immigration board had ordered her to be sent back to Mali. In addition to the threat of additional mutilation, the woman’s father said he would force her to marry a first cousin. Ms. Traore also said she feared that if she gave birth to a female child, the child would face similar genital cutting. Some 95 percent of women in Mali have undergone genital cutting, according to reports from the U.S. State Department.

Karen Musalo, director of the Center for Gender Refugee Studies at the Hastings law school at the University of California, was among those who spearheaded national efforts to persuade the Attorney General to reverse the decision. She told us, “The BIA's decision exemplified an appalling lack of sensitivity or knowledge on the issue of women's rights. Board members wrongly assumed that (female genital mutilation) could only be performed once, and failed to recognize that women who live in societies where (such cutting) is inflicted are subject to a constellation of other forms of gender-based violence.”

She added that the BIA’s “treatment of the issue of forced marriage was just as off-base -- characterizing it as an unfortunate inconvenience -- rather than as the denial of women's fundamental human rights. Under well-accepted international human rights norms, forced marriage is seen as a form of servitude, involving ongoing non-consensual sexual relations -- in other words -- rape.”

Ms. Traore has lived in the United States since 2000. She arrived on a tourist
visa and remained on a student visa, attending college and studying nursing. Her student visa expired in 2003.

The nation’s immigration judges, who are appointed by the Attorney General, have drawn sharp criticism for lack of experience in immigration law, and the Justice Department has been accused of appointing political cronies to these posts as part of the politicization of the Department.

This has resulted in what some critics have called “cowboy justice.” For example, studies have shown wide disparities in outcomes of similar immigration appeals between judges in different immigration courts and even among judges sitting on the same court.

One study found that a judge was 1820% more likely to grant an asylum than another judge in the same courthouse. It also found that one U.S. Court of Appeals was 1148% more likely to rule in favor of an asylum-seeker than another U.S. Court of Appeals, and that the fate of asylum-seekers was often decided not by the facts of the case but rather by a clerk’s random assignment of an applicant to one asylum officer rather than another, or one immigration judge rather than another.

Collectively, asylum officers, immigration judges, members of the Board of Immigration Appeals, and judges of U.S. Courts of Appeals render about 77,000 asylum decisions annually. Almost all of them involve claims that an applicant for asylum reasonably fears imprisonment, torture, or death if forced to return to his or her home country.

The nation’s 215 Immigration Judges handle over 300,000 cases a year. With only 215 Judges, a single judge has to dispose of 1,400 cases a year or nearly 27 cases a week, or more than five each business day, simply to stay abreast of his or her docket.

A study published in the Stanford University Law Review concluded that “in the world of asylum adjudication, there is remarkable variation in decision-making from one official to the next, from one office to the next, from one region to the next, from one judicial circuit to the next, and from one year to the next, even during periods when there has been no intervening change in the law.”

The study confirmed many of the findings of an analysis carried out by The Washington Post, which found that politicization of the asylum-seeking process was as rampant among DOJ-appointed immigration officials as it had been shown to be among U.S. Attorneys.

The Post found that “At least one-third of the immigration judges appointed by the Justice Department since 2004 have had Republican connections or have been administration insiders, and half lacked experience in immigration law….”

The newspaper added, “These appointments, all made by the attorney general, have begun to reshape a system of courts in which judges, ruling alone, exercise broad powers -- deporting each year nearly a quarter-million immigrants, who have limited rights to appeal and no right to an attorney.”

When Michael Mukasey took over from disgraced former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in late 2007, he cited improvement of the asylum-seeking process among his priorities. Since then, some retiring immigration judges have reportedly been replaced by more experience people, and immigration judges have received specialized training.

Gonzales’ 18-month tenure at the Justice Department was beset with controversy. A longtime Bush confidante and former White House Counsel, he announced his resignation after months of Congressional grilling over the firings of federal prosecutors and allegations that he had misled Congress about the Bush Administration’s “warrantless wiretapping” program.

Monday, September 22, 2008

How About a Different Kind of Rescue Plan?

By William Fisher

I know, I know. I’m supposed to be writing about Hank Paulson’s “rescue” plan, or the wisdom of sending more troops to Afghanistan, or the first presidential debate, or fact-checking the misstatements of the candidates.

But sometimes, less is more. The story that goes un-noticed and under-reported can often illuminate a much broader issue and provide insights at multiple levels.

Such a story appeared a couple of weeks ago in the online edition of the Los Angeles Times – and, to the best knowledge of me and Google – in less than a handful of other publications.

It caught my attention because it came on the heels of the “ServiceNation Summit” at Columbia University, where Senators McCain and Obama – appearing separately – presented their views on public service and civic engagement in post-9/11 America.

No surprises here. Predictably, both declared they were all in favor of more public service and more civic engagement.

Good. Now suppose you were motivated to actually do something to show your commitment to public service? Like joining the Peace Corps, for example.

Well, you would discover that the Peace Corps is planning to cut 400 volunteer positions. You would discover that Corps missions in many under-developed countries were being forced to assign one person to do the work of two. And you would further discover that, with fewer spots, an increasing number of Corps volunteers who were expecting to begin service this fall were seeing their deployments delayed at least until next year -- and in some cases indefinitely.

The reason is the agency’s $18 million budget shortfall. That shortfall, according to the LA times, is the declining value of the dollar and increased food and fuel costs worldwide. The Corps, which has a budget of $330.8 million, estimates its foreign-currency losses from 2008 alone to be $9.2 million.

Worse, the Corps’ budget for fiscal 2009 has not yet been passed. The House Appropriations subcommittee that sets Peace Corps funding has supported the Bush Administration’s request for $343.5 million, and its Senate counterpart has approved $337 million. But until Congress passes that budget -- which could be delayed until after the presidential inauguration in January -- the agency must operate at its existing funding levels.

Now, why do I think this is important? Surely, when we’re spending $10 billion a month in Iraq, we shouldn’t get apoplectic over an amount that our elected officials in Washington would regard as chump change!

This missing $18 million is important because yet again it reminds us that the fiscal policies of the Bush Administration have immediate and practical consequences. Like when the dollar – once considered the world’s preeminent currency – finds itself in continuous and sustained decline, as it has over these past seven-plus years. The reasons behind our shrinking dollar are numerous and complex, but most economists agree that a major contributor is the world’s expectations of weaker U.S. growth and stronger overseas economies. And since most of the world’s commodities – including oil – are denominated in U.S. dollars, the dollar’s declining value pushes up the prices of these essentials. For all of us, including the Peace Corps.

The Peace Corps’ budget shortfall is also important because of what it tells us about the priorities of the White House and of Congress. There is no way I can be persuaded that our elected officials have to wait until the next Administration takes over to find $18 million. This is not a matter of budgetary procedures or of Congressional rules. And it’s not related to our current financial sector meltdown.

This is a simple matter of political will. If today’s Peace Corps had anything close to the powerful Beltway “rabbis” it once had, the missing $18 million could be found tomorrow – no, this afternoon. Maybe the solution would be to build just one less bridge to nowhere.

But there is a third, and arguably the most compelling, argument for fully funding the Peace Corps: It is one of our pitifully few foreign policy success stories. There could be no more powerful message about America than volunteers flying off to work in often hostile and dangerous places with no agenda other than helping the less fortunate.

When John F. Kennedy launched the Peace Corps in 1961, I was a very junior member of his administration. I was perhaps too inexperienced to fully appreciate the enormous potency of low-profile person-to-person public diplomacy. Back then, I had never heard of “soft power,” but nonetheless I had the sense that this was an initiative whose impact would far exceed its cost. And a program our country would come to be proud of.

The Peace Corps began in the heady Camelot days of JFK’s presidency. But, unlike Camelot, it was never about mythology. It was real. It was as practical and down-in-the-weeds as any government program can get. It fed on and brought out the best values of Americans and America.

Since then, the Corps hasn’t disappointed. Over its forty-seven years, some 190,000 volunteers have served in 139 countries. Today, there are 8,079 volunteers working in 74 countries. They still dig wells to bring fresh water to poor villages in the middle of nowhere. They still work with subsistence farmers to improve crop yields and stave off famines. They still advise expectant mothers about pre- and post-natal care. They still teach kids in one-room schools with dirt floors. And, more recently, they work to transfer entrepreneurial skills to microbusiness ideas the local banks don’t want to hear about.

In a world in which the United States finds itself with ever-fewer friends, the Peace Corps continues to forge bonds that last for decades and strengthen over time. It presents an alternative image of America to its recipients and to the countries they live in. It creates friends. And friends become allies.

So when Messrs. McCain and Obama extol the merits of public service and exhort us to become participants, they and we ought to be sure that $18 million doesn’t stand between our best instincts and the opportunity to serve.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Palin: The Best We Can Hope For

By William Fisher

Political junkies follow poll numbers. So we know that there is more than a remote chance that John McCain might indeed become our next president. Which would make Sarah Palin our next vice president.

Just after her nomination, Governor Palin famously admitted that she had no idea what a vice president does all day. But later, she said the president would tap her for (1) energy issues (2) government reform, and (3) helping families with special needs children.

If these three tasks were specified by McCain, the nation could in for more trouble; she appears to be uniquely unqualified to take on any of them. If not, there may still be a shred of hope.

The hope is that McCain’s second most important executive decision will be to turn the clock back to a time when the first official in the line of presidential succession was, to quote FDR’s Veep, John Nance Garner, "not worth a bucket of warm piss.”

And, after eight years of Dick Cheney, this could be a brilliant idea, a real coup for the new president.

Even for John McCain, it could be a no-brainer. After all, the Constitution gives the vice president only two jobs: Taking the top job if the President becomes unable to serve due to death, resignation, or medical impairment, and acting as the presiding officer of the Senate. In that second role – which the Veep virtually never actually performs – his duties are to cast a vote in the event of a Senate deadlock and to preside over and certify the official vote count of the Electoral College.

Assuming McCain stays healthy, those tasks, plus maybe attending state funerals and otherwise becoming part of Washington’s ceremonial furniture, would be ideal for Sarah. She’d be ready!

And, for John McCain, this could be the beginning of The McCain Doctrine. It would be a wonderful example of preemptive damage control! And it would bolster his image of a guy deeply committed to “country first” by preserving our nation’s traditions.

For most of our history, that tradition has made the vice president largely invisible. John Adams, our first Veep, described it as "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived." When the Whig Party was looking for a vice president on Zachary Taylor's ticket in 1848, they approached Daniel Webster, who said of the offer, "I do not intend to be buried until I am dead." Vice President John C. Calhoun became the first vice president to resign the office, believing he would have more power as a senator.

For most of our history, vice presidents didn’t even attend meetings of the Cabinet. John Adams attended on in 1791, but after that no vice president did so until Thomas Marshall stood in for Woodrow Wilson while the president traveled to Europe in 1918 and 1919. Warren Harding’s vice president, Charles G. Dawes, was uninvited to the Cabinet Room after he opined that "the precedent might prove injurious to the country." Ditto Charles Curtis, Herbert Hoover’s Veep.

Roosevelt maintained the tradition. He kept his last vice president, Harry Truman, totally in the dark about all war and postwar issues, including the atomic bomb, leading Truman to describe the job of the vice president as going to weddings and funerals.

It was not until Richard Nixon became Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president that the office began to remotely resemble today’s iteration. Eisenhower ordered Nixon to preside at Cabinet meetings in his absence. Nixon also became the first vice president to temporarily assume control of the executive branch during Ike’s three illnesses.

Not until 1949 did Congress make the vice president one of four statutory members of the National Security Council. Walter Mondale, Jimmy Carter’s second-in-command, was the first Veep to have an office in the West Wing of the White House. And George H. W. Bush, while highly experienced in legislative, intelligence and diplomatic affairs, maintained a very low profile in Ronald Reagan’s administration.

But since the Reagan years, the Veep’s office has grown in importance through successive administrations. Al Gore, for example, was a key advisor to Bill Clinton on matters of foreign policy and the environment.

And then came Darth Vader, with his White House within the White House, his Scooter Libbys and David Addingtons, his acolytes at the Justice and Defense Departments, his skills as the ultimate Washington out-manouverer, and hence his outsize influence on the rookie Governor of Texas.

But John McCain is fond of projecting himself as his own man. Maverick, you know. So it would be a credible part of his narrative – and well within his powers -- to cede no authority whatever to Vice President Palin.

In which case, she could dutifully take up residence at Number One Observatory Circle, along with the First Dude and their kids, and perhaps even install a tanning bed.

Doubtless, Sarah would be Ready on Day One to start conspiring to use the Veep’s office as her way to build a bridge to somewhere. But that might take a year or so.

Meanwhile, the Republic would be safer.

And that’s the best we can hope for.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Lipstick on the Constitution?

By William Fisher

After almost eight years of George W. Bush’s secret government, “of the people, by the people, and for the people” has become a joke.

Not a joke like lipstick on a pig. A joke like pathetic.

Because government secrecy is one of a cornucopia of serious issues our presidential candidates are busy not discussing.

Consider the following:

In its “Secrecy Report Card 2008,” the advocacy group Open The Government concludes that the Bush Administration has “exercised unprecedented levels not only of restriction of access to information about federal government's policies and decisions, but also of suppression of discussion of those policies and their underpinnings and sources.”

Today, the report finds, the Bush Administration “continues to refuse to be held accountable to the public through the oversight responsibilities of Congress.”

It concludes, “We have been made less secure as a result and the open society on which we pride ourselves has been undermined and will take hard work to repair.”

Here are some of the report’s principal findings:

Classification activity remains significantly higher than before 2001. In 2006, the number of original classification decisions increased to 233,639, after dropping for the two previous years.

The government spent $195 maintaining the secrets already on the books for every one dollar it spent declassifying documents in 2007, a five per cent increase in one year. At the same time, fewer pages were declassified than in 2006. The nation’s 16 intelligence agencies, which account for a large segment of the declassification numbers, are excluded from the total reported figures.

Classified, or “black” programs accounted for about $31.9 billion, or 18 per cent of the fiscal year (FY) 2008 Department of Defense (DOD) acquisition funding requested in 2007. Classified acquisition funding has more than doubled in real terms since FY 1995.

Almost 22 million requests were received under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 2007, an increase of almost 2% over last year. The 25 departments and agencies that handle the bulk of the third-party information requests, however, received 63,000 fewer requests than 2006 -- but processed only 2,100 more.

In 2007, the total cost of FOIA implementation across the government increased 16%. But a 2008 study revealed that, in 2007, FOIA spending at 25 key agencies fell by $7 million to $233.8 million and the agencies put 209 fewer people to work processing FOIA requests.

In 2007, the federal government closed the lid on 128 patents. Overall, that brings the total number of inventions kept under "secrecy orders" to 5,002.

While the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) does not reveal much about its activities, the Department of Justice reported that, in 2007, the FISC approved 2,371 orders -- rejecting only three and approving two left over from the previous year. Since 2000, federal surveillance activity under the jurisdiction of FISC has risen for the 9th year in a row -- more than doubling during the Bush Administration.

FISC was established under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in 1978 after revelations of the widespread wiretapping by the administration of Richard M. Nixon to spy on political and activist groups. Recently, efforts to reform the act have been triggered by the Bush Administration’s admission that it had conducted secret surveillance programs in the U.S. without warrants from the FISA court.

During FY 2007, suits brought by whistleblowers accounted for $1.45 billion of the $2 billion the United States obtained in settlements and judgments concerning fraud on the United States. However, the Department of Justice (DOJ) faces an ever-growing backlog of over 900 cases.

More than 25% of all contracts awarded by the federal government are not competed. In 2007, 26.2 percent ($114.2 billion) of federal contracts' dollars were completely uncompeted; only a third of contract dollars were subject to full and open competition. On average since 2000, more than 25% of all contract funding was not competed and fully and openly competed contracts have dropped by almost 25%.

Investigations by Congress and independent government agencies of the war in Iraq have revealed billions of dollars in no-bid contracts, covering everything from delivering food and water to U.S. troops to providing armed security for U.S. officials and visiting dignitaries. There have been widespread allegations of waste, fraud and abuse by contractors. Several have been convicted and prosecutions of others are pending.

In 2007, government agencies received 7,827 new initial requests for Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR), of which 88% were processed, resulting in the declassification of information in 431,371 pages: 75% in full; 18% in part; 7% remained classified in their entirety after review. For 2007, almost 5,000 initial requests -- 42% -- were carried over into 2008.

During 2007, government-wide, 64% of meetings of The Federal Advisory Committee were closed to the public. Excluding groups advising three agencies that historically have accounted for the majority of closed meetings, 15% of the remainder were closed -- a 24% increase over the number closed in 2006. These numbers do not reflect closed meetings of subcommittees and taskforces.

The Federal Advisory Committee Act was passed in 1972 to ensure that advice by the various advisory committees formed over the years is objective and accessible to the public.

In seven years, President Bush has issued at least 156 signing statements, challenging over 1000 provisions of laws. Eight were issued in 2007 alone.

The so-called “state secrets privilege” -- invoked only six times between 1953 and 1976 -- has been used by the Bush Administration a reported 45 times -- an average of 6.4 times per year in seven years. This is more than double the average (2.46) of the previous 24 years.

As you will recall, the “state secrets privilege” is a legal doctrine that contends that admission of certain information into court proceedings would endanger U.S. national security. The Bush Administration has frequently invoked the privilege to dismiss lawsuits that would be embarrassing to the government, and the courts have generally been deferential to the government’s claims.

National Security Letter (NSL) requests continued to rise; the 2007mumbers are still classified, but the recently unclassified new number for 2006 shows a 4.7 per cent increase in requests over 2005. Since enactment of the USA Patriot Act in 2001, the number of NSLs issued has seen an astronomical increase. And an admission from FBI Director Robert Mueller that his agency has committed multiple abuses of its NSL power.

The NSL provision of the Patriot Act radically expanded the authority of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to demand personal customer records from Internet Service Providers, financial institutions and credit companies without prior court approval.

Through NSLs, the FBI is authorized to compile dossiers about innocent people and obtain sensitive information such as the web sites a person visits, a list of e-mail addresses with which a person has corresponded, or even unmask the identity of a person who has posted anonymous speech on a political website. The provision also allows the FBI to forbid or "gag" anyone who receives an NSL from telling anyone about the record demand.

All of which raises the question of what if anything our next president proposes to do to return our government to us, “the people.”

And whatever happened to the serious discussion of these kinds of critical issues that Messrs. Obama and McCain promised us? Both have been virtually speechless on this one.

Too busy, I guess, putting lipstick on their pigs.

Monday, September 08, 2008


By William Fisher

So now we know about Alaska’s famous jet.

Thanks to that vast left-wing media conspiracy, we know Sarah Palin didn’t sell the thing on ebay.

We know her administration tried several times – and failed.

And we know that it was finally sold – at a loss – to businessman Larry Reynolds, an Alaska refugee from Texas, who was brought into the deal by a Palin pal, John L. Harris, the Speaker of Alaska’s House of Representatives. (Reynolds’ wife reportedly donated $1,000 to Harris’ campaign.)

But we also know that the day after the Republican Party’s convention, while campaigning with Governor Palin, John McCain told the ecstatic crowd, “She took the jet that was acquired by her predecessor and sold it on ebay... and made a profit."

What we don’t know is whether Mr. Straight-Talk knowingly lied, or whether he was simply parroting the talking points provided by his campaign aides (misinformation also confirmed by a Palin spokesperson).

If he was intentionally peddling misinformation, he lied. Sound familiar? It should; it’s a chapter straight out of the Bush/Rove playbook (let us not forget that this was precisely the kind of thing George W. Bush did to McCain in South Carolina in 2000).

And if McCain was simply playing Charlie McCarthy, it should remind us of Governor Palin’s vetting process and all the “judgment” that went into that process.

Either way, the ebay caper will likely be forgotten long before Election Day -- it’s already being dismissed by some as nothing worse than “good old American politics.”

Meanwhile, there’s an issue surfacing that’s far more serious than the sale of Alaska’s jet. It’s far more serious because it goes to the very heart of Governor Palin’s approach to governance.

The issue is God. Specifically, the ideological intersection between God and public policy.

Sarah Palin’s approach to public policy is God-driven. God’s on her side. She doesn’t just think it – that would imply some sort of rationality. She knows it. And that Bushian construct is arguably the scariest part of Palin being just a single beat away from a 72-year-old heart.

During a speech at a Pentecostal church, Palin exhorted the congregants to pray for our service members in Iraq who are “carrying out the will of the Lord.” The United States sent troops to that fight on a "task that is from God," she said.

She continued: "That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God's plan."

And, as if God didn’t already have enough on His plate, Palin told her church audience that God was also interested in pipelines, specifically the $30 billion national gas pipeline project that Palin was pushing for. She asked her church audience to pray for it. The pipeline, she said, was "God's will."

She told graduating students of the church's School of Ministry, "What I need to do is strike a deal with you guys." As they preached the love of Jesus throughout Alaska, she said, she'd work to implement God's will from the governor's office, including creating jobs by building a pipeline to bring North Slope natural gas to North American markets. "God's will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that," she exhorted.

A pipeline -- God’s will?

So America’s voters will be violating God's will if they disagree with Gov. Sarah Palin's views on Iraq or energy policy? Does sound a tad that way, doesn’t it?

Now, I can’t read this kind of stuff without being reminded of the poster-boy for the God-is-on-our-side school of public policy.

That would be Lt. Gen. William G. "Jerry" Boykin, one-time commander of the Army's top-secret Delta Force and former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence.

This born-again evangelical, you may recall, was the guy who appeared in dress uniform and polished jump boots before a religious group in Oregon to declare that radical Islamists hated the United States "because we're a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christian ... and the enemy is a guy named Satan."

Other tidbits of Boykin’s wisdom:

"I knew my God was bigger than his (a Somali warlord). I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.”

"We in the army of God, in the house of God, kingdom of God, have been raised for such a time as this (Iraq War)."

President Bush is “in the White House because God put him there."

Oh. I always knew there must be a reason, but I thought it was the Supreme Court. Now I know.

What Sarah Palin needs to know is that the world is complicated, short on absolutes and full of grays. But if God is your public policy advisor, there are no grays. There are no ambiguities. The world is black and white, good or evil.

From that theocratic starting point, public policy gets built on certitude and hubris. And we’ve all seen where that takes us.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

McCain: Mushy Maverick?

By William Fisher

Cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners is an issue about which John McCain cares deeply. He should: As we all know, that’s exactly what he endured for more than five years in the Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War.

That’s why it’s unsurprising that, back in 2005, McCain filed an amendment to a Defense Department bill explicitly banning the use of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by U.S. personnel anywhere in the world, and prohibiting U.S. military interrogators from using interrogation techniques not listed in the U.S. Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation.

President George W. Bush wasn’t happy. The White House tried just about everything to kill the McCain amendment. Vice President Dick Cheney lobbied Congress to exempt the CIA from any interrogation limits, and Bush threatened to veto the bill, arguing that the executive branch has exclusive authority over war policy.

But after veto-proof bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress approved the measure, Bush called a press conference with McCain, praised the amendment, and said he would accept it. Bush finally signed the Detainee Treatment Act in early 2006.

But a couple of weeks later, Bush quietly issued one of his famous “signing statements.” That statement gave the President the right to bypass the law under his powers as commander in chief.

Bush wrote: ''The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power, which will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President, evidenced in Title X, of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks.”

Meaning that Bush would be free to ignore U.S. law whenever he thought he should.

Now it was John McCain’s turn to be outraged. And he appeared to be. He publicly rebuked President Bush’s action. He said he would "be one of the first to support going to the United States Supreme Court" if the president indicated through a signing statement that he was "not going to abide" by a law passed by Congress. And he threatened heightened Congressional scrutiny over the Administration’s implementation of the new law.

Well President Bush could not have been clearer. “Not going to abide” was precisely what the President indicated. And McCain did what?


He told Chris Matthews on Hardball, "I would never issue a signing statement. It is wrong, and it should not be done." But he didn’t go anywhere near a court to challenge the statement the president had just signed. Nor did he hold a single oversight hearing on the President’s administration of the DTA.

So what happened to Mr. Maverick?

He caved.

Which leaves us with this question: If John McCain was prepared to cave on an issue that is at the very heart of his personal campaign narrative, shouldn’t we all be wondering what else he’ll be ready to cave on?