Former CIA operative (and current wingnut) Michael Scheuer says that "The only chance we have as a country right now is" for bin Laden to "detonate a major weapon" inside the United States. Only then, he says, will our government do what is necessary to prevent bin Laden from . . . detonating a major weapon inside the United States. Glenn Beck nods appreciatively.
Let's be clear about this. Scheuer and Beck are expressly hoping for a mass casualty terror strike within the United States because that would further their political agenda. This batshit insanity now passes for mainstream discourse on the right. Somebody throw a net on these guys.
A quadrupling of the national debt in just one year and accepting a nuclear-armed sponsor of international terrorism such as Iran are not things from which any country is guaranteed to recover.
Just two nuclear bombs were enough to get Japan to surrender in World War II. It is hard to believe that it would take much more than that for the United States of America to surrender — especially with people in control of both the White House and the Congress who were for turning tail and running in Iraq just a couple of years ago.
Perhaps people who are busy gushing over the Obama cult today might do well to stop and think about what it would mean for their granddaughters to live under sharia law.
The glib pieties in Barack Obama’s televised sermonettes will not stop Iran from becoming a nuclear terrorist nation. Time is running out fast and we will be lucky if it doesn’t happen during the first term of this president. If he gets elected to a second term — which is quite possible, despite whatever economic disasters he leads us into — our fate as a nation may be sealed.
First a little cleanup on "quadrupling of the national debt in just one year." When George Bush left office the national debt stood at approximately $10 trillion. To quadruple that "in just one year" we'd have to run a deficit of $30 trillion in fiscal 2009. This is not the sort of goofy claim one would expect of a brilliant economist.
But it's the hyperventiliating about Iran that really caught my eye. If Iran develops a nuclear bomb or two, Sowell claims, it will blow up a US city or two. That seems nutty to me, but the really nutty part is Sowell's belief that this would cause us to surrender to Iran and live under Sharia law. If Obama gets a second term, he warns, our daughters will have to wear burkas.
And he knows this is true because lots of us thought it was a bad idea to keep fighting a disastrous war in Iraq. I mean, if you don't think we should invade and occupy countries that don't pose any serious threat to us, then obviously you'd let Iran take over the United States. Right?
Apparently Thomas Sowell thinks "Red Dawn" is a documentary.
Byron York explains that Barack Obama isn't nearly as popular as he seems, because some of his support comes from negroes:
On his 100th day in office, Barack Obama enjoys high job approval ratings, no matter what poll you consult. But if a new survey by the New York Times is accurate, the president and some of his policies are significantly less popular with white Americans than with black Americans, and his sky-high ratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are.
As everyone knows the preference of a negro respondent is worth only three-fifths that of an actual (white) respondent. Here is an example of some non-actual Obama supporters:
Back when all was right with the world American Presidents would never "smile and greet" Russian leaders, because "[w]e understood who they were." Now we have a President who bows down to dogs. God only knows what submissive gestures Obama may privately be making to Bo.
RUSH: You know what we have learned about the Somali pirates, the merchant marine organizers that were wiped out at the order of Barack Obama, you know what we learned about them? They were teenagers. The Somali pirates, the merchant marine organizers who took a US merchant captain hostage for five days were inexperienced youths, the defense secretary, Roberts Gates, said yesterday, adding that the hijackers were between 17 and 19 years old. Now, just imagine the hue and cry had a Republican president ordered the shooting of black teenagers on the high seas. Greetings and welcome back, Rush Limbaugh, the Excellence in Broadcasting Network and the Limbaugh Institute for Advanced Conservative Studies.
They were kids. The story is out, I don't know if it's true or not, but apparently the hijackers, these kids, the merchant marine organizers, Muslim kids, were upset, they wanted to just give the captain back and head home because they were running out of food, they were running out of fuel, they were surrounded by all these US Navy ships, big ships, and they just wanted out of there. That's the story, but then when one of them put a gun to the back of the captain, Mr. Phillips, then bam, bam, bam. There you have it, and three teenagers shot on the high seas at the order of President Obama.
Limbaugh's Obama Derangement Syndrome is so severe that he's now sympathizing with Somali pirates -- whom he thinks were Muslims. Poor kids. Too bad Obama is so bloodthirsty.
While running an errand I just listened to Fred and wife Jeri on Fred's radio show. Just before a break Fred took a call from a guy who was concerned that the Department of Homeland Security would run some sort of lethal "black ops" on tea party protesters. He mentioned something about "bird serum". Then just after the break Fred took a call from a guy reporting from a protest in Virginia. He said people were "dismayed and upset with what's been going on." When Fred asked him to specify the number one issue on people's minds he responded, "They want their country back."
"Wow," said Fred.
"Couldn't have said it better," said Jeri.
The wingnuts want their country back. Where do they think it's gone?
Today is "Tea Party" day, and angry right wingers have organized rallies "to protest higher taxes and out-of-control government spending." Of course, none of the protesters actually will pay higher taxes this year, and unless they make more than $250,000 a year they won't pay higher taxes in 2011, but some day someone will have to pay higher taxes to retire the debt, and they're mad as hell about it. Or something.
Initially, I agree with David Shuster that, "if you are planning simultaneous tea bagging all around the country, you’re going to need a Dick Armey."
The bottom line here is that the tea baggers are an embittered minority whose anger probably has less to do with the future tax burden of as yet unidentified taxpayers and more to do with an inchoate fear that the country is going to hell under a scary liberal negro who's going to take away their guns and let illegal immigrants take their jobs. If Glenn Beck is any example, the far right is coming unglued:
Yesterday, amid great fanfare, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) unveiled the Republicans' alternative budget. The budget would reduce the top tax bracket to 25 percent, giving the wealthy another massive tax cut. The effect of this tax cut would be offset to some extent by a five-year spending freeze on everything except military spending and veterans benefits. The proposal contemplates that Social Security benefits will be capped, and Medicare will be replaced by a voucher. The result, Ryan claims, will be dramatically lower budget deficits than what would prevail under what Ryan calls "Democratic budgets":
There's so much wrong with this that it's hard to know where to begin.
First, the Republican proposal pretends to project out for 70 years, and the sexy divergence doesn't begin to occur for 20 years, well outside the range of credible projection. A footnote claims that the "Out-years" are "based on CBO's Long-Term Alternative Fiscal Scenario", but CBO hasn't done any projections past 2019. As Conor Clarke notes, it looks like "Paul Ryan and his staff just took the CBO projections that ended in 2019 and drew a random line, extending upward at about a 45 degree angle, until 2080."
Second, the proposal assumes that people will voluntarily pay more in taxes than they're required to. The proposal would set a new top rate of 25 percent, beginning at $100,000, and a rate of 10 percent on all income below that. But if they wished to, says the proposal, taxpayers would be free to keep right on paying at the higher rates. No one would conceivably do that, but the proposal's tax revenue calculations assume that everyone would. This farcical sleight-of-hand allows the Republicans to understate the fiscal impact of their massive tax cut for the wealthy by about $300 billion per year.
Third, it's insane to call for a spending freeze when consumer spending, business investment, and exports are all falling in a global recession. Even Herbert Hoover didn't do that.
Fifth, a five-year spending freeze would cripple the federal government's ability to do anything but fight wars. That's among the reasons why this ludicrous proposal has no chance of ever becoming law. The Republicans might as well have proposed to cut costs by having federal employees ride unicorns instead of driving cars. That's equally likely to happen.
Without even addressing the House Republicans' defective proposals for Social Security and Medicare, it's obvious that this is a profoundly unserious proposal. Last week House Republicans were ridiculed for presenting a budget with no numbers. This week they should be ridiculed for proposing an absurd budget with made up numbers. Bob Cesca's off to a pretty good start:
A Steve Benen post reminded me of this moment from Barack Obama's address to the joint session of Congress:
During President Obama's address to Congress last month, he pointed to Ty'Sheoma Bethea, a young girl in South Carolina whose school is falling apart. Bethea, who sat next to the First Lady, had written a letter to Congress.
"Bethea has been told that her school is hopeless, but the other day after class she went to the public library and typed up a letter to the people sitting in this room. She even asked her principal for the money to buy a stamp. The letter asks us for help, and says, 'We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina but also the world. We are not quitters.'"
Well, guess what? The money to refurbish Bethea's school is part of the $700 million that South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford wants to reject. Ali Frick links to a devastating CNN report that makes Sanford out to be quite a villain, noting that Sanford's rejection of the stimulus money would also result in 7,500 teachers being fired in South Carolina.
Happily I don't live in South Carolina, but I wonder how Sanford's stupidity is playing at home.
In response to criticism from South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn of his decision to reject $700 million in stimulus money, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford evoked Zimbabwe:
"What you're doing is buying into the notion that if we just print some more money that we don't have and send it to different states, we'll create jobs," he said. "If that's the case, why isn't Zimbabwe a rich place?"
Zimbabwe has been in the throes of an economic meltdown ever since the southern African nation embarked on a chaotic land reform program. Its official inflation rate topped 11 million percent in 2008, with its treasury printing banknotes in the trillion-dollar range to keep up with the plummeting value of its currency.
After Clyburn said Sanford's Zimbabwe reference was "beyond the pale", Sanford explained that he hadn't intended to bring race into it -- that he merely intended to refer to a country with hyperinflation, regardless of race. Regardless of his intentions, David Kurtz points out, Zimbabwe was an unfortunate choice:
If you're the governor and a prominent black congressman from your state says refusing to take stimulus money will disproportionately hurt black citizens of your state, would you turn around and compare the stimulus plan to the economic policy of ... Zimbabwe?
The more fundamental problem, though, is that Sanford's comparison reveals that he has no idea what's actually going on. Our problem isn't an overheated economy. Our problem is that spending has fallen off a cliff, causing the economy to plunge into a recession. Unlike Zimbabwe, the United States is at no risk of hyperinflation. Indeed, there's virtually no inflation at all here. There is, however, a very serious risk of deflation, which we're trying to prevent by increasing government spending to stimulate the economy.
It's remarkable that Sanford doesn't get this, because unemployment in South Carolina has risen to 10.4 percent, leaving Sanford's state with the second-highest unemployment rate in the country, behind only Michigan. Meanwhile, Sanford is trying reject money that would stimulate South Carolina's economy and get people back to work -- based on the bizarre notion that our main problem is hyperinflation.
No matter what they may call themselves from time to time, there are really just two parties in this country: the Silly Party and the Stupid Party. Mark Sanford illustrates why the GOP is today's Stupid Party.
Republicans have reacted with outrage to Barack Obama's budget, which proposes to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire in 2011. This has been called "socialism" and "class warfare". Here's some perspective on those histrionic claims:
That green line on the far right reflects the top rate of 39.6 percent that would go into effect in 2011 on income greater than $350,000. If that would make America a socialist country, then we've been a socialist country more often than not.
Louisiana's transportation department plans to request federal dollars for a New Orleans to Baton Rouge passenger rail service from the same pot of railroad money in the president's economic stimulus package that Gov. Bobby Jindal criticized as unnecessary pork on national television Tuesday night.
The high-speed rail line, a topic of discussion for years, would require $110 million to upgrade existing freight lines and terminals to handle a passenger train operation, said Mark Lambert, spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.
So, to review, a nonexistent high speed rail line from LA to Las Vegas proves that the Recovery Act is full of wasteful "pork", while a high speed rail line from New Orleans to Baton Rouge is vitally necessary infrastructure spending. This is reason No. Eleventy to ignore Republican complaints about the stimulus.
As I posted below, Republican claims about fiscal responsibility have been baseless since Ronald Reagan decided that deficits don't matter. But like Otter in "Animal House", House Republicans have decided that "this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part." For their futile and stupid gesture, House Republicans have decided to combat the recession with . . . a spending freeze:
“We’re advocating that Congress freeze all federal spending immediately,” said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), the chairman of the House Republican Conference, during a Tuesday luncheon at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “People out there are hurting, and they understand what you do when times are tough. You make hard choices. Today House Republicans are urging the Democrats to do the same. We think it’s time that the Democrats put our money where their mouth is.”
. . . Pence’s argument for a spending freeze is widely accepted within the Republican conference. On Monday, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) asked Democrats to “abandon their plans” to push through an omnibus bill “and instead pass a clean bill that freezes spending at current levels.” Gov. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) has decried the economic stimulus package because, in his words, “when times go south you cut spending.” In a conversation on Monday, freshman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) concurred with party leaders.
This is really, really stupid, even by the standard of House Republicans. Of course it makes sense for financially strapped consumers to cut back on their own spending, but that doesn't mean that the government should also cut back its spending. In fact, it's precisely because consumers have cut back their spending that the government should increase its spending to make up for the lost demand.
Republican claims that the government should take whatever actions would be prudent for individual consumers exhibit the fallacy of composition:
In Keynesianmacroeconomics, the "paradox of thrift" illustrates this fallacy: increasing saving (or "thrift") is obviously good for an individual, since it provides for retirement or a "rainy day," but if everyone saves more, it may cause a recession by reducing consumer demand.
Similarly, the government's decision to freeze its spending during a recession would make everyone worse off by exacerbating the recession. This is true even though it makes sense for individuals to cut back on their own spending. The lesson, once again, is that it's best to ignore what Congressional Republicans say about the economy. The odds are it's wrong.
Once upon a time Republicans were fiscal conservatives, but those days ended with the election of the GOP's modern political hero, Ronald Reagan:
Republicans continue to talk about fiscal conservatism, but in fact the GOP cares only about tax cuts. Republicans want tax cuts when we have a surplus and when we have a deficit. When the economy is growing and when it's contracting. When incomes are rising and when they're falling. When it's sunny and when it's raining. On days ending in "y".
So naturally, with the economy suffering the equivalent of a 100-year flood, Republicans retreat to ideology and propose (what else?) tax cuts. In fact, they propose $3 trillion of tax cuts while claiming that the $800 billion stimulus bill amounts to "generational theft". Why, then, would anyone serious credit Republican claims of fiscal responsibility?
During the 2008 election John McCain admitted that economics wasn't his strong suit. His post-election statements demonstrate that this was a vast understatement. Unfortunately, he's now one of the leading voices in the GOP's opposition to Barack Obama's economic policies.
Most recently McCain referred to the $800 billion stimulus bill as "generational theft". Before explaining why this is wrong, it's worth noting that it's breathtakingly dishonest. Like over 90 percent of his Congressional Republican colleagues, McCain voted for a package of tax cuts that would have cost more than three times as much:
"During the Senate debate, 36 of the Senate Republicans voted for an alternative that would have cut taxes over the next decade by $2.5 trillion, [and] reduced the top marginal race to 25 percent," said the Atlantic's Ron Brownstein on "Meet the Press." "For John McCain -- who voted for that alternative of a $2.5 trillion tax cut over the next decade -- to talk about generational theft, I mean, pot meet kettle."
And, of course, this is the same John McCain who argued during the 2008 campaign that the Bush tax cuts should be made permanent, which would cost $4.4 trillion -- more than five times the cost of the stimulus bill. So much for McCain's worries about "generational theft".
Like most of what Republicans have said in opposition to the stimulus bill, McCain's hypocritical complaints about "generational theft" are also wrong. Dean Baker explains:
It is easy to see that the national debt is not really a measure of intergenerational burden. While the taxpayers collectively can be seen as owing the debt, taxpayers (or at least some of them) also own the debt. This is not a payment across generations; it is a payment within generations.
If the United States let the debt rise to $10 trillion and then left the debt at $10 trillion for 100 years, just paying the interest, then in 2108 some of our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren would be collecting the interest on the $10 trillion, which would be paid from the taxes that the government collects.
This flow of money from taxpayers to bond holders doesn’t on net make people better or worse off 100 years from now. It is simply a redistribution from some members of future generations to other members of future generations.
The important thing, Baker emphasizes, is what we do with the amount we borrowed:
Whether or not the debt has made future generations poorer will depend on how it was incurred. If we ran up debts so that we could finance schools and colleges, and make sure that our children and grandchildren were well educated, then we probably made them richer than if we didn’t run up debt but left them illiterate. Similarly, if we ran up the debt to construct a modern physical and information infrastructure, then we probably made future generations much wealthier than if we had handed them a country that was debt free, but had no Internet and no computers.
In short, the debt is not an accurate measure of whether we have been generous to or short-changed the generations that come after us. The answer to that question depends on the economy and society that we pass on. There are many scenarios in which we would have impoverished future generations, even if we were to hand them a government that is free of debt or alternatively left them very wealthy, even if there is a substantial government debt.
Despite demagogic Republican complaints about "pork" -- which in the aggregate never amounted to more than a few percent of the $800 billion total -- the stimulus bill includes huge investments in infrastructure that will benefit future generations. Fundamentally, though, the stimulus is intended to avert a deflationary spiral which would leave the next generation with a shattered, lifeless economy that would cost vastly more to resuscitate than our economy does today.
In contrast, what did Republicans do with the money they borrowed, doubling the national debt under George Bush? Well, they got a disastrous war in Iraq and gave tax cuts to the wealthy, leaving us with the zombified economy we have today. And what do they think we should do now? More of the same.
Once again, the first thing we have to do is stop listening to dishonest know-nothings like John McCain.
Andrew Sullivan attacks Congressional Republicans' implacable opposition to the stimulus bill:
The GOP has passed what amounts to a spending and tax-cutting and borrowing stimulus package every year since George W. Bush came to office. They have added tens of trillions to future liabilities and they turned a surplus into a trillion dollar deficit - all in a time of growth. They then pick the one moment when demand is collapsing in an alarming spiral to argue that fiscal conservatism is non-negotiable. I mean: seriously.
The bad faith and refusal to be accountable for their own conduct for the last eight years is simply inescapable. There is no reason for the GOP to have done what they have done for the last eight years and to say what they are saying now except pure, cynical partisanship, and a desire to wound and damage the new presidency. The rest is transparent cant.
I think Sullivan overstates the bad faith -- that stupidity and hypocrisy are as significant as cynicism -- but no one ought to take the Republicans seriously. They signed a blank check for a disastrous war while borrowing money from China to give tax breaks for the wealthy, almost doubling the national debt in the process. Whatever they say about fiscal discipline, the Bush tax cuts vastly exceed the cost of the stimulus, as does the $3 trillion package of tax cuts that over 90 percent of the Republican caucus voted for instead of the $800 billion stimulus bill. Sullivan says the correct response is contempt, but I think ridicule may be more appropriate. This is a clown show.
The examples of Republican stupidity keep piling up. On Sunday's Meet the Press, for example, Barney Frank slammed the Senate's "centrist" cuts to the proposed stimulus:
“That’s the wasteful spending that my colleagues are talking about,” Frank said. “Money to go to the states to stop them from laying off cops and firefighters, money to help keep teachers going. Those are jobs.”
In response, Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) called that "fearmongering", denying that any jobs would be lost:
To get back to what Congressman Frank said, is that we’re going to be laying off teachers and firefighters. You know, that’s just fearmongering. We’re not going to be doing that in any of the states. … [The states’] budgets are bloated, the federal government’s budget is bloated. What we should be doing is cutting back.
They have plundered reserves, enacted hiring freezes and engaged in all manner of budgetary voodoo to shield us from the pain.
But now state governments -- reeling from a historic free fall in tax revenue -- have run out of tricks. And Americans are about to feel it.
In some cases, they already have.
Nevada resident Margaret Frye-Jackman, 71, was diagnosed in August with ovarian cancer. She had two rounds of chemotherapy at University Medical Center, the only public hospital in the Las Vegas area.
Soon after, she and her daughter heard the news on TV: The hospital's outpatient oncology services were closing because of state Medicaid cuts. Treatment for Frye-Jackman and hundreds of other cancer patients was eliminated.
Luckily, Frye-Jackman's gynecological oncologist, Dr. Nick Spirtos, decided to open a tiny chemotherapy center in his office's empty storage room.
Today, he treats Frye-Jackman there, along with about 20 more cancer patients who were dumped by the hospital. Frye-Jackman's care is paid for with Medicare and supplemental insurance, but other patients can't cover the cost of full treatment. The doctor has considered putting donation boxes in the lobby.
"If this is what it's like in Nevada, with cancer stuff closing, is it like that everywhere?" said Frye-Jackman's daughter, Margaret Bakes, accompanying her mother to the doctor's recently. "Are all the other states closing stuff too?"
The answer, in at least 39 states, is "yes" -- or "soon." With personal, sales and corporate income tax revenue plummeting, state governments -- which recently trimmed their budgets to cover a cumulative $40.3-billion shortfall for the current fiscal year -- are now watching in horror as a $47.4-billion gap opens for 2009.
And for fiscal year 2010, they will face a $84.3-billion hole, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The total shortfall through fiscal 2011 is estimated at $350 billion, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington.
Unlike the federal government, nearly all states must balance their budgets. So legislatures either have to raise taxes, borrow money from dwindling rainy-day funds, or cut. The last option is becoming increasingly common.
"The easy budget fixes are long gone," Corina Eckl, fiscal program director for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said in a statement. "Only hard and unpopular options remain."
The moral of this story, obviously, is: Do not believe anything Congressional Republicans say about the economy. They are ideologically incapable of knowing the truth, let alone telling the truth.
I'm getting more than a little tired of hearing Republican politicians say, "That's not a stimulus, it's just spending." This is moronic. It's like saying, "That's not a dessert, it's just a chocolate sundae."
Every dollar that the government spends to buy stuff stimulates the economy because it triggers economic activity. This is true if the government refurbishes the National Mall or extends broadband service to rural areas or purchases new cars for government use -- all measures Republicans have erroneously claimed aren't "stimulus". For each and every one of these measures, the government will buy stuff, directly injecting additional spending into the economy. The people who are employed to make and do the stuff that government buys will receive wages, which they'll spend on other stuff that still other people will be paid to make and do, and so on and so forth. Stimulus. This is true no matter what the government buys.
Of course, we should try to get the biggest bang for our stimulus buck, so by all means let's try to buy as many things as possible that will solve real world problems and help to create a greener, more productive, and more efficient economy that will take the fullest possible advantage of the eventual upturn. But the first priority of a stimulus is to stimulate the economy, and that's best done by spending.
Republican complaints about the individual elements of the current stimulus bill are incoherent and demagogic, but they're most starkly out of step with Republican attitudes toward tax cuts, which receive no skepticism at all. For example, Republicans stubbornly ignore that most of the tax cuts they propose would be saved, and not spent. Only those individuals who can't afford to save would spend a tax cut windfall, and businesses that already have excess capacity won't respond to a tax cut by investing more when consumers aren't buying the goods already stacking up in their warehouses.
Moreover, Republicans assume that all of the additional spending from individuals and businesses would be "stimulus". Unlike government spending -- which is only "stimulus" if it has obvious utility to Republicans -- private spending is always considered "stimulus", no matter what it's spent on. If Republicans are right about government spending being "stimulus" only some of the time, they're obviously wrong about private spending being "stimulus" all of the time.
As an initial matter, individual purchases of imports stimulate other countries' economies, not ours, so we can see from the start that some private spending won't, in fact, always be "stimulus". But what of the rest? Shouldn't there be some accountability here? How do we know that these people won't just go out and waste their tax cuts on booze and gambling? How would booze and gambling simulate the economy? (Since similar purchases by the government wouldn't be a "stimulus", it obviously wouldn't be "stimulus" if individuals landscaped their yard or signed up for broadband or bought a new car, right?) Maybe people should only get tax cuts if they spend the money on things that Republicans agree have utility.
Needless to say, that's not how the Republicans see it, but the point is that there's no rational basis for them to see it the way they do. When individuals spend money, it stimulates economic activity no matter what they spend it on. It would be better if they spent it on things like shoes for the kids instead of booze at the track, but it stimulates the economy either way. The problem is that individuals have cut way back on their spending, and to the extent they can afford to do so, they'll keep right on doing so. Therefore, in the short run, government has to increase its spending to make up some of the difference, so the economy doesn't fall into a deflationary spiral that no one knows how to get out of. We should get the biggest bang for the buck that we can, but every dollar the government spends is stimulus, just as every additional dollar that individuals spent would be stimulus -- if individuals were spending.
The emergence of a former Guantánamo Bay detainee as the deputy leader of Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch has underscored the potential complications in carrying out the executive order President Obama signed Thursday that the detention center be shut down within a year.
The militant, Said Ali al-Shihri, is suspected of involvement in a deadly bombing of the United States Embassy in Yemen’s capital, Sana, in September. He was released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 and passed through a Saudi rehabilitation program for former jihadists before resurfacing with Al Qaeda in Yemen.
This had the usual suspects in a panic. For example, here's Bill O'Reilly:
Just hours after President Obama announced he was going to shut down Guantanamo Bay, the feds confirmed that a released Gitmo inmate, 35-year-old Sahid al-Shahiri, had resumed terrorist activities in Yemen.
Now if this isn't a warning, ladies and gentlemen, I don't know what is. Obama tells the world no more Gitmo, and a guy the Bush administration let go in 2007 is now a major Al-Qaeda terrorist again. So we can add this guy to a list of 61 former Gitmo detainees who have returned to being terrorists after they've been released, that according to the Defense Department. That's 11 percent of those let go returning to the terror world.
KING: Let’s just say that, that, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, is brought to the United States to be tried in a federal court in the United States, under a federal judge, and we know what some of those judges do, and on a technicality, such as, let’s just say he wasn’t read his Miranda rights. … He is released into the streets of America. Walks over and steps up into a US embassy and applies for asylum for fear that he can’t go back home cause he spilled the beans on al Qaeda. What happens then if another judge grants him asylum in the United States and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is on a path to citizenship. I mean, I give you the extreme example of this.
The best antidote to this craziness is, as always, Jon Stewart:
Still, let's unpack the various inanities. First, Obama's executive order doesn't require any detainees to be released, let alone released into the United States. Instead, it provides that "[i]f any individuals covered by this order remain in detention at Guantánamo at the time of closure of those detention facilities, they shall be returned to their home country, released, transferred to a third country, or transferred to another United States detention facility in a manner consistent with law and the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States." So much for that.
Second, the Bush administration's decision to release Ali al-Shihri isn't evidence of a bad Obama decision to close Guantanamo, it's evidence of bad decision-making by the Bush administration. Under George Bush we've detained the innocent, released the guilty, and made it all but impossible to prosecute anyone. That's happened because the administration has operated Guantanamo with the same incompetence it's applied to everything else:
President Obama's plans to expeditiously determine the fates of about 245 terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and quickly close the military prison there were set back last week when incoming legal and national security officials -- barred until the inauguration from examining classified material on the detainees -- discovered that there were no comprehensive case files on many of them.
Instead, they found that information on individual prisoners is "scattered throughout the executive branch," a senior administration official said.
Justice Department lawyers responding in federal courts to defense challenges over the past six months have said repeatedly that the government was overwhelmed by the sudden need to assemble material after Supreme Court rulings giving detainees habeas corpus and other rights.
In one federal filing, the Justice Department said that "the record . . . is not simply a collection of papers sitting in a box at the Defense Department. It is a massive undertaking just to produce the record in this one case." In another filing, the department said that "defending these cases requires an intense, inter-agency coordination of efforts. None of the relevant agencies, however, was prepared to handle this volume of habeas cases on an expedited basis." Evidence gathered for military commission trials is in disarray, according to some former officials, who said military lawyers lacked the trial experience to prosecute complex international terrorism cases.
In a court filing this month, Darrel Vandeveld, a former military prosecutor at Guantanamo who asked to be relieved of his duties, said evidence was "strewn throughout the prosecution offices in desk drawers, bookcases packed with vaguely-labeled plastic containers, or even simply piled on the tops of desks."
He said he once accidentally found "crucial physical evidence" that "had been tossed in a locker located at Guantanamo and promptly forgotten."
Let's just run a highlighter over that last point. Here's LTC Vandeveld, describing his difficulties sorting out the facts regarding Muhammed Jawad, who was captured when he was only a minor and then subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment for several years, even though the government has no prosecutable case against him:
7. It is important to understand that the "case files" compiled at OMC-P or developed by CITF are nothing like the investigation and case files assembled by civilian police agencies and prosecution offices, which typically follow a standardized format, include initial reports of investigation, subsequent reports compiled by investigators, and the like. Similarly, neither OMC-P nor CITF maintained any central repository for case files, any method for cataloguing and storing physical evidence, or any other system for assembling a potential case into a readily intelligible format that is the sine qua non of a successful prosecution. While no experienced prosecutor, much less one who had performed his or her duties in the fog of war, would expect that potential war crimes would be presented, at least initially, in "tidy little packages," at the time I inherited the Jawad case, Mr. Jawad had been in U.S. custody for approximately five years. It seemed reasonable to expect at the very least that after such a lengthy period of time, all available evidence would have been collected, catalogued, systemized, and evaluated thoroughly -- particularly since the suspect had been imprisoned throughout the entire time the case should have been undergoing preparation.
8. Instead, to the shock of my professional sensibilities, I discovered that the evidence, such as it was, remained scattered throughout an incomprehensible labyrinth of databases primarily under the control of CITF, or strewn throughout the prosecution offices in desk drawers, bookcases packed with vaguely-labeled plastic containers, or even simply piled on the tops of desks vacated by prosecutors who had departed the Commissions for other assignments. I further discovered that most physical evidence that had been collected had either disappeared or had been stored in locations that no one with any tenure at, or institutional knowledge of, the Commissions could identify with any degree of specificity or certainty. The state of disarray was so extensive that I later learned, as described below, that crucial physical evidence and other documents relevant to both the prosecution and the defense had been tossed into a locker located at Guantanamo and promptly forgotten. Although it took me a number of months -- so extensive was the lack of any discernable organization, and so difficult was it for me to accept that the US military could have failed so miserably in six years of effort -- I began to entertain my first, developing doubts about the propriety of attempting to prosecute Mr. Jawad without any assurance that through the exercise of due diligence I could collect and organize the evidence in a manner that would meet our common professional obligations.
It's no surprise that systems like this produce bad outcomes.
Finally, let's take a closer look at the Pentagon's claim that 61 released detainees have "returned to the battlefield". Again, this would be evidence of a bad Bush process, not a bad Obama decision, but the Pentagon refused to say who the detainees are, why they were originally detained, when or where they were released, or what they did afterward. Some of them are only suspected of "returning to the battlefield" -- whatever that means. Particularly from the Bush administration, none of this passes the laugh test. A study by the Seton Hall Center for Policy and Research verifies that this skepticism is well-founded:
Professor Denbeaux of the Center for Policy & Research has said that the Center has determined that “DOD has issued 'recidivism' numbers 43 times, and each time they have been wrong—this last time the most egregiously so.”
Denbeaux stated: “Once again, they’ve failed to identify names, numbers, dates, times, places, or acts upon which their report relies. Every time they have been required to identify the parties, the DOD has been forced to retract their false IDs and their numbers. They have included people who have never even set foot in Guantánamo—much less were they released from there. They have counted people as 'returning to the fight' for their having written an Op-ed piece in the New York and for their having appeared in a documentary exhibited at the Cannes Film Festival. The DOD has revised and retracted their internally conflicting definitions, criteria, and their numbers so often that they have ceased to have any meaning—except as an effort to sway public opinion by painting a false portrait of the supposed dangers of these men.
"Forty-three times they have given numbers—which conflict with each other—all of which are seriously undercut by the DOD statement that 'they do not track' former detainees. Rather than making up numbers “willy-nilly” about post release conduct, America might be better served if our government actually kept track of them.”
Still, leaving aside the lies and the inanity, it's entirely possible that even a competent process would release some detainees who might later join up with al Qaeda. That's a risk worth considering, but let's consider it in context. According to every counter-terrorism expert I can find, our lawless detention and interrogation practices have radicalized far more than the relatively small number of detainees who have "returned to the battlefield". Indeed, abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are said to be the number one and two motivations for the foreign fighters who've flocked to Iraq. Why isn't Bill O'Reilly fulminating about that?
The Wall Street Journal has an excellent news department, but its editorial pages are a swamp of misinformation, distortions, and outright lies. Yesterday, for example, the Journal's editors claimed that a FISA Court opinion released on January 15 proves that Bush was right all along about the warrantless electronic surveillance of Americans:
Ever since the Bush Administration's warrantless wiretapping program was exposed in 2005, critics have denounced it as illegal and unconstitutional. Those allegations rested solely on the fact that the Administration did not first get permission from the special court created by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Well, as it happens, the same FISA court would beg to differ.
In a major August 2008 decision released yesterday in redacted form, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, the FISA appellate panel, affirmed the government's Constitutional authority to collect national-security intelligence without judicial approval.
. . . For all the political hysteria and media dishonesty about George W. Bush "spying on Americans," this fight was never about anything other than staging an ideological raid on the President's war powers. Barack Obama ought to be thankful that the FISA court has knocked the bottom out of this gambit, just in time for him to take office.
This is flat dead wrong.
Bush began spying on Americans without a warrant at a time when FISA made that a crime, claiming that his authority as commander-in-chief authorized him to commit what would otherwise be felonies. In its 2006 Hamdan decision, however, the United States Supreme Court made clear that the President is not above the law. In 2007, therefore, Congress passed the Protect America Act, which authorized warrantless surveillance of Americans "reasonably believed" to be located outside the United States. The new FISA court decision holds that that new statute (which has since expired and is no longer law) was constitutional. It doesn't in any way vindicate Bush's claim that he was free to engage in warrantless wiretapping during the period before the PAA was passed.
Either the Journal's editors are stupid or dishonest, because their editorial egregiously mischaracterizes the FISA court's opinion. In this context, it's ironic that they denounce the "media dishonesty about George W. Bush 'spying on Americans'". This is a clear case of psychological projection.
Today Dennis Prager returns to a subject on which he seems to have extensive experience -- what should his wife do when she's not in the mood to have sex with him? (That's Prager on the left; his entirely Platonic friend on the right is unidentified.) In Part II (!) of his analysis, Prager offers eight repetitive explications of his central point:
"When a little Pragering is inevitable, you best lie back and enjoy it, bitch, or it'll be your fault that our marriage sucks."
In a subsequent two-part series, Prager will explain that black people are to blame for racism, because they keep taking offense at perfectly harmless jokes about over-sexed shiftless negroes.