Does Obama have to prosecute?

I’ve been thinking a lot about legal matters recently. Now that President Obama (that does sound nice, doesn’t it?) is in office, sworn in (twice, for good measure) and issuing all kinds of executive orders and policy statements (whither K street? or more appropriately, wither, K street), everyone is coming around to the same question.

Will he seek prosecutions of Bush administration officials (including, possibly, Dubya and Cheney) for war crimes?

We’re getting more revelations by the day, now that the old gang is out of power and less capable of retribution. We’ve learned that the NSA was spying on all American conversations, all 300 million of us, on our phones, text messages, email and everything else. The NSA was listening to everything, and flagging what they thought merited closer examination. We’ve heard Bush administration officials admit to using the “T” word, torture. And even as Obama has ordered the shutdown of Guantanamo, we’ve all had to confront what went on there and why so many of the detainees can’t be tried under American law because any evidence against them is inadmissible. Attorney General nominee Eric Holder said definitively in his confirmation hearing that waterboarding was torture, and now Republican senators are delaying the nomination hoping to get assurances that he didn’t really mean it, or at least won’t prosecute Bush and Cheney, who have admitted ordering torture.

And yet, Obama seems very careful to reassure Republicans that no one is coming after them. He wants to put the recriminations of the past behind him and move forward leading a united American people. It’s a noble thought, and one I happen to share with him. I’m willing, personally, to let the transgressions of the Bush administration go if it means healing the nation and moving forward. But is it possible?

There’s a very real chance that Obama and Holder will not have a choice. In some interpretations of the law, now that Cheney has admitted ordering and authorizing these tactics in public, Holder may be required by law to charge him. We are also bound by treaties to charge and try war criminals. The Bush administration was all too ready to ignore laws they found inconvenient, but the new administration is supposed to be about changing things, right?

Obama may find himself in a catch-22 even he can’t think of a way out of. He wants to unite the country and end the partisan divisiveness that has defined American politics for the last three decades. And if he charges the former president and vice-president (along with their secretary of state, two or three attorneys general and a former secretary of defense) with war crimes and brings them to trial, he loses all hope of ever getting Republicans to work with him on anything. It would be more polarizing than anything the Bush administration did. And yet, if he’s required by law to do so and chooses to ignore this legal responsibility, how has he changed anything at all?

More dumbass white folks

Two ignorant crackers got themselves arrested today after planning to assassinate Barack Obama.

Law enforcement agents have broken up a plot by two neo-Nazi skinheads to assassinate Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and shoot or decapitate 88 black people, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives said Monday.

Assassination plot targeting Obama disrupted – Yahoo! News

Frankly, I’m surprised we haven’t seen more of this by now. I grew up in Texas, in a predominantly black neighborhood. Seriously, there were three white kids in my high school, one of the larger schools in Houston. Until I was ten or so, I thought I was just a really pale brother. But even so, I ran into enough bigoted rednecks to understand that the irrational roots of racism run deep in the south. It was only 40 years ago that the federal government had to intervene to guarantee the right of registration and voting to African Americans (which still doesn’t work that well, see Florida 2000, Ohio 2004).

There are still a lot of ignorant white people in the south who just can’t accept the idea of a black president of the United States. It is literally alien to their entire worldview. I think one of the few things the Republican party has done right this election cycle is keeping these wingnuts out of the news, sweeping real domestic terrorists like the Klu Klux Klan under the rug until the election is over. But those idiots are still down there, and they’ll still be there after November 4th. What do we do about them then?

One of us

I’m disheartened at how many working-class people are still out there that have been deluded into thinking that McCain, the multimillionaire with seven house, is one of them, while Barack Obama is a “Harvard elitist” who doesn’t understand the “real America.”:

Rep. Robin Hayes, R-N.C., maintained last week that, "Liberals hate real Americans that work, and accomplish and achieve." Such notions get traction quickly in today’s age of instant communication. Walk around Durango High School, where the crowd was waiting for a McCain rally to start, and people spoke glowingly of the Vietnam hero’s kinship with "real America." "It’s something Barack Obama can’t possibly know, because he’s not one of us. It’s like the way (Richard) Nixon was able to talk to the hard hats," said Jim Wilson, a district attorney.

Is Barack Obama a real American or a Harvard elitist? |

Actually, liberals work. I work. I’ve got daily wage-slave job just like everyone else in my tax bracket. These people clearly don’t know or don’t want to know that Barack Obama was raised by middle-class heartland folks in Kansas, that he and his sister once only got by because their mother was able to get food stamps to buy groceries. That he comes from beginnings as humble as any American. He made it to Harvard by working for it, by getting scholarships. Obama’s story is the American dream, working his way up through diligence and hard work, and being rewarded for his effort.

But something tells me that’s not the real story here. When people opposed to Obama say “he’s not one of us,” are they really talking about him being elitist? Because anyone who’s read about Obama for five minutes knows that can’t possibly be true. Or is it code? When they say he’s not one of us, are they really saying he’s not white?

The roots of racism run deep in America. It took a hundred years after the slaves were freed before they could practically vote, and blacks in Ohio and Florida will tell you that’s not necessarily even the case here in the 21st century. In my own state of Colorado, the secretary of state is being sued for illegal purging of the voter rolls. I can pretty much guarantee the people purged off the rolls and denied the right to vote weren’t rich white folks.

What do you think? Is the current of us-versus-them “real Americans” about class, or is it really about race?

October surprise?

Help me out with something, people.

Conventional wisdom says that one of the reasons Obama is doing so well now is that the economy is in the tank, and Democrats are generally thought of as doing better on economic issues (remember the Clinton years? wasn’t that great? ahhhhh…). So naturally the topic floating to the top of the punditocracy now is what could possibly happen to topple Obama in the two weeks we have left. They need something to fill up the 24-hour news cycle now that any talk of a “horse race” causes spontaneous spit takes. So people are talking about an October surprise, a foreign policy issue that could tilt things back to McCain. And the number one item on everyone’s list is another terrorist attack.

So here’s my question. In a country where we were attacked on 9/11 under a Republican administration, by the very guy the previous Democratic administration kept warning them about, and we turned around and made the attacker stronger by providing millions more recruits to his cause, why would a second attack make us vote for another Republican?

Sorry, but this just doesn’t make any sense to me. I know McCain’s supposed to be tough on foreign policy, but it’s “tough” Republican foreign policy, Bush’s “my way or the highway” attitude that blinded him to Bin Laden while Bush was focused on missile defense (al Qaida, at last count, had zero ICBMs, btw), that got us into this mess in the first place. Obama’s measured, balanced and yes, nuanced approach to foreign policy, being willing to talk to our enemies and then bombing them if they don’t get with the program, seems like a much better way to respond to another terrorist attack than just having McCain blithley reaching for the nuclear launch button while humming Beach Boys tunes.

So please, explain. Why would another attack help the candidate for the same party and the same policies that have given us the last disastrous eight years?

Competency we can believe in

I’ve seen lots of people on the left freaking out about Obama’s recent cabinet choices. Let’s review.

  • Secretary of State: Hillary Clinton
  • Secretary of Defense: Bob Gates
  • Health and Human Services: Tom Daschle
  • Homeland Security: Janet Napolitano
  • Attorney General: Eric Holder
  • Rahm Emanuel: Chief of Staff

All familiar names to people who remember the Clinton administration. Hell, one of them is a Clinton. So is this change we can believe in?

Hell yes. Malcolm Gladwell points out that it takes 10,000 hours to master any complex skill. Writing, playing piano, or even running a government. 10,000 hours. If you work a 40-hour work week and have two weeks off for vacation, you work 2,000 hours a year. So we’re talking 5 years at a regular job before you’ve mastered it. I understand the need for fresh faces and fresh ideas, but shouldn’t someone in the new administration already have those 10,000 hours under their belt?

Let’s take a look at each one of these choices and see if just maybe they’re not as bad as the hard core left is saying.

Secretary of State: Hillary Clinton

This is the big one that no one can shut up about, least of which the people who keep leaking every step of the process to the press. Bill Clinton has agreed to do anything the Obama people want to make this happen, so I don’t think he’s going to be the baggage people thought he’d be. The big question here is whether Clinton can and will be a faithful instrument of Obama foreign policy, the single point on which she and Obama seriously disagreed in the primaries.

I think she will be. Everything we’ve seen so far shows that Clinton is a team player. And we also know that Obama won’t hesitate to replace her if she goes off message. More importantly, Clinton knows that being very good at this job is a great stepping stone to the Oval Office in 2016, since Biden almost certainly won’t run at age 74.

Secretaries of State have to be good at two things: talking to foreign heads of state and bypassing foreign heads of state by talking directly to foreign media when necessary. Clinton can do both, maybe better than anyone else. Obama knows this, so he’s willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Secretary of Defense: Bob Gates

We knew there would be some Republicans in Obama’s post-partisan cabinet, and as we prepare to get out of Iraq, continuity of command is important. Gates knows the current state of the military, and can enact a withdrawal plan faster than someone who has to be brought up to speed. Plus, Gates has already taken a stand on securing our nukes by firing the top military and civilian heads of the Air Force over nuclear weapon safety. I think he’ll do a good job, and will probably be replaced once the transition out of Iraq is well under way.

Health and Human Services: Tom Daschle

He knows health care backwards and forwards and he knows how to get votes on the Hill. No one is better suited to drive legislation on universal healthcare, not even Teddy Kennedy. Daschle knows where enough bodies are buried to get votes through on this, something we’ve tried 4 times in a century and haven’t done. This time it will work.

Homeland Security: Janet Napolitano

Napolitano has been a voice of reason on immigration and border security, even riding horseback along the Mexico border and walking in the sewer tunnels illegals use to cross over. She’s ideally suited to secure our borders and ports, while not pissing off our legitimate immigrant population.

Attorney General: Eric Holder

Yes, he was Deputy AG under Clinton, but he’s also the best man for the job. He knows Washington and he has an up close look at what Ashcroft and Gonzales have done to break the Justice Department. He can put it back together.

Rahm Emanuel: Chief of Staff

Every administration needs a DA, a Designated Asshole. A Bad Cop to Obama’s Good Cop. Rahm Emanuel was born for this job. He’s the attack dog that Dick Cheney was for Bush, but hopefully he won’t shoot anyone.

So to wrap up, what we can tell from Obama’s picks so far is that he doesn’t care where people worked previously. Working for Clinton’s or even Dubya’s administrations isn’t a deal breaker. What he’s looking for is excellence. People who can do the job they’re given superlatively. In a way, it’s a very anti-Bush policy. There will be no “Brownies” in this administration, no one given a job for political reasons whatsoever. Instead, we’ll have the best people possible in each position, leading with competency.

And after eight years of naked patronage, that’s change I can believe in.