Friday, July 20, 2007

Asserting What We Want to Believe

It's come to the point where literally every day or two I expect to awake to an absurd, intellectually offensive announcement from the Bush Administration, and they have always lived up to those expectations the last few months. Partly this is because Congress is applying more pressure, and the media digging up more secreted information, to which the White House needs to react.

I've explained my past support for Bush roughly this way: I firmly think that almost all people believe they are doing the right things even when they're not, and that on policy issues there are often multiple plausible answers that come from differences in philosophy. My internal occam's razor gives me strong resistance to conspiracy theories and explanations of behavior that question motivations as somehow craven or stupid, instead of really thinking through what another person is saying. I thus tend to give pretty much all people the benefit of the doubt with their intentions until they prove me wrong.

Usually this works. In the case of Bush, it ended up being a huge blind spot for his policy decisions that, still a bit unbelievably to me, really have turned out to be almost as bad as many detractors were saying they were. I still don't doubt Bush believes he's doing the right things, but his intellect is not up to the tasks required of his job, and his ability to rationalize decisions is more than up to it.

Which brings us to the latest bombshell, reported in the Washington Post here, that basically says that if the president makes a claim of executive privilege, the Justice Department, by the definition of the "unitary executive" concept that says that the president essentially is the will of the entire executive branch, will never investigate the president.


From the Post article:

David B. Rifkin, who worked in the Justice Department and White House counsel's office under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, praised the position and said it is consistent with the idea of a "unitary executive." In practical terms, he said, "U.S. attorneys are emanations of a president's will." And in constitutional terms, he said, "the president has decided, by virtue of invoking executive privilege, that is the correct policy for the entire executive branch."

What the White House is saying is that if Congress has a problem with what's going on, too bad, because the president defines his own powers, and what he will or will not allow Congress to do. Now, I have some sympathy for the idea of a strong executive branch in some cases, but how can anyone think this is a good idea, or even makes sense?

First, the unitary executive theory is senseless because only about 3000 of its members are political appointments by the president. The others are bureaucrats who have an at-times deserved reputation for inefficiency and resistance to change. But that independence is also a good thing, especially when we're talking about legal disputes.

If we think attorneys are there to uphold the president's version of the law, we're in serious trouble. But that's what much of the U.S. Attorney firing flap is seemingly about. Few doubt Bush being within his rights to put in people that reflect his philosophy, but how is a philosophy that protects one party and a president's own people really a philosophy? It isn't, it's an attempt to pursue power through unethical means.

And even assuming that the unitary executive concept did make sense, it would clearly not apply to self-prosecution! What other response can we reasonably have other than that this is Bush's attempt to expand and protect his own power without much limit? It seems to be the classic case of someone believing that their own beliefs are so right and unassailable, that they are too important for anyone else to be allowed to dispute them.

Congress should do whatever is necessary to force compliance with its requests for information to aid in its investigations into its various legitimate targets. Once more, the Administration has brazenly insulted us, and such precedents as they are attempting to set need to be forcefully fought.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Russia, Part 2

I swear, I'm not looking for things that make me angry about Russia, they just keep turning up. Now it seems there's a Kremlin-sponsored summer camp for about 10,000 youths that depicts the leaders of Other Russia (the coalition of non-Putin parties dedicated to averting a de facto dictatorship in the country, put together and arguably led by former chess champion Garry Kasparov) as prostitutes, and apparently teaches the li'l campers that they're fascists. Funny how "democratic" gets confused with fascists so often in authoritarian regimes. How long shall we give Other Russia before it is banned or chased from the political scene?

Checkers? Done.

It seems that a program has been created that can win or draw any possible game of checkers you can think up. Given its much more limited scope and set of available moves compared to chess, it shouldn't be surprising that we still have a long way to go to defeat the future Mecha-Kasparov on autopilot.


Russia Again Steps Down

A la' Keith Olbermann's Countdown, yet more evidence that Russia is the Worst Country in the Wooooooorld. The U.S. and Britain have not been sterling actors on the international stage these past years, and deserve criticism. But Russia's stance that it will stop cooperating with the fight against international terrorism if a murder suspect, one that they may well have asked to commit the murder in question, is the height of irresponsible national egotism. We should fear Russia as much if not more than Iran and North Korea for the long-term.

A History of the Simpsons

Who says this is all politics? I don't know if the upcoming Simpsons movie is going to be great or not (I'm predicting a Rotten Tomatoes score of 75% for whatever that's worth), but I'm still looking forward to it. After 18 years on the air, it's almost an institutional part of my life. And to get me caught up for the film, and all behind-the-scenes and stuff, Vanity Fair has an oral history from the people who worked on it and were involved. Even Rupert Murdoch speaks...