Saturday, January 24, 2009

Return to the rule-of-law

A president swears to uphold the Constitution ... not to "keep us safe" ... We may finally be returning to that...

Bush's 'War' On Terror Comes to a Sudden End
President Obama yesterday eliminated the most controversial tools employed by his predecessor against terrorism suspects. With the stroke of his pen, he effectively declared an end to the "war on terror," as President George W. Bush had defined it, signaling to the world that the reach of the U.S. government in battling its enemies will not be limitless.

While Obama says he has no plans to diminish counterterrorism operations abroad, the notion that a president can circumvent long-standing U.S. laws simply by declaring war was halted by executive order in the Oval Office.

Key components of the secret structure developed under Bush are being swept away: The military's Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, facility, where the rights of habeas corpus and due process had been denied detainees, will close, and the CIA is now prohibited from maintaining its own overseas prisons. And in a broad swipe at the Bush administration's lawyers, Obama nullified every legal order and opinion on interrogations issued by any lawyer in the executive branch after Sept. 11, 2001.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


When you're talking, you're usually not shooting at at other...

At least its a start...

Fast start for Obama at home and abroad - Yahoo! News
At the start of his first full day as president, Obama spent a few poignant moments alone in the Oval Office, reading a private letter left for him by his predecessor, when he ceded power on Tuesday.

Then, flexing his diplomatic muscles in the Middle East for the first time, Obama telephoned Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and King Abdullah II of Jordan.

Obama "used this opportunity on his first day in office to communicate his commitment to active engagement in pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace from the beginning of his term," his spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement.

A new day

Finally, we're free of the incompetence that's governed for the last 8 years. If nothing else it was refreshing and inspirational to hear someone call the citizens of this country to service -- to speak with honesty about the hard road ahead.

Just consider Obama's words about our obligations to "pitch-in" locally ... and how we'll all need to rededicate ourselves to the common good -- contrasted with Bush's call to (literally) "go shopping, take the family to Disney World" after the 9/11 attacks.

It may be a small gesture, but attempting to reform the appearance (and reality) of conflicts of interest in Washington is welcome news after the Tom Delay years (where K street lobbyists were encouraged to draft laws themselves)

Obama's first day: Pay freeze, lobbying rules - White House-
Obama's new lobbying rules will not only ban aides from trying to influence the administration when they leave his staff. Those already hired will be banned from working on matters they have previously lobbied on, or to approach agencies that they once targeted.

The rules also ban lobbyists from giving gifts of any size to any member of his administration. It wasn't immediately clear whether the ban would include the traditional "previous relationships" clause, allowing gifts from friends or associates with which an employee comes in with strong ties.

The new rules also require that anyone who leaves his administration is not allowed to try to influence former friends and colleagues for at least two years. Obama is requiring all staff to attend to an ethics briefing like one he said he attended last week.

It's not likely to get better for the average Joe anytime soon -- but at least we have motivated, intelligent leadership... And that's about all you can ask for in a situation like this...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Democracy, terrorism, government - oh my...

It's been a while since I've posted -- but I just read this interesting article by Aslan. I haven't come to any conclusions yet -- but here are some thoughts.

In Defense of the Bush Doctrine - The Daily Beast

The premise is that democratization usually leads to a moderation of extremism... that by giving (via elections) radical movements a place at the table they usually become more moderate.

I'm not convinced.
Let us imagine for a moment what would have happened had Hamas been allowed to take its rightful place, albeit with certain restrictions and limitations, as the freely elected government in Palestine. Let us imagine the State Department had not financed and supervised the political campaign of Fatah, “down to the choice of backdrop color for the podium where Mr. Abbas was to proclaim victory,” as a recent column in the Christian Science Monitor claims.

Let us imagine that the United States and Israel had not banned together to blockade Gaza in an attempt to “starve the [new] Palestinian Authority of money and international connections,” as Steven Erlanger of The New York Times reported, “[so] that Palestinians will be so unhappy with life under Hamas that they will return to office a reformed and chastened Fatah movement.” Is it inconceivable that Hamas would have undergone a transformation similar to that of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the AKP in Turkey, or, for that matter, Fatah itself, which was designated a terrorist entity until it became an internationally recognized political entity (and ally to the U.S. and Israel) ? Had Hamas been given the opportunity to govern and fail (as it probably would have), would it still enjoy the popular support it receives from Palestinians? Or would the people have turned against it in favor of a less ideological, more accommodating, and more effective political party—say, Fatah—much as Fatah’s egregious failures turned the Palestinian people toward Hamas? It is often said that elections do not a democracy make. True enough. However, two consecutive elections, particularly in a place like Palestine, would have been a pretty good start.
I think that is a good point. But real democracy isn't based simply on popular election to government. It depends even more on institutions that guarentee the rights of the individual and minorities. Without those institutions - and the rights they protect - democratically elected governments are not much more than popular tyrants... tyrants that enforce the will of the majority on the minority.

These groups - at their core - expose fundamentalist principles that leave no room for the non-believer.
The simple fact is that democracy cannot take root in the Middle East without the participation of parties like Hamas and Hezbollah. So rather than making it impossible for the peoples of the Middle East to elect such groups into power, perhaps we should try giving them a reason not to.
I agree - these groups capture a significant part of the sentiments of the people in the region: its impossible to govern - or come to any kind of lasting agreement - without including them. I just don't know how you do that when many of their positions are irrational.