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December 09, 2006

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From the CQ article, it appears Trent Lott hasn't lost a step:

Trent Lott, the veteran Republican senator from Mississippi, said only last September that “It’s hard for Americans, all of us, including me, to understand what’s wrong with these people.”

“Why do they kill people of other religions because of religion?” wondered Lott, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, after a meeting with Bush.

“Why do they hate the Israelis and despise their right to exist? Why do they hate each other? Why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell the difference?

They all look the same to me,” Lott said.

I'm sure they do, Trent.

Also, this:

...Reyes says he favors sending more troops there.

“If it’s going to target the militias and eliminate them, I think that’s a worthwhile investment,” he said.

It’s hard to find anybody in Iraq who thinks the U.S. can do that.

On “a temporary basis, I’m willing to ramp them up by twenty or thirty thousand . . . for, I don’t know, two months, four months, six months — but certainly that would be an exception,” Reyes said.

Meet the new boss, etc.

There's a significant Shia community in Saudi Arabia. Not that it takes anything away from the point.

You know, I'd almost forgive Trent for that "they all look the same to me" comment, charitably reading it as him ham-handedly pointing out that they have more in common than they have differences, especially when compared to Americans, but not with his lead in "How do they tell the difference?"

Plus this, "Why do they kill people of other religions because of religion" is just asinine.

How do these people come to positions of power over areas about which they apparently know nothing? I've invested a small amount of energy reading newspapers and blogs and, though I know that I don't know near enough to have any hand in helping calm the conflicts, I still seem to know more than those who have stuck their hands into the conflicts.

Why do people seek out jobs for which they should know they are not qualified? How do they come to be chosen for such jobs? Am I just incredibly naive in thinking our country's leadership should actually be qualified for and competent in the specific job for which they are chosen?

How do these people come to positions of power over areas about which they apparently know nothing?
a) probably because at the time people voted for them they seemed like "nice guys to sit down and have a beer with", b) once elected, upon finding out there's more actual work to effective government beyond the "cut taxes" mantra that served well in the campaign, rather than people asking for assignments they're qualified for or actually giving assignments to qualified people things boil down to: "everybody needs a cool title" and "the coolest titles go to the biggest party suck-ups".

Amanda: I was about to make a similar point, you beat me to it :)

It begs the question, of course: How can the Intelligence Committee do effective oversight of U.S. spy agencies when its leaders don’t know basics about the battlefield?

Well to start, how about requiring some related experience for these committees rather than handing the positions out as political payola (applies to both parties equally)? It’s one thing if the chairman of the Ways and Means committee has never balanced a checkbook in his life, but this is another.

To be fair, he has been a member of the Intelligence Committee for years – so I’m not saying he has no experience at all for the position. And the guy he is replacing had even less experience than he does.

Having seen Harman several times on the Sunday talking head shows, I am confident that she would have answered those questions quite well. But politics trumps putting the most experienced person in the position.

And yes I know, on the day Bush began the war he would not have been able to answer the questions either (not sure he could today).

It seems like our intelligence agencies have been failing us badly for years. I say seems, because if they are doing something and doing it really well, we would not know about it would we?

But this certainly seems like one of the more critical committees, and I would be quite happy to see the Democrats do a better job. Starting out with politics as usual is not an encouraging sign though.

I don't know that Harman's rejection is politics as usual - she didn't do a good job on Iraq or the illegal wiretaps, so it seems very natural to try someone else. Too bad it wasn't Holt.

I suppose I should say: well, at least he's not corrupt.

But you might be wrong - there is the story about his daughter supervising the centi-million dollar border surveillance program that went sour.

If Stein speaks "a little" Spanish, he should at least be able to say "a little", which is "poquito", not "pocito" (though I suppose it could just be a misspelling).

Well, I'm willing to offer a half-hearted defense. God knows I've voted for the smarter* guy for president in every election from 1976 to the present, but it's fair to say that it's not really necessary that the President actually know everything. So long as he doesn't believe things that are not so and/or refuse to listen to people who know more than he does about a subject. An easy example is that I don't expect a president to be able to explain the fine points of habeas corpus, or to understand about St. Cyr and the Suspension Clause, and frankly, I think these are more important in a candidate than knowing the name of the president of Pakistan.

I'm no expert on the subject, but it seems to me that it's entirely likely that the primary functions of the intelligence committees are related to oversight -- dealing with the mechanics -- rather than in sifting and analyzing data. Beyond the chair, ranking member, and maybe one or two others, they don't need to know why and how Hez spun off from Amal, so much as whether the agencies are doing what they need to do to minimize danger to US interests from Hez.

I wish every member of Congress was smarter than me, in both knowledge of facts, and in ability to analyze same. Our system isn't designed to acheive this outcome, though, and no one has thought of a better way to do it.


* In no case has it even been close. This isn't my criteria for deciding for whom to vote, of course. (You know, I'm having second thoughts about that first sentence -- anyone care to make a case for Bob Dole?)

It really isn't harmless if the chair of the Ways and Means committee doesn't know anything about budgeting. Governing is complicated, and the costs of ignorance and incompetence are high.

How do we get politicians who know elementary facts about critical subjects? First step is to get an electorate that values knowledge over ignorance. We don't have such an electorate yet.

she didn't do a good job on Iraq or the illegal wiretaps

Well, I’m not a lawyer or a constitutional scholar – but hey, it’s the Internet right? “illegal wiretaps” assumes facts not in evidence your honor.

And what would you have had her do? She did in fact go after Bush:

I urge you to reconsider your position. In my view, failure to provide briefings to the full congressional intelligence committees is a continuing violation of the National Security Act.

Just saying – IMO she had a better handle on the origins and current situation on the ground than this guy. Nancy smacked her down out of personal pique, and who she named was a compromise – had to be a minority of some kind.

"Those of us who aren't always have a hard time understanding schmoozers and salesmen. I am not completely sure that knowledge, facts, reality, truth, reason matter in selling tomato soup or in selling war or peace, but the tomato soup and war still seem to get sold. The salesmen don't put that high a premium on the facts.

Now what is Reyes job? To hustle his colleagues and constituents. His staff will provide alternatives, and Reyes will try to determine what can be sold and how to sell it. Too much knowledge might get in his way. He does get feedback from his constituents.

Which is why it is about getting the voters in Congressperson X's district to watch Gore's movie, not about Congressman X watching it." ...cross-commented from Ezra's

I guess I am sorta with Charley, but only sorta. This kinda reminds me of "Broadcast News." The smartest guys can't be anchors.

Hey the world is not run with reason and knowledge, but runs on emotion and affect. This has good and bad consequences, but we have made it so far. Most of us.

“illegal wiretaps” assumes facts not in evidence your honor.

Actually, there's legal analysis in evidence that shows it's illegal. The legal analysis that shows it's legal is not in evidence as the administration has not seen fit to bless the american public with the legal memo that was written at the time justifying the practice, IIRC.

AG AG himself admitted FISA requires a warrant in order for the so-called "terrorist surveillance program"* to be legal under FISA. AFAICT, the administration went with the "inherent presidential authority" argument for its legal analysis, conveniently forgetting Youngtown Steel, when justifying the program and only later, with an assist from SCOTUS, tried to throw in the AUMF. Hence they won't release the original memo that relies on the former, as no serious legal scholar** would rely on their analysis.

Man, that's alot of inside baseball.

Also, In my view, failure to provide briefings to the full congressional intelligence committees is a continuing violation of the National Security Act.

How can this even be in dispute?

*And speaking of this, if they're terrorists, why aren't we arresting them?

**"Serious legal scholar" being defined as anyone who's not an administration supporting MBF (N.B. I don't include you in this category OCSteve).

Thanks Ugh (I think) :)

OK, don’t want to queer the thread so I’ll drop this.

I’ll leave it here: I think Harman would have been better and the choice was political. At the same time I think our intelligence agencies could use a lot of work. In that vein, I wish the Democrats a lot of luck, and hope they can do something to improve our HUMINT.

OT: Site Problems.

What is up with comments lately? It keeps asking me to type in the magic word, even when I don’t have any links. Then it tells me I need to include my em address, even while it is displaying it on the screen, and then it clears my “remember me” info and I have to re-enter.

Karl? Is that you?

OCS, I agree with the need for better HUMINT. It's not immediately clear how Congress can get it done. The Agencies aren't avoiding HUMINT because they lack legal authority, or because they don't have any money. I suppose Congress can earmark part of the budgets, but that sort of micromanaging can easily go wrong.

They have a bully pulpit, I guess, and can call Negroponte up and ask him, in closed session, why on earth he hasn't gotten someone in the same room as bin Laden.

Nancy smacked her down out of personal pique
Now you're sounding like an uncharacteristically annoying post from Mark Kleiman. Are you sure you'd be blaming Pelosi's decision on emotion if she weren't a woman?

So long as he doesn't believe things that are not so and/or refuse to listen to people who know more than he does about a subject.

I disagree with you here, Charley.

You are right that it probably is not important that the President, or a Committee Chair, know every detail (though it couldn't hurt). Still, some basic knowledge is desirable. Is knowing something about the difference between Sunni and Shia too much to ask? I don't think so. I know it. Millions of people with an interest in public affairs know it. Why shouldn't a Congressman with an important national security job know it?

As for Klein's coments about salesmen, schmoozing, etc., I don't think Reyes' role is just that of a salesman hawking a product designed by someone else. He participates in the design.

Thanks Ugh (I think) :)

OCSteve - I'm cruising on vague recollections from law school and what I read here, so AFAIK I'm completely wrong (though John Yoo did teach me Con Law, FWIW).

Are you sure you'd be blaming Pelosi's decision on emotion if she weren't a woman?

Just what’s been reported about their personal issues. (360,000 references, I don’t think I am alone here.)

I am blaming it on politics.

Ugh: Just saying that the question has not been settled. Democrats can do that in January if they really want to go there.

Christ. I think I would prefer Harman, though the one I really would prefer is Holt.

I've often heard it said that you might think news reporters do a good job, and then you read a story about something you know about & see how wrong they've got it. Well, that goes 10x for Congressional debate.

CharleyCarp: The Agencies aren't avoiding HUMINT because they lack legal authority, or because they don't have any money.

Good point. But I think we have become too enamored with high tech and gadgets, at the expense of HUMINT. I think that has become an institutional problem at this point. This committee could do something about that…

360,000 pages that have the names "Pelosi" and "Harman" on them, not 360,000 pages that say Pelosi didn't want Harman because of "personal pique" (which is not the same as politics). At least you didn't call it a cat fight, though.

KCinDC: If you don’t believe there was personal animosity involved here, then we just haven’t been reading the same reports the last month or so. So Nancy’s decision was made based solely on putting the best qualified person into the position. Cool. I hope (really) it works out.

Jesus Christ. This interview was conducted last week. When did the earlier, similiarly embarrassing admissions of ignorance come out? Almost a month ago, I'm thinking. And that Nasr book about "The Shia Crescent" has been doing the talkshow circuit for the last, what, six months? I couldn't get through it; it seemed to be pitched at the high school level. What the hell are these people doing with their time?

Arg.

What the hell are these people doing with their time?

1. Raising money.

2. Trying to seem normal. In the context of their districts.

I should add that most of those smarter guys I voted for lost. I wouldn't change any of my votes in the past, but as a society, we're apparently looking for something else.

That said, I suspect that my congressman could probably do as well as any of us on, what shall we call it, an adult SAT. That's normal where I live, but I live in an abnormal place . . .


OCS, the administration is frantic to avoid any court scrutiny of its theories wrt surveillance. Which have about the same chance of getting accepted by any court as those theories of why the income tax is unconstitutional we used to hear.

CharleyCarp:

I quite agree with you: the Bush Administration, AFAICT, has been relying almost exclusively on legal "opinions" (from their in-house counsel) of dubious Constitutional applicability to justify their claims for overarching and unreviewable Presidential powers. Mostly, it seems, they have just done whatever they wanted to, and resorted to ooga-booga scaretalk about "terrorists" to dismiss any/all criticism of their claims.

I wonder, though: why has it taken so long for any serious court challenges to these power-grabbing claims to emerge? ARE there any?

Which have about the same chance of getting accepted by any court as those theories of why the income tax is unconstitutional we used to hear.

Sadly, sometimes they are accepted, at least in part.

JayC: why has it taken so long for any serious court challenges to these power-grabbing claims to emerge? ARE there any?

In part due to the administration's shameless manipulation of the judicial process, in part due to the time such process takes in the normal course, and in part due to abuse of executive power. CharleyC and Katherine would know better than I, however.

1. Raising money.

2. Trying to seem normal. In the context of their districts.

But don't they at least have aides who read stuff, digest it, and then give the congressperson an hour-long lecture once or twice a week? If I were a decision-maker with a staff full of young ambitious people, at least two of them would be dedicated to keeping me from being a ignoramous about current trends.

Yes, I understand that this is why I would never get anywhere in US politics.

They filed papers in Rasul v. Bush amazingly early--in January or February 2002. Had their first conference calls planning it before prisoners even arrived in Guantanamo. As I discussed in this post I know one of the lawyers pretty well and asked him a couple times how they knew so quickly.

It just takes a long time when the government challenges jurisdiction, doesn't concede an inch, and every case goes up to the Supreme Court. I mean, they had to win once at the Supreme Court before they were even allowed to mail their clients a copy of the habeas petition. And then Congress keeps stepping in and making it worse.

The Padilla and Hamdi cases were filed quickly too. I don't remember the exact timing of it.

Some of the other suits took longer because it took longer to find out what had happened. Arar's suit was the first about rendition, for example. He got out of prison in Syria in October 2003--only a few months after that, in January 2004 or so, he filed his lawsuit. The NSA program wasn't challenged because no one knew about it. Etc. etc. But lawyers have been pretty on the ball about this. It just takes time, and the administration's strategy is to concede nothing, and to avoid a final court decision at all costs.

Thanks, Katherine.

Why do I get the nagging feeling that the bulk of these cases are, somehow, only going to be finally decided (and almost certainly NOT in the Administration's favor) in, oh, about December of '08 or January of '09??

"What the hell are these people doing with their time?"

Look, I assume it is just incredibly difficult to get 434 other people to vote for your pork or bill on rendition. They are all incredibly busy trying to pass their pork and their projects. Cut them slack, you want them to be scholars too? Try to imagine trying to get something unusual passed, what amount of effort it would take. Try to imagine the massive extra effort if your fellow congresspersons were really well informed, educated, knowledgable. You don't think they would have ideas of their own? If Reyes really understood the Shia-Sunni history and geography etc would it help him make decisions? Does Juan Cole have all the answers? From what I can tell he is nearly as frustrated and bewildered as ignorant lil' me.

Has the hyper-knowledgable blogosphere decided what to do about Iraq or global warming yet? I have economists who say a carbon tax is essential and others who say it would be disastrous. Neither are ignorant.

As someone more attracted to sanarchism, syndicalism, and council communism than Leninist vanguardism or state/party communism, I do have a weird faith that as long as you prevent elites from having real power, people will adequately educate themselves and the market of ideas will produce optimal solutions. I am on record, for instance, in advocating that patients make as many medical decisions as possible.

Knowledge is good to the degree it is divorced from power.

I suppose I should say: well, at least he's not corrupt.

But you might be wrong - there is the story about his daughter supervising the centi-million dollar border surveillance program that went sour.

Hilzoy seems okay with this kind of corruption. It appears from her posts she is only opposed to Republican corruption.

Guess we missed these parts of the articles.

...five-term Texas Democrat, 62...
...Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX)...

Ugh, wow, I hadn't seen that. I guess maybe the Chief smoked a bit too much of that stuff way back when.

"Hilzoy seems O.K. with this kind of corruption. It appears from her posts she is only opposed to Republican corruption."

There are only so many hours in a day and days in a week. It's been a busy, busy six years and no one else has even begun to investigate the Republicans. There are the hearings, the trials, the confessions and don't forget those pesky trips to the Hague, not to mention a death penalty or two.

A girl needs to reserve some time to wash her hair and freshen up.

The 741,229 conservative blogs, not to mention the cadre of faux conservative journalists nesting in the MSM, will bug the Democrats and their corruption.

Let us know when we're all even in the corruption game. The amateurs in the Democratic Party have a lot of learning to do to catch up with the professionals, having been out of power for awhile.

The pendulum will swing back, and then you too, Bril, shall get the chance to have your hypocrisy pointed out by an 11-year old.

Be patient.

OCSteve

“illegal wiretaps” assumes facts not in evidence your honor.

I know you said you wanted to drop it, but I thought I remind you that the practice has already been found unconstitutional at the District Court level and is on appeal. Other decisions have reached the same result. The government has not been able to convince any court yet that the practice is constitutional.

Crap -- link no longer works to Judge Taylor's opinion. It was August, 2006. Here is Greenwald's discussion of the case, which also links to another case on the same point.

OT, but does anyone know what happened to belgravia dispatch? It's vanished completely; not even a cached image comes up, just a blank screen.

Yeah, CaseyL: Belgravia Dispatch is still (Sunday a.m.) down: must be a server issue, 'cuz it's been doing this since yesterday. Too bad: without Greg Djerejian online, how will I know what to think about foreign-affairs?

Ugh, wow, I hadn't seen that. I guess maybe the Chief smoked a bit too much of that stuff way back when.

That's what I said when I presented the case at my firm's weekly tax geek get together. The case shocked the tax bar. Everyone thinks it will be overturned 9-0 on appeal (or maybe 8-1, god only knows what kind of crap Thomas will buy).

That said, I suspect that my congressman could probably do as well as any of us on, what shall we call it, an adult SAT. That's normal where I live, but I live in an abnormal place . . .

I'm pretty sure that my congressman knows the difference between Sunni and Shi'ite. Then again, I livein Minnesota 5.

IIRC, Jane Harman was time-limited out of the top spot on the Intelligence Committee, breathless reporting notwithstanding.

I was hoping for Rush Holt -- I hope Reyes doesn't turn out to be a complete embarrasment.

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