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November 09, 2008

Comments

How about this advice from Reagan: Trust, but Verify? I'll give Obama the benefit of the doubt, but only so long as empirical evidence demonstrates that he's sticking to his promises. And if new information means that he must break a promise, he needs to explain that clearly. I'd use that standard against a politician I opposed, and I'll use that same standard against someone I supported. That's what we do in science.

I don't know whether this is good or bad news, but I suspect that you're going to find out pretty soon one way or the other about Obama. Once a politician gets into office and has to face unexpected issues, ones that they don't have a prerehearsed policy on, their political instincts are likely to take over, and you will see what their core values (or lack of them) are. For example, within 6 months of Tony Blair's becoming Prime Minister in 1997, he was involved in a scandal about favours given in return for support for the party (by Bernie Ecclestone, head of Formula One motor racing). That pretty much told us from the outset about his slavish relationship to big business, and everything subsequently just confirmed it.

Look, no-one wants to see GOP-style hyper-partisanship on our side. We've seen where "support the administration at all costs" gets the country, and it isn't pretty.

But we liberals and Democrats invented the political circular firing squad. The best shot we had to move the country in our direction in my lifetime, the election of Carter and an overwhelmingly democratic congress in 1976, was blown but good, not because the GOP turned more conservative, but because the dems of that era - all of them, Carter's administration and both branches of Congress - were completely dysfunctional.

Having gotten rid of Nixon and his cronies, we had NO F-ING IDEA what to do next, and we didn't do it. The result, eventually: Reagan and both Bushes, with the Clinton interregnum.

Obama seems to me to be the most natural, thoughtful and polished dem politician maybe since JFK, perhaps even since FDR. Sure, some on the left are bound to be disappointed in what inevitably will be seen as failure to deliver on particular issues. But if we don't keep our focus on the bigger picture, well, those who forget the past...

I think this post reflects a too person-based or individual view of politics. Obama is one man, and may have the best of intentions, but the thing we trust is not his statements as they reflect on his intentions, but the concordance of the official rhetoric of the administration and its actions.

The Bush administration was an extreme aberration in American politics, yes, but the institutional forces that push even the nicest of guys to do terrible things, and that formally allowed for the Bush administration, remain in place.

I will judge the Obama administration on a number of levels, but nothing is more important than this: after 4 years, will the Obama administration claim less or more power for itself (in terms of Bush's extremist unified executive theory)? If Obama dismantles the institutional powers that allowed Bush to be so extreme, then I will tip my hat to him. If not, the potential for another Bush remains.

As Steve Benen notes from a Peter Baker piece in the NYT:

"Mr. Obama recognizes that. In an interview on CNN days before the election, he explicitly ranked his priorities, starting with an economic recovery package that would include middle-class tax relief. His second priority, he said, would be energy; third, health care; fourth, tax restructuring; and fifth, education."

A lot of sacred cows are not going to get gored right away (or even at all) and more than a few of the left are going to be really p*ssed. Obama has always struck me as a "big-picture" realist who knows there are limits to what he can do.

The far end of the left are no more pragmatic than the far end of the right. 2 issues jump out from both ends of the political spectrum. Abortion Rights and Gay Marraige. 3 constitutional amendments banning abortion rights went down to defeat, and yet the GOP will continue to hang onto it despite the fact that it is a political loser. We have to be careful not to do the same thing with Gay marraige, which continues to lose at the polls.

While I find the codification of restricting civil rights for a class of people despicable (read disgusting) on any level, we have to realize that as long as the political climate is what it is, we are going to continue to lose. We have to change that climate first. Obama can't do that. Only we can, and we won't do it by railing against the "knuckle draggers" in places like here, but rather by talking to the "kd"s in reasoned discourse, and when we are met with insult, we can not reply with the same.

It won't be easy, but then, getting BO elected was not easy either. How many times did I hear "n*gger" while canvassing here in Crawford Co MO? Some of has had guns pointed at us. One had a dog sicced on her. But we kept going out and talking about the issues, and convinced enuf people that it was not about race, but about the economy, healthcare, the wars, etc, enuf so that MO still hasn't been called.

BO will hold the line on this one for the next 8 years, but if we all care about this as much as I do, we had better get to work so that in 8 years, maybe we really can change it. I have too many gay friends trying to create families in a place that denies even the possiblity.

Like a lot of people who supported Obama I am under no illusions that he is as progressive as I am, or as progressive as I'd like my president and my party to be. And I agree that we should be cautiously optimistic and supportive in helping Obama do things that he promised, as well as graciously and thoughtfully cautious about pushing him to be more progressive where we think he can do so without losing power altogether. But that being said I don't see any reason to take any kind of lesson from the relationship between the right bloggosphere and the bush administration. Because the problems of that relationship are utterly distinct from our problems since the relationship of, variously, "conservativism" "the bloggosphere" "the presidency" and even "morality" are utterly distinct from the entities and relationships that would be described under similar headings for the Obama presidency.

For example, Hilzoy, you say this:
"Even were I tempted to blind trust, which I'm not, one of the obvious lessons of reading right-wing blogs and commentary over the past five years is: you do neither your party nor your ideals any favors by becoming uncritical cheerleaders. There were obvious reasons for conservatives to oppose, for instance, the Bush administration's assertion that it had the right to torture..."

But
a) As it turned out there were no conservatives in the republican movement or on the far right talk radio or bloggosphere. That is to say, there were few or no people of actual conservative principles so they actually had no reason to oppose Bush's various power grabs. They were republicans, lobbyists, power mad ideologues and they approved what bush was doing.

b)Obama is not Bush. The Bush of the campaign wasn't the Bush of 2000-2008 because he was a fundamentally dishonest person whose real interests in power and destruction and world domination didn't become evident until he had supreme power. Obama simply isn't that person. He has plenty of flaws, I'm sure, but despotism and destruction aren't among them.

c) The republican right wing noise machine, of which we are presumably in a counterpoint, really wanted to crush liberal and progressive thought. They fully supported Bush because he did too. If Obama wanted to utterly crush and destroy the last remnants of republicanism in this country I'd uncritically support him because *I support that too* but I'm not likely to get that chance because he's too nice and too centrist.

That being said I don't "trust" Obama or any politician because politics is the art not only of the possible but of the necessary. We've elected him--now some things are possible. As the progressive/left in this country with good ideas its now our duty and our chance to make the things we want him to do *necessary.*

aimai

What fostert said up above at the start.

There's no reason not to trust Obama until he gives a reason. I plan to give him the benefit of my doubt until or unless he starts lying or doing fascist shit like Bush.

The thing is, Obama is not an ideologue. He's a decent, very intelligent guy who believes in doing the right thing and in moderation in all things, just like most Americans do. I can hardly wait...

trust is a currency of credibility with other people; in politics (and especially in the age of mass communication) there is no more important currency. Elections are all about affirming which person we trust the most to represent us. this time, that person was Barack Obama. And he will need our trust--popular support is intimately tied up with his political power, and thus with his ability to push his policy agenda.

hilzoy brings up a good point: our interpretation of obama's actions depends on our interpretation of his motives (whether he is really committed to doing the right thing). that is part of the trust relationship. Our sense of right itself can also be effected by trust. when we make judgments about issues outside our area of expertise, we have to rely on expert testimony--we must trust that they know what they're doing.

i'm thinking of something like the Joe Biden Scenario: a crisis comes along to test the president, and barack's response doesn't immediately seem to be the one he should have made. we can't understand it. And perhaps experts we trust savage his actions. But Obama pleads with us to trust him. He asks us to cede our judgment to his authority, to follow him, it seems, blindly.

it seems that our willingness to do so will depend on our trust. It's like the boy who cried wolf: lies and errors squander credibility, while truth and wisdom create authority. IMO, this kind of (informed) deference to authority is essential for a healthy society. The most important thing is to figure out how to trust the right people.

personally, i think obama has built up enough trust over the past couple years to deserve the benefit of the doubt. I may not understand or even agree with all his staffing decisions, but obama has demonstrated his competence and i trust his ability to build the best possible team. So my bias is to grant him extreme deference at least for the first few months. Then we can look at the record; but i think it would be a mistake to incriminate too quickly.

What aimai said.

They were republicans, lobbyists, power mad ideologues and they approved what bush was doing.
Hate to quibble, but those are conservatives acting on conservative principals. This is what they always have been and will always be. Conservatism is simply moral cover for greed and abuse of power.

Your statement "if you're willing to believe that Obama is serious about withdrawal, you should give him the space he needs to do it right" I'd say is exactly correct.
On the other hand, trust Obama as I may, I think we need to continue to watch him and congress like hawks.

The real point here is that the failure that we have experienced was not a failure of persons but a failure of institutions. Our institutions failed to protect themselves from misuse and subversion and that failure literally destroyed them. They no longer exist. We are all pretending that they do. But the 1787 Constitution is no longer in force and no actions taken under its terms have any legitimacy or validity. There must be a complete break of institutional continuity.

italiacto!

"There must be a complete break of institutional continuity."

I don't see that working out well.

oops, sorry.

should have previewed the post =(

I'm willing to assume some sincerity and goodwill from Obama - but I hope that he remembers that the bitterness that would result from a trust betrayed would be a greater burden than the mere disappointment of being let down by a politician for whom I have less respect. That said, he will have to pick his battles and set his priotities, and I'm well aware that he is fundamentally centrist. As long as he seems to be trying on a couple of important issues and to be moving in the right direction regarding official secrecy and constitutional liberties, I'll be very happy for a while. With regard to Efgoldman's comment, I'm not well informed about Carter, but I would note that Obama campaigned on a couple of very clear priorities (did Carter?), and Obama is fortunate to have the support of a much more united Congressional party than any Democratic President has had in half a century, with the regional alignment dictated by the Cold War and the Civil Rights struggle having finally been completed. Carter had to deal with a Congress still dominated by senior Democrats from the South. Doesn't mean Obama will get more done, or even that he will try, but he does have fewer excuses.


Try again.

my bias is to grant him extreme deference at least for the first few months.

I am never going to grant a president extreme deference.

However, it's just the plain, sad fact that the current regime has put us so far in the hole on so many fronts that it will be impossible to restore normality on all or even most of them within the first six months to a year -- no matter how much courage and good intentions the new administration has.

It will take that long for the Obama administration to establish a position on the many, many agenda items they're going to be pushed on.

The best they can do right now is to give a sense of their priorities. Over the next three months, the Obama people will presumably put meat on those bones as they negotiate support for their highest-priority projects in Congress.

At some point, those of us with concerns that haven't been addressed in any way by the new administration will need to push for a commitment to a timetable and defined approach to our issue.

I'm very uneasy about the legal and actual situation with torture and lawless detention. But I'm going to try to keep an open mind and not assume bad faith or cowardice, and I'm going to try to be patient with the pace of action.

That's frankly very difficult when I think of the years that completely innocent men have been imprisoned, and continue to be, and the conditions they've endured. Some are still being tortured with forced feeding. Most are imprisoned twenty-two hours a day in the living death of windowless small cells. We know little about conditions for those imprisoned in Afghanistan, and have every reason to fear the worst.

It's impossible for me to make the case for immediate action on political grounds; the people who elected Obama care much, much more about the U.S. economy and their own financial situations than anything else. Yet the cruelty and lawlessness of the Bush-Cheney administration (and the shameful acquiescence of Congress) has created a situation where failing to act quickly implicates the next executive branch in inflicting the same horrors.

This is especially on my mind because Dick Cheney came to my town yesterday. With only a few days' notice, and in the exhaustion and euphoria of the election aftermath, it wasn't possible to get together anything but a small, symbolic demo. To our surprise, the motorcade went right past us on its way to the VMI parade ground, so there's a theoretical chance that the s.o.b. noticed our protest. But the blacked-out windows of the VP limo made it impossible to tell. On a gorgeous day, with lots of expressions of support from passersby (including some parents of VMI cadets who were just as unhappy with his presence as we were), it still ripped at my heart that Cheney will probably die before facing justice of any kind.

Aussie fellow traveller here. A line I hope to read on this blog, a lot, in future, goes: "To his credit, Obama [or cabinet member responsible] has been scrupulously transparent about [the issue] and has provided [Congress, the press, us] with the [findings, transcripts] relevant ...[etc]". Conversely, Executive secrecy ought to be called out and distinctly flagged "Not what we voted for".

Well I voted for this so I plan to carp a lot when things don’t go my way. But…

I’m going to give him his 100 days plus a bit more. I don’t like much of what he stands for, but he will be my president, and I voted for him. I don’t expect miracles overnight. I plan to give him a lot of leeway for at least 6 months (and you can all feel free to remind of that if I slip). Conditionally – if his first priority turns out to be card check or GW or some other partisan crap then forget all that.

I think that you all may be more upset than me. A lot f what I am reading so far is that Emanuel may have gotten that gig not to beat on Republicans, but to keep Democrats in line when Obama has to go too far to the center for most of you.

We’ll see I guess.

Did that work?

Nell wrote:
On a gorgeous day, with lots of expressions of support from passersby (including some parents of VMI cadets who were just as unhappy with his presence as we were), it still ripped at my heart that Cheney will probably die before facing justice of any kind.

It's at times like these that I would like to believe in God and Hell so that Cheney will suffer the torments of the damned after he dies. Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure that nothing will happen to this person either before or after his death because TANJ.

Okay, I give up, how do we get rid of italics?

OCSteve: welcome back. ;)

To clarify: I didn't write this because I was upset about anything he's done so far. I was just musing about what I imagined might be the difficulties of adjusting to a whole new political world.

OCSteve, Rahm is there to keep the Congressional Dems in line, and noone in the netroots is unhappy about that. There is no way Rahm could bring the netroots to heel from above (I don't know who, if anyone, could; Kos, maybe, somewhat). Obama's options regarding the netroots are to placate or to defy them, and if he opts for the latter it remains quite possible that the netroots may choose to come to heel even if their preferences are ignored. The only concerns about Rahm are whether his DLC-oriented policy preferences will push Obama farther right than the netroots would like - although as Obama is probably intrinsically right of the netroots, it may be hard to assign blame to Rahm. In general, people are perfectly happy about Rahm: his appointment suggests Obama has some serious intentions of running an effective White House and getting bills passed, and it's impressive that he'd give up a shot at speaker to make Obama's Presidency work (though it's also possible that Rahm's got his eye on Obama's Senate seat, if the seat goes to a short-timer like Emil Jones, which would mean only eighteen months or so as Chief Of Staff).

OCSteve: Card check has almost nothing to do with Obama. It's going to be brought up in Congress by its main sponsors, it's going to pass the House easily, and it should be able to get enough votes to prevent a filibuster in the Senate. If it does, President Obama is certainly not going to veto it. If he were still in the Senate, he'd have voted for it (as he did vote for it in the 110th Congress).

What the hell is your problem with that? Unions are a major vehicle for creating and maintaining a middle class in a capitalist economy. Republican gutting of labor law and appointment of anti-worker types to the National Labor Relations Board and to federal courts over the last thirty years has, along with the massive outsourcing encouraged by corporate "free"-traders, crippled the ability of U.S. workers to organize. Real wages have fallen, and de-unionization has been a big part of the reason why.

There's absolutely nothing undemocratic about card check. Single-election is like restricting voting to election day; card check is like adding early voting -- in an environment where one side in the election has the ability to coerce the voters into attending its campaign rallies and fire people advocating a vote for the union. "Free election" my ass.

Hilzoy: Understood. I didn’t mean to imply that you might be upset about anything this early on. ;) Just saying that Obama has a pretty difficult time ahead to make both you happy and me happy. OK, more like impossible… ;)

@ WarrenTerra 5:50 pm

Carter was a one-term (I think - maybe two terms) Southern Governor (GA) who's entire campaign was based on two things: he wasn't Nixon, and we could trust him.

What was retrospectively very, very strange, 30+ years down the road, is that we could trust him because he was born again! Think about that in the GOP context of the last 15 years or so!

The most controversial thing that he said during the campaign was in a Playboy interview (!!) in which he said he had "lusted in his heart."

He came from a large and very weak Democratic field http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._presidential_election,_1976

There was a congressional landslide for the dems that year, and basically the congressional poo-bahs weren't going to yield to the bumpkin. Carter was screwed from the start. By the end of his term the economy was totally in the toilet (not really his fault, but you know how THAT goes!) and he couldn't get the hostages out of Iran (the start of our troubles with that country) and he was doomed.

While not central to the general discussion of trust and leeway, it should be pointed out that Obama not be getting much leeway from the Iraqi government and that, ultimately, the Iraqi government has a bigger say in things than Obama would.

Absent armed conflict or serious subversion of the elected Iraqi government - or both - their timetable trumps.

(granted, 16 months might be more accelerated a schedule than the that contained in the final version of the SOFA which could conceivably set the final exit date at 2011, which would be roughly 24 months.)

@ WarrenTerra 5:50 pm

Carter was a one-term (I think - maybe two terms) Southern Governor (GA) who's entire campaign was based on two things: he wasn't Nixon, and we could trust him.

What was retrospectively very, very strange, 30+ years down the road, is that we could trust him because he was born again! Think about that in the GOP context of the last 15 years or so!

The most controversial thing that he said during the campaign was in a Playboy interview (!!) in which he said he had "lusted in his heart."

He came from a large and very weak Democratic field http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._presidential_election,_1976

There was a congressional landslide for the dems that year, and basically the congressional poo-bahs weren't going to yield to the bumpkin. Carter was screwed from the start. By the end of his term the economy was totally in the toilet (not really his fault, but you know how THAT goes!) and he couldn't get the hostages out of Iran (the start of our troubles with that country) and he was doomed.

mike: no.

OCSteve: That is where the real battles will be fought. Obama can do NOTHING, if he can not hold his own party together.

My only line that can not be crossed is the whole Guantanamo/rendition/torture thing. There is something seriously wrong when gov't lawyers make a filing that says: "Judge Leon, the filing said, “may very well ultimately face the circumstance where the information justifying detention is too sensitive” to share not only with the detainees but also with their lawyers." (from yesterdays NYT)

but even there, I am willing to give him some time.

"Conditionally – if his first priority turns out to be card check or GW or some other partisan crap then forget all that."

Setting aside that although we know that you feel strongly that global warming is "crap," and that I think the notion that it is, by now, particularly partisan -- the Republican nominee believes global warming is real -- and not to be unpleasant about this, but Obama ran quite clearly on supporting, as a major priority, card check, and addressing global warming rapidly. Those are both strong and clear parts of his mandate, like it or not. It's not like he wasn't entirely clear about intending to push on these things forthrightly.

I'm not actually clear why supporting workers right to organize, over owners/management's right to engage in harassment and firings, is or should be a partisan issue, myself. Wouldn't Republicans like to get the votes of workers?

And why is this so terrible?

[...] Under the proposed Employee Free Choice Act, an employer could only challenge a card check petition if fraud or illegal coercion was alleged.
If there's no fraud or coercion to be alleged, what's the problem, exactly? If there is fraud or coercion alleged, you're covered. So: what's the objection here?
[...] In 1949, the NLRB's Joy Silk Doctrine established that "an employer could lawfully refuse to bargain with a union claiming representative status through possession of authorization cards only if he had a 'good faith doubt' as to the union's majority status."[2] This policy was changed in 1966 with the ruling in Aaron Brothers, 158 N. L. R. B. 1077 where "the Board made it clear that it had shifted the burden to the General Counsel to show bad faith and that an employer 'will not be held to have violated his bargaining obligation... simply because he refuses to rely upon cards.'"[3] If passed, the proposed Employee Free Choice Act would return the NLRB policy to the Joy Silk Doctrine and allow employer challenges to card check elections only when illegal coercion is charged.
Was 1949-1966 a time of terrible oppression of management, or of workers being press-ganged into unions?

"He came from a large and very weak Democratic field"

Gee, I really liked Mo Udall, Frank Church, Fred Harris, and Birch Bayh.

"By the end of his term the economy was totally in the toilet (not really his fault, but you know how THAT goes!) and he couldn't get the hostages out of Iran (the start of our troubles with that country) and he was doomed."

I think any recap, no matter how brief, has to cover that Carter was seen as an overly-moderate, if not downright conservative, Democrat, by a huge portion of the party, by most of the liberal wing of the party, which is why there was such a strong revolt against him led by Ted Kennedy. That revolt failed as much because Kennedy dropped the ball when he didn't articulate a clear rationale for why the revolt was taking place, and why he personally should be President over Carter, as it did because of the power of incumbency, which is what really saved Carter (but wounded him enough to leave him, along with all his other vulnerabilities, most particularly the economy and the Iranian hostages, vulnerable to Reagan). The liberal revolt was the third leg of the stool that collapsed under Carter.

Whoops, left out a phrase here: "...and that I think the notion that it is, by now, particularly partisan -- the Republican nominee believes global warming is real...."

Too many clauses is usually a bad idea. I meant to get to "that I think the notion that it [global warming] is, by now, particularly partisan, is highly challengeable...."

Nell: Card check has almost nothing to do with Obama.

Huh? He was a cosponsor of the Employee "Free Choice" Act. He campaigned on it. He promised the union bosses he would sign it and they donated something like a quarter billion to his campaign. Nothing to do with Obama?

What the hell is your problem with that?

I’m kind of fond of the secret ballot. I would think that Democrats, at least many here who scream voter intimidation at the drop of a hat would be as well.

But yeah, let’s make getting rid of that whole pesky secret ballot thing a priority. The next time you have a gay marriage question on the ballot a couple of skin-heads will come by and ask you to sign your card…

Unions are a major vehicle for creating and maintaining a middle class in a capitalist economy.

You may want to check with any airline or auto manufacturer on that…

I'll be Obama shocks some people on the right with the speed in which he moves forward on health care and global warming initiatives. I think he's a moderate and a pragmatist about a lot of issues, but I think he wants to take the bull by the horns on the economy, and health care is key to making average people feel more in control. Environmental investment will provide jobs. I'm so excited!

he couldn't get the hostages out of Iran (the start of our troubles with that country)

Hahaha. That was the start, was it?

I’m kind of fond of the secret ballot.

So are the corporations that have been screwing unions over for the last 30 years. F*ck 'em.

The unions are for card check because they know it will lead to increased unionization. The corporations are against card check because they know it will lead to increased unionization.

Pick a side.

The other Carter era burden which Obama does not carry today is that the Democratic Party of the mid to late 1970s was still very much riven by divides over the Vietnam War, divides which played a major role in deciding both the 1968 and 1972 elections. Carter had to deal with the very controversial issue of legal ammesty for those who had defied the Selective Service during the war, ensuring that Carter's administration would be unable to paper over this rift in the Democratic coalition.

"I would think that Democrats, at least many here who scream voter intimidation at the drop of a hat would be as well."

I think party caucuses are far better than primaries, remember?

But, Steve, employers are more or less effectively free to fire and harass workers who try to organize, and this happens all the time. It's a given. I'm a heck of a lot concerned about that, not muchly concerned at all about largely mythical contemporary bullying unions. I'm a lot more concerned about getting workers organized to protect themselves, than I am about protecting employers from mean old unions.

I don't live in a land where strong unions are running rampant over worker rights; I live in a land where owners/corporations/management have run utterly rampant over worker rights. And the middle class has greatly suffered because of that.

It's that simple.

"You may want to check with any airline or auto manufacturer on that…"

I'd have to see good evidence that unions are more responsible for the problems of airlines or auto manufacturers are than bad management.

OCSteve,

Why do you think global warming is "partisan crap"? Are you suggesting that the vast majority of climate scientists worldwide are just partisan hacks?

In any case, there are other compelling reasons besides climate change to pursue renewable energy: oil is a finite resource, it gives disproportionate power to petrodictators, and investing in green energy will build an economic base for the coming decades.

Obama has consistently listed energy policy as his number one priority. (It recently got bumped to number two because of the economic crisis.) Since you seem to believe that this promise is partisan crap, I fervently hope that you're going to be disappointed in President Obama. ;)

@OCSteve:

I wasn't trying to argue that Obama doesn't support the Employee Free Choice Act (which should have been pretty clear from my mentioning his support during this past Congress). I meant that it's going to come up early in Congress no matter what Obama does; it's not going to be his initiative.

That you regard it as "partisan crap" is your problem. The Chamber of Commerce party picked a man whose ambition caused him to throw away any principle he ever had or pretended to have, so in our fabulous two-party system you're stuck with someone who actually cares whether workers have any say in their wages and working conditions.

Incidentally, Nell, not sure if you saw this, and wondering if you had more info.

"Why do you think global warming is '[partisan crap'? Are you suggesting that the vast majority of climate scientists worldwide are just partisan hacks?"

Not to speak for OCSteve, but, yeah, that seems to be more or less what he's maintained in the past. He seems rather dug in on that one.

Gary: I’m very much in favor of “at will” employment. I can leave whenever I want for any reason or no reason at all, and my employer can fire me at any time for any reason or no reason at all. I get paid based on my skills and performance, not some contract negotiated by stuffed suits who have a lot more in mind than my welfare. You couldn’t pay me enough to work in a union shop. (OK that’s a lie; you’d just have to give me about a 30% premium to make up for union dues going to support politicians I don’t support and all the hassles related to a union.)

Unions were very important and useful at one time. But their time has passed. Eliminating the secret ballot is nothing but opening the door to union coercion. If the majority of employees want a union they will vote for it.

Again – I have a hard time getting my mind around Democrats wanting to eliminate the secret ballot.

Marshall: That would be a longer post than I have energy for tonight. The short version is that I agree with you 100% on pursuing alternate energy of any kind. I think we should embark on a “Manhattan Project” concerning alternate energy. But I firmly believe cap and trade schemes are pure crap.

"Unions were very important and useful at one time. But their time has passed."

I believe most emphatically that you're entirely wrong.

Certainly there are all sorts of industries, and circumstances vary. But I don't see how most service industries, such as janitors, and food servers, and so forth, don't need unions.

I worked a few years ago doing retail sails. Management violated the law left and right in abusing workers: forcing workers to not take breaks they were entitled to, not get overtime they were entitled to, to be dishonest with customers, and on and on. We workers needed a union to protect us, but would be fired if anyone tried to organize.

Please do explain why such industry workers "no longer" need unions.

"I get paid based on my skills and performance,"

This is, once again, please forgive me, someone with a lot of privilege in the given area talking. You are some sort of sought-out employee. You have bargaining power.

Almost no poor people working in badly paid positions have bargaining power. That's the whole point.

You're apparently generalizing from the fact that you and your sort of employee may not need unions, to the claim that all workers don't need unions.

Just like you once generalized from the fact that you and people in your situation didn't need government help with medical care, but came to later see that lots of people do need it, I'd like to help you see that just because you may not need a union doesn't mean that millions of Americans don't desperately need unions to fight horrible conditions, awful pay, and dreadful abuse, as well as abusive or unsafe working conditions. Because they do.

"Eliminating the secret ballot is nothing but opening the door to union coercion."

Why do you believe management coercion of poor workers isn't a huge problem right now, and that union coercion is or would be more of a problem?

It's really hard to be around hundreds of people passionately trying to organize a union for themselves, or marching in support of their union, and feel that somehow it's not good for them. What, everybody is duped?

I've been around such union workers all my life. You clearly haven't. This also makes for a vast difference in our understanding. I don't know why you exaggerate negative notions about unions so overwhelmingly, and have to think that you simply don't understand just how badly so many millions of your fellow Americans need the protection of organizing themselves to get themselves decent, humane, working conditions, in the face of inhuman management that does things like, if allowed to, lock workers in overnight, give them no medical insurance, force them to violate laws, and so on.

Unions were very important and useful at one time. But their time has passed.

That's more of an asssertion than a fact, I think. Many things that we thought their time has passed proved to be still effective and useful.

You may want to check with any airline or auto manufacturer on that...

I'm a Democrat. That's the party of the people who make and buy automobiles. The people who run automobile companies have been banking on the Republican Party. For decades now. So now they're out of power.

And a piece of basic fairness, that's been denied workers for decades, by bullshvt corporate Democrats as well as by the party of the Chamber of Commerce, is long overdue.

I'll tell you what, OCSteve. I'm steeling myself to be told that the torture and detention mess bequeathed to us by Dicktator Cheney and his idiot princeling are going to take longer than I'd like. I'm trying to imagine how we can turn around our disastrous killing machine in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I'm wondering whether we're going to eat up the remaining decade we have to turn around our planet-killing rate of carbon consumption in soothing Republicans. I'm wondering when the hell I'm going to get health insurance without having to to be a lone customer with pre-existing conditions up against the insurance companies.

But card check is a no-brainer. It should have been passed fifteen years ago. If we can't even do that because there's too much pissing and moaning from the Friends of the Chamber of Commerce, then I freaking give up; there's no point to this process at all.

OCSteve, meaning no disrespect to your fine self, I'll believe the handwringing about secret ballots in union certification when I see conservatives that seem to care about the massive record of employer intimidation in union certification elections.

As to your belief that the workplace is so enlightened in the modern era as to render the union unnecessary, I will admit that my relatively insulated life has made it unnecessary for me to find out, but I believe that no small number of low-wage, low-qualification workers at, for example workers for Wal*Mart, might disagree with you.

Argument.

Isn't it better to give people a living wage for their work, if they can work, than to have government programs to help them instead?

We're a rich country: we can afford $700+ billion dollar bailouts for Wall Street, and wars that cost a trillion dollars. Why can't we afford to pay workers enough to afford housing, food, and medicine?

Management is, by definition, organized. Why can't workers be given rights to organize?

And where's the evidence for significant union abuse of workers by forcing them into unions, compared to the vast amount of abuse by managements that work so hard to prevent unions? Who has the power, and why side with the powerful over the weak?

What happens to workers who try to organize.

Why The current system is broken.

Yikes! I don't really understand the purpose of eliminating a secret ballot here, but if it's for verifying that votes haven't been tampered with, there are cryptographic protocols that allow you to verify that each vote is correct without having to associate specific people with specific votes... unless this is actually for the purpose of doing just that?

The short version is that I agree with you 100% on pursuing alternate energy of any kind. I think we should embark on a “Manhattan Project” concerning alternate energy. But I firmly believe cap and trade schemes are pure crap.

Well ... okay. It's good to know that you're behind alternative energy, anyway (and I agree about the "Manhattan Project"). Even if you don't buy the climate change science, I think one could make a serious argument that we need something like cap-and-trade to wean us off our fossil fuel addiction and provide momentum toward alternative energy sources. In any case, I do trust the science, and I find it very alarming, so I think we need to act aggressively on all fronts in order to ward off disaster.

And may I just say ... I'm sooo happy that we're finally going to have a President who respects science.

OCSteve: have a hard time getting my mind around Democrats wanting to eliminate the secret ballot.

Get your mind around Democrats wanting to end employer intimidation and firing of workers who favor a union.

Quit fetishizing the secret ballot. If you wanted more unions, you'd be in favor of methods that give workers the ability to build support for choosing a union with much less risk of employer retaliation. But you don't support more unions. So you pretend that the secret ballot is the real issue.

The issue is the wildly unequal relationship of employers and the people who work for them. I'm for restoring some balance to that relationship. So is Barack Obama. He hasn't tried to hide that: you knew it when you voted for him.

So he'll sign the bill if we can get past the corporate suckups in the Senate.

". 3 constitutional amendments banning abortion rights went down to defeat, and yet the GOP will continue to hang onto it despite the fact that it is a political loser. We have to be careful not to do the same thing with Gay marraige, which continues to lose at the polls."

Don't forget, Prop. 8, as hateful as it is, only managed to pass by quite a narrow margin, and was in fact losing before reactionary churches and other organizations poured an astonishing amount of money into the anti-marriage campaign. More interesting was that much of this money went towards advertising that steered clear of SSM per se, and instead obsessively focused on lies about how your priest would be forced to perform gay weddings and your children indoctrinated into gayness, along with some unfortunate statements by SF mayor Newsom. And, of course, demographics are not in their favor.

"I’m very much in favor of “at will” employment. . . . my employer can fire me at any time for any reason or no reason at all"

So you want an employment model where your employer could, upon finding out that you comment online about how GW is partisan crap, simply fire you, with or without giving that as a reason? - And wouldn't that rather empower employment discrimination?

Sniffnoy, card check has nothing whatsoever with problems with votes being tampered with. Please read the links Gary's provided.

Card check is not about "eliminating the secret ballot", but about workers being able to express their preference for a union without formal, time-limited elections before which employers haul workers into mandatory meetings for anti-union propaganda, fire pro-union workers, and create a climate of intimidation.

Card check allows workers to sign up in favor of a union one at a time. The company is much less able to intimidate workers as the "campaign" is going on all the time. When enough workers sign on, the contract negotiation phase begins.

The EFCA contains ample safeguards against possible abuses by unions.

How unions help the economy.

Actually, just read all of this. :-)

"So you pretend that the secret ballot is the real issue."

It is, I think, unnecessary to cross into territory of saying someone is insincere, and of attempted mindreading.

It's perfectly possible to simply say "the secret ballot isn't the real issue," and explain why, without making such accusations, I suggest.

"I don't really understand the purpose of eliminating a secret ballot here"

Here's a post by Ezra Klein (see comments also) and another at firedoglake on card check, etc.

For what it's worth: I'd be very happy if someone would come up with a proposal that gets what I'd like from card check (making it a lot easier for workers to decide to organize, and a lot more difficult for employers to get in their way unfairly) while preserving a secret ballot. I'm also fine with card check, but if there were some way to remove what seems to me to be the extraneous bit about no secret ballot, thereby letting people who are genuinely concerned about the secret ballot support it while forcing the rest of the opponents of card-check to have to argue for employers' right to intimidate workers -- that would seem to me to be a win all around.

I think Ezra Klein's post that Dan S. linked to is a fine response about concerns about card check, but I'll just quote the final bit while urging folks to Read The Whole Thing:

[...] Hearing the status quo defended as free and fair is like imagining a presidential election where you can vote however you'd like, but anyone who votes against the incumbent party is informed they will lose all access to Social Security, Medicare, and the protection of their local police and fire departments. Also, they'll be audited. But nevertheless: Folks can vote however they want.
It's just a wacky, out of touch with reality, priority, to imagine that Union Bullies are the problem here.

But, hey, if anyone can present actual evidence of wide-spread union intimidation, I'll reconsider. Nobody ever does, though. It's alwas a couple of isolated cases, and lots and lots of imagination.

Same as the general voter fraud debate.

Okay, I'll drop imputation of motive to any commenters here and put it where it belongs: The Chamber of Commerce and corporations don't want unions, so they pretend the secret ballot is the issue at stake.

Why anyone who supports unions would buy into that to any extent is a mystery. Got any actual examples of union intimidation in the card check process, Hilzoy? Not every issue in the world is nuanced enough to provide comfortable space for Sensible Liberalism. Some of them are which-side-are-you-on matters.

I suppose you could do a sort of secret-ballot card check, or an informal slow secret-ballot election, using some sort of software or conducted by regulators, with proper oversight (for example, people log in, enter their preference into a database secretly and unlinked to their name or time of data entry, and results can only be requested from the software once, say, fifty more people have logged their preferences than the last time results results were requested, so that any individual voter's preference can only be determined if all vote unanimously or one somehow knows the votes cast by all the others in the fifty-vote increment).

Heck, I might be fine with the full-on formal election secret ballot system if the Department Of Labor were empowered to make them work and seemed inclined to do so. But my understanding is that at present the abuse by employers with a secret-ballot election is rife, practically standard, with no consequences, and abuse by unions, while it does exist, is much less of an issue.

Nell: I didn't say I did. I just think it would be easier to pass, is all. It would also have the delightful side effect of forcing people who are really just opposed to the right to organize to say as much.

Hilzoy, trying to get people who are opposed to trade unions to be honest about their motives is like trying to get people who are opposed to same-sex couples having the freedom to marry to be honest about their motives - or worse yet, trying to get people who are opposed to the right to choose abortion to be honest.

In a working democracy, conservative policies require conservative lies: they are simply not popular when honestly described.

I use the analogy of same-sex marriage because we've recently seen how the "Yes on 8" campaigners ran a completely dishonest campaign from start to finish: but virtually any flagship conservative policy has won netroots support only when the conservatives who benefit from it (a tiny minority) have successfully lied about what the policy is. Trying to get them to stop lying is a futile exercise: pointing out the facts and pointing out the lies is much more likely to succeed as a strategy. Kevin Drum's "nuanced" approach at Political Animal is not one to emulate.

I just think it would be easier to pass

If you have no evidence of union intimidation, and there is none, then the secret ballot argument is a fake argument. So why address it? Seeking to assuage trumped-up fears promoted by enemies of unions doesn't make labor's number one legislative objective "easier to pass"; it gets in the way. It treats an imaginary problem as if it were real.

Gary's analogy to the Republican "voter fraud" dodge is very apt. They've pumped up small, scattered, non-election-affecting irregularities involving black and Latino voters in order to a create false equivalency to and distraction from their own electoral abuse: systematic, nationwide voter suppression aimed at black and Latino voters.

Taking the secret ballot issue as a serious objection is like a Democrat in 2005 coming up with proposals "to deal with the Social Security crisis". The point was and is that there is no such crisis, and that the manufactured alarm was an excuse to try to engineer the handover of Social Security funds to the financial industry.

The only thing that will make EFCA easier to pass is putting more people in the Senate willing to stand up to the union-busting corporate shills who've had their way in Washington for the last thirty years. We've got a truckload of difficult, complex issues where we need to feel our way forward and get agreement on some big steps forward into the unknown.

This isn't one of them. This is justice delayed -- at least fifteen years delayed.

About trusting presidents:
As Obama said repeatedly, most recently in Grant Park, the election was not about him. What we learned over an 8-year nightmare about the persons of Bush and Cheney was sickening. (It bothers me in my Great-Depression-bred 4-score dotage to ponder the funds to be expended on brush clearing and quail hunting in defibrillated perpetuity.)
But for me, a main lesson learned from homework focussed on their behavior goes far beyond them, to a keener awareness than I've ever had of the COMPLEXITY of the planet whose continued existence will remain in doubt into any conceivable future.
My "trust" begins in the belief that NONE of numerous "merely human" candidates for the presidency could follow the Bush-Cheney act with the xenophobic arrogance that made Palin's stupidity an echo of theirs.
Obama's victory has me dancing (cane in hand) -- but dancing in the rain that figures to fall, if we are lucky, for a long time. My trust in the President elect begins with faith in his sense of limits to his powers to heal and change. The trust won't evaporate with each Obama decision that figures to disappoint or even enrage ME. (The future of the planet isn't "about me.")

On the foreign policy front, this is a superb example of how not to trust Obama.

Friedman can't wait to get back to the days when he could gleefully advocate bombing countries back to the Middle Ages--obviously having a Democrat in office will ensure that if we bomb somebody it will be totally justified and it will be up to the Europeans to line up behind us or face the Wrath of Tommy. Plus, the mere fact that the Republicans were voted out atones for all our past sins, so we can get into future wars with a clear conscience and tell our enemies and the Euroweenies to "suck on this".

Of course this all has less to do with Obama (I hope) than our multiple Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist's Napoleanic complex. Unless Tommy is channeling the attitudes of hawkish Democrats in the foreign policy establishment.

"Friedman can't wait to get back to the days when he could gleefully advocate bombing countries back to the Middle Ages"

This seems quite the mindreading, rather than anything based on the cited text. Couldn't we perhaps wait for him to say something like that again, rather than imagining over and over again that he's panting to, and condemning the imaginary Friedman voices in our heads?

Well, we could Gary, except that he does have a track record of gloating over American violence, and he does seem to think that the election of Obama wipes out all our past sins and puts us back on the moral high ground, with the Euroweenies on probation unless they support any air strikes that America deems necessary. If you don't see that, then perhaps you've got your own imaginary reasonable Friedman lurking inside your own head.

So I won't take your advice.

Well, here's a specific reason not to trust Obama.

Despite the headline, this sounds like a plan to create an administrative detention-national security court so that people can be detained without a criminal trial. I'm not sure, though. It would be nice if trying to be be a policy volunteer for the Obama campaign on these issues since the day he announced gave me ANY CLUE AT ALL or ANY SERIOUS OPPPORTUNITY to even submit a single policy proposal or ask a staffer a single question on issues such as these, but I'm afraid it doesn't work that way. Need access & connections that I lack.

There's no reason not to trust Obama until he gives a reason.

One acronym: FISA.

I'm more than delighted that Obama won. I also think he is basically a pragmatic centrist.

I trust Obama far more than I do Bush because his values are closer to mine. He's more intelligent and well-informed than Bush, and has a thoughtful, rather than impulsive, problem solving style. He's not lazy, which IMO Bush is, and profoundly so.

So regarding his qualifications for the job, he is light years ahead of guy who holds the job right now.

But I also think the level of Obama's commitment to a number of issues that are important to me, personally, remains an open question. We'll see.

Trust but verify.

Gary: I’m very much in favor of “at will” employment. I can leave whenever I want for any reason or no reason at all, and my employer can fire me at any time for any reason or no reason at all. I get paid based on my skills and performance, not some contract negotiated by stuffed suits who have a lot more in mind than my welfare.

First, there are in fact a number of reasons for which your employer can NOT fire you. Not legally, anyway. So, it's not quite the great wide open that you imagine it to be. For which, you should be grateful.

Second, not all industries are like the one you work in. In some industries, for example, people can be killed by the equipment or materials they work with, and/or other people can be killed or harmed if the work they do is not done in a safe and proper manner, or under safe and proper conditions.

It's rare for employers to make these issues a high priority absent some external carrot and stick. Mostly stick. It's not a good commentary on how our industrial and commercial culture is organized, but it's a plain fact.

You're lucky you work in a well paid industry, and one where the cost and inconvenience of sending your job to, frex, Bangalore is still (for now, anyway) high enough that nobody's handed you your hat and coat and told you to clear your desk and get out by noon.

Save your nickels, dude, because that will change, too.

In the meantime, don't be dissing folks who see unionizing as a reasonable way to level the playing field.

Thanks -

Warren Terra: Obama's options regarding the netroots are to placate or to defy them, and if he opts for the latter it remains quite possible that the netroots may choose to come to heel even if their preferences are ignored.

Yeah, because it's not as if the US is a democracy, or as if Obama is a democratically-elected President who ought to do what the people who elected him want him to do.

Of all the things I've read by Obama's supporters since last Tuesday, that line that "the netroots may choose to come to heel" is possibly the scariest: it shows a supine willingness to obey the Dear Leader and to assume that all criticism and "defiance" of the President is wrong, that I'd hoped applied only to the wingnuts about Bush.

I'm still quite jazzed about Obama becoming President. But a part of my hopes that he may do better than past Presidents is that not only was he voted in with strong popular support for liberal policies, but there exists a readymade, toned, smart, informed critical engine to hold him to task if he tries to rule as the inside-the-Beltway conservatives tell him he "really" should, and not on the platform for which he was elected.

The notion that the "netroots" need to "come to heel"? The role of voters in a democracy is not to become obedient dogs of the President.

Obama:
I hate to see what he and his wife will do for the rest of AMERICA..after they have over taxed and run ILL into the ground.
Why hasn’t anyone ever talked or told anyone about this man and his wife being a hater of AMERICA and its people?
This is a sad day for AMERICA.

"Well, we could Gary, except that he does have a track record of gloating over American violence,"

Yes, he's made at least one ugly comment, not in writing, but offhand in an interview, which you've castigated him for many times, and which I agree with. I'm happy to see people castigated for what they say when they deserve it.

Imagining things they might say, and castigating them for it, I'm not so big on. YMMV.

"Why hasn’t anyone ever talked or told anyone about this man and his wife being a hater of AMERICA and its people?"

Because it's not remotely true, and it's nuts to think so.

Of course, lots of people have claimed it's true, so you're not even right about that.

"Despite the headline, this sounds like a plan to create an administrative detention-national security court so that people can be detained without a criminal trial."

Katherine, do you see any problems with simply putting all the prisoners through normal court procedures?

Intending only to clarify, Donald, since I have tremendous respect for you, and hoping I don't seem like I'm pounding by adding a second response, my problem is that you wrote all of this:

Friedman can't wait to get back to the days when he could gleefully advocate bombing countries back to the Middle Ages--obviously having a Democrat in office will ensure that if we bomb somebody it will be totally justified and it will be up to the Europeans to line up behind us or face the Wrath of Tommy. Plus, the mere fact that the Republicans were voted out atones for all our past sins, so we can get into future wars with a clear conscience and tell our enemies and the Euroweenies to "suck on this".
And none of this is in the piece you cited. It's all imaginary. And I think criticizing people for what they've said is great, but criticizing people for imaginary stuff is not so great.

It seems like rather an important difference to me.

If Friedman comes out and says the stuff that you think he thinks, great, criticize him for it. But wouldn't it do to wait until he actually says something like that?

I can't imagine you'd welcome people writing their own imaginary versions of what they think you think, and castigating you for it: would you?

"Yes, he's made at least one ugly comment, not in writing, but offhand in an interview, which you've castigated him for many times, and which I agree with. I'm happy to see people castigated for what they say when they deserve it.

Imagining things they might say, and castigating them for it, I'm not so big on."

No, he also made a comment about bombing Serbia back into the Middle Ages, an unforgivably vile, stupid childish way to talk about war and something we'd consider nauseating in a columnist if he were talking about, say American victims of air strikes. In the column I've referenced, he's talking as though Obama's election wipes the slate clean and as though it's the Europeans who have to show that they are the serious members of the world community, and he does this by talking about, among other things, a hypothetical air strike on Pakistan that Obama might launch. It strikes me as sheer arrogance of the sort that Friedman frequently displays, and also as an indecent desire to put our war crimes behind us simply because of an election. This wouldn't matter, except that for some reason Friedman is taken seriously in some circles and I wonder to what extent his insufferable arrogance reflects the arrogance of people in the Democratic foreign policy community. I hope like hell he isn't reflecting the opinions of people in a future Obama Administration. So I'll keep bashing the [email protected]@hole when he writes columns like this and will undoubtedly continue to refer to his (multiple) examples of Walter Mitty-like fantasies about the tough guy messages he'd like to deliver.

Gary, read this and then get back to me about the imaginary Thomas Friedman that lives in my head. And I didn't need to read this in FAIR--I've been noticing this crap for about ten years now.

Donald, I'm not interested in debating Tom Friedman, or some other piece, or anyone's general view of him.

That was precisely my point.

My point was simply that you cited a Friedman column, and then denounced him for a lot of stuff that wasn't in it. I made my point about what I think of the advisability of that technique, and that was my point -- not Tom Friedman -- and I'll let you have the last word.

Regarding hilzoy's suggestion about a cumulative secret ballot ... I don't think it's possible anyway. I spent some time noodling about this last night, and I can't see a way to make it work. In order to make the ballot truly secret, you would need to trade a known ID (e.g. social security number) for an anonymous token (a unique random number). The tokens are used to prevent double voting (by keeping track of which tokens have voted and which haven't). So far, so good. The problem is how to deal with people who have left the company. Since the link between the ID and token has been severed -- you know who has been issued a token, but you can't get from the token back to the person -- there is no way to remove a token from the pool when someone leaves the company. Thus, you could easily be counting votes from people who no longer work there. I think this is a fundamental problem with any kind of cumulative secret voting scheme. Thus, I think we have to go with something like card check.

"Katherine, do you see any problems with simply putting all the prisoners through normal court procedures?"

Well, some of them are plainly innocent & should just be released already. With respect to the ones there is serious evidence against--honestly, I don't know. Arguments about how it's impossible have certainly been overblown. Our terrorism criminal statutes are written so very, very broadly that it is often quite possible to get a conviction for *something* even when most of the evidence falls apart or is tainted--see, e.g., the Jose Padilla case. Even if charging a suspect with every possible crime out there might require the revelation of intelligence sources, etc., it might be perfectly possible to charge him with other serious crimes & convict him & given him a long enough sentence that he's no longer a threat. But given the extent to which these cases have been completely botched for 7 years? I don't know.

The people who I trust most on these issues generally seem to think that the civilian justice system, combined with genuine POW detentions during actual shooting wars, is the way to go. Would that result in zero dangerous people being released? That's impossible to guarantee--but I suspect you could convict most of the people who are a genuine threat.

But there are a couple separate issues: one is whether you try people under the criminal justice system or some other system--say, courts martial (which I believe John Kerry favored, & which I think might be the second-best civil liberties solution after civilian trials), or military commissions (which you could theoretically NOT make kangaroo courts like the current version, but at this point there's been so much corruption & bias that I don't think you can get trustworthy verdicts from an ad hoc commission system.)

Another issue is whether you try people at all, or convict them of a crime in any type of court, or instead "administratively detain" them through a national security court. Some people prefer administrative detention to non-civilian criminal trials--there's no risk of sentencing someone to death after a show trial. But, given that we're talking about a war that: (1) has no end date, (2) has no geographical limit--I find it totally frightening--definitely more frightening than Kerry's old court martial proposal.

Note also the comment in the article from Adam Schiff, who unlike me may be somewhat in the loop of these discussions, about how this national security court may also apply to U.S. CITIZENS.

But I really don't know. I have no idea what Obama plans to do about these issues. I have no idea who advises him. I have watched debate after debate after debate after debate and interview after interview after interview hoping someone would ask about this stuff--it never happened, not once, during the whole campaign. The press heard "end torture" and "close Guantanamo" from the candidates, & figured that was that--they never asked follow up questions. Which made it appear (falsely) that there was no daylight between McCain & Obama on these issues, & made it impossible to know Obama's position. I started trying to volunteer to advise the Obama campaign on this stuff in February or March of 2007. I got put on a "foreign policy" committee that did absolutely nothing substantively policy-related--they held about a half dozen conference calls with campaign staffers, none of which dealt with detention policy at all; it was a way of making people feel they were involved so you could try to get them to canvass & phone bank & donate & so forth. Not that canvassing & phone banking & donating are unimportant, & that I'm too good for them, but the whole thing made me want to scream. I have no clue at all what Obama is planning to do on these issues & no clue how one might try to influence him. Based on the FISA vote & this article, I don't much trust him or his advisors, & in general I felt a lot less ineffectual on this stuff two years ago than I do now. (Most of that is personal burnout, naturally--obviously, whatever Obama does is going to be an improvement over the Bush administration--but really, I have no clue what's going to happen & nothing to reassure me when I read articles like this one.)

Thanks, Katherine.

Caveat about this:

"That's impossible to guarantee--but I suspect you could convict most of the people who are a genuine threat."

I mean high-level people here. There are probably a fair # of foot soldiers/wanna bes/etc. in Guantanamo. I don't think you could convict all of them--and then you have the issue of people who were not connected to terrorism before but were radicalized in prison, who obviously couldn't be convicted. Could some of them, if released, be involved in a suicide bombing in their own country or shoot at U.S. troops? Yes; it's happened already (the gov't tends to lie about how often, but I'm pretty sure it has happened). When you're talking about low-level people, I think the risk is obviously swamped by the benefit of them losing GTMO as a recruitment tool.

Here's another fun question: what is Obama going to do about Bagram? Again, I have no earthly clue.

This is one area where keeping Gates would only add to my nervousness. Gates has made some public statements about closing GTMO, but as time went on he followed the Bush administration line more & more closely--that may not reflect his real views; then again, it may.

Gary, Friedman wrote a piece where Obama's election wipes the slate clean and he starts pre-emptively defending future Obama military action against its foreign critics, acting as though they are the ones whose credibility is at stake, after all their "demonizing" of Bush and Cheney. So he's castigating future critics of future American air strikes, based, I suppose, on his future knowledge of why those air strikes will be necessary. I point out that Friedman has a past history of defending US violence in the most vulgar terms. You then come along and advise me not to criticize Friedman's column today by linking it to things he's said in the past--every day when Friedman writes about US military action is a whole new day, and nothing he's said in the past has any relevance. I have decided not to accept your advice.

Based on the FISA vote & this article, I don't much trust him or his advisors

I second this.

I don't know if Obama will come down on the side of the angels on this, or not. But a "special" court system is not something that gives me a warm fuzzy feeling.

The folks that planned and carried out the WTC bombings in 1993 were captured, prosecuted, and convicted through normal intelligence gathering, police work, and the criminal justice system. The trials required the presentation of sensitive evidence. The system worked fine.

For folks captured in combat, I believe we have an existing, and very robust, military justice system as well.

We don't need a "special" court system, and we certainly don't need one invented for convenience' sake by the executive.

Any executive.

Thanks -

If we have learned anything from the last eight years, it is that there is no room for just trust in government. Trust, but verify, although if I had my way, there would be an open atmosphere of complete and total distrust between all three branches.

Donald, I think you and I agree completely about Friedman: the man is a moral leper and I wish he'd be forcibly retired. Nevertheless, what does Friedman have to do with Obama? Yes, the fact that he gets the most precious op-ed space in the world says terrible things about our media and our society, but you and I already know those things, right? Now Obama might be terrible or he might be decent, but I don't think Friedman's writings give us any insight. If Obama had cited Friedman's writings as particularly insightful or if Friedman was advising him, then you might have a case, but that hasn't happened. Has it?

My point is that if you want to vent about Friedman being a moral leper, that's cool. But doing so in a thread entitled "Trusting Obama" is somewhat confusing.

Katherine, it is really great to see you commenting again. And I really appreciate your long insightful comment above.

One question: do you have any sense as to how the political aspects of these questions interact with the demands of justice? Consider the set of guys that the DOD believes are completely innocent but that cannot be repatriated right away (or maybe ever). From my perspective, those guys should get visas to live in the USA along with government assistance. But doing that could easily trigger a political firestorm, right ("Obama pays for Gitmo terrorists to live in YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD!11!")? Do you think those considerations are significantly driving the process that we're seeing? Is there even enough information available to tell?

I suspect that you're going to find out pretty soon one way or the other about Obama. Once a politician gets into office and has to face unexpected issues, ones that they don't have a prerehearsed policy on, their political instincts are likely to take over, and you will see what their core values (or lack of them) are.


Along that line of reasoning I was impressed by Obama's responses to what happened in Georgia and even more so by his first responses to the credit implosion and its impact on Wall Street. He seems to remain level-headed, even as he indicates he's not afraid to make a decision once it's clear to him what the best decision will be. He behaved that way during the revelations about Rev. Wright, too.

I would be surprised if political considerations didn't have a major role, but I don't know any of the details--as I said, there hasn't been much press coverage. I think these issues will be far more of a focus in the months ahead than during the campaign, due to: (1) pressure to shut down Guantanamo in a short time period (2) the likelihood of a bunch of Bush pardons as he heads out the door.

There's also an ongoing court case about some of the innocent Uighur detainees--a district judge recently ordered that they be released into the U.S. That's being appealed & I would expect the Circuit court to overturn it, but I don't know & haven't been following especially closely. (I don't believe Obama was ever asked what he thought of that court decision).

This line in the article caught my eye: "Some detainees likely would be returned to the countries where they were first captured for further detention or rehabilitation"....in most cases we've released people to their country of citizenship or residence, not the country where they were captured (Afghanistan or Pakistan in most cases)--I wonder if that indicates that there's discussion of release at point of capture as an alternative to (1) holding people indefinitely (2) returning them to their own country (3) convincing other countries to take them (which we've tried, but largely not successfully--the main exception being the half-dozen-odd Uighur prisoners who are now living in Albania) (4) U.S. residence. But, that's complete tea-leaf reading.

As the Wolf would say, "Let's not start you-know-what-ing each other's you-know-whats quite yet."

Trust should be earned.

What Obama done to earn your trust?

Turb--That might be a fair point. It's too early to say, I think, since we don't know how Obama will do. Friedman sees himself as an Obama supporter, as do many people across a good portion of the political spectrum, and I think he represents that portion of the spectrum that thinks "Oh goody, we got the buffoons out, so now we can go back to being imperialists in a more sophisticated way." I don't think that portion of the spectrum is negligible in size.

Whether Obama agrees is something that we're going to find out.

How Obama will act, I mean, not how he will do.

I find it unsettling the support Obama got from people like Colin Powell and his choice of Biden as running mate. It's, I suppose, a measure of how bad Bush has been, but I don't think Obama owes anybody very much, politically speaking. He ran as a mainstream establishment candidate and if he kicks antiwar lefty supporters aside and does decide to do some manly Friedmanesque things, I don't think they can say they haven't been warned, by Biden among others. (I say "they" though I voted for him, but it was as lesser of two evils and a desire to infinitesmally increase the popular vote against McCain--protest third party votes are ignored by the press.)

I'm still trying to negotiate the post election internet, and it's hard to figure out which story I want to focus on and where I want to go for my information. I certainly respect Katherine's points, which I think are echoed by Ackerman, though he ends on an optimistic note.

As to what Obama has done to earn trust, perhaps this is a bit of a three bank ricochet, but the way he ran his campaign, turning over responsibility rather than running it as a command and control structure (the on the road reports at fivethirtyeight.com comprise a nice set of evidence) seems to indicate that he will conduct this in a manner that is transparent and open. This may be a problem, because, as Turb notes, there is an intersection between the political and the legal realm here that is not to be sneezed at. There are tons of potholes here, but an argument that could be made is that some of the people have been radicalized to such an extent, which, coupled with the problematic nature of returning them to their countries of origin, might call for some separate trial and separate incarceration. I certainly wouldn't want, given what I know of the US prison system, to put them in that population. I can see how Katherine and others might say that this is a line in the sand, and if Obama crosses it, he's not worthy of the presidency, but I also see that bringing the process to the US rather than simply shipping off the prisoners to where ever they would be out of sight would probably be an anathema to the way that Obama ran is campaign. In this sense, the trials might be 'show trials', highlighting what a problematic place Guanatanmo is (I'm trying to find the articles about how one commandant (Miller?) tried to create a situation where the prisoners would appoint representatives to negotiate and was replaced by Hood, who clamped down and praised the 'intelligence' that was coming out of the interrogations) and might defuse the black spot that Guanatanamo has become. In this sense, the new court system would work to be more like a truth and reconciliation system. Note that the basic danger in dealing with them in federal court is two fold, that they will be accorded all the rights of US citizens and that they will be in an adversarial environment, so their defense lawyers would need to advocate for the revealing of CIA undercover agents, etc etc. While I think that exposing the whole enterprise to sunlight might be the best thing, I'm pretty sure that is a minority viewpoint.

Of course, Katherine's attempts to volunteer and being routed into the GOTV effort are troubling for sure, but I'd be interested in knowing when that took place. If it took place before, say, the Democratic convention or even before the overseas trip, I would cut them some slack, as the victory is only evident in hindsight.

I also think that this story is related

Computers at the headquarters of the Barack Obama and John McCain campaigns were hacked during the campaign by a foreign entity looking for future policy information, a source with knowledge of the incidents confirms to CNN.
Workers at Barack Obama's headquarters first thought there was a computer virus.

The source said the computers were hacked mid-summer by either a foreign government or organization.

Another source, a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation, says federal investigators approached both campaigns with information the U.S. government had about the hacking, and the campaigns then hired private companies to mitigate the problem.

U.S. authorities, according to one of the sources, believe they know who the foreign entity responsible for the hacking is, but refused to identify it in any way, including what country.

The source, confirming the attacks that were first reported by Newsweek, said the sophisticated intrusions appeared aimed at gaining information about the evolution of policy positions in order to gain leverage in future dealings with whomever was elected.

To link it back to hybrid trials, a hybrid that allows more, not less information to go out, but with more nominal control, would be a way to go, just as more transparency about policy positions would reduce the value of the information hacked. But this is reading the tea leaves before they have even been put in the cup, I suppose.

Sorry, this is unclear
I also see that bringing the process to the US rather than simply shipping off the prisoners to where ever they would be out of sight would probably be an anathema to the way that Obama ran is campaign.

The anathema would be to try and outsource the whole thing and say 'wow, check that off the to-do list' and given the way Obama ran his campaign, he wouldn't be willing to do that. I hope.

This article contains more detail--and makes it sounds like the "national security court" is for trial of the the highest level suspects rather than an indefinite administrative detention system. Given those two choices, I prefer the former. Mentioning HRW's advocacy director as closely involved in the process is also relatively encouraging.

I wonder who's leaking this & why.

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