Blogs

DOMA

| Mon Jan. 5, 2009 1:28 PM EST

DOMA....Bob Barr, the Georgia congressman who authored the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, writes in the LA Times today that it's time to get rid of it:

The first part of DOMA [] is a partial bow to principles of federalism, protecting the power of each state to determine its definition of marriage. The second part sets a legal definition of marriage only for purposes of federal law, but not for the states. That was the theory.

I've wrestled with this issue for the last several years and come to the conclusion that DOMA is not working out as planned....In effect, DOMA's language reflects one-way federalism: It protects only those states that don't want to accept a same-sex marriage granted by another state. Moreover, the heterosexual definition of marriage for purposes of federal laws — including, immigration, Social Security survivor rights and veteran's benefits — has become a de facto club used to limit, if not thwart, the ability of a state to choose to recognize same-sex unions.

Hopefully DOMA will end up on the ash heap of history, where it so richly deserves to be, before the year is out.

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World Government Watch

| Mon Jan. 5, 2009 12:57 PM EST

WORLD GOVERNMENT WATCH....John Bolton and John Yoo complain today in the New York Times that Barack Obama might be tempted to overstep his constitutional bounds by sidestepping the requirement that all treaties be approved by two-thirds of the Senate:

On a broad variety of issues — many of which sound more like domestic rather than foreign policy — the re-emergence of the benignly labeled "global governance" movement is well under way in the Obama transition.

Candidate Obama promised to "re-engage" and "work constructively within" the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Will the new president pass a new Kyoto climate accord through Congress by sidestepping the constitutional requirement to persuade two-thirds of the Senate?

Steve Benen notes the irony of hearing this argument from John Yoo, who, back when he worked in the Bush administration, was probably the biggest booster of unfettered executive power this side of Dick Cheney. Beyond that, though, I'm a little puzzled about what he and Bolton are even talking about here. Will Obama try to approve the Kyoto Treaty with only a majority vote of Congress? That's easy: no he won't. How about a followup treaty? Not likely. On the other hand, might Obama introduce climate legislation that binds the United States to goals that are similar to Kyoto? Sure, he might. But that's not a treaty, it's just domestic legislation.

Very odd. But toward the end of the piece Bolton and Yoo make it pretty clear that they aren't especially concerned with constitutional delicacies anyway. They just don't like treaties, full stop. But then, conservatives never have, have they?

FoPo Blogging

| Mon Jan. 5, 2009 12:22 PM EST

FoPo BLOGGING....Lots of new foreign policy blogging over at Foreign Policy magazine today. They've rolled out a whole series of new blogs from Dan Drezner, Steven Walt, Tom Ricks, David Rothkopf, Marc Lynch, and Laura Rozen ("The Cable"). There's also — and no, I'm not making this up — Madam Secretary, "an obsessive blog about all things Hillary Clinton." There are also a few new group blogs, and of course, their current blog, Passport, continues as usual.

Dan, Marc, and Laura are old friends around here, and I wish them luck in their new home. The others, especially Ricks and Walt, will be worth keeping an eye on too. The official intro is here.

Obama Nominates Dawn Johnsen, the Anti-Yoo, as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel

| Mon Jan. 5, 2009 11:47 AM EST

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John Yoo, who worked in the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) in the Bush administration's Justice Department, became famous for his memos in defense of torture and his theory that the Constitution grants the president almost unlimited power during times of war. (The OLC is the part of the Justice Department responsible for providing legal advice to the executive.) Dawn Johnsen, the woman whom Barack Obama selected on Monday to run Yoo's old office*, published an article in 2007 entitled "Faithfully Executing the Laws: Internal Legal Constraints on Executive Power." That's quite the contrast. In a 2008 paper, "What's a President to Do? Interpreting the Constitution in the Wake of the Bush Administration's Abuses," (PDF) she writes that the Bush administration's disregard for the law should be the exception, not the rule, going forward:

The lesson we should draw from the Bush administration is not that we should dramatically alter our understanding of longstanding presidential authorities. Rather, it is the urgent need for more effective safeguards and checks from both within and without the executive branch to preclude any future recurrence of the Bush administration's appalling abuses.

Gaza Crisis: Israelis Echoing Bush on Regime Change?

| Mon Jan. 5, 2009 11:41 AM EST

The Israelis appear to have learned from the Bush-Cheney administration.

On Monday morning, NPR ran an interview with Michael Oren, an American-Israeli best-selling military historian and Israeli reservist who is a spokesperson for the Israeli military. (He has also been a contributing editor for The New Republic.) Asked if the goal of the current Israeli operation in Gaza is regime change--that is, the expulsion of Hamas from power--he replied that Israelis "do not want to see continuation of Hamas rule in Gaza," but added, "It is not Israel's explicit goal to topple the Hamas government....That is not the stated goal of this operation. If it happens...there will be many people happy about it...The stated goal is to restore security to the southern part of Israel."

This line echoes the rhetoric used by Bush-Cheney officials in 2002 and 2003. They repeatedly noted that the United States officially favored regime change in Iraq but that the invasion to come was about WMDs and security. If it took regime change to neutralize that supposed dire WMD threat posed by Saddam Hussein, so be it.

Smile!

| Mon Jan. 5, 2009 11:38 AM EST

SMILE!....I missed posting about this over the weekend, but the Washington Post ran a fascinating article yesterday about a multi-year effort by the Maryland State Police to spy on a wide variety of liberal activist groups. It all started with the infiltration of a group protesting a planned execution, and then spiraled out of control:

Meanwhile, the intelligence-gathering expanded in other directions, to activists in New York, Missouri, San Francisco and at the University of Maryland. Shane Dillingham's primary crime, according to the six-page file classifying him as a terrorist, was "anarchism." Police opened a file on the doctoral student in history a week after an undercover officer attended a College Park forum featuring a jailhouse phone conversation with Evans.

Investigators also tracked activists protesting weapons manufactured by defense contractor Lockheed Martin. They watched two pacifist Catholic nuns from Baltimore. Environmental activists made it into the database, as did three leaders of Code Pink, a national women's antiwar group, who do not live in Maryland.

PETA was labeled a "security threat group" in April 2005, and by July police were looking into a tip that the group had learned about a failing chicken farm in Kent County and planned on "protesting or stealing the chickens."

This all started in 2005 and went on until 2007, so it wasn't some kind of panicked reaction to 9/11. It's been stopped since, and according to the Post, the Maryland State Police "plan to solicit advice from the ACLU, the General Assembly, prosecutors and police about regulations that would raise the bar for intelligence-gathering to 'reasonable suspicion' of a crime." Good to know.

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How to Rebuild the SEC

| Mon Jan. 5, 2009 11:17 AM EST

The portions of Michael Lewis and David Einhorn's NYT op-ed that Noam Scheiber highlights are really worth sharing. On the campaign trail, Obama made it appear that he was going to use the financial crisis to bring back regulation to our financial markets. Lewis and Einhorn have an easy way for him to start. Let's hope our President-elect doesn't go weak in the knees.

It's not hard to see why the S.E.C. behaves as it does. If you work for the enforcement division of the S.E.C. you probably know in the back of your mind, and in the front too, that if you maintain good relations with Wall Street you might soon be paid huge sums of money to be employed by it.
The commission's most recent director of enforcement is the general counsel at JPMorgan Chase; the enforcement chief before him became general counsel at Deutsche Bank; and one of his predecessors became a managing director for Credit Suisse before moving on to Morgan Stanley. A casual observer could be forgiven for thinking that the whole point of landing the job as the S.E.C.'s director of enforcement is to position oneself for the better paying one on Wall Street....

The key suggestion:

If the S.E.C. is to restore its credibility as an investor protection agency, it should have some experienced, respected investors (which is not the same thing as investment bankers) as commissioners. President-elect Barack Obama should nominate at least one with a notable career investing capital, and another with experience uncovering corporate misconduct. As it happens, the most critical job, chief of enforcement, now has a perfect candidate, a civic-minded former investor with firsthand experience of the S.E.C.'s ineptitude: Harry Markopolos [the investor who spent years trying to alert the SEC to Bernie Madoff].

Obama Transition Releases Donors

| Mon Jan. 5, 2009 11:03 AM EST

With this little toot of its own horn:

We refuse all donations from corporations, labor unions and PACs. Individuals may not donate more than $5,000. We also refuse all contributions from registered federal lobbyists and registered foreign agents.

You can search through the donors here. So far, I can tell you that Bill and Hillary Clinton, Bill Richardson, Rod Blagojevich, and Roland Burris have all chosen not to donate. Like every journalist in America, I plugged their names in before anyone else's.

"Senator Franken": Getting Closer

| Mon Jan. 5, 2009 7:39 AM EST

Here's CNN:

A state election board on Monday will announce Democrat Al Franken has defeated Republican incumbent Norm Coleman in Minnesota's U.S. Senate race, state officials told CNN Sunday....
The canvassing board on Monday will say a recount determined Franken won by 225 votes, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie told CNN.

The Coleman campaign is expected to file a legal challenge, alleging that about 650 absentee ballots, many from pro-Coleman areas, were improperly rejected in the course of the recount. Chuck Schumer and Senate Democrats have declared Franken the winner, but Republican senators have promised they will filibuster to keep Franken from being seated while legal challenges are still outstanding. It appears "Senator Franken" could be seated in January, February, or even March.

Update: What's the takeaway? We will soon have a senator who once did things like this.

Negotiating With Themselves

| Mon Jan. 5, 2009 1:50 AM EST

NEGOTIATING WITH THEMSELVES....Paul Krugman surveys the current political scene and wonders if Barack Obama is going to be undone by his insistence on bipartisanship:

Here's my nightmare scenario: It takes Congress months to pass a stimulus plan, and the legislation that actually emerges is too cautious. As a result, the economy plunges for most of 2009, and when the plan finally starts to kick in, it's only enough to slow the descent, not stop it. Meanwhile, deflation is setting in, while businesses and consumers start to base their spending plans on the expectation of a permanently depressed economy — well, you can see where this is going.

So this is our moment of truth. Will we in fact do what's necessary to prevent Great Depression II?

I've been getting the same sense recently: Obama's team is so focused on getting a big bipartisan majority for their stimulus legislation that they're negotiating their goals down even before they actually start negotiating. I'm reluctant to critique Obama's political instincts, since they've proven shrewd so often in the past, but I gotta say: this isn't going to work. Obviously Obama needs a modest level of Republican support just to get the bill passed, but he doesn't need 80 votes, and straining to get there will just produce a watered-down plan without getting anything in return.

The American public really doesn't know or care if this bill passes by one vote or thirty votes. So why waste time on this? It's just a gold-embossed invitation for Republicans to obstruct and posture endlessly, something they hardly need any encouragement for.