Should Bush Apologize for Torture?

Proving once again that, on the subject of torture, he is America's most important public intellectual (even though he's British), Andrew Sullivan asks former President Bush to atone for the abuses that occured during his presidency. The editors of The Atlantic, to their great credit, put Sullivan's "open letter" on the cover.

It seems obvious that only something of the magnitude of Bush himself publicly apologizing for torture can return torture to what it once was: a non-political issue that's not open for debate. It's surprising that no one's suggested it before. Like a lot of the ideas Sullivan has, it only seems obvious after he's explained it. Anyway, money quote:

The point of this letter, Mr. President, is to beg you to finally take responsibility for this stain on American honor and this burden on a war we must win. It is to plead with you to own what happened under your command, and to reject categorically the phony legalisms, criminal destruction of crucial evidence, and retrospective rationalizations used to pretend that none of this happened. It happened. You once said, "I'm worried about a culture that says … 'If you’ve got a problem blame somebody else.'" I am asking you to stop blaming others for the consequences of decisions you made.

Obama and the Chinese Tires

Dan Drezner is unhappy with the Obama administration's decision to slap an import tariff on Chinese tires.  But he admits:

We trade enthusiasts are an excitable lot, however, what with everything leading to falling off cliffs, crossroads being reached, and red zones being breached.  Seven years ago, the allegedly free-trade Bush administration imposed steel tariffs that were found to be WTO-inconsistent.  There was a lot of gnashing of teeth and wailing, yet the world trade system proved to be pretty robust.  So maybe my trade compatriots are exaggerating things a wee bit, yes?  In all likelihood, won't this be resolved via the WTO dispute settlement mechanism about 18 months from now?

Yeah, I was kind of wondering where the WTO was in all of this, too.  Now that China is a member, all this means is that they file a complaint, it grinds slowly through the gears of the trade dispute resolution process, and eventually they either get relief or they don't.  All very civilized.

But Dan offers four reasons why this might be worse than it seems.  Click the link to see what he has to say.  In the end, though, his biggest concern is that unlike Bush's steel tariffs, which were a one-shot deal, this might not be:

With the Obama administration, however, this feels like the tip of the iceberg.  Most of Obama's core constituencies want greater levels of trade protection for one reason (improving labor standards) or another (protecting union jobs)....If I knew this was where the Obama administration would stop with this sort of nonsense, I'd feel a bit queasy but chalk it up to routine trade politics.  When I look at Obama's base, however, quasiness starts turning into true nausea.

Well....I'm not so sure about this.  For starters, the steel tariffs weren't a one-off.  Remember the bra wars?  And unlike the steel decision, that one was quite clearly aimed squarely at the Chinese.  And there was the softwood lumber tariff.  And a few others.  Ending with the almost comical Roquefort cheese duties.

None of which is meant to defend Obama's decision one way or another.  But with advisors like Larry Summers and Austan Goolsbee on staff, I'd be pretty surprised if Obama has turned into some kind of tariff warrior.  Frankly, the tire decision looks to me like a fairly standard payoff to a core constituency, not something that suggests a long-term change in policy.  And just as with Bush's tariffs, my guess is that a white hot Chinese reaction will be quite enough to turn him around even if he did have plans for a more protectionist trade policy.  (Note, for example, that this decision was announced late on Friday, the usual dumping ground for things that you'd just as soon not have to defend very vigorously.)  My guess: China will retaliate, the WTO's gears will grind, and the whole thing will blow over.

The Art of the Scare Ad

"Republicans want to end Medicare," insists the breathless narrator of the ad on the right.  FactCheck.org says it isn't true.  And Megan McArdle asks: "I'd really like to know whether this sort of thing works, or whether it comes across as so ludicrous that people start wondering about the Democrats' sanity."

My guess: yes, it works, and no, no one will be wondering about Dems' sanity.  I mean, when you're competing with "Obama is a socialistfascistcommunistthug," you've got a pretty high bar to cross before you look extreme.  Instead, what I'm curious about is why the DNC bothered with this.  Why not just tell the truth: Republicans essentially voted in favor of turning Medicare over to private industry.  With only a few words of explanation, this could easily be more effective than the ad that actually ran.  Like so:

Republicans voted to turn Medicare over to private insurance companies!  You heard right: they want to hand Medicare over to the same companies that [insert two or three insurance company outrages here, maybe a Wall Street reference, something about profits over people, etc.].  Democrats will never do that.  Blah blah blah.

Would that really be any less scary than the ad that actually ran?  Or is the DNC afraid that the urban legends are true, and everyone thinks Medicare is a private plan already?

Health Care Reform As Socialism Meme Dates To Roosevelt

If this weekend's big Tea Party rally in DC was any indication, a lot of Americans  believe that Democrats trying to reform health care are secretly plotting a socialist revolution. According to Bloomberg, though, this is nothing new. Health care reform opponents have been stoking fears of socialism during health care debates since at least Franklin Roosevelt's day. The story even digs up a 1961 quote from Ronald Reagan invoking the term—long before he went into politics.

"From here, it’s a short step to all the rest of socialism,” Reagan, then an actor, warned in a 1961 record sponsored by the American Medical Association after President John F. Kennedy created a commission that laid the foundation for Medicare.

There's a reason reform opponents like to throw around charges of socialism: it works. Bloomberg says:

Once the public associates the word “socialism” with a plan, it’s hard to change the impression... In 1945, when Truman addressed Congress about a national insurance plan, 75 percent of Americans supported the proposal. By 1949, after it was targeted by opponents, only 21 percent did, according to a book by former Democratic Senator Tom Daschle, “Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis.”

Sadly, history seems to be repeating itself. According to a recent poll, since Republicans and others have been invoking socialism to defeat Democratic reform bills, 52 percent of Americans now disapprove of President Obama's handling of health care, up from 28 percent in April.  

Headline of the Day

From the LA Times this morning:

Some fear GOP is being carried to the extreme

All well and good, but it might be a better story if "some" turned out to be more than a grand total of two people.  And even at that, one of the two is David Frum, who's been estranged from the loony bin wing of the party for nearly a year now.  By contrast, the article quotes four people defending the crackpots.  "Some" might indeed fear that the GOP is being carried to extreme, but apparently it's a pretty small movement so far.

Did you know that Sen. Bernie Sanders, the self-described socialist senator from Vermont, has a weekly web video? Well, he does. Later today, President Barack Obama will be on Wall Street talking about the economy and his proposals for regulating the financial sector. The president's speech will be all over cable news; Bernie just gets YouTube. Here are his ideas:

Why all this today? Because today is the one-year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Remember that?

Today's must-reads are in an Empire State of Mind:

  • The president is headed to Wall Street today to talk about the economy. What will he say? (WaPo)
  • What does the public really think about the public option? (MoJo)
  • Key GOP senator wants Obama to take public option "off the table." (NYT)
  • Related news from the department of Republicans wouldn't think twice: "Massachusetts Democrats wary of Kennedy law change." (Politico)
  • What's the deal with those "9/12" protests? (MoJo)
  • Trade war! China retaliates against US tire tariff. (NYT)
  • Things are really not going that well in Afghanistan. (WaPo)
  • Kanye West interrupts President Obama (YouTube)
  • Michael Kinsley: FREE JOE WILSON! (WaPo)
  • Leon Wieseltier reviews Norman Podhoretz's Why Are Jews Liberals? (NYT Book Review)
  • What does it mean to have a million Twitter followers? (Mediaite)

I post articles like these throughout the day on twitter. You should follow me, of course. David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets. So do my colleagues Daniel Schulman and Rachel Morris and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

Jay-Z would like a moment of silence for Auto-Tune, the pitch-tweaking software that gave us basically every Billboard Hot 100 song since Summer 2007. On his latest album, The Blueprint III, the rapper heralds an end to the revamped vocoder and needles his contemporaries for "T-Paining too much." But is Auto-Tune really "D.O.A."? 

Hardly. In its most subtle form, Auto-Tune makes kinda okay singers sound like John Mayer; in its late-decade form, it makes everyone sound like T-Pain, a liability T-Pain himself has been quick to exploit. On Friday, he released "I Am T-Pain," an iPhone app that lets users Auto-Tune themselves in real time, on the go, for $2.99. It also conveniently bundles in several background tracks for karaoke emergencies. If you want proof that the "I am T-Pain" app is evil, look no further than this video review by CNet's Justin Yu:

Eco-News Roundup: Monday, September 14

Happy Monday, everyone. Here's the enviro, health, and science news for today:

Podcast, people! David Corn and Kevin Drum on healthcare, Obama's speech, and Twitter's quirks. Corn doesn't really like to talk about the truthers, which makes his latest take on Van Jones and 9/11 conspiracies all the more interesting.

The Economics of Traffic: How much would you pay for a shorter commute?

Poland's organic revolution: The newest Western trend to hit Eastern Europe isn't a new fast-food chain—it's organic food. [AFP]

Vaccine skeptics and swine flu: Experts say vaccines don't cause autism, and young children who contract the H1N1 flu strain are at risk for serious complications. So why are some parents still refusing to give their kids flu shots? [L.A. Times]

U.S. of Euthanasia? Is Barack Obama's health care plan nothing but an underhanded plot to bring European-style euthanasia to the United States? David Corn and James Pinkerton duke it out on Bloggingheads.tv.