Friday, 1 May 2009

Obama Interrupts Gibbs' Briefing to Talk Souter

Hopes to have an appointment in place by October, when the next judicial session starts. Check out the video:

Think Progress Should Really Stop Torture Cheerleading

The Center for American Progress is among my all time favorite organisations, and their blog Think progress is pretty much daily required reading for these days for me - or anyone following progressive politics.

But they seriously need to lay off the torture cheerleading.

"Wait," you say, "Think Progres has consistently opposed torture and they are even leading the charge for impeachment of Stephen Bybee, author of memos approving the torture programs."

Sure. And well done to them for that. But frankly, they are surrendering the moral high ground in their current campaign to make sure right wing cable news pundit Sean Hannity gets waterboarded.

Yes, there's an enormous difference between Hannity volunteering to get waterboarded as a publicity stunt and detainees being waterboarded against their will. But it's still unseemly to cheer on the prospect of someone enduring horrific suffering as if it's a parlour game (it's horrific on Hannity's part too, but like with terrorists I don't expect anything batter from him - it's my own side I'm hoping will behave better).

Also, this childish egging on from Think Progress seems to concede Hannity's main point -suggesting that it would matter in the slightest if Hannity submitted himself for the forced drowning procedure. It wouldn't. Waterboarding is still torture, even if some people do it voluntarily just as rape is still rape even if folks sometimes have sex voluntarily.

Why big this up, creating the unseemly suggestion that liberals would watch right wing jerks undergo torturous techniques with some kind of pleasure. Yuck. Please, grow up guys.

10 Million People left the Group "Likely Republican Voters"

Barack Obama's own Facebook page, acquired by Slate and revealed for the first time.

Obama's First Supreme Court Appointment? Souter May be Retiring

Supreme Court justice David Souter is rumored to be planning his retirement starting in the next judicial session (which kicks off in October). That means Obama will have the chance to make his first Supreme Court appointment.

Souter, though appointed by a Republican President - George HW Bush - has evolved into one of the more reliably liberal voices on the bench. Therefore his retirement is unlikely to tip the balance of the judiciary, since Obama will presumably appoint a fellow liberal to replace him. But it does give the President an opportunity to shape the bench - a task which, as a former Consititutional Law professor, he should be well qualified for.
Vice President Joe Biden is said to be drawing up a list of prospective names. Fabulous. I love Joe to bits, but I think this week has proven that heh is stupendously effective when doing that type of hard work behind the scenes, but not so much maybe with the going on television.

100 Days, 100 Successes

Here's a very detailed, informative and informed round up of Obama's achievements in the firs 100 days. Here's a snippet...

Policy Change Successes

For those who say that the two parties are the same, here are a number of policy breaks between the new Obama administration and the old Bush administration. You can see that there are a lot of differences between these two presidents and their parties. I hope you’re reading this, Ralph Nader.

42 Freedom of Information Act - Barack Obama made America a more open society by changing government procedures under the Freedom of Information Act during his first days in office.

43 Signed the Ledbetter Law - The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Play Act allows women to better challenge pay discrimination in court. This is for cases when women are institutionally paid less for the same work than their male colleagues. A basic matter of fairness like equal pay for genders is a basic American concept.

44 Department of Transportation Energy Memoranda - President Obama signed a pair of memoranda which ordered the Department of Transportation to set higher fuel standards for the 2011 and future year car models. Not only does this make good scientific and environmental sense, but higher fuel standards allow Detroit cars to make it into more markets worldwide - like China for example - so higher fuel standards make economic sense, too.

45 Reversing the Stem Cell Ban - It’s quite simple: Barack Obama’s reversal of Bush’s stem cell ban is a victory for science. Instead of stem cells being thrown out with the trash, they now can be used to research cures for Alzeihers, Parkinsons and other horrible diseases. That’s a good thing, despite reactionary comments from the Right about stem cell farms and other tactics used to scare good people into immoral positions on the stem cell debate.
46 Funds For College Education - President Obama has offset rising college prices for up to 7,000,000 university students by increasing the funds for Pell Grants and other student aid programs. One overlooked issue is how underfunded the Pell Grants have been the last few years. The next generation needs to be educated to pay off all the debts we’re creating for them.

47 Increased Funding for Public Education - Amid all the posturing about evil federal funds going to states is the fact that many states will have to cut funding and layoff a lot of school personnel without federal funds. Obama provided over $53,000,000,000 to state education agencies and local school districts to help them avoid these layoffs. That’s a good plan for our childrens’ education.

48 Focus on At-Risk Students - The Obama Administration set aside 25 billion dollars to help at-risk students and special needs students. “At risk” means students who have a higher risk of dropping out of school and starting a life of crime. The benefits of keeping these kids in schools, off the streets and out of jail is incalculable, creating a safer community and increasing the talent pool of educated Americans. It also happens to be the moral thing to do.

49 Endangered Species Get a Break - Just this week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar rolled back a Bush Administration decision that put endangered species in great danger of dying out. Plus one for our role as stewards of this Earth.

50 Early Head Start Funding for Children - The president’s education package offered over a billion dollars to help fund the “Early Head Start” program, to start children on their way to a better education and a better future.

51 Head Start Funding - Besides funding the Early Head Start, the administration offered a billion dollars to fund the head start programs across the country. These two measures increased head start and early head start services for nearly 120-thousand children and infants.

52 Credit Card Reform - President Obama recently met with executives of the credit card industry in anticipation of a future credit card reform bill. Critics of the current credit card laws have argued that credit card companies are unclear and predatory in their practices, and that laws pushed through by the previous Republican Congresses allow the companies to set up credit traps. The new proposed laws will create regulations that will require transparency and clear stipulations, instead of the “lawyer speak” that is the current practice. Once again, I would say that Obama’s attention to credit card laws indicates he cares about the normal American and this is a worthwhile cause.

53 Funding for Local Health Care Facilities - The Obama Administration also increased funds for community health centers, which means that health centers across the country will be modernized. These funds will also go towards health care research, to make certain the next generation has better health care provided to them than this

54 Medicaid Money Release - Obama announced in early February that he would release $15 billion to pay medicaid expenses, which gives pharmacies and hospitals relief after waiting months for Medicaid bills to be paid. It also helps businesses of all sizes, who have been required to pay Medicaid expenses, but waiting weeks and months to be reimbursed.

55 American Recovery & Reinvestment Act and Medicaid - Let’s get back to the stimulus package. This legislation potentially protects up to 20 million Americans who are at risk of losing their Medicaid or State Children’s Health Insurance Program eligibility. We’ll talk about the economic stimulus package in greater detail in a minute.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Quote of the Day

From yesterday's press conference:
I can't define bipartisanship as simply being willing to accept certain
theories of theirs that we tried for 8 years and didn't work - and that the
American people voted to change. But there are a whole host of areas where we
can work together.

That seems exactly right - a sincere desire to work with your opponents doesn't mean that you surrender the things you believe in. It means that you listen hard to your opponents, you look for areas where you interests are aligned. You consider if there are things you can give up without harming your core objective, if they are willing to do the same.

Bipartisanship isn't a white flag of surrender - and it isn't a good in and of itself. There are plenty if ways to achieve mutual agreement but wind up with an outcome that achieves no-one's goals.

I Heart Michael Steele

My e-mail affair with RNC Chairman Michael Steele continues - it's irresistable, he seems hopelessly drawn to write me e-mails and I'm weakly unable to resist reading them.

Today's gem raised the terrifying Specter (haha) of a Democratic party that would lead to:
individual liberties sacrificed at the altar of collectivism.

Gosh! I certainly wouldn't want to sacrifice my individual liberties. I treasure my right to not be summarily kidnapped, held indefinitely without trial, and tortured into false confessions. I also really value my right to make choices about my own body, and although I'm not gay, I sure wouldn't appreciate being told who I could and couldn't marry if I were.

So I'm glad the Republican party is looking out for my individual liberties.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

100 Days Down.... 1360 to Go‏

[Message e-mailed out to my mailing list today:]

Dear Obamaites,

Today marks President Obama’s hundredth day in office, and he’s been a busy man! From negotiating with the Russians to reduce our nuclear stockpiles, to signing the Fair Pay act; from passing the most ambitious economic stimulus package in three generations to relaxing the outmoded embargo on Cuba, he’s been keeping his promises. We’ve even got a new First Dog.

Check out this amazing map to find out what President Obama has achieved for your home state:

As Democrats, the sun is shining on our party like never before. In recent weeks we earned a new Democratic Representative in New York’s 20th District – where there are 70,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats – and even a new Senator when Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter announced just yesterday (a 100 day anniversary gift to the President?) that he was leaving the Republican party, which he described as moving “far to the right.”
But for all the impressive achievements and bold leadership, there is so much still to be done. Our economy remains in turmoil. Climate change is still threatening our future. And millions of Americans still go without health insurance, while millions more are suffering under skyrocketing costs – precisely at the moment when a potential pandemic makes this a public health disaster in waiting.

President Obama is going to tackle these problems and more in the coming years – but he can’t accomplish any of his goals without one very important thing: you.

If you’ve been thinking that you can relax, sit back, and let your leaders get on with it – think again. Obama’s best chance of winning on his agenda is to do it with the ongoing support and hard work of the folks who elected him.

So how can you help?

So glad you asked.

First off, in the first quarter of 2009 Michael Steele’s RNC raised more than double the amount of money the DNC took in. They now have more than $23 million sitting in the bank – waiting to be spent on ads attacking our healthcare, economic recovery, and environmental solutions.

Please give $100 today to help us win these battles in the days to come:

(And I’d be very grateful if you’d put my name in the “who encouraged you” box...)

Secondly, if you will be in the London area next week, please come to Wednesday night’s Democrats Abroad speakeasy at the Duke of York pub on New Cavendish Street. The theme of the night will be a policy discussion around energy and the environment, with expert speakers giving a report from the front lines of these issues. For further info or to RSVP, go to the MeetUp Group here:

And finally, Democrats Abroad is working to set up functional committees, regional groups, and policy discussions – if you would like to help us any of these areas (including voter registration, membership development, events management, technology support and more) please let me know and I will put you in touch with someone who would love to have your help.


As a reminder, the Obama London blog is still going strong – here are some recent highlights:

Welcoming Arlen Specter to the fold:

An outstanding video on 100 days from the DNC:

Michael Steele sends me e-mails:

Thoughts on generational change and progressivism:

How Britain adored the Obama’s, and Michelle’s role at the G20:

Best wishes,

Karin Robinson

Arlen Specter Is Now a Democrat

And there was much rejoicing.

Independent minded Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter announced yesterday that he was leaving the Republican party and would run in the Democratic primary.

Specter was the deciding vote in passing President Obama's Economic Stimulus package, and has been out of step with his own party for quite some time. It's worth noting, though, that he is well in line with his State. Pennsylvania was once considered a bellweather state, alternating between electing Republicans and Democrats. In fact, until recently the other Senator for Pennsylvania was the uber-right wing and anti-gay Rick Santorum.

But as the Republican party has moved further to the right, this state has been shifting in the opposite direction - Obama won it by 10 points, and Kerry won by a comfortable margin in 2004. Not to mention, of course, that Santorum was defeated by Democrat (and early Obama endorser) Bob Casey in the last election cycle. Specter's party switch completes the shift to a fully Democratic Senate delegation for the state.

Specter's statement is here.

Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.

When I supported the stimulus package, I knew that it would not be popular with the Republican Party. But I saw the stimulus as necessary to lessen the risk of a far more serious recession than we are now experiencing.

Since then, I have traveled the state, talked to Republican leaders and office-holders and my supporters and I have carefully examined public opinion. It has become clear to me that the stimulus vote caused a schism which makes our differences irreconcilable. On this state of the record, I am unwilling to have my twenty-nine year Senate record judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate. I have not represented the Republican Party. I have represented the people of Pennsylvania.

But don't take Arlen's word for it - as usual, my new BEST FRIEND FOREVER, RNC Chairman Michael Steele has e-mailed me to let me know how things really stand.

Dear Karin,
I hope Arlen Specter's party change outrages you. It should for two reasons:

First--Specter claimed it was philosophical--and pointed his finger of blame at Republicans all over America for his defection to the Democrats. He told us all to go jump in the lake today.

I'm sorry, but I don't believe a word he said.

Arlen Specter committed a purely political and self-serving act today. He simply believes he has a better chance of saving his political hide and his job as a Democrat. He loves the title of Senator more than he loves the party--and the principles--that elected him and nurtured him.

Second--and more importantly--Arlen Specter handed Barack Obama and his band of radical leftists nearly absolute power in the United States Senate. In leaving the Republican Party--and joining the Democrats--he absolutely undercut Republicans' efforts to slow down Obama's radical agenda through the threat of filibuster.

etc. etc.

My favorite bit, though, was this final part in the PS:

P.S. Karin, we need to respond to Senator Specter's decision to join President Obama's efforts to change America into a European Welfare State.

Ummm... Michael? I live in Europe. So not quaking in my boots at making the USA slightly more like the more egalitarian society I live in where losing your job does not equate to losing your health insurance.

Anyway, welcome to the fold Arlen. I know that you won't be with us on every vote - and I fully expect that you'll continue to be the contrarian, fiscally cautious, thoughtful and occassionally infuriating Senator you've always been. But I hope you'll wear that D after your name with pride.

Deep Thought

What does it say about the world we live in that the word "misogyny" is in common use, but "philogyny" is virtually unheard of?

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Race and the 2008 Race

One of the greatest of all possible websites during the 2008 election was Nate Silver's outstanding work on (go there! Read it! Good stuff).

Recently, Nate did a presentation at TED about race as a factor in the election.

Shorter version:

Bad news - racism did exist in the election, and played a role in the outcome of some states.

Good news - it is possible to predict and understand where and how racism will appear, and therefore it is possible to design ways of reducing it.

20 Questions

Recently I answered 20 questions about blogging, and Bond, and life on the Mars Hill blog - check it out:

What are the lessons Labour as a Party can learn from the Obama campaign?

I think Labour has a massive problem in that it’s turned off the bright young progressives who ought to be the heart and soul of their efforts going into the general election. The Obama campaign was all about recruiting and motivating activists, and frankly I think the fact that we had an intensely fought primary within the party was helpful for that – our activists genuinely had a say in the direction the party went in. So... try to do that.

To some extent, this is also about demonstrating sincere appreciation for your supporters, and also respect for the voters. Treat your activists like real partners, giving them lots ways to help you every single day (not just the occasional organised canvass) and treat the voters who aren’t currently supporters like thoughtful adults.

Apart from that, I also think it helped that Obama had a really clear vision from the beginning about what the race was all about – “changing the way Washington works” – and he stuck by it relentlessly through the storms and squalls of the campaign. I don’t think Labour (or the LibDems, or the Tories) have yet presented us with that overarching rationale about what the election means and why it matters. Maybe they don’t have one, but if they don’t then I fear nothing they can learn from the Obama campaign will be of any help to them.

Is there anywhere abroad which you haven't been to, that you would like to visit?

Oh everywhere! South America – Brazil especially, if I can ever persuade my husband to go with me. I’d like to see more of Scandinavia, having loved it when I visited for the Campaign. Especially the Fjords. (I like saying “fjords”.)

Is there anywhere abroad you have visited, that you would love to revisit?

I can’t imagine I would ever tire of Tuscany. And the Greek Islands. And the South of France. And Barcelona. And... hmmm... now I’m feeling seriously stir crazy. Must do some travelling.

Do you have a favourite political figure in history?

I’ve always had a thing for Elizabeth I – if she counts as a political figure. She’s fascinating in how she understood but surpassed the limits then imposed on women, and the cunning way she played the games of court to ensure a long a successful reign, but failed utterly to make provisions for her own succession. As I say, fascinating, powerful, flawed, and human.

Which figure has been your greatest inspiration?

Barack Obama, obviously. I just think he’s the exact right person for this exact moment in history.

Favourite Bond movie?

Goldeneye. I love the attempt to come to terms with a post-cold war world, and the introduction of Judi Dench as M., giving an elegiac feel to the dead old world of glamorous sexism and Boys Own Adventures.

As you can probably tell, I’m not normally a huge Bond fan.

Favourite Doctor Who?

I’ve hated Doctor Who my entire life until Russell T. Davies rescued it from tedium, and I’m now obsessed. And I’ve seen David Tennant play Hamlet, so he’s obviously my guy. I like him muchly. But I always did like men tall, pale and European. Yes, Scottish counts as European.

Monday, 27 April 2009

100 Days

Torture - Why Moving On Isn't an Option

"There are none so blind as those who will not see." Jonathan Swift

The United States of America in recent years had a decided policy to torture detainees at prisons in Iraq and in secret CIA detention facilities around the world. There is, sadly, no longer any serious doubt that this is the simple truth.

We also now know that a series of legal memos were written, after this program was already in place, that the Bush Administration claims provided a legal justification for the torture program. Since there is ample US law forbidding torture, and the US is also a signatory to both the Geneva convention and to the anti-torture treaty of the United Nations (signed, by the way, by Republican hero Ronald Reagan), and since many of the techniques in question, including waterboarding, have been prosecuted by the United States in the past as torture, it is hard to see how any independant reading of the law could come to an honest conclusion that these techniques are anything but illegal.

I'm choosing my words carefully now. The memos... are at the most generous reading a very poor piece of work. For a start, the failure to mention the several occassions on which the US has prosecuted waterboarding is notable. A failure to review the extensive scientific literature on psychiatric breakdown relating to some of the torture methods discussed.

Those facts, plus the fact that these memos were written after the torture program was already in place - and even long after the abuses at Abu Ghraib (which line up exactly with the practices described in the memo except for being a LESS harsh) strongly suggest that these memos are not genuine legal advice, but an effort to cover up or obscure activities that are clearly against the law.

That lawbreaking - IF PROVEN in a court of law - looks likely to go to the very top of the civilian leadership. Namely to Bush and Cheney themselves.

Now here's the thing. David Broder, of the New York Times seems to believe not only that these crimes should not be persecuted, but also that those who advocate for such prosecutions are motivated by vengeance. Peggy Noonan says no good could come from even releasing the legal memos themselves, and that it's probably best to just "just keep walking".

And President Obama himself has indicated that his personal preference would be to get on with the nation's business and not look backwards.

Actually, that would be my preference too. But it isn't possible.

Personally, I'm sick to death of being angry and disappointed in my country. I worked to elect Barack Obama in party because I did not want to spend my time wondering whether my country was doing these things. I would love to move on.

But we're a country of laws, not of men. And although prosecutors always have certain amount of discretion in terms of which cases they bring to trial, I doubt whether this can be one of these cases - and I'm certain it shouldn't be - because:

1) It's too big. Not at all an instance of "a few bad apples on the night shift" but apparently and allegedly a massive conspiracy to use the full force of the US Government in a secret program to break domestic and international law. This makes it a bigger deal than Watergate, Iran Contra. Although junior participants (such as the CIA officers involved) may be allowed immunity in exchange for cooperation, I don't see how a criminal conspiracy of this scale could be covered up.

2) We still don't know enough. Investigations must carry on so that we can understand what happened, how it happened, and how it was allowed to happen. A recent report in the New York times suggests that one of the reasons for the torture was a determination by the administration to find evidence of an Iraq-Al Qaeda connection that didn't exist. That would make this a spectacular failure of national security and intelligence gathering - which we MUST understand in order to never repeat.

3) Failing to prosecute now would make it easy, perhaps inevitable, for such techniques to be used again, and would suggest that the legal argument being used (that if one's intentions are good one is authorised in using illegal torture) is valid.

4) And finally, let me just quote from the New York Times article (read the whole thing):

According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.

Even George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director who insisted that the agency had thoroughly researched its proposal and pressed it on other officials, did not examine the history of the most shocking method, the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding.

The top officials he briefed did not learn that waterboarding had been prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II and was a well-documented favorite of despotic governments since the Spanish Inquisition; one waterboard used under Pol Pot was even on display at the genocide museum in Cambodia.

They did not know that some veteran trainers from the SERE program itself had warned in internal memorandums that, morality aside, the methods were ineffective. Nor were most of the officials aware that the former military psychologist who played a central role in persuading C.I.A. officials to use the harsh methods had never conducted a real interrogation, or that the Justice Department lawyer most responsible for declaring the methods legal had idiosyncratic ideas that even the Bush Justice Department would later renounce.

The single most important fact to know about these techniques is that they were designed to extract FALSE confessions, not good intelligence. It's possible to believe (just about) that leading figures administration and even in the US intelligence community didn't know that, but it would be dangerous to the entire nation to allow anyone who reads the newspaper to go on believing that one day more. We need a trial to get the truth out.

And, yes, as Dick Cheney keeps insisting, by all means, let's include in this assessment any instances in which these techniques can be said to have "worked." They are totally irrelevant to the question of criminal liability, of course, ("Your Honor, I admit that I did steal the car but in my own defense this committing this crime did allow me to get to my appointment on time.") but let's include every single thing there is to know about all of this, in front of a jury of citizens, presided over by a neutral judge under the rule of law.

Let's, in other words, let justice take its course. It would be long past time.