Wednesday, February 4, 2009

'Forget' something, Brady Campaign?

by Kurt Hofmann

Close to a year-and-a-half ago, I posted on my blog a video clip of Brady Campaign legal director Dennis Henigan discussing the Second Amendment, with his explanation of why, in his opinion (and, presumably, that of the Brady Campaign as a whole), the Bill of Rights was not violated by Washington DC's total ban (since lifted--very slightly) of handgun ownership by private citizens. What makes the clip interesting is the clever bit of editing Henigan worked on the Second Amendment. In so doing, he made his explanation considerably more plausible. Take a look--it's only about 15 seconds long:

Notice anything . . . different about his version of the Second Amendment--a few words shorter, perhaps? It's certainly easier to argue that the right protected by the Second Amendment does not accrue to individual people, when you leave out the inconvenient little fact that it's a right . . of the people.

Before I am accused of selectively editing the video clip in an effort to mislead, I should acknowledge that the above is a shortened version, but I truncated it only to reduce it to the relevant part--I didn't remove "of the people"--Henigan did that. For the full length version (just over 3 1/2 minutes), click here. That full length clip, I should point out, had been on You Tube, before the Brady Campaign realized that their sleight of hand was fooling no one, and that it simply made them look like, well . . . liars, causing them to remove it.

Remember that this clip was made before the Supreme Court's Heller decision (but after the appeals court had ruled against the DC gun ban), and the Brady Campaign was desperate to defeat the notion that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to firearm ownership. When the Supreme Court declined to go along with their inventive "collective right" interpretation, the BC suddenly decided (or suddenly claimed to decide) that recognition of a Constitutional guarantee of an individual right to private firearm ownership was a good thing for the citizen disarmament lobby, because it would assuage gun owners' fears that proposed restrictive gun laws would lead to bans (never mind that we are now being told that Heller poses no obstacle to bans of an enormously popular and useful class of firearms--detachable-magazine fed, semi-automatic rifles).

Some clever folks have pointed out--to Brady spokesman Paul Helmke's discomfiture, that if the Brady Campaign is now pleased about the federal government being forced to recognize the Second Amendment rights of individuals, then they should view the incorporation of the Second Amendment under the Fourteenth Amendment (meaning state and municipal governments would also have to honor the right to keep and bear arms) as being 50 times better, and join with the NRA, the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), and the Illinois State Rifle Association (ISRA) in fighting toward that end in Chicago. I gather he's not interested.

It's almost as if we can't count on the gun prohibitionists' forthrightness, or something.

Original here

Just how bad off is the Republican Party?

By Thomas Schaller


Reuters/Molly Riley

Michael Steele speaks after being elected Republican National Committee chairman in Washington Jan. 30, 2009.

Feb. 2, 2009 | WASHINGTON -- In the future, when either the story of the Republican Party's miraculous revival or its continued malaise is written, historians will return to the opening days of the Obama administration for early signs of what would follow. For within a span of just 48 hours during the final week of January, the GOP, relegated to minority status in national politics for the first time in 16 years, cast two big, revealing votes.

The first was the House Republicans' unified, 177-0 vote on Jan. 28 against the $819 billion economic stimulus package passed by the Democrats and sent to the Senate. The second came Friday, at the Republican National Committee's winter meeting, when former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele was chosen as the party's new -- and first African-American -- national chairman. Held up side by side, these two votes demonstrate that Republicans remain unified in what they stand against, but, aside from sensing they might be a little too white, are far less certain what they stand for.

What is the state of the GOP at the dawn of the Obama era? The GOP has not quite ebbed to New Deal or post-1964 Democratic landslide levels, but it has certainly reached its lowest point since the comeback congressional cycle of 1966. Obama's 53 percent national popular vote share is the highest for a Democrat since 1964, and there is no obvious set of formidable Republican presidential challengers for the 2012 election.

As Salon's Mike Madden observed from interacting with volunteers and activists on hand at the Capital Hilton in Washington for the national meeting, "If the mood and the speeches at the winter meeting are any guide, Republicans are seeking refuge from electoral defeat in an alternate reality, one where the public still loves them -- or would if they could only improve their sales pitch. And where going along with President Obama's agenda just isn't in the cards." If any further evidence is needed, consider this little gem: On the afternoon the 168 national committee members were electing Michael Steele their new chairman, fully 10 days into the Obama administration, the "national leadership" page on the RNC's Web site still depicted George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as president and vice president.

The Republicans' problems are manifold. The GOP is lacking in obvious national leadership, is not sure whether to retrench toward its conservative ideals or move toward the center, and has lost the ability to motivate its own grass-roots base, much less critical swing voters. I spoke with a variety of Republicans and conservatives, either in attendance at this week's RNC winter meeting, or watching the proceedings from afar, to get their assessment of the situation.

On the ideological question, there are elements within the party that remain convinced that Republicans are flagging because they have abandoned their conservative principles. When I asked Ross Little Jr., a veteran national committeeman from Louisiana, why he was supporting former Ohioan Ken Blackwell's candidacy over that of fellow Southerner Katon Dawson, from South Carolina, he didn't hesitate. "One of the things we have not done in the last four years is stick to our conservative principles," said Little, in explaining his support for the socially conservative former secretary of state whom Democrat Ted Strickland crushed in the 2006 Ohio gubernatorial race. "In Ken Blackwell we'd have somebody who would stand true to our principles."

Former Republican congressman Rob Simmons of Connecticut, who was part of the class of Northeastern and Midwestern incumbents who were swept out of Congress in 2006, takes the diametrically opposite view. Simmons, who was in Washington on business Friday and dropped by the Hilton to sneak a peek at the RNC proceedings, fears his party has lurched too far rightward. "I think a lot of Republicans, especially from New England and the Northeastern United States, are concerned about the narrowing focus of the party. We want to see a broader, more inclusive party," Simmons told me during the early balloting. "And the selection of the chairman may give us an idea of whether that's going to take place." Simmons was not supporting any of the five RNC candidates who qualified for the election, but hinted that he hoped members would opt for somebody other than Mike Duncan, the incumbent chairman. A Kentuckian closely allied with former President Bush and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Duncan led Steele narrowly after Friday's first ballot but slowly lost support in ensuing rounds before dropping out.

Meanwhile, the meaning of conservatism has lost clarity. Its appeal is less certain in the post-Ronald Reagan decades at the end of the previous century and start of this one.

Charles Kesler, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and editor of the Claremont Review of Books, told me by phone from California that some conservatives had lost touch with core principles because of a mistaken belief that they've already won the battle for the hearts and minds of their fellow citizens. "Both the party and the conservative movement have bought into the notion that this is a center-right country, that the majority of the country is already conservative, that we don't have to persuade them to be conservative because they already are," said Kesler. "That may have been true when Reagan was president, but it's not a permanent truth and it doesn't seem true to me now. I don't think Bush or the party tried to really persuade people toward conservatism."

Among younger Republicans, many of whom complained that the party is out of touch with the country's emerging demography and new technologies, there is a sense that the party needs to change itself before it begins thinking about retaking power. "Republicans -- especially young Republicans -- are craving new ideas," said Rachel Hoff, 26, of the Young Republican National Federation. "We are craving pragmatic solutions to the real-world problems we face. We demand accountability, transparency and results from our leaders. We hold to the foundational principles of the conservative movement -- limited government, individual freedom and personal responsibility -- but recognize the need to appropriate those principles into modern, 21st century solutions."

"It's quite possible that this could be a scenario like 1964 or other years like that when a quick Republican resurgence is possible," said Kessler, who co-edited with the late William F. Buckley Jr. a volume of essays on conservative principles. "But I wouldn't bet on that necessarily ... I think the wilderness period will last a little bit longer because conservatives need to find their way."

Compounding the problem of ideological drift is the relative absence of clear political leadership.

Having lost the popular vote in four of the past five presidential cycles, and without control of the White House, it's unclear where the new power centers in the party reside. The Republicans' aging Senate caucus of 41 members is about to be drained further, at least in terms of seniority and leadership, and perhaps in numbers, should Republicans fail to hold onto seats to be vacated by a slew of 2010 retirements. Kay Bailey Hutchison is quitting early to run for governor of Texas. Florida's Mel Martinez, Kansas' Sam Brownback, Missouri's Kit Bond and Ohio's George Voinovich have all announced they will not seek reelection, and Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter and Iowa's Charles Grassley may follow suit. (Kentucky's Jim Bunning, seen as a particularly vulnerable incumbent, has so far rebuffed strong hints from party leaders that he join them.) The GOP House population of 178 members is at its lowest level since 1993. In the states, there are just 21 Republican governors and the GOP lost ground in the state legislatures each of the past three cycles after bringing state legislative seats and control to parity in 2002 for the first time in 70 years.

Erick Erickson, an important grass-roots voice and founder of the influential blog, believes energy and leadership will come from House Republicans. "I think initially you're going to see [energy] coming from House leaders -- Mike Pence, Eric Cantor, John Boehner, Tom Price with the Republican Study Committee. There really hasn't been a governor to step up to the plate yet, or at least one that everyone really rallies behind. And I don't think it will be in the Senate because the Republican base is more conservative than the Senate Republican conference, so people are distrustful of senators other than senators like Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn." Erickson did say, however, he thought Senate Republicans were wise to select conservative Texan John Cornyn to be in charge of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Perhaps predisposed to an alternative view, given his vantage point as Virginia's attorney general, Bob McDonnell sees the situation much differently. "I think the energy will come from the governors," said McDonnell, who this fall will try to snap the Democrats' eight-year grip on the statehouse under Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. "That's where a lot of the ideas are coming from." For now, they don't seem to share the same ideas as their fellow Republicans in Congress. Most have come out in support of the stimulus bill that the House GOP rejected, since they actually have to govern and need the money in the bill to do it.

McDonnell noted that every Republican governor who ran for reelection in 2008 won, something that can't be said for dozens of House Republicans over the past two cycles. (The Democrats picked up the Missouri statehouse, but Republican incumbent Matt Blunt opted not to seek a second term.) He mentioned how Bobby Jindal "in short order has captured the attention of Republicans across the country."

Jindal is certainly a rising star. Yet, among a field of competent chief executives with low national profiles, from Minnesota's Tim Pawlenty to Florida's Charlie Crist, nothing close to a Reagan-like figure has emerged yet. The lone Republican governor who once offered both the star power and potentially broad-based appeal, California's Arnold Schwarzenegger, is constitutionally ineligible to run for the White House.

In the near term, at least, it's hard to determine from what talent pool the Republicans will derive a group of new, national-caliber leaders.

Enter Michael Steele, the new chairman. Steele beat out a field that started with six contenders, including himself, Blackwell, sitting chairman Duncan, South Carolina party chairman Katon Dawson, Michigan party chairman Saul Anuzis and former John McCain advisor Chip Saltsman, who dropped out of the race when it became clear that his "Barack the Magic Negro" CD was dispositive.

Steele has been falling upward throughout a career marked by a series of professional failures. He dropped out of the seminary, finished law school but never passed the bar, started a consulting firm that had no clients, and was rumored to have been let go from a job working for the Mills shopping mall firm because he was spending too much time engaged in party politics. When he ran as Robert Ehrlich's lieutenant governor running mate in 2002, the Ehrlich campaign put Steele on the payroll so he'd have a regular income.

But Steele has proved very capable in party and electoral politics, steadily graduating from Prince George's county chairman, to Maryland state chairman, to lieutenant governor and then leader of GOPAC, the organization founded by Newt Gingrich in the late 1980s to recruit, train and elect Republicans to national office. He is clever, telegenic and comfortable working a room. And he was the best-organized contender Friday: Team Steele had 15 whips among the 168 voting delegates working the floor. After he trailed Duncan by just six votes on the first ballot, his team built on his momentum. Steele was tied on the second ballot, later drew Blackwell's endorsement, staved off a late challenge by Dawson in the fourth and fifth rounds, and got the requisite majority on the sixth.

As the first black chairman of a party that finally seems to realize it can no longer squeeze a winning coalition from America's shrinking white male population, one might say Steele was the last candidate swept into office on Barack Obama's post-racial coattails. Now, Steele stands atop the party's national hierarchy, the GOP's black Sarah Palin.

"I think I bring a fresh game to the table," Steele told me, moments before the RNC convention was gaveled to order Friday. "I think I have a fresh perspective, coming from my days in the grass roots as a county party chair, state party chair, and running a national political organization. If we can get our grass roots engaged and excited about being involved in the party, good things will happen and then, kind of shaking up the [RNC] organization." Steele is anti-choice and socially conservative, but was also a member of the Republican Leadership Council, a group founded by Northeastern party moderates to broaden the party's demographic base. That tie was unpopular with some at the RNC's winter meeting, but suggests Steele has a pragmatic outlook that could benefit the party.

What sort of party does Steele inherit? One a lot less sure of itself than it was just four short years ago. The theme of the 2009 winter meetings was "Republican for a Reason." Like so much else in GOP world right now, it was a catchy but ambiguous phrase. For the moment, it's hard to pinpoint what exactly that reason is.

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Driving Mr. Daschle

So Tom Daschle, the erstwhile prairie populist and scourge of multiple Presidential nominees, failed to disclose and pay taxes on hundreds of thousands of dollars of income. He also waited months to pay up and told the Obama transition team about his tax oversights only days before his Senate confirmation hearing to become Secretary of Health and Human Services.

[Review & Outlook] AP

This one is going to be fascinating to watch, less for what it says about Mr. Daschle than what it will reveal about Democratic standards. Every Republican in America knows that if Mr. Daschle were a Reagan or Bush nominee he'd now be headed back to private life faster than you can say John Tower. That's the way Democrats have treated GOP nominees who were accused of far lesser transgressions than Mr. Daschle's tax, er, avoidance. The question is whether Democrats are going to treat Mr. Daschle according to the standard that Mr. Daschle set when he was running the Senate.

And what standard was that? Well, on taxes, you may recall that Mr. Daschle's Senate Democrats led the campaign against "Benedict Arnold corporations" that earn too much income overseas. The companies do this legally, in part to avoid a U.S. corporate tax rate (35%) that is the developed world's second highest, but that hasn't stopped the Daschle Democrats from comparing them to traitors.

Then there was the assault on legal tax shelters, led in the Daschle Senate by Democrat Carl Levin. The Levin hearings encouraged the Justice Department to prosecute employees who sold tax shelters for KPMG, though no tax court had found them illegal. Most of the KPMG charges were later thrown out of court, but not before careers were ruined and life savings spent on legal defense fees. Under political pressure in 2002, the IRS disclosed the names of users of a KPMG shelter, including William Simon Jr., a Republican candidate for California Governor. Democrats cried that Mr. Simon was a tax cheat, and he had to release years of tax returns to show otherwise.

Tax trouble threatens Tom Daschle's confirmation as Secretary of Health and Human Services. (Feb. 2)

Now we learn that Mr. Daschle failed to report some $255,000 in income from 2005 through 2007 for a car and driver supplied to him for personal use. The chauffeur service was provided by Leo Hindery, a big Democratic donor who also made Mr. Daschle a bundle by making him a limited partner in InterMedia Partners, a private equity shop.

As a legal tax matter, this isn't even a close call. Mr. Daschle says he used the car service about 80% for personal use, and 20% for business. But his spokeswoman says it only dawned on the Senator last June that this might be taxable income. Mr. Daschle's excuse? According to a Journal report Friday, "he told committee staff he had grown used to having a car and driver as majority leader and did not think to report the perk on his taxes, according to staff members." How's that for a Leona Helmsley moment: Doesn't everyone have a car and chauffeur, dear?

The Senate Finance Committee is also reviewing whether certain "travel and entertainment services" provided to Mr. Daschle and his wife Linda, an aviation lobbyist, should also be reported as income. The Washington Post reports that Mr. Daschle has earned more than $5 million over the past two years, including $220,000 from the health-care industry he's been nominated to regulate. Capitalism is wonderful, but at the very least Mr. Daschle's record strips the veneer from President Obama's moralizing that lobbying and special interest pleading are the root of all evil in Washington. In appointing Mr. Daschle, Mr. Obama is showing that lobbying is fine as long as it is done by people who agree with him.

Some Democrats said on the weekend that Mr. Daschle deserves to be confirmed because they "know" he is "honest." But that isn't the standard Mr. Daschle set for GOP appointees who had no ethical taint. In 2001, he established a new, 60-vote confirmation standard for Eugene Scalia to be Labor Department Solicitor, though Mr. Scalia had been approved in committee and would have won on the Senate floor. He also filibustered Miguel Estrada, a judicial nominee of wide renown, on the trivial grounds that the Bush Administration wouldn't release internal memos when Mr. Estrada had worked as a Justice Department staff lawyer.

We'll be watching in particular to see how Democrats Max Baucus and Kent Conrad handle the Daschle tax mess. Finance Chairman Baucus gave a pass to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, albeit for a lesser offense, and Mr. Conrad also voted to confirm Mr. Geithner though not without saying he wouldn't have done so in "normal" times. We assume by "normal" he doesn't mean when nominees are Republican. If nothing else, a vote to confirm Mr. Daschle will expose the insincerity of Democratic tax populism.

If Mr. Daschle were the stand-up guy his fellow Democrats say he is, he'd withdraw his nomination and spare them the embarrassment of confirming someone who thinks the tax laws apply only to other people.

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Abraham Lincoln Turns 200

By Andrew Ferguson

Abraham Lincoln turns 200 this year, and he's beginning to show his age. When his birthday arrives, on February 12, Congress will hold a special joint session in the Capitol's National Statuary Hall, a wreath will be laid at the great memorial in Washington, and a webcast will link grade-school classrooms for a "teach-in" honoring his memory.

Admirable as they are, though, the events will strike many of us Lincoln buffs as inadequate, even halfhearted—and another sign that our appreciation for the 16th president and his towering achievements is slipping away. And you don't have to be a buff to believe that this is something we can't afford to lose.

Compare this year's celebration with the Lincoln centennial, in 1909. That year, Lincoln's likeness made its debut on the penny, thanks to approval from the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. Communities and civic associations in every corner of the country erupted in parades, concerts, balls, lectures, and military displays. We still feel the effects today: The momentum unloosed in 1909 led to the Lincoln Memorial, opened in 1922, and the Lincoln Highway, the first paved transcontinental thoroughfare.

From ComstockComplete
"A penny saved is a penny earned," Benjamin Franklin said.
The celebrants in 1909 had a few inspirations we lack today. Lincoln's presidency was still a living memory for countless Americans. In 2009 we are farther in time from the end of the Second World War than they were from the Civil War; families still felt the loss of loved ones from that awful national trauma.

But Americans in 1909 had something more: an unembarrassed appreciation for heroes and an acute sense of the way that even long-dead historical figures press in on the present and make us who we are.

One story will illustrate what I'm talking about.

In 2003 a group of local citizens arranged to place a statue of Lincoln in Richmond, Virginia, former capital of the Confederacy. The idea touched off a firestorm of controversy. The Sons of Confederate Veterans held a public conference of carefully selected scholars to "reassess" the legacy of Lincoln. The verdict—no surprise—was negative: Lincoln was labeled everything from a racist totalitarian to a teller of dirty jokes.

I covered the conference as a reporter, but what really unnerved me was a counter-conference of scholars to rebut the earlier one. These scholars drew a picture of Lincoln that only our touchy-feely age could conjure up. The man who oversaw the most savage war in our history was described—by his admirers, remember—as "nonjudgmental," "unmoralistic," "comfortable with ambiguity." A 19th-century Dr. Phil.

I felt the way a friend of mine felt as we later watched the unveiling of the Richmond statue in a subdued ceremony: "But he's so small!"

The statue in Richmond was indeed small; like nearly every Lincoln statue put up in the past half century, it was life-size and was placed at ground level, a conscious repudiation of the heroic-approachable and human, yes, but not something to look up to.

The Richmond episode taught me that Americans have lost the language to explain Lincoln's greatness even to ourselves. Earlier generations said they wanted their children to be like Lincoln: principled, kind, compassionate, resolute. Today we want Lincoln to be like us.

This helps to explain the long string of recent books in which writers have presented a Lincoln made after their own image. We've had Lincoln as humorist and Lincoln as manic-depressive, Lincoln the business sage and Lincoln the wily pol, the conservative Lincoln and the liberal Lincoln, the emancipator and the racist, the stoic philosopher, the Christian, the deist, the atheist-Lincoln over easy and Lincoln scrambled.

What's often missing, though, is the timeless Lincoln, the Lincoln whom all generations, our own no less than that of 1909, can lay claim to. Lucky for us, those memorializers from a century ago—and, through them, Lincoln himself—have left us a hint of where to find him.

The Lincoln Memorial, on the National Mall, is the most visited of our presidential monuments. It's a building of impressive scale and great beauty, but the most striking thing about it is the quiet that descends over the tourists who climb the wide, sweeping stairway and step into the cool of the marble chamber. Soon their attention is drawn to one or both of the Lincoln speeches etched into the walls on either side of the famous statue. After all this time, I am still astonished by the number of visitors who stand still to read, on one stone panel, the Gettysburg Address and, on the other, the Second Inaugural Address.

What they're reading is a summary of the American experiment, expressed in the finest prose any American has been capable of writing. One speech reaffirms that the country was dedicated to a proposition, a universal truth that applies to all men everywhere. The other declares that the survival of the country is somehow bound up with the survival of the proposition, that if the country doesn't survive, the proposition itself might someday be lost.

Here is where we find the Lincoln who endures: in the words he left us, defining the country we've inherited. Here is the Lincoln who can be endlessly renewed and who, 200 years after his birth, retains the power to renew us.

Penny Wise

They're everywhere. In jars, in junk drawers, under sofa cushions. Forty-two percent of the change you get back every day is handed out in pennies. What else do you know about the nation's most abundant coin? Answers, see below.

1. A penny stays in circulation for how many years?

A. 30 years
B. 50 years
C. 10 years

2. True or false: If you dropped a penny off the Empire State Building and it hit a passing pedestrian 1,454 feet below, it would kill him.

3. What is the most a Lincoln penny has ever sold for at auction?

A. $221,950
B. $373,750
C. $1.3 million

4. True or false: Sucking on a copper penny will fool a Breathalyzer test.

5. In 2005, Edmond Knowles cashed in his world-record collection of 1,308,459 pennies ($13,084.59) at a Coinstar in Flomaton, Alabama, because …

A. He needed to pay for home repairs
B. 4.5 tons of pennies might be considered a complete collection
C. His wife told him it was time
D. All of the above

6. True or false: It costs the U.S. government 1.2 cents to make a 1-cent penny.


1) A, although two out of three pennies printed in the past 30 years have vanished from circulation. 2) False. It might hurt, but a lightweight penny encounters too much wind resistance and isn't able to gather enough speed to deliver a killing blow. 3) B. A 1944-S Steel Cent. 4) False. Neither will a nickel, as some urban mythologists believe. 5) D. Knowles is considering collecting dimes. 6) True.

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A new low for corporate greed

Dan Rodricks

Super Bowl Sunday fun: Try saying these words out loud, in the incredulous voice of former NFL coach Jim Mora in that Coors beer commercial:

"Bonuses? Don't talk about - bonuses? You kidding me? Bonuses?" Yes, coach, I'm afraid it's true: Something like $18.4 billion in bonuses for Wall Street executives in 2008, the year Wall Street came tumbling down.

We had 2.6 million jobs disappear from the American economy last year, another 60,000 just last Monday and more expected, with the number of people getting unemployment checks now at an all-time record. Meanwhile, the New York State comptroller reports that in one of the most ruinous years in the history of money, total Wall Street bonuses hit their sixth-highest level on record. So, all in all, despite the economic bonfire, it was pretty much business as usual for some of the already well-compensated people who make money from money.

And this at a time when taxpayers - and their descendants - are being asked to finance the bailout of financial institutions.

Dan Rodricks Dan Rodricks Bio | E-mail | Recent columns
Even the president of the United States was outraged. Even the president saw the year-end holiday bonuses as "shameful" and "the height of irresponsibility." I say "even the president" because it's not like we've had a long line of chief executives who decried excessive profits and executive compensation. You have to stand back and regard that tableau for a minute: The man in the Oval Office saying Wall Street ought to be ashamed of itself.

The president said that? Are you kidding me? The president? Yes, and his vice president said those who took bonuses ought to be thrown in a brig.

Such rhetoric hasn't been in the presidential repertoire since Franklin Roosevelt. In fact, we've had the opposite - presidents who wanted to further reward the well-compensated with tax cuts. Ronald Reagan sold us trickle-down economics, on the premise that those with capital must have even more to make the economy grow. But it didn't work out that way.

Things have actually trickled up over the nearly 30 years since Mr. Reagan's election. The disparity between the wealthiest 5 percent of citizens and the poorest 5 percent has never been wider, and Americans in the middle haven't done much better than those just below them. Instead of holiday bonuses, average workers across the country have seen stagnant wages and increased health care costs, along with incessant cost-cutting and workforce reductions to show bigger profit margins, most of it driven by Wall Street.

The nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington looked at incomes adjusted for inflation over the last decade. It found that since 1998, incomes declined by 2.5 percent among the bottom fifth of American families while increasing by 9.1 percent among the top fifth. And, on average, incomes grew by just over 1 percent for the middle fifth of American families.

In New York, Wall Street compensation certainly contributed to this condition: Since the 1980s, average incomes there grew by $108,000 among the top 5 percent but by less than $1,000 among the bottom 20. (Like New York, Maryland has been one of the top 10 states for income disparity since the CBPP started measuring it in the 1980s.)

So, yes, the rich have gotten richer, and with Washington's assistance. And clearly Wall Street - read that, the super-rich - wants the ride to continue. Insulated from real pain, convinced of their value even as the pillars crumble about them and oblivious to public opinion, bankers and securities executives continued to take bonuses while the federal government provided taxpayer-backed billions to bail them out.

It's outrageous, but understandable. It's as Alan Greenspan told Congress last fall: the way the world is supposed to work. But, of course, Mr. Greenspan was shocked to discover a great flaw - you can't trust those in the free market to do the right thing - and here we are in meltdown.

Maybe things will change. Perhaps the new president can influence the markets and change the culture of corporate America. Maybe he can shame Wall Street into shedding such obnoxious behavior in the future. Maybe this was the last gasp of Reagan era get-mine greed.

Last gasp? You kidding me?

Dan Rodricks' column appears Sundays on this page and Tuesdays in the news pages. He is host of the midday talk show on WYPR-FM.

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The Tide Shifts Against the Death Penalty

By Richard Lacayo

A view of the death chamber from the witness room at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility
A view of the death chamber from the witness room at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility

If there were such a thing as a golden age of capital punishment in America, it peaked in 1999. There were 98 executions in the U.S. that year, the highest number since 1976, when the Supreme Court, which had overturned all death penalty laws in 1972, began approving them again. For most of the 1990s the number of death sentences handed down annually by courts had been humming along in the range of 280 to 300 and above. And it had been years since the Supreme Court had done much to specify whom states could execute and how they could do it.

A decade later, capital punishment has a lot less life in it. Last year saw just 37 executions in the U.S., with only 111 death sentences handed down. Although 36 states and the Federal Government still have death penalty laws on the books, the practice of carrying out executions is limited almost entirely to the South, where all but two of last year's executions took place. (The exceptions were both in Ohio.) Even in Texas, still the state leader in annual executions, only 10 men and one woman were sentenced to death last year, the lowest number since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. In recent years the Supreme Court has voted to forbid the execution of juveniles and the mentally retarded, and it banned using the death penalty for crimes that did not involve killings. In 2007 the court put executions across the country on hold for eight months while it examined whether lethal injection, the most common means of executing prisoners, violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment; in the end it ruled 7-2 that it did not.

Even more significantly, where states once hurried to adopt death penalty laws, the pendulum now appears to be swinging in the other direction. In 2007 New Jersey became the first state in 40 years to abolish its death penalty. In that same year repeal bills were narrowly defeated in Montana, Nebraska and New Mexico, all of which are revisiting the issue this year. Now the focus is on Maryland. After years of failed attempts by death penalty opponents to bring a repeal bill to a vote in the state legislature, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley is personally sponsoring this year's version, promising that he will fight to have the legislature pass it during the current 90-day session. In his state of the state address last week O'Malley called capital punishment "outdated, expensive and utterly ineffective." (See the top 10 crime stories of 2008.)

Death penalty opponents say the use of DNA evidence, which has led to a number of prisoners being released from death row, is a big part of the reason for the decline in executions generally. "That's had a ripple effect," says Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based advocacy group. "The whole legal system has become more cautious about the death penalty. Prosecutors are not seeking it as much. Juries are returning more life sentences. And judges are granting more stays of execution. Last year there were over 40."

Maryland restored its death penalty in 1978, but it was 16 years before the state carried out its first execution under the new law. Since then the state has put to death four more convicted killers, the last of them in 2005. Today there are five men on Maryland's death row, though the state suspended executions two years ago after its highest court ruled that regulations governing lethal injections had been adopted improperly. Until new protocols are in place, no executions can go forward, and the governor, a longtime death penalty opponent, has been in no hurry to issue them.

Last year, after months of public hearings, a Maryland state commission on the death penalty voted 13-9 to recommend that it should be abolished. In its final report the commission, which was headed by former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti, cited the usual objections to capital punishment — cost, racial and jurisdictional disparities in sentencing, its ineffectiveness as a deterrent against crime and the possibility that innocent people might be put to death. One of the commission's members was Kirk Bloodsworth, who had been on death row in Maryland for two years in the mid-1980s before he was cleared by DNA evidence.

Even so, repealing the Maryland death penalty is by no means a done deal. Bills to repeal it have been introduced repeatedly since the first of them arrived six years ago, only to die every time in the senate's judicial proceedings committee. And the makeup of that committee is no different now than it was two years ago, when the bill fell one vote short of the number needed to release it to the full senate. But supporters of the repeal think that this year, with the governor's support and the commission's verdict still fresh, the bill will make it to the floor for a vote they are confident they will win. "This year we have momentum to move it," says Jane Henderson, director of Maryland Citizen's Against State Executions.

Senator Lisa A. Gladden, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the committee, also thinks this is the year it will happen. "You have the commission report, which confirms what we already knew," she says. "The death penalty is not a deterrent, it doesn't reduce crime, it's expensive, and it's unfair. And the governor has the ability to persuade some of the swing voters in my committee — and I only need one — to get the bill onto the floor. " If the bill is passed by the senate, it will then continue to the legislature's other chamber, the house of delegates, where house speaker Michael E. Busch has said he believes there are enough votes for approval.

If Governor O'Malley can't budge any of those swing voters, there are still parliamentary moves at his disposal that could allow him to bring the bill to the full chamber without a committee vote. One of them would be to persuade lawmakers on the committee who oppose the bill to release it anyway without a recommendation of any kind from their body. Some anti-repeal committee members are already said to be warming to that idea.

And O'Malley can get firsthand advice on parliamentary maneuvers from a source very close to home. In 1978, the bill that eventually created Maryland's death penalty was held up for a time by the same senate committee before eventually being forced to a vote. Its chairman back then was a future state attorney general named J. Joseph Curran, a longtime opponent of capital punishment. These days he also happens to be the governor's father-in-law.

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Study: racial profiling no more effective than random screen

By John Timmer

Study: racial profiling no more effective than random screen

One of the larger problems facing the security industry in the era of mass terrorism is the task of creating a profile of a likely terrorist. Identifying those at risk of first time offenses is a challenge in any context, but the stakes are higher when that offense may also be the last, and involve the deaths of dozens of people. We've discussed the challenges of generating profiles of potential terrorists in the past, but a study that will be released by the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science does a mathematical analysis how we're deploying the profiles we do have, and suggests we may not be using them wisely.

The study was performed by William Press, who does bioinformatics research at the University of Texas, Austin, with a joint appointment at Los Alamos National Labs. His background in statistics is apparent in his ability to handle various mathematical formulae with aplomb, but he's apparently used to explaining his work to biologists, since the descriptions that surround those formulae make the general outlines of the paper fairly accessible.

Press starts by examining what could be viewed as an idealized situation, at least from the screening perspective: a single perpetrator living under an authoritarian government that has perfect records on its citizens. Applying a profile to those records should allow the government to rank those citizens in order of risk, and it can screen them one-by-one until it identifies the actual perpetrator. Those circumstances lead to a pretty rapid screening process, and they can be generalized out to a situation where there are multiple likely perpetrators.

Things go rapidly sour for this system, however, as soon as you have an imperfect profile. In that case, which is more likely to reflect reality, there's a finite chance that the screening process misses a likely security risk. Since it works its way through the list of individuals iteratively, it never goes back to rescreen someone that's made it through the first pass. The impact of this flaw grows rapidly as the ability to accurately match the profile to the data available on an individual gets worse. Since we've already said that making a profile is challenging, and we know that even authoritarian governments don't have perfect information on their citizens, this system is probably worse than random screening in the real world.

In the real world, of course, most of us aren't going through security checks run by authoritarian governments. In Press' phrasing, democracies resample with replacement, in that they don't keep records of who goes through careful security screening at places like airports, so people get placed back on the list to go through the screening process again. One consequence of this is that, since screening resources are never infinite, we can only resample a small subset of the total population at any given moment.

Press then examines the effect of what he terms a strong profiling strategy, one in which a limited set of screening resources is deployed solely based the risk probabilities identified through profiling. It turns out that this also works poorly as the population size goes up. "The reason that this strong profiling strategy is inefficient," Press writes, "is that, on average, it keeps retesting the same innocent individuals who happen to have large pj [risk profile match] values."

According to Press, the solution is something that's widely recognized by the statistics community: identify individuals for robust screening based on the square root of their risk value. That gives the profile some weight, but distributes the screening much more broadly through the population, and uses limited resources more effectively. It's so widely used in mathematical circles that Press concludes his paper by writing, "It seems peculiar that the method is not better known."

We're not privy to the exact details of various screening systems, so it's possible that the optimal solution is in use in a number of contexts. But, given that things like racial profiling are used in so many law enforcement contexts, from community policing to immigration, it's a safe bet that there are a fair number in which it's not. And, given that the use of profiles is frequently the subject of public debate, having a public that's informed of the limits of profiling could certainly help inform those debates.

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N. Korea says two Koreas on path toward war

North Korea's secretive leader, Kim Jong Il, center, appears to have rebounded politically from his recent health scare.

SEOUL - North Korea warned on Sunday that the downward spiral of relations with the South has pushed the peninsula to the brink of war, two days after it said it was scrapping all pacts with its rich capitalist neighbor.

Analysts say the rhetorical volleys are aimed at changing the hardline policies of the South's president and are meant to grab the attention of new U.S. President Barack Obama.

"The policy of confrontation with the DPRK (North Korea) pursued by the (South Korean) group is ... the very source of military conflicts and war between the North and the South," the North's official KCNA news agency reported a commentary in the communist party newspaper as saying.

"In Korea in the state of armistice confrontation means escalated tension and it may lead to an uncontrollable and unavoidable military conflict and a war," it said.

Technically still at war
The states, technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended with a cease fire and not a peace treaty, have more than 1 million troops near their border. There are about 28,000 U.S. troops in South Korea to defend the country.

The North's bureaucracy works slowly to form policy and it may still be trying to figure out its approach with the new Obama team, analysts said, making it easier for Pyongyang to direct its anger at Washington's allies, including Seoul.

The North in recent months has repeatedly threatened to destroy the conservative government of President Lee Myung-bak, which ended a decade of free-flowing aid to Pyongyang after taking office a year ago.

Lee's government mostly ignores Pyongyang's taunts.

"North Korea's escalating threats do not indicate major hostilities are imminent," said Bruce Klingner, an expert on Korean affairs at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

"However, they could easily presage another round of tactical naval confrontations with South Korea in the Yellow Sea."

Deadly skirmishes
The two Koreas fought deadly naval skirmishes in disputed Yellow Sea waters off the west coast in 1999 and 2002.

North Korea has clamped down on it border with the South in recent months and has canceled cooperation deals reached during a period of detente in the past few years before Lee came to power.

The deals included reunions for separated families and running trains across the heavily guarded border.

The latest move follows comments by a U.S. national security official that the secretive state's leader, Kim Jong Il, appeared to have rebounded politically from his recent health scare and is making major decisions.

Kim inspected a military unit and a power plant at the weekend, KCNA said, with Kim noting "the (North) Korean people are ready to flatten even a mountain and empty even a sea at one go when called for by the Party."

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Herbert Hoover Lives


HERE’S a bottom line to keep you up at night: The economy is falling faster than Washington can get moving. President Obama says his stimulus plan will save or create four million jobs in two years. In the last four months of 2008 alone, employment fell by 1.9 million. Do the math.

The abyss is widening. Of the 30 companies in the Dow Jones industrial index, 22 have announced job cuts since October. Unemployment is up in all 50 states, with layoffs at both high-tech companies (Microsoft) and low (Caterpillar). The December job loss in retailing is the worst since at least 1939. The new-home sales rate has fallen to its all-time low since record-keeping began in 1963.

What are Americans still buying? Big Macs, Campbell’s soup, Hershey’s chocolate and Spam — the four food groups of the apocalypse.

The crisis is at least as grave as the one that confronted us — and, for a time, united us — after 9/11. Which is why the antics among Republicans on Capitol Hill seem so surreal. These are the same politicians who only yesterday smeared the patriotism of any dissenters from Bush’s “war on terror.” Where is their own patriotism now that economic terror is inflicting far more harm on their constituents than Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent W.M.D.?

The House stimulus bill is an inevitably imperfect hodgepodge-in-progress. Obama’s next move, a new plan to prevent the collapse of America’s banks, may prove more problematic still, especially given the subpar record of the new Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, in warding off calamity while at the New York Fed. No one should expect the Republicans to give the new president carte blanche, fall blindly into lock step or be “post-partisan.” (Though that’s exactly what the G.O.P. demanded of Democrats with Bush: You were either with him or with the terrorists.)

But you might think that a loyal opposition would want to pitch in and play a serious role at a time of national peril. Not by singing “Kumbaya” but by collaborating on possible solutions and advancing a policy debate that many Americans’ lives depend on. As Raymond Moley, of F.D.R.’s brain trust, said of the cross-party effort at the harrowing start of that presidency in March 1933, Hoover and Roosevelt acolytes “had forgotten to be Republicans or Democrats” as they urgently tried to rescue their country.

The current G.O.P. acts as if it — and we — have all the time in the world. It kept hoping in vain that the fast-waning Blago sideshow would somehow impale Obama or Rahm Emanuel. It has come perilously close to wishing aloud that a terrorist attack will materialize to discredit Obama’s reversals of Bush policy on torture, military tribunals and Gitmo. The party’s sole consistent ambition is to play petty politics to gum up the works.

If anything, the Republican Congressional leadership seems to be emulating John McCain’s September stunt of “suspending” his campaign to “fix” the Wall Street meltdown. For all his bluster, McCain in the end had no fixes to offer and sat like a pet rock at the White House meeting on the crisis before capitulating to the bailout. His imitators likewise posture in public about their determination to take action, then do nothing while more and more Americans cry for help.

The problem is not that House Republicans gave the stimulus bill zero votes last week. That’s transitory political symbolism, and it had no effect on the outcome. Some of the naysayers will vote for the revised final bill anyway (and claim, Kerry-style, that they were against it before they were for it). The more disturbing problem is that the party has zero leaders and zero ideas. It is as AWOL in this disaster as the Bush administration was during Katrina.

If the country wasn’t suffering, the Republicans’ behavior would be a laugh riot. The House minority leader, John Boehner, from the economic wasteland of Ohio, declared on “Meet the Press” last Sunday that the G.O.P. didn’t want to be “the party of ‘No’ ” but “the party of better ideas, better solutions.” And what are those ideas, exactly? He said he’ll get back to us “over the coming months.”

His deputy, the Virginia congressman Eric Cantor, has followed the same script, claiming that the G.O.P. will not be “the party of ‘No’ ” but will someday offer unspecified “solutions and alternatives.” Not to be left out, the party’s great white hope, Sarah Palin, unveiled a new political action committee last week with a Web site also promising “fresh ideas.” But as the liberal blogger Markos Moulitsas Zúniga observed, the site invites visitors to make donations and read Palin hagiography while offering no links to any ideas, fresh or otherwise.

For its own contribution to this intellectual void, the Republican National Committee convened last week under a new banner, “Republican for a Reason.” Perhaps that unidentified reason will be determined by a panel of judges on a TV reality show. It had better be brilliant given that only five states (with 20 total electoral votes) now lean red in party affiliation, according to Gallup. At this rate the G.O.P. will be in Alf Landon territory by 2012.

The Republicans do have one idea, of course, but it’s hardly fresh: more and bigger tax cuts, particularly for business and the well-off. That’s the sum of their “alternative” stimulus plan. Obama has tried to accommodate this panacea, perhaps to a fault. Mainstream economists in both parties believe that tax cuts in the stimulus package will deliver far less bang for the buck than, say, infrastructure spending. The tax-cut stimulus embraced a year ago by the G.O.P. induced next-to-no consumer spending as Americans merely banked the savings or paid down debt.

We also now know conclusively that the larger Bush tax cuts, besides running up record deficits and exacerbating income inequality, were also at best a placebo on our road to ruin. In a January survey of economists, including former McCain advisers like Douglas Holtz-Eakin and Mark Zandi, The Washington Post determined that the job growth the Bush administration kept bragging about (“52 straight months!”) was a mirage inflated by the housing bubble. Job growth — about 2 percent — was in fact the most tepid of any eight-year period “since data collection began seven decades ago.” Gross domestic product grew at a slower pace than in any eight years since the Truman administration.

But even if tax cuts alone could jump-start a recovery, they couldn’t do the heavy lifting that Obama has promised and the country desperately needs: a down payment on a new economy to replace our dilapidated 20th-century model and bring back long-term growth. The Republicans don’t acknowledge the need for this transformation, or debate it in good conscience, preferring instead to hyperventilate over the contraceptives in a small family-planning program since removed from the stimulus bill. All it takes is the specter of condoms for the party of Vitter, Foley and Craig to go gaga.

The Republicans’ other preoccupation remains Rush Limbaugh, who is by default becoming their de facto leader. While most Americans are fearing fear itself, G.O.P. politicians are tripping over themselves in morbid terror of Rush.

These pratfalls commenced after Obama casually told some Republican congressmen (correctly) that they won’t “get things done” if they take their orders from Limbaugh. That’s all the stimulus the big man needed to go on a new bender of self-aggrandizement. He boasted that Obama is “more frightened” of him than he is of the Republican leaders in the House or Senate. He said of the new president, “I hope he fails.”

Obama no doubt finds Limbaugh’s grandiosity more amusing than frightening, but G.O.P. politicians are shaking like Jell-O. When asked by Andrea Mitchell of NBC News on Wednesday if he shared Limbaugh’s hope that Obama fails, Eric Cantor spun like a top before running off, as it happened, to appear on Limbaugh’s radio show. Mike Pence of Indiana, No. 3 in the Republican House leadership, similarly squirmed when asked if he agreed with Limbaugh. Though the Republicans’ official, poll-driven line is that they want Obama to succeed, they’d rather abandon that disingenuous nicety than cross Rush.

Most pathetic of all was Phil Gingrey, a right-wing Republican congressman from Georgia, who mildly criticized both Limbaugh and Sean Hannity to Politico because they “stand back and throw bricks” while lawmakers labor in the trenches. So many called Gingrey’s office to complain that the poor congressman begged Limbaugh to bring him on air to publicly recant on Wednesday. As Gingrey abjectly apologized to talk radio’s commandant for his “stupid comments” and “foot-in-mouth disease,” he sounded like the inmate in a B-prison-movie cowering before the warden after a failed jailbreak.

“It’s up to me to hijack the Obama honeymoon,” Limbaugh soon gloated, “and I’ve done it.” In his dreams. He has hijacked what’s left of the Republican Party; the Obama honeymoon remains intact. The nightmare is that we have so irrelevant, clownish and childish an opposition party at a moment when America is in an all-hands-on-deck emergency that’s as trying as war. To paraphrase a dictum that has been variously attributed to two of our most storied leaders in times of great challenge, Thomas Paine and George Patton, the Republicans should either lead, follow or get out of the grown-ups’ way.

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White House Lawyers Look to Limit Commercial Use of President

Julianna Goldman

Barack Obama’s popularity makes him a marketer’s dream. Now, the honeymoon may be over for those trying to profit from his appeal.

White House lawyers want to control the use of the president’s image, recognizing the worldwide fascination about Obama’s election, First Amendment free-speech rights and easy access to videos and photos on the Web.

“Our lawyers are working on developing a policy that will protect the presidential image while being careful not to squelch the overwhelming enthusiasm that the public has for the president,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Obama’s calls for change and his “Yes We Can” campaign mantra are being evoked to sell assembly-required furniture in Ikea’s “Embrace Change” marketing campaign, bargain airfares during Southwest Airlines Inc.’s “Yes You Can” sale and “Yes Pecan” ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc. shops.

“I can’t remember this ever happening to an active politician before, as a spokesperson or as an image for a brand,” said Brad Adgate, director of research for Horizon Media Inc., a New York-based advertising agency. “He’s in the highest profile of any person in the world right now.”

Riding the wave of Obama’s popularity may become a concern when advertisers use his likeness without permission to imply that Obama is endorsing a product or cause. The White House through the years has objected to commercial use of presidential faces, such as footage of President George H.W. Bush in a Cold War-themed 1989 television ad for cold medication.

Presidential Speeches

The National Education Association is running a TV ad with excerpts from a speech Obama gave on July 5, 2007, with the group’s logo behind him.

The educators’ group has previously shown remarks by Obama in Web videos and is confident the president shares a “clear and longstanding” commitment to “real change and real reform in education,” said Steve Snider, NEA’s manager of advertising and broadcast services.

The Web site for McKinstry Co., a Seattle-based mechanical contractor that Obama visited during last year’s presidential campaign, features a YouTube clip of Obama praising its work improving energy efficiency at schools and office buildings. “As president I’ll use companies like McKinstry as a model for the nation,” Obama says. McKinstry spokeswoman Genevieve Guinn said the company bought rights to the video and hasn’t gotten any White House complaints.

Obama’s face is on a full-page newspaper advertisement by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a lobbying group in Alexandria, Virginia.

Burning Coal

“We figured out how to put a man on the moon in 10 years,” the ad quotes Obama as saying last August. “You can’t tell me we can’t figure out how to burn coal that we mine right here in the United States of America and make it work.” The group also began running a TV ad in December that shows footage of Obama promoting clean-coal energy during a campaign event last September.

The clean coal lobby group told Obama representatives about the ads before the inauguration and “received no signals from them that there was any discomfort,â€

As a record-setting crowd jammed Washington earlier this month for Obama’s inauguration, Obama’s face was featured on thousands of t-shirts, coffee mugs and calendars for sale at stores and street vendors across the capital. Obama’s official inaugural committee got into the act, too, setting up its own memorabilia store.

Malia, Sasha Dolls

Since the Obamas moved into the White House, Michelle Obama objected to the sale by Beanie Babies-maker Ty Inc. of dolls with the same names as her daughters. The company said the Sweet Sasha and Marvelous Malia dolls weren’t modeled after the first daughters.

A search for Michelle Obama’s name on Google Inc.’s Web site brings up an online ad for J. Crew Group Inc., which got free publicity when the first lady wore a J. Crew outfit on NBC’s “Tonight Show With Jay Leno” last October. “Inauguration Style: Get Looks Like Those Worn by the First Lady” the Web ad says.

Psaki wouldn’t provide details about legal options the White House counsel’s office is considering to deal with commercial use of Obama’s likeness.

The White House lawyers may have to make case-by-case determinations about the best ways to protect the presidential image without tempering enthusiasm or trampling on free-speech protections, said Jonathan Band, an intellectual property lawyer in Washington.

“It will be difficult,” Band said. “Because he is the president of the United States and there was this campaign and everyone’s proud, I think the First Amendment will be applied much more broadly with respect to people wanting to use an image of the president than it would be with typical entertainment figures or sports figures.”

Commercial Exploitation

The use of Obama-related images also may involve copyright issues and various state laws about the ability of individuals to control commercial exploitation of their likenesses, Band said.

Appropriation of a president’s face and voice, to a large degree, come with the territory, said Princeton University historian Fred Greenstein.

“It’s par for the course,” he said. Presidents have all been imitated, positively and negatively, in one form or another, he said. “When you have really newsworthy and dynamic figures they invite parody, they invite idolizations, they invite imitation in one mode or another.”

Global Appeal

As someone with a fresh face and broad international and domestic appeal as the first black president, Obama’s celebrity status is unusually susceptible to marketing pitches, said Al Ries, chairman of Ries & Ries, an Atlanta-based marketing strategy firm.

“There’s just no question that any marketer that can find an angle,” he says, “would benefit enormously with the association.”

Still, regardless of whether the president’s lawyers lay down the law soon, Obama’s popularity will likely ebb and flow just like any other politician’s.

“Now’s the time to latch on to his coattails, because it isn’t going to last forever,” Ries said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Julianna Goldman in Washington at .

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Guantanamo judge defies Obama

By Carol J. Williams

The chief judge at the Guantanamo Bay war crimes court Thursday rejected President Obama's call to halt the prosecution of terrorism suspects, ruling that a delay in the case of a Saudi accused in the Cole attack would "not serve the interests of justice."

Army Col. James L. Pohl said the government's request to postpone until May the Feb. 9 arraignment of Abd al Rahim al Nashiri was "not reasonable."

Prosecutors and defense lawyers in the case already had agreed to Obama's request for a four-month suspension in the proceedings to review the military commissions process created under former President Bush.

Legal scholars and Pentagon officials said Pohl's ruling was not insubordination because Obama's proposal was a request, not an order.

Pohl pointed out that the rules for military commissions adopted by Congress in 2006 gave the military judges "sole authority" to grant delays once charges had been referred for trial.

"Technically, it's within the judge's discretion to treat this as a request or a motion on the part of the prosecutors and the government," said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond. "We like to think that even military judges are independent, to some extent, of the commander in chief.

"But given the clear message in the executive orders of last week, it's difficult to understand why that request wouldn't be granted," Tobias added. "If the issue is really forced, the judge would probably have to yield."

One factor in the judge's decision to proceed with Nashiri case could be that some evidence against the Saudi would not be admissible in U.S. federal court, where critics of Guantanamo want the war crimes cases moved.

Nashiri is one of the terrorism suspects the Bush administration admitted waterboarding, an interrogation method in which a person is made to feel he is drowning. Eric H. Holder Jr., Obama's nominee to be attorney general, called the technique torture during his confirmation hearing last week, and Obama has signed an executive order banning torture.

"Judge Pohl's decision to unabashedly move forward in the Al Nashiri military commission case shows how officials held over from the Bush administration are exploiting ambiguities in President Obama's executive order as a strategy to undercut the president's unequivocal promise to shut down Guantanamo and end the military commissions," said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Legal analysts said they doubted the standoff between Obama and Pohl would be allowed to mushroom.

The top official in the tribunal, former Pentagon judge and Bush appointee Susan J. Crawford, has the authority to step in and drop the capital charges against Nashiri, said his Navy defense lawyer, Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Reyes.

Crawford recently indicated a desire to distance herself from the legacy of Guantanamo by refusing to prosecute Mohammed Qahtani, a prisoner suspected of aiding the Sept. 11 plotters, on the grounds that his treatment under interrogation amounted to torture.

She also dropped charges in October against five prisoners connected with Al Qaeda recruiter Abu Zubaydah without explanation, stirring speculation that the government had been relying on evidence produced by "enhanced interrogation techniques" that wouldn't be admissible even in the war crimes court.

Still, Guantanamo's supporters in the Pentagon have continued to push ahead with trials. Just days before Obama's inauguration, military prosecutors filed new terrorism charges against three of the five men Crawford dropped charges against.

A Pentagon spokesman insisted that Obama's call for a halt in the proceedings would be honored.

"The Department of Defense is currently reviewing Judge Pohl's ruling. We will be in compliance with the president's orders regarding Guantanamo," said Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey D. Gordon, a public affairs officer.

Military judges presiding over two other cases at Guantanamo, including that of alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four others, agreed to suspend those proceedings last week after Obama made the request.

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