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Posts published in “Day: September 28, 2006”

Risch’s ratings

And how do Idahoans view Governor Jim Risch a month after his signature event - the property tax special session?

According to this month's Survey USA polling, not so well. His favorable/unfavorable numbers were 53% to 32% a month ago - pretty good. This month? 44% favorable, 38% unfavorable - a net fall of 15% in the margins.

OR: the ed debate

Afew quick observations about the hour-long debate on children's issues, most notably education, between the Oregon candidates for governor: No slam dunks, with two contenders gradually warming to the topic and running in a few good shots.

Ron SaxtonRepublican Ron Saxton was probably a little smoother; public education clearly is a topic he feels comfortable discussing. The subject matter was interesting; compare him to a typical Idaho Republican or even many Washington Republicans and he sounds off-the-charts moderate for his party; such subjects as charter schools and home schooling didn't even come up.

He moved fluently through some of the specific organizational topics, including school spending procedures and foster child programs. His fluency had a slight cost, though; the smoothness gave him a bloodless, policy wonkish aspect, even on subjects where his words make clear that he feels very strongly.

Ted KulongoskiTed Kulongoski, the Democratic incumbent, was a little less smooth but conveyed a lot more passion. His answers on a range of policies were tethered a little took often to the idea that "the government has an obligation," but his pitch about the needs at stake was involving.

In strategic messaging, Kulongoski had a somewhat more interesting debate. Saxton has been pushing the idea that Oregon can oeprate better with more efficiencies, and he pursued that idea solidly. But Kulongoski had the more pointed barbs. He hammered in the message - which he's been using in TV ads - that "I'm on your side," conveying the sense that Saxton is not. By itself, that's a little vague. But elsewhere in the debate, he clarified what he means, and you have to wonder if this is what's coming next in the next round of Kulongoski spots: Saxton, he charged, is interested in looking out for "the privileged few" and "the corporate elite." (The recent story about Saxton's school residency, not mentioned at all in the debate, would be a perfect tie-in to that.) There was no similar heads up - if that's what it was - on the Saxton side about what new may be coming.

Scratched: liberty, freedom, justice

The United States Senate today passed what is euphemistically called "the detainee bill" (S. 3930 As Amended) on which the Northwest Senate delegation was split. The three Democrats, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington and Ron Wyden of Oregon, voted against, and the three Republicans, Larry Craig and Mike Crapo of Idaho and Gordon Smith of Oregon, voted in favor.

With that vote, the latter three have entered, and may be leading us down, a dark back alley in history. They forfeited any moral right to describe their public positions or efforts in terms of freedom, liberty or justice. They have just voted against these principles as decisively as it is possible to do. (At last check, they do not appear to have noted their votes, or reasons for them, on their web sites.)

This assessment is not too harsh: Their votes enabled the single most stunning slash at civil liberties in this country since the days of slavery. The mass of power handed over to the president is of the kind more typically handed over in countries whose form of government is not described as either "free" or "democratic."

Here is what Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman said about it in today's Los Angeles Times:

The compromise legislation, which is racing toward the White House, authorizes the president to seize American citizens as enemy combatants, even if they have never left the United States. And once thrown into military prison, they cannot expect a trial by their peers or any other of the normal protections of the Bill of Rights.

This dangerous compromise not only authorizes the president to seize and hold terrorists who have fought against our troops "during an armed conflict," it also allows him to seize anybody who has "purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States." This grants the president enormous power over citizens and legal residents. They can be designated as enemy combatants if they have contributed money to a Middle Eastern charity, and they can be held indefinitely in a military prison.

Not to worry, say the bill's defenders. The president can't detain somebody who has given money innocently, just those who contributed to terrorists on purpose.

But other provisions of the bill call even this limitation into question. What is worse, if the federal courts support the president's initial detention decision, ordinary Americans would be required to defend themselves before a military tribunal without the constitutional guarantees provided in criminal trials.

The Washington Post's Andrew Cohen remarked: "Of all the stupid, lazy, short-sighted, hasty, ill-conceived, partisan-inspired, damage-inflicting, dangerous and offensive things this Congress has done (or not done) in its past few recent miserable terms, the looming passage of the terror detainee bill takes the cake."

Before harsher denunciation followed: "Do you believe the Administration has over the past five years earned the colossal expanse of trust the Congress is about to give it in the name of fighting terrorism? Do you believe that Administration officials will be able to accurately and adequately identify so-called 'enemy combatants' here at home so as to separate out the truly bad guys from the guys who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? Did you want your legislative branch to abdicate so completely its responsibility to ensure that there are adequate checks and balances upon executive power even in a time of terror? You might have answered 'no' to all three questions. But your answer doesn't matter. And neither does mine. To Congress, the answer is 'yes, sir.'"

And torture? Oh yeah, got that too - the president pretty much gets to define whatever he thinks is okay. There's even been analysis suggesting that the bill could legally authorize the rape of detainees. That's been disputed. Sorta. (We're old enough to remember when torture was something the bad guys did - and when we were better than that.)

There is much, much more.

A commenter to Cohen's post: "The fact that we - mere citizens - have allowed Congress to reach the brink of passing one of the most reckless and foolish laws in decades is astounding. Congress is set to gut the Constitution of one of the central rights our Founders fought for, and we are all asleep. Shame on the Republican majority for going lock-step with the President. Shame on Democrats for fighting for what's right in order to avoid looking 'soft' on terrorism. Shame on us for not saying this is wrong."

The core is this: The United States Senate today did its part toward turning this country into the kind of place we always thought we were better than.

Remember who did this to you, and to your country.