Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Ted Cruz says that if one of his daughters as a young adult joins the Navy and her boat strays into the territorial waters of an unfriendly country whose own Navy then holds the boat and crew, he would want the president to torpedo diplomatic discussions for their release by speaking belligerently about it on national television hours after the incident began.*

I can’t remember which network I watched the State of the Union address on Tuesday night, but one of the post-speech commentators was Hugh Hewitt, a winger talk radio host whom I had never heard of until he participated as a questioner in one of the earlier Republican debates this cycle. Hewitt began his commentary by saying that the speech seemed very off to him because, well, first and foremost, Obama had been silent about the 10 sailors being held by Iran on their boats in the Persian Gulf since that morning.  Hewitt was shocked.  And angry.

Which caused me to wonder whether it had occurred to him that, y’know, intense diplomatic discussion for the prompt release of the sailors might be underway.  Or whether it had occurred to him but that he thought the sailors’ quick release wasn’t as important as public, verbal belligerence toward an unfriendly country.

Not sure about that; I haven’t followed Hewitt’s post-release-of-the-sailors-the-next-morning comments on the matter.  And anyway, Hewitt isn’t running for president.  Or for anything, to my knowledge, other than a radio-ratings sweepstake victory.

Ted Cruz, of course, is running for president.  I watched the debate last night for about a half-minute.  Literally; about 30 seconds.  That was the half-minute or so after one of the hosts asked Cruz his first question, something about the economy, and Cruz was beginning his answer by saying that he would answer the question about the economy in a moment, but first wanted to express his outrage that Obama had not mentioned the sailors Iran was holding in Iranian territorial waters in the Persian Gulf right during the very hour when Obama was addressing the country on the state of the union.  This was nearly 48 hours after the sailors had been released after being held on their own ships for about 24 hours.

I read recently that Cruz has expressed regret that he did not serve in the military. But the fact is that he did not serve in the military.  If he wins his party’s nomination and begins campaigning at VFW halls and events, Clinton or Sanders, the Dem nominee, should mention when campaigning at veterans events and meeting halls that Cruz thinks that the wellbeing of military personnel is trivial as compared with political opportunism.  As president, Cruz would rather score political points with tough-on-Communism-er-Mullahism bellicosity than secure the quick release of military personnel held then-only- briefly by an unfriendly nation whose territorial waters or land the military personnel had accidentally breached.

And that he’s now made clear that if an unfriendly country’s Naval vessel strays into U.S. territorial waters, he as president would shrug and politely allow them to go on their way.

In a race in which the top two Republican contenders are so very casual about the wellbeing of deployed members of the military—when Trump called John McCain a loser because he had been captured by the enemy in Vietnam when his plane was shot down, he insulted not only McCain but also (just as examples, from WWII) soldiers captured in the Philippines who died during the Bataan Death March and those who survived it, the paratroopers killed or taken prisoner after being dropped behind enemy lines in preparation for the D-Day invasion or the invasion of Leyte Island or Luzon Island or earlier at Guadalcanal, the Marines who died on Iwo Jima, those killed or captured during the Battle of the Bulge, the bomber and torpedo pilots killed or captured after taking off from one of the four aircraft carriers during the Battle of Midway, the many killed when their submarine or ship was torpedoed in the Pacific, those killed or captured as they stormed the beaches at Normandy, those killed in North Africa under Patton’s command, and so many, many more—this is a party whose base apparently does not actually care very much after all about the welfare of deployed military personnel.

The base’s standard bearers, in any event, have other priorities: their own political ambition. Deployed members of the military, current or former, are just like everyone and everything else. They’re fair game as collateral damage in the service of others’ political career advancement.

In the space of about 30 seconds last night, I’d seen more than enough.


*Title edited for clarity. (Minor editing elsewhere, as well.) 1/15 at 7:53 p.m.

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Due process rights

Lifted from Robert Waldmann’sStochastic Thoughts:

32. Note that the US constitution grants the same due process rights to citizens and non citizens.

This time I pick on Steve Benen who wrote

“The drones themselves are a fairly new tool, but the use of technology is tangential to the underlying point about the use of force, and in the case of U.S. citizens accused of terrorism abroad, due process rights.”

My comment

You seem to be of the impression that the due process rights of US citizens are different than the due process rights of non citizens ” in the case of U.S. citizens accused of terrorism abroad, due process rights.” There is no basis for this view in the constitution. The 5th amendment declares that there are due process rights (its framers certainly saw this as recognizing a fact not creating a right). It contains no reference at all to citizenship.

Here is the 5th Amendment

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

How do you imagine that an amendment which begins “no person” implies that due process rights are an issue only in the case of citizens ?

This isn’t just my reading of the text (which is not at all ambiguous). US courts have consistently held that non citizens have due process rights (note I didn’t say “all non citizens”).

Hmm it sure sounds like the 5th amendment bans war which involves killing people without giving them trials first. The many provisions for declaring war and such like are in the main body of the Constitution and might be considered repealed by the 5th (as the provision that states must return escaped slaves is not considered to be current constitutional law). Similarly the common law right to use deadly force in self defence might be considered to have been eliminated by the 5th amendment.

But I might not be crazy and I don’t imagine for a second that the 5th amendment banned war or self defence. I do insist that it allows no distinction between US citizens and non citizens. The Civil war was particularly horrible, but the legality of union troops killing confederate troops in battle was not (widely) contested.

It is clear that the 5th amendment concerns killing people who are in government custody, that is the death penalty. It does not refer to killing people who haven’t been captured and can’t feasibly be captured.

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My email correspondence with Glenn Kessler

An email correspondence between Glenn Kessler and me yesterday afternoon and evening, which I’m publishing here in full, speaks adequately for itself, I think.  But first, this, because I think it’s relevant:

NEW YORK – Mitt Romney on Friday denounced an anti-Muslim film that is stirring unrest in the Middle East, even as he stood by his condemnation of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo for its implied denunciation of the film.

Romney denounces film aimed at Muslims, Mitchell Landsberg, Los Angeles Times

Here’s the email exchange:

Sure, feel free to post the exchange. If you read my column consistently, you will see that I simply look at things on a case by case basis, and let the chips fall where they may. I also welcome criticism and critique, since it keeps me sharper–and I often learn something too.


PS: thanks for the kind words on the photo!
Glenn Kessler
Columnist, “The Fact Checker”
The Washington Post
cell phone:             (202) 439 0113

Sent using BlackBerry, hence the typos 

  From: Beverly Mann

  Sent: 09/14/2012 04:41 PM MST
  To: Glenn Kessler
  Cc: Ombudsman Internet DropBox
  Subject: Re: “Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, Should Stick to Checking Facts”

Thanks for responding.  Truth be told, I’m feeling a little guilty about having written what I wrote.  After I posted it, while googling something, I happened upon the recent article, “Wapo’s Glenn Kessler has Fact Checker Tantrum Over ‘You Didn’t Build That’,” at  I guess you’re used for target practice by both sides.

I’d like to post this email exchange as a follow-up to my blog post  Would that be okay with you?

Btw, in your photo you sorta look like a nice guy.

Beverly Mann

From: Glenn Kessler <>
To: Beverly Mann
Sent: Friday, September 14, 2012 6:19 PM
Subject: Re: “Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, Should Stick to Checking Facts”

Thanks, I had read your column. I didn’t think it was opinion, but rather explanatory. You seem to have focused on a small part of the overall column too.
Glenn Kessler
Columnist, “The Fact Checker”
The Washington Post
cell phone:             (202) 439 0113

Sent using BlackBerry, hence the typos 

  From: Beverly Mann
  Sent: 09/14/2012 02:53 PM MST
  To: Glenn Kessler
  Subject: Fw: “Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, Should Stick to Checking Facts”

Dear Mr. Kessler,

I would have cc’d you on this originally but I couldn’t find your email address.  I just found it on your Twitter feed.

Beverly Mann

—– Forwarded Message —–
From: Beverly Mann
To: “
Sent: Friday, September 14, 2012 11:40 AM
Subject: “Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, Should Stick to Checking Facts”

Dear Mr. Pexton,

I am a contributing writer for a blog called Angry Bear, and just posted a piece there called “Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, Should Stick to Checking Facts,” at The blog is picked up by several aggregators, including Business Insider, so I thought you might be interested in reading the post.


Beverly Mann

I’d just like to add that, for me, the bottom line is that I don’t understand the pejorative characterization of the Cairo embassy’s statements as an apology, much less do I think it is helpful to this country’s interests to have official Washington appear to sympathize with the sentiments of a communication whose sole purpose is to cause the reactions that the homemade film clip at issue did this week.  And apparently Romney’s internal polls are showing that a majority of voters agree; thus Romney’s own apology (borrowing his term) yesterday for the sentiments in that film.

But Glenn Kessler’s obviously no wingnut.  He’s a journalist with a difficult and worthwhile assignment, trying not to fall off a tightrope. 

As for Mitt Romney’s stupefyingly robotic and simpleminded take on even the most serious foreign policy issues, I suggest a comparison of his statements (and those of his loopy foreign policy advisors) with this column by Washington Post foreign policy columnist David Ignatius published late Wednesday.

More and more, Romney comes off as not just craven but ignorant and stupid.  I reiterate my characterization of him in earlier posts as a truly dangerous bull in a china shop.

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Did Romney’s Foreign Policy Team Indicate That He Would Try to Establish Autocratic Puppet Regimes In the Middle East?

The headline on the Washington Post’s opening Web page was irresistible: “Romney aides: No Mideast turmoil if he were president.”  The headline of the actual article, by Philip Rucker, though, is headlined “Romney team sharpens attack on Obama’s foreign policy.” 

Both headings are accurate. Romney’s foreign policy team—drawn, apparently, entirely from the farthest-right faction of George W. Bush’s foreign policy advisors—issued a series of written statements yesterday.  And among them, if I understand correctly, is one in which they suggest that the Obama administration should have established a puppet government in Libya after Gadhafi fell last year. Oh, and probably one in Egypt, too.  And in Yemen, and in ….

Y’all know: Like the puppet government that these very same folks, then Bush administration officials, tried to establish in Iraq back in 2003.  The effort that worked out so well.  Remember?

It’s time now for Obama and the news media to make it far better known than it is now who Romney’s foreign policy team members are—and to remind people of what happened when last they directed this country’s foreign policy. 

As for the fact that Romney has delusions of autocratic grandeur, or at least of mystical powers over Middle Easterners to cause them to happily acquiesce to our efforts to control them, Romney himself is taking care of that just fine, thank you. 

And at least he’s finally making clear where all that extra money for defense spending will go.  If not where that money will come from.  

Romney’s sons all are too old to be subject to any new military draft necessitated by his and his policy team’s  desires, and his grandchildren all are very young.  So the Romney family is save.  Many other families, though, probably not so much.

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Is Romney a Habitual Liar? Or Is He Instead Something Even More Dangerous: God-Awful Stupid? [Updated]

At his press conference, Romney accused Obama of “having that embassy reiterate a statement effectively apologizing for the right of free speech.” Romney claimed that the embassy had said, in his paraphrase, “We stand by our comments that suggest that there’s something wrong with the right of free speech.” This, too, was a Romney lie. The embassy had declared five times in writing that free speech was a universal right.

What made Romney’s statement and press conference disturbing, however, was his repeated use of the words sympathize and apology to conflate three issues the Cairo embassy had carefully separated: bigotry, free speech, and violence. The embassy had stipulated that expressions of bigotry, while wrong, were protected by freedom of speech and didn’t warrant retaliatory violence. Romney, by accusing the embassy of “sympathizing with those who had breached” the compound, equated moral criticism of the Mohammed movie with support for violence. In so doing, Romney embraced the illiberal Islamist mindset that led to the embassy invasion: To declare a movie offensive is to authorize its suppression.

“The Embassy of the United States issued what appeared to be an apology for American principles,” Romney asserted at the press conference. “It’s a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values. … An apology for America’s values is never the right course.” Lest anyone miss his buzzwords, Romney called the embassy’s comments “a disgraceful statement on the part of our administration to apologize for American values.”

What, exactly, does Romney mean by “American values”? The embassy never apologized for free speech or diplomatic sovereignty. The only American offense it criticized was the movie’s “bigotry” and “efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.” Does Romney regard this criticism as an “apology for American values”? Is bigotry an American value? Is it weak or un-American to repudiate slurs against Muslims?

I don’t know where you were born, Mr. Romney (just kidding!), but where I come from, there’s nothing more American than recognizing the idiocy of a man’s views and, at the same time, his right to express them. If you can’t tell the difference between those two things, the main threat to our values right now isn’t President Obama, the Egyptians, the Libyans, or our diplomats in Cairo. It’s you.

— William Saletan, Slate, today

The political punditry and news media is finally catching on that Romney’s bizarre modus operandi of habitually mischaracterizing the meanings of basic statements of others (mainly, of course, of Obama) pose the question: Is Romney a habitual liar, or is he instead so dumbfoundingly stupid that he regularly misunderstands even completely clear statements and the definitions of common English-language words, and that he habitually conflates separate concepts and therefore misinterprets even the clearest of statements or comments?

I’ve hoped for a long time that the Obama campaign would pretend to take Romney at his word: Rather than suggest that Romney’s a habitual liar; just point out that, taking him at his word, he’s profoundly, dangerously stupid.

I mean … good grace.

I read somewhere last night—I can’t remember where—that members of Romney’s campaign team told reporters that he was genuinely outraged on Tuesday night by the Cairo embassy’s criticism of “efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims,” and that it was phrase “hurt the religious feelings” that really set him off.

This focus by Romney on a single word or short phrase, removed from its context and redefined—this treatment by Romney of serious issues as cutesy word play—has been a real hallmark of Romney’s campaign throughout.  Hopefully, Obama and the news media will now point out truly dangerous it would be to have a president who either can’t understand and accurately interpret basic words, statements and concepts. Leave it up to Romney to protest that, no, he’s not really that dumb; he’s just playing games about the most serious of matters, presuming that a majority of voters won’t notice. 

The most important aspect of what has transpired in the last two days is that now a majority of voters are likely to notice.

I’m pretty sure that the game’s over, and that Romney lost.


UPDATE: Just to clarify, I want to repost here a comment I made in the Comments thread in response to reader PJR about whether Romney is a liar or instead just stupid.  I wrote:

Romney’s a liar, PJR. A casual, habitual liar.  That’s his modus operandi; it’s what he thinks gets him the love of the Tea Party folks—his bald willingness to regularly lie as a matter of campaign strategy.

My point, though, is to encourage Obama and the media to decide to take Romney at his word—that he’s not lying; he’s just stating things as he understands them.  Which, if so, is a HUGE problem. Even George Bush wasn’t as jaw-droppingly stupid and routinely confused about the meaning of words and statements as Romney either is or feigns. 

The bottom line, I think, is that Romney is a liar and is also too stupid to recognize that eventually people were going to figure that out.

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The (Truly Dangerous) Bull In a China Shop: The American Value of Supporting Gratuitous Insults of Other Countries’ Majority Religions

After expressing sorrow about the deaths, Mr. Romney told reporters on the campaign trail that the Obama administration had tried to appease Islamic extremists who should have been condemned instead. He said a statement issued by the American Embassy in Cairo before the deaths criticizing an anti-Islamic video was “akin to an apology” and a “severe miscalculation.”

“The first response of the United States must be outrage at the breach of the sovereignty of our nation, and apology for American values is never the right course,” Mr. Romney said, speaking at a campaign stop in Jacksonville, Fla. He added, “They clearly sent mixed messages to the world.”

Embassy Attack Fuels Escalation in U.S. Presidential Race, Peter Baker, New York Times, today

For the last few days I’d thought that all Obama had to do to wrap up this election was run ads showing clips of Romney’s bizarre interviewon last Sunday’s Meet the Press—e.g., “Well, the specifics [of the tax plan] are these which is those principles I described are the heart of my policy.”—maybe juxtaposed with clips of Romney’s speech to the Detroit Economic Club last February in which he identified some specifics, er, principles.  (Or is it principles, er, specifics?  Hard to tell, with such specific principles.)

And I still think that an ad of that sort would do the trick.

But I also now think that a precise, appropriate response by Obama to Romney’s weird statement would effectively end Romney’s election chances.  It is, after all, hard to imagine a more dangerous statement by a president, and therefore by a presidential candidate, than the pronouncement that America’s values—America’s values— include wanting Americans to deliberately offend the world’s Muslims. 

Romney apparently believes that it’s fine to risk American lives overseas (including, presumably, members of our military) by appearing to support such pointlessly offensive provocation.  Obama should point this out, even if the news media doesn’t.

But Obama also shouldn’t allow the detachment of those comments by Romney, which indicate pretty starkly that Romney doesn’t understand even the concept of diplomacy, from the implications of those comments in spheres beyond foreign policy and defense.  I’ve wondered for a while now why the Obama campaign hasn’t emphasized more Romney’s persistent habit of drawing conclusions based upon erroneous fact or upon no facts at all. 

The very essence of Romney’s candidacy, at least originally, was his claimed cool-headed judgment and problem-solving ability.  Yet time and again he appears unable to accurately or adequately assess basic facts and understand even the most obvious implications of those facts—and of his own statements and conduct.  What has been apparent to me for nearly a year now, and what this incident should now clarify for the general public, is that Romney is not prompted to action—whether in foreign policy, defense, the economy, or anything else—by anything other than immediate opportunism and his adopted ideology.  And that, even worse, he seems unable even to understand the implications of what he says, what he proposes and what he does.

I don’t see how his election hopes can survive his comments of yesterday and today. 

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Attacking Iran…repeat of crazy reasoning?

Peter Beinart in The Daily Beast points us to the crazy nature of our current attitude regarding attacking Iran in The Crazy Rush to Attack Iran. He lists and quotes an impressive series of experts familiar with the the last decades wars, and finally asks:

Can you find former military and intelligence officials who are more sympathetic to a strike? Sure. But in my lifetime, I’ve never seen a more lopsided debate among the experts paid to make these judgments. Yet it barely matters. So far, the Iran debate has been a rout, with the Republican presidential candidates loudly declaring their openness to war and President Obama unwilling to even echo the skepticism of his own security chiefs.

And who are the hawks who have so far marginalized the defense and intelligence establishments in both Israel and the U.S.? They’re a collection of think-tankers and politicians, most absolutely sincere, in my experience. But from Rick Santorum to John McCain to Elliott Abrams to John Bolton, their defining characteristic is that they were equally apocalyptic about the threat from Iraq, and equally nonchalant about the difficulties of successfully attacking it. The story of the Iraq debate was, in large measure, the story of their triumph over the career military and intelligence officials – folks like Eric Shinseki and Joseph Wilson – whose successors are now warning against attacking Iran.

How can it be, less than a decade after the U.S. invaded Iraq, that the Iran debate is breaking down along largely the same lines, and the people who were manifestly, painfully wrong about that war are driving the debate this time as well? Culturally, it’s a fascinating question – and too depressing for words.

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