Category Archives: Editorial

Pandora’s Drone

By Michael Bryan

Note: This is a think piece that has been languishing in my drafts for some time. I am publishing now in order to see what, if any, feedback readers may have, not in response to any current events, although it does briefly touch upon the terrorist attack in Charlottesville in my last revision.

In a complete reversal of American norms before 2001, Americans have come to expect that our foreign, sub-state political foes will be dealt with by assassination. That might seem a shocking assertion, but the policy of targeted killings of those identified as enemies of the United States by drone can only be euphemized, not denied. Bush and Obama placed such assassinations at the heart of our military strategy against those groups and individuals seen as a terrorist threat to America, and regardless of who the President might be, that tool will not be disposed of unless its use is wholly rejected by Americans. Given that no great outcry or mass movement has yet denounced the continued use of drone assassination in our foreign policy, it seems very likely to continue. In fact, Donald Trump has re-authorized the CIA to carry out its own drone strikes, lowering accountability and reporting requirements in place under Obama, when only the military was empowered to carry out lethal drone operations.

Our desire for the perception of safety and demand of bold action by our leadership against possible terrorist threats has swamped any scruple we may once have held against merely murdering our geo-strategic enemies. We have always killed in war, but killing specific people, and all persons believed to be members of designated organizations, anywhere they may found, even in countries we are not hostile to, is a new thing entirely. But no modern politician will run the risk of being accused of not having done everything possible when the next mass casualty attack on American soil comes, as it inevitably will, therefore a tactic that began as an expedient use of a new technology in a crisis seems to have become the centerpiece our de facto anti-terrorism strategy.

Americans seem to have decided that extra-judicial state murder, even of some American citizens, is justified in our fight against terrorism. Despite the fig-leaf of “due process” of review within the executive branch that was constructed around the practice by the Obama administration, targeted drone strikes and so-called signature strikes on suspected terrorist activity are extra-judicial executions, pure and simple. We may hide behind the fiction that we are “at war” with some ill-defined terrorist organizations and thus those killed are “enemy combatants,” and any innocents killed as a result are unfortunate “collateral damage”, but this only semantics. Since we are not going invade Pakistan, or Somalia, or Yemen, or Syria, or (re-re-re-invade?) Iraq, or any of the other failing or weak states where terrorist cells might find sanctuary, in order to end the threat of these sub-state organizations pose to our security, we are going to continue to fight these “wars” with proxies, intelligence assets, and drone strikes. We will continue to make targeted killings, i.e. murder, a key component of our foreign policy.

My point is not to suggest an alternative, or even to suggest that the policy is necessarily wrong or immoral. There may be no more effective, more politically acceptable, or more morally inoffensive alternative. My point is to question what effect this will have on the evolution American political culture, and on the normative behavior of governments visa-vis their own citizens – including our own toward us.

Continue reading

House Intelligence Committee chairman has undermined the credibility of the committee

On Thursday, House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes Apologized to Intel. Committee Members—But Won’t Explain His Stunt:

On Wednesday afternoon, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chair of the House intelligence committee, blew up the congressional intelligence oversight process. On Thursday morning, at a private committee meeting, he apologized to his colleagues. But, according to a committee source, Nunes would not say what he thought he had done wrong or explain his actions.

Without consulting with the members of his committee—Republicans and Democrats—Nunes on Wednesday held two press conferences, during which he claimed he had been given information indicating that members of Donald Trump’s presidential transition team, including possibly Trump, were picked up during lawfully authorized intelligence surveillance of other targets and that their identities were disclosed in intelligence reporting based on these intercepts. Nunes also rushed to the White House to share this information with Trump.

Note: House Intelligence chair partially backs off claim about surveillance of Trump transition team: “The head of the House Intelligence Committee partially backed away from his dramatic claim [on Wednesday] that officials in President Trump’s transition team had been subjects of surveillance by U.S. intelligence agencies, with an aide saying that Chairman Devin Nunes did not know “for sure.” “Until Nunes sees the actual documents, he does not know whether any of the transition officials were actually part of the surveilled conversations or were just talked about by others, spokesman Jack Langer said Thursday.” “He’ll have to get all the documents he requested from the [intelligence community] about this before he knows for sure,” Langer said.

Continue reading

February jobs report: economic ‘mess’ inherited from Obama continues to produce good jobs report

Think Progress reports that The economic ‘mess’ Trump says he inherited continues to add jobs:

The economy added 235,000 jobs in February and the unemployment rate fell slightly to 4.7 percent, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s the first job report to measure the economy under President Trump.

While Trump has said he “inherited a mess,” February’s job report marks the 76th straight month of job creation, the longest streak since 1939, with 2.2 million jobs added over the course of last year.

(Last month was also the 17th consecutive month the rate has been at 5% or lower).

Trump retweeted a Drudge Report headline touting the number of jobs added in February that said, “GREAT AGAIN.” But the economy added 238,000 jobs in the last report of Obama’s presidency.

As Steve Benen points out in his monthly jobs report, New jobs data shows 2017 is off to a strong start:

If recent political developments are any guide, Trump and his supporters will tout the encouraging jobs data as evidence of his economic prowess. And while everyone should always be glad to see good news, it’s worth noting that these boasts continue to be misplaced. Trump didn’t actually implement any meaningful economic policies in February, and the president’s repeated claims about his accomplishments fall apart under scrutiny. Trump keeps claiming he’s created U.S. jobs since Election Day. Not so.

FebruaryJobs

Indeed, the question for the White House and congressional Republicans remains difficult to answer: how can the job market remain so healthy with all of those nasty Obama-era policies – the Affordable Care Act, environmental protections, Wall Street safeguards, et al – in place? Why are the February 2017 numbers nearly identical to the February 2016 and February 2015 numbers?

As Steve Benen says, “It’s increasingly difficult to believe Donald Trump inherited an economic ‘mess.'”

Continue reading

AZ Court of Appeals to hear Medicaid (AHCCCS) expansion appeal on Arizona statehood day

The long-delayed lawsuit by our Tea-Publican legislators and the Goldwater Instititute against Governor Jan Brewer’s Medicaid (AHCCCS) expansion plan, Biggs, et al v. Brewer, et al. (CV2013-011699 Maricopa County Superior Court). Biggs v. Betlach (1 CA-CV 15-0743), is scheduled for  oral argument today before the Court of Appeals Division One in Department A in Courtroom 1 at 9:30 a.m.

Cartoon_08I have previously explained that this case is ostensibly about the Obamacare medicaid expansion plan, but is really about preserving the GOP’s weapon of mass destruction, Prop. 108 (1992), the “Two-Thirds for Taxes” Amendment. AZ Court of Appeals revives GOP legislators’ challenge to Gov. Brewer’s Medicaid (AHCCCS) expansion; Medicaid (AHCCCS) expansion case set for hearing on July 30, 2015.

The Maricopa County Superior Court rejected the arguments of Tea-Publican legislators and the Goldwater Institute in August of last year. Superior Court judge upholds Brewer’s Medicaid expansion:

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge upheld former Gov. Jan Brewer’s 2013 Medicaid expansion plan, ruling that a hospital assessment that funds the program is not subject to a provision in the Arizona Constitution that requires a two-thirds vote in the Legislature for a tax increase.

Judge Douglas Gerlach ruled that HB2010 did not violate the supermajority provision, which voters approved in 1992 as Proposition 108, because it is not a tax and falls under an exemption to the two-thirds vote requirement.

Continue reading

A Warning to Martha McSally

By Michael Bryan

Martha McSally ought to be looking to reign-in Mr. Trump’s worst impulses, and demand her caucus provide the strict oversight of the Executive that the Constitution requires. Instead, she merely seems determined to remain vague and indeterminate regarding her support for Trump. She must not forget that her electoral fate lies in the hands of voters who voted for Secretary Clinton by almost a 5% margin; we voters certainly will not forget.

As you can see in the chart below, 23 Republican members sit in districts that voted for Clinton, and McSally is one.

These Representatives will be among the most vulnerable incumbents in 2018, and would all do well to take seriously the institutional role of Congress to check and balance the Presidency.

McSally must stop cowering in her bunker and listen carefully to the concerns of her constituency regarding ethical and constitutional over-reach by this President. If McSally will not serve as an ally in ensuring that this unqualified, bullying, reckless President is constrained and checked by close Congressional oversight and a vigorous assertion of Congressional constitutional prerogatives, voters of her district will certainly find someone who will.

Mr. Trump, just a few weeks into his term, is increasingly unpopular. Smart money is on Congressional incumbents who stand up to his reckless and unpopular agenda. Mr. Trump promised his voters a populist economic agenda that would “drain the swamp” and “make American great again,” but has delivered a cabinet of billionaires and unqualified ideologues, and a dangerously incestuous and radical inner-circle, headed by avowed white nationalist Bannon, who are pushing an extremist right-wing agenda through executive orders. His popularity, even among his supporters, is falling off because his own voters recognize they have been delivered a classic bait and switch.

McSally had best get off the Trump train before it derails, and make it clear to voters of CD02 that she has disembarked.

The Post and Times agree: Donald Trump is unfit to be President

In every election, media endorsements come down to the candidate that the editors believe has offered the best policy prescriptions, from their ideological point of view, and the candidate they believe is best suited to lead the country. “They are both qualified candidates, but we endorse candidate X.”

Screenshot-16I do not recall any time in my lifetime where the media has felt compelled to state, in alarmist terms, that a candidate for president from one of the major parties is wholly unfit to be president.

Until today.

The Washington Post editorializes, It’s beyond debate that Donald Trump is unfit to be president:

DEMOCRAT HILLARY CLINTON and Republican Donald Trump will debate on national television for the first time Monday night, and the stakes could not be higher. The presidency and, by extension, the country’s future — maybe the world’s — could hinge on what they say and how they say it.

Or so we have been told — in breathless pre-event speculation about everything from whether the moderator, NBC’s Lester Holt, will intervene to correct a candidate who strays from the truth, to whether one candidate or the other will be able to goad his or her opponent into a campaign-altering gaffe before an audience expected to reach 100 million.

Permit us to dissent from this conventional wisdom, vigorously. Yes, Monday night’s clash, and two additional debates to follow, will add drama to the election, and a bit more data to the massive pile of it already available to voters. In a fundamental sense, however, there is nothing much at stake, or shouldn’t be, because there is not much more to learn: Mr. Trump has amply demonstrated his unworthiness to occupy the Oval Office. It’s beyond his capacity in the upcoming 90-minute question-and-answer sessions to reverse or even substantially modify that conclusion.

Continue reading