Friday, January 06, 2006

THINGS FALL APART: Normally, the nicest thing one can say about Charles Krauthammer's work is that it persuasively rebuts the conventional wisdom about broken clocks. Today's column, however, is a bit different, in that it's actually, you know, pretty much right: Ariel Sharon's sudden exit from the Israeli political scene may well turn out to be a tragedy of historic proportions.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

"THE MAGNITUDE OF THE CURRENT COLLECTION EFFORT IS UNPRECEDENTED..." Over at Slate, Shane Harris and Tim Naftali add a bit of historical perspective to the domestic eavesdropping debate.

Friday, December 30, 2005

AS YOU have no doubt already gathered, The O'Toole File is enjoying a little not-so-quiet time with friends and family this holiday season. Regular blogging should return next Tuesday.

In the meantime, let me just wish everyone a belated Merry Holidays (as always, O'TF seeks out the vital center on divisive cultural issues) and a Happy New Year.

See you next week.

PS: Mrs. O'TF was kind enough to make sure that there was copy of The Assassins' Gate under the tree with the File's name on it this year, and I have to say, it more than lives up to its advanced billing. If you haven't gotten around to it yet, do yourself a favor and put your hands on a copy post-haste.

Friday, December 23, 2005

PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN Robert Dallek, on the Bush administration's recent defeats on the Patriot Act and ANWR: "What they are coming up against now is the limits of partisanship — the limits of dividing the country so decisively."

Your lips to God's ear, Professor.

THE NYT'S* Tim Golden examines the question of how a junior Justice Department aide like John Yoo "came to wield the remarkable influence he had after Sept. 11 on issues related to terrorism." And the answer basically is that he had three big things going for him: (a) he was a well-connected member of the conservative legal establishment; (b) he was "the only deputy with much expertise on foreign policy and war powers" in the Bush Justice Department; and (c) he was telling the White House exactly what it wanted to hear.

In other words, it all boils down once again to the famed Bush Triad: cronyism, a shortage of real expertise, and an intellectually corrupt policy-making process.

Somewhere, John DiIulio must be smiling.

* This post originally referred to the "WaPo's Tim Golden." My apologies to Mr. Golden and the Times.

SENATE GOP BLOCKS INTEL AUTHORIZATION: According to the Washington Post, "Senate Republicans late Wednesday blocked the authorization bill that guides the country's intelligence programs. It was the first time in 27 years that the bill had failed to pass before the end of the calendar year.... The bill will now wait for Congress to return from its winter recess in late January."

And why would they do something like that? Well, apparently, it was all about three sunshine amendments -- one by John Kerry and two by Ted Kennedy -- that Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts had allowed to be inserted into the bill:

Kerry's amendment would require the director of national intelligence to give the intelligence panels information on secret CIA prisons in several Eastern European democracies and in Asia.

Kennedy's amendments would require the White House to turn over copies of daily intelligence briefs that President Bush and former President Bill Clinton reviewed on Iraq.

And so the Republican Congress' true priorities are once again on public display: Protecting America from terrorists is nice. But protecting the Bush White House from its critics is Job One.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

WHY DID Britain's Sheffield University recently offer one of its medical professors a quarter-of-a-million bucks to leave the school and keep his mouth shut about its research programs? Well, the story is a bit too involved to accurately recount in a short blog post, but let's put it this way: If the phrase cherchez la pharma just popped into your head, you're on the right track.

PRETTY TO THINK SO: The Christian Science Monitor's Gail Russell Chaddock writes that yesterday's proceedings in the US Senate signal "the return of Democratic clout."

TODAY'S LAT reports that American juries are becoming increasingly reluctant to impose the death penalty. "In 1999, 276 death sentences were imposed. The figure has dropped every year since, falling to 125 last year. With 10 days to go in 2005, 96 death sentences are projected to be handed down this year, the lowest total since 1976." Experts offer several reasons for the declining numbers, "prime among them the fact" that jurors in 37 of the nation's 38 death penalty states are now allowed to hand down sentences of life without parole.

ACCORDING TO Susan B. Glasser and Michael Grunwald, the Department of Homeland Security has a compelling story to tell -- "one of haphazard design, bureaucratic warfare and unfulfilled promises."

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

WAR: I have little to add to Kevin Drum's first-rate post, WARTIME, except to say that I've often wondered over the last few years why the Democrats in Congress haven't demanded a formal declaration of war against al Qaeda and its affiliates. First, it would allow the Dems to both look tough and be tough, something that could only help at election time. Second, a formal declaration would do much to lift the vaguely unpleasant odor around Washington these days, the one that smells just a little bit like a state of emergency. And, finally, it would establish not just a state of war, but also a state of normalcy to which the nation could someday expect to return.

Sure, declaring war on a transnational organization is a pretty radical idea. But, as our Republican friends like to say, the world changed on 9-11. We, as a nation and a party, need to start changing with it.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

PUTTING THE "DEAD" BACK IN DEADLINE: Regardless of where you stand on the death penalty -- and, as regular readers know, I'm for it in some cases -- this is just outrageous:

Though the Supreme Court has prohibited the execution of the mentally retarded, a Texas death row inmate who may be retarded cannot raise the issue in federal court because his lawyer missed a filing deadline, a federal appeals court ruled this week.

The inmate, Marvin Lee Wilson, has "made a prima facie showing of mental retardation," a unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit wrote in an unsigned decision on Tuesday, meaning the court presumed Mr. Wilson to be retarded for purposes of its ruling.

But the panel said it was powerless to consider the case because Mr. Wilson's lawyer filed papers concerning his retardation in a federal trial court without first obtaining required permission from the appeals court, which he did not seek until a deadline had expired.

"However harsh the result may be," the panel said, its hands are tied by deadlines established in a 1996 federal law, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. The same law now forbids Mr. Wilson, convicted of killing a police informant, to appeal the Fifth Circuit's ruling to the Supreme Court.

Insert lawyer joke here, and then go read the rest.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

FROM ALMOST THE VERY MOMENT that Saddam Hussein was dragged out of his worm hole, our friends and allies around the world made it perfectly clear that they wanted no part of any trial that might lead to the former dictator's execution -- life in prison, yes; the death penalty, no. To which the current administration, with typical Bushian elan, replied: Go piss up a rope, friends and allies. We'll do the right thing while you sit on your fat Euroweenie asses and swill Merlot.

Now, believe it or not, and tone aside, I have to say that I had no real problem with that decision. Saddam Hussein is a butcher of uncommon barbarity, and if the Iraqi people want to hang him from the nearest lamp pole, that's their call, as far as I'm concerned. (Of course, it would be nice if said lamp pole had electricity running to it, but the untold billions that this administration has thrown away not reconstructing Iraq is an issue for another day.)

But here's the thing. When you make a conscious decision to go it alone, it's just infantile to then turn around and complain about being alone, as Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice did yesterday in a speech to the Heritage Foundation, in which she lambasted the international community for its "effective boycott" of Saddam's trial. "All who express their devotion to human rights and the rule of law," declared Ms. Rice, in high, high moral dudgeon, "have a special obligation to help the Iraqis bring to justice one of the world's most murderous tyrants."

Well, sure. Only in this case, we've already told the folks she's talking about to go screw, so why complain about their lack of participation now? That's as silly as it is insulting, as pointless as it is puerile. And it's beneath the great nation that Secretary Rice represents.

We Americans are perfectly capable of making tough choices, and then taking responsibility for them. In other words, we know how to act like grownups. Unfortunately, we appear to be saddled with an administration that can't say the same.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

WHEN DOES 86,000 EQUAL A MILLION? When Bush Labor Secretary Elaine Chao is doing the math.

THE SATELLITE INTERNET CONNECTION that powers information services here at O'Toole File World Headquarters suffered some sort of a catastrophic failure late Saturday afternoon, and it has taken the better part of three days to get the system up and running again. Thanks, as always, for your patience as we worked through the problem.

NOTE: I haven't had a chance yet to go through all the e-mail that's been backing up on the server since Saturday, but if you are one of the many people to whom I owe a reply, please accept my apologies, and look for a response in the next few hours.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

ADAM'S FIB: You could go a long time without hearing a bigger whopper than State Department spokesman Adam Ereli's response to a question yesterday on the Bush administration's attitude toward international problem-solving.

"If you want to talk about global consciousness," said Ereli, "I'd say there's one country that is focused on action, that is focused on dialogue, that is focused on cooperation, and that is focused on helping the developing world, and that's the United States."

Yeah. These guys are really into that whole "global consciousness" thing. Just pass me a freedom fry, Old Europe, and I'll tell you all about it....

UPDATE: Oops. It seems I spoke too soon. We didn't have to wait long at all to hear a bigger whopper. Here's none other than Mr. Ereli again, this time on the subject of the Bush administration's rather spotty implementation of the Geneva Conventions.

"We're going the extra mile here."

Wow. You almost have to respect that kind of shamelessness, don't you?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

MRS. O'TOOLE FILE AND I will be heading up to NC later today for her regularly scheduled quarterly round of tests, studies, scans, and consultations. I'll have the laptop along, but don't expect much in the way of blogging until we get back, either late Friday or some time this weekend.

POSTSCRIPT: As always, you should feel free to help these good people out with a small donation while we're away. They'd really appreciate it, and so would we.

UPDATE [12/10-12:35pm]: Like the man with the corn cob pipe, I have returned. Look for blogging to resume as soon I've had a chance to catch up with the news cycle.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

TOO MUCH MORAL CLARITY? Last week, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Peter Pace made it clear that US service members are required to intervene when they see other forces torturing prisoners in Iraq.

Unsurprisingly, the secretary of defense thinks it's time for a policy review....

UPDATE: Slate's Christopher Hitchens examines another recent DoD controversy, and avers, "This time, someone really does have to be fired."

"WE'VE RUINED CHARLIE BROWN": Bill Nichols of USA TODAY tells the story of a "Christmas classic that almost wasn't."

Monday, December 05, 2005

REAL STAND-UP GUYS: In its final report, the 9-11 Commission warns that our leaders "have failed to take the urgent steps needed to protect the country" from terrorism. To which the Bushies reply, Hey, it's not our fault. Blame the Republican Congress.

POSTSCRIPT: "I’m running for President because I want to help usher in the responsibility era..."

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