Eugene Robinson Live

Jun 18, 2013

Live chat with Eugene Robinson about his latest columns and political news.

Hello, everyone. Lots in the news today, so we'll dispense with the particulars except to note that today's column looked disapprovingly at President Obama's decision to reluctantly wade into the Syria morass. I don't know if U.S. involvement can make anything better for the Syrian people, but I'm pretty sure we can (unintentionally) make things worse. And I'm still totally unconvinced of the need for the NSA to log all of our phone calls; I'm working on a blog post on this subject for later this afternoon. Let's get started.

Why is the NSA's request to the FISA court for Verison's "meta data" top secret? If you are going to collect it all, why not say so?

That's my question, too. One of my questions, at least. How can we debate this practice if we don't know it's happening?

Once upon a time we thought giving arms to Osama bin-Laden and his friends to fight the Soviets was a good idea. Once upon a time we thought that sending Don Rumsfeld to Iraq to sell Saddam Husein weapons was a good idea. I'm sure you can think of more examples. How did those great ideas work out? Is anyone ever going to learn ANYTHING?

Apparently not. These grand ideas always look a lot better on paper, I guess. My heart break for the Syrian people. I could at least see the logic of a humanitarian intervention, if that were what President Obama had decided to do. But instead we seem to be getting deeper into a proxy war, and this kind of engineering rarely works out well.

Syria seems like the most intractable problem on the horizon today, but I wonder if the least-bad solution might be a war of conquest, followed by an interim administration such as that employed in Japan after World War II. I find it difficult so suggest this as a pacifist, and yet the other choices seem worse. This would of course mean a lengthy occupation by the UN or some other body, but in the long run it might offer the most hope. And yes, I recognize the risk of Syria turning into another Iraq, but two mitigating factors are that the Bush-Cheney gang of incometents are gone, and with Iraq fresh in everyone'es memory, I hope the past mistakes will not repeat.

Well, that would be the maximalist approach. Your reference to WWII is right, because this would take massive investments of personnel, materiel, money and time. Massive. There is no support for this, here or in the allied countries that would have to participate.

I'm pleased to see that the "reformist" candidate (or at least the most reformist candidate that was allowed on the ballot) won in Iran. I wonder if there might have been a different result if the clerics had allowed Rafsanjani on the ballot. I always enjoy the tea leaf reading, but did the clerics inadvertently stack the deck for the most moderate candidate or might that have been deliberate?

In the absence of hard evidence suggesting otherwise, I tend to take the Iranian election pretty much at face value. The more moderate candidate -- within the context of the Iranian revolution -- won. The new president, from what I can tell, is not some kind of Iranian Gorbachev. But he is more of a diplomat than Ahmedinejad -- a low bar, I admit -- and so we can hope the relationship might get a little better and probably won't get worse.

I was wondering where Edward Snowden got the money to stay in a hotel that charges over $500 per night? Is he being paid by someone under the table or is he simply rich enough to do this on his own? I believe it was stated that he had been there for more than a couple of months. Is he being paid off by the Guardian or someone else for sending out this information?

From news reports, my understanding is that he went to Hong Kong on May 20, which would put him in the pricey hotel for a few weeks -- still an expensive proposition. I don't know where he gets the money but it's not hard to imagine that he would have had ten or twenty grand in the bank. He's certainly not been paid by the Post and I would be stunned if he had been paid by the Guardian. 

Where are we with where the president stands on Social Security? I was very surprised that he put that on the table for budget cuts. Was that just a ploy of his to show that Republicans still will not even compromise...or should we be worried that he may cut it...FOR REAL?

Unless the Republicans want to negotiate a comprehensive budget deal with the president -- and clearly they don't -- the question is moot. 

Eugene, one thing I have not heard from anyone who thinks the Court's decision on DNA was wrong is how taking DNA is any different from taking fingerprints. I haven't heard anyone claim that routinely taking an arrestee's fingerprints violates the 4th amendment. Can you enlighten me on what makes DNA different?

The Supreme Court has ruled that police can't conduct a search without suspicion that the person has committed a crime. The court views fingerprints not as a search but as a means of identifying the person under arrest. In this ruling, the court accepted the argument that DNA, like fingerprints, is a tool for identification. But DNA isn't tested until days later, and in this case it wasn't entered into a national database until several months later -- at which point Maryland authorities realized they had the person who had committed an unsolved rape. It wasn't used to identify the man; rather, it was compared with DNA from cold cases around the country. Thus it was a search, in my opinion and Scalia's, and should have been held unconstitutional.

Hi Eugene -- thanks for taking questions today. It appears that, according to some polls, the president is starting to take a bit of hit because of recent "scandals" (I use that term loosely). In your view, is this a long or short term problem? What does he do to turn things around?

I doubt the president is losing sleep over his approval rating. By this point, he knows that there's no magic formula to raise those numbers. If he continues to do his job -- which includes taking executive action, in some cases, if Congress won't act -- the numbers will take care of themselves.

Mr, Robinson, I don't know if you have seen the video of the rebel eating the heart of a dead Syrian soldier, don't, its gross. That being said, how can we justify arming cannibals? I know its a little extreme, but I did see what I saw. How is this justified?

I've heard of a video purporting to show this but haven't seen it. The commander slated to get the U.S. arms, Gen. Salim Idriss, is a Syrian army defector who has nothing at all to do with cannibals. Whether the video is genuine or not, the real problem is that other rebel factions are jihadist in nature. The Obama administration clearly worries that if the rebels were to win the war tomorrow, the jihadists could end up on top.

Good day, Mr. Robinson: In light of Sen. Carl Levin's unilateral decision to remove Sen. Gillibrand's sexual assault measure from a pending military bill, a measure which would have placed the decision to pursue criminal charges against military sexual predators outside commanders' perview, what can and should Pres. Obama do to help remove the congressional protections said commanders currently enjoy regarding the criminal pursuit of rape and other sexual assaults? Thank you.

I don't know, but I hope President Obama is looking into what he can do administratively using his powers as commander in chief.

What is your take on Snowden? I'm uncomfortable with how much he appears to be basking in his new celebrity and touting his heroics. Not sure I buy him as a hero, let alone a selfless one.

I don't know, and at this point don't care, whether history will ultimately judge him a hero, a traitor, a patriot, a narcissist, whatever. However the verdict goes, we now know that our government is compiling a massive log of ourp hone calls -- and this was sanctioned by a secret court which agreed to a secret new interpretation of the law, and that members of Congress blessed this whole arrangement in secret... President Obama says he welcomes the debate on the necessity of this program. We wouldn't be able to have the debate without Snowden.

On a separate subject, how confident are you that some recognizable form of Obamacare is going to be implemented and is not going to be repealed by a potential subsequent Republican administration? This issue has real-life implications for some of us, who may need to make major decisions based on it.

It's going to be implemented, mostly starting in October, and it will be in place at least until January 2017, since President Obama can veto any congressional attempt to repeal the law. By that time, if it's functioning reasonably well it will be awfully difficult to get rid of.

You know what's even scarier than the unparsible Sarah Palin? A parsible one. Her most recent pronouncement -- "(U)ntil we have a commander in chief who knows what he's doing (...) I say let Allah sort it out" -- means either that she's content with a Syrian bloodbath until after noon on Jan. 20, 2017, or else she's hoping for a Republican Speaker of the House to replace both Obama and Biden sooner, whether due to death, disability, impeachment/conviction, or a coup d'etat. I think I liked Palin better when no one could understand what she was saying, don't you?

Even when she's understandable, there's no law saying you have to take her seriously.

Have Issa and the House Republicans finally given up on Benghazi or can we expect more "scoops" in the near future?

We can expect them to chant "Benghazi" all the way up to next year's election, even if nobody is listening.


And that's all for today, folks. My time is up. Thanks for a good discussion, and I'll see you again next week.

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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