Your all a bunch of phonies.

>> Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tomorrow on J. D. Salinger turns 90. Every American high schooler knows him as the author of Catcher in the Rye with its protagonist Holden Caulfield. Salinger has become a recluse celeb not having published or been photographed in decades. I have not read the book since high school so i did a little Internet surfing to refresh my remembrance with what others have written about the book. My lasting impression has always been the use of the "phony" label.

To me Holden labeled everything as phony because he was unable to accept the idea that things are more complicated than simple black and white. The image of an ideal is so often a pure abstraction. It is called an ideal simply because it is perfect, completed without flaw in a way that real life almost never is. I say almost because everyone has those rare times when everything is exactly how you imagined it without blemish. Most often though life is operated in shades of gray and brown. Something that fails to live up to perfection is not worthless or phony.

To be sure there are a great many things in life that are sometimes exceedingly phony. Politics chief among them. Away from cameras and recording devices its as gray and brown and black as the rest of life. Deals are made and policy written for the next election and not for the best possible results. What we see on TV and in the traditional media is a giant screen play put on for our entertainment, complete with narratives and messaging, characters and plot twists. We see ad gurus and $100,000 stylists all designed to sell the voters and the public on something using style and suave instead of substance and merit.

Still, it would be cynical of me to label the entire political world phony and leave it at that. Many elected officials are there to represent the people as best they can. Its not fair to take the Holden Caulfield line and declare every politician phony for dealing with the world as it is. You cant make a better world and society if you dont live in a reality based world. In my mind Holden's chief sin was always an inability to look deeper at issues and understand that they had other sides. It was such a surface treatment of life.

Life is deep and messy and complicated. I never liked Holden Caulfield simply because i was always frustrated with his analysis of life. By leaving out the gray he left out the area i spend most of my time thinking about.


"Barack the Magic Negro"

>> Monday, December 29, 2008

I am not sure how many people have seen the movie Holiday Inn with Bing Crosby. It is famous for the song White Christmas. It also famous for a different song, Abraham. to give you an idea of this song and scene here is a review of the dvd,

Still, there are a few duds, the most notorious being a shockingly dated minstrel-show ode to Abraham Lincoln. As Crosby and Reynolds sing "Abraham" in blackface, Holiday Inn's African-American mammy (Louise Beavers) serenades her two small children in the kitchen: "When black folks lived in slavery / Who was it set the darkie free? / Abraham! Abraham!" The scene is a jaw-dropper, alright, but at least it's memorable.

It was that scene which put in a mind to discuss the recent racial flap. Racial discussions are always difficult because of the heated passions they arouse. The controversy surrounding the offensive song "Barack, the Magic Negro" has generated similar passions on both sides of the fight. "Magic Negro" is really a cringe worthy phrase on par with the Abraham number from Holiday Inn. Everyone is well aware that it is not ok to go around referring to african americans as "negros" just as its not ok to go around performing in black face for minstrel shows.. Those who do are trying to make a point that our society has become to "politically correct". This is not one of those phrases that straddles the border between ok and not ok. Negro is as dated as black face.

"Magic Negro" might as well be replaced by what it really means, Uncle Tom. In the outrage over the distribution of the song many people have not looked at exactly where the phrase comes from. It is a cinematic terms for a kind, older, non-sexualized black man who plays a mentor role to a white protagonist. Think Will Smith's character in "The Legend of Bagger Vance". There is no legitimate defense of the phrase applied to barack obama. To label him thusly as the right does is deeply offensive to blacks and whites a like.

Would these same people be happy to have a song written about their wives calling them a "happy whore"? no. That would be completely out of bounds and offensive. Each of the labels Uncle Tom, Magic Negro, Happy Whore are all offensive to those who are characterized as such and should not be allowed. Its not funny. That RNC chair candidate Chip Saltsman thought that not only was it funny but that it was a great Christmas gift says a lot about where the Republican Party is.

"I think most people recognize political satire when they see it," Tennessee Republican Chip Saltsman told CNN. "I think RNC members understand that."

The republican party is facing the challenge of covering up their lily white party. As the NYT reported when discussing this story,

The dispute illustrates a larger Republican challenge in the months ahead: how to oppose the first black president without seeming antiblack. There are no black Republicans in Congress, and a party spokesman could name only 2 blacks among the 168 members of the national committee. Katon Dawson, the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, resigned from an all-white country club in preparing for his campaign to be party chairman.

There is a deeply unsettling racist tinge to the republican party right now. Im not sure if this is a symptom or a cause of their relegation to a southern party but if they hope to grow back to a national party they need to rethink their racial attitude. Otherwise they risk looking just as dated as the black face minstrel show from Holiday Inn.


cabinet diversity

>> Tuesday, December 23, 2008

There has been significant uproar over the "diversity" of Obama's cabinet picks. There are those complaining about a lack of southerners or light skinned african americans or any number of other things. My outlook on this is that there are too many different regions and skin colors and backgrounds for Obama to account for them all. We want him to be selecting for excellence and competence. We dont really want him to look for the best asian person or african american for a job we want him to look for the best person possible for the job.

I really doubt obama is someone who is going to be selecting a lily white cabinet or discriminating against anyone who is lgbt. There is plenty of diversity as far as the view points and politics of the cabinet posts go. From Republicans to progressives Obama is filling out every view in between. There is no point in asking for regional diversity or any of the other things people are clamoring for.


Female Representation in Congress

>> Monday, December 22, 2008

I read an interesting piece by Matt Yglesias on the level of female representation in parliaments across the globe. The US clocks in at a solid 17%. That earns us the outstanding position of 71st out of 188 behind such models of gender equality like Pakistan and...Iraq. Well Iraq has a quota for electing women but still i dont think that gets us off the hook. He has some opinions about why this might be and centers them around the lousy husband theory. His main point though is that because women are more progressive than men in this country that inequality in female representation is a sign of weakness among the progressive movement. It is an interesting point and one that should be addressed.

Iraq elects more women than the US

Here is a cool graph from Swivel that shows the level of representation among mexico, pakistan, iraq, and the US. Yglesias uses one that compares the US to other western democracies plus japan, new zealand, and australia. The results are not pretty. Yglesias explains his theory of how we ended up here,

My understanding of the evidence is that, interesting, trouble winning elections is not a significant barrier to women getting elected to congress. Women who secure a major party nomination do, on average, just as well as men. The difficulty is that women are less likely to run for office. There are a few causes of that, but the clearest are that women are less likely to have a spouse who supports their political ambitions and women are less likely to be recruited for office by political parties.

This is, I think, a large and under appreciated problem for progressive politics. Most progressives in the United States are women. Therefore, if women are systematically underrepresented in the pool of candidates (which they are) the progressive talent pool gets shallower relative to the progressive pool. There are other considerations of equity to worry about here, of course, but people on the left should recognize that it’s also very much a practical problem. I’m not sure exactly what can be done about the asshole husband issue (men in the audience — don’t be an asshole!) but the candidate recruitment issue is something that can and should be the subject of deliberate action.

Before diving into the Us case i think we should address the other democracies that have better representation. The thing to note is that many of these systems operate based on party list and pr systems. that means that the voters are voting for a party and the party can simply declare how many women are going to be represented. There is a reduced focus on the individual. I suspect that if the us had party list and proportional representation the number of women elected would be much higher, maybe not 50% but at least 30. Now on to the US...

What Yglesias should have compared if he wants to talk about progressive politics is the level of female representation among democrats. By expanding the data set to include the republican side of the aisle he introduces a variable that could confound the point he is trying to make. For example we could have 57% of dems in congress be women. That would be very high. If however, we had only 10% of republicans in congress be female we would see a much lower average of female representation but not an under representation of progressives.

In fact there is a big discrepancy between the levels of female dems versus republicans elected. According to the CRS report on Women in Congress(pdf),

A record 91 women serve in the 110th Congress: 75 in the House (55 Democrats and 20 Republicans) and 16 in the Senate (11 Democrats and 5 Republicans). A record 95 women were elected to the 110th Congress, but four died: Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-CA), Jo Ann Davis (R-VA), Julia Carson (D-IN), and Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH).

There were 233 Dems in the house leaving the percentage of female democrats at 23.6% in the house. Even that lowly number puts the republicans to shame. The Gop has a meager 9.9% percentage of female representation in the house. In the senate the dems had 11% and the republicans 5%. So while the dems have done significantly better in electing female members they have by no means managed to find equality in the levels of representation. So while the data used to prove it was not the best, Yglesias' general point about the hindrance of progressive politics stands, if we assume that the women elected are in fact progressive.

One restriction on female representation is a failure of recruitment. This means that the political parties are simply not recruiting enough women to run for political office at the levels required to achieve equality. This is true even among democrats although the numbers suggest the republicans are so far behind the dems that it drags down the numbers. The Center for American Women and Politics released their study of women who ran for election as the major party nominee in 2008. In the senate,

Three women candidates (1D, 2R) are incumbents: Susan Collins (R-ME); Elizabeth Dole (R-NC); and Mary Landrieu (D-LA). Four (3D, 1R) are challengers: Vivian Davis Figures (D-AL); Kay Hagan (DNC); Christine O’Donnell (R-DE); and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). No woman is a candidate for any of the five open Senate seats.

In the house,

One hundred thirty three women are major party candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives in 38 states, with one primary runoff involving a woman still to be decided in Louisiana. This number includes ten woman-versus-woman races, nine involving incumbents facing challengers and one for an open seat. In addition, three incumbent women and one challenger are candidates for delegate to Congress from the District of Columbia, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa.

Among the candidates, 67 (50D, 17R) incumbents are running for re-election. 11 (9D, 2R) women are running in 10 districts with open seats. 55 (37D, 18R) are running as challengers.

When considering the strength of the recruitment in both parties we have to look at the races they are recruited for. Not every race is competitive and running a women in a race that any one of that political affiliation is expected to lose is not a sign that women are being taken seriously. The dems ran women in races where they had a chance to win, the republicans are not. look at the open seat numbers in the house and look at the races in the senate. The dem's women ran in races where they could win.

There is one thing that might make females less attractive to political parties when they look for recruits, fund raising ability and self financing. In Parties, Sex and Money Barbara Burrell addressed this issue finding that instead of a weakness in fund raising women were actually equal with or out performing men.

If we look at the most recent election, the 2004 campaigns, we find the same story. Women were 17 percent of the major party candidates in 2004 for the U.S. House of Representatives counting primary and general election candidacies. But they were 11 of the 50 top candidates in terms of receipts or 22 percent. (They were 50 percent of the top ten.) Allyson Schwartz (D-PA13) who raised $4,597,032 and Arlene Wohlgemuth (R- TX17 ) who raised $2,586,253 were the top fundraisers respectively in open seat and challenger campaigns.

As has been shown in the past, women general election candidates in 2004 facing a major party opponent as a group raised more money on average than their male counterparts not taking into account incumbency or party status. They raised an average $876,000 compared with $812,000 for male contenders. Figure 1 shows average receipts for both 2002 and 2004 and illustrates the increase in campaign financial resources, and the greater surge in the financing of women’s campaigns.

The only exception seems to be a male versus female open seat race. In these races the women are consistently our raised by the men. This may be largely due to part effects as in the past republicans have generally raised more money and the majority of women running in open seats have been women.

So democrats do need to increase the number of women recruited. Why are fewer women recruited? In the book, Women, Politics, and Power By Pamela Marie Paxton, Melanie M. Hughes they outline several factors that they believe have contributed to the lack of female representation. One of these is cultural.

The cultural attitude that hinders women in this country comes from several sources. A view that womens place is in the home, that women are less qualified emotionally, that women are unable to represent effectively because they have to raise children. Traits identified with men are also more closely identified with leadership such as assertiveness, dominance, competitiveness, independence. There are a number of these types of attitudes that conform to a general opinion that men are better in politics than women. In the US, the general attitude is that men are better in politics than women. This leads to a negative feeling about how worthwhile it is for a women to run for public office and is also corroborative of the unsupportive husband theory. Men traditionally have a less progressive view about the ability of a female politician.

The good news about cultural restrictions is that they seem to be lessening as time goes on. The current level of representation in the senate is higher than ever and represents 50% of the women to ever serve in the body. The level of women in congress is increasing, although at a very slow rate. The bad news is that we still have to include the republicans. The biggest hurdle to female representation seems to be on the republican side where they have constantly lagged well behind the dems as the numbers above illustrate. I am not sure how that ever changes as they are the socially conservative party and the negative cultural views largely coincide with socially conservative views.

In their 2005 paper, Women in Office, Lawless and fox found that,

...well-qualified women are less likely than their male counterparts to consider running for office. And when women do think of running, they are more likely to be interested in local level positions. As far as the second question is concerned, women’s lesser interest in office holding is linked to a number of factors: lower levels of annual income, less external support for a candidacy, more demanding household obligations, and self-perceptions that they are not qualified or likely to win. A clear finding that emerges across all of these results is that men in this eligibility pool have more comfort and greater freedom when thinking about seeking office.

After reading through the research there are two things that appear to be holding women back in the US. The first is the conservative views regarding women that create a paucity of republican women who run for election. until republicans run women at the same rates as the dems we are never going to see anything close to equal representation between men and women. That is a big uphill climb. The second big thing holding women back is women themselves. Specifically their attitudes about being capable of running and winning. The answer to solving the problem about greater female representation in congress is to highlight the fact that not only can women run as well as men but they can win.

A lack of confidence is something that can be fixed through socialization. It also underscores the importance of female candidacies like Senator Clinton's. Despite some of the ridiculously sexist things said about her i think her candidacy will prove an important point in women's ability to see themselves running and winning. Anecdotal evidence supports this. This will in turn increase the number of females we see in the US congress.


Rep. Nadler Proposes to Amend Pardon Power

>> Sunday, December 21, 2008

In an interesting and inevitable move someone has finally moved towards amending and restricting the presidents pardon power. I bring this up as inevitable because the history of the last several presidents regarding pardon power has ignited controversy. From the Vietnam Nixon, Iran-Contra People, Marc Rich, to Scooter Libbey Presidents have been pardoning people that many claim are wholly undeserving for their own personal ends. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) is planning to introduce a constitutional amendment that would put a restriction on the ability of a President to pardon the members of his administration and pardon in the waning months of his or her presidency.

Amending the presidential pardon power is actually something i have been hoping to see. The pardoning power is supposed to be used as a tool of corrective equity that rights an injustice. Instead it has been used for personal and political gain of the chief executive. It cannot be impossible to design a scheme that keeps the corrective equity intact but restricts the excesses of the power.

Nadler, who two weeks ago introduced a resolution demanding President Bush not issue 'pre-emptive' pardons of officials in his administration, said his amendment would bar presidents from pardoning members of their own administration for official acts. The president would retain the power to pardon the secretary of state for, say, beating his wife, Nadler said, but not for actions taken in an official capacity.

Brian Kalt of Concurring Opinions, a highly respected legal blog, has a pretty sharp take on the issue. He focuses first on the original intent of the framers regarding the pardon power and what i consider to be a misplaced faith in the political process.

When the Framers debated the pardon power, Edmund Randolph (later the nation's first attorney general) proposed that the president should be forbidden from pardoning people for treason. As Madison's notes record Randolph's argument: "The prerogative of pardon in these cases was too great a trust. The President may himself be guilty. The Traytors may be his own instruments."

But Randolph's motion was soundly defeated, and so presidents have the power to pardon treasonous conspirators that they themselves have directed. For the Framers, this was not too great a trust, for the same reason that the president is the best repository of the pardon power: the president is politically accountable to the whole nation, in a way that no other official in the government is, and he is not above the law.

These themes are evident in the debate. The response to Edmund Randolph came from James Wilson (later the first justice sworn onto the U.S. Supreme Court), who said: "Pardon is necessary for cases of treason, and is best placed in the hands of the Executive. If he be himself a party to the guilt he can be impeached and prosecuted." The pardon power is an important safety valve in the legal process, and its importance is heightened in serious cases like treason. It is not that Wilson thought no president would ever issue a bad pardon. It was that he thought that no president would be able to count on doing so with impunity.

The main take away from this is that the founders expected that the consequences of abuse would exist. The did not count on the political process evolving to such a state where everyone else in power was willing to allow abuses of power because it covers for their own complicity. What the founders were counting on is that in cases where presidents abused the power they would be subject to impeachment or future criminal charges. I reject the idea that crimes committed while in the official capacity as President are immune from prosecution. If you use the government as your criminal tool you are not free from prosecution because of some notion of "criminalizing politics".

It is a pipe dream to expect Dick Cheney, George W. Bush or any one else in his administration is ever going to face criminal charges for their actions while in office. Bush really does not need to use a pardon because the power structure will never allow him to be indicted. Its too damaging to the status quo. However that is not an excuse to stop fighting against future abuses. We should not allow future presidents to simply pardon their potential conspirators. Its just that simple.

Nadler's proposal would prevent last minute pardons and the pardon of those in the presidents admin for acts done in their official capacity. The mechanics of working out something like this are very difficult. I have difficulty in imposing a time frame on when a president may pardon some one. it may be necessary for them to be pardoned on the last day of an administration and this law would create an injustice. Not to mention that instead of the last months they just pardon them earlier. Not a particularly compelling barrier for someone like Bush who could care less about what the public thinks. Henry of crooked timber disagrees,

But I can’t see any very good argument against the second, admittedly more tentative element of Nadler’s proposal – that the President’s power to pardon be restricted during his/her final months in office. As we saw most notoriously with Clinton, presidents may possibly have a strong incentive to pardon people in the closing months of their administration, because they won’t have to pay a significant political price for it. This creates real problems of democratic accountability, in an area where the arguments for political discretion seem relatively weak (e.g. if the claim is that the power would be used primarily to overturn bogus political prosecutions, then there shouldn’t be much of a legitimacy hit for pardoning people earlier in the President’s term). So is there any good rationale why the President shouldn’t be constitutionally forbidden from issuing pardons say, during the interregnum after November 4 and before the new President takes office?

I just dont see the consequences of a shady pardon being so great as to prevent the pardon. There is little democratic accountability in the day to day job of the presidency and their has been less and less during the Bush years. Most things are too boring and wonky to draw the attention of the media outside of Rachel or Keith. We saw the lack of a backlash against the scooter libby pardon. Who expects the next set of similar pardons to generate more outrage among the general populace? Kalt argues against both aspects,

At some level, I am sympathetic to the second part of Rep. Nadler's proposal, because I think that the president, while still accountable in his last few weeks, is so much less accountable that the potential for mischief exceeds the benefits on unrestricted power. Perhaps allowing two-thirds of the Senate to override such lame-duck pardons would make sense. But in the grand scheme of things, this is a trifle. We don't amend the Constitution over such things, and it is largely pointless to try.

I am less sympathetic to Nadler's other proposal, because it is problematic to limit the president's ability to pardon his own subordinates. Again, it is not that such pardons are necessarily good (or ever good, for that matter). It is that our Constitution generally does not try to get specific. It relies on structure, on the political process, and on the rule of law. For instance, instead of specifying the qualifications for offices, the Constitution relies on the Senate to use its confirmation power wisely, and for presidents to make their nominations with that in mind. By the same token, the Constitution does not restrict the pardon power much, because it relies on the political process, the impeachment process, and the criminal law to prevent ill-advised or corrupt pardons.

Relying on anything less than an explicit and expressed rule will lead to abuse. Even then its little more than a 50/50 shot that any uproar occurs. Kalt argues that we dont amend the constitution for minutiae but i think thats an unpersuasive argument given just how broad the power is. I think we would be totally justified in going in and doing some editing when we find that some things just need to be revised because they have been abused and become a detriment to the country. Allowing for a review of lame duck pardons seems like a good idea. So while i agree that the blanket banning of pardons during the end months would prove problematic the inclusion of a potential review process is required in the face of the abuse and failure of the designed system


Finals Suck and so does Blago

>> Saturday, December 13, 2008

So i have my finals right now. Its really cut into my available writing time. I would like to say though that Blagojevich should be a symbol of Bush era politics. I know its not fair to associate him with Bush in any personal sense but the rampant corruption and perfidy arent actually that far apart. What i mean is that Blago displayed an attitude that was all about enriching himself and about disdain for the idea of government as a social trust. He treated it as his personal atm and plaything just as Bush has done. Its not about whats best for the people they are entrusted to lead its all about themselves.

When people talk about the adults being in charge again it refers to the idea that the people coming into the government are about solving problems for the benefit of all society and not just a privileged few. The Obama administration, unlike the Bush Admin, is most likely going to be constrained by general public attitudes about norms and ethics as well as policy. After all you cant run a truly consensus style without getting the broad base of support that Bush never cared about. The Bush era was the modern wild west where you could do whatever you wanted without fear of law or consequence. We can only pray thats all over.


About that TARP oversight...

>> Thursday, December 11, 2008

This is what happens when you rush to do something, anything, in a crisis.

Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard Law professor who chairs the Congressional Oversight Panel, which is monitoring the Treasury's spending of the bailout money, appeared this afternoon before a House commmitee to testify about the report -- better characterized as a set of questions -- the panel released this morning.

And from what Warren said, it doesn't appear that oversight of the billions of dollars at stake is being treated by either Treasury or Congress as a top priority.

Warren told the committee that the panel's four members had met for the first time just two weeks ago, and were still "struggling" to find office space. She added that all the members of the panel are serving part-time.

"Well, that raises the question of whether this can really be taken seriously," said Rep. Melvin Watt (D-NC), echoing fears about the strength of the oversight mechanisms are in place.

Raises questions? I think it actually provides answers. The board serves part time, has no authority and no office. This is not a legitimate way to oversee the expenditure of 700 billion dollars.

This is a simple illustration of the larger point that in a rush to do something about the economic crisis the Dems folded again and failed to get legitimate and substantial oversight of the money. Its happening again with the Auto Bail Out where not only is the money coming from a fund designed to create cars but it comes with no strings attached. Its free money. They dont have to keep US jobs or fire management or shift to better cars. Its not a good plan.

I understand the argument that this is a prop loan so that Obama can come into office and deal with this but really dont we need some oversight and conditions on this cash? The industry is only worth 3 billion. It just seems like another giant boondoggle in the making.


Stinging the Cops

>> Tuesday, December 9, 2008

This is a crazy story.

KopBusters rented a house in Odessa, Texas and began growing two small Christmas trees under a grow light similar to those used for growing marijuana. When faced with a suspected marijuana grow, the police usually use illegal FLIR cameras and/or lie on the search warrant affidavit claiming they have probable cause to raid the house. Instead of conducting a proper investigation which usually leads to no probable cause, the Kops lie on the affidavit claiming a confidential informant saw the plants and/or the police could smell marijuana coming from the suspected house.

The trap was set and less than 24 hours later, the Odessa narcotics unit raided the house only to find KopBuster’s attorney waiting under a system of complex gadgetry and spy cameras that streamed online to the KopBuster’s secret mobile office nearby.

Its a Dateline for cops. The two central questions are exactly how the cops caught on to the house and how they justified a search warrant. This was set up so that there should have been zero cause for a search, just two trees under some lights.

There are two ways that the cops could react to this. One is conduct an internal investigation that gets to the bottom of these two questions and prosecutes any criminal activity. The second is to get really pissed and turn it into an us versus the world scenario. The second scenario has the cops trying to retaliate and other things that would only dig a deeper hole. Well i guess there is a third option where they simply do nothing and ignore this but that seems unlikely.

Police, because of their important role in society, get a huge benefit of the doubt but this can lead to abuse. It is important to clean up any police wrongdoing and corner cutting because otherwise the citizens they are charged with protecting come to resent them. Corruption is never a good thing.


Who needs rights anyway?

>> Monday, December 8, 2008

I often wonder if people who claim not to be bothered by the government spying on them 24/7 would hold those views if the government actually spied on them then threw them in prison without revealing that the evidence to do so was from the spying. I imagine that they would be rather unhappy to have that evidence, that could clear their name withheld. Too far-fetched? Not so.

A Congressional oversight panel plans to ask the National Security Agency to start an investigation into new evidence that the agency illegally wiretapped a Muslim scholar in Northern Virginia and concealed the eavesdropping during a 2005 trial in which the scholar was convicted on terrorism charges.
Prosecutors described Mr. Timimi as the spiritual mentor to a group of young men in Northern Virginia who were convicted of giving material support in Kashmir to Lashkar-e-Taiba — the separatist group blamed by the Indian authorities for the recent attacks in Mumbai. Several of the Northern Virginia men had received paramilitary training in Pakistan, apparently at the urging of Mr. Timimi, but there was no evidence that they had taken part in any terrorist attacks.

Mr. Timimi’s lawyers maintain that the N.S.A., without acquiring court-approved warrants, used the eavesdropping operation approved by President Bush weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks to wiretap his communications, and that the interceptions might include evidence that would point to his innocence in what they regard as a free-speech case. They charge that the government has intentionally withheld that material despite repeated requests.

If this man is such a bad guy and the evidence was so strong what prevented the government from tapping the phone and going to the court afterward and getting the warrant? Why cut corners and taint evidence? The eavesdropping operation was actually put into place before Sept 11 but that's beside the point. The point is that this is simply lazy and an unnecessary infringement on our rights. It offends the basic tenants of justice.

The right to have the evidence that is going to be presented against you and the governments evidence that may exonerate you is essential in any fair and just judicial system. The Times article goes on to suggest that there is a strong chance that the government did in fact hold out on evidence of eavesdropping. This is serious misconduct on the governments part. It is this type of misconduct that leads to putting the bad guys back out on the street or preventing their trial. It hurts our country.

Cases like this one reinforce the need to fully explore the perfidy of the Bush admin and examine in depth everything that went on in regards to law enforcement and antiterror operations. The number of abuses will probably be legion. So far the most commonly advanced plan is for a commission that lets everyone know what went on but provides no actual consequences for those involved and lets us move on with no real pain or accountability. Even this though is a point of contention and will probably never happen because of dem spinelessness.

Some Democrats have called on Mr. Obama to establish an independent commission that would examine the wiretapping program, interrogation tactics used on prisoners, and other tactics used by the government in its campaign against terrorism since the 2001 attacks.

Republicans in Congress who support the N.S.A. program say that Democrats have been too eager to investigate issues that have long been resolved.

Nothing to see here. All in the past. The idea that these issues have long been resolved is a farce. I wish the times had actually gotten people on the record instead of simply hanging their hat on the generic "some demorats" and "republicans in congress". Names and actual quotes of these people. Law makers should not be giving anonymous quotes on this stuff, especially if they simply want to sweep it under the rug.

The point of the times article was to talk about the NSA Inspector General launching his own investigation into the matter. forgive me if im not overconfident in that report. I have never been a fan of the intra-agency investigation system. i prefer to have independent investigators to avoid any possible attempts by the agency to cover its misdeeds. independent investigation and actual prosecutions are the only way to prevent this from repeating the next time a president or intelligence agency is so inclined to violate the laws.


David Gregory at MTP

>> Sunday, December 7, 2008

first take, what an uninspired choice. I mean i cant imagine david gregory brings anything to the program other an conventional wisdom and an ability to read the teleprompter. As has been noted he did occasionally ask tough questions at the white house press briefings but mostly when he perceived attacks against the media. If you want to see the real David Gregory watch the clips from race for the white house and 1600 penn. ave. I cant watch that show anymore because the questions, topics, and premises are all so banal.

I was hoping that nbc would choose someone who actually asks tough questions with real policy depth, something that gregory fails to provide. As a reporter i expect that he will take the show in a direction that is all about the political optics. i really doubt he has the policy chops to go after a follow up on say, corn subsidies and their effects on gas prices. In addition, despite his insideriness i am not sure he has a great handle on the legislative process itself. Someone who would have asked questions about the committee maneuvering would have been interesting to watch.

Grade: c


Civil vs Military Inducement

>> Saturday, December 6, 2008

Matt Yglesias has a post up on the Obama foreign policy shift from hard power, ie military, to soft power, ie cultural and economic. As he notes the US is more than overdue for a refocus on the cultural and economic capabilities we posses when addressing crisis and conflict on the world stage. He has a further problem though revolving around the terminology and the perceived framing of the term "soft power". Yglesias writes,

Jim Arkedis suggests “civilian power” as an alternative term to the much-derided “soft power.” I think this suggestion actually shows that we don’t need one term to replace soft power, but rather that the underlying concept can probably be split into a few different ideas. One thing, that seems to be well-described as “civilian power” is the idea that the government needs to mobilize more of the non-military instruments available to us — things like diplomatic resources, technical assistance, development aid, etc. There are a lot of problems on the planet and not all of them can be solved primarily by blowing things up. But right now our budget is heavily tilted toward the “blowing things up” side of the ledger. We would do well to balance better.

But there’s also something else that, as I said before, I don’t think is well-captured by the term “power” at all. Maybe it’s easier to think about it in terms of another country. One thing that’s good about the United States is that we have a brand that, when we’re at our best, is very broadly appealing across ethnic and religious lines. By contrast, Iran can have strong appeal in southern Lebanon or in Iraq, but theocracy based on Shiite Islam is an inherently tough sell. Similarly, Putin-style Russian nationalism is a potent force in Russia, but hardly an ideology that’s ready to travel the globe. But insofar as the United States comes to be identified with torture, bullying, and aggressive warfare rather than with humane liberal values we lose that brand advantage.

As derided as it is, the terminology difference has never been a major deal to me. The context of the discussion has always been, "how do we move country x to position y?" We then divide it into two broad categories, the hard sell and the soft sell. The hard sell is aggressive, belligerent and threatening. The soft sell is more subtle, a carrot as opposed to a stick that leads people where they wanted to go anyway. I never bought the argument that using the term soft power versus hard power carried with it the implication that soft power was any weaker or less effective.

Yglesias though takes the route of attacking the term "power" itself. I think his point fails to connect. "Power" is simply the ability to move something from one position to another. Insofar as the ideology and cultural values of our country resonate with the average person around the globe they do have a "power". Our cultural and political system gives (or gave depending on your view) the US a greater ability to move countries' foreign and domestic policy. Power is simply a synonym for influence and because of this any word that carries similar meaning can serve instead of "Power".

The title of this post uses the word "inducement" and i think this serves equally with the term "power". We have civil means, diplomatic resources, technical assistance, development aid, as well as cultural features, that induce a country to comply with our wishes. Similarly we have military inducements, bombs, tanks, marines. I don't have confidence that one framing is all that much better than the other but if Yglesias is unhappy with the term "power" he certainly has the platform to work towards a change.


Darfur Genocide Ongoing Test of ICC and US

>> Thursday, December 4, 2008

The two most empty words in the english language have become, "never again". Our maybe that's limited simply to dealing with Germany? It is obviously not a universal maxim as genocide and a myriad number of other human rights crimes are committed daily in Darfur. As awful and tragic as the situation is signs of the beginning of progress towards taking action have appeared. Earlier this year International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo sought a warrant for the arrest of Sitting Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir. The ruling on that request will come down soon and if it comes back in favor of arresting al-Bashir look for all hell to break loose.
The evidence indicating that al-Bashir has been active in soliciting, conspiring, and complicit in, crimes of genocide in Darfur is strong. For one example,

“government bombers, helicopter gunships, tanks and artillery were used against unarmed civilians to clear a 100-kilometer area around the oils fields. Witnesses reported that over 1,000 government soldiers swept through Ruweng county, wreaking human and material destruction, including destroying 17 churches.”

He is not a good guy. However as with anything on the international stage it gets complicated.

Quite apart from the fact that Sudan is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, indicting Al Bashir will make it even more difficult to revive the stalled peace process in Darfur. It is feared that a sizable segment of the Sudanese population that supports Al Bashir will become even more antagonistic towards the targeted ethnic groups in Darfur. The chasm that separates them from the rest of the population in Darfur and the Sudan will become wider.

The rest of the article by Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST) and Professor of Global Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia goes on to discuss the issues involving china and one of the root causes of the conflict, lack of water. In fact supplying water to the whole country would go a long way to resolving the conflict. However, simply ending the conflict is not enough to truly count justice served. Those who commit genocide should not escape unpunished.

The International Criminal Court is trying to become the body that assures justice is done in this case. They face stiff resistance at the idea of indicting al-Bashir based on the possible repercussions to the peace process and a possible increase in the genocide. This has created a possible crisis for the court because it is forbidden for signatories to the Rome Statute to provide safe havens for those under arrest warrants and wanted by ICC. UN members also have a duty to carry out the arrest since it is the UNSC that authorized the ICC to handle the case.

The al-Bahsir case is a major test for the credibility of the ICC because of the fact that al-Bashir is a sitting head of state and that Sudan has not signed the Rome Statute. That Sudan is not a party to the statute has raised a question about the legitimacy of indicting him based on a treaty he is not a party to. This will be a test of whether the court does in fact have universal territorial jurisdiction or whether they have jurisdiction limited to those of the signatory states. The answer turns on the reaction of the international community, where the reaction of the United States will be important. If the international community applies sanctions to sudan based on the indictment of al-Bashir or takes other steps it will lend great weight to the prestige and authority of the court in dealing with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The ICC is an independent court that operates without any threat of security council veto. This is a primary reason the United States opted not to become a signatory. The loss of sovereignty was not acceptable. It also reveals why the outcome has such major implications for the United States. If the court truly has universal territorial jurisdiction it could conceivably indict a sitting US president regardless of whether the US is a signatory. So the US reaction to a possible warrant will come under strict scrutiny. President Obama will have a large role in deciding what path the international community takes in dealing with sudan and darfur.

The drama around the ICC and Darfur and the US is made even greater because Obama has been a leading American political figure in dealing with Darfur. He has been very outspoken on the issue and his voting record was graded A+ by the group He was asked about how the US should deal with the crisis in Darfur in the second presidential debate where he advocated providing logistical support and air power in the form of a no fly zone. He has not advocated putting US boots on the ground. In conjunction with these military measures he has also advocated a position that may become a reality if the the warrant for al-Bashir stands, sanctions. First in 2004 and then again in 2007 obama voiced the opinion that,

"First, the UN Security Council should impose tough sanctions on the Khartoum government immediately. These sanctions should freeze the assets of the Sudanese government, its leaders and business affiliates; outlaw arms sales and transfers to Sudan; and prohibit the purchase of Sudanese oil. The United States must make this a high priority in our relations with other governments on the Security Council."

It is hard to tell if Obama would back off his call for sanctions if they were predicated on the issuance of an arrest warrant for al-Bashir. That condition may materially change the situation because of the implications vis-a-vis the ICC. Not to mention the balancing act that would be needed because of China's interest in the situation.

China was another country who did not sign onto the Rome Statute and they have a vested interest in sudan. The interest comes in the form of oil and arms. They arent too keen on the arrest of al-Bashir,

This morning China – Sudan's biggest arms supplier and a leading investor in the country – said it had "grave concerns and misgivings" over the ICC's decision.

"The ICC's actions must be beneficial to the stability of the Darfur region and the appropriate settlement of the issue, not the contrary," a spokesman for the foreign ministry in Beijing, Liu Jianchao, told reporters.

When asked whether China would use its position as a veto-wielding UN security council member to obstruct the court's actions against Bashir, the spokesman declined to rule this out, saying: "China will continue consultation with other members of the UN security council but, as for the outcome, that I don't know."

As i mentioned China alone will not be able to veto the actions of the ICC. What needs to happen is a security council resolution that utilizes article 16 of the Rome Statutes,

No investigation or prosecution may be commenced or proceeded with under this Statute for a period of 12 months after the Security Council, in a resolution adopted under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, has requested the Court to that effect; that request may be renewed by the Council under the same conditions.

This means that any member with veto power could kill an attempt to defer the prosecution. President Bush is actually on record that he will veto an attempt to defer. Obama is not yet on record. In all likely hood he would not have to make the call because France has stated they would veto any such deferral.

Something needs to be done about the situation in Darfur. The ICC is attempting to address the situation and increase its authority and prestige. In doing this they have put the international community, especially the US and President Obama to the test. If the court fails in its bid to try al-Bahsir its reputation and power will take a significant blow. If it succeeds it will be a momentous moment in international law and human rights. The cost of strengthening the ICC might very well be paid by the people it is tasked with protecting, the people of Darfur. We still have little idea how China will respond to the threats on their interests. A very complicated international situation that i'm glad George W. Bush wont be deciding.


Why we need oversight and law suits.

We need oversight in any interaction between the government and private military contractors. We pay millions to these companies to perform jobs that really should be performed by the military and we dont bother to make sure that they follow through on the commitments. When we do find out that they have failed to perform the jobs for which they were contracted they should be sued. By actually performing oversight and suing for damages due to the breach of the contracts maybe we can prevent this type of stuff from happening in the future,

The lawsuit also accuses KBR of shipping ice in mortuary trucks that "still had traces of body fluids and putrefied remains in them when they were loaded with ice. This ice was served to U.S. forces."

Eller also accuses KBR of failing to maintain a medical incinerator at Joint Base Balad, which has been confirmed by two surgeons in interviews with Military Times about the Balad burn pit. Instead, according to the lawsuit and the physicians, medical waste, such as needles, amputated body parts and bloody bandages were burned in the open-air pit.

"Wild dogs in the area raided the burn pit and carried off human remains," the lawsuit states. "The wild dogs could be seen roaming the base with body parts in their mouths, to the great distress of the U.S. forces."

Go on and read the whole thing because there are other equally as bad acts on the part of KBR. I find it generally appalling that despite the repeated disclosure of horrors KBR inflicts on American servicemen that they are granted billions of dollars in tax payer money with little censure.

They should be sued into the ground. If we look at this solely from the standpoint of KBR unless the cost of the litigation and the damages exceeds that of the contract price it will be efficient for them to continue on in this manner. Unless we seriously start to eat into their economic motive for committing these types of acts we cant expect them to change. Without continual oversight and a strict accounting KBR will simply build the price of the litigation into their contract bids and pass the cost of their malfeasance onto the american people. Hey, they are no bid contracts so why should they care?

KBR is the symbol of the worst of capatalism and the laundry list of crimes an torts they commit in iraq is truly astounding. Maybe Obama can get some people to review all of this and get some justice and accountability. First step is forcing KBR to disgorge all the profits made from their cost cutting both to the american taxpayer and the troops they harmed.


Anti-Upskirt Laws

>> Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Sometimes you hear about things and are shocked to find out that its still legal. In this case its upskirt voyeur porn. There have been a number of blog posts around the internet on this subject recently focusing on this topic. Including one here, here, here. If your not familiar with what the upskirt, downblouse porn entails here is a brief story from the salon article above,

On a warm summer day two years ago, a 16-year-old girl put on a skirt and headed to the SuperTarget in her hometown of Tulsa, Okla. As she shopped the air-conditioned aisles, a man knelt behind her, carefully slid a camera in between her bare legs and snapped a photo of her underwear. Police arrested the 34-year-old man, but the charges were ultimately dropped on the grounds that the girl did not, as required by the state's Peeping Tom law, have "a right to a reasonable expectation of privacy," given the public location. In non-legalese: Wear a skirt in public, and you might just get a camera in the crotch.

To be clear this is not legal everywhere. In fact there is a federal law against it. The Federal Video Voyeurism Prevention Act of 2004 which has been adopted in whole or in part by almost half of the states,

§ 1801. Video voyeurism
(a) Whoever, in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, has the intent to capture an image of a private area of an individual without their consent, and knowingly does so under circumstances in which the individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.
(b) In this section—
(1) the term ‘capture’, with respect to an image, means to videotape, photograph, film, record by any means, or broadcast;
(2) the term ‘broadcast’ means to electronically transmit a visual image with the intent that it be viewed by a person or persons;
(3) the term ‘a private area of the individual’ means the naked or undergarment clad genitals, pubic area, buttocks, or female breast of that individual;
(4) the term ‘female breast’ means any portion of the female breast below the top of the areola; and
(5) the term ‘under circumstances in which that individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy’ means—
(A) circumstances in which a reasonable person would believe that he or she could disrobe in privacy, without being concerned that an image of a private area of the individual was being captured; or
(B) circumstances in which a reasonable person would believe that a private area of the individual would not be visible to the public, regardless of whether that person is in a public or private place.
(c) This section does not prohibit any lawful law enforcement, correctional, or intelligence activity.

The problem comes with enforcement of the law. Apparently there have been only a handful of cases of prosecution based on this law and most came in child porn cases where the charge was more ancillary to the purpose of the prosecution. There are a couple others however which i address later in the post. Any failure to prosecute these cases or to send a message that this type of behavior is unacceptable has real consequences, again from the salon piece comes the story of Karen Simoncelli who wore a skirt to the local zoo and was the victim of upskirting,

It wasn't just a creepy encounter -- like a lewd comment made on the street -- that she could shake off. "I had to have my fiancé for about a whole year walk me in and out of our house," she said. "I have had a loaded gun next to my bed ever since. I constantly think someone is following me." She says she'll stare at a small sliver of her bedroom window that isn't covered by the blinds and become convinced that "someone is watching me, someone is looking."

This stuff is a violation of the woman's person. It should be considered a form of sexual assault. The drive behind this type of porn was explored by Amanda Marcote at Pandagon,

upskirt shots are about appealing to something else, and there’s no other way to state this, but it’s the desire to force yourself on a woman. Without coercion, the upskirt shot means nothing. Fans not only admit this, but in the company of what they assume are only men who share their loathing of women (and women’s autonomy), they revel in it.

Sounds a little twisted put that way. The message this type of thing sends to women is that your still not equal to men. Men will always be able to take or control or dominate you. Why then is this type of behavior considered to be legal? The answer comes from the "reasonable expectation of privacy". A person is not considered to have a reasonable expectation of privacy when out in public. However, the law cited above was challenged in Washington State v. Boyd, 137 Wash.App. 910, 918-919 (W.A. Ct. App. 2007). The court held that the law and definition of "intimate area" to be protected was not vague reasoning that,

Reasonable individuals would not differ in understanding what the statute prohibits. When a woman puts on clothing, she expresses her intent that certain areas of her body are not open to public view. The statute prohibits others from intruding into those covered areas. If the statute incorporates a subjective intent element, that intent is readily discernible to all viewers in the coverage the clothing provides. When a woman wears a skirt that reaches above her knees, she clearly expresses her intent that public eyes may not peer further into the covered areas. The statute provides sufficient guidance in all circumstances that reasonable persons will not be required to guess what conduct is prohibited.
Thus, when a student dons a skirt, the scope of her expectation of privacy depends on the circumstances. If she climbs a flight of stairs, she may reasonably expect that people standing beneath her may incidentally glimpse parts of her body above the hemline. By wearing a skirt, she does not implicitly authorize others to attempt to view the hidden parts of her body. The statute simply effectuates the commonsense notion that “a woman who wears a skirt possesses a reasonable expectation, regardless of whether she is in a closed changing room or in a public shopping mall food court, that technology will not be used to catch a glimpse of her underwear."

[citation omitted]. The court in Boyd expressly included the public shopping mall food court in clarifying what the reasonable expectation of privacy entails. This is important because is extends the force of the law into public places previously considered fair game under "reasonable expectation of privacy". In these upskirt cases the court is adopting an approach that recognizes common sense dictating when someone wearing a skirt can reasonably expect that skirt to hide their underwear. That is after all the purpose of wearing clothes over your underwear. Under the Bond standard a person has a reasonable subjective expectation of privacy when they "take steps to preserve something as private." Bond v. U.S., 529 U.S. 334, 338(2000). No body can expect to be told that if they wanted their underwear to remain private they should have worn pants, its simply unreasonable.

To justify the ability of people to take pictures up women's skirts requires arguments that offend the average person. While it is true that a person who walks around in public can have no expectation of general privacy what is hidden under clothes is an entirely different matter. To allow the continued violation of women in this way is wrong.


Speaking about Pardons...

>> Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Erick Holder the man to be nominated by Barack Obama for the position of attorney general is under fire for his involvement in the pardoning of Marc Rich at the end of the Clinton administration. His role appears to have been more than incidental in the affair. However i think we need to take a step back and think about the nature of presidential pardons in general. The Presidential pardon power is virtually unlimited, except in cases where the crime stems from impeachment. It is one of the most sweeping powers granted to the executive. There is even a question of whether the president may legally pardon himself, i tend to think that he cant. The entire debate around the rich pardon is a circus not made less by comments like these,

“Marc Rich was a fugitive for nearly two decades, wanted by the federal government for fraud and tax evasion,” Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said Monday after the nomination was announced. Referring to Mr. Holder’s actions, Mr. Smith added, “If a Republican official had engaged in this kind of activity, he would never receive Senate confirmation.”

Really? Smith seems to be making a point that republicans would never be allowed to discuss the pardon of criminals. I think he might want to think about the whole scooter libby thing. Most of the major republican presidential candidates backed pardoning libby, a man who obstructed justice when he tried to prevent prosecutors from learning who leaked the name of an undercover cia agent.

Scooter Libby did things far more offensive to me than fleeing to switzerland and failing to pay taxes. He was involved in covering up the lies and deceit that were used to get us into Iraq. Imagine the kind of fuss the republicans would raise if a democratic president pardoned the person who helped him lie us into war. Complaining about Marc Rich without doing so in light of the myriad other pardons like Scooter Libby that are arguably worse is disingenuous.

Pardons are supposed to be a matter of corrective equity. They exist to balance the scales of justice when the application of the law to a given fact set results in an unjust outcome. To have them used as a means to clean up after the misdeeds of the pardon giver is in opposition to the purpose for which they exist. Until we amend the constitution to deal with the sweeping and, i believe, overly broad pardon powers we are going to continue on this path of pardons for those who dont deserve it but are in positions where the pardon is advantageous to the pardoner.


ABA Top 100 Law Blogs

no im not on it. However, neither is The Debate Link which i consider to be a mistake on the ABA's part. I mean david was quoted in the harvard law review as a blogger and i think his legal and political commentary has merit, at least equivalent to the canadian magazine of law and style. There were several cool new reads i found that i will most likely add to my blog list or maybe a separate law blog list. Anyway i encourage people to check them out as there is def. plenty of topics and quality writing to interest anybody.


Gop still has no clue where they are going.

>> Monday, December 1, 2008

Matt Taibi has a piece in rolling stone on the McCain campaign that is classic Taibi. Biting, sardonic and generally painfully true. It lays open the GOP of 2008 as party without a plan and without a clue.

They lost in every way imaginable, on every political front. The symbol of their anti-gay crusade, Colorado congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave, was beheaded. The party that had made so much hay running against Mexicans saw noted anti-immigration crusader Bill Sali of Idaho ousted along with several other members of the Immigration Reform Caucus. The GOP's grasp on the so-called "moral values" issue likewise went up in roaring flames, with Rep. Vito Fossella of Staten Island the poster child — his morals were once so perfect that he refused to be seen with his gay sister, and now he's a national joke, bounced after being caught drunk driving and having unprotected, babymaking sex with a married Air Force officer.

The ironic thing is that the destruction of the Republican Party was a two-part process. Their president, George W. Bush, did most of the work by making virtually every mistake possible in his two terms, reducing the mightiest economy on Earth to the status of a beggar-debtor nation like Pakistan or Zambia. This was fucking up on a scale known only to a select few groups in history, your Romanovs, your Habsburgs, maybe the Han Dynasty, which pissed away a golden age of Chinese history by letting eunuchs take over the state. But John McCain and Sarah Palin made their own unique contribution to the disaster by running perhaps the most incompetent presidential campaign in modern times. They compounded a millionfold Bush's legacy of incompetence by soiling both possible Republican ideological strategies going forward: They killed off Bush-style neoconservatism as well as the more traditional fiscal conservatism McCain himself was once known for by trying to fuse both approaches into one gorgeously incoherent ticket. It was like trying to follow the recipes for Texas 10-alarm chili and a three-layer Black Forest chocolate cake in the same pan at the same time. The result — well, just take a bite!

I witness the whole pathetic mess summed up a week before the election, on a baseball field in Quakertown, Pennsylvania. The campaign has scheduled an outdoor rally, with a joint appearance by McCain and Palin, at this crucial moment in the race. But now there is driving snow and sleet, trees downed on roads all around, and the campaign — with no alternate indoor plan — is forced to cancel the event at the last minute. I watch as locals keep pulling up to the field, looking for the candidate, a lonely, rain-soaked "Country First" banner whipping back and forth above the stage. The whole scene captures the essence of the McCain run perfectly: Instead of a plan, they had an endless succession of dumb ideas scrapped at the 11th hour in favor of even dumber ones.

It was like that all election season. McCain kicked off his campaign with a stump speech that emphasized his inspirational personal story and experience. Then he picked someone even less experienced than Obama as his running mate and switched to a strategy of attacking his opponent's relationships with people like Bill Ayers. When that petered out, he switched to a new line of attack, trotting out the socialism business and claiming Obama was running for the office of "redistributionist-in-chief." The McCain camp tried running against the press, they tried running against Washington, they tried running against the Bush administration, they even tried running against the "liberal feminist agenda" — the latter just a few weeks after Sarah Palin called herself a feminist.

That was then and this is now. Certainly the GOP must have learned from the disaster that was for them the 2008 election. Umm well no. When democrats went out of power many of them said it was because they acted too much like republicans. they sacrificed core beliefs for some ill defined belief that america is a center right country that hates everything the dems stood for. These people were right that acting too much like republicans was a bad idea because the american people already agreed with the dems position on issue after issue. the dems were literally taking the less popular stances out of fear.

Republicans have a different problem in that the vast majority of americans dont agree with them or their core beliefs. still that has not stopped people from advocating the purge like Katon Dawson, the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party,

Renew our commitment to our Party’s timeless reconfirming our commitment to be the party of smaller government, lower taxes, individual freedom, strong national security, respect for the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, the importance of family and the exceptionalism of America.

How many more elections must one party lose before it makes a real change? we might have a chance to find out.


What Will Obama's Foreign Policy Look Like?

>> Sunday, November 30, 2008

There has been a great number of blog posts around the net expressing opinions on what Obama is doing with his national security and foriegn policy team. Keeping Gates at defense, bringing in Clinton to State, Jones as National Security Adviser with Tom Donilon as his Deputy and Susan Rice as the UN ambassador, Biden as VP. Instead of simply bitching about these people and whether they are new enough or left enough i want to get a little deeper into the weeds and see if we can sort out exactly what Obama wants to achieve with this group.

A lot of the critique of this group centers around the idea that Obama is selling out his positions that he staked out during the primaries. Many if not most of the aforementioned group were not strong backers of his exact positions across the board so questions about Obama's intent are more than ok, they are necessary. As the flotation of the Brennan nomination showed, making a strong case against someone can have an effect. Dissent is not a bad thing as long as it is reasoned. What appears to be driving the Obama picks is what appears to drive the Obama agenda in general, a broad consensus about what needs to be done,

What is interesting in my view is that what you now see forming is a broad consensus among liberals, liberal hawks and realists. There is relatively universal agreement among these groups that we need to begin withdrawing from Iraq, focus more on Afghanistan, opt for direct diplomacy with Iran, reengage with the world, improve our image, strengthen our alliances, close Guantanamo and deal with global warming and energy security.

That is a pretty broad consensus and it's one that politically was first pushed hardest by the left. On the traditional right-left spectrum, you would have to call this a solidly left of center consensus that has in fact been Obama's foreign policy platform for the last two years

It is reflected in Obama's ability to pick realists, liberals, and liberal hawks to build a coalition foreign policy team. It's unfair to typify any of Obama's picks as absolutely from one school but roughly speaking Obama campaign advisors and folks such as Susan Rice are more representative of liberals. Jim Jones and Bob Gates are more representative of the realists, and Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden are more representative of the liberal hawks. Although, again, none of these labels really fit perfectly.

Whats missing in that set of broad consensus but is still a critical part of Obama's ideas on foriegn policy is a focus less on the national level and more on the transnational and the subnational. Obama favors a shift to a soft power strategy that knows no boarders. Its a radical change but one that has the potential to deal with a number of our serious challenges. Back in March Salon had a piece entitled The Obama Doctrine. The central premise of this article is that Obama is centered on rettoling American foreign policy to target and fight against the potential terrorist and transnational groups. The label given to the soft power side of this is "Dignity Promotion"

This ability to see the world from different perspectives informs what the Obama team hopes will replace the Iraq War mind-set: something they call dignity promotion. "I don't think anyone in the foreign-policy community has as much an appreciation of the value of dignity as Obama does," says Samantha Power, a former key aide and author of the groundbreaking study of U.S. foreign policy and genocide, A Problem From Hell. "Dignity is a way to unite a lot of different strands [of foreign-policy thinking]," she says. "If you start with that, it explains why it's not enough to spend $3 billion on refugee camps in Darfur, because the way those people are living is not the way they want to live. It's not a human way to live. It's graceless -- an affront to your sense of dignity."

During Bush's second term, a strange disconnect has arisen in liberal foreign-policy circles in response to the president's so-called "freedom agenda." Some liberals, like Matthew Yglesias in his book Heads In The Sand, note the insincerity of the administration's stated goal of exporting democracy. Bush, they observe, only targets for democratization countries that challenge American hegemony. Other liberal foreign-policy types, such as Thomas Carothers and Marina Ottaway of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, insist the administration is sincere but too focused on elections without supporting the civil-society institutions that sustain democracy. Still others, like Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch, contend that a focus on democracy in the developing world without privileging the protection of civil and political rights is a recipe for a dangerous illiberalism.

What's typically neglected in these arguments is the simple insight that democracy does not fill stomachs, alleviate malaria, or protect neighborhoods from marauding bands of militiamen. Democracy, in other words, is valuable to people insofar as it allows them first to meet their basic needs. It is much harder to provide that sense of dignity than to hold an election in Baghdad or Gaza and declare oneself shocked when illiberal forces triumph. "Look at why the baddies win these elections," Power says. "It's because [populations are] living in climates of fear." U.S. policy, she continues, should be "about meeting people where they're at. Their fears of going hungry, or of the thug on the street. That's the swamp that needs draining. If we're to compete with extremism, we have to be able to provide these things that we're not [providing]."

This is why, Obama's advisers argue, national security depends in large part on dignity promotion. Without it, the U.S. will never be able to destroy al-Qaeda. Extremists will forever be able to demagogue conditions of misery, making continued U.S. involvement in asymmetric warfare an increasingly counterproductive exercise -- because killing one terrorist creates five more in his place. "It's about attacking pools of potential terrorism around the globe," Gration says. "Look at Africa, with 900 million people, half of whom are under 18. I'm concerned that unless you start creating jobs and livelihoods we will have real big problems on our hands in ten to fifteen years."

The focus on an actual shift to ways of fighting counter insurgency instead of paying lip service to fighting counter insurgents would be a major step in the right direction. However the transition requires more than a shift in the civilian side of things it requires a shift in the military side too. This is where keeping Gates at defense comes in according to Slate's Fred Kaplan and promoted by Steve Benen,

In his nearly two years at the helm of the Pentagon, Gates has delivered a series of speeches on the future direction of military policy. He has urged officers to recognize the shift in the face of warfare from the World War II legacy of titanic armored battles between comparably mighty foes to the modern reality of small shadow wars against terrorists and insurgents.

More than that, he has called for systematic adjustments to this new reality: canceling weapons systems that aren't suited to these kinds of wars and building more weapons that are; reforming the promotion boards to reward and advance the creative officers who have proved most adept at this style of warfare; rethinking the roles and missions of the individual branches of the armed services; siphoning some of the military's missions, especially those dealing with "nation building," to civilian agencies.

From the start, he knew that he wouldn't have time to make a lot of headway in these campaigns -- which, within the military, represent fairly radical ideas. His intent was to spell out an agenda, and lay the groundwork, for the next administration.

Now it seems he's going to be in the next administration. And it's a good bet that President Barack Obama will be more receptive to Gates' agenda than President George W. Bush ever was. First, Obama is open to new ideas generally. Second, at his Nov. 25 press conference, Obama said he would direct his new budget director to go over every program, every line item, with an eye toward eliminating those that don't work or aren't needed -- and he pointedly included the Department of Defense among the agencies to be audited.

In short, Gates might be able to do many of the things that until now he has managed only to advocate.

So whatever Gates other thoughts this idea of shifting is in line with Obama's thoughts. As Kaplan and Benen note the advantage of keeping Gates on to carry out this shift is that he is already familiar with the shifts that need to be made and has the street cred to carry them out with Obama's backing. A new face with the same idea's would take time getting up to speed and Obama has made clear that he plans to waste no time when he can avoid it.

Assuming Obama's chief goal is actually to fight terrorists it explains one of the reasons that he has been so close to the Brent Snowcroft school of foreign policy as Josh Marshall explains in this video.

Snowcrofts WSJ piece was premised on the idea that attacking Iraq would derail our counter terrorism efforts,

But the central point is that any campaign against Iraq, whatever the strategy, cost and risks, is certain to divert us for some indefinite period from our war on terrorism. Worse, there is a virtual consensus in the world against an attack on Iraq at this time. So long as that sentiment persists, it would require the U.S. to pursue a virtual go-it-alone strategy against Iraq, making any military operations correspondingly more difficult and expensive. The most serious cost, however, would be to the war on terrorism. Ignoring that clear sentiment would result in a serious degradation in international cooperation with us against terrorism. And make no mistake, we simply cannot win that war without enthusiastic international cooperation, especially on intelligence.

Scowcroft's thoughts do tend to go very well with what Obama has put forth. That segment of the foriegn policy establishment has been outspoken about the need to engage our enemies and stop the policy of ignoring people we dont like just as obama has. If were going to talk to people more we might want to go back to respecting the UN as an institution.

If Obama hopes to make major shifts in the way america works on the world stage he needs someone competent and important to head the UN. Susan Rice is that person. Susan Rice is someone who was with Obama during the primaries and was also a veteran of the Clinton white house. Her primary focus seems to be on Africa and she has been noted for her involvement in the lack of intervention in Rwanda. She is for intervention in Darfur. Her close ties to Obama may be taken as a signal that the US is giving that institution more respect. Obama is a big fan of multilateralism when available and if he hopes to make a major shift in the way the US combats terror world wide using the UN as an institutional vehicle is going to be very important. Obama has a history of being in the forefront of those dealing with Africa and the multitude of genocidal wars going on there and the UN spends a lot of time dealing with Africa so Susan rice seems like a good fit there.

Not much is known about General James Jones views on general foreign policy. His views on energy are one of the best understood because of his Sept 30th speech at Fort Collins Co where he came out for increased off shore drilling and increases in nuclear power. He views energy security as an important part of national security and advocated a policy of fixing our energy infrastructure that rachel maddow would be proud of. We also know that he views afghanistan/pakistan as an essential fight in defeating terrorism and is committed to a long term presence there. He shares that with obama. Jones' white paper on afghanistan is available in pdf form here.

The key to success - as in any counter-insurgency - rests on the Afghans. If enabled with effective security forces, the promise of a growing economy and legitimate institutions of government including the legal and judicial system, Afghanistan can become a functioning and secure country. This will take a great deal of time. Hence, nato and the international community must reaffirm its commitment for the long haul that will be measured in years and perhaps decades, though the form and substance of assistance will change as that nation progresses towards peace, stability and democracy.

But, if nato and the international community, together with the Karzai government, cannot put forward a coordinated and comprehensive effort that is sustainable and adequately resourced for this long-term, Afghanistan will experience only the worst of possible outcomes, and nato itself could be on the path towards irrelevancy. This need not be the case and it is still not too late to act decisively as the main foundations for solution are essentially in place. The first step is to understand that the situation in Afghanistan is grave and that immediate action and attention are needed by the United States and the international community in order to prevent a setback to regional and global security. Urgency is the watchword. The international community must act, and it must act now.

Jones and Obama clearly align on their views of what needs to be done regarding Afghanistan/Pakistan and the role they will play in combating transnational terrorist actors. Jones also has a healthy appreciation for the fact that military power alone is not close to strong enough to deal with the problems that plague Afghanistan. the paper devotes a great deal to the creation of a corruption free afghan judicial system. That is something that strikes me as an important step in fighting any group that thrives on the illegitimacy of the government. If we cannot establish the basic rule of law in that country how can we ever hope to have a people who meet the type of dignity level that obama clearly believes is important?

so far there are obvious areas of alignment between Obama's picks and his announced foreign policy ideas. Obama has always been an advocate of a strong interventionist and activist foriegn policy that places america in a firm and central role. Obama was very clear on his desire to engage John McCain on a debate about US foriegn policy during the election. It is an area he feels comfortable with despite his lack of hands on experience. The people he has picked reflect that. The only one who seems to be incongruous is Hillary Clinton.

Clinton at state just does not seem to make a great deal of sense. Yglesias sums up the first shallow impression,

I’ve been out of the country and not able to follow the Clinton for Secretary of State gossip in all the level of detail I would have liked. But surely I wouldn’t be the first to observe that this would seem like an odd pairing. Clinton and Obama are both formidable political leaders and, as we saw during the primaries, they have very similar ideas about the vast majority of public policy areas. But Obama thinks Clinton’s support for invading Iraq in 2002-2003 showed bad judgment and Clinton thinks Obama’s stated willingness to hold direct, high-level talks with Iran without preconditions is “naive and irresponsible.”

That’s not to say it’s a bad idea — what matters is ideas moving forward, not things that have been said in the past. But the specific policy area at issue seems to be one in which the two of them aren’t all that well-aligned.

On the other hand people like steve benen think it is a fine pick,

Between her Senate work and time as First Lady, Clinton has established international respect and credibility, and she's on a first-name basis with leaders around the world. She's arguably more hawkish than the President-elect, but when it comes to global diplomacy, there's no reason to think Clinton and Obama aren't on the same page.

The other worry is exactly how well she will run the agency and the overall look that the agency will take under Clinton. Clinton did not run a great campaign and the drama could be considered quite epic. Spencer Ackerman laid out the big questions,
The dispute is only partly ideological in nature. While the coterie of foreign-policy thinkers around Obama have been more liberal, in an aggregate sense — on issues like Iraq and negotiations with America’s adversaries — the Obama loyalists question the boldness of the Clintonites. They fear that Obama’s apparent embrace of Clinton represents an acquiescence to the conventional Democratic foreign-policy approaches that they once derided as courting disaster. Some wonder whether a Clinton-run State Dept. will hire progressive Obama partisans after an acrimonious primary.

In addition, some Obama loyalists wonder whether the same people who attacked Obama on foreign policy during the primaries can implement Obama’s agenda from State Dept. perches. “Look, Clinton and Obama are both smart people,” said one Democratic official who would not speak for the record, “and I’m sure their one-on-one relationship would be OK. But when you hire a Clinton, you hire more than just that one person, you get the entire package.” If Clinton becomes secretary of state, it’s possible that the fissures between her loyalists and Obama’s would be a significant undercurrent of the administration’s foreign-policy decision-making.

No one would comment for the record for this story from either the Clinton or the Obama camps. Several people were reluctant to speak even on background, whether out of an exhaustion with a dispute that has lasted for more than 18 months within the party or out of reluctance to jeopardize their own prospects for jobs with the Obama administration.

Some in the Democratic foreign-policy community worry about the implications for a cohesive diplomatic message, given the differences in substance and tone between the supporters of the two Democratic giants.

“Foreign policy is probably where Clinton and Obama differ the most,” said the Democratic official. “They just have fundamentally different instincts. On the big decisions, Obama can and will certainly call the shots, but the consistency of follow-through could really be a problem. And the instincts on the smaller decisions will be very different. Cohesion of our foreign policy could suffer.”

So Clinton seems political in nature to me. Maybe she plays bad cop to Obama's good cop or maybe she was promised something during the election season. Whatever the reason i really dont see that she was the best choice, the most logical choice for the position. Because of this i have a hard time anticipating exactly how Clinton is going to work out. That is an appointment that only time can sort out.

Generally speaking the choices for Obama's foriegn policy team represent the broad non-neocon consensus about what america needs to do in foriegn policy. When Obama speaks about ending the mindset that got us into the iraq war i think he is not talking about a huge reevaluation about the role of america's primacy on the world stage but instead a shift away from great power state level dealings to a more transnational approach.


Meta on Comment Sections

>> Friday, November 28, 2008

this is a meta diary on the effects of comment sections and the way they impacted the bloggosphere. Commenting, for all its pluses and minuses is here to stay. What effect thought has the ability to comment on a persons blog had on the writer and the way an internet conversation develops?

I am taking this primarily from the exchange between Kevin Drum and Jacob T. Levy. It began when Levy posted on the perceived change in blogging due to comments.

I'm one of the last of the oldline blogluddists who thinks that the decline of civility and decency the blogosphere can be traced to two events, one of which I won't tell you but one of which was the creation of comments sections. In particular, I remember thinking that the opening of comments at Kevin Drum's then-site, CalPundit, changed things rather a lot. Almost every high-traffic site I've been reading since before the introduction of comments seems to me to have suffered from the development, except for Crooked Timber.

Invoking the name of Kevin Drum of course summoned him from the tubes and he responded.

This deserves explication. Does Jacob think that opening a comment section changed my actual blogging? Or did the blogging remain the same but the mere existence of raucous commenters changed things? If the latter, why not just ignore the comments? If the former, how?

I've heard this general complaint many times, and I've never really understood it. My own view of comments is that they don't exist mainly for my benefit, or even for my readers' benefit, but for my commenters' benefit. In the same way that blogging gave me a platform to mouth off in public that I otherwise wouldn't have gotten, I figure that comment sections give an entirely different group of people the same opportunity. So I'm happy to provide it, even if it often gets out of hand. It's not like anyone's holding a gun to our heads and forcing us to read them, after all. (And anyway, the comment section here has improved considerably over the past couple of years thanks to my steely and implacable moderators. Thanks guys!)

On a more general note, Jacob's post reminds me that I've always been a little puzzled by the number of times readers have told me that I've "changed" thanks to something or other. When I opened comments. When I started accepting ads. When I moved to the Washington Monthly. When I moved to MoJo. Etc. For a variety of reasons, it's unlikely in the extreme that any of these events changed anything about my writing at all, but people sure think they do with fair regularity. I don't doubt that my writing has evolved since I started doing this six years ago, but I very much doubt that there was any particular event that's been responsible for it. More likely it was just six years of writing and learning and getting progressively more annoyed with the modern Republican Party.

Levy obliged Mr. Drum and with a response of his won outlining in greater detail what he saw as the impact of comments on the world of blogging. He starts with the general shock of switching from a civil post into a pie fight but i think this is the relevant section that deserves attention,

.[B]ut I also think that comments sections have encouraged intra-blog rather than inter-blog conversations.

As a lecturer, I'm at least somewhat responsive to my audience and their reactions. I do notice when the students' eyes are glazing over, when they seem alert, what makes them ask questions, what puts them to sleep. I don't respond to that in a Pavlovian way-- that way lies the professor-as-standup-comic, and I'm pretty sure that my vocation doesn't lie in that direction even if I wanted to try it. But I do respond, consciously and unconsciously-- speaking to a live audience is interactive in a way that writing an article for future publication is not. I'm sure that makes me a better teacher than if I ignored my audience-- but it also makes my lectures a little bit more homogenous, and a little bit more geared to what I think my students already find interesting or congenial.

Blogging's interactive, too. If nothing else, I suspect that choice of blogging topics gets influenced by the enthusiasm for some topics shown by one's commentators, when comments sections are on. That by itself makes the medium a little bit less idiosyncratically personal; it encourages blogging about hot topics over blogging about one's cat (to take an old CalPundit example)-- whereas as a reader I enjoy the idiosyncratically personal voices.

But there's probably something beyond even that. Comments crowds tend to be more aligned with the blog-author than do other blog-writers. And I think that conversations among blog authors across ideological lines started to fall off after comments sections came into being. Opportunity costs of time kick in-- most blog-authors do read their own comments sections, and that surely changes the overall ideological balance of who they're spending time online reading. The objections one starts to notice to one's own position come from one's loyal readers-- so a center-left blogger will start to encounter primarily objections from the left, and vice-versa. That has an effect of its own. At least for some bloggers, the effect is a predictable echo-chamber one, and the positions become more extreme.

The main question here that underpins Levy's argument is what drives a blogger? Everyone wants to be liked. So when composing a post topic the author of a blog with comments tends to trend towards topics that receive greater attention and interest from the readers and commenters. As commenting is an effective form of feedback it has a great impact on where a blogger chooses to go with their blog. In a vacuum the decisions on posting and writing style of a blogger would be different and, Levy seems to believe, better.

I believe that what Levy is advocating here is the big fish small pond blogging. a blogger becomes too rapped up in his own blogs importance and that becomes his world. Validation comes from his or her own readership and not from the wider net. I am reluctant to embrace this view for a couple of reasons.

The first is that i think that the most popular bloggers became so because what they were doing already appealed to the readers. The audience is not captive like the professor and the students. Certainly their is a pressure to keep an audience once you have it and derive you lively hood from it but you would never have built that audience if what you were offering was simple echo level writing and i doubt you would keep it if you descended to that level. There is too much competition and desire for quality work for bloggers to stay on top if they lose what made them worth reading. The writers lead and the commenters follow in a majority of the best blogs. At least imo.

I also contend that the level of interblog discourse is not any less than back in the day but the ideological separation is. Several quality bloggers like John Cole and even Andrew Sullivan were once conservative bloggers. However as Bush has run that side of the ideological world into the ground the quality conservative bloggers are just not numerous or prominent enough to engage in blog to blog level discussions of issues. In fact John Cole does often have interblog discussions with Daniel Larrison on numerous topics. Also, the liberal side of the blogosphere is always quoting and responding to one another. You can find evidence in this of the Turkey good or bad threads from Ezra and Matt Yglesias and John Cole. The liberal side is often responding to one another. They just dont want to touch the crazy of K-Lo in a serious manner.

I think commenting has also provided a required means of feedback on an authors thoughts that can help to fill in gaps in logic or general knowledge on any topic. This does carry the danger that Levy describes if your readers are all left of center and carry you off to their position but the best bloggers are going to be capable of evaluating any commenter arguments and sorting the quality from the crazy. How is a writer supposed to improve their writing if they never get the feedback from the readers?

Also, note that Kevin Drum does friday cat blogging and John Cole often has pet related posts while Yglesias talks about the NBA. Ezra Klein does food. So while Levy makes an interesting argument about comments leading to a change in blogging im not sure it holds up. Thoughts or dare i say comments?


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