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?



>> Thursday, November 27, 2008

It appears that the SOFA so long in the works has passed the Iraqi Parliment. Juan Cole,

Reuters reports that the Iraqi parliament passed the US-Iraqi security agreement, which stipulates that all US troops will be out of Iraq by 2011. of 275 members of parliament, 198 attended and 145 voted in favor. That means it barely passed from the point of view of an absolute majority, though it was a clear simple majority. Apparently the al-Maliki government bowed to Sunni Arab demands that the agreement be submitted to a national referendum, California-style. If that is true, it is possible that it could still be rejected by the Iraqi people. But al-Maliki got it through parliament by painting opponents as implicitly opposing a US withdrawal, and that campaign tactic may work with the general public, too.

The key to whether the populace ends up voting for this will be the spin attached. If al-maliki is able to present this as the best way to get the troops out then there is a decent chance it passes. The Iraqi's want the US out and whichever side is able to make their side the withdrawal side is going to win.

Back home it is not right that there is no official english translation available. It is not right that the congress does not get to revue this. A lame duck president widely despised and who might go down in history as the worst president ever has committed the US to three more years of an unpopular war without allowing for debate or even review of the terms.


A New Hobby of Hate: Beaner Hopping

>> Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Note: All events are alleged and accused are innocent until proven guilty.

There are some things i fail to understand. Random acts of violence against minorities being one of them. Its hard for me to understand the motivation behind, say, driving around with your friends and assaulting hispanic people. What on earth does that gain anyone? Sadly this appears to be what happened in Long Island.

Here are the events as alleged by the prosecution in the case,

Mr. Spota said three defendants, Anthony Hartford, Kevin Shea and Jose Pacheco, all 17, went out driving five days before Mr. Lucero was killed with the intent of, in their words, “beaner hopping.”

They found a Hispanic man that day whom Mr. Pacheco admitted to punching and knocking out cold, Mr. Spota said. That victim has not stepped forward. Mr. Pacheco later told the police, “I don’t go out and do this very often, maybe once a week,” Mr. Spota said.

About 5 a.m. on Nov. 8, Nicholas Hausch and Jordan Dasch, both 17, fired a BB gun at Marlon Garcia, hitting him several times. In the evening, the seven friends got together and, after failing to find potential victims in Medford, set off for Patchogue, where they saw Hector Sierra walking downtown. They caught up to him and punched him before he ran away.

Shortly before midnight, the teens saw Mr. Lucero and his friend, Angel Loja. They got out of their car and taunted the men with racist slurs. Mr. Loja fled, but the group surrounded Mr. Lucero and punched him in the face. Trying to defend himself, Mr. Lucero removed his belt and swung it, striking Mr. Conroy in the head. Enraged, Mr. Conroy rushed at Mr. Lucero and plunged a knife into his chest. The youths fled, but were soon caught by the police.

Mr. Conroy was the only one charged with murder, Mr. Spota said, because the other six defendants were initially unaware that he had stabbed Mr. Lucero.

There are several important things in this story. The first is that the boys are being charged with hate crimes. Hate crimes are an interesting idea because they essentially make some murders worse than others. That strikes me as a strange concept. Do we really value human life more based on certain thought process? Are people going to be less inclined to commit hate based offenses because we make the penalties harsher? I really doubt that those who act out of hate are going to be deterred by increased penalties.

The second thing that strikes me as strange here is that one of the accused, Chris Kirby, is of hispanic decent. That makes his alleged hate crime a hispanic person attacking a hispanic person out of hate. Maybe that right but to me it seems odd. It makes me wonder whether what was happening here is a "hate" crime or merely a crime of bullies picking on people considered less powerful in society. By picking on hispanics they had the increased probability that the people they attacked would not report them. This is in fact what occurred,

Every now and then, perhaps once a week, seven young friends got together in their hamlet of Medford, on eastern Long Island, to hunt down, and hurt, Hispanic men. They made a sport of it, calling their victims “beaners,” a reference to the staple Hispanic dish of rice and beans, prosecutors said on Thursday.
“We know for sure that there are more victims out there.”

It just happened that this time they killed a man. Not only that but the man they killed had family, family he worked hard to support. Specifically this man was a 16 year resident of the united states who worked at a dry cleaners to send money to his ailing mother in Ecuador.

Tragically the role of hate crimes charges are likely to become increasingly relevant. In times of economic hardship as jobs become more scarce those at the bottom end of the income spectrum are placed in greater and greater economic competition. In the past this has led to increases in violence against minorities and other groups viewed as outsiders.

I doubt that there is a way to eliminate crimes based on hate as long as that hate exists generally in society. Until that happens we need to make sure that those who commit crimes against people due to race, gender, sexual identity, disability etc are brought to justice. We should do this because these people need to be brought to justice for their crimes, hate based or not. If what is alleged is true these kids did something pretty sick and the penalties should be severe whether it was against all hispanics or all whites.

There is a question about whether it is justified to aggravate a crime based on thought as i discussed earlier in the post. I will concede that that is not the justification for why hate crimes are punished more severely. The idea behind it is that the crime is against not the sole person or society in general but the select historically oppressed group. Due to this other dynamics come into play like the possibility of racial strife breaking out. To minimize this the justice system highlights the fact that those communities can feel like they gt justice by adding punishment on top of the crimes as a signal to the victimized group that the power structure is paying attention.

I am not sure that truly washes in practice, that punishing someone for the killing because they did it in hate and punishing them because killing is wrong brings any more justice. However in general if society feels that aggravating punishment because of hate is morally right and necessary it is hard to argue against it.

One thing that hate crime legislation has the potential to do that i am in complete agreement with is allow for the Federal Government to step in and prosecute and assist in cases where the local government is unable an unwilling to act. That i think is something that would increase the justice for those who commit crimes based on hate. Unfortunately, the legislation that would have made a great step forward in this area failed to make it out of the senate this last congress. Bush's veto threat and the fact it was attached to the Department of Defense (DoD) Authorization bill are blamed for the failure of the legislation.

Enacting legislation that allows for the federal government to step in when locals are incapable of prosecuting hate crimes is just one more task left to president obama. Just imagine if the alleged events that took place in long island where overlooked because the victims were hispanic. No one could claim that is justice for Mr. Lucero.


Bailout Financial but let the Auto's fail?

>> Monday, November 24, 2008

Look i know that the Auto industry is not the poster child for intelligent business model and that the ceo's who came to the hill to beg were stupid to do so in private jets but the scrutiny given to the Auto industry is actually pretty extraordinary when compared to the financial sector. Especially considering that the auto sector probably provides more jobs when its all counted up.

Part of this is that everyone has been pissed at the auto club for a while because they have undermined CAFE standards and produced bloated SUV's. The other is that the south had those union free auto plants that they want more of. The final part is that the financial people are more than happy to give oversight free bags of money to their friends who they know deserve it lest the entire world crumble.

I actually dont oppose putting some steele strings on this bail out money for autos but i would like to see the same response given to those companies like citi who come begging for money and seem to get it instantly.


A Law that Needed Changing

>> Sunday, November 23, 2008

The NYT reports,

A 14-year-old California boy became the last teenager reported abandoned under Nebraska’s safe-haven law, which was just changed to limit such drop-offs to infants 30-days-old or less.

The boy, from Yolo County, Calif., was left at the Kimball County Hospital late Friday afternoon by his mother, who drove to this town in the Nebraska Panhandle.

The boy is currently in a foster home. Nebraska officials are contacting the appropriate agencies in California.

It brought the total number of children left at hospitals to 36 since the law went on the books in July. Many of them were preteens or teenagers as old as 17.

Nebraska lawmakers changed the law on Friday, which previously did not have an age limit for drop-offs. The change took effect on Saturday.

This law was simply not working out well. Allowing people to drop off children in their teens because they tire of them is bad policy. I think that the age limit could be raised to 6 moths without harm but i am not going to quibble.


Suicide Live via Webcam

In one of the most tragic stories i have come across recently a florida college student committed suicide on webcam while others watched.

Police found Abraham Biggs Jr. dead in his father's bed Wednesday, 12 hours after he first declared on the Web site for bodybuilders that he planned to take his own life. He took a fatal drug overdose in front of an Internet audience. Although some viewers contacted the Web site to notify police, authorities did not reach his house in time.

There are a lot of sick and messed up things out on the net including videos of death, rape etc. Those are terrible but i think that watching people commit suicide live is worse. Those people who laughed or encouraged him to follow though on his suicide could be charged as soliciting the crime and deserve to have some guilt.

The thing that seems most appalling is that the event took place over the course of hours and not minutes. How were authorities unable to locate and help Mr. Biggs in that time frame? If we have to pass a law allowing authorities access to physical addresses corresponding to ip addresses in cases where people threaten to commit suicide on webcams i think that might be narrowly tailored enough to be meaningful without encroaching on net neutrality. Sadly this will probably not be the last time a tragedy like this occurs.

Never take a person's threats to commit suicide lightly.


Frist ICC War Crimes Trial to Occur

>> Saturday, November 22, 2008

In light of all the domestic and other international problems that are going on right now the first international war crimes trial to be held by the International Criminal Court (ICC) has received almost no media attention here in the US. This is rather unfortunate as America is supposed to be a leader on human rights. Of course this reputation has taken a well deserved hit over the last eight years but in many ways the causes of that decline should raise awareness not decrease it. America has a rocky history with the court and we have decided not to sign on to it out of sovereignty concerns regarding possible modifications required to the constitution. As a result we must look on as bystanders at the courts first trial, that of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo.

Lubanga is charged with he recruitment of child soldiers into his Union des Patriotes Congolais (UPC) and its militia, the Forces Patriotiques pour la Libération du Congo. As his trial is the first for the ICC the court has been debugging itself dealing with procedural issues. Two of the most important of these issues are the participation of victims and the procedures for dealing with confidential and secret documents provided as evidence.

The participation of victims has not been previously allowed in the three previous war crimes tribunals, International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and for the former Yougoslavia, the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Victim participation is an important step for the trials. One of the most important factors in the success of the trials will be the backing of the victimized peoples. these people need to feel as though the trials are just and done with them and for them. Otherwise they lack a legitimacy and an important force in moving forward in international human rights and law. Victims testifying should be similar in nature to any trial where the victim takes the stand and there is no compelling reason, imo, to forbid it as long as their victim hood is established. Victims testifying can only help the population to feel like it is their justice and not something done simply to assuage foreigners guilt or sensibilities.

The second procedural issue deals with confidential evidence.

Shortly before Lubanga’s trial was scheduled to begin in 2008, the Trial Chamber of the ICC found fault with the prosecutor’s proposed use of evidence collected by the UN and NGOs. The evidence was in some 200 documents that could contain exculpatory material that might help the defense prove Lubanga’s innocence. These were documents the prosecutor had obtained on a confidential basis. The court ruled that the prosecutor should share the evidence with the Trial Chamber and the defense. Since the prosecutor did not immediately have permission to share the documents, the Trial Chamber canceled the trial and halted the proceedings.

Tuesday the stay was lifted after the prosecution agreed to allow the defense access to the evidence. The problem as a little more complicated than simple access to the documents Article 67 of the Rome Statute requires the prosecutor to allow the defense access to evidence in his possession that “tends to show the innocence of the accused, or to mitigate the guilt of the accused, or which may affect the credibility of prosecution evidence.” ICC judges found that Moreno-Ocampo had incorrectly relied on a provision in Article 54 of the Statute, under which he may agree not to disclose confidential information obtained “solely for the purpose of generating new evidence.”

The importance of proper and complete discovery cannot be overstated. One of the biggest complaints against the military commissions set up to try the detainees at Guantano Bay is the lack of complete disclosure of the evidence to the defense. Defense lawyers and prosecutors alike have walked away from the trials because of the governments refusal to grant the defense access to exculpatory evidence. Legitimate courts reveal the evidence that may support the defendants innocence. with out the procedure the ICC loses legitimacy completely in the eyes of any nation reluctant to participate. From there it is a short step to the failure of the institution.

The trial of Lubanga will be closely watched in many parts of the world and it should be no different in the US. The trial holds important consequences for the future of international human rights and justice.


Don't Fear the Lieberman

>> Friday, November 21, 2008

Terence Samuel at TAP has a piece up on why allowing Lieberman to retain his job as head of Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is not such a big problem. The heart of the argument is that Lieberman has been boxed in by Obama and the Dems grand gesture of magnanimity,

Where will Lieberman's "independence of mind" lead him next?

My suspicion is nowhere, because whatever vestiges of self-respect Lieberman had left fell away entirely this week. At least standing beside McCain as firmly as he did -- under intensely hostile fire from Democrats -- made him seem, in his own way, courageous and principled. For him to now say, "I didn't mean it," that it was just the "heat of the campaign" seems craven and weak.

Still the narrative that emerged this week was that Lieberman's shape-shifting abilities had saved him yet again. He was the survivor. But while he will chair a powerful and important committee, Lieberman has no margin for error. While Harry Reid and Democrats -- salivating over the potential of having 60 filibuster-busting votes -- made their deal with the devil to preserve the possibility, Lieberman has tied his fate to the whims of a Democratic caucus that will regard him with an unstable mix of caution and suspicion. His days as a free agent are over.

Even if they get it, the 60-vote threshold will not be as critical as Democrats hope. But pretend for a moment that the undecided Senate races in Minnesota and Georgia turn in the Democrats' favor, and they get their 60 votes with Lieberman and Bernie Sanders. How often would Lieberman be allowed to defy the wishes of the party to follow his "independence of mind?"

Approximately none.

This is a solid reflection of the conventional wisdom formed around this incident. Of course it totally ignores the fact that lieberman is bad at his job. The man failed as committee chair. All that aside this article lacks something really important when talking about Joe Lieberman, what is going to motivate him to stay in line?

There is repeated mention that Joe has no margin for independence but no justification of why this is so. The implication is that if Joe acts out he gets booted but that is a much more difficult task than it seems. TO boot joe requires a floor vote vulnerable to a filibuster by the GOP and the optics look terrible. The dems try to bounce joe just when he looks like an independent watch dog conducting serious investigations into Obama's administration. Joe owed Obama before when he campaigned for him in 2006. Joe begged Obama to come help him out and he did. Joe repaid that with a big knife in the back.

The dems have no control over what Joe lieberman does despite all their protestations to the contrary. Joe is going to do what he feels like because he has correctly learned that there are no consequences for his actions. All will be forgiven in the name of "bi-partisanship".



>> Thursday, November 20, 2008

The man is a politician convicted on 7 counts of corruption. I know he is old and its really tough to think of your elders as being bad in any way but he is corrupt. He violated the trust placed in him by the voters of Alaska. That the Senate can stand around and applaud corruption is just shocking and shameful.


Whitewashing History

>> Wednesday, November 19, 2008

An extremely contentious issue in many countries is the content of history textbooks. There have been several international incidents over textbooks in Japan dealing with the Japanese actions during WWII. These incidents occur when one country seeks to beautify their history or install a view less critical of past governments. A debate on these lines is taking place in South Korea right now. The new conservative government is seeking to alter the way history texts deal with the aftermath of WWII and the Cold War.

The controversy in South Korea is a struggle between the left, who favor a dirtier, less pristine view of events following the expulsion of the Japanese and the new conservative government who want a history South Koreans can be proud of.

On Oct. 30, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology demanded that the authors of the Kumsung book and five other textbooks used in high schools delete or revise 55 sections that it said “undermine the legitimacy of the South Korean government.”

“A textbook of modern history should be written in a way that does not hurt our national pride,” it said.

To which the authors responded,

“National pride? Patriotism? They should be based on historical facts,” said Hong Soon-kwon, a history professor and co-author of the Kumsung textbook.

There are multiple topics of contention. One i found to be particularly of interest was the discussion surrounding the first South Korean President Syngman Rhee and Park Chung-hee.

One textbook, published by the Institute for Better Education, says that President Rhee, revered as a nation-builder by the conservatives but detested by liberals as a ruthless anti-Communist, exploited the North Korean threat to “shore up his dictatorial regime.”

The Ministry of National Defense has demanded the Rhee passage be rewritten to say, “He did his best to contain Communism.”

According to the Kumsung textbook, Park Chung-hee — who seized power in a coup in 1961 and tortured political dissidents, while mobilizing the nation for export-driven economic growth — was “a president who placed himself above the nation’s Constitution.”

The Defense Ministry wants this to be replaced with “a president who contributed to the nation’s modernization.”

I dont want to lecture the South Korean government on their history but the left has a much more accurate view of what went on in that time. Just because it is ugly and not too flattering to your national pride does not mean it should be hidden away never to be spoken of again. The shameful things are the ones most in need of sunlight so that they are not repeated.

So why write about a South Korean History Textbook controversy? The underlying principle has value for everyone, especially America at this time. There is going to be a very strong push by the right and many in the center to simply "reconcile and move on." These people are like the right in the South Korean textbook debate. It is better that national pride be papered over and inflated than history be accurate.

The Bush years have been an utter disaster and an embarrassment to America. Yet we cannot simply ignore them an move on. That would be whitewashing history as surely as the South Korean conservatives wish to do in their history books. If we simply let it all go in an effort to move forward without adequately addressing the mistakes and the black ugly parts of the last eight years then we will surely repeat them over and over. While it seems like the easier path to forgive and forget doing so will only see the underlying problems fester and grow worse.

It seems inconceivable now that Bush could possibly be rehabbed into a decent president. His abuses and failures are legion. However, moving on without addressing how they happened and making sure they dont happen again leaves the door open to future whitewashers to come back through and tell a different story about Bush. A story where he was simply misunderstood and did a lot of great things for America. The answer is to open everything up to the light in all its ugly glory. Force people to acknowledge the last eight years happened and they happened and not by chance. Otherwise, its possible future American history books will speak of the 43rd President as one who "fought to bring democracy to the world" and "successfully defended America against terrorists".


Victory for America

After the sad display by dems yesterday when they welcomed Joe Lieberman back into their club we get some good news. It appears that being a convicted felon does hurt your reelection chances. Ted Stevens lost in Alaska. this really is good news for everyone as the republicans dont have to deal with being officially branded the party of convicted felons, the dems dont have to cave to Ted on anything, and the people of alaska are less of a national joke. Not to mention we get another Dem in the Senate meaning were that much closer to seeing actual liberal or just non conservative policies enacted in this country. Congrats to Mark Begich.


Dean Trys to Cover by Blaming Youth

>> Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Howard Dean did an interview with bloggers today that addressed the lieberman situation. He gave a bunch of ansers that were pretty weak tea but this is one i found very bad,

Well, people of my generation think yeah, damn right we should. But in this new spirit of reconciliation, which is why I think Barack Obama got elected by 66 percent of the under 35 vote, maybe if not (unintelligible) I'm very willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the Senators and to Barack Obama on that one. Do we want to have a big fight over what happens to Joe Lieberman? I don't think so. I think we want to have a big fight about whether we have a decent health insurance program or a renewable energy program.

Now being under 35 i feel qualified to voice my opinion on this idea. Making sweeping generalizations that young people would not want to see Joe Lieberman punished for lying and fear mongering misunderstands why Obama was elected. Obama was elected to restore competancy and accountability to the government and to clean up after the Bush Admin. Lieberman is one of those things that needs to be cleaned up. He failed in his job as head investigator of governmental affairs. The man is bad at his job and that is one of the biggest problems young people and people in general have with Bush he was bad at his job.

Also, Gov. Dean may want to consider that those young people voted overwhelmingly against a candidate who Joe Lieberman supported. They voted against Joe's ideas of what we need in a leader so in some way we did vote against Joe Lieberman when we rejected what he stood for. Dont use the youth as an excuse for your spinelessness.


Lieberman My New Hero

I now admire Joe Lieberman in the way most people admire people who get away with everything bad they ever try. I wish i could escape punishment for half the number of transgressions that Joe Lieberman has made. Really is probably the best politician in washington right now. He can simply do whatever he wants. He fully understood the utter spineless nature of the Senate Dems. He must have realized that Senate Dems punishing Joe is like investment banks voluntarily regulating themselves, not gonna happen. Steve Benen makes a relevant post,

Second, let's pause to appreciate just how smart Lieberman is. In this case, I don't mean that as a compliment. It was inconceivable that if Obama won in a veritable landslide, while the Senate Democratic caucus grew by (at least) six seats, that Lieberman would not only get off scot-free, but would also be in a position to dictate to Democrats, without any leverage at all, which outcomes he found "unacceptable." If someone had predicted this scenario to me a month ago, I could have found it ridiculous. And yet, here we are.

Josh Marshall had a post back in June explaining, even before some of Lieberman's most outrageous conduct, that Lieberman was burning bridges that couldn't be rebuilt. "My assumption is that after the November election, regardless of the outcome of the presidential campaign, Joe will be stripped of his chairmanship," Josh said. I agreed wholeheartedly at the time. It was a no-brainer.

Except, it wasn't. Lieberman knows Senate Democrats better than Democratic voters do. My friend Matt told me via email yesterday, "If Lieberman ends up keeping his gavel on Homeland Security, I think we need to stop for a moment and recognize him as the smartest politician in Washington. He will have correctly made a bet about the fortitude of his Democratic colleagues in the Senate and he will have been right, against all apparent odds."

This is a decision, I suspect, that the caucus will regret in the not-too-distant future. It's predicated on the assumption that Lieberman really is a Democrat at heart.

He's not.

Watch the dems give back a huge number of seats in 2010. People did not vote to strip lieberman but they voted for a change and part of that change was accountability and a spine. clearly the dems dont appreciate that.


No Honeymoon for Obama

>> Monday, November 17, 2008

The election of Barack Obama to the office of the presidency with the margin that occurred has sparked talk of a mandate. This has in turn sparked conversation about priorities and what obama is going to do first and how he is going to use the mandate before it runs out. The time frame given for Obama to get something done has merged with talk over Obama's first hundred days in office based on a "honeymoon period" where congress would be afraid to oppose such a popular president. This talk is wildly off base.

The American Prospect has an article up right now that discusses patience. Patience in acting and governing. It dovetails well with the point i am trying to make which is that Obama will not have a honeymoon period so he should not count on one but use his typical long term strategy to make the best out of his entire term.

Obama will need a full reservoir of that same patience in the White House, because he'll face similar frantic pressure and second-guessing. He will be surrounded by a crippling crowd of people and groups convinced that if their own No. 1 cause isn't enacted in the first 100 days, it will never happen. The conventional wisdom about the presidency is very much the same as the advice Obama was given in the primaries: Move quickly. Overwhelm the forces of the establishment. Use the momentum of the election to achieve the biggest things possible. You'll never be more powerful than on Jan. 21.
For all the romance of Franklin D. Roosevelt's first 100 days, history suggests that presidents do not get a mandate as a mechanical function of their electoral margin, but in fact they build it over time. They earn it not by winning but by governing. They assemble coalitions and use them again and again, and build institutions and make them work. While many good policies and necessary emergency measures were passed in the first 100 days of the New Deal, the innovations that lasted -- those that defined politics until Reagan -- came later, after FDR had consolidated power, forced the Supreme Court to accept a new set of assumptions about government's role in the economy, and won the 1934 mid-term election. Similarly, Reagan did not win a decisive mandate for conservative policies in 1980; rather, like Obama, he was the beneficiary of a coalition made up of equal parts support for his conservatism and revulsion at the previous administration's incompetence. It was not until August 1981, when he assembled bipartisan coalitions to pass his budget- and tax-cutting plans, that Reagan can be said to have had a mandate for conservative policies.

This is not to say that there aren't things that need to be done immediately, such as economic stimulus, closing Guantánamo, and a plan to get out of Iraq. But the changes that will bring about a new political era call for a more patient and steady approach.

Like Roosevelt and Reagan, Obama has the opportunity to become what the political scientist Stephen Skowronek calls a "reconstructive leader," a type that he notes often follows a failed presidency. "John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, James Buchanan and Abraham Lincoln, Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan -- these repeated historical pairings ... suggest nothing so much as an intimate connection between manifest incapacity and towering success in presidential leadership," Skowronek wrote the year George W. Bush was elected. Reconstructive leaders "are party builders; they use their authority to consolidate a coalition that will support the new agenda and dominate electoral politics."

Obama is acutely aware of the need for careful planning to achieve success. He is constructing a team of people designed around legislating and governing. He is also an organizer at heart and good organizers understand the value of patience and laying a good foundation before acting. Current indicators point to Obama trying to do what the TAP article suggests, a party and national restructuring presidency.

I mention that Obama should not focus too much on the first 100 days because he is not likely to find that time period more friendly than any other. The GOP minority is committed to fighting him on pretty much everything. People like John Kyl are ready to try and filibuster any judicial nominee and are committed to fighting a bail out of the auto industry.

Senators Richard Shelby of Alabama and Jon Kyl of Arizona said it would be a mistake to use any of the Wall Street rescue money to prop up the automakers. They said an auto bailout would only postpone the industry’s demise.

“Companies fail every day and others take their place. I think this is a road we should not go down,” said Mr. Shelby, the senior Republican on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

“They’re not building the right products,” he said. “They’ve got good workers, but I don’t believe they’ve got good management. They don’t innovate. They’re a dinosaur in a sense.”

Mr. Kyl, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican, added, “Just giving them $25 billion doesn’t change anything. It just puts off for six months or so the day of reckoning.”

There is no talk there of letting a president Obama go forward unopposed because he was just elected and we know the gop does not believe that obama has received a mandate,

When Franklin D. Roosevelt won his second term for president in 1936, the defeated Republican candidate, Gov. Alf Landon of Kansas, won only two states, Maine and Vermont, and Democrats controlled both houses of Congress by wide margins.

But Obama's win was nothing like that. He may have opened the door to enactment of the long-deferred liberal agenda, but he neither received a broad mandate from the public nor the needed large congressional majorities.

The Democrats fell several votes short of the 60-vote filibuster-proof Senate that they were seeking and also failed to get rid of a key Senate target: Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Republicans, though discouraged by the election's outcome, believe Obama will be hard-pressed not so much to enact his agenda but to keep his popular majority, which he considers centrist, as he moves to enact ultra-liberal legislation, particularly the demands of organized labor.

Obama is going to have to fight the GOP every step of the way. He will take his time and map out a strategy that he best believes will deliver success over his entire term. he gets 4 years in office so why would he waste all but the first 100 days? he wont.

Obama is committed to long term thinking. Everyone has probably heard his quote about how we cant solve global warming with him changing his light bulbs. He views the solutions to our problems as solvable only through collective action sustained over time. Instant fixes are not sufficient to deal with out problems. The notion that Obama, a cautious and pragmatic person is going to commit to the first 100 days or bust idea is wrong. He has no honeymoon period so dont look to see him acting as if he does.


Criminal Charges for Blackwater Guards

>> Sunday, November 16, 2008

Zachary Roth at TPM is reporting on the possibility of Federal Charges for 6 Blackwater guards in relation to a shooting in Nisoor Square. The process seems to be in an early stage such that charges are unlikely. The possibility of actually charging Blackwater contractors for the actions they committed while in Iraq carries significant legal ramifications. It will shed light on an emerging and important doctrine of US foriegn and judicial policy, the extension of jurisdiction of domestic US courts over troops and civilians abroad.

Blackwater is not a particularly popular corporation here in America or abroad. One of the reasons that this is so is that is perceived that they operate with no rules an no oversight and are subject to no law. This makes for a very bad image not helped by the reports of events like the shootings at nisoor square. The damage done to America's reputation is not minor as Blackwater has been employed by the state department to the tune of $1.25 billion. However the department of justice seems to have taken note of the furor over the lack of legal oversight and has slowly begun to create a doctrine for criminal liability of civilian contractors in war zones.

Among the issues under discussion at the Justice Department is whether prosecutors have authority to bring the case. The largest security contractor in Iraq, Blackwater operates in a legal gray area. Its guards are immune from prosecution in Iraqi courts and U.S. law does not normally apply to crimes committed overseas.

To prosecute, authorities must argue that the guards can be charged under a law meant to cover soldiers and military contractors. Since Blackwater works for the State Department, not the military, it's unclear whether that law applies to its guards.

It would be the first such case of its kind. The Justice Department recently lost a similar case against former Marine Jose Luis Nazario Jr., who was charged in San Diego with killing four unarmed Iraqi detainees.

The law referenced in the quote is Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, passed by Congress in 2000, to address crimes allegedly committed in combat. Its original purpose was to catch soldiers like Nazario that managed to become discharged from the Army and are not in the reserves who are charged with crimes resulting from their time in service.

The relevant statutory language is

Whoever engages in conduct outside the United States that would constitute an offense punishable by imprisonment for more than 1 year if the conduct had been engaged in within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States [1]while employed by or accompanying the Armed Forces outside the United States shall be punished as provided for that offense. 18 USC Sec. 3261(a)(1).

If we take a plain language reading of the statute then we have to look at whether the contractors charged were with the army at the time of the Nisoor Square shooting. They were not. This leaves the Justice Department in a bit of a bind. They have to hope that the courts take a broad view of what the term "accompanying" means to find that the jurisdiction extends to the Blackwater Guards under 3261. Do not count this broad interpretation out.

What we have going for us is the argument that public policy absolutely supports bringing Blackwater and other civilian contractors under jurisdiction of US courts. No one is above the law or outside the law and yet if the court rejects the interpretation that brings the contractors under US federal court jurisdiction that is what happens. The US mission in Iraq is undercut by having these contractors act without liability. Also, there is the impact on the troops who have to see these guys traipse about the country with immunity. Blackwater already pays better and now they would officially get to operate with criminal and civil immunity.

Another important point is that the Iraqi government is making a very big deal out of gaining jurisdiction over US soldiers for crimes while committed off duty. The ability to punish those who commit crimes in their country is important and showing that the US is willing to punish our citizens who commit those crimes sends a strong clear and positive message. The Iraqi's might not be so determined to gain jurisdiction if they felt that the alleged criminals were being tried and punished as the should be. That would help speed along the SOFA agreement still in the works.

One consequence of finding that US federal courts do have jurisdiction is that the guards would be tried in civilian courts for acts committed in a war zone. The result of the Nazario trial might indicate a general discomfort among civilians to judge the actions of those in a war zone.

"I don't think we had any business doing that," juror Nicole Peters said at the time. She wiped away tears after the August verdict and later hugged the defendant. "I thought it was unfair to us and to him."

This would have the consequence of rasing the level of proof that the prosecution has to meet. The prosecution would have to prove with a certainty that either the situation was not nearly as chaotic or dangerous as might be assumed or that even if it was dangerous that a soldier or security contractor would have been trained and capable of dealing with the danger in such a manner as to nullify it. Both are tough questions to ask of civilian jurors.

Note that this is groundwork is being laid before Obama takes office. Remember that it will not be completed before he does so even if the Bush admin is inclined to pass on this prosecution President Obama will probably be the one staffing the justice department making sure that political considerations do not interfere with seeking justice.


Romney v Palin

>> Friday, November 14, 2008

The Ap has a piece up on Mitt Romney,

It was a mundane task that highlighted Romney's change in fortunes: Instead of managing a White House transition, or preparing to assume the vice presidency, the man who failed in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination and was passed over by John McCain for running mate is focusing on his family and political interests.

And it may stay that way through 2012 and beyond.

The surprising ascendancy of McCain's eventual pick, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and her popularity among some GOP conservatives have left Romney wondering whether he could wage a viable second campaign for the White House, according to friends and advisers.

well let us see,

If John McCain is not elected president, which one of the following three possible candidates would you be most likely to support for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012?

Mitt Romney 35%
Mike Huckabee 26%
Sarah Palin 20%

Romney should be afraid, very afraid.


Have Some Self Respect

>> Thursday, November 13, 2008

When i read about the deliberation in the senate over whether or not to strip Joe Lieberman of his committee chairmanship i go through alternate feelings. First i get really angry. I mean this is a guy who campaigned against the nominee of the party. He questioned the man's patriotism and he has supported the worst of the power abuses over the last eight years. The man conducted no investigations into the katrina response or any other issue during the Bush presidency. He is one of the worst members of the senate and deserves nothing from the Dems. Yet, it appears he is going to retain his committee chair despite everything. This in turn makes me so sad. The dems really have that little self respect or care about principle that they are going to let this man retain a position of power after everything he has done. It is rather embarrassing in my opinion. Being a Dem apparently means nothing to them. Here is Glenn pointing out why we should hardly be surprised by this.

It is worth remembering that the Democrats who are going to exert dominant political control are the same ones who have provoked so much scorn -- rightfully so -- over the last several years, and particularly since 2006. This is the same Democratic Party leadership which funded the Iraq War without conditions (and voted to authorize it in the first place); massively expanded the President's warrantless eavesdropping powers; immunized lawbreaking telecoms; enacted the Patriot Act and then renewed it with virtually no changes; didn't even bother to mount a filibuster to stop the Military Commissions Act; refrained from pursuing any meaningful investigations of Bush lawbreaking; confirmed every last extremist Bush nominee, from Michael McConnell to Michael Mukasey; acquiesced to even the worst and most lawless Bush policies when they were briefed on them; and on and on and on. None of that has changed. That is still who they are.
That is who Senate Democrats appear well on their way to selecting to serve as their Chairman of Homeland Security, of all committees. That's because nothing that Lieberman has done really bothers them. Endorsing the Iraq War and the full panoply of radical Bush policies isn't disqualifying in the least because so many of them also endorsed that and support it, or, at the very least, it's not a priority for them. They care even less what their "base" thinks, what the so-called "Left" wants. Few things in this world are less likely than them ever taking even a mild stand -- such as stripping Lieberman of his Chair -- in order to defend some sort of political principle, or to punish ineptitude, or to announce that there are certain lines to the Right that can't be crossed. They don't do that. They never have. And it shouldn't surprise anyone that they won't now.

Lets get some maddow in here...

How utterly pathetic.


Iraq Making Painstakingly Slow Progress

>> Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A major fault line of Iraqi politics is the sectarian split between Sunni and Shia. After the brutal ethnic cleansing and hardening of tribal loyalties there exists great distrust between large portions of the populations. This distrust caused the minority Sunni to form their own militias and armed forces to fight against not only the American occupiers and the al queda forces operating in Iraq but to protect against Shia Iraqis. The drop in violence that accompanied the surge had many contributing factors and one of these was putting these Sunni forces onto the American payroll, paying them not to shoot at us and to fight on our behalf in some instances. Now as we prepare to leave Iraq there is concern over what happens to the 100,000 sunni we have been paying.

It appears that the melding of the 100,000 strong sunni force known as the son's of iraq is actually being integrated into the Iraq police force.

Iraq's ruling Shiites still view the fighters with suspicion. The hostility reflects the deep mistrust between the country's newly assertive Shiite majority and the onetime Sunni elite, who are angry about their fall from power. If the government alienates the Sunni paramilitary fighters, who number nearly 100,000 countrywide, the fighters could restart their insurgency.

But as the U.S. military prepares to start pulling out of the country, responsibility for the Sons of Iraq was transferred to the Iraqi army. The payments Monday marked the last step in the transition.

"Today's a tremendous day," said Brig. Gen. William Grimsley, deputy commander of the Army's 4th Infantry Division, whose area encompasses Baghdad. He and other U.S. military officials played down concerns expressed by many of the Sunni paramilitary members that the Iraqi government might renege on vows to find them jobs in the future. "We're not worried, necessarily, but it's something we all need to watch long-term," Grimsley said.

The first of the paydays is taking place at 36 stations in west Baghdad. All 21,000 of the paramilitary members in the area controlled by the Iraqi army's 6th Division are to be paid by next Monday.

Other provinces will soon follow. The integration is not perfect however as the sunni fighters have yet to be given a chance at any command or higher level positions. this has added to the distrust between the two camps. Freezing the sunni out of the officer corp is not a viable long term solution for a country struggling with sectarian violence. Segregation is not an effective way of reducing tensions between rival factions.

Keeping the pay coming is an important part of keeping the peace. Many fighters are happy with the money for now even though it represents a pay cut from the amount they were receiving from the americans, 300 down from 350. keeping young men with weapons employed and on your side is a good idea. By keeping them employed and maintaining the peace it offers a chance for a reconciliation. This should not be portrayed as a quick and simple process.

If we analogize to the civil rights movement and race relations in the US feelings of racial hatred receded only over decades as younger people who never experienced jim crow grew up and interacted with African Americans. Even now after electing a black president the lingering effects of racial divide were painfully evident. Is it so unreasonable to expect that it will take similar lengths of time to sure up and heal the cleavages in iraqi society that have been based on tribal and sectarian fights centuries old?

The picture is still not very pretty. Violence on a terrible scale is common in iraq. To suggest that everything is better now that some of the sunni have been integrated into the army and police is not credible. However everything requires first steps and this is an important one. If the sunni are able to successfully integrate themselves into the security forces and al maliki refrains from a power consolidation move against them then Iraq will be in a far better position than it was a couple of months ago.


Obama Gonna Do What Obama Gonna Do.

There is a lot of discussion about what Obama is going to do with regards to appointments and with his agenda and whether he is going to be governing from the center or the left or any number of other things. While this speculation is fun and amusing the issue is whether or not any one has any influence over what Obama is planning to do with regards to these topics. I really dont think it matters what pundits or bloggers or reporters or the press says about these things, it wont have any impact whatsoever on what obama plans to do.

If we look back on the primaries and on the election is there an instance where what the press or the blogosphere was saying forced Obama to materially change his plans regarding policy, strategy or tactics. One thing people admire about Obama is his ability to game plan and then stick to that plan. The 50 state strategy and the relentless focus on ground level organizing are just a couple of examples of important long term strategies implemented by Obama.

What then will influence the Obama administration? can they be moved at all towards one policy or another? Obama has committed himself to limiting lobbyist access and has no real affinity for the press and he does not care about what the blogosphere is doing. It will be interesting to see if phone calls the the white house switchboard have the same impact that calls to a senator do.


Religious Freedom

Religious freedom is precious thing. In that spirit i am glad to see the U.N. promoting it. The country leading the way though seems like an unfortunate choice.

Saudi Arabia, which deploys a special police force to ensure that a narrow sect of Islam predominates in the kingdom, is sponsoring a discussion at the United Nations on religious tolerance starting Wednesday.

Hmm. Good lead if somewhat painful to read. For some context,

“It’s like apartheid South Africa having a conference at the U.N. on racial harmony,” said Ali al-Ahmed, a Shiite Muslim dissident from Saudi Arabia based in Washington.

The different religions in this country who demand that their views be the only views in this country should think what it is like to be forbidden their religious views. I am looking at you LDS. Imagine trying to practice your faith in the kingdom.


Faith in Politics

>> Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I question the value of employing faith based social outreach on tax payers dollars. It strikes me that the ability to be even handed in the dispensention of funding for religious orgs is going to be very complicated. I am very skeptical that non-christian groups are going to be reciving the same rate of funding as the christian groups.

Barack Obama is a very religious man. He is very supportive of faith based groups and its not particularly surprising considering his work as a community organizer. He is on record as supporting these groups only so long as they do not proselytize or try to recruit followers with the money given to them by the government. what are the chances that this holds true in practice? not very high i would think. Sure a church group can deliver food to the homeless and provide other much needed social services but there will always be a religious affiliation there. Can you really take the religion out of churches activities?

The outreach also provides a problem of oversight not found in secular relief or social organizations. There needs to be an added level of oversight to assure that the money is not going to fund the church's religious activities. That creates added bureaucracy and seems like a rather unnecessary hassle when we could just avoid dealing in faith based groups.

there are going to be situations where it appears that the only people willing to step in is a church. this is illusory though because as long as the incentive is provided a different group will spring up to fill the void. These groups that work with social ills are not doing this for profit but they need to be financially viable directing aid to other groups could most likely solve an situation where it appears a church is the only answer.

When the government gets into religion everything gets messy and complicated. This is a country where religion is supposed to be absent from government and faith based orgs receiving federal funding just does not seem to work with that.


Why the OLC matters

>> Monday, November 10, 2008

This was in a NYT article in October,

In a newly disclosed legal memorandum, the Bush administration says it can bypass laws that forbid giving taxpayer money to religious groups that hire only staff members who share their faith.

The administration, which has sought to lower barriers between church and state through its religion-based initiative offices, made the claim in a 2007 Justice Department memorandum from the Office of Legal Counsel. It was quietly posted on the department’s Web site this week.
several law professors who specialize in religious issues called the argument legally dubious. Ira C. Lupu, a co-director of the Project on Law and Religious Institutions at George Washington University Law School, said the opinion’s reasoning was “a very big stretch.”

And Marty Lederman, a Georgetown University law professor who worked in the Office of Legal Counsel from 1994 to 2002, said the memorandum’s reasoning was incompatible with Supreme Court precedent. He pointed to a 2004 case, in which the court said government scholarships that could not be used to study religion did not substantially burden recipients’ right to practice their religion because they could still study theology with their own money.

In the same way, Mr. Lederman said, World Vision is free to have an antigang program that hires by faith without using taxpayer money.

I remembered this while writing the brief piece on the OLC and low and behold the man i put forth in that post is the man the Times went to for a quote on this story.

This is the type of decision that hopefully gets overturned and reversed by an Obama administration. I think it is a reasonable inference that the Bush administration went looking for a way to fund religious organizations with tax payer money and they used the OLC to justify it. Whenever that happens the legal reasoning is always going to be transparently thin.

This is an object lesson that activism in law is not done by the liberals alone. Conservatives are just as if not more active in power.


Office of Legal Counsel

>> Sunday, November 9, 2008

The office of Legal Counsel (OLC) is one of the many appointments that President Obama will have to make for his administration. This appointment may not be as high profile as a treasury secretary of secretary of defense but the appointed person plays a critical role in the executive branch, giving opinions of the legality of something. The numerous and infamous memo's suborning torture and infinite detention of "enemy combatants" were products of OLC. The person Obama appoints will have the chore of going through these legal memo's and bringing them into compliance with real law instead of the imaginary law that President Bush subscribed to.

The Anonymous Liberal explains what can happen when the person in charge of keeping it legal is unprepared and unqualified.

After 9/11, John Yoo used his perch at the OLC to authorize a number of illegal activities--from torture to warrantless surveillance--that are not only deeply troubling but have badly damaged America's image in the world. Yoo was allowed to do most of this because the head of the OLC at the time, Jay Bybee, was not familiar with the relevant executive power issues and therefore allowed Yoo to run amok.

When Jack Goldsmith took over the OLC in 2003, he discovered--to his horror--that a multitude of Bush administration programs rested on entirely indefensible legal opinions drafted by the OLC during his predecessor's tenure. He was forced to walk most of them back, a move that caused a major internal dispute within the Bush administration and nearly resulted in the total implosion of the administration just prior to the 2004 election.

Whoever President Obama selects to head the OLC will have a critically important job. Virtually every opinion the OLC has issued during the post 9/11 era--even those written after Yoo's departure--will need to be reviewed and, in all likelihood, rewritten. Moreover, many of the terrorism-related laws that have been passed in the last few years--relating to surveillance, detention, torture, etc.--are filled with ambiguities and language that will require careful interpretation. Many new legal opinions, opinions that will be of enormous consequence, will need to be drafted.

There is a lot at stake. Just as Obama has put together a team to review 200 Bush administration actions and executive orders that could be swiftly undone to reverse the president on climate change, stem cell research, reproductive rights and other issues there is going to be a lot of people working on fixing the legal system.

To fix these issue will take some time. Rewriting and Re-researching all the legal memo's that have come out of the OLC under Bush will take an army of lawyers and researchers. The person selected to oversee the office will need to be ready to go from day 1. AL, Glenn Greenwald and Orin Kerr all have one person in mind, Georgetown Law Professor Marty Lederman.

Professor Lederman is exactly the sort of person I would want in charge of this important task. First, he's deeply familiar with all of the relevant executive power issues, having written about them extensively over the last few years. He is also intimately familiar with the workings of the OLC, having worked there from 1994-2002. And most importantly, I think Lederman has a good sense of what the OLC's role should be (i.e., not merely rubber-stamping whatever the president wants to do).

Seems to make sense. Experienced, apparently competent and qualified. Those should be positives.

I must believe that Obama will not be trying to commit activities he knows to illegal. There is a world of difference between getting an opinion on what is an is not legal and deciding to do something and justifying it after the fact. With Bush gone we might return to the former.

something to keep in mind


The End of DOMA

>> Friday, November 7, 2008

Glenn Greenwald over at Salon has a post on the possibility of Obama working to repeal The Defense of Marriage Act. Many in California, myself included, were simply appalled by the passage of proposition 8. Rest assured that the youth of California has no plans for letting this hang around long term. If prop 8 is not abrogated by the courts i give it less than 10 years before it is repealed by ballot initiative. Until then, the best move for an increase in gay rights is to kill DOMA. Glenn seems to think its possible if not likely and i agree with him.

Here is Obama on his view regarding same sex marriage. Watch all in full if you can and if you may only watch one watch the first one because the follow up is pretty good,

and Biden From the "debate" with Sarah w. Palin,

Other than Alan Keys is crazy, what we can take away from this is that Barack Obama and Joe Biden clearly do not now nor will they ever be a vocal proponent of gay marriage. Obama simply does not believe in it. It is not rationale for us to hold that Obama secretly favors gay marriage but chooses to keep that secret. He is consistent and strong is his advocacy for a civil unions instead of marriage.

What Obama has said is that he is very opposed to DOMA.

Barack Obama has, on numerous occasions, emphatically expressed his support for repealing DOMA. When he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004, he wrote a letter to Chicago's Windy City Times, calling DOMA "abhorrent" and its repeal "essential," and vowing: "I opposed DOMA in 1996. It should be repealed and I will vote for its repeal on the Senate floor." But he went on to cite what he called the "the realities of modern politics" in order to proclaim (accurately) that DOMA's repeal at that time -- 2004 -- was "unlikely with Mr. Bush in the White House and Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress." After Tuesday, that excuse is no longer availing.

We know that Obama continues to hold these positions because he reaffirmed them earlier in the campaign for president.

"He supports the complete repeal of D.O.M.A. which is the same position he has held since early 2004," Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt told ABC News.

In order for President Obama's positions on Civil Unions to be coherent he must repeal at least part of DOMA. Specifically he must repeal section three which is the provision that expressly forbids the federal government from extending the same civil rights to gays that it does to heteros. This was a position that was advocated by Sen Clinton in the primaries and would allow for the federal government to make real civil unions possible without disturbing the traditional definition of marriage.

To be clear right now Obama and Biden's stated position on civil unions and LGBT rights is not compatable with DOMA. ONe of them has to go and really i dont imagine DOMA is going to be the winner on this one for an important reason. The repealing of doma is a position that Obama did not originally hold when he was running for senate in 2004,

When he began his campaign for U.S. Senate, he told a group called Independent Voters of Illinois -- Independent Precinct Organization that he supported D.O.M.A. He then switched to an anti-D.O.M.A. position on Feb. 11, 2004, as the March 2004 Illinois Democratic primary drew near. According to Obama’s staff, the Illinois Democrat changed positions mid-campaign because he heard from gay friends how hurtful D.O.M.A. was.

Obama presumably continues to have a personal stake in this. The only question becomes "when?" With the economic crisis and the health care initiative and the energy initiatives and the infrastructure projects Obama has a full plate. Will Obama be willing to spend the political capital it will take to get this done with so many other things on his plate? It is clear he might have to fight some of the leadership on this because as Glenn points out,

The conventional Beltway wisdom has already ossified, quite predictably, that Obama and the Democrats must scorn "the Left" and, despite polling data showing widespread support for equal rights for same-sex couples, such a move would be deemed by Beltway media mavens as coming from "the Left." Nancy Pelosi is running around decreeing that "the country must be governed from the middle," while Harry Reid emphasizes that Democrats have received no mandate from the election. And, most significantly of all, Democrats are being told they must avoid the "overreaching" of Clinton's first two years, defined by his attempt to eliminate the ban on gay people serving in the military -- something likely to scare Democrats from touching any gay issues.

Pelosi and Reid are either gun shy or just too clever by half. They are not all that good at playing the rhetorical games with out getting burned. Also keep in mind Obama is not Bill Clinton and he is learning from the mistakes Bill made. He is not going to be pushed around or marginalized like some fear. At the very least he has a very large and impressive email list and voter database that provides massive fund raising potential. The site, change.gov, also allows you to sign up for emails. I can wait to start getting emails from my president with updates on what he is doing for me. This stuff will provide a considerable carrot for those in congress to help Obama out when he has something important he needs to get done. Obama is not without leverage.

In the aftermath of the Prop 8 passage the potential for the end of DOMA is heartening. I don't actually have any gay friends that i am aware of but i consider gay people to be people as equal as any one else in this country. That they should be treated as second class citizens makes me physically ill. In light of this i was happy to realize that Obama's current position is incompatible with the continuation of DOMA and he is on record in favor of repealing it. Hopefully, that change Obama was talking about was a change in treating LGBT people from an oppressed class to full citizens with all the rights and privileges they deserve.


O-le,O-le, O-le, O-le! O-le, O-le!

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