Female Representation: Iraq

>> Friday, January 30, 2009

With our own major economic problems little has been said about the upcoming elections in iraq. Saturday is the provincial election in iraq and among the 14,400 candidates about 4,000 are women. I have written before on the rates of women in parliaments around the world. Surprisingly Iraq has a law that mandates at least 25% of the parliament consists of women.This law also exists to ensure 25% representation on local councils. This law has obscured the battle that women fight for political and legal rights in Iraq.

The provincial elections in Iraq will be a test for women because of the way the elections will be run in this cycle. Previously Iraq used a party list system where the voters picked a party who would then pick who occupied the council seats. Now the lists are being made public and this increased transparency has led to both advantages and disadvantages for the female candidates.

The first and most obvious issue is the possibility of assassination or other threats by hard line militias. This is a serious threat as an article in the NYT illustrates,

Some female candidates have had their posters splattered with mud, defaced with beards or torn up, but most have been spared the violence that has claimed the lives of two male candidates and a coalition leader since the start of the year. But on Wednesday, a woman working for the Iraqi Islamic Party was killed when gunmen burst into her house in Baghdad and shot her 10 times in the chest, according to an Interior Ministry official.
Liza Hido sat on a municipal council but was forced to quit in 2006 after receiving threatening e-mail and text messages on her cellphone.

She is running again this year but, still concerned for her safety, she is keeping her campaigning discreet, putting up no posters and making no public appearances. Instead, she restricts herself to private gatherings.

The lives of these women in Iraq are under constant threat from the hard liners. For example in Basra for women were killed in 2007 for not wearing a veil. They also struggle against the dominant male culture who tend to view women as domestics, sex objects and child bearers. This makes election to public office difficult. The oppressive cultural issues have led some women like Bushra al-Obeidi, a law professor at Baghdad University to abstain from participating.

She feels the odds are stacked against women, starting with laws she views as discriminatory and derogatory toward women — one allows a rapist to largely escape punishment if he marries his victim. Ms. Obeidi also has little faith in the commitment to gender equality among the current political leadership, which is dominated by religious parties.

“I assure you,” she said, “they are against women. They are lying to us.”

Her views on the uphill struggle that the women face are justified. There are concerns over the women who will eventually come to sit on the council. Apparently the women chosen on the larger party lists, and are likely to receive the highest level of support, are largely chosen for their tribal connections and not for their merits as representatives. This has been the case to a large extent in the parliament where women are present but lack the ability to make an impact.

Despite the obstacles that these women face in running for election there are many devoted woman's rights activists who are attempting to fight against the the militias and culture. The Times tells the story of, Mahdiya Abed-Hassan al-Lami,Amal Kibash and the story of Suhaila Oufi and Halima Abdul Jabber Ismail is found here. They have adopted the mentality that the only way to change the situation for women in Iraq is by being active, by working within the system.

But even if they win, they face numerous hurdles, particularly the entrenched attitudes of most Iraqi men, who view women as either sex objects or child bearers who have no place in the rough-and-tumble arena of politics. “This is the mentality,” said Safia Taleb al-Suhail, a member of Parliament and the daughter of a prominent Shiite tribal leader assassinated by Saddam Hussein’s henchmen in Lebanon in 1994. “We have to change it. How can we change it? By fighting.”

I think that the only way for women to advance their rights inside iraq is to fight, to take part in the system. The principles of the social movements in america have made it clear that only through struggle and commitment to change will things get better. If the qualified women like al-Obeidi refuse to get involved because of the daunting obstacles then its hard to see things changing. I know that's easy to say since i live in America where i dont have to fear for my life for going out in public. I cannot condemn al-Obeidi but i can support the women who do risk the reprisals to fight for the woman's rights by getting elected.


The stimulus negotiation

>> Thursday, January 29, 2009

i think it went like this,

The usual democrat and republican negotiations proceed like this,

Democrat: We want to work together to pass a bipartisan bill that helps the country.

Republican: Great we would love that too.

Democrat: Here is our bill. it focuses on proven methods of increasing economic productivity and we even through in tax cuts cause we know you love those.

Republican: What? This bill is an insult! I thought you wanted to be bipartisan! How could you include things like funding for "science" and "education"? Plus there are not nearly enough tax breaks for business.

Democrat: Ok well, we will take out that objectionable funding to make you happy and we will increase the tax cuts. So now you are going to support this bill right?

Reoublican: This bill is offensive to conservative principles. I could never in good conscience vote for such a spending bill especially when it lacks a repeal of X tax. Plus some of the money could go to minorities. But i might support it if you took out the spending and replaced it with tax cuts.

Democrat: Oh well then lets increase those tax cuts for you. How bout that?

Republican: We will have to think about it.

Of course the Republican does not vote for the bill and the media accuses the democrat of being insufficiently bipartisan. The end result is compromise that earned the Dems nothing except a greater chance of failure.


Technology Rules My World

>> Wednesday, January 28, 2009

So my laptop died a couple of days ago. The death was long drawn out and fraught with rage. I tried to resuscitate it for hours and ultimately managed to get it on life support. Then it lost a major organ, an internal wireless card, and so it had to go out to be fixed by the manufacturer.

As a law student i am utterly and totally dependent on my laptop. It is actually rather unhealthy. I literately cannot function for very long without my laptop. So my solution to the absence of my laptop for the next several weeks...purchase a new one.

I decided that i should purchase a second laptop so that i could get through the next several weeks. I purchased one of those mini laptops you see at best buy for a cor a couple hu8ndred dollars. So far i am extremely impressed by it. Its not big but it has the advantage of being very light. It has lots of memory abd is capable of running the word processor i need and it seems to do fine with movies as well. The only draw back is that it lacks a disk drive. if i want one of those i have to purchase an external one.

I wonder how many other people out there cant go without a lap top or a computer for several weeks. Is it just because im a law student that i find i need a computer at virtually every hour of the day? An over dependence on technology is one of the core themes of science fiction. In many of the dystopic futures we became so dependent on technology to live that we essentially lost our humanity. I dont think im at that point yet but its easy to see the theme as especially important in modern society.

So hopefully i can get back on a more regular blogging schedule.


War on Terror Over?

>> Friday, January 23, 2009

I have been extremely busy and a little sick so my blogging has been very irregular. However, i have seen something that deserves a post. The issue is whether or not the "War on Terror" is over. I am prompted to explore this based on several pieces, one in the WaPo, one by Yglesias, and one in TAP. These pieces have made several important points about not only an end to the phrase, "War on Terror", but the mindset behind it. If Obama is truly ready to end the mentality it can only be considered a dream come true for non neo-cons everywhere.

The first piece on the demise of the "War on Terror" is in the WaPo. It presents a story where Obama is the man undoing the WoT at the stroke of the pen.

Key components of the secret structure developed under Bush are being swept away: The military's Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, facility, where the rights of habeas corpus and due process had been denied detainees, will close, and the CIA is now prohibited from maintaining its own overseas prisons. And in a broad swipe at the Bush administration's lawyers, Obama nullified every legal order and opinion on interrogations issued by any lawyer in the executive branch after Sept. 11, 2001.

I have issues with the post piece. The first is that they present the WoT era as solely the provenience of George W. Bush. The unifying theme of the piece is that this was Bush's war. While it is true that Bush was definetly a leading figure and fully culpable for the abuses that embodied the WoT the article misrepresents exactly how the WoT played out. The Post conveniently leaves out the idea that people were opposed the WoT. Instead it sounds as if the WoT was afad Bush sold the people on that the eventually tired of. For example,

It was a swift and sudden end to an era that was slowly drawing to a close anyway, as public sentiment grew against perceived abuses of government power. The feisty debate over the tactics employed against al-Qaeda began more than six years ago as whispers among confidants with access to the nation's most tightly held secrets. At the time, there was consensus in Congress and among the public that the United States would be attacked again and that government should do what was necessary to thwart the threat
The published reports in The Post and elsewhere earned the news media sharp recriminations from the administration, the Republican leadership in Congress and the public. Government leak investigations were launched. Bush administration officials argued that such methods and operations were necessary to effectively thwart terrorism, noting to this day that there have been no major attacks since 2001.

If there were dissenters back then, they were largely silent.

While the moves made by Obama do end many of the Bush tactics for battling terrorists the post piece fails to detail any long term actions taken to ensure it never happens again. By presenting the death of WoT as something organic, something that would have died even without Obama, there seems to be no need to make long term changes. This is wrong. The key is to augment the inducement to comply with substantive law. This means Congress needs to act and forbid these practices.

If we take the Post version of the WoT death we will not do enough to prevent future abuses. It was not Bush alone and to portray it that way is dishonest. While the Post counts the WoT as dead Matt Yglesias is more cautious, here and here.

One thing that a number of people have noticed during the transition and the first few days of the Obama administration is that Obama and his appointees don’t, generally speaking, use the phrase “war on terror.” But when pressed, they don’t disavow the term either. They’ve just kind of backed away from it.


Back during the campaign, meanwhile, Obama said he didn't just want to end the war in Iraq, he wanted to "end the mindset that got us into the war in the first place." The idea of a hazily defined "war on terror" would certainly seem to qualify as an important part of that mindset. But thus far, Obama and his team have been mighty ambiguous on the issue. Obama isn't prone to using the phrase himself, but back during the primaries, all the Democratic contenders were given a specific opportunity to disavow it, and only John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich stepped up to the plate. During confirmation hearings neither Attorney - General Eric Holder nor Secretary of State Hillary Clinton nor any of the new Pentagon sub - Cabinet officials spoke of a "war on terror." But on the day of his rollout as Obama's choice to run the CIA, Leon Panetta committed himself "to consulting closely with my former colleagues in the Congress to form the kind of partnership we need if we're to win the war on terror."

Obama himself split the difference in his inaugural address, eschewing the WOT terminology, but arguing that "our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred."

Yglesias TAP piece does a much better job at addressing the real issues with the WoT. His piece looks at the strategic flaws and failures of the WoT. This contrasts with the Post Piece that looks simply at the demise of the tactics. A tactical change does not herald an end to WoT because that leaves the conceptual framework in tact. Yglesias succinctly illustrates why this should not be labeled a war,

Simply put, terrorists are not warriors. The German soldiers my grandfather fought during World War II killed people, but they weren't murderers; they were soldiers. When captured, they became prisoners of war, not criminals. Some on the Nazi side were, of course, criminals -- war criminals -- and were charged as such. But the typical German soldier was a soldier, entitled to return to his home and family unmolested if he survived the war. Men who blow up nightclubs and train stations and demolish office buildings, by contrast, are murderers. We neither should nor will treat them as soldiers. But insofar as that's the case, we're not at "war" with them any more than we're actually "at war" with the guy who used to sell me pot.

Just as we don't afford terrorists the wartime exemption from prosecution, however, we must observe restraint in going after terrorists. If the FBI has reason to believe a terrorist is holed up in an apartment somewhere in Philadelphia, we don't bomb the building -- we arrest the terrorist. The same thing is generally true abroad -- we need to work with friendly law enforcement to unravel plots against targets in Europe and Canada and other Western nations. But we don't fire mortars or drop bombs in friendly cities -- we seek cooperation with local governments.

Its still too early to tell if the WoT is truly dead as an idea and a mindset. Obama has only been in office for a couple days and the people who supported the policies are not totally gone. The key will be to convert the image of the fight against these subnational groups as a law enforcement issue. Obama has yet to fully transform his rhetoric to reflect this. When he says "we will defeat you" it is not the language of law enforcement.

Instead i would like to see the language and the framing shift to arrest and trial in civilian courts. This is the other key point, the trial of those arrested in civilian, not military, courtrooms. Trials in military courts lend weight to the idea that this is a military action. War criminals are tried in front of the military, criminals are in tried in front of civilians.

Most of what i have said is not particularly new. However it is important to keep the pressure on Obama and on those who backed the WoT in the past. If the coverage from the Post is typical of the coverage on the WoT then Obama is going to get lots of well deserved credit for his initial actions. Without additional pressure Obama will take this credit and move on to the myriad other challenges that we face of a country. By definition a stroke of the pen cannot end the WoT. the WoT is a mind set, a strategy and there is much more to work on before we can truly consider the WoT dead.


A Scary New Other

>> Monday, January 19, 2009

Hilzoy has a post up at the Washington Monthly that reflects on the changes in race relations since the 80's and early 90's. There is a great deal of interesting things to discuss but what id like to talk about is the significance of pop culture and media on the racial dynamic. As a young person i feel justified in expounding on some of the assertions that Hilzoy, and the writers she cites, make.

The first idea put forth for why race relations have cooled is by Josh Marshall who writes,

"American mass culture found a more useful scary other: Arabs and Muslims. That's a key thing that isn't pretty but I think is also true."

Its one of those observations that if you ever want to know who the American enemy is you must simply look to Hollywood. During the days of the cold war the enemy was often a communist or soviet. Then as the geopolitical game changed we saw the increasing use of the arab terrorist as a villain. The use of brown skinned people is a familiar film device,

Parenti (1992) points out that according to the genre traditions, the hero is traditionally a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant male who is saving the Western civilization from threats to its structures and way of life. The antagonist is usually a foreigner, and often his skin color is darker than the skin color of the white protagonist. Parenti (1992) lists Native Americans, black Africans, African-Americans, Russians, Arabs, alien monsters and evil cosmic powers as familiar Hollywood villains. As a character the villain is typically depicted as devil, subhuman, sadistic, anti-American, anti-freedom, anti-capitalist, and of an anti-Judeo-Christian religion (Welsh, 2000; Parenti, 1992; Schatz, 1994).

The villain in action movies is commonly something that people fear. Seeing that fear defeated by the hero is a way to assure the audience of the Wests supperiority and provide hope that good (us) will always triumph over evil (other). Noting this its not surprising to see a new film come out where the villain is actually a bank. Arabs took on a larger role as the other in the white American consciousness.

While arabs were becoming villains on the big screen African Americans were increasingly becoming the protagonists on the small screen. Hilzoy uses The Cosby Show as an example. While i think that might work for some i think my best example is actually Will Smith's Fresh Prince of Bel Air. I remember watching Will and the Banks family engaging in the typical family drama sitcom. It never really made an impact on me that they were Black and that Black people living the lifestyle they lived was something extremely rare.

The importance of portraying Black people as no different than white people is important and should not be understated. By placing Black people into the dominant social narrative television helped to break down any perception in younger viewers that Black people were anything other than regular Americans. As Hilzoy writes,

The general point, though, is: I think that things are very, very different now. A white kid who's now twenty would not have gone to a grade school with no black kids, as I did. She might have gone to a college where people of different ethnicities tended to eat at different tables, but the simple fact that the number of non-whites is vastly higher than it was would have to make interaction a lot more common, and thus no big deal. And black kids who go to Ivy league schools, or end up in investment banks, have many more role models to look to, and so have less need to invent ways of being who they are in those worlds entirely from scratch

I assume that in my life im going to encounter Black people in all different walks of life. Some will be much smarter than i am so more gifted athletically some wealthier. They will be doctors and lawyers and judges, business people. Maybe i'll get to meet the one who is going to be President for the next four years. The point is that as a 20 something i expect to encounter a high number of Black people in positions not available to them during even my father's lifetime. I just assume that not only will they be there but that they should, that it is normal.


Immigration, School, Segregation, Identity

>> Tuesday, January 13, 2009

January 9, The New York Times carried an article on a special school in Minneapolis. This school was a charter school. Part of movement in education that publicly funds schools that run by independent no governmental school boards the Minneapolis school is one that caters to immigrants, and the children of immigrants. The school in question is the International Elementary School, a charter school of about 560 pupils. The International school has a partner high school and middle school. The story of these schools is a perfect illustration of the immigrants identity struggle and the importance of the school in American society as well as the issue of segregation.

The Times article is only two pages long, which i think is a shame. The issues that the school and the thought behind it present are extremely important in a number of ways. The first of these is the way the schools allow for the retention of an immigrant identity that runs counter to the traditional model of immigrant assimilation.

The curriculum at the Twin Cities International Elementary School, and at its partner middle school and high school, is similar to that of other public schools with high academic goals. But at Twin Cities International the girls say they can freely wear head scarves without being teased, the lunchroom serves food that meets the dietary requirements of Muslims, and in every classroom there are East African teaching assistants who understand the needs of students who may have spent years in refugee camps. Twin Cities International students are from Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan, with a small population from the Middle East.

Amid the wave of immigration that has been reshaping Minnesota for more than three decades, the International schools are among 30 of the state’s 138 charter schools that are focused mostly on students from specific immigrant or ethnic groups. To visit a half-dozen of these schools, to listen to teachers, administrators and parents — Somali immigrants who are relatively new to Minnesota, as well as the Hmong and Latinos who have been in the state for decades — is to understand that Ms. Warsame’s high educational aspirations for her children, and her fears, are universal.

These two paragraphs effectively lay out the basic differences between the schools that are designed to accommodate the traditional identities of the immigrants. For example the girls continue to wear a headscarf which is a practice they might give up due to peer pressure. Children are not known for being amazingly tolerant of outsiders and those that dont have the right clothes or pop culture knowledge. The schools also take into account special dietary needs, something public schools fail to do. Both of these are specific examples of links to a traditional culture that simply would not exist in a public school.

Beyond these cultural links the education that the children are receiving is, according to the Times, actually maintaining the traditional cultural values of their immigrant identities.

Another father, Jelil Abdella, talked about how it saddened him that his two grown children, who had attended large district schools, did not know how to speak Somali.“They’re neither American, nor Somali,” Mr. Abdella said.

As a newcomer, he said, he was too busy going to school and earning a living — driving a taxi, cleaning floors, working in a factory, picking blueberries — to supervise their educations closely.

“I don’t want to make the same mistake with my younger children,” he said. “I want them to keep the good things we used to have back home — respecting their parents, helping each other, respecting their elders.”

The times goes on to provide a concrete example of this dual identity and traditional culture in action. They use a class debate over the merits of Barack Obama versus John McCain. The take away from this example was not that Obama's policy would be better or that McCain was a better CiC but instead that his age was the most valuable asset,

Yaqub, wearing a dark suit for the occasion, rose again. “John McCain is old,” he said. “It is better to be old.”

At the International school, where elders are revered, even Ridwa was silenced.

The school has managed to maintain even more than the traditional reverence for elders. It has also encouraged another key link to traditional identity, language. The children at the international school are maintaining the language of their ancestors.

At their meeting, the parents talked of the importance of speaking English at school — and Somali or Oromo at home. At other charter schools, Hmong refugee and Latino parents expressed the same wish, the difference being that they want their children to speak Hmong, or Spanish, at home, the other difference being that many of their children are already so Americanized that they are learning their parents’ languages in school.

By maintaining the language, ideals, and traditions these immigrant children may do something that has not been common among previous generations of immigrants to this country, maintaining a healthy dual identity as Somali-Americans or Hmong-Americans etc. This necessarily raises some serious questions about what it means to be American and the consequences of immigrant groups that may not be interested in assimilating into greater American society.

Progressive policies encourage the links to traditional heritage among immigrants. At the same time though we must consider whether separate schools for those who wish to retain their heritage are the best way to go. I think ideally we would want these children to be able to attend a public school along side non-immigrant children that allows them to maintain their heritage. After all we are supposed to be encouraging diversity in education. Are we really promoting diversity if we allow each race or ethnicity to form their own community separate from the others that teaches values and ideals different from each other? The key benefit from diversity comes with the interaction of different view points and backgrounds. It opens up your mind to new ways of thinking. The non-immigrant children may actually be losing an important influence by not interacting with these immigrant children and vis a versa.

I think maybe im just troubled by the "seperateness" of the school. The school itself is based in part on a rejection of American culture. I just cant help but feel that that rejection will set these kids apart in there future. whether thats going to be good or bad im not sure and its possible that im overstating this as all of this could be easily sorted out in the great mixing bowl that is college. The part of culture being rejected is not really even a positive part in my opinion but lacking an interest in many of the same childhood and pop culture experiences can definitely set someone on the path to outsiderness.

The reaction of conservatives to this practice is most likely negative. I can easily picture them complaining that the immigrants are insufficiently grateful for the bounty that America has bestowed upon them and that they need to learn to be proper Americans and not "foriegners". America is no 1 and if they don't understand that they can just leave.

We would not need to have this type of discussion or envision the conservative view if we were able to sufficiently broaden the idea of what it means to be an American. We just finished an election where one of the candidates ran on the idea that their side was winning in the "real" Virginia and where plenty of people were charged with insufficient patriotism. I don't think the immigrants discussed in the story have an insufficient love of this country. Its clear from the text that they do love and consider themselves to be Americans.

The story of America is the story of immigration and its really sad that much of the story involves the elimination of the immigrants traditional heritage. Hopefully we can find a way froward so that schools like the International School are not necessary for immigrants and minorities to maintain their traditional cultural heritage and identity alongside their American one.


Making Electric Cars Viable

>> Sunday, January 11, 2009

The reason that electric cars have not been widely available is because the battery technology for them has not been present. The auto companies have been insufficiently motivated to develop the technology as long as they could make money on the SUVs and other gasoline based vehicles. Both of those things have changed in recent years. New Battery technology is making electric cars into a viable option. The price of gasoline skyrocket briefly illustrating the problems with relying to heavily on that form of power.

The race to get the first economicly viable electric car to market may make or break the big three auto companies. Gm has put all of its chips on Volt.

The Prius, like the Honda Civic and forthcoming Honda Insight, is a parallel hybrid that uses both an electric motor and a gasoline engine to drive the wheels. The Volt, on the other hand, is a series hybrid. Like the Prius, it's got an electric motor and a four-cylinder gasoline engine, but the engine merely charges the 16 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery as it approaches depletion. Electricity alone turns the wheels. The Volt is designed to travel 40 miles on a single charge, meaning most drivers will never burn a drop of gasoline. GM is still butting heads with the Environmental Protection Agency over the Volt's official fuel economy rating, but GM execs tell us the Volt is good for 100 mpg or more.

The important fact here is that the Volt gets 40 miles per charge. If we want to measure it as a true electric vehicle than we should only look at the electric battery. 40 miles is not enough for long trips like trips to baseball or soccer tournaments. Its not enough to get from SB to dodger stadium. Yes on average people wont be driving more than 40 miles per day but trips of 40 miles or more are not an uncommon occurrence. This is where the infrastructure comes in.

“What will determine the market is not going to be how far your battery can go, but how far your infrastructure is spread so power is available,” said Shai Agassi, the chief executive of Better Place.

Those 40+ mile trips would entail pulling off the freeway to swap out batteries at a gas station. The infrastructure for a swap out style system is already in place across the country. The only issue is the cost of the swap for new batteries. If the cost is more than 5-10 dollars for new batteries you can see the problem. Long trips where you have to pull over 4 times will end up costing more than it would to make the trip using a gas based car. i suspect that that would have a psychological impact on the consumers.

If the battery could deliver 100 mile range i imagine the problem of distance travel would be largely erase. You would very rarely have to swap out your batteries on a trip. How the economics of this would all work out is anybodies guess. I suspect though that the car companies could find a way to make it work.


Even Bad People Deserve Good Lawyers

The NYT has a piece up on the upcoming confirmation of Erik Holder as Attorney General. This piece focuses on the increased opposition from Republicans in the Senate who are "concerned" about the clients that Mr. Holder represented while in private practice. They seem to believe that there will be conflicts of interest so great that it prevents Holder from doing his job. Now we will put aside the fact that this comes from the GOP the party of corporations, big business, and corruption. Let sexamine exactly what the GOP is alleging here about lawyers role in society, the criminal justice system, and civil dispute resolution.

From the Times,

“We’ve had eight years of an administration that turned a blind eye to corporate criminals,” said Terry Collingsworth, a Washington lawyer who is suing Chiquita over the Colombian protection money and is facing Mr. Holder in the case. “We need someone with his level of experience and cachet to clean up the Justice Department. Yet I do have a concern and I sure hope that he doesn’t carry over his corporate defense practice into his approach to the job and how he handles these types of cases.”

When the National Football League was facing a legal and public-relations disaster in 2007 over a dogfighting scandal involving the Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, it turned to Mr. Holder to help navigate the maelstrom and represent the league. The pharmaceutical giant Merck tapped him as its lawyer in a Medicaid overbilling case that ended in a $671 million civil settlement. And Rod R. Blagojevich, the now-impeached governor of Illinois, picked him, albeit briefly, to investigate for the state a controversy over a casino development and its possible ties to organized crime.

Already, Mr. Holder’s brief association with Mr. Blagojevich has drawn scrutiny from Republicans, who are waging a more spirited campaign against Mr. Holder’s nomination than many had anticipated. Until now, most of the scrutiny has focused on controversies during the nominee’s time as deputy attorney general at the end of the Clinton administration, particularly his role in the pardon of the fugitive financier Marc Rich.

In responding to written questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr. Holder made no mention of a 2004 announcement in which Mr. Blagojevich introduced him as a “special investigator” under a $300,000 contract with the state.

The appointment fell through, and Mr. Holder’s aides said his failure to mention the episode had been an oversight that was soon corrected. But some Republicans said they were troubled by the omission. Three Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee — Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, John Cornyn of Texas and Charles E. Grassley of Iowa — sent the governor’s office a Freedom of Information Act request last week seeking documents on the aborted agreement.

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, sharply questioned Mr. Holder’s character and political independence in a speech last week on the Senate floor. Mr. Specter told reporters Friday that he wanted to see more information about Mr. Holder’s private practice, to assess whether he was up to the job of attorney general.

I am sure they are very excited about the Blago link. These Republicans were untroubled by the incompetent people who have filled every executive department under Bush. They were untroubled by the mess created at the DOJ under Bush where the law was bent and malformed to suit their purposes. They were perfectly fine with the unqualified lawyers and severely skewed priorities. Instead they have been full throated supporters and enablers of Bush and his ridiculous legal policies. Now they want to come out and attack Holder for representing clients who need a defense.

I have a big problem with those who attack defense lawyers. Under our system of laws everyone is entitled to a defense. Murderers and Rapists and Corporations are all entitled to a defense. This means that someone must be there to defend them. Someone has to do that. Our system cannot function without a proper defense. Otherwise those who were forced to become involved in the system would have no confidence in its ability to meet out justice. If you were accused of a crime you did not commit yet everyone thought you had you might not end up with a competent defense without good lawyers to defend you.

Even those people who have in fact committed crimes deserve a defense. In those cases we can keep the system honest. Make sure the prosecution proves their case Beyond a reasonable doubt and that they did not violate the laws to do so. Unless those accused of misdeeds can have a good defense the prosecution will simply run over the innocent as well as the guilty.

I differentiate lawyers who defend the guilty from ad execs or people like mark penn because corporations are not entitled to a good public image. we might function better if the general public was not being sold on a rehabbed image of an amoral corporation.

Everyone is entitled to good defense. If the republicans succeed in killing the Holder nomination because he represented some big corporate clients it would be a blow to our very foundation of justice.


Senate Dems Still Back Bush

>> Tuesday, January 6, 2009

There are a certain set of individuals in the Senate who back the decisions made by president Bush on matters of torture and "enhanced interrogation" and those people happen to reside on the senate intelligence committee. The two highest profile members of this torture backing group are Diane Feinstein (D) California and Jay Rockefeller (D) West Virginia. As two members who have always been aware and approving of the Bush intelligence schemes they most certainly meet the level of complicity and conspiracy in the torture crimes. It is not surprising to see them coming out against the Obama pick for CIA head when that person is seen to represent a break from the type of programs and way of doing business they are familiar with.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who this week begins her tenure as the first female chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said today that she was not consulted on the choice and indicated she might oppose it.

“I was not informed about the selection of Leon Panetta to be the CIA director,” Feinstein said. “My position has consistently been that I believe the agency is best served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time.”

The choice of Panetta was seen as a sign that Obama considered it more important to have a steady political hand and astute manager at the helm of the agency, rather than someone with deep operational experience.

In picking Panetta, Obama risks raising anew questions about the politicization of the CIA, a concern cited by leading congressional officials.

A senior aide to Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), outgoing chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that the senator “would have concerns” about a Panetta nomination.

Rockefeller “thinks very highly of Panetta,” the aide said. “But he’s puzzled by the selection. He has concerns because he has always believed that the director of CIA needs to be someone with significant operational intelligence experience, and someone outside the political realm.”

The problem with having people who have an extensive operations background in charge is that they are more likely than not going to have some issues with the torture regime of the last eight years. That is, hopefully, the reason that the Brennan candidacy fell through. There are probably some Clinton people available who have been out of the agency for the last eight years but they would be returning to a place much changed since they left with the reorg after 9/11.

DiFi and Rockefeller have never been too concerned about Presidential choices in the past considering the confirmation of Porter Goss, George Tenet, and Michael Hayden, as well as Mike Mukasey, Robert Mueller. They claim that only a person with field experience inside the agency can do the job? Steve Benen answers that,

Turf battles notwithstanding, the more complaints I hear about Panetta at the CIA, the more I find the concerns underwhelming. Feinstein and Rockefeller feel snubbed? Given their recent track record, I don't much care. The head of the CIA should come from within the agency? At least six recent CIA chiefs didn't. Panetta doesn't have a background in national security intelligence? Nonsense, as White House chief of staff and an ISG member, Panetta dealt with the very sensitive intelligence on a daily basis. Indeed, he learned very well precisely how to process intelligence to help the president see the big picture.

If we start with a premise that Obama wanted to find a credible, experienced manager, who's dealt with intelligence but remains untainted by the Bush-era scandals, Panetta starts to look like an ideal choice.

Far from being ineffective because he lacks field experience Panetta looks like he will bring a great deal of Washington know how to the table. He understands budget fights and the political machinations of washington and can assure the CIA gets its share of money and credit while also keeping the agency in line. If the two honorable senators who have come out against this pick want to cover their torture supporting asses this is not the way to go. They should simply stay quiet and hope everyone forgets about their maleficence.


Is there a price for obstructionism?

>> Friday, January 2, 2009

Steve Benen has a post up regarding the failure of the GOP to consider moderating after its heavy rejection at the ballot box this year. The post progresses as you might expect with a quote from a moderate followed by the absolute rejection of that quote my the rest of the GOP. What is interesting though is the update,

Post Script: The Times piece added, "It remains to be seen how aggressively Republicans will try to wield the filibuster threat. They have recently signaled they will fight Obama's economic recovery plan if it moves too quickly. But there are political risks if the GOP is seen as obstructionist at a time when voters are clamoring for economic relief and change."

Maybe, but that risk existed in the last Congress and Republicans didn't care. And if the GOP leadership is convinced that it has to be even more conservative to win in the future, their embrace of obstructionism may be unaffected.

To say the Republicans did not care is an understatement. Here is a chart produced by Nate Silver at 538 to show the progression of the filibuster over time.

As you can see the filibuster and the cloture vote have exploded in the most recent congress. The GOP was also decimated in the most recent election. The problem is that they did not lose this election in any part because of the obstructionist tendencies they displayed. The framing of the filibuster is such that the media reports it as a failure of the Democrats to get enough votes to pass a bill. This has essentially raised the threshold for passing legislation from 51 votes to 60 votes. Yglesias explained the dynamic perfectly last year,

It seems, though, that the GOP has decided that if they use filibusters to obstruct congressional action that the press will keep reporting this in a "congress fails to do X" kind of way rather than a "GOP obstructionism" kind of way, which makes filibusters a win-win for Republicans.

The evidence points to the idea that there is in fact very little to no price being paid by the GOP for obstructing the Democratic senate. The biggest threat that the obstructionist Senators face is that they fail in their reelection bids but the Dem gains were so great in the last election it is hard to imagine that the GOP continues to lose more senate seats next time around based on obstructionism. The most obstructionist senators are coming from the most conservative states so the odds of them getting tossed out is not very high.

The conservatives are going to continue on the obstructionist path until something changes to stop them. The options for that are basically two fold. the first is to simply get rid of the filibuster all together. The argument for this is that the passing of legislation already has enough road blocks to keep the bad legislation out. I am dubious about this especially because of the recent passage of the FISA bill but its not like the filibuster was effective in stopping that. it seems like it is only employed to stop things progressives might actually like.

The second option is to require that the GOP actually filibuster. Currently they just announce that they are filibustering something and Reid treats it as a real filibuster. Instead we might like to see the GOP up there reading the phonebook for 48 hours and reenacting Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. That would change the media reporting to the actual filibuster instead of the failed vote for cloture. As added bonus it would be entertaining as hell.

Of course now that we have a Democratic president the Republicans might be a little more wary about blocking popular legislation. As long as the focus is placed on the failure of the dems and Obama to do anything about our situation the Republicans can continue to block to their hearts desire without any price.


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

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