Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Comics time + some comments

First, the comic by Matt Bors

Second, this primary season is starting to irk me. It's proving to me why John Edwards should have been top dog in this - he was already a fighter, so getting nasty would be like "oh look, he ripped his opponent a new one. hm." Actually, I guess he was trying to stick to issues, but point is, he was a fighter already. Obama's bleeding hope with every swipe Hillary makes, and recent polls show that Obama and Hillary supporters are increasingly sick of the other candidate, and a mid-june nomination wrap-up is the only way to go. To me, if Hillary gets any more nastier, I might just be an anti-McCain bulldog - not a starry eyed pro-Hillary guy - and grudgingly cast my ballot.

Third, people of various media and non-media backgrounds have been talking about electability lately, and I guess that's a legitimate issue. Apparently Hillary is now leading in the electability poll. But as Stephen Colbert pointed out last night, we picked John Kerry for his electability. In fact, there were several metrics that showed how electable John Kerry was, and look how that worked out for him. And to me, if we should enshrine polls on such a freakin' high alter, why not turn over our elections to John Zogby and just call it a day already, since apparently all of these polls account for the Electoral College and such. And also these polls can predict all future gaffes, scandals, revelations, and the acquirement of new knowledge and perspectives. Right.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Dealing with China's Monster-State

How can the the government of China best be handled?
Our establishment sees it one way, arguing that engagement and dialogue are the best ways to handle China. Since Nixon opened China, the establishment has ignored all but the worst excesses of the Chinese state. When the Chinese killed several thousand protesters in Tiananmen Square, Henry Kissinger, the man (with Nixon) most responsible for opening China, said "China remains too important for America's national security to risk the relationship on the emotions of the moment." He also added "No government in the world would have tolerated having the main square of its capital occupied for eight weeks by tens of thousands of demonstrators." The Bush administration agreed with Kissinger, and gave China little more than a slap on the wrist.
Most president have run denouncing China, and then run administrations friendly to China. Bill Clinton went from calling China a "strategic competitor" to a "strategic partner". Bush agitated for a tougher China policy, but now is friendly with China's leaders.
I agree with our leaders that Chinese prosperity will inevitably lead to changing values and an open democratic society in China, and hence engagement is the best option. What I don't agree with is that China must constantly have its back rubbed by the US in order to maintain stability.
When China was given the Olympics, it was in the hope (encouraged by China's leadership) that this would open up the country to political liberalization. Instead, the government threw dissidents in jail, evacuated thousands of people to build arenas and clamped down on the Tibetans. They won themselves a propaganda prize under false premises. Threatening to boycott seems a perfectly reasonable way to try to win human-rights reform.
So far, I think the increased pressure put on the Chinese has at least in part been effective, as China has agreed to meet with the Dalai Lama. Whether this is lasting is uncertain, but to me it seems clear that we should make a stand on principle.

I Hate the Supreme Court

Today the US Supreme Court voted in favor of a voter making voters have identification, something that will prevent some voters from casting their ballots. From TAPPED:
The key problem with the decision to uphold the statute is summed up in Souter's dissent: "a State may not burden the right to vote merely by invoking abstract interests, be they legitimate, see ante, at 7–13, or even compelling, but must make a particular, factual showing that threats to its interests outweigh the particular impediments it has imposed. The State has made no such justification here, and as to some aspects of its law, it has hardly even tried."

The could not find a single example in Indiana history of the kind of fraud the statute is meant to address. However, the Supreme Court sited, this is serious, the kind of vote rigging that occurred under Boss Tweed in 1868 New York (those of you who have seen Gangs of New York may remember Boss Tweed from the film). As Dave Berry says "I am not making this up".
From Slate:
For the first proposition, what does the opinion cite? Only this: An anecdote about in-person voter impersonation allegedly orchestrated by Boss Tweed in 1868. And for the second -- occasional "recent" examples? Justice Stevens tips his hat to the Brennan Center's showing that "much of" the evidence of such fraud "was actually absentee ballot fraud or voter registration fraud." Nevertheless, he states that "there remain scattered instances of in-person voter fraud." The evidence for this? That in the 2004 Washington gubernatorial election, a partial investigation confirmed that one voter committed in-person voting fraud.

This ruling sets the bar for voter suppression laws ridiculously low. Thank you Supreme Court.
Even more outrageous the court also recently upheld death by a three-drug cocktail, a procedure we wouldn't use to kill a dog. The ground provided was that something is not "cruel and unusual" unless it is expressly designed to be so. 
The horror.
(Posted by Ewan)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Promoting Petraeus

David Petraeus is a general almost universally respected, and even many of the war's critics believe him an impressive commander. However, I doubt it is his expertise that landed Petraeus the spot running CENTCOM after the resignation of Admiral Fallon. Instead it was his effectiveness as a surrogate for the administration, dutifully talking about progress and radiating a sense of optimism in hearings before congress, then (ridiculously) blaming everything on Iran when things went wrong.
During the travesty of the recent ABC Democratic debate, one question of the only substantive questions was whether the candidates would still pull out if their commanders told them that it would lead to chaos. Both candidates said that they would continue with there plan.
In my opinion, the promotion is a masterstroke by the Bushies. I think it's clear that if Petraeus challenged the Democrats pullout plan, he would become even more beloved by the media than he already is. Colin Powell became among the most popular figures in the country after a lot of public, high-profile fights with the Clinton administration. In the past, Petraeus has shown he is willing to be a player in domestic political disputes. I doubt it will be any different if Petraeus is kept by the next administration.
Like Bush's Supreme Court picks, this is a way to extend Bushist policies beyond the end of his administration.
(Posted by Ewan)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Expelled? No, defected.

It appears that a hardcore "Hillraiser" (someone who raised at least $500,000 for HRC's campaign), Gabriel Guerra-Mondragon, is defecting to Obama's camp. This, even after Hillary's spectacular comeback in Pennsylvania. To me, and others, this seems like big news, especially since this guy was a Clinton-appointed ambassador from '94 - '98.

Among the reasons for Guerra-Mondragon to defect, according to one informed source, was he was uneasy with the tone of the Clinton campaign and was beginning to worry about what this would mean for the general election.

It's unclear if this defection will lead to others; the Clinton camp has been particularly effective at getting folks to keep their powder dry. For Obama, this comes at a time when his campaign is trying to re-convince insiders that the math indicates he has the nomination virtually wrapped up. In addition, Guerra-Mondragon's defection could serve as a tipping point with some key Hispanic Democratic leaders that Obama is ready to start making a bigger effort to court Hispanics.

Is it too late to ask for his money back? Either way, his actions are probably speaking louder than any donation.

(Posted by Matt S.)

The Neverending Primary

For what feels like the last decade, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been locked in a life-or-death struggle for the Democratic nomination. The contest, which began as a historic exciting race, has long since degenerated into the most inane mud-hurling cliche-fest imaginable. The media, previously breathless when covering this race, seems as bored as the public with the endlessly repetitive primary schedule.
A while ago, I quoted op-ed by Marc Ambinder saying
Despite [it's] flaws, the system drawn up by Mr. Dean and his commission is serving the Democrats well. By the time the nomination is finally won, a majority of the party’s primary voters will have had the chance to ratify, or reject, the decisions made by voters in early states.

Instead of worrying about how to fix the process, the party should try to figure out how to repeat it.

With a little more hindsight, this seems completely wrong. The primary was more representative than previous ones have been, but it was just as biased in favor of the early states Iowa and New Hampshire (Nevada was added because it's Harry Reid's state). The primary was just as rigged in favor of these states as ever, the only reason other states got a say is the early ones proved indecisive. Additionally, no state on Super-Tuesday got much attention, a fact that helped cause Michigan and Florida to jump forward, leading them to be stripped of delegates.
The bizarre nature of the system has led Clintontes to argue that had we used the GOP system, she would have won already. There are several problems with this, the first being that the only reason this is true is that the GOP system is less representative. Even were that not the case, it's silly to look back and postulate who would have won had the rules been different, especially because the Clinton argument presumes that the Obama campaign would have run the exact same way under different rules (which, of course, they wouldn't have).
Though the GOP system is less even less representative, it has the advantage of being more decisive. Democrats have never been so united on what goals they have for the country, yet proportional representation combined with a drawn-out primary schedule have made what could have been easily resolved differences into a festering feud. It's almost as if the system was designed to divide the party and weaken the eventual nominee.
In conclusion, the drawn-out primary is different from most years, but it does not invalidate the need reform, indeed, it shows why reforming this system is urgent.
(Posted by Ewan)

Beltway Media as Driving the White Backlash Vote

The white backlash vote is well documented in the history books. It helped hand Nixon two victories in '68 and '72, powered Reagan and Bush 41, and has been the subject of countless stories and political theories. Whether it's the Willie Horton ad, or Nixon's successful use of busing as a campaign issue, white, blue-collar folks--"Reagan Democrats"-- have repeatedly shown anger at what they apparently view as excessively "repentant" philosophies of civil rights and liberal government.

So the question has been posed repeatedly throughout this campaign: is Barack Obama different? When he wins a state like Wisconsin, he clearly is, as he essentially ties HRC in the white and under $50,000 a year vote. When he loses a state like Ohio or Pennsylvania, he's apparently in deep shit. Especially when exit polls show 20% of voters took race into account in the former case (of those who took race into account in Ohio, they went for HRC by a 3:2 ratio, according to the CNN exit poll). Commentators then speculate: is BHO too black? Are these people flocking to Hillary because of race or just becuase they like her on bread and butter issues? Their answer: probably both. That's fine.

But when the Jeremiah Wright controversy erupted, and because these political analysts have been raised in the political journalism tradition of seeking out demographic trends and carelessly fitting them into their ideas of American history, it was suddenly clear: Obama's white support was going to tank in the primary, and this would him in the general. No one waited for polls to show this (they still do not--Obama makes up a good chunk of his lower blue collar white problem by pulling in white indies). Analysts, instead, predicted, and, indeed, may be contributing to, this process.

When writers say things like (from Politico):

A failure [to address the Wright problem] could leave many of the white independent voters — a key group behind Obama’s swift rise in national politics — doubting whether he is really the bridge-builder and healer he has portrayed himself to b

...I can't help but feel as if they are helping to make it so. Now, one might argue they have historical bases for their statements, and they do. But the simple fact is that Barack Obama is not every other black guy, and this is not 1988. Media commentators have wondered if he will be "branded" as the Jesse Jackson kind of black politician, and thus far, he hasn't been. But when such moral deference is given to the white backlash voter--essentially, that it's understandable and even defensible if he strays from Obama over his former pastor's comments--it contributes to the racial problem in our politics. This is more than mere analysis. It is a sort of moral "thumbs up" to white voters. It's OK if you get freaked out by the pastor and black guys generally... your fathers did! Why not you?

Nuclear Fear

If we fight a war and win it with H-bombs, what history will remember is not
the ideals we were fighting for but the methods we used to accomplish them.
These methods will be compared to the warfare of Genghis Khan who ruthlessly
killed every last inhabitant of Persia.

Hans A. Bethe (link)
As Matt points out, Hillary is threatening to do exactly that. Had John McCain made such a threat, it would be held up by Democrats everywhere as evidence of his recklessness and aggressiveness, and rightly so. Why should we not hold Democratic contenders to this same standard? Juan Cole, like me, is outraged.
It is fortunate that the eventuality that she describes seems exceedingly unlikely. It seems that Iran has abandoned there nuclear program at about the time we invaded Iraq (the program was likely aimed more at deterring Saddam than at Israel). Even if Iran built a nuclear bomb (which would take over a decade), they would not use it on Israel, knowing full well that Israel could destroy Iran if they launched such an attack.
Senator Clinton's comments show either an ignorance or willful misunderstanding of both of the situation in the mideast and the doctrine of deterrence. Shameful.
(Posted by Ewan)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Reagan Democrats, Building a Winning Coalition, and HRC's Electability Argument to Superdelegates

Obama's "problem" with Reagan (white, working-class) Democrats is discussed constantly on the cable networks and by political analysts who cannot see beyond the prism of the 1984 and 1988 elections. It is unfortunate that the chattering class is such an intellectual dead zone. Many of these people admit they would vote for Obama if they had to, and once HRC stops attacking him like he's the next Satan, the numbers who claim they'd vote for McCain will drop even more. What Obama lacks in indignant HRC supporters he will make up with increased independent support, and a map that doesn't rely on the Rust Belt. And so when we keep hearing these big state arguments, as Josh Marshall makes clear at TPM, it's a bunch of bullshit:

The dynamics are simply different between general elections and primaries. You have on the one hand patterns and preferences that Democratic voters show for different candidates in Democratic primaries. Then you have the separate question of whether these same voters will vote for the Democratic or the Republican nominee in the general. One is simply not predictive of the other. It could be -- if one candidate's voters simply refuse to vote for the other candidate. But who wins a primary doesn't tell you that.


Given the spottiness of state by state polls, for now it's best to watch the national popular vote polls, which show the two Democrats basically even in how they'd face McCain. But there are differences. They run better in different parts of the country. But the 'big state' argument is just malarkey, an artifact of the spin necessities of the post-Super Tuesday campaign.

This is important: Obama wins traditionally Democratic upper midwest states (Michigan, Wisconsin), and puts the Mountain West in play. HRC barely does the former, and fails utterly to do the latter.

Instead of asking the question (over and over): can Obama get HRC's white, blue-collar support come November, why don't we occasionally ask about Obama's supporters? Blacks are not going to be one bit happy to see their boy get cheated out of the nomination by superdelegates. I doubt nearly any would vote for McCain, but it is not impossible their turnout would be significantly depressed. The Clintons ought to be pure evil in the eyes of any black Democrat watching this thing closely: The Jesse Jackson comments, the constant injection of race (Obama's drug use, Ferraro, etc.) into the dialogue. I cannot imagine how a self-respecting black individual would be able to support HRC in the primary... and though many would hold their noses and vote in their best interest come November (for HRC), some might not vote at all, right? Let's consider CNN's PA exit polls:

82% of those participating in the primary would vote for HRC against McCain. A good, strong number. Some 10% would vote against her--31% of whom are HRC supporters (racist, angry Republicans who hate Obama, or people who think she's easier to beat?). The other 69% of that 10% are Obama people--folks angry at the prospect of the person they rightly know ought to be the Democratic nominee being denied the nomination. Not alarming.

Worse numbers for Obama: 15% vote for McCain, some 90% of whom are HRC supporters (only 10% are Obama supporters, meaning his voters appear to actually want him to be president more than HRC's).

Now, how many do not vote in both cases? It is, believe it or not, worse for Obama: 9% say they would not vote in Obama v. McCain and 98% of them are HRC supporters, while HRC vs. McCain has only 6% not voting (95% are Obama supporters).

So Obama cannot argue to superdelegates that his voters will abandon the Democrat, at least not in this case--they appear willing to vote, and willing to vote for her. That surprises me a bit--their bitterness is not nearly as childish or ridiculous as that of HRC's people. So superdelegates are stuck appeasing the children--HRC's angry, largely white (some racist) people are so indignant that this new guy who actually was always against the Iraq War is winning that they will either not vote or vote for McCain. That is Hillary's argument--my people aren't real Democrats, so let me go to the general, or else I'll turn them loose on you. Good thing Obama clobbers her against McCain among independents, and actually changes the map. He brings in new voters and I believe would be able to make up for those stay-at-home folks with new ones (esp. young ones--the contrast between angry, grumpy McCain and Obama would be perfect).

These indignant blue-collar people are not our problem--they're Hillary's. Rather than trying to create a coup via superdelegates, she ought to actually think of the party. If she loses this thing soon--I'm thinking it might be May 6--rather than seeding division and destroying the party all summer, she had better instruct her supporters to switch to Obama. And she better do it convincingly.

But even more important is that winning these damned Reagan Democrats is not necessarily enough to win a general. You can't win a general if you lose Wisconsin, which some polls have her doing, nor if you lose states like Washington, which some polls have her doing. She claims to be refighting the Kerry map and winning Ohio and Florida, but she loses 3 or 4 states along the way! A 20 point margin in Ohio is still just 20 electoral votes--so if Obama squeaks by in more states, that's what matters. Electoral college math matters, not "big states" that Obama can probably shore up come the fall (polls have him doing fine in PA, and moving on McCain in OH).

Superdelegates: please, see through the spin.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Clinton fun

I'm watching the Daily Show right now, and the clips they're showing of Hillary are quite interesting. I think we've already covered this a bit, but...

The voters went from this: "the voters get to decide," to this: "The voters kind of see us from afar, they come to a speech, and they vote, and it's an important part of the process, [but not the complete part]."

As John Stewart summed it up, "you guys are the toast next to the orange juice glass in the cereal commercial."

I also like how she and her crew dismissed caucus states ("skewed towards activists"), other states ("I respect the proud african american tradition in south carolina"), big states, etc, and said that if we had the Republican primary system she'd be the nominee. Hooray.

(posted by Matt S.)

I don't even know what to say

Apparently the Army doesn't have all our personal information, because a recruiter called me not ten minutes ago. Now, I don't mind that much - after all, recruiting numbers haven't been looking good, and they have to try to find someone to fight for "Freedom (TM)." But when I told the guy I wasn't interested because I was a pacifist ( a bit of a stretch, but I like to hear their reactions). He told me "Well, that's cool, that's what's nice about America, that we can put up with that." I might not have the quote exactly right, but he definitely implied that in America we "put up" with pacifists.
I guess I can expect this kind of attitude from the military, but "put up with" is such a strong phrase. Why not disagree? Why not have a difference of opinion? "Putting up with" sounds like pacifists are some 'undesirable' class that is only around due to our good graces. Obviously in the past 8 years, we've seen that violence has only been begetting more violence. Perhaps a more pacifistic approach would do the world good?

...nah, screw it. Let's go nuke Iran and occupy some piece of crap country for the hell of it! You know, just to show the world that we're not a fading superpower or anything like that...

comics corner!

Here's a great comic about what continues to be wrong with the media and our democracy right now, by Tom Tomorrow:

I mean, seriously, why can't we impeach Bush yet? Also, I want to impeach the pundits.

(posted by Matt S.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hillary Wins

Jon Chait:
In general, I think the coverage of Pennsylvania is wildly overblown. What happens tonight is not going to effect the outcome of the nomination. Obama will be the nominee, and the only thing that could stop him would be a massive scandal. If Wright and Bittergate couldn't dent his standing, a loss in Pennsylvania won't, either. The only thing the Pennsylvania results could possibly change is the timing of Clinton's departure, and even that won't happen unless Obama somehow pulls off a shocker upset win.

The conventions and structural biases of journalism dictate that importance must be read into whatever outcome occurs, but the fact is, it really doesn't matter.

So hillary won, but it doesn't matter all that much. The journalist need to make this into a big event, but it's not. Maybe her fundraising will pick up a little, but it's not a big deal. Big picture is still the same, and super-delegates will still cut to Obama by a large margin, mainly because there is no way for Hillary to win more pledged delegates. Will this Democratic presidential contest never end? I feel as if it has been going all of my life. What frustrates me most is that the super-delegates already know they want Obama, they are just waiting for "cover" to declare their preference. How much more will our party endure because of this cowardice?
What has annoyed me the most about this is how the media is keeps asking: is this because of Wright and "bittergate"? It's a dumb question, everyone was predicted this outcome weeks ago. We don't need stupid pseudo-scandals to explain it.
(Posted by Ewan)

HRC's Israel/Iran Insanity

So Senator Hillary Clinton, either in a play for last-minute Jewish support (haven't the states with the greatest percentage Jewish populations already voted? I'll investigate that) or just to show her true, hawkish self, has been getting pumped about nuclear war with Iran over last week or so. Ben Smith was one of the first to notice:

The news for the Israeli press out of Thursday's debate was her threat to Iran:

"I think that we should be looking to create an umbrella of deterrence that goes much further than just Israel," she said. "Of course I would make it clear to the Iranians that an attack on Israel would incur massive retaliation from the United States."

Tonight, in an interview with ABC, she took a question on an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel.

"I want the Iranians to know that if I'm the president we will attack Iran," Clinton said. "In the next ten years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them."

The move from vague threats to a specific commitment -- and the vocabulary seems to suggest nuclear retaliation, if not to actually say that -- seems like a substantive change in the country's approach to the Middle East

Howard Wolfson, HRC's #2 strategist, was quick to tell Ben that she was not referring to nuclear weapons. But as Ben noticed, "massive retaliation" is a very specific military term:

"Massive retaliation," as a reader pointed out, is a term of art in nuclear strategy and a cornerstone of nuclear deterrence.

Clinton seemed aware of the term's pedigree when Olbermann asked her about Iran.

"We used [deterrence] very well during the Cold War when we had a bipolar world and what I think the president should do and what our policy should be is to make it very clear to the Iranians that they would be risking massive retaliation were they to launch a nuclear attack on Israel," she said.

As both Ben and Matt Stoller over at OpenLeft point out, this is a marked departure from past U.S. policy of, from what I am aware, avoiding direct promises of nuclear action. Talk about hawkish, GOP-esque foreign policy. She is literally trying to scare the hell out of people and is signalling dangerously ideological Zionism. More and more, it seems the Iraq War vote was not a single incident of political or other calculation, but rather, simply, the action of someone well to the right of the Democratic Party--and, indeed, the country as a whole these days--when it comes to foreign policy.

Thank God she won't be our nominee. I don't even think the GOP says things like this.

P.S: I'm another poster named Matt, who just emerged from the occasional post at my own blog (http://suffolkprogressive.blogspot.com). But I think I will move here, thanks to Ewan's generous offer.

Wow, that's low

Hillary makes me proud again! This time, she's bashing the 3.2 million member activist group MoveOn.org . Here's some of what she said:

"Moveon.org endorsed [Sen. Barack Obama] -- which is like a gusher of money that never seems to slow down," Clinton said to a meeting of donors. "We have been less successful in caucuses because it brings out the activist base of the Democratic Party. MoveOn didn't even want us to go into Afghanistan. I mean, that's what we're dealing with. And you know they turn out in great numbers. And they are very driven by their view of our positions, and it's primarily national security and foreign policy that drives them. I don't agree with them. They know I don't agree with them. So they flood into these caucuses and dominate them and really intimidate people who actually show up to support me."

Funny thing, though. It seems that she praised MoveOn last year at a town hall meeting:

"You've been asking the tough questions. You've been refusing to back down when any of us who are in political leadership are not living up to the standards that we should set for ourselves... I think you have helped to change the face of American politics for the better... both online, and in the corridors of power."

MoveOn's Eli Pariser responded with this:

"Senator Clinton has her facts wrong again. MoveOn never opposed the war in Afghanistan, and we set the record straight years ago when Karl Rove made the same claim. Senator Clinton's attack on our members is divisive at a time when Democrats will soon need to unify to beat Senator McCain. MoveOn is 3.2 million reliable voters and volunteers who are an important part of any winning Democratic coalition in November. They deserve better than to be dismissed using Republican talking points."

Way to go, Hillary. Score another one for the Democratic party's chances this fall... not.

(posted by Matt S.)

Monday, April 21, 2008

More Military-Industrial Complex Blogging

Why is our military budget so bloated? I very much recommend this post
Basically, the answer is the expansion of petty bureaucratic fiefdoms . The army is famously at odds with the navy, air-force etc. So, when we make the army bigger (if the president got us into a quagmire), then the air-force gets a similar budget increase. Need I point out this is a bogus-bullshit way to appropriate resources?
There are other reasons as well. There are of course their is the contractors who give money to the president and to congress, and the congress men who will fight tooth and nail to keep military bases in their districts from closing down. The Bush years have been a heyday for big defense contractors (surprise).
Military spending is the least efficient type of spending. In the Reagan era, we famously paid $500 for a toilet seat. It's still that bad. Time to bring it in line.
(Posted by Ewan)

A Modest Proposal

Well respected and "liberal" foreign policy analyst Michael O'Hanlon takes the position that in order to win in both Iraq and Afghanistan, we need to put begin admitting foreign people into our army. He thinks Rumsfeld will be remember "tragically" because he failed to do so. This seems like a wonderful imperial solution to our imperial predicament. After all, it worked so well when the Romans when they began recruiting Germanic tribes to fight their wars for them. It was also effective for the Byzantines, not least as weapon in controlling the populace.
An even better solution is that of the British empire. Instead of sending people to jail, we could send them to fight out imperial war. This solution kills to birds with one stone. We can put the population of our gulag state to good use and dominate the rest of the world. We'd never have a shortage of man-power. 1/4 of prisoners in the world are in the United States.
Where's the downside?
(Posted by Ewan)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Military-Industrial Complex: Dept. of Propaganda

According to the New York Times, the defense analysts you watch on TV are part of the Pentagon's propaganda network.
To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as “military analysts” whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.

Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.

The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.

This strikes me as one more spin-off of America military/industrial complex, as well as one more way in which the administration has manipulated the media over the Iraq war. Here's a multimedia presentation on the effect.
(Posted by Ewan)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Robert Reich's Endorsement

Robert Reich endorses Obama. If you watched Reich recently, you'd have seen that he's on the verge of endorsing Obama. Here's the endorsement.
I believe that Barack Obama should be elected President of the United States.

Although Hillary Clinton has offered solid and sensible policy proposals, Obama's strike me as even more so. His plans for reforming Social Security and health care have a better chance of succeeding. His approaches to the housing crisis and the failures of our financial markets are sounder than hers. His ideas for improving our public schools and confronting the problems of poverty and inequality are more coherent and compelling. He has put forward the more enlightened foreign policy and the more thoughtful plan for controlling global warming.

He also presents the best chance of creating a new politics in which citizens become active participants rather than cynical spectators. He has energized many who had given up on politics. He has engaged young people to an extent not seen in decades. He has spoken about the most difficult problems our society faces, such as race, without spinning or simplifying. He has rightly identified the armies of lawyers and lobbyists that have commandeered our democracy, and pointed the way toward taking it back.

Finally, he offers the best hope of transcending the boundaries of class, race, and nationality that have divided us. His life history exemplifies this, as do his writings and his record of public service. For these same reasons, he offers the best possibility of restoring America's moral authority in the world.

(Posted by Ewan)

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Health(care) of Nations

I recently watched a excellent Frontline documentary entitled Sick Around the World outlining the healthcare systems of five capitalist democracies. While each of these systems has its own problems, all these systems are very much preferable to what the United States has.
These five countries represent the 3 health-care models.
It is surprising that Britain, in amy respects the most free-market among these countries (some aspects of the British economy are less regulated than the US), was the only one that had "socialized medicine". The National Health Service (NHS) was largely passed over by the free-market reforms of the Thatcher government, though there are now modest attempts to make the parts of the NHS more free-market. The special was good at point to both the advantages and the flaws of this system.
The others are not socialized medicine, but rather socialized insurance. Germany, Japan and Switzerland are all to some degree set up along the "Bismarckian" system, in which insurance plans are forced to cover everyone.
Of all of the systems, Taiwan's seemed the best. There is good reason for this: when Taiwan's became a "developed" country, it had no good health-care system. The government looked at what other countries had done and emulated what worked. They came up with a single-payer system. A review of the documentary in the New Republic explains.
Virtually alone among health care commentators in the U.S.--a category that includes me--Paul Krugman has been touting Taiwan for a while. The film makes it easy to see why. Today, the people of Taiwan have guaranteed access to health care--and, according to the film, it's very good health care. There are no chronic waiting lists, like you find in Britain, and the care is very advanced. Among other things, Taiwan is among the world leaders in establishing electronic medical records--an innovation that should significantly improve care by keeping doctors and nurses better informed about patient histories and, no less important, avoiding potentially dangerous drug interactions.

This sounds like the best solution, I think. Taiwan was able to lower health-care spending, while expanding to cover everyone. I'm not sure if it's possible to institute this in America (though the matter was hotly debated in the Edwards camp and Al Gore now favors a single-payer system).
As the special made clear, none of these systems is foreign to us. The Veteran's Health Administration is like the NHS, Medicare is like the Taiwan system and the health system for employed Americans resembles Germany.
I think Switzerland might be the most instructive. The Swiss successfully reformed a health-care system much like America's around the time the Clintons failed to do so here. Both the Democrats have plans that would move America in this direction, while McCain's plan does nothing of the kind.
Paul Krugman argues that of the two plans, Hillary's is more effective because it mandates coverage, whereas Obama's does not. I agree, but I would point out that the bill passed by congress will probably be unrecognizable. The 1993 healthcare bill ended up looking like the plan of Clinton's rival Paul Tsongas. Still, I think that Clinton may be more effective on this particular issue and probably will make it a higher priority.
(Posted by Ewan)

More On "Clinging to"

Paul Krugman demurs from Obama's comments.
There are, indeed, towns where the mill closed during the 1980s and nothing has replaced it. But the suggestion that the American heartland suffered equally during the Clinton and Bush years is deeply misleading.

In fact, the Clinton years were very good for working Americans in the Midwest, where real median household income soared before crashing after 2000. (You can see the numbers at my blog, krugman.blogs.nytimes.com.)
Next, the sociology: “And it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them.”

The crucial word here isn’t “bitter,” it’s “cling.” Does economic hardship drive people to seek solace in firearms, God and xenophobia?

It’s true that people in poor states are more likely to attend church regularly than residents of rich states. This might seem to indicate that faith is indeed a response to economic adversity.

But this result largely reflects the fact that southern states are both church-going and poor; some poor states outside the South, like Maine and Montana, are actually less religious than Connecticut. Furthermore, within poor states, people with low incomes are actually less likely to attend church than those with high incomes. (The correlation runs the opposite way in rich states.)
Finally, Mr. Obama, in later clarifying remarks, declared that the people he’s talking about “don’t vote on economic issues,” and are motivated instead by things like guns and gay marriage.

That’s a political theory made famous by Thomas Frank’s “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” According to this theory, “values” issues lead working-class Americans to act against their own interests by voting Republican. Mr. Obama seemed to suggest that’s also why they support Hillary Clinton.

I was impressed by Mr. Frank’s book when it came out. But my Princeton colleague Larry Bartels, who had an Op-Ed in The Times on Thursday, convinced me that Mr. Frank was mostly wrong.

In his Op-Ed, Mr. Bartels cited data showing that small-town, working-class Americans are actually less likely than affluent metropolitan residents to vote on the basis of religion and social values. Nor have working-class voters trended Republican over time; on the contrary, Democrats do better with these voters now than they did in the 1960s.

It’s true that Americans who attend church regularly are more likely to vote Republican. But contrary to the stereotype, this relationship is weak at low incomes but strong among high-income voters. That is, to the extent that religion helps the G.O.P., it’s not by convincing the working class to vote against its own interests, but by producing supermajorities among the evangelical affluent.

So why have Republicans won so many elections? In his book, “Unequal Democracy,” Mr. Bartels shows that “the shift of the Solid South from Democratic to Republican control in the wake of the civil rights movement” explains all — literally all — of the Republican success story.
And one more thing: let’s hope that once Mr. Obama is no longer running against someone named Clinton, he’ll stop denigrating the very good economic record of the only Democratic administration most Americans remember.

So, to summarize, he has three points
1. The Clinton years were better than the Bush years for the Midwest, not like Obama says, and Obama playing politics to disparage the Clinton record.

2. Religiosity is not linked to economic distress.

3. Thomas Franks thesis that simple people have been "duped" by Republicans doesn't square with the facts.

In response to point one, Krugman makes his point, but I think it is irrelevant. What he said was "in a lot of small towns" the Clinton and Bush years don't look any different. Nothing that Krugman wrote disproves this. What is maddening is Krugman faults Obama for pointing this out as if Obama is being disloyal to the Democratic party. Yet Krugman hasn't said anything on Hillary's constant kneecapping of Obama, who will almost certainly be the nominee.
Lot's of liberals have disagreed with Obama linking religion and economic woes (Kevin Drum and Jon Chait are also examples). However, the idea the religiosity is linked to economic insecurity is supported by a lot of good social science research, as I have mentioned previously. I recommend Sacred and Secular by Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris. I'd also note he hardly mentioned the xenophobia/ anti-trade aspect of the comments.
Krugmans third point is very interesting, and clears up a wide myth. On the other hand, I still see nothing wrong with Obama's original statement.
(Posted by Ewan)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

First Thing We Do, We Kill All the Pundits

To call last nights debate journalism is an insult to all professional journalists. Last nights debate was garbage, pure and simple.
What is disturbing is not the bias against Obama (though it was clear the moderators were out to get him), but the bias against any sort of substantive coverage of the issues.
Thousands of Americas go without healthcare, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died in a meaningless war, our president has authorized secret gulags and torture and the warming of the planet threatens our civilization with catastrophe. What do they ask Obama about? His lapel pin.
When Clinton was the Democratic frontrunner, she was faced with the same ridiculousness. The attacks on Obama are even more unsubstantial than the attacks on Clinton, because they deal with "patriotism" and other classic bullshit issues.
I have never been more disgusted with the decadence and the frivolity of our elite news corp.
More outraged commentary can be found here, here, here, here and on nearly every left-wing blog not drinking the Clinton kool-aid.
On points, Clinton is the winner, but I think this may ultimately come out in Obama favor. One thing that has distinguished Obama is his contempt for elite media bullshit, a contempt which most voters probably share. I know I do, in spades.
(Posted by Ewan)

'That's just great. F*ing wad, man"

Way to care for our veterans, Bush. Way to think about how fun war is - it's so fun that 300,000 soldiers have PTSD.
You ought to be imprisoned for everything your administration has done.

(posted by Matt)

Worst Debate Ever

Here's the recap.
I mean, can anyone imagine a general election debate this fall where John McCain is asked about his friendship with lobbyist Vicky Iseman, the alleged adulturous behavior that led to the failure of his first marriage, his embarrassing flip-flop of the legitimacy of Bob Jones University, his shifting position on the Martin Luther King holiday and, say, his view of wacko fundamentalist John Hagee--all in the same debate?

This makes me want to vomit.
I need a really stiff drink.
(Posted by Ewan)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

History Will Not Judge This Kindly

It might not be as newsworthy as a candidates bowling score, but it appears Bush and all of his national security higher-ups signed off on the use of torture.
"Well, we started to connect the dots, in order to protect the American people." Bush told ABC News White House correspondent Martha Raddatz. "And, yes, I'm aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved."

As first reported by ABC News on Wednesday, the most senior Bush administration officials repeatedly discussed and approved specific details of exactly how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency.

The high-level discussions about these "enhanced interrogation techniques" were so detailed, these sources said, some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed -- down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic.

These top advisers signed off on how the CIA would interrogate top al Qaeda suspects -- whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning, called waterboarding, sources told ABC news.

The advisers were members of the National Security Council's Principals Committee, a select group of senior officials who met frequently to advise President Bush on issues of national security policy.

At the time, the Principals Committee included Vice President Cheney, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Read the whole post.
This is worse than the US use of torture in the Philippines at the beginning of this century. There, as here, we tortured. But here it has been signed off as policy by the highest members of our government.
This is even worse than the CIA torture experiments of the 60s and the teaching of by the agency throughout Central America.
Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram have become the symbols of the our abuse of prisoners. But despite claims that those in Guantanamo are "the worst of the worst", those are really where low value captives go (likely it was the presence of the CIA and ghost detainees that led breakdown of discipline that cause the abuses at Abu Ghraib). Detainees of thought to be of true importance are sucked into an unseen gulag run not by the military but by the CIA. Most of these black sites are unknown, though we know one is located in a camp once used to house enemies of joseph Stalin. The symbolism is unmistakable. Some detainees are shipped to countries with even less inhibition on the use of torture than America. Places like Egypt and Syria, where the jailers are proficient in the art of pain.
Tony Judt has an excellent piece in the New York Review of Books that mentions this subject. I will quote.
Torture certainly "works." As the history of twentieth-century police states suggests, under extreme torture most people will say anything (including, sometimes, the truth). But to what end? Thanks to information extracted from terrorists under torture, the French army won the 1957 Battle of Algiers. Just over four years later the war was over, Algeria was independent, and the "terrorists" had won. But France still carries the stain and the memory of the crimes committed in its name. Torture really is no good, especially for republics. And as Aron noted many decades ago, "torture—and lies—[are] the accompaniment of war.... What needed to be done was end the war."

We are slipping down a slope. The sophistic distinctions we draw today in our war on terror—between the rule of law and "exceptional" circumstances, between citizens (who have rights and legal protections) and noncitizens to whom anything can be done, between normal people and "terrorists," between "us" and "them" —are not new. The twentieth century saw them all invoked. They are the selfsame distinctions that licensed the worst horrors of the recent past: internment camps, deportation, torture, and murder—those very crimes that prompt us to murmur "never again." So what exactly is it that we think we have learned from the past? Of what possible use is our self-righteous cult of memory and memorials if the United States can build its very own internment camp and torture people there?

(Posted by Ewan)

Rich Media, Poor Democracy

In honor of the recent discussion over elitism and bitterness, I would like to bring to ling a very related subject that makes me extremely bitter, if not completely angry and irate. The fact that our news media in this country is completely gone to pot. Here's a synopsis of the first video:

If a key indicator of the health of a democracy is the state of its journalism, the United States is in deep trouble. In Rich Media, Poor Democracy, Robert McChesney lays the blame for this state of affairs squarely at the doors of the corporate boardrooms of big media, which far from delivering on their promises of more choice and more diversity, have organized a system characterized by a lack of competition, homogenization of opinion and formulaic programming.

Through numerous examples, McChesney, and media scholar, Mark Crispin Miller, demonstrate how journalism has been compromised by the corporate bosses of conglomerates such as Disney, Sony, Viacom, News Corp, and AOL Time Warner to produce a system of news that is high on sensationalism and low on information. They suggest that unless citizen activism can reclaim the commons, this new corporate system will be characterized by a rich media and an ever impoverished, poor democracy.

Rich Media, Poor Democracy

F*** The Corporate Media (A homemade video that provides about 15 minutes of footage on how the corporate media is so irresponsible.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Joe Lieberman: Hack

In a previous post, a criticized a column by Bill Kristol making Obama out to be a bit of a marxist.
Joe Lieberman was asked about that column on Fox News (not altogether unsurprising).
Here's how it went:
NAPOLITANO: Hey Sen. Lieberman, you know Barack Obama, is he a Marxist as Bill Kristol says might be the case in today’s New York Times? Is he an elitist like your colleague Hillary Clinton says he is?

LIEBERMAN: Well, you know, I must say that’s a good question. I know him now for a little more than three years since he came into the Senate and he’s obviously very smart and he’s a good guy. I will tell ya that during this campaign, I’ve learned some things about him, about the kind of environment from which he came ideologically. And I wouldn’t … I’d hesitate to say he’s a Marxist, but he’s got some positions that are far to the left of me and I think mainstream America.

So, Joe would hesitate to call him a marxist. Well, I'm glad.
But what is he talking about when he says some of Obama's positions are "far to the left of me and I think mainstream America"?
Matt Yglesias thinks that it might be because Obama is a member of the fringe two thirds of America that opposes the war.
(Posted by Ewan)

Who is this guy, and what have you done with McCain?

I don't mean to harp on the old man's age.... but I do, at least if he's going to pull this kind of thing.

(posted by Matt)

Monday, April 14, 2008

And McCain should be sunk, too

So it looks like McCain said something very similar to Obama about small town "bitterness":

recent Pew poll shows that, nationally, only six per cent of voters offer immigration as the most important issue facing the country. But in Iowa and South Carolina, two of the three most important early states, it is a top concern for the Republicans who are most likely to vote. “It’s the influx of illegals into places where they’ve never seen a Hispanic influence before,” McCain told me. “You probably see more emotion in Iowa than you do in Arizona on this issue. I was in a town in Iowa, and twenty years ago there were no Hispanics in the town. Then a meatpacking facility was opened up. Now twenty per cent of their population is Hispanic. There were senior citizens there who were—‘concerned’ is not the word. They see this as an assault on their culture, what they view as an impact on what have been their traditions in Iowa, in the small towns in Iowa. So you get questions like ‘Why do I have to punch 1 for English?’ ‘Why can’t they speak English?’ It’s become larger than just the fact that we need to enforce our borders.”

Seen the press lately, anyone? Bueller?
(posted by Matt)


The media response to Bittergate really ties together everything I hate about the way presidential elections are covered in this country. We have fake populism and faux outrage as the media and the right obsesses over a single incident that is supposedly personally telling. As Josh Marshall wrote:

In this case, I didn't think what he said was offensive. Of course, I don't live in a small town or in rural America. But then again, neither do any of the other people I've heard sound off on this topic. So I'm in good company. (This has been one of the more comedic aspects of this 72 hours -- watching a cavalcade of extremely wealthy pundits, editorialists and political operatives from New York and Washington tell me how rural Americans won't stand for this.)

An example of this the column I criticized by Bill Kristol. Eric Alterman skewers this supposed populism pretty well in a recent article in the Nation.
John Podhoretz, the son of neoconservatism's second couple, Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, who attended elite private schools and the University of Chicago before his father's connections helped him secure jobs in the media empires of Sun Myung Moon and Rupert Murdoch, also professes to see America through rose-hued glasses. "Bush Red is a simpler place," he explains, on the basis of a visit to Las Vegas. It's a land "where people mourn the death of NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt, root lustily for their teams, go to church, and find comfort in old-fashioned verities."

Hillary Clinton's response was right out of Rovianism 101. Take a look at this campaign commercial. Misconstruing what a rival says about faith and guns? That's the Republicans job.
More silly is her claim to love the gun.
“You know, my dad took me out behind the cottage that my grandfather built on a little lake called Lake Winola outside of Scranton and taught me how to shoot when I was a little girl,” she said.

“You know, some people now continue to teach their children and their grandchildren. It’s part of culture. It’s part of a way of life. People enjoy hunting and shooting because it’s an important part of who they are. Not because they are bitter.”

As the New Republic put it, she's doing her Mitt Romney impression.
Seriously, when will this primary be over?
(Posted by Ewan)


William Kristol has a column in the New York Times claiming that Obama's "bitter" remarks showed the "true face" of Barack Obama. The column seems to suggest that this "true face" is communist.
My occasion for spending a little time once again with the old Communist was Barack Obama’s now-famous comment at an April 6 San Francisco fund-raiser. Obama was explaining his trouble winning over small-town, working-class voters: “It’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

This sent me to Marx’s famous statement about religion in the introduction to his “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right”:

“Religious suffering is at the same time an expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of a soulless condition. It is the opium of the people.”

Or, more succinctly, and in the original German in which Marx somehow always sounds better: “Die Religion ... ist das Opium des Volkes.”


What does this mean for Obama’s presidential prospects? He’s disdainful of small-town America — one might say, of bourgeois America. He’s usually good at disguising this. But in San Francisco the mask slipped. And it’s not so easy to get elected by a citizenry you patronize.

Kristol claims to have read Marx, but in this column he gives the impression that he doesn't understand it. The "working class" that Obama is supposedly talking down too is the is the proletariat, not the bourgeois.
I think that Marx got it pretty much right with his "religion is the opium of the masses" comment (though it is other things besides). But would Obama agree with me? It seems very, very unlikely.
Obama commented that people in depressed economic background are likely to turn to religion. There happens to be a lot of good social science research backing this up.
Why is this controversial? It seems like the answer is a mixture of right-wing demagoguery and liberal self-hatred. Lots of latte-liberals (like me) are indeed out of touch with the working class, so we find it hard to defend comments like Obama's (though I wouldn't say that the conservative intelligentsia that jumped on the remark is any more in touch with blue-collar voters than I am). A lot of of people in the media see the white working-class as the most "true" Americans. The right-wing, on the other hand, classically uses "cultural" issues like this to eek out a victory for the American plutocracy. I think this is what Obama was pointing out. It is ironic that the response has made his point so well.
(Posted by Ewan)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The "Bitter" Truth

Obama's recent "bitterness" gaffe (or at least the media wants to call it a gaffe) has got me thinking. And what I just realized is that this issue ties in very much with an article by Charles Pierce called "Greetings from Idiot America." The issue at hand is America's distrust of anything that smacks of elitism - elitism being the quality of someone with a higher education or income level than you who disagrees with what you say. When Obama observed that people in small towns with no positive economic future tend to cling more tightly to certain social customs - religion, guns, xenophobia, etc - isn't he kind of right? What was the cause of American isolationism during the Great Depression? (I hate to use Nazis as an example, but) How did Hitler rally the German people during the 30's? There are plenty more examples.

I understand how people might get upset at these notions, because something like religion is a very personal thing for many people, and I disagree with Obama about the guns part. But in the big picture, he's right. Why else would he say something like that? He was pointing out that people in these areas don't feel like anyone's looking out for them except God, and he wants to help these people improve their situation. But because the big city college-educated professor guy thinks these people need help and are clinging to traditions, he's an "elitist." All of a sudden "Yes We Can" has been magically perverted into "No You Can't (because Barack thinks you're a rube)".

I decided to write this post because of a Politico article about Barack's comments. Some if not all of them are legitimate reasons that his comments are harmful to his campaign. The problem is that it's become a proxy battle of the political elite. I'll explain.
1. Almost every reason that these comments constitute a "gaffe" are for purely political reasons - "It gives the Clinton campaign new arguments for trying to recruit superdelegates," "It helps Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) frame a potential race against Obama,". The article devotes 2 of its 12 bullet points to the actual concerns/rebuttals of Pennsylvania residents, and seeing that it's written in Politico (a political junkie website), I can guarantee that the author is probably no more in touch with small town folk than Barack is. They just want to perpetuate the idea of the "clueless elitist liberal.
2. The way various characters in this story are going to react will be exactly predictable, and it seems to have panned out that way. Hillary and McCain have criticized Obama, putting him in the hot spot and thus relieving them of the responsibility of having to care about the Pennsylvania voters. Instead of "Here's my plan for you guys," they get off easy with "well, the other guy just doesn't care about you."
3. I don't think anyone in the media is going to look too hard at the truth of the matter. A few months ago John Edwards was drawing a decent number of votes and his position was exactly one of the pissed-off small town champion. The news is going to go out and find a couple pissed off rural folks and ask them something like "Are you bitter? Do you cling to God because your income is low?" and they aren't going to look at the actual stats on the economy or anything.

Finally, here's a transcript of what Barack had to say in response to the uproar"

And so people end up — they don’t vote on economic issues because they don’t expect anybody’s going to help them. So people end up, you know, voting on issues like guns, and are they going to have the right to bear arms. They vote on issues like gay marriage. And they take refuge in their faith and their community and their families and things they can count on. But they don’t believe they can count on Washington. So I made this statement — so, here’s what rich Sen. Clinton says: ‘No, I don’t think that people are bitter in Pennsylvania. You know, I think Barack’s being condescending.’ John McCain says, ‘Oh, how could he say that? How could he say people are bitter? You know, he’s obviously out of touch with people.’

“Out of touch? Out of touch? I mean, John McCain — it took him three tries to finally figure out that the home foreclosure crisis was a problem and to come up with a plan for it, and he’s saying I’m out of touch? Sen. Clinton voted for a credit card-sponsored bankruptcy bill that made it harder for people to get out of debt after taking money from the financial services companies, and she says I’m out of touch? No, I’m in touch. I know exactly what’s going on. I know what’s going on in Pennsylvania. I know what’s going on in Indiana. I know what’s going on in Illinois. People are fed-up. They’re angry and they’re frustrated and they’re bitter. And they want to see a change in Washington, and that’s why I’m running for President of the United States of America.”

I hope Ewan might have something else/more to say about this, I've been really busy so I had to dash this off so I could focus on everything else.

(posted by Matt)


Alberto Gonzales apparently can't get a job.

Maybe someone in the Bush administration will finally learn a lesson?

(posted by Matt)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Columbia and the US Elites

If you remember, Clinton pollster/ strategist was relieved of his position of chief at the Clinton campaign though this hardly amounted to a firing, because the campaign kept him on as pollster. The flap was over Penn's company (which he remained in control of even as he has campaigned for Clinton) which was openly campaigning for a trade deal with Columbia that Hillary ostensibly opposed. Then it turned out that Bill Clinton was connected with this trade deal as well.
So what is this deal that the Clintoids seem like so much? Matt Yglesias explains the deal.
Colombia, meanwhile, is agreeing to implement a series of neoliberal reforms on a variety of issues, most of which don't have much to do with trade as it's traditionally understood. As has become typical in these deals, Colombia agrees to undertake various intellectual property reform measures, various investment rules, something having to do with their telecommunications sector, etc. I would be very surprised if the IP rules in question were actually a good idea for Colombia, and can't really evaluate the rest of it. Colombia's getting very little out of the deal per se, but its government does get a lot of military support from the US government, and many provisions in here are of interest to American businesses and may well be the sort of thing a right-of-center government would want to do anyway but likes to use the framework of a "deal" to help sell the measure.

Basically, this is a way for a somewhat thuggish government in an unstable country to cozy up to the US business elite. I think we should weigh the thuggishness of Alvaro Uribe with the measure of stability he has brought to the country. It in nevertheless unedifying to watch this paramilitary-tied government cuddling with the US capitalist bosses to keep military hand-outs flowing.
(Posted by Ewan)

Olympic Troubles

As you are probably aware, the olympic torch has run into some protests as it travel through Paris, London and San Francisco. The tradition of the relay of the torch was first conceived as way to promote Nazi ideology before the 1936 Olympics. It is fitting that another sinister state has attempted to use the olympics as fodder for propaganda.

Hillary has called for a boycott of the opening ceremony of the games, and Obama and McCain sound as if they're open to the idea.
I won't take these claims to seriously. Boycotting the opening ceremony would be a small move, not akin to boycotting the entire games. Besides, I doubt what the candidates have said is very predictive of what their real policies toward China would be. Many recent US presidents have come in promising to get tough with China, and in the end kowtowed to Beijing. I won't rule the idea out, though. Daniel Drezner argues that using a boycott as leverage might not be such a bad idea. More on China later.
The Greek games were held usually without incident for roughly 10 centuries. The modern Olympics already have a worse track record. The reason, as an op-ed in the New York Times makes clear, was that the games was consistently held in the same place (the one time it wasn't the games usual hosts sent soldiers to storm the arena). Perhaps it is time to return to this tradition, and always hold the games in- say- Athens.
(Posted by Ewan)


Finally, a tribute to Shrubya that is fitting. Kinda reminds me of the Dave Berry sewage treatment station in North Dakota (Mr. Berry has been known to make fun of the North Dakotans).

More seriously (or not), it seems pretty clear that Bush is worrying about his legacy. Talking about the Israeli/ Palestinian problem is always something that presidents leaving office do to try to one notable feat for posterity. Bush's (awful) nuclear deal with India a few years back was probably motivated by legacy concerns as well. My guess is he was trying to emulate Nixon going to China by brining India in from the cold. The nuclear deal is not the same- going to Tehran would have been, but that seems outside of what this president would ever do.

Take a look at this thoroughly unscientific but very interesting poll of 109 professional historians. 61% say that Bush is the worst ever. Seems like an arguable point: he invaded Iraq and legalized torture. Then again, pat presidents have been involved in ethnic cleansing (think of the Trail of Tears), and Richard Nixon secretly bombed Cambodia.
On the other hand, Isaac Chotiner makes a good point.
Historians tend to grade presidents not purely on their utilitarian impact on the world--instead they look at things like management of the bureacracy, competence, public support, international approval, etc. Under a rating criterion like that, it's not so absurd to think that 43 may in fact be 43/43.

(posted by Ewan)

Friday, April 11, 2008

UN Human Rights Council: Still a Disgrace

In 2006, the OIC did not for once present a resolution to the Council condemning defamation of religion but said that they were considering a new approach. Their “new approach” was unveiled last week with the publication of their draft resolution [A/HRC/4/L.12] “Combating Defamation of Religions”. The wording was virtually unchanged from the resolutions adopted by the old Commission. None of this would matter if the resolution was actually aimed at helping prevent discrimination or violence against people on the basis of their religion or belief. But sadly this is not the case. First, the resolution fails to define “defamation”. It is a catch-all term intended to silence any criticism of religious practice or of laws based on religion - however pernicious. Secondly, it attempts to limit certain rights, including the right to freedom of expression, guaranteed under international human rights law[1]. Thirdly, it fails to distinguish between religions and their followers. To criticize any aspect of Islam, for example, is seen as an attack on Muslims.

From the International Humanist and Ethical Union.
If you recall, the council (once headed by Libya), had become such a disgrace that it had to be reformed. The new council has the same problems as the old, namely that it is full of human-rights violators who condemn no state but Israel.
Not content to simply not do their job, these states are actively attacking free speech around the world with this resolution. Human Rights Council supports human rights in name only. It's name is analogous to that of the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea- a wild misnomer. There must be real reform on the council, or we will have to do away with it.
(posted by Ewan)

Capitalist Kolyma

Josh Marshall explains about a series of junkets taken by right-wing officials to the Mariana islands. As he explains Jack Abramoff set these up at the behest of the sweat-shop owners who run the place. Jack Schaffer went so far as to suggest we remodel our policy along the lines of the Mariana islands. Of course, the islands are known for slave-labor, sex-trafficking and forced abortion.
This story is jaw dropping. " The people were smiling" said Schaffer after visiting a sweat-shop. Obviously, on an official tour, it would look benign, because what you can see is carefully controlled. I can't help but be reminded of the many left-wing intellectuals who took trips to the Soviet Union and return singing its praises (famously, Henry Wallace, one of FDR's VPs). Neither side of the political spectrum is immune to the sins of credulity or evil, apparently.
(Posted by Ewan)

Hillary Update

This is just a short post. I was cruising Facebook's various political groups, and after going through a few big pro-Hillary groups, I realized that Hillary supporters seem just as "cultish" as Barack supporters supposedly are. But I guess that's how America works these days - pick a candidate and gloss over any faults they have.

Also, I went into the Democratic Leadership Council's facebook page, and it was full of self-avowed socially liberal libertarians and such. Why don't they start a new party if the Democratic party is so liberal and only offers up the same old big-government solutions to everything. People in that group found it funny that they got along better with Libertarians and Republicans than with liberal Democrats. And I thought it was just a few politicians who were into the corporate agenda. Surprise!

(Posted by Matt)

"History will not judge us kindly"

With those words, former Attorney General John Ashcroft separated himself only slightly from the continually growing debacle that is the Bush Administrations' torture lust. In the latest Associated Press report, we have now even more press confirmation of what many of us either suspected or knew for some time - that administration officials from Dick Cheney on down "signed off on using harsh interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists after asking the Justice Department to endorse their legality." And once again they were careful to leave Bush out of the loop. More important quotes from the article:

A former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the meetings described them Thursday to the AP to confirm details first reported by ABC News on Wednesday. The intelligence official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the issue.

Between 2002 and 2003, the Justice Department issued several memos from its Office of Legal Counsel that justified using the interrogation tactics, including ones that critics call torture.

"If you looked at the timing of the meetings and the memos you'd see a correlation," the former intelligence official said. Those who attended the dozens of meetings agreed that "there'd need to be a legal opinion on the legality of these tactics" before using them on al-Qaida detainees, the former official said.

The meetings were held in the White House Situation Room in the years immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks. Attending the sessions were Cheney, then-Bush aides Attorney General John Ashcroft, Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., lambasted what he described as "yet another astonishing disclosure about the Bush administration and its use of torture."

"Who would have thought that in the United States of America in the 21st century, the top officials of the executive branch would routinely gather in the White House to approve torture?" Kennedy said in a statement. "Long after President Bush has left office, our country will continue to pay the price for his administration's renegade repudiation of the rule of law and fundamental human rights."

The former intelligence official described Cheney and the top national security officials as deeply immersed in developing the CIA's interrogation program during months of discussions over which methods should be used and when.

At times, CIA officers would demonstrate some of the tactics, or at least detail how they worked, to make sure the small group of "principals" fully understood what the al-Qaida detainees would undergo. The principals eventually authorized physical abuse such as slaps and pushes, sleep deprivation, or waterboarding. This technique involves strapping a person down and pouring water over his cloth-covered face to create the sensation of drowning.

The small group then asked the Justice Department to examine whether using the interrogation methods would break domestic or international laws.

"No one at the agency wanted to operate under a notion of winks and nods and assumptions that everyone understood what was being talked about," said a second former senior intelligence official. "People wanted to be assured that everything that was conducted was understood and approved by the folks in the chain of command."

The Office of Legal Counsel issued at least two opinions on interrogation methods.

In one, dated Aug. 1, 2002, then-Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee defined torture as covering "only extreme acts" causing pain similar in intensity to that caused by death or organ failure. A second, dated March 14, 2003, justified using harsh tactics on detainees held overseas so long as military interrogators did not specifically intend to torture their captives.

Both legal opinions since have been withdrawn.

The second former senior intelligence official said rescinding the memos caused the CIA to seek even more detailed approvals for the interrogations.

Not all of the principals who attended were fully comfortable with the White House meetings.

The ABC News report portrayed Ashcroft as troubled by the discussions, despite agreeing that the interrogations methods were legal.

"Why are we talking about this in the White House?" the network quoted Ashcroft as saying during one meeting. "History will not judge this kindly."

No, history will not judge us kindly, methinks.

(Posted by Matt)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

McCain reveals himself

To me, this excerpt from a John McCain campaign emails once again proves what we at the Punditburo know and fear about John McCain - that his grasp of foreign policy, world affairs, global history, whatever you want to call it, is ignorant and flawed. His views on Iraq are either what they are because he's pandering to the base (which defeats his straight talk cred) or he sincerely thinks that we're in some kind of war with clear cut victories. As Juan Cole recently said at a recent discussion at the University of Michigan's Residential College, we are in the unique place of being responsible for the de-colonization of Iraq. We are a colonial power 150 years too late, and now we have to clean up the mess without reaping the previous benefits. But I digress ( just a little, and only to show what Prof. Cole's esteemed opinion is). The offending excerpt is this:
On issue after issue, never in recent memory has there been such a stark difference in the direction that opposing candidates want to lead America. I intend to win the war in Iraq and bring our troops home with honor in that victory. Senators Clinton and Obama want to surrender and withdraw our armed forces.
I don't mind bringing our troops home with honor, but honor to me might be a little different than McCain, seeing as he's a hawkish veteran/former POW with a temper, and I'm an Eagle Scout who wants to see world peace and a US military that doesn't torture.

(posted by Matt)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Iraq in the Conservative Mind

Frank Rich wrote a column this week in the New York Times which answers many of John McCain's myths about Iraq, and conservative myths about Iraq in general.
That’s why it’s no surprise that so few stopped to absorb the disastrous six-day battle of Basra that ended last week — a mini-Tet that belied the “success” of the surge. Even fewer noticed that the presumptive Republican nominee seemed at least as oblivious to what was going down as President Bush, no tiny feat.

In Mr. Bush’s telling, Basra was a “defining moment in the history of a free Iraq.” He praised the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, and boasted repeatedly that the Iraqi forces were fighting “in the lead.” The Pentagon spokesman declared that this splendid engagement was “a byproduct of the success of the surge.”

It was a defining moment all right. Mr. Maliki’s impulsive and ill-planned attempt to vanquish the militias in southern Iraq loyal to his Shiite rival, the cleric Moktada al-Sadr, was a failure that left Mr. Sadr more secure than before. Though some Iraqi armed forces were briefly in the lead, others mutinied. Eventually American and British forces and air power had to ride to the rescue in both Basra and Baghdad. Even then, the result was at best a standoff, with huge casualties. The battle ended only when Mr. Maliki’s own political minions sought a cease-fire.

Mr. McCain was just as wrong about Basra as he was in 2003, when he said the war would be “brief” and be paid for by Iraqi oil revenues. Or as he was in the 1990s, when he championed extravagant State Department funding for the war instigator Ahmad Chalabi, who’d already been branded untrustworthy by the C.I.A. (The relationship between Mr. Chalabi and the former lobbyist Charles Black, now a chief McCain campaign strategist, is explored in a new book, “The Man Who Pushed America to War,” by Aram Roston.)

As for Basra, Mr. McCain told Joe Klein of Time in January that it was “not a problem.” He told John King of CNN while in Baghdad last month that Mr. Sadr’s “influence has been on the wane for a long time.” When the battle ended last week, Mr. McCain said: “Apparently it was Sadr who asked for the cease-fire, declared a cease-fire. It wasn’t Maliki. Very rarely do I see the winning side declare a cease-fire.” At least the last of those sentences was accurate. It was indeed the losing side — Maliki’s — that pleaded for the cease-fire.

Perhaps all these mistaken judgments can be attributed to the fog of war. But Mr. McCain’s bigger strategic picture, immutable no matter what happens on the ground, is foggier still. Like Mr. Bush, he keeps selling Iraq as the central front in the war on Al Qaeda. But Al Qaeda was not even a participant in the Basra battle, which was an eruption of a Shiite-vs.-Shiite civil war. (Al Qaeda is busy enough in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the actual central front in the war on terror.)

Mr. McCain is also fond of portraying Mr. Maliki’s “democracy” in Iraq as an essential bulwark against Iran; his surrogate Lindsey Graham habitually refers to Mr. Sadr’s Mahdi Army as “Iranian-backed militias.” But the political coalition and militia propping up Mr. Maliki are even closer to Iran than the Sadrists. McClatchy Newspapers reported last week that the Maliki-Sadr cease-fire was not only brokered in Iran but by a general whose name is on the Treasury Department’s terrorist list: the commander of the Quds force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard.

So this is where this latest defining moment in Iraq leaves us: with victories for Iran and Mr. Sadr, and with Iraqi forces that still can’t stand up (training cost to American taxpayers so far: $22 billion) so we can stand down. The Baghdad Green Zone, pummeled with lethal mortar fire, proved vulnerable once again. Basra remains so perilous that Britain has had to suddenly halt its planned troop withdrawals. Tony Blair had ordered the drawdown a year ago, after declaring that “the next chapter in Basra’s history will be written by the Iraqis.”

The surge is a success in exactly one way: American forces, by putting their lives on the line and benefiting from a now-defunct Sadr cease-fire, have reduced violence in Baghdad (though only to early 2005 levels). But as the Middle East scholar Juan Cole has written, “the ‘surge’ was never meant to be the objective but rather the means.”

None of the objectives have been met. Remember that “return on success” — as in returning troops — that Mr. Bush promised in January’s State of the Union? We will end 2008 with more Americans in Iraq than the 132,000 at the time the surge began. Even Gen. David Petraeus said last month that there has not been “sufficient progress” on the other most important objective, Iraqi political reconciliation. Mr. Maliki’s move against Mr. Sadr in Basra, done without even consulting Iraq’s “democratically elected” Parliament, was an attempt to take out his opponent by force rather than wait for the October provincial elections.

Not that other metrics are any brighter. At last, oil production sometimes reaches prewar levels. But a third or more of the oil, as The New York Times reported, is siphoned off to the black market, where it finances the insurgency. The projected date for turning over security operations to the Iraqis — first set for the end of 2006 by Iraqi officials, then moved up to the end of 2007 and July 2008 by our own Defense Department — is omitted entirely in the latest Pentagon report.

“We’re succeeding,” Mr. McCain said after his last trip to Iraq. “I don’t care what anybody says.” Again, it’s the last sentence that’s accurate. When General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker testify before Congress again this week — against the backdrop of a million-Iraqi, anti-American protest called by Mr. Sadr — Mr. McCain will ram home all this “success” no matter the facts.

The opinion piece also says:
Everything else Mr. McCain has to say about Iraq is more troubling, and I don’t mean just his recent serial gaffe conflating Shiite Iran and Sunni Qaeda. The sum total of his public record suggests that he could well prolong the war for another century — not because he’s the crazed militarist portrayed by Democrats, but through sheer inertia, bad judgment and blundering.

I think that McCain is the crazed militarist that Democrats portray him as. His record would seem to bear this out.
Frank Rich takes the Democrats to task for misconstruing John McCain's "100 years in Iraq" comment. McCain was not asking for a 100 year war, rather a 100 year occupation, so what Hillary and Obama said was unfair.
Before we go too far, I'd point out what McCain actually said was just as bad. He was advocating permanent bases, something which or government has carefully avoided saying, while simultaneously allowing for an open-ended war in Iraq. Not exactly innocuous.
(Posted by Ewan)