Friday, August 29, 2008

Quayle Redux

Sometimes, when I sleep, I leave the radio tuned to NPR. This way, my dream merely provides visual for whatever news story I happen to be listening to. This was the case when I heard the news the Palin was selected. When I heard it, I though "this must be a dream" and woke up only to find it perfectly true.
This choice shows John McCain's contempt for the intelligence of the electorate, especially conservatives and women. He's wrong about women, but is probably right about conservatives. Right-wing pundits seem to already believe she's Reagan with a vagina. I heard Abramoff associate Ralph Reed on NPR talking about her fight against corruption, which is rich (side note: Palin claims to fight government waste, for example by opposing the "bridge to nowhere". This isn't true.) It makes sense conservatives like her, she's pro-gun, pro-life, pro-creationism. Just the kind of ideologue that the right likes.

Sarah "Crazy Horse" Palin!? What the Hell?!?!

Seriously? At first I was somewhat disappointed that McCain did not pick Romney or Lieberman (though neither of those seemed likely to me)... but I realized this is just as good. It's funny how much this undercuts McCain's message: Obama isn't ready. Yet, he picked a VP comically under qualified.
What an utter crap VP pick... worst since Dan Quayle.
By the way: McCain and a younger woman who used to be a beauty queen, sound familiar?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Dems Get Serious

8 years of peace and prosperity are nothing to scoff at, but what a really miss about the Clinton years is the eloquence. Obama graciously said in his surprise appearance that "Clinton reminds us when we had a president who put people first". To me, the speech last night reminded me of when we had a president could put words together. Bill at his best shines brightly, Bush, at his best, is somewhat coherent. I recall during the 2004 DNC, a commentator memorably describing Bill Clinton's speech as being "like hearing Mozart play after a night of Salieri music." The speech at this DNC, with its full-throated backing of Obama, long way to erasing Bill's tacky and boorish behavior during the primary.
More surprising was that John Kerry gave a rousing and fiery speech. If he had been like this on the campaign trail in 2004, he might be sitting in the Whitehouse. Ezra Klein has some thoughts on the speech.
The message of Kerry's speech could be summed up like this: "From one flip-flopper who would say anything to get elected to another, Mr. McCain." Kerry was brutal.
The Democratic Party has a tendency to write its losers off. For years after he failed to attain the presidency, Gore was discarded by the very party that nominated him. After Kerry lost to Bush, he was similarly derided: It became impossible, in retrospect, for anyone to explain why Democrats trusted in a wooden windsurfer.

Achieving the presidential nomination is not easy, though, and tonight Kerry reminded the convention center of how he did it. Kerry wasn't exactly courageous as a foreign policy voice in 2004, but he was nominated because he had the potential to be one. There was a gravity to him, and a somberness that came of experiencing both war and its manifold betrayals. Hemmed in by a sense of political caution that reacted poorly to an adverse political environment, he never quite rose to the occasion. Tonight, however, he did. He delivered arguably the greatest speech of his career.

Biden was really good too.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Update from Iraq

From Juan Cole:
The security agreement nearly completed between the Bush administration and the government of the Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki may pull the rug out from under Sen. John McCain on Iraq, according to AP. It will stipulate that US troops will be out of Iraqi cities by June, 2009 and then mostly out of Iraq by 2011. In that light, it will be much harder for McCain to paint Obama as "surrendering" or wanting to "cut and run," since his withdrawal plan is very close to what Bush and the Iraqi government have agreed on.

McCain's position on having long-term bases in Iraq a la South Korea was always pie in the sky, because it assumed that it was a decision he as president would get to make all by himself. Neither the Iraqi parliament nor Congress will likely actually put up with such a policy. Why McCain hasn't been called on this by the Dems is mysterious to me. Why not do an ad? "McCain says he wants long term bases in Iraq. But that is not what the elected government of Iraq says it wants. Is he going to invade again to get what he wants?"

This completely would undercut John McCain's platform.
I forsee more fighting in Iraq as Maliki and the "Awakening Councils" clash.
The Shiite government of al-Maliki is mounting a campaign to arrest hundreds of leaders in the Awakening Council movement among Sunni Arabs, which the US military created and paid for as a way of getting Iraqis to fight fundamentalist radicals ("al-Qaeda"). Although the McCain camp confuses the temporary troop escalation of 2007-2008 and the Awakening Council policy, in fact they were two different tracks. Other observers have argued that neither was as important as the massive ethnic cleansing of neighborhoods in Baghdad and elsewhere, in leading to a reduction of civilian deaths (no one left to kill of the other sect in a lot of neighborhoods). The big question is whether al-Maliki can keep the peace in Sunni Arab neighborhoods without the assistance of the Awakening Councils.

I never expected this strategy to maintain security for as long as it has. The underlying issue, that eventually the Awakening Councils and the central government will fight it out, has largely been swept under the rug as conservatives hype the "success" of the surge. The fundamentals of this peace are unsound.

McCain's Houses

I think Paul Krugman gets the McCain's housing flap: it's a somewhat of a bullshit issue, but bringing it up it completely fair.
First, Republicans always — always — campaign by portraying the Democratic candidate as an out-of-touch elitist, while their guy is a man of the people. Al Gore grew up in a penthouse apartment! (In a shabby residence hotel, but never mind.) John Kerry windsurfs! Meanwhile, George Bush vacations at his ranch (bought as a prop for the 2000 campaign — and he doesn’t ride horses — but somehow that never got brought up.)
Protesting that the candidate is really a wonderful guy doesn’t work. Stupid as it may seem, counterattack is the only option. If the Gore campaign had gone after the fakeness of the Bush ranch, or the cronyism that made Bush rich, the world would be a different place today.

Second, the Obama campaign needed to turn things around fast. Yes, the polls still show a tight race with maybe a slight edge. But a narrative was starting to emerge, of McCain as the comeback kid and Obama as the man who couldn’t live up to his own hype. And those narratives can be deadly.

So, McCain said something that the Obama campaign may be able to use to turn things around. It’s not the way things should be; we really should be talking about health care plans (and I wish Obama would.) But right now, this week, making fun of McCain’s houses (but they’re not his, they’re his wife’s!) was the only option.

It seems to me completely fair-game. John McCain saying Obama is elitist is pot calling the kettle black. McCain should at least be expected to be asked about his wives many houses. The fact that Republicans have always painted themselves as everymen should be an insult to the intelligence of the Ammerican people. McCain married a wealthy beer heiress, give me a break.

Monday, August 18, 2008

John McCain is a Huge Jerk

This is a pretty good opinion on John McCain.
John McCain is a jerk. Alternately a bully and a whiner, and a bald-faced liar to perhaps a greater degree than even George Bush and Dick Cheney, McCain is running a stupid and mephitic campaign that insults even Americans of average intelligence virtually every day.

keep reading

I feel the same way. I never really bought into the McCain myth, but neither did he seem a loathsome jerk like, say, Mitt Romney. Now he's a loathsome jerk.

Good-bye Musharraf

Ever since the Pakistani election that Musharraf's allies badly lost, we've been waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Pakistan is an interesting case. It's far more important than Iraq as far as the issue of terrorism and Al Qaeda go. I suspect that we will have to find some way of dealing with the problems of Pakistan if we wish to succeed in Afghanistan.
Via Matt Yglesias come two articles on Pakistan.
Unfortunately, the worst thing about the Bush administration’s Pakistan policy washed away any of the gains achieved from providing emergency relief. In nearly every single speech on national security, President Bush has made a central argument that has been called the Freedom Agenda. In Bush’s worldview, the forces of freedom and democracy would defeat the forces of terrorism and extremism. The Freedom Strategy was an extension of the “us versus them,” “with us or against us” reaction the Bush administration had to the devastating September 11th attacks here at home. But there have been two main problems with the Bush Freedom Strategy.

First, the actual policy didn’t match the rhetoric in several prominent cases, including Pakistan. President Bush talked a good game when it came to freedom, but when Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf took an autocratic turn in late 2007, imposed emergency rule, and jailed judges, lawyers, and peaceful civil society activists, President Bush offered no criticisms or major shifts in policy.

What strikes me as most ironic about this is, though Bush is constantly pointing to his "Freedom Agenda" (Bush: “No President has ever done more for human rights than I have.”), democracy managed to arise in Pakistan, even though the Bushies fought it tooth and nail, and failed to even embrace democracy even when it was clear that Musharraf had no future. This should be tonic for our arrogance.
The other article has some interesting things to say about the best ways to counter terrorism. It concludes that military confrontation may not be the best option (this is why I'm skeptical of hitting in Pakistan or ramping up our presence in Afghanistan).
Then there’s the study released by the Rand Corporation this week, “How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering Al Qa’ida,” by Seth G. Jones and Marin C. Libicki, which concludes that military operations alone rarely are the primary reason for the end of terrorist groups. The study found that since 1968, most terrorist groups ended operations because they joined the political process (43 percent) or local police and intelligence agencies arrested or killed key members (40 percent).

While a small part of the solution to the terrorist issue will doubtless be military, most of is will be political or law enforcement work, which, while less headline grabbing, will prove more effective.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Georgia On My Mind

It's not every day that I wake up, look in the mirror, and see the sinister visage of Henry Kissinger. But that's a little but how I feel simply letting Russia beat-up Georgia. In doing so, we recognize Russia's sphere of influence in the Caucuses.
Realists like to say that spheres of influence are the best way to maintain peace between major powers. The USSR and the US never came to blows in Europe because we generally recognized their control in the East, and they recognized our control in the west. Of course, it meant that again and again we had to watch as Russia bullied it's neighbors.
Fred Kaplan.
This is where the heartless bastard part of the argument comes in: Is Georgia's continued control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia really worth war with Russia? Is its continued independence from Moscow's domination, if it comes to that, worth our going to war?

At this point, the neocons would enter the debate—in fact some, like Robert Kagan, already have—by invoking the West's appeasement of Hitler's annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938. ("A quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing," is how Neville Chamberlain famously, and catastrophically, brushed away the aggression.)

A few counterquestions for those who rise to compare every nasty leader to Hitler and every act of aggression to the onset of World War III: Do you really believe that Russia's move against Georgia is not an assertion of control over "the near abroad" (as the Russians call their border regions), but rather the first step of a campaign to restore the Warsaw Pact in Eastern Europe and, from there, bring back the Cold War's Continental standoff? If so—if this really is the start of a new war of civilizations—why aren't you devoting every waking hour to pressing for the revival of military conscription, for a war surtax to triple the military budget, and—here's a twist—for getting out of Iraq in order to send a few divisions right away to fight in the larger battle? If not, what exactly are you proposing?

"Appeasement" is often used as pejorative, and it is true that Chamberlain's policy toward Hitler was the height of folly. But what about case where appeasement is in fact a wiser policy? Unlike Hitler, Putin clearly has only regional ambitions, which it's not worth risking a general war over.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Michigan Independent

I'm now going to be writing for the Michigan Independent, a progressive student newspaper at the University of Michigan.
The mystique of writing for any newspaper to me is still romantic, even though the medium is dying. I can't help thinking of H.L. Mencken, George Orwell, I.F. Stone and Murray Kempton.
I'll also be doing some blogging on their site, and probably will be linking to my posts at the Punditburo.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

George Bush=Batman

This opinion piece, from the Wall Street Journal, is actually not satire.
A cry for help goes out from a city beleaguered by violence and fear: A beam of light flashed into the night sky, the dark symbol of a bat projected onto the surface of the racing clouds . . .

Oh, wait a minute. That's not a bat, actually. In fact, when you trace the outline with your finger, it looks kind of like . . . a "W."

There seems to me no question that the Batman film "The Dark Knight," currently breaking every box office record in history, is at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war. Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand. Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past.

This piece, silly as it is, does have a grain of truth. The way Bush perceives the world is very much like a comic book/ action movie. I think it is precisely this mindset that has gotten us in our current predicament.
Dana Stevens turns the analogy around pretty effectively: "the movie seems to arrive at much the same conclusion about Batman as Americans have about Bush: Thanks to this guy, we're well and thoroughly screwed."

Monday, August 11, 2008

Not a Crook

The other big international news, impeachment is closing in on president Pervez Musharraf. The administration still supports him against the democratic leadership of Pakistan.
I'm glad to see this happening, though we should note that it's not just the military that undermines democracy in Pakistan. Pakistan's own democratic leaders can do that fine on their own. Still, it is outrageous that we continue to support Musharraf against his elected opponents.
De facto PPP chairman Asaf Ali Zardari is accusing Musharraf of massive embezzlement of public funds. Zardari himself is widely viewed as extremely corrupt, so it is an index of how far Musharraf has fallen that he is on the receiving end of such charges now.

This does seem somewhat hypocritical, seeing as is known "Mr. Ten Percent" for his immense corruption.
From the AFP:
"We will prepare a case, the president should be there (in parliament) and defend himself, and at least say 'I am not a crook,'" said Hussain, secretary general of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q party.

Unfortunate choice of words, eh?
Considering Nixon is one of Musharraf's models for leadership, this downfall seems altogether appropriate.

The Bear Awakens

(Map: conflicts in the former Eastern Bloc, from the Historical Atlas of the Twentieth Century)
It appears that Russia is angling for regime change in Georgia.
This makes one wonder: did the Russians look at the the precedent set by the US going for regime change in Iraq?
Another interesting question: how much is a result of the precedent of Kosovo? Russia strongly opposed Kosovo's independence. It seems likely to me that Russia decided to turn this precedent against the west, using it in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It will be at least a generation before the problems of the former soviet nations are sorted out, and Russia really is not playing a constructive role.
The situation in Georgia is different, of course. Whatever the problems of Saakashvili government, it democratically elected.
Richard Holbrooke
Whatever mistakes Tbilisi has made, they cannot justify Russia's actions. Moscow has invaded a neighbor, an illegal act of aggression that violates the U.N. Charter and fundamental principles of cooperation and security in Europe. Beginning a well-planned war (including cyber-warfare) as the Olympics were opening violates the ancient tradition of a truce to conflict during the Games. And Russia's willingness to create a war zone 25 miles from the Black Sea city of Sochi, where it is to host the Winter Games in 2014, hardly demonstrates its commitment to Olympic ideals. In contrast, Moscow's timing suggests that Putin seeks to overthrow Saakashvili well ahead of our elections, and thus avoid beginning relations with the next president on an overtly confrontational note.

Russia's goal is not simply, as it claims, restoring the status quo in South Ossetia. It wants regime change in Georgia. It has opened a second front in the other disputed Georgian territory, Abkhazia, just south of Sochi. But its greatest goal is to replace Saakashvili -- a man Vladimir Putin despises -- with a president who would be more subject to Moscow's influence. As Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt pointed out Saturday, Moscow's rationale for invading has parallels to the darkest chapters of Europe's history. Having issued passports to tens of thousands of Abkhazians and South Ossetians, Moscow now claims it must intervene to protect them -- a tactic reminiscent of one used by Nazi Germany at the start of World War II.

Moscow seeks to roll back democratic breakthroughs on its borders, to destroy any chance of further NATO or E.U. enlargement and to reestablish a sphere of hegemony over its neighbors. By trying to destroy a democratic, pro-Western Georgia, Moscow is sending a message that, in its part of the world, being close to Washington and the West does not pay.

I have been increasingly annoyed by people repeating Russian talking-points. The narrative the Russia some sort of neutral peacekeeper in Ossetia is a fantasy. They were in the region under the auspices of CIS, merely a tool of Russian influence in the region. Clearly, what Saakashvili did was both stupid, and probably was given a false impression by talking to the United States. That can't justify the response which Russia has given, especially its attempt to change the regime in Georgia.
Zbigniew Brezinski has some thoughts on the subject.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Cold War Flashback

I try to remind my readers that there are things happening in foreign countries. True, nothing nearly as important as John Edwards having an affair, but interesting nonetheless.
For example, Russia has recently invaded parts of Georgia, and bombed targets around the country.
It's clear that Georgia miscalculated, badly, by attempting to retake South Ossetia, even though the realize Russia could easily step in. Why was this? It's unclear, perhaps they were under the false impression that the US was ready to go to bat for them. After all, the United States supported Georgia's bid to enter NATO (you may recall Bush pushing this at the last NATO summit), you might expect America to go to bat for Georgia on principle. You'd be wrong.
As it is, this is a loss for both the US and Georgia. The US because has to stand and watch as a strategic rival bullies an ally, Georgia because it appears to have lost militarily, and it chance of getting into NATO, however small before, a zero. No one in NATO wants to be dragged into a fight with Russia.
From Foreign Policy
But, coming on the heels of Kosovo's February declaration of independence, this was practically an invitation to Putin to do his utmost to ensure that Georgia wouldn't ever be stable enough to be a NATO member.

Here's the basic logic:

* Georgia can't join NATO until it is stable
* Russia doesn't want Georgia to join NATO
* Ergo, Russia will destabilize Georgia

The policy had the added bonus of revenge for the Western powers' recognition of Kosovo and it cast doubts on the wisdom of using Georgia as an energy corridor. Plus, it puts the United States in an awkward position and exposes American backing of Georgia as not worth a damned thing. For Putin, it's a quadruple play.

While Georgia miscalculated, it's clear that Russia is the real villain here.It's worth pointing out Russia's utter hypocrisy brutally crushing independence movements while bullying it neighbor into accepting similar movements.
Anne Applebaum looks at the Russia and China side by side, and thinks that Russia is ultimately more dangerous, geopolitically. Say what you want about China's monster-state, but at least they seem to be committed to a "peaceful rise". Russia, on the other hand, has increasingly become more aggressive, using resources as a weapon, and now bullying its neighbors. I worry this crisis is but a foretaste of what is to come.

Friday, August 8, 2008

McCain's Energy Plan

From Paul Krugman's column
So the G.O.P. has found its issue for the 2008 election. For the next three months the party plans to keep chanting: “Drill here! Drill now! Drill here! Drill now! Four legs good, two legs bad!” O.K., I added that last part.
And the debate on energy policy has helped me find the words for something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Republicans, once hailed as the “party of ideas,” have become the party of stupid.
In the case of oil, this takes the form of pretending that more drilling would produce fast relief at the gas pump. In fact, earlier this week Republicans in Congress actually claimed credit for the recent fall in oil prices: “The market is responding to the fact that we are here talking,” said Representative John Shadegg.
Sad to say, the current drill-and-burn campaign is getting some political traction. According to one recent poll, 69 percent of Americans now favor expanded offshore drilling — and 51 percent of them believe that removing restrictions on drilling would reduce gas prices within a year.

As Krugman points out, what is really remarkable is how shallow the discussion of energy policy has been by the Republicans and the McCain campaign.
This is not merely the silly, silly drilling dodge. There's more nonsense too McCain's plan than that.
If you recall, McCain voiced support for the creation of 45 new nuclear power plants.
Nuclear power is highly problematic, but it probably the best way to wean us off of fossil fuels. What's the problem with McCain's pitch? Nuclear power plants are built privately in the US, which is precisely why no one want to build them: to much liability. In Europe, the governments are generally responsible for building nuclear power plants, and accepts liability.
Is McCain proposing nationalization of the construction of nuclear power plants? No. His nuclear plan is therefore merely hot air.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Kilpatrick and the Election in Michigan

From the Plank
As Amy Sullivan writes in this week's Time magazine, Michigan is very much up for grabs this November. Yes, we have a Democratic governor and two Demoratic senators, plus we've backed the Democrat in four consecutive presidential contests. But John Kerry beat George W. Bush by the narrowest of margins and McCain, despite having said some impolitic things about disappearing jobs during the Republican primaries, has generally been popular here. McCain's candidacy might look even stronger if he Mitt Romney, whose last name still inspires devotion in these parts, is the vice presidential nominee.

Barack Obama is still strong here, for the reasons he's strong in most Democratic leaning states. But he also has his problems, as Sullivan explains:

Michiganders didn't take kindly to being made the villain in Obama's oft told tale of how he had the courage to go to Detroit and say the auto industry needed to raise fuel-efficiency standards. It was an obvious way to establish his reputation as a "different kind of politician." But it didn't help his relative weakness among blue collar voters.

What does this have to do with Mayor Kilpatrick? Maybe a lot. While the tensions between white suburbs and black cities have subsided across much of America, the tension remains high in and around Detroit, at least based on the anecdotal evidence I've collected as a resident. I'm not exactly sure why this is the case. It could be that the memories of Coleman Young and the riots were simply a bigger deal here than they were in other places; or (more likely) it could be that Detroit remains mired in such economic and social distress. Whatever the explanation, though, it seems that white suburban voters here are more suspicious of black Democratic politicians than white suburban voters elsehwere.

Hopefully, the unfolding downfall of Detroit's boundlessly corrupt mayor will have little effect on the election in this state. But chaos at the top of the political machine in a region so important to the Democrats could hamper get-out-the-vote efforts.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Tonkin Redux

According to Seymour Hersh Cheney's office attempted to create a pretext to go to war with Iran.
HERSH: There was a dozen ideas proffered about how to trigger a war. The one that interested me the most was why don’t we build — we in our shipyard — build four or five boats that look like Iranian PT boats. Put Navy seals on them with a lot of arms. And next time one of our boats goes to the Straits of Hormuz, start a shoot-up.

Hersh generally knows more about what's going on in the inside than he tells in his articles, because his article must be facts that are more easy to substantiate.
Juan Cole

The discussion in Cheney's office was provoked by the Iranian speedboat incident in January, 2008, in which the Bush administration alleged that five small unarmed Iranian speedboats accosted a US naval vessel.
One thing Hersh, Think Progress and others have not mentioned is that the original incident was itself almost certainly a GOP provocation, since unarmed speedboats do not actually pose a danger to US destroyers, and funny business went on with artificial matching of videotape to an audio transmission in English of undetermined origin.

Need more be said? I think the facts speak for themselves. This was second attempt to mislead the public into another aggressive war.
Of course, they considered doing something like this to provoke the war in Iraq, by painting US reconnaissance in UN colors (yes, this is against international law). Instead, they used the lie of WMDs and Al Qaeda ties.

RIP Solzhenitsyn

The dissident and writer died recently at 89.
What is worth remembering about Solzhenitsyn is his struggle against totalitarianism. There is another side to the author certainly, the Russian nationalist side. From the Volokh Conspiracy
Unlike fellow dissidents such as Andrei Sakharov, Solzhenitsyn was a Russian nationalist, not a liberal democrat. As such, he was suspicious of Western-style democracy and individual rights. While he was not as much of a chauvinist as some other Russian nationalists, his writings defending czarist Russia and Russian culture sometimes verged into anti-Semitism. For example in one of his last books, Two Hundred Years Together, Solzhenitsyn made the absurd claim that the czarist-era Russian government was not anti-Semitic and that Russian Jews bear as much or more blame than Russian gentiles do for the historic conflicts between the two groups. As Cathy Young has pointed out, in view of the czarist state's "systematic oppression and violence" against the Jews, this is "a bit like asking blacks to accept their share of blame for Jim Crow."

For this reason, it should not surprise us overly much that Solzhenitsyn later became a supporter of the Putin regime.
Unsurprisingly, the Russian leadership eulogizes him as nationalist and supporter of the latter-day Chekist regime, rather than a dissident from Stainist tyranny. What a pity.