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Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

A great question

From the L.A. Times

In response to the “recommendation” from General Petraeus that the U.S. should keep 130,000+ troops in Iraq until at least July and spend another $100 billion. 

What else could the United States do with a guesstimated $100 billion to reduce the strength and the appeal of Islamist terrorist groups worldwide?

If you think about it, deploying troops to Iraq is a rather ass-backwards way of addressing the threat of Islamist terrorist groups around the world.  Some, like myself, would argue that it doesn’t address that problem at all and actually aggravates it.  But all that aside, $100 billion could buy an awful lot of things.  And maybe some of those things actually works better than what we’re doing. 

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Greg Sargent has an excellent breakdown of the public relations campaign to make it look like the surge is working and how the media has enabled it.  This sort of thing really is a life or death issue.  The longer this type of crap goes on, the more we’re dying over there. 

This is not a game. 

The conduct of this war should not be evaluated in terms of a political campaign.  Policy principles on the war are infinitely more important than a political career.  Stop playing the game!  Right now, while the cocktail circuit orders another one on the company tab and tells the latest clever anecdote about who said what to who, young men and women are risking their lives conducting dangerous missions which are not designed to get us any further along toward our objectives. 

It’s a disgusting excercise in “looking busy.”  Meanwhile, our media establishment continues to pretend that the dog and pony show is the real thing. 

I wrote this just over a week ago

2. This “Surge is working” meme being pushed by the Bush administration and certain supporters of the war is the function of knee-jerk analysis.  Of course having more troops to conduct more military operations will have an effect on tactical issues.  But tactical military issues aren’t the source of the overall problem.  This war is not primarily about fighting enemy troops in the field of battle.  Killing a bunch of people won’t actually make things better. 

We are trying to prop up/create/maintain/establish a unified Iraqi government which provides security and government services to the people so that markets can function, schools can operate, and people can begin to invest again in their communities.  None of the so-called signs of progress being thrown around loosely by war supporters speak to these issues and therefore evaluating the efficacy of the surge is premature, at best. 

The fact that many war supporters are relying so heavily on skewed data to push their version of the war in the media is an indication to me that they still don’t get it.  They believe the war can be fought and won in the media.  Good public relations is a part of any effective war campaign in this day and age but it’s not an alternative to the facts on the ground. 

But then again it’s convenient to define the war’s progress with the way the media has portrayed it.  It makes pundits who support the war “soldiers” and makes those in the media who don’t play along “the enemy.” 

Somebody please wake up. 

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Remember that question (asked of Miss Teen USA South Carolina) about how American students were having trouble finding the United States on the map? 

(Via David Kurtz at TPM) Here’s President Bush talking about Southern Louisiana: 

“[T]he taxpayers and people from all around the country have got to understand the people of this part of the world really do appreciate the fact that the American citizens are supportive of the recovery effort.”

“I come telling the folks in this part of the world that we still understand there’s problems and we’re still engaged.”

“We care deeply about the folks in this part of the world.”

In other related news, Bush announces his plan to negotiate a free trade agreement with the state of Louisiana. 

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In yet another exercise in political suicide, the Republicans seem to be conceding the Hispanic vote to the Dems this election cycle.  With the exception of John McCain, all of the Republican candidates are encountering “scheduling” conflicts on the date of the Spanish language Univision debate. 

 Here’s Kos

What’s obviously happening is that they don’t want to piss off the xenophobic nativist Right, where “speaking Spanish” equals the collapse of Western civilization. But as Rove has always known, the Latino vote growing in size and influence, and if it becomes a reliable Democratic constituency (like African American and Jewish voters), the GOP is screwed for generations.

So as a partisan Latino Democrat, I say to the GOP — thanks! Your actions speak louder to my community than my words ever would.

I get the strategy of appealing to the “nativist” vote but seriously where else are the “nativists” going to go? 

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CBS13 Sacremento in covering the Larry Craig gay sex scandal actually roleplays how to solicit gay sex in a public bathroom.  Hilarious.  God bless local news. 

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There’s been a ton of Katrina articles the past few days and I wanted to highlight without comment some of the best ones I’ve read. 

Doug Brinkley writes about the feckless rebuilding efforts in New Orleans and what it says about the priorities of the Bush Administration, the local politicians, and the future of the area

Newsweek interviews the doctor who was arrested and hauled before a grand jury (which declined to indict) for her palliative treatment of acutely ill patients at the Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans

Robert Greenwald and Brave New Films has a video up about New Orleans two years later, along with a petition to support Senator Dodd’s Gulf Coast Recovery Bill of 2007

Rick Perlstein has numerous posts up looking back at Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath but here is one about Haley Barbour and his business partners who have sought to cash in on the devastation

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Robert Greenwald and Brave New Films produced a video which illustrates a point I was making in the comments of an earlier post

Here’s what the reader Martin Sims wrote in part: 

Here we are once again considering the terrorist nation of Iran. A nation that controls Palestine through Hamas, Lebanon and Syria though Hezbollah, and Iraq through the Mahdi army, untold numbers of insurgency and militant organizations and even Al Qaeda. Iran is closing in quickly on the ability to mass produce nuclear weapons while our politicians are arguing over whether or not they are even a threat to the region, and our own nation. Israel, as I have said before, does not have the luxury of debating this issue until the day it is confirmed that the Iranian nuclear program has in fact produced it’s first reliable weapon. Israel has nuclear weapons but will they use them? It is a strongly held belief that only the United States can deliver a conventional strike devastating enough to impact the Iranian nuclear program, however, if the United States does not do that and soon, Israel will be forced to consider the nuclear option as it’s only reliable means of ensuring it’s continued existence.

If the United States is unable or unwilling to confront Iran militarily within the next 12 months, world war three is almost a certainty. Because if Iran is able to get all their pieces in place before they are directly attacked, this chess game is over and no country in the world will be safe from the terrorist army they have been building up arming and training for over 30 years. China, Russia, Venezuela and many other countries have already chosen their allies in this struggle by supporting, supplying and defending Iran in it’s quest for nuclear weapons and undying support of terrorism in all it’s horrific forms and manifestations.

Here’s my response which, I feel, is buoyed by the excellent video embedded above. 

It is truly mind boggling how little you actually know about the way the Middle East works, the actual relationship between Iran and paramilitary elements in the Middle East, the foreign policy objectives of Iran, and the U.S. airstrike (and Israeli for that matter) capability.

Some people may “strongly” hold beliefs that the U.S. is the only nation capable of decimating the Iranian ability to build nuclear weapons but that doesn’t make it true. In fact, there is quite a bit of disagreement in the intel community over the efficacy of airstrikes at all. This isn’t the early 1980’s. Iran is conducting its programs mostly underground and there’s simply no good information on what would happen if we hit them even with our best weapons at those locations, or even if we know where all of the underground facilities are located.

And again, the talk about the airstrikes neatly sidesteps these issues by saying that the point of these attacks would be to put Iran in its place and make them pay for supposedly mucking up Iraq. Not to mention the fact that the intel over that assertion is in question. Much of the sourcing from that intel has come from a particular subversive Iranian group operating in Iraq and hoping to get the U.S. to weaken the Iranian government. Now where have we fallen for that sort of thing before?

But the claims of influence over the Mahdi Army has been wildly exaggerated. Sure, people in Iran are responsible for sending money and weapons. But we’re not talking about government officials giving aid and instructions to the Mahdi Army. The Shiites in Iraq are notoriously independent and leery of Iran. If anything, we have been driving some Shiite militias into the arms of Iran because of our inability to provide basic security and social services.

None of this stuff is difficult to understand or find in many, many open source materials. One should learn to read and evaluate the source of what one reads before swallowing it completely. In respect to Iran, it’s important to be more than a little skeptical of sources provided by and steming from the Bush Administration. It was only four to five years ago, after all, when we heard similar imminent danger arguments about Iraq.  And we all know how that turned out.

Or do we?

Found video via Rick Perlstein

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Pretty much the short version of this post is “what he says.” 

 But let me add a couple thoughts which I have been chewing on for awhile.

1. This “Blame Maliki” movement is completely self-serving.  I have absolutely no doubt the guy isn’t what we hoped he would be.  But I think that says more about our hopes and the tactics we’ve used in Iraq that have undercut his authority.  The movement is a smokescreen to “give it more time” when the next guy comes in to take his place.

2. This “Surge is working” meme being pushed by the Bush administration and certain supporters of the war is the function of knee-jerk analysis.  Of course having more troops to conduct more military operations will have an effect on tactical issues.  But tactical military issues aren’t the source of the overall problem.  This war is not primarily about fighting enemy troops in the field of battle.  Killing a bunch of people won’t actually make things better. 

We are trying to prop up/create/maintain/establish a unified Iraqi government which provides security and government services to the people so that markets can function, schools can operate, and people can begin to invest again in their communities.  None of the so-called signs of progress being thrown around loosely by war supporters speak to these issues and therefore evaluating the efficacy of the surge is premature, at best. 

The fact that many war supporters are relying so heavily on skewed data to push their version of the war in the media is an indication to me that they still don’t get it.  They believe the war can be fought and won in the media.  Good public relations is a part of any effective war campaign in this day and age but it’s not an alternative to the facts on the ground. 

But then again it’s convenient to define the war’s progress with the way the media has portrayed it.  It makes pundits who support the war “soldiers” and makes those in the media who don’t play along “the enemy.” 

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There were two more stories yesterday and today about executive overreach by the Bush administration. 

The first is about the as-of-yet unknown details of the NSA wiretap program.  The Office of the Vice President has acknowledged now that it is holding key documents about the program and is claiming Congress cannot reach into the Vice President’s office for information because any information existing in the VP’s office is privileged. 

The second story is a new legal claim that the White House and anyone else in the Office of Administration is exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests

There are so many of these stories in so many different policy areas that I think it’s sometimes difficult to understand the big picture.  These articles are giving us short little descriptions of various parts of Bush’s government but there are very few broad looks at what it all means.  In other words, we lose for the forest for the trees. 

Here’s my initial stab at the forest: 

Separation of powers

As advocated in the litigation surrounding Cheney’s energy task force, the Bush administration believes that each branch of government (especially if that branch is the Executive) has its own exclusive sphere, with little or no overlap and little or no oversight.  Congress cannot enforce its own laws.  The Executive Branch has the power to interpret and enforce the laws of Congress as it sees fit, the power to go to war, deploy military resources, and define (and evaluate) its own foreign policy objectives.  It also has the power of appointment of the judiciary, which can be done with or without Senate approval (recess appointments). 

The role of Government

The primary objective of the government is not providing government services.  It is the extension and maintenance of political power.  Appointments are made not with an eye toward efficiency or competence (see FEMA, EPA, Department of Interior, Department of Defense, CIA, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, etc.).  Appointments are made with two main objectives in mind – loyalty to the political program and political patronage (there is a difference). 

Appointments serve to carry out political objectives (see U.S. Attorney scandal) and to insulate the President (see AG Gonzales).  They are also made to provide back channels and unofficial information pipelines to key officials in the administration (see the CIA,  and also Doug Feith). 

Approaching government in this way frees up the administration from actually needing to provide the services they talk about.  It only needs to generate enough talking points (whether based on fact or not) to create the impression of services.  Which is one of the reasons why arresting and detaining terrorists was done with an eye toward public relations and not the actual trial which would have required a lot more discretion, investigation, resources, and hard work. 

This approach is also chiefly responsible for the way we got into the Iraq War.  An intel shop was created with a pipeline to Cheney and fed him only the raw intelligence which served to reinforce a pre-existing policy decision. 

The role of regulation

This deserved its own section in my mind, even though it is inherently related to the role of government listed above.  Part of why the Bush Administration made the appointments they made in the regulatory agencies was political patronage and loyalty to the political program. 

But the role of ideology, related to the above, cannot be ignored.  Complete faith in ideology means it is not important to follow up by investigating facts on the ground.  The details are irrelevant.  Patience and faith will be reward by the inevitability assured by ideological belief.  Market forces will correct all errors.  God will make sure the good guys win. 

So the job of government is to weaken controls, to cut taxes, and to let businesses and the market figure it out.  Of course, when ideology conflicts with the Bush Administration political aims, politics wins (see expansion of medicare).  Meaning – the President can redefine the ideology to fit his aims. 

The President and the People

The President has the power to order surveillance on anyone, regardless of reasonable suspicion, probable cause, or whatever.  He has the power to limit the people’s ability to obtain information about his agenda and activities.  He can also prevent people from approaching him or addressing him or even listening to him whenever he appears in a public forum. 

The President also has the authority to detain an individual indefinitely with little or no explanation, access to the courts, or to family members or an attorney.  After the President has detained a person under those conditions and finally gives that person permission to go home, he has the power to silence any dissent or disclosure from that person about the circumstances of his detainment, under penalty of being locked up again. 

The President can also torture people. 

I’m sure there is more to say.  But this has all been pretty depressing.  Let me just end with this. 

Although Bush is a Republican and the Republican party has plenty to answer for in the way this administration has perverted our style of government, this is not representative of the traditional Republican style of governing.  Bush is certainly a product of the neo-conservative movement which found a fertile home in the Republican party since the 1960’s.  But to say that by virtue of their membership in the party, there are no differences between them and everyone else in the party is simplistic (and perhaps opportunistic) ignorance. 

But the Republican party can’t ignore the fact that they provided a happy home for this style of governance.  And benefited from its presence. 

Feel free to add or amend in the comments. 

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My professor told us this story (which I am now going to promptly butcher) about his time on the campaign trail. In 2004, he was going door-to-door campaigning deep in the backwoods of rural Mississippi (or Arkansas, or Louisiana, I forget which, but you get the gist). They were in a particularly poor neighborhood one day, where most of the residents lived in trailers. He approached an especially run-down trailer, with overgrown grass and trash on the front lawn, and knocked on the door. A woman answered, wearing a moo-moo (miu-miu?). “I’ve never honestly seen anyone in a moo-moo before this,” he said. The woman was holding a toddler on her hip; there was a teen girl behind her, holding a baby on her hip; and a few assorted children crouched behind her. Everyone looked ragged, malnourished. He started talking to the lady, and came to the question, “What is the single most important issue to you in the upcoming election?” Obviously, there were a lot of issues that probably concerned this lady’s life — the economy, obviously. Maybe better access to healthcare. Maybe the war in Iraq, since those fighting and dying disporoportiately come from poor families like hers. Maybe better public schools.

She furled up her brow and sneered a bit, my professor said, and answered him with absolute conviction: gay marriage.

My professor was flabbergasted. Gay marriage? “I can guarantee you that there were no gay people even out, let alone getting married, within 200 miles of her,” he said. But there she was, standing here in this trailer home with all these babies on her hips, ready to cast her vote for whatever candidate could assure her that, on his watch, no gays anywhere were going to be threatening her by walking down the aisle.

I’m telling you this co-opted story because it segues nicely into the book I’m currently reading: The Political Brain, by Drew Westen. In fact, Drew tells a very similar story in the book, albeit with less colorful details (hell, as far as I know the hillbilly / gay marriage story is an urban legend, a useful parable for Democratic campaign strategists).

The basic premise of Westen’s book is that all the centuries of political and philosophical theory that attribute human decision-making to things like reason and dispassionate logic is wrong — or not wrong, per se, but just not telling the whole story. Backed by a few decades worth of research and a century or so of evolutionary biology/psychology (Westen is a clinical psychologist), Westen makes the case that emotions play a much stronger role in decision-making, especially political decision-making, then most people would care to realize.

He also looks at the way that, over the past 50 years, Republicans have learned to capitalize on these appeals to emotion, and Democrats (with the exception of Clinton) have largely failed. Now, the whole “Republicans appeal to hearts / Democrats appeal to minds” business is so oft-argued and written about these days as to be practically a cliche, but Westen (himself a Democrat) manages to avoid coming across as hackneyed by virtue of his massive amounts of research and his excellent and often entertaining prose. The man can turn a phrase. Examples:

With the exception of the Clinton years, what has differentiated the Republican candidates and strategists in the last 30 years from their Democratic counterparts is whether they drew their inspiration from the marketing team or the debate team.

When reason and emotion become disconnected, the result is often disaster. Sometimes this disaster may take the form of a neurology patient who … can’t use emotion to stay out of harm’s way. Sometimes it takes the form of a psychopath, a person who experiences little or no remorse, empathy, or concern for others, who may know he is breaking laws or causing others pain, but doesn’t care.

At other times, this disaster may take the form of a Democratic political campaign.

On Gore challenging Bush about Medicare plans during the 2000 debates: “It didn’t help, of course, that the media did their postmodernism routine, turning Gore’s claims about Bush’s Medicare plan and tax cuts, which both turned out to be true, into a he said/she said contest of competing claims to a truth that somehow couldn’t be adjudicated.

The weight of evidence had a small effect. Even when we handcuffed people to the data with titanium cognitive cuffs, they managed, Houdini-like, to free themselves from any constraints of reality thought he power of emotion.

The strongest part of the book, though — or at least my favorite part — is all the examples Westen provides. We all know the conventional wisdom about Democrat vs. Republican political appeals, but it’s easy to imagine the heart/mind business is a bit over-hyped, isn’t that shocking, until confronted with example after example from the past 20 years. Westen provides snippets from political debates and the text of Democrat and Republican campaign ads, and the results are pretty striking. The most egregious example so far, though, probably comes when Westen contrasts commercials put out by the Clinton campaign and the Kerry campaign. He examines the first ad each man put out after being granted the Democratic nomination. While Clinton’s is folksy and accessible … Kerry’s — well, it’s just hard to describe how bad it is without giving the whole transcript. He actually says at one point something along the lines of “I feel public service is important, because having come from privilege, having gone to Yale …” Aghhh! You read that and think, oh my god, did he really say that? In his first introduction to the public at large? In a political arena that had most recently elected a president who’s sex appeal, if you will, rested almost solely in his anti-intellectualism and his ability to paint himself as a good old boy? And Kerry’s first commercial actually uses the words privilege and Yale? What were Kerry’s campaign people possibly thinking? Was Kerry’s entire campaign staff actually secretly made up of Republican operatives?

The transcripts from the Gore/Bush debates are pretty damning as well. I’m slightly too young to remember these debates (okay, okay, I was 17/18 at the time, but … well, wait, why am I trying to defend my young self for not watching the debates? I don’t watch the debates now…). Time and time again, Bush responds with, like, nothing. I mean, what he says is almost nonsensical. Or it’s downright nonsensical. But it’s emotionally resonant nonsense. Powerful nonsense. And then Gore counters with a statistic.

The book isn’t all just he said/he said, either. Westen has done a lot of research himself over the years, and he’s got some pretty fascinating examples of how the partisan brain works. I’m only about 1/3 of the way through so far, though. I’m sure I’ll have more to say as I progress …

(Addendum: classmate Adrienne has pointed out to me that our professor was actually in South Dakota.)

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Michigan is moving up its primaries to January

Pretty soon every state will move up their primaries and we’ll be back where we started, only everything will start earlier.  Except that since the nomination will get decided so early, there will be a serious lull in campaigning between the clinching of the nomination and the convention.  

For the states, this isn’t just about being relevant for the sake of having a say on issues.  It’s about collecting the revenue that’s generated from the campaigns when your primary makes a difference.  No one wants to be left out of their share of the pie. 

It also means that candidates need to start campaigning earlier and need to raise more money and raise it earlier.  This, of course, raises the bar once again on who is able to run for office.  It just gets harder and harder for Joe Schmoe to run. 

Can we just get full public financing of elections please? 

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Looks like Governor (and Democratic Presidential Candidate) Bill Richardson is going through all the motions necessary to implement a state sponsored medical marijuana program without actually doing it. 

Gov. Bill Richardson ordered the state Health Department on Friday to resume planning of a medical marijuana program despite the agency’s worries about possible federal prosecution.

However, the governor stopped short of committing to implement a state-licensed production and distribution system for the drug if the potential for federal prosecution remains unchanged.

The department announced earlier this week that it would not implement the law’s provisions for the agency to oversee the production and distribution of marijuana to eligible patients. That decision came after Attorney General Gary King warned that the department and its employees could face federal prosecution for implementing the law, which took effect in July.

Even if Governor Richardson decided to implement the program he is planning, it seems like a smart move to keep that close to his chest for now.  He can control the story at this point and possibly put the Democratic congress and President Bush on the spot. 

Also Friday, Richardson, a Democratic presidential candidate, sent a letter to President Bush urging the federal government to allow states like New Mexico to implement medical marijuana programs without fear of federal prosecution.

Such as exception would require Congress to approve legislation changing the law, Gallegos said.

Last month, the U.S. House rejected a proposal _ on a 165-262 vote _ that would have blocked the Justice Department from taking action against state medical marijuana programs, including New Mexico’s.

Personally, if a doctor wants to prescribe marijuana and a patient wants to take the prescription and states want to allow it, I’m not entirely sure why Bush believes he’s got anything to say about it. 

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Although there are thousands of Hurricane Katrina victims still living in Katrinatowns, real estate investors are buying up and developing luxury condos in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and qualifying for tax breaks and incentives meant for Katrina victims as part of the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act of 2005.

With large swaths of the Gulf Coast still in ruins from Hurricane Katrina, rich federal tax breaks designed to spur rebuilding are flowing hundreds of miles inland to investors who are buying up luxury condos near the University of Alabama’s football stadium.

The tax breaks are going to those investors who are buying the condos in order to rent them out.  It was all a part of a plan to spur the development of housing for victims who lost their homes.  The act designated certain areas “GO Zones” which was meant to target the most blighted areas in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.  The only problem is that Tuscaloosa, Alabama is 200 miles from the coast and suffered very little damage. 

 Locals say Tuscaloosa was included in the GO Zone through the efforts of Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, who is from Tuscaloosa, graduated from Alabama and sits on the powerful Appropriations Committee.

(more…)

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