Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Some Good News From Minnesota For a Change

So, the Minnesota Supreme Court voted 5-0 that Al Franken was the winner of the disputed Senate seat. Coleman has publicly said, that he congratulated Franken on the victory (which I guess means Coleman has finally given up). Now that the State Supreme Court has given their official "Ja, you betcha" to the election, this gives the Democrats 60 votes in the Senate just in time for the big health care reform fight. What's more, Franken is not exactly likely to be one of those Democrats opposed to the public option.

This could be why Coleman was fighting this one so hard. The Republicans are fanatically opposed to real health care reform - just as they were opposed to social security, medicare and medicaid. With the Democrats at 60 votes, it will be very hard for the Republicans to block a bill. They'll need to get at least one of the members of the Democratic caucus to vote with them just to filibuster - which can be politically costly given that, from what I heard on CNN et al, over 70% of Americans support a public option (the main sticking point).

Now it comes down to Harry Reid and the senate leadership, especially the Majority Whip, Richard Durbin (D- ILL) to get the party unified behind the public option plan.


Monday, June 29, 2009

More Idiocy from Michele Bachmann

Michele Bachmann is a nutty right-wing congresswoman from Minnesota. Today she let it be known that she considered the census a violation of her privacy rights except for the question as to how many people lived in her house, and she will answer no more than that. The black-helicopter crowd has another hero.

Bachmann is forgetting, of course, that she does not believe in privacy rights.

She is quite adamant that there is no right to privacy in the constitution. That's because, in that context, the right to privacy entails a woman's right to make decisions about her own reproductive cycle, i.e., whether or not to use contraception or have an abortion.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

An Interesting Take on Iran

So in a small ray of journalistic sunshine in the hurricane of Michael Jackson coverage, Fareed Zakaria was interviewing a former CIA field agent who specialized in working in the Middle East, Robert Baer. Baer was arguing that what we are seeing in Iran is a coup d'etat by the Revolutionary Guard. He's not the only one suggesting this. As evidence he pointed to the rapid and aggressive response by the Basij who are directly controlled by the Revolutionary Guard. He also pointed out that Ahmadinejad is a former officer in the Revolutionary Guard and has significant influence with its leadership. He had some other arguments but let's assume for the moment that this is what happened in June of 2009.

If this was essentially a military coup, then the proper comparison for the demonstrations in Iran right now is not Eastern Europe in 1989 but rather Poland in 1981. In Poland, the Communist party rule of the country was essentially replaced by martial law under the command of General Jaruzelski. Jaruzelski was a member of the party but his career was a military one, not a party one. His take over marked the effective end of Communist Party rule in Poland. Of course the Jaruzelski government took pains to maintain the impression of continued Communist rule and they maintained the military alliance with the USSR. But the Party no longer dominated. In the classes I took in college on Easter European nationalism and democratization, I heard/read that many of the last "true believers" in Communism in Poland became jaded and disillusioned at this point. It was the beginning of the end of Communism in that country.

The analogy in Iran could be that this is the end of Islamic Revolution. The mullahs are no longer in control. They have been replaced by a military clique that, while maintaining the outward appearance of the Islamic Republic, is essentially military rather than religious in character. Just as Jaruzelski's approach to government was that of a military dictator rather than a committed Party Boss. In Poland it took several years and one more crisis to really complete the downfall of communism. If this analogy is valid, it may take a similar degree of patience for the Iranians.


Freeze Settlement Growth in Occupied Territories

The defense of settlements usually takes this format, making two arguments. The first, which I will ignore, tries to make phony arguments about international law. The second is that it is wrong to tell Jews where they can and cannot live. That second one is more common (FoxNews common) and more dangerous. It is also the most insidious.

Nobody cares if Jewish people want to live in the West Bank. Or rather, Palestinians may dislike it but that's not the issue. The concern is that Jewish people want to build Jewish-only towns that then become part of a Jewish state, a state where non-Jews are defined as outsiders, whether or not their presence in small numbers is tolerated. If Palestine were to become a bi-national state, as many liberal and socialist Jewish groups favored in the 1930s (those who realized that Jewish nationalism was just another species of nationalism, which was as suspect as all nationalism) then anyone could live anywhere they wanted in Palestine. But so long as Israel defines itself as a "Jewish" state, planting settlements is not about Jewish people living where they want, it's about expanding the boundaries of the Jewish state and excluding non-Jews from either living there altogether or from being full members of the community. None of these right-wing Jewish communities would consent to live in an Islamic or Arab state, so defined.

This is why the "freeze" is so important, and why the Obama administration and the Quartet is demanding it. Because settlements are not about Jews freely living where they want, but about seizing land for a Jewish state, they are antithetical to the land-for-peace deal that the UN demanded in Res 242 nearly 40 years ago. So-called "natural growth" is an excuse to keep building and settling. Since the peace negotiations began in 1994, the number of Jewish settlers has doubled. Doubled. The idea is to make surrender of the land, by uprooting what is now close to 250,000 Jews, politically impossible. More settlers only makes it harder, which is the purpose.

Let's not spend any more time giving lip service to the argument that Jewish settlements in the West Bank are about the freedom of Jewish people to live where they want. Israel is building a wall around Israel that encompasses all the "settlement" land in an attempt to redraw the 1967 boundaries. Netanyahu is upset because the Obama administration is finally calling him on it.


Saturday, June 27, 2009

What Causes Regimes To Change

So LTG's post about the Neo-Cons banging the war drums for "regime change" in Iran has inspired me to post something about what causes regime change and democratization.

Political scientists have done a lot of research on this subject. Much of it has its roots in research by people like Samuel Huntington who also did work for the government advising them about how to establish a stable regime in South Vietnam (so that worked out). His most influential book among political scientists is Political Order in Changing Societies. The premise of Huntinton's early work was that democracy didn't matter - the emphasis was stability and order. Democratization was not that important as a goal. This book was a product of the times (the Cold War) in which the US government was more concerned with preventing regime change (especially preventing Communist take overs) than fostering it. He also wrote about the "Third Wave" of democratization. But this work did not meet the standard for rigor in the discipline at the time nor did it provoke the controversy of his later work. Huntington's last book before he died was the infamous "Clash of Civilizations." A lot of Republicans LOVE this book. It seems to argue that conflict between different cultures is inevitable. Many neo-cons use the arguments in this book to justify their (as Dr. S. pointed out) quasi-religious faith in military conflict as a means to achieving regime change. But even here they miss the point. Huntington is arguing that the conflict will continue regardless of the identity of the leadership. Huntington was arguing (and I disagree) that conflict between the West and the Muslim world is inevitable and persistent. Regime change won't effect it.

I prefer other approaches in political science. Researchers who have focussed on democratization and revolutions. Some of the prominent figures in this literature are Gabriel Almond, Barrington Moore, Theda Skocpol, who wrote at about the same time as Huntington. They took a more sociological approach to the problem emphasizing varying combinations of economics, culture and institutional structures. The interest in institutions really started to kick in the 80s and later with researchers like Joel Migdal, Juan Linz and Robert Putnam. Migdal emphasize the role of the state and its relationship to civil society. Linz argued that presidential systems were inherently unstable in new democracies. Robert Putnam argued that corrupt and ineffective institutions were likely to be found in combination with societies in which civic engagement was low.

There are also works that have made the argument that oil is bad for democracy. The best example of this research (in my opinion) is Michael Ross. He has produced a number of good articles that show that not only does dependence on oil exports hinder democratization, it appears to have a significant and negative impact on women's rights.

These are not the only researchers in this area. There are others that some might think are important that I left out because I'm not trying to produce a solid academic lit review here, just a list of friendly suggested readings. But the bottom line from this list of authors is that democratization is extremely complicated. None of the researchers that I know of (not even Huntington) have ever argued that all you need to do to establish a democracy in a country is invade and remove the dictator and watch democracy rise up by divine right (Bush's view).

John Bolton is held up by the neo-cons as an expert in international politics. But his training is in Law not political science. His ignorance about the complexities of democratization is perhaps a symptom of that training. He has a position and he argues forcefully for it but he seems never to have actually researched or read the research of others who approach the problem from a perspective of hypothesis testing.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Why TV News Disgust Me Sometimes

So...Anyone see anything new from Iran lately? No? Oh, that's right, Michael Jackson died. Jackson's death is tragic for his family and I'm sure he was an important cultural icon. But his death and all the controversy surrounding his life and death is nothing compared to the ongoing turmoil in Iran.

The American TV media in particular has a self indulgent tendency to make celebrities the story whenever they can. Remember last year at the height of the 2008 floods, the 24 hour news channels virtually ended coverage of the worst natural disaster to hit this country since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans to do a 3 day weekend of eulogies for Tim Russert. Now, there is a spontaneous uprising in the works in Iran with hundred dead in the streets and CNN et al drop all that to do wall to wall coverage of Michael Jackson.

Can't say I'm surprised. But I'm disgusted.


Transformers: Revenge of the Neocons

Sometimes the subtext is actually text. In the latest Transformers movie, President Obama reportedly runs to and hides in an undisclosed location while his ignorant and arrogant proxy works to ruin our national defensive capabilities and "negotiate" with the enemy, which the film equates to "surrender." In fact, every civilian in the movie (except of course for our hero) is a helpless whiner who gets in the way. There is nothing subtle about it.

By contrast, every member of the American military is a brave soldier with a heart of gold who understands what must be done. The latest aircraft, naval vessels, and automatic weapons--which magically harm only the bad guys--are given more screen time than Top Gun. Naturally, the movie ends in a desert battle that looks just like Iraq, except this time we win... the final scenes done in slow motion with angelic voices suspended over the battlefield. And for good measure, at some point the moviemakers destroy Paris.

Of course, Transformers is an adolescent fantasy franchise and pretends to be nothing else. The hero's parents are weak and clueless. The women are all unreasonably attractive and inexplicably attracted to the young hero. The seductress/dominatrix is, in fact, an evil alien in disguise who wants to kill the young hero. (Freud would have a field day.) And everyone else in the film is male... Even the alien robots.

All this aside, I still enjoyed the film because the action is quite well-paced, the sappy scenes are mostly kept to a minimum, and most of all because the Transformers are, as always, pretty cool to watch on the big screen. But you really have to ignore the swiss-cheese plot and try not to listen to the subtext. Even when it becomes actual text.


Neoconservatives Call for "Regime Change" in Iran

John Bolton, the embarassment who should never have been appointed ambassador to the UN, has now printed an op-ed piece predictably slamming Obama. What is somewhat novel is the insistence that the US "policy" should be regime change in Iran, rather than trying to negotiate. If you're a Fox News watcher, you shout out "yee-hah!" and get all giggy over this. But the more educated segment of the public asks the question: what is a "policy" of regime change about? The answer, of course, is exactly what it was in Iraq: confrontation, building a "case" for war, then invasion. The imposition of our will on Iran. Sure, Bolton and others will talk about "support" for pro-democracy movements and such - the same sort of "support" that has been so successful in Cuba this past half century. But they mean war. They just are too cowardly to openly say that they see military force as the only option. So let's call them on it.

So let's all take a breather and recall how disastrous this same policy was when applied to Iraq. It resulted in thousands of American deaths and tens of thousands wounded. It resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians, perhaps over 100,000 or more. Iraq is poorer and more violent than it was before. It has made Iran stronger and the USA much, much weaker. It has also hurt the world's oil supply, contributing to the spike in oil prices in 2008 and to the current recession that followed, in part, from the financial burden of those energy prices (fewer bankruptcies would have resulted if various companies and homeowners had not already been bleeding over energy prices). It may be true that we have salvaged something from Iraq, but let's be clear. Ex ante, knowing what we know now, we would not have waged that war. We should not do so in Iran. The American people don't want war with Iran. After spending something like a trillion dollars or more on the Iraq war, we literally cannot afford it. Iran is much, much more powerful, more populated, and more difficult to fight in than IRaq. Iraq was a flat, underpopulated desert. Iran is a mountainous country that has resisted most foreign invasions for 3000 years.

So when jackasses like Bolton or anyone at the Heritage foundation tells you that Obama is "weak" on Iran and that we should favor "regime change" understand this: Of course we all favor regime change. Our preferences on this subject are not in doubt. But we have to live in the real world. In the real world, the only way we stop Iran from acquiring nukes is to find a way to work with them. There is no military option.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Too Bad

Michael Jackson is dead. It's not politics in an ordinary sense, but this news will be more widely known even in Iran than anything about Neda or Mousavi. Michael Jackson may have been the most famous human being on earth. The twentieth century made it possible for the almost the whole planet to know of people like this, across a hundred cultures.

So it is all the more sad that, for all that fame, his life ultimately means so little to most of us. Perhaps, as NPR commented, he can be seen as something of a transitional figure or pioneer who helped mainstream African-American pop music. Maybe. But you might hope that a black American more famous around the world than Martin Luther King Jr., Michael Jordan, and Barack Obama put together might be more than just a singer, that he might have more to contribute than unfulfilled dreams of returning to childhood, pedophilia, and endless surgical attempts to become white. Some megastars seem to use the media for their own ends; he always seemed to have been the one used by it. Somehow he bought into the fake world he was supposed to be selling. After a bruising probate battle, I am not sure how much will be left behind. Michael Jackson's obituary was written twenty years ago. This is just the occasion for them to print it.


Some Rhetorical Questions and Comments for the Iranian Government

So reports of unrest in Iran continue at a reduced rate. The Iranian authorities appear to be getting better at implementing their news black out. But I find myself inspired to ask a series of rhetorical questions and make some questions to the Iranian government.

1) Do you really think that people around Iran, the Middle East, or the world believe that Ahmadinajad represents 60% of the population and that all these riots and uprisings were orchestrated by the CIA and other western government agencies?

2) Do you think news of these uprisings is not getting out around the region? Assuming that people in the Middle East, especially in Lebenon and the Palestinian territories, are seeing these images, how do you think it will effect the popular support for your regime and it's allies like Hamas and Hezbollah?


1) This will not help Hezbollah at all. That party just suffered an electoral defeat in Lebanon. I can't imagine this will help them convince fence sitters in that country that they are positive force that fits well with the future of Lebanon.

2) Clearly the cities (both middle and working classes) are not happy about the distributive/economic situation in the country. Even if the current government manages to reestablish order in the cities, it will probably have to spend scarce resources on those areas to try and win over some support from these groups. If not, it will have to spend a lot more money on repression than it would like to. Either way, there may be less money for Hamas and Hezbollah in the near term.

3) Iran's leaders frequently claim that they are the legitimate leaders of their people and that their antagonism towards the US and the "West" is a kind of righteous calling against the "Great Satan." This all too visible repression in the streets of people shouting "God is Great" as they are beaten is not a good fit with the preferred Iranian narrative.

4) Iran is now a threat to the Arab tyrannies for more than one reason. Now, the government of Iran is a threat because of its aggressive regional policies and the people of Iran are a threat because the last thing the Saudi or Egyptian governments want is for their people to get any ideas about protesting unjust regimes.


Palin's Philosophy: When you don't have ideas, lash out

Sarah Palin is trying to build a national reputation as a future leader for the Republican Party by creating conflicts with media people about trivia.   First there was her highly publicized tussle with David Letterman about a joke about the alleged promiscuity of her daughters.  The CW is that Palin won that fight to which I say "ooo....big shot..."  

Now, Palin is picking a fight with a blogger up in Alaska for doctoring a photo of Palin holding Trig or whatever his name is.  In the doctored photo, Trig's face has been replaced with the face of a conservative radio talk guy in Alaska.  The obvious target of the doctored photo is the close relationship between the radio mouth piece and the Governor.  So what is Sarah Palin's response?  "Recently we learned of a malicious desecration of a photo of the Governor and baby Trig that has become an iconic representation of a mother's love for a special needs child.  The mere idea of someone doctoring the photo of a special needs child is appalling."

I'll tell you what is appalling, Palin's shameless willingness to use her special needs child as a prop at political campaign events like the RNC and then try to deflect what is obviously a direct attack at her and her political allies by inventing this BS about the sacredness of photos of special needs children.  I use the word "sacredness" intentionally.  Notice in Palin's statement, that the "iconic" photo was "desecrated."  

I sincerely hope that people will realize that whenever Palin thinks she has a "win" on something like the Letterman tiff, she always takes a step too far.  This kind of thing is what I think about when people say that Palin is some genius politician.  She's not.  This transparent nonsense fight with a blogger in Alaska is case in point.  It might play well with people who already like her but anyone who is trying to make up their mind about her will see this for what it is, shameless grand standing.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Yet Another Republican Caught With His Pants Down

Governor Mark Sanford (R-South Carolina) rather famously disappeared about 5 days ago. The timeline on this story is bizarre! He lied to his family and staff about where he was going, leaving them to come up with one cover story after another. At first he told them he would be "writing" then he told them he was hiking alone on the Appalachian Trial. Meanwhile, it turns out he was in Argentina pursuing an extra-marital affair with an Argentine woman. It goes without saying at this point that Sanford is famous for his strong "Christian family values" positions. He opposes both same sex marriage and civil unions. He has also voted to ban adoptions by gay citizens. As LTG pointed out in a recent phone conversation, these people clearly think the gender of your spouse is more important than your fidelity to them.

There is a clear pattern here. The same psychology that makes men want to become religiously themed politicians seems to make them incapable of having healthy relationships and leading healthy, honest sexual lives. So all you women out there. If your husband tells you he's "been saved" or has "accepted Jesus as [his] personal savior" check his collar for lipstick - the more he prays the more he's getting laid.

He's just resigned as Chairman of the National Republican Governors' Association and he has (until today) been talked about as a potential Republican candidate for the Presidency in 2012. Most recently he tried and failed to get his state to refuse to accept any federal stimulus money. The immediate conventional wisdom is that this helps Sarah Palin in 2012. Palin and Sanford appealed to the same kind of voter.

However, I think that this continuing parade of social conservative Republicans getting caught with their pants down just reveals the hypocrisy of an entire movement. I doubt true independents will be open to the kind of culture war crap that these people peddle in the future. I certainly hope that as the "Religious Right" continues to implode that the momentum for marriage equality will continue to increase.

PS: I can't wait to see the comments from the Republican counter-bloggers.


Big Bonuses at Goldman

So over in New York, Goldman Sachs just had a record breaking year in terms of profits and will be granting huge bonuses to its CEOs. That's just friggin' great. So the US treasury has to sell bonds to make ends meet, and Goldman can make huge money from these sales and then grant huge bonuses. Goldman is making a point in doing this. They want to show Obama that they are not concerned about his attempts to regulate the financial sector... because we need them. See?

I know that in any crisis, some will profit, especially as the failure of Bear Stearns and Lehman Bros. has concentrated the market. But it is still disgusting to me when everyone else is losing jobs, homes, and standard of living and they are bragging about record bonuses, especially after the fervor that hit following AIG's awarding of bonuses. If no one can pay huge sums, then no one will lose talent. That argument that they need huge sums to keep "good" people is bogus. No one is worth that much money.

I was also irritated by NPR this morning. They are running a series on how the economic crisis is stirring a Free-Market Debate Now I appreciate how NPR wants to educate the general public, but it struck me that this shouldn't really be such a big debate. We talk as if there is only free-market capitalism (no government) and government controlled economies, commonly called communism. But we all know that between these two extremes is really a spectrum. There is always some modicum of government intervention. Hello! We need someone to print money and charter banks!

There is no absolutely correct mix and the mix must change and adjust over time. All we have to do is compare European countries to the UK and the US to see the differences. There are varying degrees of government involvement in the economies of Europe, and the people are free, happy, and productive. Like democracy, each country chooses the mix that works for itself. Why talk in absolutes? Maybe NPR will get to this thinking going forward.

[Posted on behalf of USWest]


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

More about Tricky Dick

So it turns out, according to newly-released WH tapes, that Nixon thought that abortion was necessary if there were interracial babies. He said that abortion access would create "permissiveness" and be bad for families, but that abortions were sometimes necessary, "if there was a black and a white - or a rape." What a revolution it is to have Barack Obama sitting in that very office today.

By the way, the tapes also reveal that Ronald Reagan wholeheartedly approved of the Saturday Night Massacre. What a Grand Old Party it is.


New York, New York

So the state of the New York State Senate has gone from bad to worse. The election rendered the chamber 32D-30R, but the Dems were unable to organize for weeks because of the wrangling of three dissident Democrats. Finally they came on board. But it lasted just a few weeks. Two weeks ago, two disgruntled Democrats made a deal with the Republican party to elect one of the two dissidents (Espada-D) the new president of the Senate. Espada managed to get the keys. The other Democrat then switched parties back again within a day, claiming he never really made a switch. So now the NY State senate is split 31-31, and there is no tiebreaking vote because the Lieutenant Governor, Paterson, was elevated to the Governor's chair when Spitzer resigned for lying about repeatedly having illegal sex with a prostitute.

The Democrats have most of the stuff of the Senate body, including the gavel and the staff, but Espada has the keys to the chamber. Governor Paterson called a special session at 3pm today to work it out. The Republicans announced they would start the session at 2pm with their guy, the renegade Democrat, in charge. The Dems then sneaked in at 12:30pm, seized the chamber, and barred the doors. It's not clear why Espada couldn't use his key. When they opened the senate doors, the Republicans commenced to hold their session and the Democrats sat in silence, pretending it wasn't happening. The Republicans passed a slew of bills by unanimous consent, claiming the Dems weren't objecting. The Democrats then held their own session in the same place at the same time. Both groups were apparently shouting over one another tying to hold rival sessions at the same time. The Democratic-appointed sergeant at arms kept the Republicans from mounting the podium. One Democratic senator kept the gavel to herself away from the Republicans. When the Democrats proclaimed the session "at ease" (meaning not adjourned but not in formal session either, allowing members to chat on the floor), the Republicans kept calling them out of order when they would speak. Fistfights almost broke out at various times, but apparently the members worked to restrain the hotheads for a while.

This must have been even more hilarious to watch in person. Before we get all huffy about not doing the people's business, about fiddling while Rome burns, about wasting time and acting like children while the economy is in the crapper, let's at least be grateful that THIS is how we do power struggles in the USA. I'd take it over what's happening in Tehran any day.


Feminism Will Save the Muslim World

The connection between feminism and democracy is long established. John Stuart Mill wrote about equal rights for women as a necessary condition for liberty and prosperity. Many of the leaders of the American Abolitionist movement and the organized labor movement in the 19th century were women. The leader of the democracy movement in Burma (admittedly not a Muslim country but that isn't really the point) is a woman. Benazir Bhutto has become a kind of martyr for democracy in Pakistan. Now it is women who are taking the lead - and the brunt of the violent response - in Iran.

Muslim theocracies and fascist dictatorships from Burma to the Pushtun tribal areas along the Pakistan-Afghan border to Iran to Saudi Arabia have in common their oppression of women. The sight of thousands of educated, women, defiant and demanding to be heard in Tehran must have Muslim fundamentalists and other tyrants from the Straights of Malacca to the Maghrib shaking in their kaftans.

Feminism is probably our best bet for checking the popularity of Al Qaeda and related ideological movements. While I think the US should tred carefully in the short term with regards to Iran, we should make the liberation of women a major strategic priority in our foreign policy.


Monday, June 22, 2009

The Situation in Iran (Proxy Post for US West)

By now everyone has seen the video of the young philosophy student who was shot on Saturday. They say this was done by security forces, but that cannot be corroporated. Journalists are barred from reporting on Neda period. This afternoon on the Diane Rehm Show, when a journalist in Tehran was questioned about Neda over the phone he responded, "I can't talk about that now." Her family has not been allowed a public burial.

In conversations with people who know Iran and from radio reports, the following issues have come up. 1) as the funeral ceramonies move forward for those killed in these protests, the government will find it harder and harder to resist opposition. In Iran there are ceramonies at the (Hafteh) 7th day, (Cheleh) 40th, and then (Sal) one year following the death. During the Revolution, these days were used to shame the regime. Will it happen again?

2) Iranian Republican Guards are like National Reservists. They only work part time as Republican Guard. The rest of the time, they are citizens. They do not want to shoot on their own. And reports are that the Republican Guards overwhelming support moderate, reformist movements. Therefore, they are asking people to get off the streets, saying things like, "Please go home. I don't want to hit you. But those guys over there will! Please, for your families and mine, go home. "Those "guys over there" are Hezbollah and Al Qaeda Apparently, the current regime is employing Hezbollah and . . .get this . . Al Qaeda to conduct the crack down on the protestors. This is very telling. It means Iran knows who Al Qaeda is and has been funding it throughout, which takes me back to my posts about Iran's involvement in Iraq. During the Revolution, the Republican Guards did not want to fire on Iranians. We are seeing it again.

3) The regime is admitting that there voter irregularities, but still claiming that the vote count was too big for these irregularities to make a difference.

4) The British Are Running: The British are coming under greater fire. The British are evacuating embassy dependents . Iran is threatening to cut diplomatic ties with the UK. I find it very interesting that it's the UK and not the US that is getting hit so hard. Has Obama's cautious stance made it harder to hit the US? Something is preventing these guys from raising the US as a specter. They know that among the youth, America is positively viewed. I think they are also concerned about what America will do. It shows that they are more frightened and unsure of the US than we may realize. Besides, we don't have diplomatic ties that they can cut off. So the UK is the next best thing.

5) My Iranian friends are predicting a bloodbath. Iranians will be killed and they think this will go violent. Opposition to the regime has been mounting quietly. Iran is an incredibly diverse country, both ethnically and religiously. There has been upsurge in interest Zoroastrianism in Iran. And the thought is that one day we will see Imams and Ayatollahs strung up on the streets. To quote one friend, "Iranians are long suffering, patient people. They are incredibly kind, but incredibly emotional. When they get angry, it is deep seeded anger that has been suppressed for ages and it will get violent. It will make the French Revolution look like a picnic."

6) I say that when that happens, it will have a huge impact on the entire region. What will happen to Hamas and Hezbollah? What will happen in Iraq? And what about Pakistan and Afghanistan? The impact will be world changing. The whole chess board will re-align.

(This post was composed by US West and posted for her by Raised By Republicans because of computer problems.)


Voting Rights Act

Today in an 8-1 opinion, the Court declined to rule on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act. The pertinent portion of that Act requires pre-clearance by the DOJ of all district lines in places that previously had discriminatory districting and voter registration practices, mostly but not exclusively in the South (Arizona is also included, for example). The 1964 act was intended to be temporary. However, it was renewed in 1982 for 25 years, and renewed in 2006 for a further 25 years. The question that the Court dodged (except for Justice Thomas) was whether the circumstances that supported the Act 40 years ago could justify its continuance in effect today. Justice Thomas would have said "no" to the act based on his assertion that the attempts to disenfranchise blacks are part of history now and would not return if the Act were voided.

This is a good example of what it means to be an "activist" judge and why Justice Thomas is no modest "umpire-like" judge. Although the Congress found that the act should be renewed, he would overrule the act based on his own ideological belief that we now live in a color-blind society. This is a pollyannish view of history also. The notion that we naturally progress somehow from racism to color-blindness is surprisingly teleological for a consetvative. Right now there is no public toleration for racial gerrymandering for the specific purpose of disenfranchising minority groups. But that can change. History shows that this current period of racial tolerance is the aberration in American history, something we must protect, not something we can just take for granted.


The English Are Best

This video has no relevance at all to much of anything but I think it's funny. This video is funny too. I suppose the relevance would be that if any of the people in these videos were from Iran, they'd have been arrested, tortured and probably killed.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

What President Obama Should Have Said About Iran

The right-wing press and politicians (John McCain, Chuck Krauthammer, FOX News...) are all complaining that Barack Obama is not making forceful statements about Iran. The better press is ignoring this sham. We all know that if Obama had made forceful statements about Iran, these same right wingers would be accusing him of not focusing on America, of meddling abroad naively. John McCain would have called Obama naive for not understanding Iran. All of that. Krauthammer would have written a piece decrying Obama's willingness to stand up for the people of Iran, but not for Israel (no Democrat is ever pro-Israeli enough for Krauthammer). And let's face it, all these right wingers would, if they were Iranians, be supporting President Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader for their aggressive "peace through strength" policies and their hardline against radical protestors. They have always prized order over liberty.

So what should Obama have said? Probably what he is saying now. That the people of Iran have to make their own destiny, and it is not for us to meddle in their affairs. Open support of the USA for the protestors would hurt their movement. So let's back off and give them what they really want and need: as much media coverage as possible.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Demonstration in Iran-geles

There is a neighborhood (or two) in West Los Angeles that has so many Iranian expatriots that it is often called "Irangeles." Here is a demonstration at the Federal Building in Westwood (a few blocks down the street from UCLA - which has large numbers of Iranian-American students). This post is really for LTG. LTG LOVES flags. As you watch the video notice that several fights nearly break out because some of the demonstrators are carrying the old Pahlavi flag of Iran (with a lion holding a sword) instead of the current flag.

This is interesting because it exposes the lack of unity in the anti-Ahmadinejad demonstrators (at least among the expats). On the one hand this suggests that this is turning into a broad based anti-regime event rather than a demand for redress for Mousavi's presidential campaign. On the other, it reveals the problem of transforming a demonstration or series of demonstration into a focussed revolution with identifiable goals and a viable alternative to the status quo.

BTW: Southern California has had problems with flag politics among the immigrants before. Several years ago, a Vietnamese-American man was nearly killed by an angry mob because he displayed the current flag of Vietnam in his shop window instead of the old flag of South Vietnam.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Republican Health Care "Plan"

So the GOP leadership has come out with their response to the public option plan that Obama and the Democrats suggested but may not have 60 votes in the Senate for.

The GOP plan is based on pooling. They talk about "reforming Medicaid and SCHIP" but since they opposed both plans establishment in the first place, I doubt they'd reform them by expanding them. In a comment to an earlier thread, Dr. Strangelove was kind enough to post a link to a study done by the Rand Corporation (a non-partisan think tank that does excellent work). If we look at that table, the pooling plan the Republicans are pushing will only improve one area - patient experience. It will difficult to implement and will not solve any other problem. This is a plan for people who think there really isn't a problem.

Meanwhile the Democrats are talking about doing things like expanding medicaid and SCHIP eligibility (both are "public options"). These plans would, according to the Rand study, decrease patient financial risk, improve health and improve coverage and it would be easy to implement. All this without any obviously negative consequences. The draw back that Rand doesn't mention is that it would cost a lot of public money. But when you look at how much we are paying to private insurance companies now, it's not so much an additional cost to us as a shift in who we pay it to.

What do the Citizens think?


You're Pleased?

So the chief UC Admissions officer says she is pleased that they have managed to trim enrollment for the University of California campuses next year down 2,600 students overall. Wonderful. She's also pleased that the "yield" rate is down - that a smaller percentage of students accepted the UC offer this year than last year. Hmmm, what was going on in this country in the time period since applications were submitted in November? Major job losses and cuts of student aid? Presumably many students who got accepted had to say no for financial reasons. What a sad day when our universities are happy about providing less service to the community and educating fewer students. How about saying "we did it because we had to, but we are very unhappy with the budget cuts undermining our core mission to educate the next generation of Californians." Did I mention that the UC schools still managed to increase salaries for top administrators this Spring?

At least the UC bureaucrats know where their priorities are.


Obama Makes Progress on Equality for Homosexuals

Barack Obama is going to issue a memorandum that will have the effect of granting benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees. This is good news and overdue. It's also something that I doubt McCain - Dick Cheney's newfound support for Gay rights aside - would have done.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Senator John Ensign

Oh goody. Senator Ensign (R-NV) just admitted to having an extramarital affair with a campaign staffer in 2007-2008. Please tell us again how important "traditional marriage" is to you, Senator Ensign? What a hypocrite.


Another Republican Caught With Pants Down

Senator John Ensign (R-NV) admitted to having had an extra marital affair last year with a married woman who, together with her husband, were "close friends." This is a man who spoke out against marriage equality for homosexuals because he felt that marriage was sacred. So are there any gay bashing Republicans out there who aren't leading secret sex lives on the side?

According to CNN, he is up for reelection in 2012 and has been hanging out in Iowa a little more than would be normal unless he had presidential pretensions.

Ensign is an extremely conservative senator. He's strongly against civil liberties of all types having voted for constitutional bans on flag burning and marriage equality and for increased flexibility for warrantless wire tapping. He's voted against extending hate crime legislation to include homosexuals. And the NAACP rates him as being 93% anti-affirmative action.

Here's to hoping Ensign gets demoted.


Monday, June 15, 2009

The US and Iran

OK, so the protests in Iran are continuing and becoming more violent. Reports are now that at least one person has been killed by pro-Ahmadinejad paramilitary groups. The opposition leader who supposedly lost the last election is using words like "pay any cost" to contest the election. There are reports of hundreds of students disappearing from the dormitories of closed universities but, of course, given the chaos in the streets it's hard to say if they've been arrested or are simply out in the streets.

This rapidly getting to the point where this will either lead to an attempted revolution or to a Tianiman square style crack down. I don't know anything like enough about Iranian politics to make a prediction about the short term outcome of these unfolding events.

I will say this though. I don't think this could have happened so long as Bush was President. Bush was so confrontation with Iran (calling them "evil" etc) that it served to rally people around Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader, Khameni. Bush all to often made the US, its policies and relations with it, the central focus of political debate. By adopting a more open minded approach, Obama made the issue Ahmadinejad and Khameni and their rule of the country.

Today, Obama spoke at a press conference with Silvio Berlusconi about Iran. Obama said that he did not want to make the United States the issue inside of Iran. But he said he was "deeply troubled" at the scenes of violence and hoped that the "people of Iran" would be allowed to determine their political future. I think this is a dicey situation for the US. On the one hand, the US has done good by encouraging pro-democracy movements in places like Poland. On the other hand, the Middle East is famous for support from the US becoming political poison.


This is What's Wrong With the Republican Party

OK, so here is a story about a prominent leader in the South Carolina Republican Party. Referring to a gorilla escaping from a local zoo, he said that it was probably "just one of Michelle's ancestors." Michelle Obama had just given a speech at SC State University. In his typical "I'm sorry you were offended" style apology, he also mentioned that he was joking not about the First Lady's race but about her assertion that we are all descended from apes (i.e. her support for the scientific understanding of human evolution).

It doesn't matter which interpretation you pick - this is what is wrong with the Republican Party. This guy is not just some crank. He has been a County party chairman and was the head of the state's election commission. And either he is a degenerate racist or - at best - a religious fanatic who makes jokes about evolution and science that would seem anachronistic to most Americans. He's a hold over from the old Scopes Monkey Trial days. He's like a character from "Inherit the Wind." Either way, he represents a part of American society that is clinging not to the 20th century but to the 19th.

The Republican party cannot hope to reestablish itself as a national party unless and until it ceases to be a force of anti-modernism. American society is founded on reason and modernity. From Jefferson and Madison to Lincoln and both Roosevelts, from Henry Ford and the Wright Brothers to Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, from Henri and Bellows to Warhol, Pollack and Rothko, American society, politics, economics and culture has always been about modernity. The only exception to this in all our 400 year history, and it is a partial one at that, has been the slave holding South and its cultural descendants. Even there the forces of anti-modernism are only the local majority, not universal. For the Republican party to establish itself as the champion of anti-modernism is to accept permanent status as a regional party with a finite future even in that region.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Elections in Iran

So the election results are out in Iran and government sources report that Ahmadinejad won by a huge margin (62.6% to 33.8% for the first runner up in a field of four). Turnout was apparently high by Iranian standards (80% or so). I heard on CNN that the reformist challenger, Mousavi, even lost in his own home town, according to the official results, despite the high turnout. When the results were announced, Mousavi's supporters hit the streets and violent clashes with police resulted with around 100 people being reported to have been detained. I'm watching a press conference with Ahmadinejad on CNN as I type this and from his answers and the ridiculously soft questions from the Iranian press (which is being aggressively censored), I'd say this smells like a rigged election. It's worth noting that Iran does not allow outside election observers to watch the vote or vote count.

So what does this mean in light of our recent discussion about democratization in Iran? I would say that those who were expecting that Iran would soon be moving towards increased democratization would have to recognize this as at least a short term set back. Of course, it may provoke more demonstrations but given the ability of the Iranian police and military to crack down on demonstration, I doubt it will happen (but I wouldn't rule it out). Regardless of who would have won in an open and honest election, the Supreme Leader would continue to dominate legislation in Iran and the Supreme Leader was not standing for election.

UPDATE: Here are some interesting facts about Iran that may give some socio-economic context to these events...

Population: 66.4 million
Median Age in Iran: 27 (the median age in the US is 36.7)
Per capita GDP (controlled for purchasing power): $12,800 (in the USA it is $47,000)
Unemployment rate: 12.5%
Per Cent of GDP coming from agriculture: 25% (in USA it is 1.2%)
Inflation rate: 28%


Saturday, June 13, 2009

On Becoming a Feminist

When a man says he is a feminist people usually laugh. Only women can be feminists, you see, because a feminist is not someone with a philosophy but a particular kind of woman. When a woman says she is not a feminist, she is not indicating a particular philosophy, but disassociating herself from and putting down the liberal women who she thinks of as feminists. Not being a woman, some of this back and forth is foreign to me. But I digress.

I think one of the subjects most sorely neglected in this country is the struggle for women's rights. I didn't really learn about it until law school. Most Americans, if they know at all that women didn't earn the right to vote nationally until 90 years ago, assume that the second-class status of women was a matter of social custom. They do not imagine that there were Jim Crow laws for women. In fact, it was so much worse than Jim Crow. Most Americans also seem to think that earning the right to vote eliminated any legal subordination of women - it is this attitude that defeated the ERA as somehow unnecessary. It remains vital. It is resisted precisely because it will still wreak a revolution. The fact that suffragettes were not given the right to vote by nice progressive men, but rather were beaten for it in the streets, imprisoned, went on hunger strikes, and were vilified as whores and homewreckers - even that is just a small part of the story.

There is no room to summarize the story here, but let me make a few comments. Until shockingly recently, the law viewed women, sailors, and minor children as more or less the same class of persons who needed extra protection and lacked vital rights. I include the 'sailor' thing because it's true, but it's not all that relevant. Women could be, and were, married off before the age of majority by their parents' consent alone, whereupon they entered into coverture, the legal death of their personalty. As they used to say "man and wife become one flesh, and the man is the master of that flesh." This stuff may seem like ancient history, but dower and curtesy were good law well into the 1970s, laws that prevented a woman from bequeathing property, giving her instead a life estate only in her husband's property and vesting it in his heirs. Not only was divorce practically unavailable, but a married woman, being unable to own property, could scarcely provide for herself in the event of divorce. And it was both lawful and universal that women were barred from almost every decent profession and, when admitted, lawfully paid far less and discriminated against in every respect. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, second in her class at Stanford Law Schoool in 1950s, was offered a secretary's job at a law firm; no better was to be offered. Abortion laws are an continuing expression of the notion of coverture, that a woman is not really competent to make decisions about what takes place within her own flesh.

So I urge everyone here to go to the library or Amazon and get a good book on the struggle for women's rights. Even most women are likely to be shocked at how much has changed. Then think about how much is left to do. At my law firm, a bunch of old men stood up two years ago at the all-firm meeting and announced that they were very interested in "women's issues," which they then ticked off: things to do with childcare, pregnancy, time off. I was appalled, as were others. That is 1980s talk, what Reagan-era conservatives call women's rights. Note that Condoleeza Rice never had a family. Today these things are "family issues." Imagine the shock of my employer were I to announce as candidly as I practice it that I absolutely intend as best I can to be a co-caregiver for my child along with my wife. Men are still presumed to be able to outsource all these "women's issues" to (female) housekeepers, nannies, spouses. Success in the legal profession, to name just one, is almost impossible for any man who would seek to follow what is derisively known as the "mommy track." Feminist activists have been about in securing the right to have a "mommy track" at all, although you can't really expect to be promoted unless you are willing to "work hard" - i.e., to be available 24/7 and willing to work a schedule totally incompatible with family life. For this they are callse feminazis and socialists. Men who try to take this path are considered lazy, not team players, or have their sexual orientation questioned.

Conservatives universally consider accomodations for breastfeeding women or men who want to take care of kids as socialist intrusion on their absolute right to design a work schedule and expectations that can only be performed by men who outsource all childcare responsibilities or women who have no children. That is where the fight is now. And nobody is taking it on.
Being a feminist is still very important, for both men and women, because we have still a lot of work to do. I guess I'm just getting a little tired of the idea that I'm being "nice to my wife" by picking up the kid from daycare if she is sick once in a great while. Or that I am "babysitting" when I take care of my kid. Feminism, it has been said, is the radical proposition that women are human beings. This is still a big deal.


Are we turning the corner?

So economic news continues to be bad, but it feels as if we are reaching the bottom of a trough rather than simply sliding down a mountainside. Stimulus money is just starting to reach the economy. The stock market indices have rebounded from their lows, up nearly 30%. Even my 401(k) is starting to look something like it did last year. But mostly it's the psychology, my psychology, that's changed. I feel optimistic that the job market will be opening up again next spring. I think many people feel that way. That anyone feels optimism at all with nearly 10% unemployment (more than 11% in CA) tells you something. I went to dinner at a new restaurant last night - opened 3 weeks ago - and it was crowded. So was the rest of the town out that night.

What are your stories out there? Any "green shoots" to be seen, as Bernanke put it? We know that jobs come back last in a recovery, although except for corporate insiders, nothing much matters except jobs.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Public Option or Bust! (revised)

The most important part of the health care reform is the so-called Public Option. Even if you didn't know anything else, you could tell this by the way it makes Republicans yelp. Republicans say two contradictory things about it. (1) The public option will undermine and destroy private insurance because it will be cheaper and everyone will therefore choose it (2) nobody wants a "public option" because they like their private insurance. duh... So let's all breathe a bit. If all that matters to the buying public is price, they will take the public option. That's why they have Kaiser now. If the public option provides bad care, you can still pay (much) more for private insurance, just like you do now. And if you can't afford private insurance now, at least you'll have something to protect yourself and your family. What's the problem?

The problem is that the Republicans - who are funded by insurance companies that spend some 20-40% of their income on administration and profit - are terrified. These are real figures, btw. Medicare, by contrast, spends less than 7% on administration and doesn't have to find profits.

(reprinted without permission from the Kaiser family foundation - no relation to Kaiser Permanente - which probably won't mind its research being part of the public discussion since it posts it on its website)

This chart shows the dramatic rise in administrative expenditures (the 20-40% figure came from a Washington Post piece I can't find again).

Here's more important information about the cost of private insurance (which shows why the $5,000 tax credit proposed by McCain and still proposed by the GOP is asinine):

And as long as I'm stealing charts. Here's some indication of how inequitably the US spends its health care dollars. Note just how almost half the population survives on just 3% of the health care money. This shows either (1) how much uninsurance and underinsurance there really is (2) how much money is wasted at the top end - or a combination of both. You think we can't find savings if 1% of the population spends almost a quarter of all health care dollars? I bet we can. Just think of how much better life would be for 50% of Americans if we raised the total spent on them from 3% to 4% - a 33% increase.

Conservatives and their insurance company backers know that a public option insurance will be as popular as medicare is and much cheaper. They also know that people will find public insurance to be a better product in other ways. The public knows that the various tricks of private insurers to drop coverage retroactively for sick patients ("rescission" in the terminology) will not be repeated for a public plan, and that alone will persuade many people to choose the public plan. Anyone who has dealt with private insurers know that federal bureaucrats can't hold a candle to them in terms of obstructionism and nastiness.

I, for example, am being billed $3,000 for *covered* emergency room services last Fall even after an appeal (where they granted me an extra $700), and I get no explanation whatsoever, and no choice but to hire a lawyer if I want to. No ombudsman or anything. No due process. And trust me, I know how to do appeals. This is Anthem Blue Cross, btw, and it's a platinum PPO plan. ( The good news is that the hospital itself is being reasonable with me). Any federal plan will give you notice and an opportunity to be heard about denials of coverage.

So the reason the Republicans are afraid of the public plan is that they know that it will be very popular and that private insurance will have to adapt (smaller profits, less cheating and stealing from their customers) or die. It's not true that most Americans like their current health insurance. Most Americans barely tolerate their current insurers, and those that are at all happy are usually those that haven't had to use it for anything.

If there's no public option, all we will get is a mandate to buy overpriced private insurance that doesn't work. It will be a mandate to fill the coffers of bloated private insurance companies that will provide the same poor swiss-cheese plans they do now. See Medicare Part D for more details...


Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Palin in 2012

It seems like every time I read the newspapers I see yet another premature obituary for Gov. Sarah Palin's political career. I am starting to smell a little fear behind this overweening punditry. Obviously Palin is not yet a political star. She clearly was unprepared for her sudden ascent to the national stage, and her family has more than its share of drama. Nevertheless, Sen. John McCain made an inspired choice when he asked Palin to be his running-mate on the Republican ticket last year.

Despite her inexperience, Palin has refused to let the usual clique of Republican operatives manage her affairs and has resisted the temptation to cozy up to the Republican establishment. Indeed, she has become somewhat infamous for snubbing various organizations and individuals associated with the party. Palin remains a political maverick. Although some of her apparent missteps are simply missteps, I suspect Palin instinctively recognizes that the old Republican establishment is incompetent, irrelevant, and politically poisonous for her future.

Of the possible contenders for the 2012 Republican nomination, I believe Palin alone has the potential to challenge Obama on his own turf. She is a fresh face for the Republican party and her personal life story is an inspiration to many. She appeals to the fiscal conservatives, the libertarians, and the evangelicals. Most of all, Palin is a celebrity-in-waiting. There is a certain breathless anticipation with which the press watch her. Whenever Palin attends some national dinner--or fails to--it merits coverage just below the fold. Huckabee and Romney can do all the political maneuvering and schmoozing they want, but they labor in obscurity.

It is possible that Palin has no desire to run a grueling primary campaign and would prefer simply to make some money on the lecture/book circuit and stay in Alaska with her family. But she scares me. She has made a career of unseating incumbents with ruthless campaigns--the charming nastiness she brought to the 2008 race was no accident. With more savvy and more control, she will be a very formidable candidate. If she decides to run for President in 2012, I believe Sarah Palin will be the Republican nominee.


Monday, June 08, 2009

New York as Messed up as CA?

Well, I don't know about that, but the NY political system obviously has serious problems. Today, the Republicans seized control of the state Senate with the aid of Democratic defectors in a move that will almost certainly add to gridlock in an already paralyzed government. Hapless Governor Paterson is not likely to win re-election under these circumstances. It is interesting that the GOP is doing okay in New York, but they can scarcely win any national races there. This is how state parties and national parties differ. For national elections, NY is as Democratic as it gets. For state elections, there are divisions between moderates and radicals of various kinds, plus patronage issues and other party machine issues that divide. The Republicans controlled the NY state senate for 40 years until this January, similar in kind to the Democratic control of the CA assembly for nearly 50 years with a brief 1995-1997 break where various shenanigans took place (such as the Dems retaining control by getting defectors for most of 1995).


Saturday, June 06, 2009

Death to America vs. America is the Great Satan

So, Iran is having its presidential elections on June 12, 2009. As the title to this post indicates, let's not kid ourselves about what the difference is between a "reformer" and a "conservative." Neither is pro-western. Both are going to be as hostile to the US as, say, both Dems and Republicans were hostile to the USSR during the Cold War. Still, the word today is that powerful conservative groups are joining to back Mousavi, a reformist candidate, in order to defeat Ahmadinejad. The current president, Ahmadinejad, is viewed increasingly in many quarters as someone taking Iran down paths they do not wish to go.

What Iranians of most political stripes probably do not want is a return to the 1980s, when Iran was a pariah state within the middle east as well as the rest of the world. It's not that the "hardliners" (so called) are no longer Islamic radicals. But they see that, without Bush as a foil, the role of agent provacateur may be more costly than beneficial. Why? Cynically, they are looking forward to the expansion of their power in Iraq (with US departure imminent). Why not enjoy the expanded power and influence in the region? Why encourage an anti-Iranian alliance throughout the region? Perhaps it has occurred to them that their neighbors feel as threatened by the possibility of nukes as the USA, and that they would have more influence if they didn't go down that route. Also, they are now treated to the prospect of the might of US force finally being brought down against their archenemy, the radical Sunni Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Put another way, in large part due to the Bush administration's ineptness, Iran has been handed the possibility of being a powerful regional player. It may just prefer that role to being an oriental version of Castro or, worse, Hugo Chavez.

Still, it is worth remarking on the fact that this is a political process with rules of a sort, not democratic to be sure, but not merely despotic or dictatorial either. Iran is more politically developed in terms of competitive or transparent political institutions than China. Think about that for a minute. Unlike the Arab states that languished for centuries under foreign rule (Ottoman or European), Persia had and has a stronger and more robust political and civic culture. There is some reason to hope that Iran can transition to a more stable and more agreeable political system over time, and I applaud this administration for returning to the Clinton-era policy of limited engagement, not merely containment.


European Parliament Elections

Hi Everyone,

This weekend the European Union (EU) is holding elections for the European Parliament (EP). Or rather, the 27 member states are holding 27 individual elections for their delegations (members are called "MEPs") to the EP. Most countries will be voting on June 7th but the UK and Netherlands voted on the 4th and a trickle of countries voted yesterday and today. Most of the countries use proportional representation which will tend to produce MEPs from a wide variety of parties. When the ballots are counted there will be a 736 member parliament ready to take up their offices in Brussels and vote in Strasbourg (a monument to French pettiness).

So far, the results from the Netherlands seem to indicate big gains for the extreme right with the center right winning the most seats. The far right, anti-Islamic "Freedom Party" had no seats in the 2004 EP but won 16.9% of the vote. I would caution against interpreting this as a signal that the Netherlands is on the verge of becoming a far right bastion. Far right parties in Europe typically win between 5 and 20% of the vote and tend to do best in "second order elections" like the EP.


Thursday, June 04, 2009

A personal reflection on Tiananmen Square

Twenty years ago today I listened in horror to a radio broadcast of Chinese tanks beginning their massacre of some 3,000 or more fellow students. Was it really happening? I was just ten days away from graduating high school, and I very clearly remember being in awe of these students in Tiananmen square. I was trying to imagine what it would be like to really believe that it was worth risking your life for a political cause. How could they behave this way when they had their whole future ahead of them? It dawned on me that perhaps they felt like, unless they did this, they had no future. Or no future worth living in.

I came to realize later that these events in China had a profound effect on me, because that was when I first really began thinking about what it would mean for something to be worth dying for. This was my context for understanding when I saw an old interview with Martin Luther King Jr. who said that if a man hasn't found what he is willing to die for, he does not know what to live for.

This had other consequences. I admit it seems ironic to some, but I think I could not have later become a Christian if I had not begun at some point in my political and philosohpical thinking to ponder it would mean to give one's life for a cause. The passion is meaningless - the way Mel Gibson's movie was meaningless - if there is not appreciation for what John says: No greater love hath a man than this, to lay down his life for his friends.

In some ways, 1989 was bookended by moments that resonated strongly with me. At the end of the year, there was the Velvet revolution in Czechoslovakia, where a million people crowded into Vaclav square and the government fled without firing a shot. The Berlin wall was taken down. All without a shot being fired. But more amazing was the adrenaline rushing through the people of Eastern Europe who, though one might have thought them for so long crushed in spirit, were taking their future into their own hands in this dramatic way. I like to say that I believe in miracles because I saw them on the streets of Prague. History is a long series of slow causes and processes. But sometimes in human history there are moments when it is as if the world stops and the sun totters on its axis. We saw several of them in 1989. 9/11 was another such moment.

Obviously this is only very remotely related to what happened in China. That's kind of my point too. We can only see events through our own eyes. I'm not really asking for comments on this post, although you are free to make them. Just thought I'd share a bit about the moments that shaped me politically and philosophically. The Tiananmen square massacre was one of them.


Obama on Iran

I just heard the following quotation from Obama's speech in Cairo.

He prefaced this passage by being open about US participation in the overthrow of a democratic regime to put the Shah in power in Iran. Then he said plainly that Iran was sponsoring terrorism and violence. Then he said, "The United States is willing to move forward. The question is no longer what Iran is against. It was what kind of world they are going to help build."

We've blogged about this before. Obama seems to be giving in to countries like Iran but he's really backing them into a corner. It's easy to be anti-American if no one ever asks you what your alternative is. But now Iran has to say what they want. This changes the choice before the Middle East. Instead of choosing to be anti-American or not, they now must choose between two distinct world views and futures. When it becomes a choice between futures, we win.


Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Thanks, New Hampshire!

New Hampshire today became the sixth US state to recognize gay marriage (not counting California) and third to do so by legislative action rather than court order. Bills are also working their way through the state legislatures of New York and New Jersey, and it is possible those states may add their recognition in the next year or so.

It occurs to me that this state-by-state battle for civil rights may be shaping up to be similar to the struggle for women's suffrage a century ago. By the time the nineteenth amendment finally granted women the right to vote everywhere in the U.S. in 1920, nearly a third of the states had already recognized full voting equality while another third had granted women some degree of suffrage.


Romancing the Car

Considering our post on GM, I thought this was funny.

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Jim Cramer is an idiot

MSNBC's "financial expert," Jim Cramer was recently made famous for his incompetent analysis of the financial crisis by Jon Stewart.  Well, he's at it again.  This morning on Morning Joe with former Republican congressman, Joe Scarborough, Cramer was comparing GM to Boeing.  He was saying what a rotten company GM was and what a great triumph of capitalism Boeing was.  So far so good.  Then he we on to start bashing unions.  He said, "Name one successful company that is unionized...My rule for stocks is 'look for the union label' and if you see it, sell."  Here's the thing.  Boeing is unionized.  What's more, ask any European how successful Boeing would be without cushy military contracts and then ask yourself what a triumph of capitalism it is.

What a maroon.  


Tuesday, June 02, 2009

A little insight into our President

So occasionally you get a glimpse of who a person really is. A couple weeks ago, Israeli PM Netanyahu met with President Obama. They had a little session for the media where they sat on large high-backed puffy chairs and fielded questions together while leaning towards one another as if having a tete-a-tete. Whatever. At one point, a reporter asked if there was linkage between Iranian negotiations and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Obama sort of took the question abstractly and suggested that if there was any "causal linkage" at all, it ran from the peace process to the Iranian nuclear negotiations (his argument that solving the Palestinian/Israeli dispute will lead to reduced tensions, etc. Netanyahu gently corrected him - so gently you barely noticed - to dispel the use of the word "linkage."

Mr. Obama is not a foreign policy expert. Apparently he didn't know that "linkage" is an incredibly loaded word both in nuclear negotiations and particularly in the context of Arab-Israeli negotiations. I think by his second term, Bill Clinton would have known that "linkage" was a code word. Obama didn't. I'm surprised I didn't see this remarked upon elsewhere, but I may just have missed it. So this showed me about Obama's lack of foreign policy experience.
At this White House meeting, I thought I could see Netanyahu realizing that Barack Obama could easily go "off the reservation." If an American president were to begin thinking afresh about US-Israeli relations, it could indeed by quite disturbing for Israeli expectations. The rhetoric of the past fifty years has served to ensnare and entrap all the participants into webs from which they do not extricate themselves. When every word is fraught with meaning, real communication stops.

But his answer, broad and theoretical, yet turning on the use of a word, was also telling. He really does think like a trained legal scholar. I am not projecting too much when I say it was pretty obvious to me that he was taking the question as if he was at oral argument. That's also interesting to me. I suspect he reponds well to that sort of discourse.

What surprised me the most was this: Had the word linkage been a legal term of art, like "standing" or "jurisdiction," he would not have blithely used it without a host of caveats. Yet out of his field, he lumbered in verbally where angels fear to tread. I get the impression that Obama thinks he's capable of understanding things such as foreign policy without specific training or expertise. This may run to other kinds of policy areas as well, and likely does. Now, it is a bad thing for a President to lack intellectual curiosity and simply defer to experts (see Reagan, Bush I, Bush II). It is a good thing to be open to thinking, debating, and being willing to examine timeworn customs afresh. It is a very good thing to propose reimagining policy, indeed the whole world, from first principles. That is the great virtue of youth.

But it is also a bit dangerous to assume that superior intellect and reasoning capacity is a substitute for learning and experience. That is the hubris of youth. Most of the time, I see that President Obama is wise in knowing how and what to learn from wiser people. But he still has this greenness about him. Second-term Obama will have gray hair.


Monday, June 01, 2009

Two-and-a-half Cheers for Nevada

With no votes to spare, the Nevada Legislature overrode their Governor's veto today and created domestic partnerships. Although the Nevada Constitution prohibits same-sex marriage and the newly-created domestic partnership statute does not confer all of the rights of marriage--I still give them kudos for a job well done. This is yet another indication that support for gay relationships has become the majority position in this country.


What's Good for GM is Good for America

In 1953, a General Motors executive, Charles Wilson, who was nominated to be Secretary of Defense said, "Because for years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa." Today, GM filed for bankruptcy.  As part of the deal the US Government will have a 60% stake in the company.  GM is expected to downsize dramatically. GM subsidiaries in Germany (Opel), the UK (Vauxhall), Sweden (Saab) Australia (Holden), Korea (Daewoo), China (Wuling) and other countries.

The causes of GM's woes are a matter of some controversy.  Populist politicians in Michigan (including the mayor of Lansing who was on CNN this morning), blame free trade.  I disagree (no surprise to the other Citizens on the blog here).  GM executives blame the union and the need for the company to pay pension and health care benefits to an aging workforce.  I disagree with that too.  

In my opinion, the blame for GM's woes lies with GM's executives.  GM makes dozens of models of cars instead of focussing on a few (like Toyota, Honda etc do).  GM insists on getting government subsidies (in the form of easier emissions regulations and tax incentives) to market large, gas guzzling SUVs instead of smaller, more fuel efficient sedans.  GM's response to a reputation for poor reliability is to offer the same car for less money then blame the unions for reduced profitability.  Their reputation for slushy handling and so-so road performance was waved off as catering to different American tastes.  At no point did they make major changes to the models they offer.  The solution was always to either dismiss the bad news/criticism or look for a government hand out.

The Honda Accord and Toyota Camry are the most popular car models in the US because they are well built, reliable and have good performance on the road.