Monday, March 31, 2008

Signs You Need A Better SEO

... Or at least one who has a good grasp of basic English, and knows how to spell your name. (I'm assuming this was sent by somebody else, and that the sender did not actually stumble over his own name.)

Highlighting some of the more egregious errors (and no, it's not exhaustive):
Name: J--- Mitchel



Let me introduce my self as J--- Michel, Link Manager of

I found your site in Internet surfing. It is a fine blend of color, design and have a compelling copy.

We have a professional looking informative website. Finding your site truly professional, I am thinking for a link exchange. Exchanging links will help both of us in boosting our search engine rankings.

Our link exchange details are :

Title: Truck Accident Attorneys
Description: Truck Accident Legal Center provides in-depth information to truck accident victims including immediate steps after a truck accident. We are helping you reassemble your life by aware of your rights and by assisting you in getting the best possible compensation.

Else you can copy and paste below html codes

< a href="">Truck Accident Attorneys</a> - Truck Accident Legal Center provides in-depth information to truck accident victims including immediate steps after a truck accident. We are helping you reassemble your life by aware of your rights and by assisting you in getting the best possible compensation.

If interested, kindly let us know. We are glad to put your link first on our website. If not interested, please send this mail back stating NO in the subject line.

Looking you for our link partner!

Thanks and Regards
J--- Michel

How Could *They* Do Such A Thing....

I know Kristol has a brain somewhere in his head, but sometimes he does a good job hiding it.
Consider our last four presidential elections. If voters had simply looked at the biographies of the major-party candidates, they would have chosen George H. W. Bush in 1992, Bob Dole in 1996, Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004. Instead, they rejected four veterans who served in wartime (and who also had considerable experience in public life) for Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, who had lesser résumés, both civilian and military.
Of those, how many times did Kristol get behind the candidate with the better résumé? Maybe 1996? How many times did he get squarely behind a disastrously bad president, despite his lack of qualification and lack of service to the nation? At least twice. I spoke to a life-long Republican last year who commented on his voting history, "I only made two mistakes, and both of them were named 'George Bush'". Kristol seems happy to say, "Yes, that guy made a mistake," but refuses to concede the implication for his own bad choices.
Campaign consultants like to say elections are about the present and the future more than the past. To the degree they are about the past, they’re about the very recent past: “What have you done for me lately?” But we don’t even hear that question much anymore. Today’s campaigns are designed to capture the present and imagine the future.
Let's be honest, Bill Clinton makes Kristol's list while Reagan does not, only because of the disaster that is George W. Bush. We could push it back further - look at, say, 1980 and 1984? Whatever you think of his record in office, isn't Reagan the quintessential example of the triumph of image over experience at the ballot box?

These comparisons also implicate a subjective question: What exactly is it that constitutes "good experience" for a presidential candidate? Being a governor? Being a Senator? Serving in the House of Representatives? Business experience? Maybe part of the problem is that Kristol's sense of what constitutes the best qualifications for the Presidency don't correspond to those of the electorate.

If we look at Kristol's voting history, unless he's admitting that he will let an infatuation for a candidate overwhelm his common sense or objectivity, he's not even accurately describing his own preferred résumé. Here, Kristol depicts "military service plus a long Senate career" as the ultimate résumé for a Presidential candidate, but his personal record betrays his contempt for such a résumé in practice. There are even hints of it in this attempt to buttress McCain. Compare and contrast:
McCain knows this. As an elected official, he’s never rested on his P.O.W. laurels, remarkable though they are. He’s been a major player in the Senate — in foreign policy and military matters, and as a successful sponsor of (sometimes misguided) domestic reform legislation.
versus the next paragraph,
As a presidential candidate, McCain is running, as one would expect, a substantive foreign policy campaign, as shown by his fine speech last week before the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. But with recession on the horizon, three-quarters of the American public thinking the country’s on the wrong track, and the president and Congress at historically low approval levels — shouldn’t we be seeing more of McCain the domestic reformer?
Has Kristol truly lost track of what other right-wingers (including the lunatic fringe) and Republican party hacks have said about McCain's domestic record? Let's look to George Will: By signing on to McCain-Feingold, G.W. Bush "forfeited his right to be trusted as a custodian of the Constitution". From the perspective of the political right, isn't that just one of the "sometimes misguided" domestic policies Kristol references? Immigration "amnesty" anyone?

Am I surprised that McCain wants to depict himself as a set of bookends - from "war hero" to "elder statesman"... with a lot of experience in between, but let's not look at it too hard? No. I'm also not surprised by jingoistic campaign slogans. (I think he's currently going with something like "Americans For John McCain, An American President For Americans In America".) If Kristol is truly advocating for McCain to take up the mantle of "Mr. Domestic Policy", he needs to talk to some of his colleagues about the possible ramifications to McCain's campaign.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Dith Pran, RIP

Dith Pran, whose horrifying escape from Cambodia is detailed in the film, The Killing Fields, has passed away at age 65. If this world displayed karmic justice, he would have been around for many more years.

A few years ago, following a trip to Cambodia, I had a few questions about Khmer Rouge policies during the genocide. I sent an email to The Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project and, to my surprise, received a prompt, courteous and very helpful response directly from Mr. Pran. A brief encounter, certainly, but of the type that suggests he was a man worth knowing.

it is difficult to describe Cambodia. There's a striking mix of stunning beauty and abject poverty. Signs and scars of the genocide are pervasive, both on the land and on the people. A few years ago I shared some of my thoughts about my visit.

In 1996, the actor who depicted Mr. Pran in the movie, Haing S. Ngor, was murdered in Los Angeles. Mr. Ngor had also escaped Pol Pot's Cambodia. Although some believe he was murdered in revenge for his opposition to the Khmer Rouge, it appears to have been an unfortunate act of gang violence.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Humdrum Defense Of "No Child Left Behind"

The Washington Post offers an editorial debunking "myths" of No Child Left Behind by Chester E. Finn, Jr., author of a book on school reform. The first three aren't particularly interesting, at least to me. The author argues that NCLB isn't an extensive federal intrusion into state schools because states can turn down federal money. He argues that NCLB is not "underfunded" because its costs are "relatively modest" and critics should instead be asking why schools don't do a better job with their current funding. (Yes, the answer does not technically debunk the "myth".) He argues that setting standards will not cure U.S. schools, principally noting that many states have intentionally set weak standards even under NCLB.

To me, these seem like an odd set of myths to start with, not only because the debunking is weak but because I think they demonstrate an incorrect focus. Part of my concern is highlighted by the fourth "myth", "The standardized testing required by No Child Left Behind gets in the way of real learning":
Teachers' animus toward standardized testing has many roots, chief among them the grueling weeks of preparation and exams that they and their students endure every year. But the accountability made possible by standardized testing isn't all bad. If the test is an honest measure of a solid curriculum, then teaching kids the skills and knowledge they need to pass it is honorable work. Just ask any Advanced Placement teacher.
But what does the honest testing of a solid curriculum have to do with No Child Left Behind? Didn't we just hear the author admit that most states are setting weak standards so that they "meet" NCLB's requirements without actually improving their schools? And if the weeks of gruelling preparation amount to busy work, so the school can pass an administrative hurdle without actually improving school or student performance, what's to like?

Good teachers don't like standardized testing, at least where they are expected to coach the students to pass the test, because it's a waste of classroom time. Good students sometimes like standardized tests because it can be flattering to score in the 98th percentile or be told you're performing many levels above grade, but they're not the ones we're trying to test. And prep time for these tests is also wasted classroom time. For most students, the coaching and prodding is also a waste of time, not because it doesn't improve their test scores but because it has no further effect on academic performance. Teachers must "teach to the test" to create an artificial boost in results rather than teaching a curriculum and expecting that the test will fairly and reasonably measure their students' grasp of the curriculum. (Bad teachers don't much care either way. When you're already teaching kids out of workbooks, what does it matter if the principal says you have to use a different workbook for a few weeks.)

So standardized testing isn't bad if it's an "honest testing of a solid curriculum"? Alright then. When can we expect all standardized tests used for NCLB to constitute "honest testing of a solid curriculum"? Is there any movement in that direction?

A while back I proposed a solution to the standardized testing quandary - something that will shorten the time wasted on teaching to the test, and get the standardized tests out of the way early so that teachers may get back to a real curriculum.
Give the test at the start of the new school year, rather than during the course of the prior school year. Give the teachers a couple of weeks to bring the kids back up to speed from their near-inevitable summer backsliding, then administer the test. Kids who really learned their lessons the year before will do well. And that's what the testing is really supposed to measure.
So how about it, Mr. Finn?

The final myth seems out of place, criticizing the requirement that schools use certified teachers:
Lawmakers blundered when they confused "qualified" with "certified" teachers. There's no solid evidence that state certification ensures classroom effectiveness - and the booming success of programs such as Teach for America, which sends recent college graduates into troubled schools, suggests that certification may be wholly unnecessary. By requiring certified teachers in every classroom, No Child Left Behind makes it harder for district and charter schools to attract energetic and capable people who want to teach but take a less traditional route to the classroom.
Well here's the deal. Certification is substituted for qualification, because you have to somehow measure qualification. As with any certification or degree program, it's about averages. Most people who finish the program will have the minimum required qualifications. Some who are less than qualified will squeak through anyway, but that's going to happen under any standard. I'm sure that Mr. Finn has a Ph.D. - does that mean he is qualified to teach university classes, or does it just mean that he has a Ph.D.? If you've gone to college you know that having a Ph.D. is a poor measure of teaching skills, yet it's still something most universities require for tenure track teaching positions. What measure does Finn suggest as a substitute? Um... he doesn't.

I've also previously addressed "Teach For America", when responding to a more detailed Kristof editorial arguing against current teacher credentialing standards.
Sure. They make a two-year commitment to teach in the inner city. With the ability to reject 88% of the applicants the program should have no difficulty selecting applicants who have the necessary interest and aptitude to complete the program. Program participants come in with a new college graduate's energy and enthusiasm and are gone long before they burn out. Teach for America indicates that 60% of those who complete the program remain in education as "teachers, principals, education policy advisors and leaders and staff of education reform organizations", but provides no figure for how many remain in inner city schools.
While Finn pretends the participants are parachuted into classrooms with no training or support, that's not the case either. We can assume that a better credentialing system could be created, as that's almost always the case. But it's deceptive, and intentionally deceptive when the words are coming out of the mouth of an education reform "expert", to hold up "Teach For America" as some sort of paradigm.

There's also no evidence that there is a huge queue of qualified people, eager to teach but excluded from that opportunity by the certification requirement. Believe it or not, despite the occasional contention that teachers are overpaid, the people who will make the best teachers are often quite content to pursue other, more lucrative fields. (That was Kristof's point, in trying to open classroom doors to established professionals from other fields.)

Finn's call to wipe out teacher certification without creating an alternate, superior method of determining teacher qualification says to me, "this guy has an ulterior motive." So let's look up his résumé:
He was also a founding partner and senior scholar with the Edison Project, the private company setup to operate public schools on a for-profit basis. Hudson and Bradley are both major proponents of "school choice," which would allow public education money to be funneled to groups like Edison.
That's right, folks. The problem here seems to be that Finn's business ventures have to hire certified teachers in order to qualify for public funds. Eliminating that requirement without substituting a bona fide measure of teacher qualification will let them promote their groundskeepers to classroom teachers, significantly improving their bottom line. So again, Mr. Finn, what's the objective measure you propose for measuring teacher qualification?

Friday, March 28, 2008

McCain On Achievable Military Objectives

David Brooks gushes over McCain's speeches:
Barack Obama says: “John McCain is determined to carry out four more years of George Bush’s failed policies.” Obama is a politician, so it’s normal that he’d choose to repeat the lines that some of his followers want to hear. But before people buy that argument, I’d ask them to read three speeches.
One from 1995, one from 2001, and the latest one? Or would observing McCain repeat himself undermine Brooks' argument that the latest speech is "as personal, nuanced and ambitious a speech as any made by a presidential candidate this year"? (Come on, David. We know you favor Brooks over Obama, but really.)

But I'm not posting this to make fun of Brooks. (Well, not just to make fun of Brooks.) Following up on my last post about McCain's Iraq policy, it was interesting to see Brooks emphasize this:
McCain argued that Lebanese society, as it existed then, could not be stabilized and unified by American troops. He made a series of concrete observations about the facts on the ground. Lebanon was in a state of de facto partition. The Lebanese Army would not soon be strong enough to drive out the Syrians. The American presence would not intimidate the Syrians into negotiating.

“I do not foresee obtainable objectives in Lebanon.” He concluded. “I believe the longer we stay, the more difficult it will be to leave, and I am prepared to accept the consequences of our withdrawal.”
If we're going to hold that up as an example of McCain's foreign policy brilliance it's fair to ask, what makes Iraq different? Under what circumstances will we hear a similar concession on Iraq, instead of the talk of being there for a century or more (after peace miraculously breaks out).
McCain offered to build new pillars for that system — a League of Democracies, a new nuclear nonproliferation regime and a successor to the Kyoto treaty. In stabilizing Asia and the Middle East, he would rely more on democracies like Turkey, India, Israel and Iraq, and less on Mubarak and Musharraf.
This is supposed to reassure me? We're going to stabilize Iraq by relying upon Turkey, Israel and... Iraq? How would that work - would Turkey occupy the Kurdish north, with Israel, um.... And we're going to stamp out support for Al Qaeda in Pakistan by turning the matter over to India? (Does McCain envision armed incursions by India into Pakistani territory to "take out" Al Qaeda camps? While Pakistan sits idly by?)

McCain stated,
“We have to strengthen our global alliances as the core of a new global compact - a League of Democracies - that can harness the vast influence of the more than one hundred democratic nations around the world to advance our values and defend our shared interests,” McCain said, reading from prepared texts.
Because democracies are always enlightened and always have common values, goals and shared interests, right? Will McCain be inviting Hamas to join the league if it continues to win elections in the Palestinian territories? Will Hezbollah get to join if it wins a majority of the seats in Lebanon's parliament? Or if that's too much of a reductio ad absurdem, where does Venezuela sign up? Couldn't we reasonably interpret this proposal as McCain's pandering to people who want us to move away from the United Nations, and toward an international organization we can better control?

McCain's 100 Years War

Charles Krauthammer presents what he describes as A Rank Falsehood, protesting that John McCain will only keep troops in Iraq for a century or more if there is peace. Krauthammer focuses exclusively on McCain's caveat:
Make it a hundred. ... We’ve been in Japan for 60 years. We’ve been in South Korea for 50 years or so. That would be fine with me, as long as American, as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed. It’s fine with me and I hope it would be fine with you if we maintained a presence in a very volatile part of the world where al Qaeda is training, recruiting and equipping and motivating people every single day.
Krauthammer suggests that as McCain did not commit to endless war where people are being killed, he can only be referencing a state of peace where "maintaining a U.S. military presence in Iraq would provide regional stability, as well as cement a long-term allied relationship with the most important Arab country in the region."

Here's the problem. There's no path from Point A to Point B. Let's grant McCain the benefit of the doubt, and assume that he truly only wants U.S. troops to remain indefinitely if Iraq becomes peaceful and stable, to protect it from possible attack from... Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, er, let's say Iran. You know, the Shiite nation next door to Iraq that has no contemporary history of aggressive warfare against its neighbors, and which sometimes seems to be on friendlier terms with the government of Iraq than we are. If that's truly what McCain is proposing he needs to answer two questions:
  • How will we transform Iraq into the country we want it to be?
  • How many years do we have to remain in Iraq before we may conclude that it's not possible?
The problem is, he has no answer for the first question. And there's every reason to believe that his answer to the second would still be "Make it a hundred."

Then there's the question of whether he even appreciates what our troops are doing in Iraq. It's not like Kuwait or North Korea, where the troop presence deters a potentially hostile neighbor. It's not like Japan, where military bases primarily serve to extend our global reach while also helping to secure the defense of a stable ally. It's not even what he pretends later in his answer, that Al Qaeda training camps have been set up all over Iraq and we have to stay indefinitely to prevent a massive Al Qaeda presence and resurgence. Before we invaded, Iraq did a very good job of that without our help, and by all accounts foreign fighters are a small part of our problem. (Well, at least in this context McCain's not arguing that the Al Qaeda training camps are in Iran.)

It's been almost three months since McCain made the statement. I have yet to hear him contend that he was misunderstood. I don't recall hearing him even try to answer the implicit question, which was not "How long do we stay in Iraq if everything comes up roses," but was, "How long do we stay in Iraq in the absence of political progress and national reconciliation, or in the hope that a stable, central government will emerge." Or to put it in McCain's terms, how long do we stay if Americans are "being injured or harmed or wounded or killed"? A cavil that "the surge is working" doesn't answer that question. Let's hear some concrete goals and benchmarks, and a specific number of years.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Defunding Social Security As An Election Strategy

Okay, I understand why Novak is arguing that we should slash FICA taxes and tell younger workers, "In return for your reduced tax burden you will get little to nothing from Social Security when you retire." Demolishing Social Security fits with his world view. But what I can't understand is why he believes McCain should make that part of his platform. I grant that McCain has been promising to cut pretty much every tax under the sun, but even he would probably recognize that "this one is different".

Novak has a hard time keeping his lines straight. First, it's:
Moreover, Republicans talk about offsetting losses in payroll tax revenue by cutting future Social Security benefits, which contains seeds of electoral catastrophe.
This later becomes,
Even Republican advocates of cutting the payroll tax talk about offsetting it with reduced future benefits. That's a bargain young workers would buy in a minute, and current Social Security recipients would be assured that their pensions would not be reduced one penny.
The distinction, apparently, is that you hammer the theme, "Younger workers, you're not going to get Social Security anyway, so let's reduce your taxes and phase it out," reassuring current recipients, "You're still going to get every cent of what was promised to you," and telling everybody else... er, Novak left that part out. Yet that block of "everybody else" is an important group to address, as putting their future benefits at risk "contains seeds of electoral catastrophe".
The perceived need to offset losses in payroll tax revenue stems from a belief that the Social Security trust fund must be replenished. The truth is that there is no such fund, and the heavy payroll tax revenue resulting from the Greenspan Commission's 1983 "reform" not only provides enough money for Social Security but funds other programs, as well.
Wow. So in Novak's mind, Social Security is so "rich" that even if we pretend that the treasury notes comprising its "trust fund" are worthless, it can continue to pay not only for itself but for a host of other programs. And it could thus pay for itself even after a tax cut. What a compelling case for a "reform" that slashes benefits.

McCain says that he doesn't really understand economics. Novak appears to either be in the same club, or to be trying to take advantage of McCain's weaknesses. Either way, taking Novak's advice seems like a surefire way for McCain to blow a hole in his own foot.

The Foibles Of Memory

Hillary Clinton is taking some pretty hard hits over her faulty memory of a trip to Bosnia. Many have been willing to accuse her of making up a story to augment her claims to be a foreign policy expert and Commander in Chief. While I understand the concept that people should have perfect memories, should be able to recount personal experiences as if they are describing videotape, and should never make mistakes of memory this significant, that's not how memory works.

In psychology, there's a famous example of a faulty memory reconstructed from the stories of others, provided by Jean Piaget.
I can still see, most clearly, the following scene, in which I believed until I was about fifteen. I was sitting in my pram, which my nurse was pushing in the Champs Elysees, when a man tried to kidnap me. I was held in by the strap fastened round me while my nurse bravely tried to stand between me and the thief. She received various scratches and I can still see vaguely those on her face. Then a crowd gathered, a policeman with a cloak and a white baton came up, and the man took to his heels. I can still see the whole scene, and can even place it near the tube station. [Piaget, J., Play, Dreams and Imitation in Childhood, (1951), p. 188]
The problem? Piaget's nanny had fabricated the story in order to try to collect a reward. He learned that the story was false when he was fifteen, but he nonetheless continued to have vivid memories of something that never happened.

What does this have to do with adult memories? Well, our memories are faulty as well. One famous example?
In the 1980 presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan repeatedly told a heartbreaking story of a World War II bomber pilot who ordered his crew to bail out after his plane had been seriously damaged by an enemy hit. His young belly gunner was wounded so seriously that he was unable to evacuate the bomber. Reagan could barely hold back his tears as he uttered the pilot's heroic response: "Never mind. We'll ride it down together." ...this story was an almost exact duplicate of a scene in the 1944 film "A Wing and a Prayer." Reagan had apparently retained the facts but forgotten their source [Schacter, Daniel L., Searching for Memory: The Brain, The Mind, and The Past (New York: Basic Books, 1996), 287).
It now appears that Clinton's memory was contaminated by accounts of a trip to Bosnia, albeit one taken by others six months prior to her trip. It's possible to see how the memory may have been constructed. As Clinton is preparing for her trip, she hears tales of the trip that preceded her. She's traveling with Chelsea, so this worries her. As they fly in, due to concerns about danger, she and Chelsea really are moved to the cockpit and the plane makes a fast descent. What followed? A landing strip greeting probably indistinguishable in any meaningful detail from hundreds of other such greetings she experienced as First Lady. Over time, the mundane details of the trip are forgotten. Meanwhile, she confuses the story of the prior, more harrowing trip with that of her own trip. This didn't happen immediately, but occurred over a period of years. During that time as she retold and built upon her story, nobody stopped to correct her - the memory became historically inaccurate but was real to her.

Everybody's head contains distorted memories; most of us are fortunate enough that nobody cares what we remember, and it's not a media story when our distortions come to light. Here's one of Joe Scarborough's:
…[T]his Bosnia story smacks of gotcha politics. If [Hillary Clinton] had the reputation of being an exaggerator-in-chief, like Al Gore, it would matter. If she had said I invented the Internet, it sticks. One of these gaffes sticks when it compounds an existing problem…
Do you, like Joe Scarborough, remember Al Gore saying that he 'invented the Internet'? If so, you're remembering something that never actually occurred.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The "Expert" Speaks....

McCain warns on withdrawal from Iraq,
It would be an unconscionable act of betrayal, a stain on our character as a great nation, if we were to walk away from the Iraqi people and consign them to the horrendous violence, ethnic cleansing and possibly genocide that would follow a reckless, irresponsible and premature withdrawal.
So... more of the same, except that after withdrawal we would bear greater responsibility for the civil war, horrendous violence and ethnic cleansing? Well, fortunately, we can now turn to McCain's words on how we can improve our situation in Iraq, stabilize the government, end ethnic conflict, and bring our troops home:

[The sound of pins dropping]

Er, John, I couldn't quite make that out. One more time please?
[The sound of silence]
That's what I thought you said, but....

For The Good Of The *ME*

Party, nothing. As tracking polls suggest that Obama has largely bounced back from the "Pastor Wright" controversy, Hillary Clinton is actively trying to inject the controversy back into the mainstream. How many places do you suppose rejected this Ed Koch smear piece, before it was finally accepted by "NewsMax"?

A man of remarkable judgment, Koch also ran smear pieces against John Kerry back in 2004. And you know what? Even while smearing Kerry, Koch was praising Bill Clinton.

So it's now erstwhile Democrats like Koch trying to revive a dying meme, tossing in a new accusation ("Obama is a bad parent" - Obama should apparently pull his kids out of his church because of statements made when he was not in attendance by his now-retired pastor) and exaggerating a ridiculous theme ("Obama threw his grandmother under a bus"), closing (of course) with an attack on Michelle Obama's patriotism.

I was skeptical of the claim that Hillary Clinton would try to win at any cost, even if it meant putting a Republican into the White House. Statements that Clinton would "do anything" to get the nomination have seemed like "more of the same old Clinton-bashing" we've been hearing for a couple of decades. The Tonya Harding option? Really? But given the nature and tone of Clinton's latest attacks, and those of her proxies, it's much harder to avoid that conclusion. I don't think it's about 2012 - I believe Clinton knows this is her last chance for the Presidency. It appears she is willing to engage in scorched earth tactics to win this time, even if the net result is that Obama wins the nomination but cannot win the Presidency.

This also makes me wonder whether this is the first time Koch has signed up to attack a Democrat, even at the expense of losing the Presidency, to help clear Hillary Clinton's path to the White House. To now be supporting Hillary Clinton over John McCain, Koch either owes the country a mea culpa for being so wrong in 2004, or owes a huge apology to John Kerry for being so mendacious.

A reminder - I'm of the position that Obama is "just another politician", have questioned the Obama campaign's tactics, and have criticized his campaign's policies and smears on Clinton. I do not appreciate his campaign's (successful) efforts to block a revote of the Michigan primary.

I am not entirely convinced that the net effect of these smears will harm Obama as a Presidential candidate, as the harder they are pressed now the more they will be regarded as "old news" by the time the election rolls around. But this stuff does not make me want to support or vote for Clinton - quite the opposite.

How Newspapers See The World

From L’Observatoire des médias, an interesting set of maps.
The cartograms below show the world through the eyes of editors-in-chief, in 2007. Countries swell as they receive more media attention; others shrink as we forget them.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

If It's Not Sustainable....

Scott Lemieux comments on this article,
The apparent defection of Sadr's militias illustrates the fundamental problem: the lack of a legitimate state with sufficient coercive capacity. Iraq still doesn't have one, becuase the temporary security improvements of the surge haven't led to substantial political progress. The U.S. military simply can't create an effective state out of thin air. And this is reflected by the assertions of "U.S. officials" that we'll need to give it some more Freidmans.* Given the strategic objectives, "successes" that require the indefinite presence of high levels of U.S. troops to sustain aren't "successes" at all.
A lot of the measures used to estimate "success" or "failure" of the Iraq War, such as troop casualties, civilian casualties, the frequency of bombings, or levels of sectarian violence, are very poor measures, as those numbers can change very quickly. Genuine political progress is necessary to achieving long-term stability.

Unfortunately, it appears that no such progress is forthcoming. To put it mildly, seeing Sadr's Shiite militias jockeying for power with the government does not reassure me that the Shiite-dominated government can "reconcile" with Sunni and Kurdish factions. Even assuming it wants to. Or that the minority factions truly want to reconcile with a central government.

A significant troop presence can help keep the lid on a pressure cooker but, absent political progress, sooner or later "That thing is gonna blow."


* A "Friedman", "Friedman Unit", or (most cheekily) a "F.U.", is a period of six months, referencing Times columnist Thomas Friedman's willingness to describe "the next six months" in Iraq as the period of time crucial to determining the viability of our goals, while disregarding actual outcomes.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Selective Prosecution

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is whining that the criminal charges against him represent selective prosecution, as the Detroit Prosecutor has no history of charging people with perjury for lying in civil cases.

Maybe so... but civil defendants' lies and cover-ups don't typically involve convincing the city to settle lawsuits against them for $9 million, hoping to cover up the text messages that prove the perjury as (an undisclosed) part of the settlement.

Even before he was charged, some were making comparisons that, although unflattering to Kilpatrick, are well-deserved. Such as At least Spitzer took it like a man after he got caught.

Syndicated Columnists Are Often Cowardly, Shallow And Dishonest....

And, of course, Bill Kristol is a syndicated columnist.

Seriously, let's take a look at his latest smear piece:
  • "But orators often ask themselves the convenient questions, not the difficult ones. And Barack Obama is an accomplished orator."
  • "After all, politicians sometimes indulge in ridiculous and unfair comparisons to make a point. And Barack Obama is an able politician."
  • "But ambitious men sometimes do a disservice to the best in their own communities. And Barack Obama is an ambitious man."
Kristol could have added to my amusement by couching his observations in the form of questions, but... close enough. As I previously observed,
I'm left wondering if Kristol writes his editorials at a desk, or while sitting in front of a highly polished vanity mirror.
Who is he really writing about?

If he were really writing about Barack Obama, he wouldn't need to dance around his accusations. He could say, "Barack Obama is indulging in ridiculous and unfair comparisons to make a point." But instead he utilizes faulty logic to make a smear he is apparently afraid to present directly. Instead we get things like this:
  • Party hacks are often spineless cowards.
  • Bill Kristol is a party hack.
  • Draw your own conclusion.
But don't prejudge Kristol - while the bulk of his column is composed of that type of smear by innuendo, we haven't gotten to the meat of his attack yet:
The last thing we need now is a heated national conversation about race.
Hm. Some might argue that the last thing we need is a rich, white Republican party hack telling us that we don't need a national conversation about race. But let's hear him out.
Luckily, Obama isn’t really interested in getting enmeshed in a national conversation on race.
Okay, Bill... then the point of this column was to share the fact that you shuddered about something that you don't expect to happen? Really, couldn't you find a better foundation for your smear piece than, "I shudder at the bogeyman, even though he doesn't exist?" Particularly given that your smears about things that don't make you shudder once again reveal your trademark sloppiness with the facts.
The real question, of course, is not why Obama joined Trinity, but why he stayed there for two decades, in the flock of a pastor who ... suggested soon after 9/11 that “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.”
For the "chickens" line, Wright was quoting Ambassador Edward Peck. You know, one of those wild, out-of-control Republican appointees....

Meanwhile, we're five years into the war under a leadership Kristol describes as having driven us into a ditch. He's not only comfortable in the passenger seat, he insists upon keeping the same driver while screaming "Step on it!" Yeah, he's one to lecture Obama for hanging with the wrong crowd....

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Judicial Salaries

George Will complains that current salaries are resulting in a Bargain Basement Judiciary. To advance this argument, Will presents some misleading claims, but no actual numbers. For example,
The denial of annual increases, Roberts wrote, "has left federal trial judges - the backbone of our system of justice - earning about the same as (and in some cases less than) first-year lawyers at firms in major cities, where many of the judges are located." The cost of rectifying this would be less than .004 percent of the federal budget. The cost of not doing so will be a decrease in the quality of an increasingly important judiciary -- and a change in its perspective. Fifty years ago, about 65 percent of the federal judiciary came from the private sector -- from the practicing bar -- and 35 percent from the public sector. Today 60 percent come from government jobs, less than 40 percent from private practice. This tends to produce a judiciary that is not only more important than ever but also is more of an extension of the bureaucracy than a check on it.
Roberts' claim predates a probable, 32% pay increase for the federal judiciary, almost certain to pass in the Senate. Assuming the House approves, a federal District Court judge will be paid $218,000.00, and a federal appellate judge will receive $231,000.00. Given that the House previously approved similar figures, there's every reason to believe that these increases will take effect. That, I believe is more than four times the median household income for the nation as a whole.

The comparison of judicial salaries to salaries from the highest-paying law firms in the nation? Sure, you're going to be able to argue that associates at those firms earn amounts comparable to the salaries of federal judges. And well in excess of state judges. And comparable to or in excess of state governors and legislators. Or U.S. Senators and Members of Congress. Or the Vice President. Or members of the Cabinet. Or mayors. Or law professors. Or state and federal prosecutors. Well, you get the idea.*

Also, when a lawyer is approached about becoming a federal judge, he does not weigh the offer against a starting salary at a major firm. Either he's in the firm, already making far more money than an associate, or he's in a different type of practice and is quite possibly making far less than the judicial salary. That's the essence of Will's complaint,
Fifty years ago, about 65 percent of the federal judiciary came from the private sector - from the practicing bar - and 35 percent from the public sector. Today 60 percent come from government jobs, less than 40 percent from private practice. This tends to produce a judiciary that is not only more important than ever but also is more of an extension of the bureaucracy than a check on it.
Will provides no evidence that the quality of the judiciary has declined, or that there is a shortage of lawyers willing to take appointments to the bench. All of the evidence I see is to the contrary - we have a lot of highly qualified federal judges, and ample numbers of lawyers who would be happy to get life tenure as a federal judge. As for the idea of judges fleeing from the bench to get bigger salaries, it isn't happening. Granted, some do leave, but we're simply not going to increase judicial salaries to the point that a judge won't be tempted to earn $600,000 - $800,000 or more for walking in the door of a private firm. (If a federal judge wouldn't command that salary when leaving the bench, with the cachet of having a former federal judge on a law firm's résumé, it's safe to assume that the same judge would not be deterred from the judiciary by only making $218,000.00 to start.

Will's other concern appears to be that Republican presidents are appointing too many career civil servants to the federal judiciary, resulting in excessive bureaucracy. That's a creative argument, but one he doesn't back with evidence. Instead, he invokes his usual, tired anti-liberal invective:
Upon what meat hath our judiciary fed in growing so great? The meat of modern liberalism, the animating doctrine of the regulatory and redistributionist state. Courts have been pulled where politics, emancipated from constitutional constraints, has taken the law -- into every facet of life.
That's right, folks. It's the fault of liberals that the judiciary has grown under Reagan, Bush I and Bush II, and they've been advancing their liberal policies by filling the federal bench with liberal bureaucrats. More than sixty percent of federal judges are Republican appointees.

It's insipid for Will to pretend that the number of civil servants who become judges has to do with some sort of "bureaucratization" of the judiciary, or is an evil left-wing plot. Take a look at one of the leading examples of a federal judge who qualified for his position through a careful series of civil service jobs - Clarence Thomas. The civil service provides many opportunities for an administration to position and advance people on the basis of their ideology, without regard for whether those candidates would have a skill set that would allow them to advance in private practice. Some of those people might do very well in private practice, but have deliberately chosen a slower paced life with more rewarding work, great benefits and paid vacations. A federal judgeship has all of those benefits, plus a lot of prestige and a fantastic pension. For all of Chief Justice Roberts' whining about judicial salaries, and that of Chief Justice Rehnquist before him, is there any sign that either of them ever considered resigning their positions to earn more elsewhere?

Even if you choose to overlook the dominance of Republican appointees, it's also silly to pretend that the federal bench has become liberal. State courts are often hostile enough to plaintiffs, but when presented with the opportunity to do so it is the defense that will typically leap at the opportunity to have a case removed to federal court. When "tort reform" groups propose federalizing various claims, such as class action cases, it's not because they believe the federal courts will present them with a disadvantage.

There's also a legitimate question as to whether the highest paying law firms are the best source of federal judges. Will assumes so, and attributes the diminishing number of practicing lawyers who join the bench as evidence that G.W. Bush is appointing substandard judges. To the extent that any substandard judges reach the federal bench, it's the result of patronage, not a dearth of qualified candidates. The greater concern for Will, the one he won't admit, is that he is interested in judicial ideology, not qualification. And no, it's not that he opposes "activist judges" - he wants judges who will actively advance his preferred political agenda.

Addendum: In addition to the fact that the starting salaries at top law firms are a poor point of comparison, the fact is that we're not going to compensate judges at a level comparable to the highest paying legal jobs in the country, any more than we're going to compensate cabinet members like CEO's. Will implicitly acknowledges this when he speaks of elite firm starting salaries, without choking out specific dollar figures for those neophyte lawyers. You would be hard pressed to find a partner at one of those firms earning less than $500K/year. Most of the people Will claims to want to entice to the bench are likely earning well into the seven figure range.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Race, Patriotism, and Obama

Dan Larison presents an analysis, inspired in part by a thoughtful bloggingheads piece, on the racial issues implicated by Obama's church, pastor and speech.
Meanwhile, middle- and working-class white (and probably other) audiences heard this, remembered the anti-racist catechisms they had been taught for as long as they could remember and understood that the proper, approved reaction was to shake their heads and boo. McWhorter makes a similar observation. Now that anti-racism has captured the minds of so many of these people, now that the conditioning has had its intended effect, observers sympathetic to Obama are dismayed that Obama’s nuanced effort to explain (or, as the critics have it, explain away) racially-charged and potentially racialist rhetoric fell on deaf ears. Yet this shouldn’t surprise anyone–if the speech fell on deaf ears, it was the elites who deafened them years before with a single, simple imperative: “Don’t pay attention to race, except when we tell you to!”
I believe Larison misses the mark here, not so much because there aren't "elites" of the type he mentions, but because those "elites" don't have the ear of the "middle- and working-class white (and probably other) audiences" he describes. If it did, those audiences would have voted down anti-gay marriage, anti-domestic partnership ballot initiatives. They would have rejected ballot initiatives ending affirmative action. Etc. That audience is responding to other factors, discussed in the bloggingheads piece, not the least of which are their own concerns about job security and the future, and their own experiences with the effects of poverty.

Larison is correct that society has largely learned that it is not acceptable to make public, racist announcements, and that the response that our popular culture now dictates is to boo. He's even correct that this culture change has been a top-down phenomenon, driven by "elites" of various types. But I think that he's overlooking the fundamental reason why Rev. Wright's statements resonate in a bad way - and this is discussed in the bloggingheads piece - it's because people are not willing to accept blame for historic wrongs, nor are they willing to absorb a penalty (real or perceived) to correct those wrongs when they see similar problems within their own communities for which no similar remedy is offered.

Obama could address these issues in a post-racial way, and maybe he still will. If you were to ask them what causes patterns of poverty and crime within their communities, may may demonstrate and external locus of responsibility (i.e., "blame others") similar to that of Rev. Wright. But few are going to go into a diatribe about how they're being held back by their race, or by affirmative action, and even that group (perhaps especially that group) is not receptive to the notion that there is something special about race that necessitates race-based remedies to social ills.

What is perhaps more interesting is that the willing tools of the Republican attack machine aren't focusing on race. They're focusing on patriotism. This isn't a first - recall the earlier attacks to besmirch Obama's patriotism through comments made by his wife. Then it was the false claim that he didn't have his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance, and even that he wouldn't say the Pledge. And let's not forget the flag pin smear, which was even propagated by tools who don't even wear flag pins.

Perhaps it remains too hard, as suggested by Peggy Noonan, to attack Obama directly on issues of race? Noonan, as I read the piece, was trying to drive a wedge between the Obama's and working class whites - but she still chose to couch her attack in terms of patriotism ("Some of them were raised by a TV and a microwave and love our country anyway, every day.") In the present context, see, e.g., Gerson ("Obama's excellent and important speech on race in America did little to address his strange tolerance for the anti-Americanism of his spiritual mentor"); Kristol ("This doesn’t mean that Obama agrees with Wright’s thoroughgoing and conspiracy-heavy anti-Americanism"); Chris LaCivita (of Swift Boat fame), ("'You don’t have to say that he’s unpatriotic, you don’t question his patriotism,' he added. 'Because I guaran-damn-tee you that with that footage you don’t have to say it.'")

It's also interesting to me how Wright is deemed unpatriotic ("God damn America"), but a John Hagee ("America is under the curse of God" - i.e., we're damned) is not - they're both arguing that America deserves to be damned by God, but Hagee is adding that we are damned - should Wright have used the passive voice? Or how a conspiracy theory that blames the government for spreading AIDS or drugs is unacceptable, but a conspiracy theory blaming the government for the JFK assassination can be raised in pretty much any context (although you can expect to get disagreement and inspire some eyerolls). Or how other nutty theories about the spread of AIDS (e.g., Falwell's "AIDS is God's punishment", or Hagee's "AIDS began in African prisons, where thousands of men ... turned to perverted sex") do not trigger condemnation, apparently because they omit mention of the U.S. government. Or how conspiracy theories can swirl about the government's role in Waco, Ruby Ridge, and 9/11 even in the same circles that deem Wright's "our policies brought it on us" philosophy to be unacceptable. Or why it is acceptable to blame 9/11 on "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way", while remaining in the warm embrace of the Republican Party. But sometimes we have to accept the world the way it is.

Perhaps the focus on patriotism over race boils down to this: It's also a hard sell to argue to blue collar America that racism doesn't exist, even if many believe its effects are minor or are more than counter-balanced by "reverse discrimination", because they know better.

Lessons On How To Behave In Church

What do you do if your church leader makes comments with which you take issue? Do you sit through a sermon, and perhaps engage in a quiet discussion with your minister afterward? Ignore it? Charles Krauthammer tells us, that would be wrong.

So I guess we're supposed to follow the Krauthammer model?
About three years ago, I saw Krauthammer flip out in synagogue on Yom Kippur. The rabbi had offered some timid endorsement of peace — peace essentially on Israel's terms — but peace anyway. Krauthammer went nuts. He actually started bellowing at the rabbi, from his wheel chair in the aisle. People tried to "shush" him. It was, after all, the holiest day of the year. But Krauthammer kept howling until the rabbi apologized. The man is as arrogant as he is thuggish. Who screams at the rabbi at services? For advocating peace?
I don't dispute that there are valid questions about when and how to respond to outrageous statements by your minister, but I don't think Krauthammer has any room to lecture.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

"Heck Of A Job, Gersie"

That is, if I were to guess at the probable dinner conversation.

Michael Gerson's Open Hypocrisy

Let's take a look at some Gerson quotes from a Fox News interview by Megyn Kelly.
But the reality is that Wright is not a representative of the African-American community, he's an extremist. He's talked about AIDS being, you know, a plot by the American government to destroy people of color, you know, blamed America for 9/11. These things are not the mainstream of the African-American tradition. He's not a symbol of these things, he's an extremist.
Now let's take a look at some of the Republican ministers who, in Gerson's mind, are free to endorse and embrace Republican candidates - and who Republican candidates need not repudiate. On God punishing us for our sins:
  • Pat Robertson: "I would warn Orlando that you're right in the way of some serious hurricanes, and I don't think I'd be waving those [gay pride] flags in God's face if I were you. This is not a message of hate - this is a message of redemption. But a condition like this will bring about the destruction of your nation. It'll bring about terrorist bombs. It'll bring earthquakes, tornadoes, and possibly a meteor."
  • John Hagee: "All hurricanes are acts of God, because God controls the heavens. I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God, and they are - were recipients of the judgment of God for that. The newspaper carried the story in our local area that was not carried nationally that there was to be a homosexual parade there on the Monday that the Katrina came. And the promise of that parade was that it was going to reach a level of sexuality never demonstrated before in any of the other Gay Pride parades. So I believe that the judgment of God is a very real thing."
  • Jerry Falwell: "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America - I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this [9/11] happen.'"
  • John Hagee: "As a nation, America is under the curse of God."
  • Jerry Falwell: "AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals."
  • John Hagee: "AIDS began in African prisons, where thousands of men, deprived of normal sex, turned to perverted sex. From the infection created by this perverted sex came the infection that birthed AIDS."
On natural disasters and terrorist acts, the distinction between Wright and the extremists Gerson deems acceptable appears to be that it is unacceptable to suggest that government policy is sinful and might inspire vengeful response, but it is acceptable to argue that God will smite people en masse because some of their neighbors engage in acts the minister (and probably Gerson) regard as sinful.

And for AIDS, it's not acceptable to say that the U.S. Government created AIDS, but it is acceptable to say that it was created by God as a plague on homosexuals and those who tolerate them. To me, you know, the former position sounds silly and ill-informed, and the latter sounds like... blasphemy. And it is apparently acceptable to assert that AIDS arose out of "perverted sex" in "African prisons", so Gerson appears to have no problem with ministers taking positions that are scientifically ludicrous and arguably racist... against Africans.
Well, uh, I guess I would say that somebody who believes the United States government is guilty of genocide is not a fierce critic. He's a dangerous man.
A dangerous man....
  • Pat Robertson (to Joel Mowbray): "I read your book. When you get through, you say, "If I could just get a nuclear device inside Foggy Bottom, I think that's the answer." I mean, you get through this, and you say, "We've got to blow that thing up."
  • Pat Robertson: "Just like what Nazi Germany did to the Jews, so liberal America is now doing to the evangelical Christians. It's no different. It is the same thing. It is happening all over again. It is the Democratic Congress, the liberal-based media and the homosexuals who want to destroy the Christians. Wholesale abuse and discrimination and the worst bigotry directed toward any group in America today. More terrible than anything suffered by any minority in history."
So it's acceptable to speak of committing a terrorist act to blow up the State Department, or to suggest that the U.S. Government is engaged in a worse genocide than the Holocaust, but... I'm having trouble finding even a farcical point of distinction.
Um, and this is a, I think a genuine problem going forward. It undermines Obama's appeal to conservatives. It undermines his appeal to Jews because of this relationship with, of his Pastor's with Farrakan.
Ah yes, lest we forget the warm feelings emanating toward Jews from Gerson's acceptable extremists (and one who is considered not so extremist)....
  • John Hagee: "No one could see the horror of the Holocaust coming, but the force and fear of Hitler's Nazis drove the Jewish people back to the only home God ever intended for the Jews to have - Israel."
  • Jerry Falwell: "The Jews are returning to their land of unbelief. They are spiritually blind and desperately in need of their Messiah and Savior."
  • Billy Graham: " I go and I keep friends with [Abe] Rosenthal at the New York Times and people of that sort, you know. And all -- I mean, not all the Jews, but a lot of the Jews are great friends of mine, they swarm around me and are friendly to me because they know that I'm friendly with Israel. But they don't know how I really feel about what they are doing to this country. And I have no power, no way to handle them, but I would stand up if under proper circumstances."
  • John Hagee: "How utterly repulsive, insulting, and heartbreaking to God for His chosen people to credit idols with bringing blessings He had showered upon the chosen people. Their own rebellion had birthed the seed of anti-Semitism that would arise and bring destruction to them for centuries to come.... it rises from the judgment of God upon his rebellious chosen people."
I know I'm supposed to buy into the notion that ministers who believe in the "End of Days", and support a vision whereby all of the world's Jews move to Israel where they ultimately either convert to Christianity or perish in the sea of fire, are somehow Jew-friendly. But....
And it really does undermine his basic message that words of healing matter. Because these are words of hatred that he has been, you know, associated with now.
In excusing every Republican affiliation with religious extremism, Gerson makes plain that he has no genuine problem with mere "words of hatred". His goal here is not to merely depict Wright's statements as "words of hatred", but as "words of hatred" from a "scary black man". Gerson knows that to achieve his goals, that last part is all that matters.

Running An Effective Smear Campaign

With factions of the Republican Party giddy with the idea of smearing Barack Obama on race issues, I thought I should remind them how to run an effective smear campaign.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"It's Different When We Do It"

"Michael Gerson is not a man who is stupid - but he chose to walk with a man who is."

No, wait, I got that first part wrong.
The better analogy is this: What if a Republican presidential candidate spent years in the pew of a theonomist church - a fanatical fragment of Protestantism that teaches the modern political validity of ancient Hebrew law?
No, that wouldn't be it, because we know the church Obama attended. Perhaps Gerson has never heard of the United Church of Christ?

I realize why Gerson wants to distinguish this from McCain's embrace of Hagee (or Huckabee's attendance of Hagee's services), or the various other ways Republican candidates and Presidents have sucked up to offensive religious extremists. Why he wants to argue, "They were only making kissy-face with the leaders, not attending their services. They were lying about their religious convictions to get votes - and it's morally superior to lie about your belief in extreme religious doctrine than it is to attend a church where the minister sometimes says hateful things, even though you disagree with the minister." As with Gerson's defense of infidelity, we're entering the theater of the absurd.

When Gerson tries to argue that Republicans should be excused excused for lying about their religious beliefs in order to suck up to religious extremists, he also states,
Yes, but they didn't financially support his ministry and sit directly under his teaching for decades.
Can he truly believe that religious extremists embraced by Republican politicians do not profit from the association? That the open embrace of their theology and person doesn't augment their fame, their power, their authority, and ultimately their fortune? That Bob Jones University only wants Presidents and politicians to speak on its premises because it thinks it has the nicest auditorium in the country? That Hagee and similar religious leaders have no self-interest in injecting themselves into national politics?

How charmingly naive.

The Michigan Democratic Primary

Look, I understand the reasons why the political parties adhere to the ridiculous custom of letting Iowa and New Hampshire "go first" (even in violation of party rules). But if you want to disenfranchise me, make the defender of your decision somebody less self-interested, myopic, and obtuse than Carrie Giddins. Okay? Be honest about what you are doing.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What Does "Inferior" Mean?

John Derbyshire reacts to Obama's speech:
"Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students."
What on earth does this mean? It's true that there is widespread school segregation today. In my state, 60 percent of black students attend schools that are at least 90-percent black. From what I can see, the main reason for this is the great reluctance of nonblack parents to send their kids to schools with too many black students, which they assume are beset by all the problems associated with poorly run public schools. Do you think that they — actually we, as my wife and I share this reluctance — are wrong to think like this? How will you persuade us to think otherwise? Or will you depend on judicially-imposed forced integration of the schools?
Okay... So where Derbyshire comes from, parents assume that majority-black schools are not suitable for their children because "they assume [the schools] are beset by all the problems associated with poorly run public schools", yet he feigns confusion over Obama's use of the word "inferior"?

What does Derbyshire see as the difference between "poorly run public schools" and the public schools to which he would happily send his kids? If he measures school quality by racial composition, the only benchmark for distinction he cites, how is he not reinforcing Obama's point?

McCain In Iraq

In the interest of security, as with other U.S. politicians, when John McCain goes to Iraq his visits are not pre-announced, he flies into secret locations, and is provided with extensive security and air cover. He is concerned about Iran's rising influence, and its training of al-Qaeda insurgents.
In recent days, McCain has repeatedly said his intimate knowledge of foreign policy make him the best equipped to answer a phone ringing in the White House late at night.
Compare and contrast: When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits Iraq, he announces his visit weeks in advance. More specifically,
He announced the dates of his visit in advance, landed at Baghdad International Airport in daylight and drove through the capital, albeit in a heavily guarded convoy, on a relatively quiet day. Iraqi forces provided security.
That business about Iran's rising influence? It's not so much "in the future".

Market Forces At Work

The Subprime Primer. (Via C&F.)

McCain's Religious Ties? Oh... "That's Different"

Tapped takes a brief look at the religious extremists currently enjoying the warm embrace of John McCain, and the historic lack of calls for candidates to distance themselves from the controversial statements of the religious leaders who support them.

And It's All Up To The Media Now....

With the mainstream media (encouraged by the Obama campaign) having set the bar, Barack Obama has given his "make or break" speech distancing himself from Rev. Wright. Does it matter what he said? Only to a degree. What really matters now is whether or not the mainstream media deems him to have passed the test.

If he is deemed to have "passed", as it seems unlikely that Pastor Wright has said anything more inflammatory than what has already been dredged out of his decades of sermons, the presentation of more quotes becomes "more of the same" - an attempt to reopen a closed issue.

If he is deemed not to have "passed", this will continue to hound him as a candidate. It will be used to taint him as "the other", somebody "not like us" who "can't be trusted" with the presidency. (Some tar will stick - some will now think of him as "the other" no matter what else happens in this campaign.)

But doesn't it seem a bit odd that the determination of whether this will remain news, or whether it will be treated as a dead issue, falls upon whatever consensus is quickly formed by the mainstream media?

Cafeteria Conservatives

David Brooks writes,
So I guess we’re all bailout artists now?

We do seem to have reached some Bernanke-era consensus. In normal times, the free market works well. But in a crisis like this one, few are willing to sit back and let the market find its own equilibrium.
This is consistent with many, probably most, modern "conservatives" - free markets are great when an individual is having a house foreclosed, is drowning in credit card debt, or is bankrupted by medical costs. They're horrible when a large business may fail, and the government had best be fast with a handout.

It's pretty standard for the "there are two types of people" crowd - they latch on to an ideology that purportedly makes them superior to those they oppose ("Conservatives favor free markets; liberals favor handouts"), but make little to no effort to consistently apply those principles. When multi-billion dollar subsidies are handed out to energy companies, even as those companies enjoy record profits, well, that can be ignored. When the markets catch up with a poorly managed company, the market principles that they supposedly embrace can suddenly be ignored because "this is different".

You know what? It goes both ways. I call myself "cheap", my wife says I'm "frugal". But I'm fiscally conservative, in a small "c" sense. I don't like to hand out my money to anyone. I am much more willing to offer people help when they are in a fix that is not of their own making. So I'm much more sympathetic to the financial plight of somebody who is drowning in medical debt than somebody who is drowning in credit card debt arising from self-indulgent spending. I'm not at all sympathetic to the idea that people who are at the top of the economic pyramid need government handouts. Yet that's the Republican approach to energy companies, and corporate welfare in general.

I see the current crisis among financial institutions as analogous to that self-indulgent credit card debt - and view it as unfortunate that the incompetence and corruption involved is on such a large scale that we can't just "let the market take its course." But I see few signs that the Republican Party or the supposedly pro-market leaders of those institutions share my sentiments - at least when their millions are on the line. Citi Group was no doubt lobbying hard for the Bankruptcy Reform Act, to keep people from discharging credit card debt - but it would no doubt leap at its first opportunity to have the government subsidize its debts and nationalize its losses. What would a self-professed "free-market conservative" call such a bailout? Probably something like "bipartisan stimulation".

Monday, March 17, 2008

Pay No Attention To The Race-Baiter Behind The Curtain

Robert Novak writes,
In such a prolonged contest, Obama will enjoy overwhelming African American support. The question is whether the Clinton campaign can resist pointing this out in an effort to mobilize white backing. It certainly has not resisted so far, demonstrated by feckless Gerry Ferraro's mimicking what she heard from Bill and Hillary.
As Novak suggests, why would Clinton need to point that out when they have people like Gerry Ferraro Robert Novak making the argument for them?

It's Always The Worst-Case Scenario

Another Iraq war "expert" presented in the Times, Kenneth Pollack, argues,
If we leave behind a raging civil war in which the Iraqi people are incomprehensibly worse off than they had been under Saddam Hussein and the Middle East more threatened by the chaos spilling over from Iraq than they ever were by the dictator’s arms, then no one will care how well-intentioned our motives.
If all that matters is the outcome, Mr. Pollack, then our pure-as-snow motives going in are no more relevant than would be our "well-intentioned motives" when pulling out. It's a false dichotomy anyway - unless Mr. Pollack sees the present situation as "a raging civil war in which the Iraqi people are incomprehensibly worse off than they had been under Saddam Hussein", as we don't need a force the size of the present occupation force to keep a significantly larger civil war from breaking out. As an "expert," you would think he would recall from the long period of sanctions how effective a "no fly zone" and total air dominance can be at preventing troop movements.

Let's look at Iraq's neighbors.... If a post-occupation insurgency were actually a threat to them (and possibly even if not), Turkey, Syria, and Iran could be anticipated to create "security zones" inside Iraq to limit its effect. This, of course, would be contrary to U.S. goals for the region, but none of those countries are going to permit an Iraqi civil war to spill across its borders. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait? They'll be fully backed by the U.S. military. That leaves Jordan and, even if we assume that Jordan is incapable of defending its border, even if we ignore its history and pretend that it cannot put down civil unrest, and even if we assume that the U.S. completely withdrew from Iraq (yes, there will be continued troops and continued air dominance for many years after "withdrawal), on the opposite side of Jordan is a nation called "Israel" that does not sit idly by when its neighbors fall into civil war and chaos.

Why can't proponents of indefinite occupation be honest? They don't fear a civil war leading to chaos. They fear the end of Iraq as a nation state, with neighboring companies carving it up into pieces in the name of "security". (Perhaps I'm giving them too much credit, though, as some so-called "experts" don't seem particularly bright or informed.)

The "Experts" Speak (Again)

More than four years ago, The Guardian asked a number of "experts" on Iraq to comment on how to improve the situation. The suggestions were pretty mediocre. The most laughable? From Danielle Pletka:
For Danielle Pletka, of the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute, improved security was a matter of being tougher. The US should "stop acting as a weak power, because that is what is giving encouragement to the terrorists", she urged.

"We could stop driving around in Humvees without actually arresting anybody," she said. "We could arrest a lot of people, including all of the Ba'athists, the mukhabarat [secret police] and senior military who are floating around freely in Iraq. We could stop releasing people after we arrest them, often within 24 hours."

Closing Iraq's borders effectively, to prevent infiltration from neighbouring countries, she added, was half the battle. "We could make clear to the governments that are allowing infiltrators through that the consequences to them will be extraordinarily unpleasant if it continues."
Her suggestion for how to get us onto a path of success? One of those "It would be funny, but..." things.
What would kickstart moves to peace?

Danielle Pletka:

'Establish an understanding that there are liberal, democratic Iraqis who should be empowered with more control over the political and security wellbeing of the country'

• Chance of stability in 12 months: 50-75% as long as changes are made in tactics
The New York Times continues to anoint her as an expert:
But what about the mistaken assumptions that remain unexamined? Looking back, I felt secure in the knowledge that all who yearn for freedom, once free, would use it well. I was wrong. There is no freedom gene, no inner guide that understands the virtues of civil society, of secret ballots, of political parties. And it turns out that living under Saddam Hussein’s tyranny for decades conditioned Iraqis to accept unearned leadership, to embrace sect and tribe over ideas, and to tolerate unbridled corruption.
So when we invaded, her position was, "Wave a magic wand, get freedom." Now she knows better, because with her newfound grasp of Iraqi history she has come to realize that Saddam Hussein created tribalism and sectarianism in the Middle East, and apparently that he succeeded a government that was honest, diligent, free of corruption, and democratically elected. Having been 100% wrong on the invasion, and taking the ignorant and wildly incorrect position that the U.S. wasn't arresting or detaining suspected insurgents and terrorists in 2003, Pletka continues to display near-total ignorance of the region and its history.
Some have used Iraq’s political immaturity as further proof the war was wrong, as if somehow those less politically evolved don’t merit freedoms they are ill equipped to make use of. We would be better served to understand how the free world can foster appreciation of the building blocks of civil society in order to help other victims of tyranny when it is their turn.
The "some have used" game. Yes, particularly war supporters who try to explain away their failures with Coulteresque racism directed at Arabs and Muslims.

But those voices who can tell us how nation building works, and the difficulties of occupation? Had Ms. Pletka been listening, she would have heard those voices before the invasion. Instead she plugged her ears and dreamed up a "democracy gene". And when things went wrong, advanced the line that we had a pretty good chance of success if only we would get tougher and arrest more people, and turn power over to "liberal, democratic Iraqis"... which, yes, in her mind meant Ahmed Chalabi.

Some expert. And yet, on it goes.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Bush Speechwriters United....

... Against Obama.

Michael Gerson attempts to attack Barack Obama's record on the Iraq war, but first a blatantly false assertion about McCain:
John McCain's nomination was ensured by the success of the surge he had consistently advocated, against intense opposition.
Daniel Larison responds:
This is ludicrous. McCain was the frontrunner in the spring of 2007, long before anyone could have reasonably claimed that the “surge” had done anything (not that many pundits didn’t make outlandish claims), and there was in any case never any doubt in the Republican rank-and-file that the “surge” was the right thing to do. On the contrary, if McCain’s nomination was ever assured it was assured by the collapse of his only real national rival, Mitt Romney, under the waves of the Huckaboom, whose beginning had literally nothing to do with the war in Iraq.
Gerson attempts to depict Obama as inconsistent on Iraq, lifting his analysis out of an essay by fellow Bush Speechwriter Peter Wehner. The phases appear to be:
  1. The 2002 speech, opposing the Iraq war;
  2. A post-war period, from 2003 to 2006, in which he argued that it would be irresponsible to withdraw, and that we had an obligation to try to stabilize Iraq;
  3. Starting in late 2006, argument for phased withdrawal, and skepticism about "the surge";
  4. An apparent present mindset that his Iraq policy as President will be shaped by the facts on the ground.
Gerson, of course, is all for the idea that Obama should base his opinions on the realities of the situation in Iraq, not campaign promises. But this obviously undercuts his suggestion of inconsistency between pre-war opposition to invasion, and post-war support for an effort to make the invasion and occupation work. Did Gerson somehow miss that the facts on the ground changed considerably between the time Obama opposed a theoretical war, and the time he was hoping to get the best outcome out of an actual war? Of course not. Gerson's attacks on Obama are consistently short on honesty.

Not only is there no inconsistency between points one and two, Obama remains correct to have opposed the war, and once Bush started the war he was correct to press for the best outcome. Had his position during the post-war period been a demand for immediate withdrawal at any cost, it would have been ridiculous. And this, of course, further highlights Gerson's mendacity - Gerson would be savaging that stance, as well. (The difference being, had Obama taken such a ridiculous position, Gerson could have presented an honest impeachment.)

So now the "inconsistency" is reduced to skepticism of "the surge", and the suggestion that the time has come for the Iraqi government to shoulder the burden of running the country. Or, if you believe that the Iraqi government will remain incapable of assuming actual governance and responsibility for security in the next twelve to thirty months, that the time has come for us to cut our losses. With all due respect to Gerson, if he truly believed that "the surge" was working he wouldn't be trying to disown the Bush Administration's benchmarks of its success, or exaggerating its successes.

It is a perfectly legitimate reaction to the present situation to observe that it is not apparent that Iraqi factions will even try to resolve their differences as long as the occupation remains in force, and to ask, "Why shouldn't we cut our losses?" The easy thing to do is what Gerson and his ilk have done from day one - prop up the official Bush Administration line that up is down, left is right, and the best way to overcome past failures is to keep on doing exactly the same thing.

Oh, you say, but "the surge" was something different. Even accepting that argument, that the failures of the prior years of strategy had become so patent that there were some real changes in our approach to the occupation on the ground, the surge has failed by the Bush Administration's benchmarks, and apparently also in the assessment of General Petaeus. And here's where the circle closes - the brilliant strategy of the man Gerson wants to push into the White House? "We'll keep doing exactly the same thing, whether for a hundred years or even a thousand years." That, Gerson would have us believe, is the better Iraq war policy.

I know I tease Gerson here, by suggesting that he is a world-class idiot, but there's another possibility. He's capitalizing on his position with the Washington Post to inject Republican smears into mainstream discourse. If they don't stick, those feeding him the lines he is to pitch can shrug and say, "It's only Gerson." And if the smears stick, more credible right-wingers can run with them.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Holy Prescience, Batman

I stumbled across this from my archives.
In today's Times, Bill Safire cautions us not to get too exuberant in what he sees as an amazing financial recovery for the nation, for fear of causing another bubble.
Revisiting that editorial,
Contrarians, arise! As consumers are consumed with buying DVD's over their cellphones, getting second mortgages to take advantage of stock tips and letting their invaluable animal spirits get the better of their judgment, it is for us to march around with sandwich boards that say ''Repent - The End Is Near.''
That's what you get, though, for wearing a sandwich board and portending doom - nobody listens to you.

"Our Greatest Contemporary Philosopher" Speaks

Following up on David Mamet, maybe I should have gone with the parody I contemplated in footnote 1:
I was tempted to write a piece about Mamet's early work being performed the Organic Theater and, well, basically drawing as many parallels I could between Mamet's background and Jonah Goldberg's notions of a "liberal fascist." Such a piece would be entitled, "I used to be a liberal fascist, but it turns out I was a conservative the whole time." That, of course, would be intended as a poke in the eye of those who gush over both this essay and Goldberg's book, but they wouldn't get it and everybody else would be bored.
Because I just discovered (via Glenn Kenny) the great philosopher's edict on liberal fascism:
Those who put a high value on words may recoil at the title of Jonah Goldberg's new book, "Liberal Fascism." As a result, they may refuse to read it, which will be their loss — and a major loss.

Those who value substance over words, however, will find in this book a wealth of challenging insights, backed up by thorough research and brilliant analysis.
Right.... Brilliant.