Will Saletan is Missing the Point on Abortion

Slate columnist Will Saletan wrote in the New York Times in February that he believes that we can end the culture wars by encouraging birth control and discouraging abortion. This week, in the wake of the murder of late-term abortion provider George Tiller in Kansas, Saletan returned to that argument, writing that while abortion is not "murder," it's "something less, a tragedy that would be better avoided," and we should look for ways to prevent it. On the way to that conclusion, Saletan stumbled on an interesting point:

Them Boiling Frogs

Hoo boy.  I sure hope James Fallows doesn't watch this video snippet.  He's already annoyed at Anne Applebaum's China fearmongering, and seeing all his good work on the boiling frog myth blown up on prime time TV in a matter of seconds — well, that might just drive him over the edge.  Don't watch, Jim!

Summer Passport Woes

Matt Welch writes:

Do you feel safer today? Let's hope so, since you're certainly less free to travel about the Northern Hemisphere. Beginning just after midnight, every American returning from Canada, Mexico, and various island paradises now have to flash a U.S. passport to get back in the country. For the 70 percent of citizens who don't have passports, that means a minimum four to six weeks waiting time (and probably more, given the new filing rush) to legally escape the national boundaries.

Great.  My passport is expiring in a couple of months and I downloaded the forms just yesterday to get it renewed.  I didn't realize I was going to get caught up in Phase 2 of the great Canada/Mexico passport debacle. Thanks for warning me just in time, Matt.

Of course, this is only a partial change.  I learned to my chagrin some years ago that at least some Canadian border officials have wanted to see a passport all along.  Flying into Toronto in the mid-90s, I got hassled by a security guy at the airport for having only a driver's license to prove my bona fides ("that doesn't prove citizenship," he said, "it just means you're licensed to drive in California," which, admittedly, is perfectly correct).  He still let me in, but I've made sure to take my passport on trips to Canada ever since.

CAP Gets it All Wrong on White House New Media

Given Barack Obama's game-changing use of new media during the campaign, there's been a lot of excitement about how his team might use technology now that he's President. Unfortunately, there seems to be some disagreement about what exactly the White House should be doing. The Center for American Progress, for example, has a new memo out on the White House new media strategy that could hardly be more off base.

Pressuring Israel

President Obama has taken a surprisingly hard line on expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but what's even more surprising is how little pushback he's gotten so far from Israel's supporters in the U.S.  Ben Smith reports that this might be changing:

“My concern is that we are applying pressure to the wrong party in this dispute,” said Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.). “I think it would serve America’s interest better if we were pressuring the Iranians to eliminate the potential of a nuclear threat from Iran, and less time pressuring our allies and the only democracy in the Middle East to stop the natural growth of their settlements.”

....“I don’t think anybody wants to dictate to an ally what they have to do in their own national security interests,” said Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), who said he thinks there’s “room for compromise.”

....And Republicans have been more sharply critical of the pressure on Israel. “It’s misguided. Behind that pressure is the assumption that somehow resolving the so-called settlements will somehow lead to the ultimate goal” of disarming Iran, said Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House minority whip.

....The pro-Israel lobby AIPAC last week got the signatures of 329 members of Congress, including key figures in both parties, on a letter calling on the administration to work “closely and privately” with Israel — in contrast to the current public pressure.

For what it's worth, the story here still seems to me to be less about the pushback and more about the fact that pushback to Obama's policy pronouncements remains surprisingly muted.  "It's misguided" is not the kind of temperate rhetoric you'd expect to hear about this from Republican leaders, after all.  Either this means that things have changed, or merely that the AIPAC-centric crowd has decided they're better off working behind the scenes and keeping a quieter profile.  Hard to say which right now.

With the murder of Dr. George Tiller, Randall Terry is back in the news. For years, he has been one of the leading antiabortion extremists, and he has at times directed his fury at Tiller. On Monday, while essentially justifying the slaying of Tiller, Terry compared himself to Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1998, I wrote a profile of Terry for The Nation. At the time, he was running for Congress in upstate New York. He didn't win the seat, but while campaigning he was--as he often is--quite candid about his fundamentalist views. Terry revealed a world view shared by a number of radical fundamentalists--perhaps including Scott Roeder, the antigovernment, anti-abortion fundamentalist who is the key suspect in the Tiller murder. Here are some excerpts from that article.

Would Mike Dukakis Have Won in 2008?

No.

This has been another edition of simple answers to simple questions.(TM Atrios)

Also, and this should go without saying: Mike Dukakis is no Barack Obama. The available evidence suggests Obama would not look like a fool around military equipment. And there's no way Mike Dukakis could pull off those shades.

Obama's Calculated GOP Outreach

President Barack Obama will appoint yet another moderate Republican to a top post in his administration on Tuesday. Obama's expected nomination of John M. McHugh, a GOP congressman from New York, to be Secretary of the Army comes less than three weeks after the president picked Jon Huntsman, the popular Republican governor of Utah, as his ambassador to China.

The nomination follows a pattern. While the Republicans Obama has asked to join his team have been unquestionably qualified for the jobs he selected them for (Huntsman speaks Mandarin; McHugh is the top Republican on the Armed Services committee), the picks have also provided Obama with clear political advantages. 

Given that credit default swaps caused the largest financial crisis since the Great Depression, you'd think that the folks responsible for them, people who are now surviving on the taxpayer dime, might be laughed out of Washington if they were to suggest that they be the ones to decide how to regulate them. Sadly, it's the opposite.

On Monday, the Times' Gretchen Morgenson published a little-noticed but excellent piece about the CDS Dealers Consortium, a group created in November by the nine biggest participants in the derivatives market to lobby against stricter regulation of derivatives. The move came a month after five of them had received bailout money. The group's head lobbyist, Edward J. Rosen, who was paid $450,000 by the banks for four months, wrote a secret policy memo that he shared with the Treasury Department and leaders on Capitol Hill. A few months later Tim Geithner released a suspiciously similar regulatory plan. 

It gets much worse: in February Rosen testified before Congress on derivaratives without disclosing his ties to the CDS Dealers Consortium. From 2007 to 2008, five banks in the consortium spent a combined $47.7 million on campaign donatations and lobbying.

Geithner's bank-friendly plan to regulate derivatives would force them to be traded on a privately-managed clearinghouse, rather than on an open exchange, similar to the stock market, where many experts believe that they'd be less subject to manipulation. Morgenson reports:

Critics in both the financial world and Congress say relying on clearinghouses would be problematic. They also say Mr. Geithner's plan contains a major loophole, because little disclosure would be required for more complicated derivatives, like the type of customized, credit-default swaps that helped bring down A.I.G. A.I.G. sold insurance related to mortgage securities, essentially making a big bet that those mortgages would not default. . .

But increased transparency of derivatives trades would cut into banks' profits — hence the banks' opposition. Customers who trade derivatives would pay less if they knew what the prevailing market prices were.

The Times piece is long, but reading it goes a long way towards understanding what is often a huge gulf between the Obama Administration's rhetoric and its tepid approach to bank regulation.

 

China and North Korea

It's true, as Anne Applebaum says, that China is the only country in the world with any real influence over North Korea.  So why do they put up with Kim Jong-il's antics?  The usual answer is that they're afraid of pushing too hard lest his regime collapse and send millions of refugees streaming across the border into Manchuria.  Applebaum, however, speculates that that isn't it at all.  China actually wants North Korea to continue its hotheaded ways:

Despite the risks, there are good reasons for the Chinese to prod Kim Jong-il to keep those missiles coming. By permitting North Korea to rattle its sabers, the Chinese can monitor Obama's reaction to a military threat without having to deploy a threat themselves. They can see how serious the new American administration is about controlling the spread of nuclear weapons without having to risk sanctions or international condemnation of their own nuclear industry. They can distract and disturb the new administration without harming Chinese-American economic relations, which are crucial to their own regime's stability.

And if the game goes badly, they can call it off. North Korea is a puppet state, and the Chinese are the puppeteers. They could end this farce tomorrow. If they haven't done so yet, there must be a reason.

I don't really have much to add to this.  It's just that the refugee explanation of Chinese behavior has always struck me as moderately unconvincing, so I'm sort of interested in alternatives — even if they do come wrapped in some variant of "China must be stopped!" fearmongering.  Which this one does.  But it's worth a thought anyway.