2008 - %3, November

Advice for Pinch

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 2:02 PM EST

ADVICE FOR PINCH....George Packer says the New York Times should fire Bill Kristol when his one-year probationary period is up in December:

In his year on the Op-Ed page, not one memorable sentence, not one provocative thought, not one valuable piece of information appeared under his name.....Kristol's performance on the Op-Ed page during the most interesting election in a generation is a historical symptom, not merely a personal failure. He wrote badly because his world view had become problematic at best, untenable at worst, and he had spent too many years turning out Party propaganda to summon the intellectual resources that a difficult situation required. Now the Times owes it to its readers to find someone better.

After a couple of months I stopped reading Kristol's columns. It wasn't because I disagreed with him, it was because he was boring. Whatever the meme of the week was in the few days prior to his Monday appearance, you could be almost sure that's what he'd write about. Not only were his subjects often stale by then, but he almost never offered anything more than the tritest conservative conventional wisdom on the subject at hand. Snooze city.

So: who should take his place? Since this is a liberal site, and the Times is looking for a conservative columnist, the answer is probably going to be whoever infuriates you the most reliably. (Kristol didn't. He just put me to sleep.) Consider this an open thread.

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Holy Joe Update

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 1:05 PM EST

HOLY JOE UPDATE....I see that Senate Democrats have voted to allow Joe Lieberman to keep his committee chairmanship. I guess they really showed him, didn't they? No Democrat will ever dare to support a Republican candidate for president, speak at the Republican national convention in prime time, and bad mouth the Democratic Party's candidate ever again.

Clintonites

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 1:03 PM EST

CLINTONITES....Just a quick comment on a common meme: Why is Barack Obama surrounding himself with so many Clinton retreads? That's not change we can believe in!

Sure, sure, but look: anybody who's been active in liberal governance for more than eight years is likely to be a Clintonite. It was the only game in town during the 90s. And anybody who's been active less than eight years probably doesn't have the experience to get a top level position. So there's really no way around this. There are some fresh faces around for Obama to tap, but for the most part, when you're staffing highly visible and responsible positions, you want someone who has at least some experience to fall back on. And since Bill Clinton is the only Democrat to hold the presidency in the past 28 years, that means someone who served in the Clinton administration.

I suppose this doesn't bother me as much as it does some people since I never expected Obama to be a huge left-wing break from Democratic tradition in the first place. He's a little farther to the left than Clinton, but not a lot, and it's only natural that he'd find a fair number of Clintonites who hold views similar to his own. What's more, as his campaign showed, he's obviously a guy who values experience and deep knowledge. He'll do fine, Clintonites or not.

Abortion Access: Bush Administration Continues Its Last Minute Moves

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 12:28 PM EST

This is not the first time the Bush Administration has tried to tweak policy in these closing days, and it won't be the last. But it is disheartening nonetheless. The Times:

A last-minute Bush administration plan to grant sweeping new protections to health care providers who oppose abortion and other procedures on religious or moral grounds has provoked a torrent of objections, including a strenuous protest from the government agency that enforces job discrimination laws.
The proposed rule would prohibit recipients of federal money from discriminating against doctors, nurses and other health care workers who refuse to perform or to assist in the performance of abortions or sterilization procedures because of their "religious beliefs or moral convictions."
...three officials from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, including its legal counsel, whom President Bush appointed, said the proposal would overturn 40 years of civil rights law prohibiting job discrimination based on religion....

The Civil Rights Act already prohibits employment discrimination based on religion. This is fundamentally about protecting pro-lifers who don't want to hand out contraception or perform abortions. That is, making family planning more difficult in America.

The opponents of the new rule include Democratic politicians (including Obama), abortion rights groups, pharmacies, and many states. Notes the Times, "State officials said the rule could void state laws that require insurance plans to cover contraceptives and require hospitals to offer emergency contraception to rape victims." That's frightening. If this change was so easily done by the Bush Administration, hopefully it will be just as easily undone by the Obama one.

Quote of the Day - 11.18.08

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 12:17 PM EST

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From maritime energy security specialist Candyce Kelshall, responding to the unprecedented seizure of an oil tanker 450 miles off the coast of Somalia:

"If it was an LNG tanker seized, we're looking at something potentially catastrophic. An LNG tanker going up is like 50 Hiroshimas."

I just thought I'd start off the morning with a cheery thought. You may now go about your business.

Take This as Tacit Black Support for Gay Marriage

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 11:53 AM EST

Here's Beyonce, Paul Rudd, Justin Timberlake (he's almost black, right?), and Saturday Night Live working it through, ahem, the 'back door' for gay rights (scroll to last video).

A reach, I know. But Will Saletan at Slate thinks blacks will eventually get religion about homosexuality, too.

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Why Rescue Automakers and Other Corporations that Have Been Bad Neighbors?

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 11:46 AM EST

As Congress ponders whether to bail out the auto industry--and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson opposes using the Big Finance rescue package to aid the Big Three automakers--a press release put out by a Democratic congressman from Wisconsin, Steve Kagen, illustrates the dilemmas at hand when it comes to assisting multinational corporations that have made their own now-falling-apart beds. Kagen asks why the taxpayers should help out Chrysler when the owner of Chrysler has screwed his constituents by shutting down paper mills in his district and refusing to sell those facilities to others.

Kagen explains:

Congressman Steve Kagen, M.D. says no taxpayer money should be given to Chrysler until after Wisconsin papermakers go back to work. Cerberus Capital Management, L.P., one of the largest private equity investment firms in the United States, owns many corporations including automaker Chrysler and NewPage Corporation, which recently closed two paper mills in Northeast Wisconsin putting over 750 people out of work.
"If Cerberus needs to raise cash to bailout Chrysler, then they should sell our idle paper mills in Kimberly and Niagara," said Kagen. "Local community leaders have given them opportunities to sell - they have turned them down - and now hard working families in Wisconsin are being asked to help the very people who have taken away their jobs. Outrageous. I am strongly against any taxpayer funds being given to Chrysler until their parent company gives us our jobs back. Cerberus already has millions of dollars of assets in these mills which they can sell tomorrow, putting my friends and neighbors back to work, and generating the capital necessary to keep Chrysler afloat."
Kagen spoke this weekend at the dedication of Camp Kimberly, an area set up across the street from the quiet NewPage paper mill. Former mill workers are holding daily vigils to urge NewPage executives to run the mill, or sell it.
....The closure of the mill in Kimberly caused the loss of over 450 papermaking jobs and the Niagara mill closing put over 300 people out of work. Both closures were due to unfair competition from foreign-made paper.

Whether Kagen is right or not about what Cerberus has done--or not done--regarding the paper mills in his district, this situation shows a fundamental problem. Troubled corporations deemed too big to fail are running to the government for handouts, and it may be best of bad options to use taxpayer dollars to prevent their collapse. But these same corporations have often showed disregard for their workers, their consumers, and the communities in which they have thrived. That is, they haven't made decisions to advance the greater good--after all, that's not been their mission. (Their top job has been to make money for the shareholders and owners.) Yet once they hit trouble, they plead that it serves the greater good to keep them afloat. It's a basic asymmetry. To compensate, taxpayers and legislators ought to apply public interest standards for any bailouts that do proceed.

Would a Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Be a Return to the Past? No. Here's Why

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 11:34 AM EST

So far, no one has confirmed the Guardian report that Hillary Clinton will accept the offer to become Barack Obama's first Secretary of State, which suggests to me the Guardian got a little more out-front on that story than was appropriate. But what does it mean if she takes it? After appointing a top Clinton aide to chief of staff, putting what seemed like the entire Clinton economic team on his economic advisory board, and choosing Hillary for State, has Obama returned the country to the 90s and broken his promise to bring a new direction to Washington?

I don't believe so, and (I can't believe I'm saying this) I'm turning to Maureen Dowd for back-up. In a recent NYT column, she wrote:

If Barry chooses Hillary as secretary of state, a woman who clearly intimidated him and taught him to be a better pol in the primaries, it doesn't signal the return of the Clinton era. It says the opposite: If you have a president who's willing to open up his universe to other smart, strong people, if you have a big dog who shares his food dish, the Bill Clinton era is truly over.
Appointing a Clinton in the cabinet would be so un-Clintonian.

And the distinction isn't just with the Clinton Administration. Bringing strong voices unafraid to dissent into the inner circles of power is very different from the early Bush Administration, which famously refused to hear viewpoints that didn't agree with Bush and Cheney. And not insisting that all power reside in the White House (instead, allowing some to sit in Foggy Bottom) is also very un-Bushian.

It's part of an early Obama pattern. Forgiving Joe Lieberman his transgressions by allowing him to keep his chairmanship and place within the caucus, which Senate Democratics appear ready to do in part because of a nudge from Obama, is a refreshingly grudge-free approach to managing Washington. (Though, I'll admit, it is hard to see Joe get off scot free.) Forgiveness, power-sharing, brooking discussion and possibly dissent — it's all very new around here.

From Kurdistan to K-Street

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 2:50 AM EST

FROM KURDISTAN TO K-STREET....Over on our home page today, Laura Rozen tells the story of Shlomi Michaels: former Israeli counterterrorism commando, owner of a coffee/chocolate shop franchise, lobbyist and contractor for Iraqi Kurds, and, it turns out, friend of intelligence service chiefs from Moscow to Tokyo to Washington DC. It is definitely not set in the foreign affairs world that we normally see on TV:

This is a story of the other world, the one whose real power players never show up in the CNN headline crawl. It's the story of a man with a habit of popping up, Zelig-like, at the nexus of foreign policy and the kinds of businesses that thrive in times of war — security contracting, infrastructure development and postwar reconstruction, influence and intelligence brokering.

It's also the story of how this entrepreneur and middleman, in the shadowy environment created by the 9/11 attacks and Washington's advance on Iraq, seized the opportunity to propel himself from small-time businessman into global player. The trajectory of Shlomi Michaels is testament not only to one man's driven intensity, but also to the opportunities the war on terror has presented to those with the information, connections, and ambition to seize them.

The eternal search for WMD programs in Iraq makes an appearance too. The whole story is here.

Conservatives and Unions

| Mon Nov. 17, 2008 10:18 PM EST

CONSERVATIVES AND UNIONS....Tim Fernholz shakes his head over the current conservative obsession with supposed liberal efforts to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine, and then asks a question:

The problem, of course, is that most folks on the left could care less about the Fairness Doctrine and don't see bringing it back as necessary or important, as The Los Angeles Times chronicles. But, obviously, a good number of conservatives are worked up about this fake issue. Which is weird, but also got me to thinking: Are liberals worked up about a similarly fake conservative project?

Sure. A few years ago there was a boomlet in liberals claiming that Bush was going to reinstate the draft. It was always a ridiculous notion, but it had a certain amount of currency in the blogosphere for a while. I think I even succumbed to it once myself during the 2004 campaign season.

But what else? Fernholz decided to ask some conservatives, and James Poulos gave this answer:

I suppose I have a less controversial and a more controversial answer for you. The less controversial answer is that [it] doesn't seem right to me to claim that conservatives are out to destroy the unions....The more controversial answer is that I don't think "overturning Roe vs. Wade" really accurately describes "a conservative project" anymore.

I'd say this is exactly backward. Overturning Roe v. Wade is obviously still a conservative project, but I'd at least give a hearing to the argument that there are plenty of conservatives who (a) don't really care about Roe and (b) believe that overturning it is a hopeless cause. Sure, they're all willing to keep it in the GOP platform and support pro-life judges (as long as they're also pro-business judges), but you can certainly make the case that a serious obsession with Roe is a minority position even within the conservative movement.

So even though I'd still disagree with Poulos on this point, I'd call it the less controversial claim. Union busting, conversely, strikes me as being so deeply embedded in conservative DNA that it's virtually impossible to imagine an American conservative movement that didn't have anti-unionism as one of its core planks. In the last 30 years conservatives have made virtually no only modest inroads on their pro-life agenda, but they've made steady progress on the anti-union front ever since the end of World War II — via legislation, executive orders, new agency rules, NLRB appointments, and judicial nominations at both the state and federal level. This is no coincidence. The prospect of unionization rouses panic among Main Street conservatives more than any other single issue — more than taxes, more than deregulation — and whether James Dobson likes it or not, the GOP is a business party first and a social conservative party second.

Overturning Roe is certainly a conservative priority, but it's only been on the list for about 30 years. Fighting labor has been on the list for more like 130 years. If it's not central to the conservative identity in America, I don't know what is.

UPDATE: Edited slightly. As JR points out in comments, in conservative regions of the country pro-life forces have won a fair number of battles at the state and local level.