2010 - %3, March

Can Japan Say No to Washington?

| Thu Mar. 4, 2010 3:32 PM EST

When it comes to cracks in America's imperial edifice—as measured by the ability of other countries to say "no" to Washington, or just look the other way when American officials insist on something—Europe has been garnering all the headlines lately, and they've been wildly American-centric. "Gates: Nato, in crisis, must change its ways," "Pull Your Weight, Europe," "Gates:  Europe's demilitarization has gone too far," "Dutch Retreat," and so on. All this over one country—Holland—which will evidently pull out of Afghanistan thanks to intensifying public pressure about the war there, and other NATO countries whose officials are shuffling their feet and hemming and hawing about sending significant reinforcements Afghanistan-wards. One could, of course, imagine quite a different set of headlines ("Europeans react to overbearing, overmuscled Americans," "Europeans turn backs on endless war"), but not in the mainstream news. You can certainly find some striking commentary on the subject by figures like Andrew Bacevich and Juan Cole, but it goes unheeded.

The truth is that Europe still seems a long way from being ready to offer any set of firm noes to Washington on much of anything, while in Asia, noes from key American clients of the past half-century have been even less in evidence. But sometimes from the smallest crack in a façade come the largest of changes. In this case, the most modest potential "no" from a new Japanese government in Tokyo, concerning US basing posture in that country, seems to have caused near panic in Washington. In neither Europe nor Asia have we felt any political earthquakes—yet. But just below the surface, the global political tectonic plates are rubbing together, and who knows when, as power on this planet slowly shifts, one of them will slip and suddenly, for better or worse, the whole landscape of power will look different.

John Feffer, the co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus and a TomDispatch regular, already has written for this site on whether Afghanistan might prove NATO's graveyard. Now, he turns east to explore whether, in a dispute over one insignificant base on the Japanese island of Okinawa, we might be feeling early rumblings on the Asian fault-line of American global power.

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The Right's Latest Derangement

| Thu Mar. 4, 2010 3:16 PM EST

One of the things that I'm simultaneously impressed and repelled by is the right's ability to invent bizarre new smears where ordinary people would see no potential at all. How do they do it? The latest example comes from John McCormack at the Weekly Standard, whose headline blares:

Obama Now Selling Judgeships for Health Care Votes?

Where does this come from? It turns out that Obama has nominated University of Utah law professor Scott Matheson to a judgeship on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, and Matheson is the brother of a congressman, Jim Matheson, who will be voting on healthcare reform in a couple of weeks. "The timing of this nomination looks suspicious," McCormack says darkly. The acerbic Jon Chait, after noting Scott's stellar qualifications, comments:

McCormack, before proceeding to speculate that the nomination is intended to pay off his brother, does concede, "Matheson appears to have the credentials to be a judge." Come on, let's not be so naive here. Sure, he's a Stanford alum, Rhodes scholar, Yale Law School graduate, Harvard profesor, U.S. Attorney, and law school dean. Maybe that makes him "qualified" by the rock-bottom standards of this administration, even if he's no Harriet Miers.

The real problem here, I think, is that McCormack isn't really cut out for this kind of thing. This is Glenn Beck material, as he demonstrates so eloquently in his response to the news about Matheson: "Can I tell you something. How many times does someone from Utah need to be the linchpin that almost destroys the Republic?"

Now that's the ticket! Forget about healthcare and pivot immediately into some grand conspiracy theory about the role of Utah in the destruction of the Republic. Beck is even a Mormon, but he doesn't let that stop him. That's what we all admire about the guy.

Anyway, terrific stuff. Enjoy it while you can, because tomorrow it will be something new.

Grammar, Commas, and You

| Thu Mar. 4, 2010 2:29 PM EST

Today is, apparently, National Grammar Day. James Joyner, in the course of musing on changes over his lifetime, says:

I never know where to put a comma anymore. We’ve certainly become much stingier in their use in recent years. The trailing comma in lists, for example, is gone.

Not on this blog, pal! I'll use the Oxford comma til the day I die. Never let The Man take away your commas.

Gossip Alert

| Thu Mar. 4, 2010 2:04 PM EST

Via Drudge via Twitter, here's the latest from gossip site Radar.com:

EXCLUSIVE: John Roberts, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, is seriously considering stepping down from the nation’s highest court for personal reasons, RadarOnline.com has learned exclusively.... RadarOnline.com has been told that Roberts, 55, could announce his decision at any time.

This is, obviously, not true.1 But what I'm curious about is where something like this comes from. When it's celebrity gossip, you figure it comes from one of the thousands of sycophants and hangers-on that infest Hollywood and the celebrity world in general. But the Supreme Court? Who the hell peddles phony gossip about the Supreme Court?

1Yes, yes, maybe it is true. Then I'll eat my words. But come on.

UPDATE: Question answered! It came from a Georgetown law professor who was playing a trick on his class. Apparently all it took was a quick text message from a student for this to hit the big time.

EMILY's List Attacks Lincoln

| Thu Mar. 4, 2010 1:37 PM EST

Having being dumped on this week by environmental groups, labor, and the progressive netroots for her conservative views, Senator Blanche Lincoln has picked up yet another detractor from the left: EMILY’s List, the long-standing political action committee that supports pro-choice Democratic women running for office.

In a withering blog post, EMILY’s List founder Ellen Malcolm blasted the endangered Arkansas incumbent for having “failed to hold up her end of the bargain” after the PAC had supported her original Senate campaign in 1998.

In fact, EMILY’s List had formally “delisted” Lincoln back in 1999 after her vote to support Rick Santorum’s bill to ban partial-birth abortion. According to Malcolm, Lincoln had double-crossed the organization by promising to insist upon a health exception to protect women’s health and voting for the bill without the provision anyway.

Rove Loses WMD Message War

| Thu Mar. 4, 2010 1:18 PM EST

It's interesting how quickly the media narrative about Karl Rove's new book has formed. Though the memoir, which is called Courage and Consequence and will be released on Tuesday, covers Rove's long and controversial career as a political operative, all the initial news stories on the book zero in on his claim that George W. Bush did not "lie us" into the Iraq war. This is bad news for Bush. It indicates that this particular case against Bush and his crew has become the conventional view and accepted history—and that remains an open wound for the Bush presidency.

In a piece posted earlier, I explain why Rove's defense is flat-out wrong and list key assertions made by Bush in the run-up to the war demonstrating that he and his aides showed utter disregard for the truth. Bush and his crew recklessly overstated the uncertain intelligence about Iraq's WMD capabilities and literally made stuff up that was not true (and not supported at all by the iffy intelligence). It was a campaign of willful misrepresentation.

Later today, I'm scheduled to appear on Hardball to discuss all this. Moreover, I'd like to see Rove to debate this matter—and be forced to respond to the list of Bush's false assertions. You think he has the "courage" to do so? In the meantime, anyone who's troubled by how Bush and Rove spun this nation into war can be somewhat comforted by the knowledge that Rove believes he lost the most important message war of the George W. Bush presidency—and years later is still scrambling to make up that lost ground.

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Allow a Vote!

| Thu Mar. 4, 2010 1:17 PM EST

Yesterday at the big White House healthcare rollout, we got this:

President Obama, beginning his final push for a health care overhaul, called Wednesday for Congress to allow an “up or down vote” on the measure, and sketched out an ambitious — and, some Democrats said, unrealistic — timetable for his party to pass a bill on its own within weeks.

Why have we all adopted this "up or down vote" language? Doesn't it obscure the real point, mainly that what we want is just a vote, period? The whole point of a filibuster, after all, is to extend debate so that the Senate never gets to vote on the bill in question. Shouldn't Obama simply be saying that "we deserve a vote" or some such thing? Wouldn't that make more sense to the average viewer?

Levin Demands Blackwater/Raytheon Probe

| Thu Mar. 4, 2010 12:18 PM EST

Last week, Fred Roitz, a top executive at Xe Services (formerly Blackwater), made a stunning admission. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he said Raytheon had requested that Blackwater create a shell company in order to win a $25 million subcontract to train Afghan troops. In Roitz's telling, Raytheon apparently wanted to do business with Blackwater, yet didn't want to be associated with its controversial brand. Blackwater obliged, creating a subsidiary called Paravant that was separate from its parent company in name alone. Armed services committee member Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) called the subsidiary a "classic example of a cover corporation." Committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) described the creation of Paravant as "deception" and said "there's clearly an effort to coverup that Blackwater was the real contractor here."

Now Levin wants a Justice Department investigation into Blackwater and Raytheon. Specifically he wants to know whether representatives of the companies "made false or misleading statements in their submission of a contract proposal to the U.S. Army."

Google Wins Again

| Thu Mar. 4, 2010 12:17 PM EST

Guess what? This is my first blog post written on Chrome. Looks pretty much the same, doesn't it?

We'll see how it goes. Firefox generally works fine, but I finally got tired of the performance problems. Too many sites these days seem to have scripts or code that freewheel forever, sucking up so many CPU cycles that they bring the entire browser to a screeching halt. The Wall Street Journal is especially bad on this front, but plenty of other sites do it too. Chrome seems to be a bit better on this score, so I'm giving it a try.

Sadly, AdBlock doesn't seem to work as well as it does on Firefox, so I have to put up with more ads than I used to. But maybe that will improve.

Got any advice for me? Leave it in comments. I'm thinking about getting a new email client too that has a better search capability than Thunderbird. Feel free to offer recommendations.

UPDATE: Well, that was a short-lived experiment. Turns out that our blogging software doesn't play well with Chrome, and I don't feel like keeping two browsers open all the time, so it's back to Firefox. Sic transit etc.

How to Grill Citigroup

| Thu Mar. 4, 2010 11:55 AM EST

The Congressional Oversight Panel (COP), the watchdog investigating the government's bailout and other financial rescues, is set to question Vikram Pandit, the CEO of Citigroup today. Simon Johnson, former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, says the grilling offers the COP an easy chance to ask some tough questions of the leader of one of the nation's biggest supermarket banks. "This is an important opportunity," Johnson writes, "because, if you want to expose the hubris, mismanagement, and executive incompetence—let's face it—Citi is the low hanging fruit."

To that end, Johnson offers five questions of his own, each well worth reading, that the COP should ask Pandit today:

  1. As far as anyone can judge, Mr. Pandit, you are completely unqualified to restructure and run a disaster prone global bank. Can you please explain in detail how you got the job? 2.
  2. Your hedge fund. Old Lane Partners, was closed by Citi in June 2008. Please elaborate on why it was closed, including how much money you lost on what kinds of securities. (Hint: follow the NYT through the sad story.)
  3. Please review for us the details of your promised compensation package and how much you have actually received – including cash, deferred compensation, stocks, and perks (including executive jet travel, valued at market rates); do not forget your chunk of the Old Lane deal. How much taxpayer money has been injected into Citi and on what basis?
  4. Of course, as you understand full well, the true cost to society of Citi’s misdeeds is vastly more than the direct taxpayer injections of capital. Please tell us – as specifically as you can – what other burdens Citi has generated for the rest of us. (Hint: there is a right answer here, which includes more than 8 million jobs lost since December 2007, a 30-40 percent increase in net government debt held by the private sector, and much higher taxes for everyone in the future.)
  5. Mr. Pandit, your proposed restructuring plans simply make no sense; there is nothing you have put on the table that would reduce the risks posed by Citi to the national interests of the United States. Even John Reed, the man who built Citi as a global brand, now says that it should be disbanded. There is no evidence – and I mean absolutely none – for economies of scale in banks over $100bn in total assets. Richard Fisher, head of the Dallas Fed, calls for immediate action in terms of breaking up large dysfunctional banks such as yours; please explain to us why the Fed should not move immediately to apply his recommendations to Citi – surely, the safety and soundness of our financial system is on the line.