2005 - %3, July

Southern Strategy Rises Again?

Fri Jul. 29, 2005 5:24 PM PDT

In one of the opening shots of the 2006 Senate campaigns, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has started running an attack against Senator Robert Byrd on West Virginia television stations. Go watch the ad, or read my transcription:

1952. War in Korea. And Robert Byrd went to Congress. Much changed since then. Byrd voted for soldiers in the 50s; today against body armor in the war on terror. Then he stood with working families; today he votes higher taxes for the middle class. Then Byrd protected our flag; now he votes to allow flag burning. Senator Byrd. We all agree he's changed. But is it good for West Virginia?

Forget the ludicrousness of finding a few votes that if stretched might appear to be contradictory across a five decade Washington career. Forget the ludicrous attacks that come in the middle. The unseemliness of this ad is much more subtle. Agreed: a lot has changed since 1952, and so has Robert Byrd. And what change is he perhaps best known for? For being an ex-Ku Klux Klan leader, who (eventually) repudiated his repugnant civil rights record. So when the ad says "We all agree he's changed. But is it good for West Virginia?" I can't help but hear the ghost of the Southern Strategy whistling Dixie. And didn't the Republicans just sort of apologize for this sort of thing?

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Life Beyond College

| Fri Jul. 29, 2005 1:21 PM PDT

Matthew Yglesias points out that John G. Roberts appointment to the Supreme Court could have serious consequences for affirmative action:

I'm not much of an affirmative action advocate (see, e.g., this), which explains why I haven't been ringing the alarm bells on this. But surely we have some shrill affirmative action fans here on the left who should be yelling and screaming. But where? Perhaps the feeling is that this is a losing political issues, so people had best keep quiet about it, but the relative silence strikes me as odd since affirmative action is supposed to be one of our legendary "hot button" issues.

Sure, I'll take on the shrill challenge. The Gregg Easterbook article Matt links to makes the case that attending an elite university really matters less for a person's career prospects and lifetime earnings than one would think—i.e., not at all. Fair enough. There's also a just-burgeoning debate over whether affirmative action at law school can hurt the chances of minority students for passing the bar. It's not a settled debate by any means, but worth considering.

One should note, though, that there's more to life than college, and more to affirmative action than making sure X number of black students get into the University of Michigan, or whatever. Under affirmative action laws, federal agencies are required to set aside a certain percentage of contracts of minority-owned small businesses. As the Washington Post today reports, that practice seems to be fueling a boom in those sorts of businesses. Then you have affirmative action hiring practices, which, one would think, actually do have a fair impact on a person's career prospects and lifetime earnings. Whether this is a losing issue or not is a separate debate, but yeah, it's important.

Whoops

Fri Jul. 29, 2005 12:09 PM PDT

C-SPAN's Brian Lamb recently interviewed Ken Tomlinson, the Chair of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's board of directors. Tomlinson has been using his position to find and root out supposed "liberal bias" at the PBS and NPR—good pieces on his crusade and its fallout can be found here and here.

Lamb played a video clip of Bill Moyers, whose newsmagazine Now is receiving the brunt of conservative hostility, questioning the CPB's decision to fund the Journal Editorial Report--a show featuring round table style discussions between members of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board. (A public broadcasting insider recently told me that most people in PBS find the show "uninteresting," describing it as a bunch of people who "all think the same, and are all in the same organization." In some markets, the show only airs way out of primetime—like at 4:30 A.M.) So how did Tomlinson, who likes to portray himself as a misunderstood man merely in search of moderation respond?

Well, in the first place, you have to recognize for close to two years, the Moyers program stood almost alone as liberal advocacy journalism on Friday night. Public television, in my opinion, suffered mightily not having a center-right equivalent of the Moyers show.

And we undertook, just as it costs a lot of money to produce the old "Bill Moyers Now," that was an hour-long show, we undertook to fund a conservative counterbalance to that show to fulfill the war -- to fulfill the law.

Emphasis: mine. Freudian slip: his.

"Stolen" Election Revisited

| Fri Jul. 29, 2005 12:03 PM PDT

Echidne gets advance wind of a new Harper's magazine article that supposedly gives evidence that there was a lot—a lot—of funny business with the vote-counting in the 2004 election. Was there enough funny business that the election could be considered "stolen"? I have no idea—the article's not out yet. (Even if the election was stolen, would it even matter? The Democratic Party seems perfectly content with their minority status, which, after all, makes it easier to go on vacation, no?) What is very clear, though, is that this paper trail-less Diebold nonsense has to end. The Century Foundation has a new report on reforming the election process that deserves to be read and distributed far and wide. This shouldn't be a debate that falls along partisan lines, although we all thought the same thing about torture and that expectation didn't exactly pan out.

Reforming Food Aid

Fri Jul. 29, 2005 10:46 AM PDT

When American officials are forced to defend the relatively stingy portion of the federal budget that goes to international aid, they often point to the country's large military expenditures in humanitarian missions. (Of course this rang a little less hollow before all "peacekeeping" efforts turned to Iraq.) But they rarely mention food aid, where the U.S., which contributes 56 percent of the world's total, far outstrips all other nations. And, according to a recently published report by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, perhaps that's for good reason. According to the report, the U.S. approach to food aid, while adequate at stemming famine in targeted emergencies, does far more harm than good in the long run. And there's a sadly predictable cause: the programs are set up just as much to help U.S. business as they are to prevent starvation.

The vast majority of government funds allotted to purchase food aid must be spent on American producers. So even if another country—perhaps one closer to the famine site— can produce cheaper food, their products are locked out. Local producers in poorer countries have less incentive to grow sustenance crops, and instead produce crops for export that are priced beyond the reach of domestic markets. It's a policy that produces subsistence and dependence rather than food independence. The report has a few suggestions that might clear up the mess—but as long as the programs are run as a backdoor subsidy program to U.S. farmers, change will be a tough row to hoe.

Energy Bill Madness

| Fri Jul. 29, 2005 8:29 AM PDT

Good catch from the New York Times:

With Congress poised for a final vote on the energy bill, the Environmental Protection Agency made an 11th-hour decision Tuesday to delay the planned release of an annual report on fuel economy.

But a copy of the report, embargoed for publication Wednesday, was sent to The New York Times by a member of the E.P.A. communications staff just minutes before the decision was made to delay it until next week. The contents of the report show that loopholes in American fuel economy regulations have allowed automakers to produce cars and trucks that are significantly less fuel-efficient, on average, than they were in the late 1980's.

Let's see: cars are getting less and less fuel-efficient as time goes by, the government knows this perfectly well, the country is facing a potential oil shortage in the coming years, gas prices are rising... and Congress now has to decide whether or not to pass a bill that seems to exist solely for the purpose of enriching Tom DeLay's corporate sponsors. Will it pass? No, really, the suspense is killing me.

For the record, the Center for American Progress has some good ideas as to what a national energy policy should actually look like. Heck, even the Heritage Foundation's proposal would be better than Congress' version. A sobering thought.

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Spot the Odd One Out...

| Thu Jul. 28, 2005 6:23 PM PDT

Issandr El-Amrani compares and contrasts the different Arabic media coverage of Egyptian President Husni Mubarak's announcement that he will run for another term:

Al Jazeera did not seem to have a correspondent on the scene but ran footage on a split screen, with commentators reacting. The studio anchor interviewed three people (at least that I saw) in succession. Magdi Hussein, the editor of the banned Islamist newspaper Al Shaab, ranted and wailed until he had to be cut off. He was followed by George Ishaq, a Kifaya leader, who made some very matter-of-fact commentary on the election being a farce, and finally Abdallah Senawi, the editor of the Nasserist weekly Al Arabi. All of these are well-known anti-Mubarak activists. I don't remember seeing anyone giving the party line, but perhaps I missed it. In other words, the coverage was extremely hostile to Mubarak and makes me doubt these rumors of a deal between Al Jazeera and the government that have been floating around.
Next I tuned in to Al Arabiya. They had a correspondent on site covering the speech, and after interviewed NDP bigwig Mustafa Al Fiqi, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee in parliament. Although he was never going to be critical, the questions seemed pretty balanced. Still, no Mubarak critics and what you would expect from a generally pro-Egypt channel.
And finally I turned to Al Hurra. Whereas the other channels had switched to live coverage of the event — which I think was important enough to warrant it, whether coverage is positive or critical — Al Hurra was showing a documentary about Irish cooking and Guiness.

Okay, so let's recap: Al-Jazeera is the channel U.S. officials love to hate, the media outlet accused by conservatives of hopping into bed with Islamic terroism; al-Arabiya is the upstart rival with connections to the Saudi royal family, and a channel that supposedly offers the more sympathetic, pro-Bush point of view that pleases the White House (after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, Bush agreed to go on al-Arabiya but refused to appear on al-Jazeera). Finally, al-Hurra is directly sponsored by and based in the United States. Yet somehow only "Jihad TV" manages to offer a platform for active dissent against an aging despot who has all but fixed the elections in his own country. Hmm...

The JAG Memos

| Thu Jul. 28, 2005 6:11 PM PDT

Spencer Ackerman wrote an important piece yesterday about the other torture memos that haven't yet garnered much attention, and his story's worth highlighting. Recently, the Senate, led by Lindsay Graham (R-SC), brought to light some recently-declassified documents showing that, back in 2003, senior military lawyers—Judge Advocate Generals (JAGs)—had very vigorously opposed the Bush administration's interrogation policies. These aren't just any lawyers. As Sen. Graham puts it, "These are not… people who are soft on terrorism, who want to coddle foreign terrorists. These are all professional military lawyers who have dedicated their lives, with 20-plus year careers, to serving the men and women in uniform and protecting their Nation." Yet the White House basically swept their concerns aside. Here's Ackerman:

The JAGs were commenting on the report of a Pentagon working group, convened in January 2003, to review interrogation policy changes. But a common theme in their memos is the concern that the legal rationales employed by the working group were imported wholesale from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC)--whose writing on the question of torture was memorably described by Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh as "perhaps the most clearly legally erroneous opinion I have ever read." (What the Justice Department lawyers actually gave to the Defense Department remains, inexplicably, classified, despite months of congressional demands.)

Major General Thomas Romig, the Army JAG, essentially concurred. He denounced OLC's central contention--that any law restricting the president's ability to wage war is unconstitutional--writing caustically: "I question whether this theory would ultimately prevail in either the U.S. courts or in any international forum. ... This view runs contrary to the historic position taken by the United States Government concerning such laws and, in our opinion, could adversely impact DOD interests worldwide." Brigadier General Kevin Sandkuhler, the Marine JAG, was more specific about how adopting OLC's argument would harm the military: "Comprehensive protection is lacking for DOD personnel who may be tried by other nations and/or international bodies for violations of international law."

But the JAGs raise an even more fundamental argument, one that speaks to the heart of what has made the United States one of the greatest military powers in history: the rigorous, professional discipline instilled in every enlisted man and officer as part of post-Vietnam reforms. The success of these reforms has made it easy to take such excellence for granted, but barely a generation ago, the armed services had to deal with on-base racial gangs, and even killings within the chain of command. "U.S. Armed Forces are continuously trained to take the legal and moral 'high road' in the conduct of our military operations regardless of how others may operate," wrote the Air Force's deputy JAG, Major General Jack Rives. "Approving exceptional interrogation techniques may be seen as giving official approval and legal sanction to the application of interrogation techniques that U.S. Armed Forces have heretofore been trained are unlawful." Sandkuhler starkly warned about a breakdown in uniformed "pride, discipline and self-respect."

The memo from the Navy's JAG, Rear Admiral Michael F. Lohr, is perhaps the most forceful. Eschewing legalisms, Lohr bluntly cautioned that use of the new interrogation techniques would cost the military its other hard-won post-Vietnam commodity: public support. "More broadly," Lohr asked, "while we may have found a unique situation in GTMO where the protections of the Geneva Conventions, U.S. statutes, and even the Constitution do not apply, will the American people find we have missed the forest for the trees by condoning practices that, while technically legal, are inconsistent with our most fundamental values?" He correctly identified public support as essential to the war effort: "How would such perceptions affect our ability to prosecute the Global War on Terror?" It's a testament to the strong social bonds between the military and the public that such support hasn't significantly eroded--just as it's a testament to the resilience of military professionalism and values that the abuses the JAGs foresaw are still attributable to only a tiny fraction of the men and women fighting the war on terror.

The New York Times has a bit more, mostly perfunctory, coverage today. Don't expect much beyond that. The full memos can be found here. Meanwhile, Mary Lederman notes that there's absolutely no reason why these documents should have stayed classified for the past two years, except that they cast the Bush administration's penchant for torture in a bad light, and might've thrown a bit of a wrench in those re-election plans.

Did the Democrats Blow It?

| Thu Jul. 28, 2005 3:56 PM PDT

On the assumption that the "American public" is going to pay very close and careful attention to the John G. Roberts confirmation battle, the National Review's Ed Whelan potentially has a point. The Democrats may well be making a tactical mistake by neither waging total war over Roberts nor confirming him quickly and easily—the latter strategy in order to make themselves seem reasonable and set themselves up for total war over the next nominee. Whelan's analysis sounds very clever; it's just too bad that his underlying assumption is, in all likelihood, totally false.

Racial Profiling Revisited

| Thu Jul. 28, 2005 3:18 PM PDT

While hunting around for some old references on racial profiling, I came across James Forman Jr.'s essay in the New Republic, "Why Conservatives Should Oppose Racial Profiling," that came out rather fortuitously—or not—on September 10, 2001. It's really quite good, making the case that, right or wrong, racial profiling creates all sorts of practical problems that make it unwise as a crime-control policy. But I'm not sure all of Forman's arguments generalize to a blanket objection against racial profiling in the "war on terror"—or whatever it's being called today—as advocated, for instance, by Paul Sperry in the New York Times today.

After all, racial profiling in conventional crime-control risks inflaming—or does inflame, I should say—a large swathe of people precisely because this sort of racial profiling goes on everywhere, from Washington D.C. to Topeka, Kansas. By contrast, racial profiling for terrorism would in theory target a much smaller subset of the population. Police officers watching out for shifty-eyed Arabs in airports and mass transit areas simply wouldn't be as ubiquitous as highway patrol officers pulling over black drivers or police who target minorities playing in the park or whatever. (Only about 14 million Americans use public transportation, after all, and an even smaller percentage fly.) So the possibility that racial profiling would radicalize the Arab population in the United States seems much smaller—although obviously I wouldn't bet on this question.

One convincing counterargument here is that racial grievances could likely spread beyond those directly affected. Even if a particular Arab never rode the mass transit, he would realize that if he wanted to do so, he would very likely be searched, and that thought in itself could lead to real resentment. Moreover, it's hard to expect police officers to remain courteous and non-racist if they are explicitly instructed to use race as a factor in their surveillance. It's also very hard to argue that telling commuters to be aware of young Arab or South Asian men could possibly avoid exacerbating racial tensions in general. Another more practical problem is that the police could miss out on other terrorist threats that aren't so swarthy. White-skinned terrorists are as old as the republic itself; check out this list, for instance. Nor is too outlandish to think that, say, al-Qaeda could start using Uzbek or Chechen terrorists, demographic groups that might well slip under the radar if the obsessive focus is on, say, Arabs. Meanwhile, as with all race-based discrimination, our Constitution requires "strict scrutiny" for these sorts of actions. If authorities can find another way to achieve similar levels of enforcement, they should make every effort to do so.