Political MoJo

Who can be bothered with details?

| Thu Aug. 25, 2005 10:00 AM PDT

In 2002, AOL Time Warner, Inc. obtained AT&T Corporation's stake in their cable television, film production, and programming partnership in exchange for it.

About five years ago, Enron and their partners stole it from California's electricity and gas customers.

Duke Energy recently agreed to acquire Cinergy for its value in stocks.

Harrah's bought Caesar's for it.

Because of Bush's tax cut, in 2001, the federal government took it from Social Security in order to pay the government's bills.

It is more than four times the annual revenue of Ghana, 80% of the annual revenue of Nigeria, 20% of the annual revenue of Poland, and more than half the annual revenue of Iraq.

It is $9 billion, exactly the amount that is still unaccounted for in the reconstruction of Iraq because of what the U.S. Inspector General has labeled "severe inefficiencies and poor management."

Once again, the business-minded, management-oriented "reformers" in the White House proved to us that their idea of management is one that is pretty much on par with Bush's idea of scholarship when he was studying for his Harvard MBA.

The mystery of the missing $9 billion is just one more item the news media found too boring to cover. But while that money was building someone a really nice house in Baghdad, Bush was cutting veterans' benefits, and Rumsfeld was lying about the Pentagon's having requisitioned safer vehicles for the troops.

But hey--it's no big deal. It's just a lot of stolen money and dead soldiers. God bless America.

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Symbolism is not a right-wing value

| Wed Aug. 24, 2005 5:14 PM PDT

A common right-wing criticism of Cindy Sheehan is that she doesn't really want to ask Bush a question, she doesn't really want to see him--she's just there to put on a "staged" event, to call attention to her cause, and to get media coverage.

Well, a double-layered "duh" to that. Of course she is there to call attention to her cause and to get media coverage. Oh my god--someone is using symbolism to make a point. What a concept. What will we tell the children?

It's not like Bush has held dozens of staged "meetings" where only supporters were not at risk of being hauled away by the police. But if conservatives really are that literal, I guess it's up to me to set them straight.

I hate to break it to all of you Republicans, but when Pat Peale wore that Band-Aid on her face at your convention, she hadn't cut herself on the barbed wire while she was clearing brush: She was using it as a symbol to mock a man who put his life in danger to fight in Vietnam.

When Bush served a platter of plastic Turkey to the soldiers in Iraq, he wasn't auditioning to be a food stylist for the House and Garden channel: He was promoting good will among those whom he sent to be killed for PNAC and Halliburton.

The Mission Accomplished sign didn't mean that the war was over--just that the White House wanted you to have a big old testosterone charge from all that killing and destruction.

And when Bush stuffed a pair of gym socks into his flight uniform, it didn't mean he was looking to co-host with Adriano Rio--it was just a ploy to create another splash of testosterone.

Getting back to Cindy Sheehan--it is a moot point. Bush will do anything--even leave his ranch for Idaho--to avoid facing her. A vacation from his vacation. That's a lot of vacating. Because it's hard work, being a liar.

Counting the Unemployed

Wed Aug. 24, 2005 3:06 PM PDT

I came across this op/ed from the Boston Globe and I have to confess it made me ill:

Most of us fear joblessness — but if you make the best of it, it can be a time for rejuvenation, self-improvement, and even a little fun. I don't think I'm alone. I've heard it confided in whispers that unemployment — despite the obvious downside — can carry unforeseen joys...Even if you're lucky enough to get interviews, even if you're spending a good portion of your week on rewriting and printing your resume, you have lots more time at home than ever before. I read books on developing a positive outlook and generally succeeding in life. I actually cleaned my stove as soon as something spilled on it. Cleaned the rest of my apartment, too.

Read the rest if you can handle it.

Apparently this woman has never been to Chicago's South Side. I would venture to guess that the unemployed and underemployed would not agree with her fanciful and fun-filled characterization.

Just to give some examples:

Today while I was having lunch at one of the nearby fast food chains I saw a woman going through the parking lot trying to sell people her shoes. She was walking up to people sitting in parked cars or people coming in and out of the restaurant. I saw her take off the dirty low-heeled lavender dress shoes and hold them up for several people to look at. No one took her up on her offer.

Then there is the gas station by my house. I can go there at any time of the day and men ranging from 14 and 15 all the way up to 50 will be standing there offering to pump your gas for you.

Then there is the park across from my street. When I walk through there at night or early in the morning almost every bench has someone sleeping on it. Most of them have a few bags rolled up next to them, but some have nothing but a coat covering them up.

At my local video rental store there are always one or two people standing out front asking for change as you go in and leave. Sometimes I wonder if they "work" in shifts since it seems like a different person every time I go.

I doubt very much that these fine folks would consider unemployment "a time for rejuvenation." Of course, I also doubt very much that they figure in the country's unemployment statistics. They are the forgotten ones – those who gave up looking for jobs long ago in a city that couldn't find a place for them and didn't want to.

Bolton Lives On

| Wed Aug. 24, 2005 2:42 PM PDT

David Bosco has a long essay on John Bolton in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that's well worth a read. As we all know, Bolton sneaked through Congress and got himself installed as UN Ambassador by the president. In all likelihood, he'll do pretty minimal damage to the institution; the ambassador position just doesn't have enough power for him to wreak serious havoc. But the debate over Boltonism—namely, his cramped view that international institutions are useless for keeping order in the world, and may even hurt the United States—will no doubt continue to rage on for years to come. Bosco, I think, gets at the sensible case against Boltonism:

Treaties and formal organizations, such as the Biological Weapons Convention and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, are helpful precisely because they can create political and moral costs to departing from their mandates--as the United States knows all too well from the diplomatic damage it incurred in waging war against Iraq without U.N. approval.

Bolton is no doubt correct that such strictures are meaningless to outlaw nations. But regimes like North Korea, for all their danger, are anomalous. Most governments respond in some way, however imperfectly and inconsistently, to the pressure of international law and institutions. By disparaging formal treaties and exalting the PSI, Bolton may have damaged tools that are effective with most countries in an effort to craft policy for the exceptional few. Hard cases, as lawyers say, make bad law.

Can't argue with that. It's silly to pretend that international institutions such as the UN or treaties alone will somehow rein in regimes that want to go against prevailing global norms. Kim Jong Il will develop nukes no matter what the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty says. The United States went to war in Kosovo and Iraq without UN approval, and no treaty or institution could have possibly stopped it. Hard power matters. But that doesn't mean the international community is meaningless. The NPT might not stop North Korea, but it might keep countries such as, say, Brazil from going nuclear. Meanwhile, in the case of Iraq, the costs to the United States for deviating from international norms proved very real, perhaps high enough to make the country think twice before overstepping the wishes of the UN again. The same goes for many other countries that, by and large, wish to reap the benefits that come with playing by the rules: namely, they tend to play by the rules.

A similar case can be made for the International Criminal Court: yes, some very naïve Europeans believe that the ICC's indictments of the genocidaires in Khartoum will somehow have any effect on the slaughter in Darfur. It won't, they're wrong, and sometimes a piece of paper is just a piece of paper. But the ICC still remains a decent tool for adjudicating certain conflicts and pooling international resources together for prosecuting war criminals, rather than have the world continue to set up ad hoc tribunals as it did in Rwanda. (And no, contrary to Bolton's fears, the ICC would not be used against the United States.)

Meanwhile, Bolton—along with, one presumes, the president that backed him—ignores the capability of international institutions, again, like the UN, to foster cooperation and ties between countries that almost always benefit from cooperation and closer ties, but sometimes fail to cooperate for whatever reason. Many multilateral treaties aren't laws in the sense that, say, laws against murder are laws here in the United States. They're laws in the way that "everyone will drive on the right side of the road" are laws—extremely useful for coordinating behavior.

In a sense, Bolton knows all this. He oversaw, after all, the signing of 90 treaties during his tenure at the State Department—a strange bit of behavior for someone who supposedly doesn't believe in international institutions or treaties. The real problem seems to be, as Bosco points out, Bolton's nationalist paranoia that somehow the UN and other international institutions are all "out to get" the United States, that soon the black helicopters will all swoop in and take over the American hinterlands. Donald Rumsfeld's 2005 National Defense Strategy evinced a very similar paranoia when it argued, "Our strength as a nation state will continue to be challenged by those who employ a strategy of the weak using international fora…." This may be true in small instances, of course, but it's not the sort of possibility you want to base a foreign policy on. The sooner the United States moves away from the paranoid foreign policy championed by Bolton, Rumsfeld, and Bush, the better.

Why the Charade?

Wed Aug. 24, 2005 11:04 AM PDT

In Iran, as previously happened in Iraq, inspectors were sent in to see if the respective governments were meeting all demands of the U.S. international community. With Iraq it was the mysterious and elusive "weapons of mass destruction." With Iran, it has simply been a nuclear weapons program. In both instances, the Bush administration was willing to go through the theatricals of sending in weapons inspectors to validate their claims.

And now we can say that in both instances the inspectors exonerated the countries of any weapons misconduct. Today we have word that the IAEA has concluded that traces of enriched uranium found in Iran were in fact due to contamination from their supplier and not the result of a sinister weapons program.

Yet in both instances, the Bush administration refused to accept the inspectors' reports. We all know what happened with Iraq. And now Washington seems prepared to reject the IAEA's findings as "inconclusive" and that "unresolved concerns" remain. So it seems a forgone conclusion that Bush, as with Iraq, was going to stick to his own story regardless of the findings.

Why? Why the public charade? Why go through all the drama of sending in inspectors if you have already made up your mind?

It sort of makes you wonder what the administration would count as evidence that no program exists.

The truth about the yellow dog

| Wed Aug. 24, 2005 8:54 AM PDT

I left the Democratic Party for a long list of reasons, but the main one was the fact that I felt dismissed as a woman. And nothing has changed. Even in the 21st Century, all the Democratic Party had to offer for a presidential ticket was two white males. To add insult to injury, John Kerry--not at all surprisingly--turned out to be the worst candidate in modern times.

Most Americans are not white males, a fact the Democratic Party seems to have missed. And the gains made by the feminist movement (far from the gains that needed to be made) are being chipped away day by day, another glaring fact ignored by the party. So misguided are the Democrats about women's issues that at their last convention, they had a number of Democratic female senators make a kind of chorus girl run onto the stage so convention attendees could applaud them and feel good about themselves. The worst part was that the female senators agreed to put on this display of light-headed cuteness.

Even Howard Dean, who bragged that he talked about the problems of African Americans when he addressed all-white audiences, probably didn't talk about the problems of women when he addressed all-male audiences. I am guessing this because he talked little about them when he addressed mixed-gender audiences.

Like her or not, Senator Clinton gets the same kind of bashing from Democrats that she gets from Republicans, and it isn't about her politics. When the subject of her possible presidential candidacy came up on the MSNBC program "Hardball," host Chris Matthews, a Democrat, immediately said: "Well, that would motivate all the men in the country to vote against her." All the men? Those are some mighty strong feelings of insecurity.

Clinton is most often criticized as a candidate because she is "ambitious" and "polarizing," two words that can be applied to any number of men whom members of the Democratic Party go ga-ga over. And all across the allegedly liberal message boards, we read that America just "isn't ready" for a female president.

The Democratic Party has shown its hand many times. It stood by while Republicans ripped Geraldine Ferraro apart because of her husband, then blamed her--rather than their own weak campaign--for the 1984 loss. And more recently, the Democratic Party stood in silence while the Republican smear machine soul-murdered Anita Hill. In fact, Democrats enthusiastically rewarded the Vice President in charge of Lying About Professor Hill--Senator and Father (he is an Episcopal priest) John Danforth --with both the Waco investigation leadership and an ambassadorship to the United Nations. Not one person rose to oppose his ethics in either confirmation.

The issue of whether American women should have control over their own bodies, one of dozens of vital issues that affect women, is at the forefront again because of the current carving away of Roe v. Wade, and the mad ravings of pharmacists gone wild, who are busy making unscientific, unethical, and just plain misogynistic decisions about who takes which drugs. But not to worry. Because we can always frame this hysteria over whether right-wing religious men in bad suits and pharmacy coats take over the bodies of women by calling the frightened women a "single issue group" and assuring the Democratic Party that our casue is not a "core principle."

I am no longer a Democrat--but as I see it--if there really are any more YDD's, their criteria have changed a bit over the years: Now they check first to make sure the yellow dog isn't a bitch.

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A better word for living document

Wed Aug. 24, 2005 8:42 AM PDT

Good for Arlen Specter.

The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman warned Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. yesterday to expect tough questions about the court's "judicial activism" and lack of respect for Congress.

The comments mark the second time this month that Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) has signaled plans to use Roberts's confirmation hearing as a forum for sharply criticizing what Specter describes as the high court's tendency to denigrate Congress's thoroughness and wisdom in passing various laws. Specter's questions could present Roberts with the difficult choice of disagreeing with the committee chairman or rebuking justices he hopes will soon be his colleagues. The committee's hearing begins Sept. 6.

...Specter particularly criticized Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist's writings in a 2000 decision, United States v. Morrison, involving the Violence Against Women Act. He told Roberts he will ask whether he agrees that Rehnquist's reasoning is an example "of manufactured rationales used by the Supreme Court to exercise the role of super legislature." Specter's letter did not address the courts' rulings so much as justices' comments that he says show a disrespect for Congress and its diligence in making laws. He praised a dissenting opinion in a 2001 disabilities case that said courts should not "sit as a superlegislature to judge the wisdom or desirability of legislative policy determinations."

On a side note, Kevin Drum writes an excellent post today on how a theory as ridiculous as originalism can gain such broad acceptance. He asks at the end of the post,

Regardless of originalism's substantive merits, you can't fight something with nothing, which makes Lithwick's question a good one: why is it that liberals seem to have given up on formulating a simple and compelling alternative?

Liberals have formulated a simple and compelling alternative--viewing the Constitution as a living document that evolves over time in accordance with precedent--but we've failed to package and market it as well as conservatives. The difficulty in mass producing legal theory is compounded by a press corps that seems unwilling to abandon its comfortable cliches. They'll spill plenty of ink on whether Roe v. Wade is binding and whether it's a valid decision--which is essentially a critique of liberal judicial theory by proxy, unfair though that may be--but you don't even get a passing reference to originalism or conservative judicial ideology in the article above, for example. In fact, all we know from the article is that Rehnquist wrote the majority opinion in one of the cases mentioned in the letter. People don't like talking about the justices as conservative and liberal, so refer to them as originalists!

One problem is, in public discourse right now, there's no Roe to serve as a ligthening rod for criticism of originalism. Sure, liberals are partially to blame, I guess, for not working their base into a lather about a Supreme Court opinion, but it wouldn't hurt to have a few articles (that aren't written by the brilliant Dahlia Lithwick) that associate bad originalist opinions with originalism every once in a while.

I may write more on this later, because I've briefly made just one of many valid points on this topic. It's an important conversation, and I hope others will take Kevin's bait.

A final note, the American Constitution Society has done amazing work recently, both in terms of bringing together lawyers to formulate a clear liberal judicial philosophy, and in terms of spreading the word about it. I hope anyone who agrees with Kevin's criticism will check out their website or their blog.

**Disclaimer: I'm an active member of the ACS chapter at Michigan.**

Not Quite the Federalist Papers...

| Tue Aug. 23, 2005 8:02 PM PDT

I suppose we'll just have to see what happens with the new Iraqi constitution over the next few days, as the legislature bickers over crossing t's and dotting i's, and getting the darn thing translated from English to Arabic. At this point, though, most commentary will be very tentative, since in the past most political negotiations in Baghdad have followed the same pattern—everyone maximalizing their demands, everything looking hopelessly gridlocked, and then at the last moment they all pull back for a big compromise and group photo op. Maybe that will happen again; maybe not. Right now, it seems that "federalism" still seems to be the big constitutional sticking point. Nathan Brown explains what this oft-bandied word actually means:

The disputed questions would probably even strike a veteran Israeli-Palestinian negotiator as complicated and difficult. How will Iraq be divided into regions and provinces? What will the authority of the various units be? Is the union a voluntary matter or one that is incontestable? What will be the role of regional security forces? Will the units have authority to reach agreements with foreign states and other actors, and, if so, in what areas? How will revenue be divided? What will be the relationship between federal and regional law? How will disputes be settled? Will other areas of the country be able to form units that are as autonomous as the Kurdish region?

I'm not a constitutional lawyer, so I can't make heads or tails of exactly how these issues were specifically resolved in the draft constitution (the text of which isn't even a "proper draft," as Washington Post's Ellen Knickmeyer tells us, but someone's scribbled notes), but apparently the Sunnis on the committee, "who had been shut out of the negotiations for much of the past week," don't like the end result. Spencer Ackerman gets at some of the dynamics involved here: If the Sunnis get locked out of the final draft, they may try to shoot the constitution down in referendum this fall, although Juan Cole and others have noted that they probably don't have the numbers to do it. (Maybe they can link up with Muqtada al-Sadr and other assorted rejectionists and disgruntleds.) What seems clear is that any constitution that truly angers the Sunnis will lead to a lot of bloodshed down the road: in addition to the diehard rejectionists and Sunni Islamists, even moderate Sunnis may now start aiding and abetting the insurgency.

Perhaps the Shiites aren't worried about all this, because they think that either the United States will stick around to defend them, or that their own militias will protect them against a Sunni onslaught. Ezra Klein says the Sunnis would be stupid to take on the Shiites in Iraq; they'd get trounced. Well, maybe. Then again, maybe not. The insurgency's pretty large and pretty sophisticated, it has plenty of officers experienced in war, and with enough money pouring in from Saudi charities, Sunni warlords could probably purchase a few tanks and other goodies on the open market. Or maybe they can hire out the services of those privatized military firms that are so hot these days. Either way, I wouldn't count the Sunnis out. Plus, whether they can survive an all-out butcher-fest or not seem pretty irrelevant; what matters is whether they're crazy enough to try—and in this case, the answer seems like "yes, they are".

So it's all fucked up. Withdrawal advocates have noted before that if the United States threatened to pull-out, say, right this very second, it might terrify the Shiite leadership into softening some of its constitutional demands, so as not to anger too many Sunnis. Up until now, I haven't been convinced that this was necessary—Ayatollah Sistani's men, at least, have always seemed liked they wanted to bargain. Now, it might be time for brinksmanship. As callous as it seems, at this point the U.S. owes the Shiites absolutely nothing. They owe the people of Iraq a stable state, if one can be produced, and if the Shiite leadership is intent on leading Iraq "into the abyss," as Ackerman puts it, then it's time to stop coddling and protecting them.

Meanwhile, on the question of women's rights, yes, the current constitution—at least what we can decipher of it from the early notepad doodlings—fails miserably. (Except, happily, in Kurdistan, where women's rights will be secure.) Echidne unleashes outrage and fury over this state of affairs far more eloquently than I ever could. Honestly, though, I don't know why people are getting so surprised now. Iraqi women were condemned to second-class status the day Sistani's fundamentalist party took power in January. Not to downplay how bad this all is, but I can't envision any scenario in which the Bush administration actually forced the Shiites to accept a non-Islamist constitution. Hopefully 20 years from now, mainstream Shiite jurisprudence will have evolved to the point where women get treated as equals. Or, since the constitution sets aside 25 percent of its seats for women, perhaps future elections will bring in a majority coalition of urban and secular Iraqis, including women, who have 20th century ideas about gender. Until then, we have what we expected: a fundamentalist American government sanctioned a fundamentalist Iraqi constitution. What a surprise.

So what else can be done, besides threatening to withdraw and hope the Shiites try to appease the Sunnis out of fear? Some observers have pointed out that Iraq might be best served if the parliament dissolved itself and held new elections—Juan Cole finds an az-Zaman report noting that Allawi's more urbane list, along with some Kurds, might try to band with the Sunnis to pursue this option. That seems like an awful idea. It would prolong the occupation even further, and whether or not one thinks that a "stay the course" approach could just barely dodge the "manpower meltdown" bullet that's approaching 36 months from now, it seems wholly unlikely that the US could stay through yet another round of parliamentary elections. Also, it might not change anything. The Shiite and Kurdish militias have an increasingly iron grip on their respective regions, while violence in the Sunni provinces has only worsened since January. My guess: hold another election, and thugs from SCIRI, the Mehdi Army, and the peshmerga would, um, "persuade" people to vote their way, insurgents would intimidate Sunnis from voting, and you'd get essentially the same cast of characters back in power. Perhaps not, but that's my guess. All in all, a real mess.

A Coup in Baghdad

Tue Aug. 23, 2005 7:59 PM PDT

The estimable Juan Cole puts the failure of the Iraqi assembly to complete the constitutional process today in clear terms:

The rule of law is no longer operating in Iraq, and no pretence of constitutional procedure is being striven for. In essence, the prime minister and president have made a sort of coup, simply disregarding the interim constitution. Given the acquiescence of parliament and the absence of a supreme court (which should have been appointed by now but was not, also unconstitutionally), there is no check or balance that could question the writ of the executive.
What the future holds for Iraq remains to be seen…

Remember Afghanistan?

| Tue Aug. 23, 2005 4:34 PM PDT

This morning, during Donald Rumsfeld's news conference, a reporter asked him to comment on the Pentagon's reopening of the investigation into Pat Tillman's death in Afghanistan. He knew nothing about it--he didn't even know the investigation had been reopened.

Because Afghanistan is so 2001. While women and girls struggle once more to stay out of the way of the resurgent Taliban, American troops have mobilized to keep the Taliban from wreaking havoc during the upcoming elections. Though there are reports that the Taliban has agreed not to interfere with the September 18 elections, there are also conflicting reports indicating that they might.

In the meantime, Taliban militants have bombed the house of a cleric who is known to be friendly toward the U.S., and jsut two days ago, four U.S. soldiers were killed and three wounded by a bomb blast in Zabul province.

Members of the Taliban are now emptying Islamic boarding schools and recruiting teenage boys in preparation for the disruption of the elections which perhaps are not going to be disrupted. It's very confusing, and one way to avoid getting confused over the issue is to not talk about it at all. That option is brought to us generously by the American news media, who appear to see the people at Camp Casey as the real enemy.

Over 230 American soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan this year, and about 700 have been seriously injured. There have also been many deaths and injuries of other coalition troops. There is no accurate count of how many Afghan civilians have died this year. The soldiers who die or are injured in Afghanistan are conveniently forgotten by the White House, the Pentagon, the news media, and the American people. Dying in Afghanistan is just not sexy anymore. Neither is dying in Iraq, unless you are George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, or one of the able-bodied who prefers to stay home and "fight the culture wars."