Political MoJo

How to Get Out

Mon Aug. 15, 2005 4:25 PM EDT

Vermont Senator George Aiken once offered LBJ a succinct Vietnam exit strategy along the lines of "declare victory and get out." And of course, it's been quoted by a ton of folks. But failing that unilateral approach, Robert Dreyfuss has a piece on what international Iraq peace talks might look like. He argues that talking our way out might be the best way to avoid a civil war-like disintegration of Iraq. The most important question: what resistance forces actually get invited? (Apparently the Russians have some thoughts about that guest list.)

But first, says Dreyfuss, the U.S. would first have to publicly concede that it won't win the war militarily, issue widespread amnesty for Baathist-era crimes, and draw back to bases in Iraq only to venture out for protective purposes. I won't disagree that that would be what it would take to get any sort of negotiations going—and those steps seem to mostly be an honest reckoning about the facts on the ground. Of course I don't have much faith in the administration facing up like that. But Dreyfuss has the broad outlines of a plan that occupation opponents can work with; and it's far more sensible than the stay the course/ blame Bush/and hope for the best non-thinking that Senator Biden flacked this weekend on Meet The Press, or the cut-n-run strawman.

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Women in Afghanistan

| Mon Aug. 15, 2005 1:54 PM EDT

Via Vanessa of Feministing, some stark facts about Afghanistan from UNICEF: 20 percent of all children die before their 5th birthday; girls' enrollment in secondary schools is less than 10 percent; and maternal death rates are as high as 6,000 per 100,000 women. Yes, yes, I realize that the US didn't invade Afghanistan for humanitarian purposes, and it's impossible to transform a deeply sexist society overnight, but this still deserves attention.

Like It or Not, Your New Constitution!

| Mon Aug. 15, 2005 1:31 PM EDT

Sadly, it's hard to call this story anything but predictable: The New York Times is reporting that the Iraqi National Assembly may soon approve its draft constitution over the objections of Sunni leaders, who, apparently disapprove mightily. Technically, the Shiites and Kurds could ram the constitution through parliament—although it could still be vetoed by three Sunni provinces during the referendum. Nevertheless, for all the usual reasons that approving a constitution over the objections of a large and pissed-off majority with lots of firepower is a bad idea, well, this is a pretty bad idea.

At any rate, there seems to be a lot of brinksmanship going on here among the various factions haggling over a constitution—Shiite leader Abdulaziz al-Hakim, for instance, has recently made surprise calls for autonomy in the Southern provinces—and one wonders whether a US threat to pull out from Iraq sooner rather than later, regardless of what shape the constitution is in, might actually scare the Shiites into softening their position and negotiating an agreement more amenable to all sides. After all, it's hard to see hardliners such as al-Hakim running roughshod over the Sunnis if the United States isn't planning to stick around to protect him from the aftermath. That, at least, is one rationale behind the "set a timetable for withdrawal" camp here in the US. The logic here is pretty compelling, and I'm surprised more Democrats and war-opponents aren't making it. On the other hand, many of these intra-Iraqi disputes seem so intractable—especially federalism, as well as the distribution of oil wealth—that any agreement forged under pressure would probably turn out to be extremely fragile and lead to further problems down the road.

Then there's the third option: All camps could agree to dissolve the current National Assembly, hold new elections, and start this process all over again. In the medium and long run, this might actually be the best option for the future of Iraq, but it would also very likely extend the occupation, which would mean more dead Americans. (Juan Cole also offers up reasons to think that the Iraqi population wouldn't have the stomach for yet another delay.) Whatever the merits of a further delay, it seems very likely that the US will do enough arm-twisting to push a constitution through sooner rather than later, so that the Bush administration can declare victory and then get the hell out of Iraq. Bush has made a lot of noise about 'staying the course' and showing resolve and all that, but the August 15 constitutional deadline was largely made with the 2006 midterm elections in mind, and none of that seems likely to change, though I guess we'll find out for sure in a day or two—maybe even later today. Hey, perhaps something magical will happen and all sides will find reason to agree, though that looks pretty unlikely at this point.

How's that 'reality creation' going?

Mon Aug. 15, 2005 1:30 PM EDT

Not so well, according to quote in a Sunday Washington Post piece saying that the Bush administration is "significantly lowering expectations of what can be achieved in Iraq":

"What we expected to achieve was never realistic given the timetable or what unfolded on the ground," said a senior official involved in policy since the 2003 invasion. "We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we're in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning."

It's sickly wonderful how that confirms and deflates this legendary quote from Ron Suskind's seminal "Without a Doubt", published in October 2004 in the The New York Times Magazine.

The [senior adviser to Bush] said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality - judiciously, as you will - we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

Emphases mine. Recognition that empiricism may indeed trump empire? This once, theirs.

Wearing Down Marine One

Fri Aug. 12, 2005 1:29 PM EDT

The Toronto Globe and Mail reports that so far Bush has been able to avoid driving past the protesting Cindy Sheehan - and her media coterie – by helicoptering in and out of his Crawford, Texas ranch. But today he plans to attend a $2 million RNC fundraiser at a ranch right next door. Using the chopper seems a bit excessive for that short of a trip. Maybe he'll just take the dirt bike.

Four Amendments and a Funeral

| Fri Aug. 12, 2005 12:37 PM EDT

If you haven't read Matt Taibbi's Rolling Stone story on how Congress works—no, make that "doesn't work"—well, be sure to do so. Taibbi followed Rep. Bernie Sanders around for a month, watching the last true populist try to navigate the halls and corridors of the capital, flummoxed by byzantine rules and Kafkaesque committees, thwarted at every turn by corporate interests, and just generally noticing that "Congress isn't the steady assembly line of consensus policy ideas it's sold as, but a kind of permanent emergency in which a majority of members work day and night to burgle the national treasure and burn the Constitution." For instance:

The afternoon Senate vote is the next act in a genuinely thrilling drama that Sanders himself started in the House a few weeks before. On June 28th, Sanders scored a stunning victory when the House voted 313-114 to approve his amendment to block a $5 billion loan by the Ex-Im Bank to Westinghouse to build four nuclear power plants in China.

The Ex-Im loan was a policy so dumb and violently opposed to American interests that lawmakers who voted for it had serious trouble coming up with a plausible excuse for approving it. In essence, the U.S. was giving $5 billion to a state-subsidized British utility … to build up the infrastructure of our biggest trade competitor, along the way sharing advanced nuclear technology with a Chinese conglomerate that had, in the past, shared nuclear know-how with Iran and Pakistan…

In the case of Westinghouse, the bill's real interest for the Senate had little to do with gas prices and a lot to do with protecting a party member in trouble. Many of the 5,000 jobs the loan was supposed to create were in Pennsylvania, where Rick Santorum, the GOP incumbent, was struggling to hold off a challenger. "Five billion for 5,000 jobs," Sanders says, shaking his head in disbelief. "That's $1 million per job. And they say I'm crazy."

Sad to say, it gets worse.

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A New Immigration Consensus?

| Fri Aug. 12, 2005 11:35 AM EDT

It's a bit unexpected to find a totally sane column on immigration anywhere, but that's just what Tamar Jacoby has written: "Given our economy's deep and increasing dependence on foreign workers, we will never get a grip if we continue to pretend they aren't coming. Our only hope is to own up to our labor needs and—instead of casting a blind eye while people enter the country illegally—provide an orderly program that allows them to live and work on the right side of the law." And what's more, she reports that Congress, with the exception of a broad swath of stubborn Republicans, is mostly approaching this consensus as well.

The main bone of contention seems to be that some, like John McCain and Ted Kennedy, want to deal with the 11 million illegal immigrants currently living in the country by offering them a path towards citizenship, albeit after they pay all taxes and a $2,000 fee and learn English. John Cornyn and Jon Kyl, meanwhile, want the immigrants to go home and then apply for guest-worker status. Obviously the latter will never happen, and like it or not, "amnesty" is the only logistical reality here, but other than that, most of the major political players agree. We can't realistically deport millions of people, we can't stop people from entering, the only way forward is a guest-worker program that offers everyone a path towards citizenship.

Who Deserves Liberty?

| Thu Aug. 11, 2005 4:19 PM EDT

Over at QandO, Dale Franks says: "The bottom line is that, if you are a foreigner, and if you intend to reside in this country, then those of us who are already here have a perfect right to boot you out the moment you displease us."

That doesn't seem quite right.

Franks was discussing a bunch of proposed British laws that would authorize the deportation of any "non-citizens" found guilty of "fostering hatred" or "glorifying terrorism." The law wouldn't apply to British citizens who, of course, have the freedom of speech and association. So is this distinction between citizen and non-citizen tenable, especially here in the United States? Franks says yes; I would say no. For starters, at least here in the U.S., we're treading on iffy constitutional grounds: Basic rights such as due process, equal protection, and the freedoms of speech and association should, in theory, apply to all "persons" within the United States, not just citizens. I'd go further: the fact that non-citizens cannot vote often makes it more essential that they be afforded protections under the law. This was James Madison's murmur-provoking view—"Aliens are not more parties to the laws, than they are parties to the Constitution"—and most federal courts have by and large agreed with Madison, although the current Supreme Court has obviously wavered.

But set aside the constitutional issues, or let the lawyers duke it out. Pragmatically, does it make sense to restrict the rights of non-citizens? David Cole, who would no doubt be vigorously shaking his head right now, has warned: "Our own historical experience with restricting fundamental rights on the basis of citizenship"—an experience that includes Dred Scott—"should give us pause." He quotes Yale law professor Alexander Bickel, who makes a philosophical point: "A relationship between government and the governed that turns on citizenship can always be dissolved or denied [since] citizenship is a legal construct, an abstraction, a theory." I don't think we're in immediate danger of anything dissolving, mind you, but it's worth thinking about. We make our government a government "of the citizens, by the citizens, and for the citizens" at our peril.

A more practical concern is that alienating non-citizens—by, say, restricting their free speech rights, on pain of deportation—could, in theory, make those communities less likely to cooperate with law enforcement in rooting out terrorist cells. Especially, as was the case after 9/11, when most of the non-citizens rounded up and detained are never even charged with a crime and, for all we know, not guilty of inciting anything. Another worry, and this ought to concern even those who don't think "foreigners" deserve rights, is that limiting the rights of non-citizens almost always sets a disturbing precedent for limiting the rights of citizens. Exhibit A: Yasser Hamdi, Exhibit B: Jose Padilla. Two U.S. citizens held indefinitely, under "wartime powers" that, as the president assured us in the heady Arab-hunting days after 9/11, were intended to apply only to "foreigners." Then we have the historical precedents, again, citing David Cole:

The line between alien and citizen has often been crossed before. In fact, two of the most shameful episodes of our nation's history also had their provenance in measures initially targeted at non-citizens. The McCarthy era of the 1940s and 1950s, in which thousands of Americans were tarred with guilt by association, was simply an extension to citizens of a similar campaign using similar techniques against alien radicals in the first Red Scare thirty years earlier. The earlier Red Scare, which culminated in the arrests of thousands of aliens for their political associations during the Palmer Raids, was coordinated by a young J. Edgar Hoover, then in the Alien Radical division of the Justice Department. Hoover applied what he had learned in the first Red Scare to U.S. citizens during the second Red Scare, which targeted thousands of them.

The same pattern underlies the internment of U.S. citizens of Japanese descent during World War II. Since 1798, the Enemy Aliens Act has authorized the president during wartime to arrest, detain, deport, or otherwise restrict the freedom of anyone over fourteen years old who is a citizen of the country with which we are at war, without regard to any actual evidence of disloyalty, sabotage, or danger. The justification for that law, which the Supreme Court has upheld as constitutional, is that during wartime one can presume that citizens of the enemy country are loyal to their own country, not ours, and that there is insufficient time to identify those who are actually disloyal.

In World War II we simply extended that argument to U.S. citizens through the prism of race. The Army argued that persons of Japanese descent, even if they were technically American citizens because they were born here, remained for all practical purposes "enemy aliens," presumptively likely to be loyal to Japan.

Now granted, some might think that locking up communists is just peachy, but it ought to give civil libertarians a moment's pause. A government that can restrict the rights of non-citizens has all the tools it needs to do the same to citizens. Honestly, I won't go so far as to say that no liberties can ever be restricted in the name of security, but I will say that the sort of double-standard Franks proposes, and the distinction between the basic rights of citizens and basic rights of non-citizens, seems wholly untenable to me.

Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise

| Thu Aug. 11, 2005 3:53 PM EDT

Just about everyone and his economist mother has researched the ways in which socioeconomic status correlates with health. In the United States, the fraction of people in 'excellent' or 'very good' health in the top income quartile hovers at around 40 percentage points above that in the bottom quartile. It doesn't take long to come up with all sorts of theories for this: varying access to health care, poor behavioral habits on the part of the poor, differing environmental factors, differing exposure to stressful events. But no one quite knows for sure.

Anyway, a new RAND paper by James P. Smith looks at this problem in greater detail, trying to figure out which aspects of socioeconomic status actually matter for health. For instance, he looks at the stock market gains during the 1990s—when many people became unexpectedly wealthy—and suggests that income and wealth gains, by themselves, do not decrease the chance of disease onset. This may not be an ideal sample set, though, since those who gained in the stock market were already fairly well-off.

On the other hand, education correlates remarkably well with better health; perhaps in part, Smith suggests, because people with higher levels of education can better manage complicated treatment regiments. An experiment involving a diabetes treatment seems to suggest just that. (Programs that forced patients to stick to the regiment had large health-effects on the less-educated.) But as always, proving causation is another matter—why are educated people, apparently, better at self-management? Maybe they're more likely to have jobs with more free time. Nevertheless, the "education effect" really is so significant, and persists even into old age.

Two other findings. First, Smith points out that the link between socioeconomic status and health may exist, in part, because the latter causes the former. The onset of a serious chronic disease, after all, really does take a pair of fists to a person's job and salary. So perhaps the "health gap" causes socioeconomic inequality, rather than the other way around. Second, and more importantly, a growing body of research suggests that economic circumstances during childhood seem to have a serious bearing on health later on in life. Still, no one knows exactly why, although theories abound. The importance of nutrition in the womb is one. Interesting fact: In the olden days, and even among current adults, life expectancy varied significantly with the season of birth. In the northern hemisphere, for instance, 50-year-olds who were born in October and November—and hence, whose mothers had access to cheap and plentiful fruits, vegetables, and eggs during pregnancy—could expect to live about 3/4 of a year longer than those born in the spring. I don't know if that's still true for people growing up today, but it might be.

H'w'd Thinks Terrorists are Boffo!

Thu Aug. 11, 2005 2:58 PM EDT

This guy just can't believe how much Hollywood hates America, freedom, and our brave soldiers - or something like that. From his hysterical TownHall.com column (sorry for the redundancy, but I want to be clear):

Here's the pitch: with box-office numbers trending down, studio executives are suddenly greenlighting movies they can describe to shareholders as 'controversial' or 'timely.' Whether the films are anti-American or otherwise demoralizing to the war effort is apparently immaterial. Its appetite whetted by "Fahrenheit 9/11"'s $222 million worldwide gross, Hollywood thinks it's found a formula for both financial security and critical plaudits: noxious anti-American storylines, bathed in the warm glow of star power.

Shocking! Hollywood to make films with eye towards market demand! Just what sort of trend lines might these heartless profit-mongers be looking at?