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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Books of 2008

Last year, as I have annually since 2005, I posted a complete list of books I read in the preceding year. This is now a blog tradition worth preserving.

As usual, I will not list books that I reviewed, unless those reviews were published. In my academic job, I chair a committee that awards $200,000 annually to the best "ideas for improving world order." Most of our nominees have written books and I read my share of the nominations.

Of course, since I'm an academic, I read multiple chapters and large sections of many books pertinent to my research and teaching. However, I'm not going to list those here unless I read them cover-to-cover. Save for the books I use in class or read for review, I often skim over some portions even of outstanding books. It's a time/efficiency issue.

So, what did I read this year, mostly for pleasure?

Non-fiction

Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy by Jules Tygiel (RIP).

Songbook, by Nick Hornby.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.

How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization by Franklin Foer.

The Bill James Gold Mine 2008 by Bill James.

A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut.

On the Campaign Trail by journalist Mark Shields.

My Life in Baseball by Ty Cobb.

I also read just about every word in Baseball Prospectus 2008, but not in cover-to-cover fashion. It was edited by Steven Goldman.

Of these, most were worth reading. Hornby's book is about his favorite 31 song recordings. It's an eclectic mix and he's certainly a talented and entertaining writer. James and Vonnegut are also skilled writers that I have long enjoyed, though these books include uneven collections of short essays.

I've owned Tygiel's book for years and should have read it long ago. I pulled it off my shelf the weekend I read of the historian's death. Sarjane's work is a graphic novel, but it is very well done. My university adopted it as a "book-in-common" for this academic year, though I'm not teaching it.

The Shields book is about the 1984 election, much of it documenting the failed insurgent Democratic presidential candidacy of Colorado Senator Gary Hart. I read it during the battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Foer's individual chapters about the global game of soccer (football) are interesting, but I'm pretty sure they do not add up to a real theory of globalization. A couple of years ago, a student recommended the book and I too would suggest it for soccer fans with an eye on the global game.

Cobb's book may more appropriately be placed in the fiction listing.

Fiction

The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley.

White Noise by Don DeLillo.

Rabbit, Run by John Updike.

The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon.

A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh.

The Galton Case and The Doomsters by Ross Macdonald.

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene.

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M . Cain.

Last Stand at Saber River by Elmore Leonard

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.

Neuromancer by William Gibson.

Miami Blues by Charles R. Willeford.

The Last Sherlock Holmes Story by Michael Dibdin.

Darker Than Amber by John D. Macdonald.

Poodle Springs by Raymond Chandler and Robert Parker.

The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon.

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming.

Greenwich Killing Time by Kinky Friedman.

Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen.

Of these, I placed the best literature at the top of the list, then the remaining genre fiction with the least entertaining listed last. I really like Greene and Waugh, generally, and these books provide valuable insights into the bottom and top of Britain's social hierarchy. I read Greene's novel while visiting Brighton this past August.

I recently blogged about DeLillo's award-winning book, but I also found both Updike's classic novel and Chabon's recent work to be very enjoyable reads. In 2009, I'll likely be reading more about Harry Angstrom, Updike's boy wonder.

Thanks mostly to Bookmooch, I diversified my reading list quite a bit this year. I added some acclaimed sci-fi books to my reading list, along with books my a diverse group of crime writers. James Crumley's The Last Good Kiss is an exceptional contribution to the hard-boiled detective genre. I'll also be reading additional books by Willeford, Dibdin and Fleming (again, thanks to Bookmooch, I already have them piled high).

As I've noted previously, John D. Macdonald's Travis McGee stories provide a pleasant diversion, but Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer books have a much harder edge. Both offer up a good measure of amateur philosophy too. The coauthored crime novel on the list was completed by Parker from an uncompleted manuscript by a true master, Raymond Chandler.

I don't like Leonard's westerns as much as I like his crime books, but he is definitely worth reading in either genre. Hiaasen and Friedman trail because their characters and books have a patterned predictability. If I wait long enough, they are still fun to read. Look for those authors to appear on these lists again.


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Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas past



My Dad and I are shown playing a friendly poker game with some friends and family, at Christmas-time, 2006. It looks like I had a short stack, but a good beer.


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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Keynesian Economics in 2009

The most recent Nobel laureate in Economics, Paul Krugman, spoke at the National Press Club last Friday. The Dow Jones Newswire covered his Keynesian message:
Despite the Fed's recent slashing of interest rates, more action is needed from the government, he said.

"They have achieved something with the policies ... but it is clearly not enough," Krugman said.

Infrastructure spending is "clearly the best thing" to do right now, but timing is key, he said.

"We are bleeding jobs," Krugman said. "The immediate problem is: 'How do we get enough stuff going to stop this economy's nosedive?' "

A stimulus package of $850 billion -- a price tag that the incoming Obama administration is reportedly considering -- is inadequate, he said. Krugman cited estimates of roughly $150 billion of infrastructure programs that are "shovel ready," projects that can be operational within six months.
It's not a direct quote, but journalist Ruth Mantell writes that Krugman says "massive government spending is necessary to stop the ongoing hemorrhage of jobs and shore up the economy."

Apparently, the old quote attributed to FDR New Dealer Harry Hopkins is not authentic: "tax and tax, spend and spend, elect and elect."

However, that doesn't mean Barack Obama and others in Washington won't be trying to use this playbook in 2009. Is $1 Trillion too much government spending given the current economy? Is it enough? We're likely to find out.


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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hot Stove Yankee Hating

Apparently, the New York Yankees have signed free agent first baseman Mark Teixeira. Already this off-season, they've signed pitchers C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett.

The Yanks have reportedly committed about $400 million to these three players! In about three or four years, I suspect, the team will not want to be paying at least one of these contracts.

However, M.C. Teixeira is an excellent hitter in his prime. He'll be 28 in April.

Sabathia is a former Cy Young winner who will turn 28 in July. He does have quite a bit of mileage on his arm.

Burnett will be 32 in a couple of weeks and he has an injury history, but he should have a couple of good seasons in him.

The Yankees also traded for Nick Swisher (losing only Wilson Betemit), who could be a terrific acquisition if he bounces back from a bad season.

These transactions would seem to make the Yankees a pretty good team again, even with the decline of Derek Jeter (and others), the retirement of Mike Mussina, and the failed development of Melky Cabrera.

It looks like Yankee haters can return to form in 2009. It's harder to care when the team finishes third, with only 87 wins as calculated by the pythagorean method.


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Thursday, December 18, 2008

White Noise

I never posted anything about the Mumbai attacks, but was struck when I recently read the following exchange in Don DeLillo's White Noise.

The first speaker is Alfonse Stompanato, chair of the department of American environments at the College-on-the-Hill:
"Japan is pretty good for disaster footage," Alfonse said. "India remains largely untapped. They have tremendous potential with their famines, monsoons, religious strife, train wrecks, boat sinkings, et cetera. But their disasters tend to go unrecorded. Three lines in the newspaper. No film footage, no satellite hookup. This is why California is so important. We not only enjoy seeing them punished for their relaxed life-style and progressive social ideas but we know we're not missing anything. The cameras are right there. They're standing by. Nothing terrible escapes their scrutiny."

"You're saying it's more or less universal, to be fascinated by TV disasters."

"For most people there are only two places in the world. Where they live and their TV set. If a thing happens on television, we have every right to find it fascinating, whatever it is."

"I don't know whether to feel good or bad about learning that my experience is widely shared."

"Feel bad," he said.
When White Noise was published in 1985, it was considered prescient for discussing an "airborne toxic event" that anticipated India's Bhopal tragedy.

And, of course, the critique of television and popular culture is clear.

In an age of globalization, cell phones, and digital video, India is no longer an untapped source of world news.

Another interesting passage has been noted by other bloggers and scholars since the 9/11 attacks:
“Members of an air-crash cult will hijack a jumbo jet and crash it into the White House in an act of blind devotion to their mysterious and reclusive leader, known only as Uncle Bob”
Those words appear in a supermarket tabloid, which a main character reads aloud to a group of blind people.

I'm not sure what I'm trying to say by quoting these passages, but Ed Cone's reaction to the book seems fair:
Kept checking to make sure it was really published 22 years ago, because (but for the absence of details like the internet and mobile phones and "reality" television) it felt like it was written yesterday, which is pretty remarkable for a book keyed to popular culture.
DeLillo's book won the National Book Award for fiction in 1985.

Soon, I'll be posting a list of all the books I read during 2008.


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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ducking the shoe, etc.

Today, at Duck of Minerva, I posted "The Duck of Bush," which includes video of President Bush, er, dodging a shoe thrown at him today by a Middle Eastern journalist. Bush was making a secret and surprise visit to Iraq.

The post also includes a link to a new administration report on Iraq reconstruction efforts.

Friday, December 5, I posted "Obama and Coal" about the prospect of an Obama administration bankrupting the coal industry because of its climate policies.


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Friday, December 12, 2008

DVD pick of the week

I wholeheartedly recommend "Idiocracy," which is a very funny satire of American culture.

The flick should become a cult favorite, particularly for anyone who likes "Office Space," "Beavis and Butt-Head" and/or "King of the Hill."

Mike Judge is the talent behind all of them.


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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

UK: No longer willing

For years, I've been documenting the collapse of the "coalition of the willing" in Iraq. Soon, Britain will no longer have troops in Iraq. The BBC reports:
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has indicated that almost all British troops should leave Iraq by the middle of next year, with a few hundred possibly remaining to train Iraqi security forces.

Previously it had been suggested that troops could start leaving in January.

However, the BBC has learned that the process is likely to begin in March - six years after the US-led invasion.
Of course, Britain's withdrawal is different from earlier defections in the coalition. Conditions on the ground in Iraq are apparently much-improved and the UK is mulling over the diversion of its troops to Afghanistan. Thus, the UK can claim "mission accomplished" and demonstrate its willingness to help the US in the war on terror.

Note also that in 2007 PM Gordon Brown announced the withdrawal of half of British troops.


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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Hot Rod Blagojevich

I think the best blog post about the Blagojevich case was written by Benjamin Sarlin. Check it out: "Who (Allegedly) Said It?" The post includes a list of 10 quotes and readers have to figure out whether each was from the Rod Blagojevich tapes or the mouth of Tony Soprano.

Some on the right are bound to try to link President-Elect Barack Obama to this scandal. After all, Hot Rod was apparently trying to auction Obama's vacant Senate seat and the indictment claims that Obama had a favorite for that post. However, there's good news for Obama in the indictment. Jeffrey Toobin:
It is Obama’s good fortune that the Governor seems to be pretty irritated with Obama’s lack of attention to Blagojevich’s needs. In a soon-to-be famous observation on the tapes, the Governor on Obama’s team: “They’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation. F*** them.”
Yes, I cleaned up the Governor's speech and Toobin's quote.

John Dickerson at Slate found a similar quote in the indictment:
The person who looks great in this sordid affair, in fact, is Barack Obama, whom Blagojevich refers to by another name. According to the charges:
ROD BLAGOJEVICH said that the consultants ... are telling him that he has to "suck it up" for two years and do nothing and give this "motherf***er [the President-elect] his senator. F*** him. For nothing? F*** him."
Yes, I cleaned up that one too.

Are high profile cases of political corruption as interesting as elections? If the evidence is of this quality, then I think they can be.


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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Dallas

Apparently, George W. Bush plans to move to Dallas when his term expires.

Bush should perhaps heed Jimmie Dale Gilmore's warnings about the city before he arrives "with the bright lights" on his mind:

While "Dallas is a jewel" and "a beautiful sight," it is also "a jungle."

Most importantly,
"Dallas ain't a woman to help you get your feet on the ground.
Yes Dallas is a woman who will walk on you when you're down."

Actually, maybe Bush knows what he's doing:

"Dallas is a rich man with a death wish in his eye.
A rich man who tends to believe in his own lies."


Note: I personally prefer Joe Ely's cover of this song.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Duck

Today, at the Duck of Minerva blog, I posted "2009 Grawemeyer winner." Click that link to read about Professor Michael Johnston of Colgate University and his award-winning work on corruption.

November 30, I posted "Next Nostradamus" about a History Channel TV program highlighting the computer modeling and predictions of political scientist Bruce Bueno de Mesquita of NYU. Other international relations scholars are interviewed for the program, including John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago. If you want to see it, the program will run again this Saturday.


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Saturday, November 29, 2008

You've seen this movie

My take on "Rachel Getting Married" -- a talented African American man from Hawaii swoops in to save a dysfunctional white family. Though it is too early to see how the story ends, it seems safe to say that some healing has occurred. Everybody agrees that US soldiers should come home from Iraq.

At a critical moment in the story, observers come to understand that a lot of people have been blaming a victim for a tragic event, when in fact a good part of the blame should be placed on a selfish winger.

Oh, note also that the story includes an attractive character named Paylin, but in the end she really didn't figure into the outcome.

As for Anne Hathaway's celebrated performance? Did you see Angelina Jolie in "Girl, Interrupted"? If so, you can skip this one.


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Friday, November 28, 2008

Duck dropping

On Tuesday, November 18, I posted "Obama's exit strategy?" at the Duck of Minerva group blog.

The piece speculates that the President-elect might be able to put an end to the so-called "war on terrorism" by withdrawing from Iraq and turning US attention back to Afghanistan (and Pakistan).

Last night, at a couple of gatherings with family and friends, some people were speculating that Afghanistan could become Obama's Vietnam -- or Iraq. This blogger at the Monthly Review made this precise charge last summer.

Since I posted that piece 10 days ago, Iraq's Parliament has approved a Status of Forces Agreement with the US establishing a formal timetable for the withdrawal of US troops. American troops must be out of Iraq by December 2011. To win Sunni support for the SOFA, the Iraq government promised to hold a public referendum on the deal no later than July.

President Bush used to dismiss the idea of a timetable, but has now negotiated one! As Spencer Ackerman explains, if Iraq rejects the SOFA in the public referendum, the US would have to withdraw from Iraq even sooner -- potentially by May 2010 (roughly 16 months after Barack Obama is inaugurated as US President).

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has called for a timetable for international troops withdrawal. Failing to achieve that, Karzai dropped another hint that conflict could end via negotiation:
"If there is no deadline, we have the right to find another solution for peace and security, which is negotiations," Karzai was quoted as saying in a statement from his office.
Some prominent American analysts are also calling for negotiated settlement -- and the Obama team is reportedly NOT planning to borrow from the Bush Iraq strategy:
The incoming Obama administration plans to explore a more regional strategy to the war in Afghanistan -- including possible talks with Iran -- and looks favorably on the nascent dialogue between the Afghan government and "reconcilable" elements of the Taliban, according to Obama national security advisers.
Finally, I'm expecting to be pleased this week when Obama announces key members of his foreign policy team.


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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Food insecurity

I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving today.

Last week, the Department of Agriculture released its annual report on "food security" and in the face of a recession, the news wasn't good. From the CNN report, November 25:
Almost 700,000 U.S. children lived in households that struggled to put food on the table at some point in 2007, the highest number since 1998, according to a federal report.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's annual report on food security showed that those 691,000 children lived in homes where families had to eat non-balanced meals and low-cost food, or even skip meals because of a lack of money. The number of children struggling to feed themselves adequately rose 50 percent from 430,000 children in 2006.

Nearly 36.2 million children and adults struggled to put proper food on the table in 2007, according to the report, up slightly from 35.5 million in 2006.

Of the 36.2 million, nearly a third were not able to eat what was deemed a proper meal.
The story has additional detail, noting for example that the worst crisis is faced by people living in Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas and Arkansas.

Note: I was also a Thanksgiving scold in 2005 -- and 2003. Those stories, however, were primarily about global hunger.


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Monday, November 24, 2008

Obama's foreign policy team

Next week, apparently, President-elect Barack Obama will be announcing his foreign policy team. Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to be named Secretary of State and other so-called "liberal hawks" (and Clinton loyalists) are expected to win positions throughout the State Department, National Security Council, and Department of Defense.

Spencer Ackerman explains the implications:
Some Obama loyalists pointed to a 2007 memo written by Harvard’s Samantha Power — a former leading Obama adviser who resigned from the campaign after making an untoward remark about Clinton — that summarized the Obama campaign’s ideological meta-critique of many of the people who might staff a Clinton-run State Dept. Titled “Conventional Wisdom vs. the Change We Need,” the campaign released Power’s memo to the press after the Clinton campaign labeled Obama naive for proposing negotiations with dictators without preconditions; for ruling out the use of nuclear weapons on terrorist training camps; and for proposing highly-conditioned military strikes in Pakistan against senior Al Qaeda operatives.

“It was Washington’s conventional wisdom that led us into the worst strategic blunder in the history of U.S. foreign policy,” writes Power, who declined to speak for this story. “The rush to invade Iraq was a position advocated by not only the Bush Administration, but also by editorial pages, the foreign policy establishment of both parties, and majorities in both houses of Congress. Those who opposed the war were often labeled weak, inexperienced and even na├»ve.”

Some in the Obama camp are left wondering whether picking Clinton as secretary of state represents an acquiescence to such conventional wisdom. “That memo was emblematic in many ways of the difference between the two groups,” said a Democratic foreign-policy expert and Obama loyalist.
Count me as someone who thinks that "some in the Obama camp" have this upside down.

Obama's foreign policy plans are going to be America's foreign policy. Sure, every President rejects some campaign rhetoric. Bill Clinton, for example, famously reversed his pre-election position on China. However, Obama promised to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq within 16 months, end the mindset that got the U.S. into that war in the first place, and behave as a foreign policy pragmatist. He was by no stretch a liberal hawk and nearly all of his foreign policy advisors in the campaign opposed the Iraq war. He has not backed down from any of these positions since the election and there's no reason to think that he will.

Thus, liberal hawks like Hillary Clinton embedded in prominent foreign policy positions in an Obama administration will be expected to administer the President-elect's planned transformation of US foreign policy.

While Obama supporters (dare I call them doves?) worry that their man has abandoned them, I think this is potentially a brilliant strategy. The Democratic party was split nearly 50-50 in the primary season and some of the divide reflected foreign policy differences (though probably not all that much). To the extent that Obama was less hawkish -- and I think that he was -- then what better way to reorient the party than to include the most prominent political opponent as a key policy figure?

Hillary Clinton's career success as Secretary of State will be tied to the career success of Barack Obama as President. Clinton and her loyalists will not likely dissent publicly (at least not too loudly) if they are part of the team. All of them will have a personal stake in making sure that US (i.e. Obama) foreign policy succeeds on their watch. None will want to seem like a backstabber or troublemaker. Plus, they must realize that Obama's approach was popular with the American electorate. And those who are insufficiently enthused should rightly fear that they will be tossed aside.

In sum, I don't fear a new team of rivals, at least not on foreign policy. Rather, I see these likely Clinton-team appointments as a reflection of a unified Democratic party, about to take office, ready to implement a brand new set of policies.

In two months, I predict that the chattering classes will be talking about how new U.S. foreign policymakers are effectively tossing aside many of the policies of George W. Bush. With that unified project in mind, this Clinton-Obama "divide" can be set aside.


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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Anbar Awakening for Afghanistan?

Tara McKelvey has a good piece in the November American Prospect on what some are calling "The Petraeus Doctrine." Lots of security-types are now interested in counterinsurgency, but Petraeus's strategy has been confounded with "the surge," the Anbar Awakening and other elements of the Iraq war.

Indeed, the incoming Obama administration might want to think carefully before attempting to export "the surge" to Afghanistan. As McKelvey notes, when explaining the reduction in violence in Iraq:
"Nearly everyone gives credit to the Anbar Awakening...and to a pullback by the militia led by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. These disparate elements, some coordinated by the military and some coincidental, have come together and tamped down the bloodshed."
Want to know what I left out with those ellipses? Here's a key point to keep in mind. There's a huge payoff tied to US counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq:
the U.S. is paying approximately 100,000 individuals known as the Sons of Iraq about $300 a month to keep the peace, and Sunni tribal sheikhs make millions more through U.S. contracts
That $30 million monthly to the Sons of Iraq apparently buys a lot of order.

It's not at all clear that similar payoffs could be effective in Afghanistan.

Consider what columnist Eric Margolis wrote in 2002, "Karzai's `election' has cost Washington $5 billion in bribes and payoffs to Afghan warlords." How has that turned out?


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Monday, November 17, 2008

Energy pledge

The University of Louisville spends about $1 million per month on energy. Since spring, I've been part of a campus team of faculty and staff attempting to figure out behavioral changes that might save energy -- and money. The slow economy has forced budget cuts, though energy conservation is a good idea for a variety of non-economic reasons.

The campus has its own coal-fired electrical plant, so reducing energy usage means reducing harmful pollutants and greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

Anyone affiliated with the University is strongly encouraged to complete the Energy Reduction Pledge.


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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Entertainment void

The baseball season ended a couple of weeks ago.

The election concluded (for the most part) on November 4.

To fill my leisure hours this weekend, I tuned to my favorite Americana/alt-country radio station (X-Country on XM) and discovered...that it's gone. The merger with Sirius radio has meant that "X-Country" has been replaced with "Outlaw Country." The former station played a wide variety of great music. So far, just about every song on Outlaw Country sounds like it belongs in a '70s Burt Reynolds movie. The DJs are driving me crazy too.

Actually, I like much of the Outlaw country music, but the playlist is simply not as wide-ranging or interesting. Most of what they're playing seems to duplicate other existing channels -- "The Roadhouse" and "Willie's Place."

Perhaps I'll have to migrate to internet radio. This station sounds promising so far.

Luckily, Kansas basketball begins tonight.


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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Senate update

In the U.S. Senate, Democrats currently have 55 seats. Independents Joe Lieberman (a former Democratic Senator) and Bernie Sanders caucused with the Democrats in the latest Congress, so many analysts think that the Dems currently have control of 57 votes. Lieberman is a bit of a wild card since he campaigned for John McCain and he has been recruited by the Republican caucus.

After the 1994 Republican wave, a number of congressional Democrats became Republicans. They joined the new majority. However, it is harder to imagine Lieberman wanting to switch to the minority party after it took some serious losses at the polls. Plus, Barack Obama has expressed no hard feelings and welcomes Lieberman into the Democratic caucus.

So, it's at least possible that the Dems have 57 of 97 votes in the new Senate. What about the other 3 races?

In the ongoing Alaska count, Democrat Mark Begich has inched ahead of convicted felon Ted Stevens by a bit more than 800 votes. There are still 1000s of early and absentee votes to be counted, but these are reportedly from blue areas of the state.

In Minnesota, Democrat Al Franken trails Norm Coleman by just over 200 votes and the state will have an automatic recount. Over 437,000 people voted for the third party candidate, Dean Barkley. According to Nate Silver, there are enough undervotes in Minnesota to believe that Franken has a 50-50 chance (or better) of winning this race. Apparently, however, the recount won't finish until mid-December.

In sum, Democrats have good reason to be optimistic that they will have 59 seats in the next U.S. Senate that meets in January, 2009.

Can they get to a filibuster-proof 60 votes?

In Georgia, Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss and opponent Jim Martin are scheduled to have a runoff election on December 2. Typically, runoff election turnout is light compared to the general election November vote. The winner of the runoff might well earn thousands of fewer votes in December than his opponent got in November.

Enthusiasm and turnout are viewed as critical in runoff elections. Obama campaign workers are apparently flooding into Georgia and John McCain campaigned in the state today.

In short, both political parties realize that Democrats could achieve a filibuster-proof 60 seat Senate majority with a victory in Georgia.

The long 2008 election cycle likely still has a month to go.


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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Counterpublic spheres

Tomorrow, November 13, I'm presenting a conference paper on "Counterpublic Spheres in Global Politics: The Anti-War Movement and Iraq." It's a revised version of a paper I gave at the 2006 International Studies Association annual meeting.

Louisville is hosting the 2008 annual conference of the International Association for Intercultural Communication Studies. My panel is at 1:45 pm in the downtown Marriott Hotel. So far as I know, anyone can attend the presentations.

Here's the abstract:
On February 15, 2003, millions of people from around the world participated in anti-war protests in anticipation of a war on Iraq that would not begin until March 19 of that year. The BBC estimated that 6 to 10 million people rallied in approximately 800 cities in nearly 60 countries. Yet, research on United States media coverage of the buildup to the Iraq war suggests that war advocates, especially within the Bush administration, were able to construct a successful (and predominant) narrative about Iraq threats that precluded significant public opposition to the attack. The public discourse was dominated by war proponents who successfully framed the proposed attack as an integral part of the ongoing "war on terror." This paper explores the narratives offered by the transnational "counterpublic sphere" that opposed the war. By definition, so-called "counterpublics" create and circulate discourses in opposition to those featured in the mainstream. Counterpublic spheres potentially make the predominant public sphere more inclusive and open to dissent. This paper explores apparent linkages between the anti-war narratives that emerged from a variety of voices from around the globe and the eventual U.S. public opposition to the Iraq war.
Hopefully, I'll receive some useful feedback so I can submit this paper for publication in a journal.


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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

President-Elect Obama

America has elected a biracial man named Barack Hussein Obama to be its 44th President. Much of the TV coverage has focused on the enormity of this fact.

The racial healing symbolized by Obama's victory is significant and certainly deserves emphasis.

However, from the point of view of partisan politics, the results are arguably even more impressive. Obama openly embraces the idea of universal health care, increased taxes on the wealthiest Americans, and an end to the American war in Iraq. He wants to "put a price on carbon" in order to combat global warming, to substantially increase investment in domestic infrastructure, and to initiate an alternative energy program modeled after the Apollo program. In fact, Obama embraces a plethora of policies that have made previous Democratic candidates for high office gun-shy.

Moreover, Obama was labeled the most liberal member of the US Senate by a reputable third-party evaluator, and his opponents often pointed out this fact. Indeed, they tried to call him a socialist.

Some implied that Obama was anti-American. He "palled around with domestic terrorists." You get the picture.

In sum, Obama embraced a clear Democratic agenda, withstood horrible attacks about his identity, and still won an overwhelming victory. As I write, he has 4 million more votes than John McCain and 51% of the vote. I suspect his margin of victory will increase a bit as big city tallies and the west coast totals become known.

This is remarkable. Truly unique and inspiring.

Earlier tonight, I was reminded by a prominent journalist that Bobby Kennedy's last words were "Now it's on to Chicago and let's win there."

It took 40 years, but admirers who watched Obama's speech in Grant Park must think that Kennedy's words now ring true.


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Monday, November 03, 2008

RIP Dad

Tulsa World, November 3:
Owasso — Allen Keith Payne, 73, Sherwood Construction executive, died Friday. Services pending. Mowery's.
From Mowery's Funeral Home:
Funeral Arrangements

Allen Keith Payne

Date of Birth Thursday, June 06, 1935
Date of Death Friday, October 31, 2008

Funeral Date Tuesday, November 04, 2008
Funeral Time 1:00 p.m.
Funeral Site Mowery Funeral Service Chapel
Funeral Address 9110 N. Garnett Road
Funeral City Owasso, OK 74055
Funeral Phone 918-272-6244

Visitation Location Mowery Funeral Service
Visitation Date Monday, November 03, 2008
Visitation Hours 1:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m.

Burial Site Graceland Memorial Park Cemetery
Burial City Owasso, OK 74055

In lieu of flowers: American Lung Association
1010 East 8th Street
Tulsa OK, 74120
Eventually, they'll have the obituary here.

My Mom selected the charity. I am actually telling friends about the American Legacy Foundation, which is an anti-smoking group responsible for "The Truth" campaign.

Readers, you now know why I've not been blogging about politics this past week. Obviously, I won't be voting for Barack Obama or anyone else tomorrow.


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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

On socialism

The John McCain campaign charge about Barack Obama's alleged socialism is ridiculous:

1. Obama is basically promoting progressive tax policy -- placing higher tax rates on the wealthy and lower rates on the poor. McCain himself dismissed charges that this was socialism in 2000 when a student pressed him about it. Watch this video, which I originally saw on "The Daily Show."

2. McCain seems to be complaining about tax refunds to people who don't pay taxes. This hints of Reagan's welfare queens, though McCain refuses to acknowledge that Republicans like him (and Reagan) sought the Earned Income Tax Credit so as to provide government tax rebates rather than higher minimum wages to the working poor.

Incidentally, the working poor pay payroll taxes (and regressive sales taxes), so this idea that a huge portion of the population pays no taxes is just bunk.

3. McCain's health care proposal, which includes a $5000 tax rebate to individuals, is precisely the kind of alleged "socialism" that he attacks in Obama's plan.


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CSM: No more dead tree edition

The Christian Science Monitor, a fine paper with particularly good coverage of international affairs, announced that it will soon be available exclusively on-line. The story appeared in the NYT:
The paper is currently published Monday through Friday, and will move to online only in April, although it will also introduce a weekend magazine. John Yemma, The Monitor’s editor, said that moving to a Web focus will mean it can keep its eight foreign bureaus open.
The CSM website had these detail:
In 2009, the Monitor will become the first nationally circulated newspaper to replace its daily print edition with its website; the 100 year-old news organization will also offer subscribers weekly print and daily e-mail editions.
I suspect other papers will be doing this eventually.

One of my favorite magazines went web-only earlier this month. I hope it is a viable business model.


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Monday, October 27, 2008

On-line video and the 2008 election

Check out the Political Video Barometer on Shifting the Debate. That page includes a graph that indicates the political leanings and number of bloggers linking to particular videos related to the 2008 election. Left to right, the horizontal axis reveals videos linked by blogs rated liberal to conservative. The vertical axis reveals the quantity of links.

I clicked on a link for one of the most popular videos on conservative blogs: "Obama Citizenship" (episode 6), which claims to be the October Surprise.

The entire video is an interview with attorney Philip J. Berg, who claims to be a lifelong Democrat and former Deputy Attorney General in Pennsylvania. Berg says Barack Obama is not a natural-born citizen and is thus ineligible for the presidency.

It's interesting that so many conservatives are linking to this video. I wonder if they realize that he filed lawsuits to arrest George W. Bush and Dick Cheney because of their involvement in the 9/11 conspiracy?

In any case, the arguments he makes in the video are typical of conspiracy theorists. Some of the "evidence" is based on hearsay, second-hand accounts of what some people supposedly say. Other "evidence" is based on tortured logic. Obama went to school as a child in Indonesia. The country was at war at the time and only citizens could go to school. You get the picture, right?

He claims that images of Obama's birth certificate posted on the internet are fake, basically because one image includes an Hawai'ian state seal and another does not. Snopes sides with Obama.

Berg recently lost his suit to block Obama's candidacy because the court ruled he did not have standing. That's the soft part of the ruling:
In a 34-page memorandum and opinion, the judge said Berg's allegations of harm were "too vague and too attenuated" to confer standing on him or any other voters.

Surrick ruled that Berg's attempts to use certain laws to gain standing to pursue his claim that Obama was not a natural-born citizen were "frivolous and not worthy of discussion."

The judge also said the harm Berg alleged did "not constitute an injury in fact" and Berg's arguments to the contrary "ventured into the unreasonable."
It's good to see that the right-blogosphere is focusing on important matters for the nation's future.

If John McCain was the Democratic candidate, I'm sure many of these same bloggers would be linking to similar theories about his eligibility for the presidency. Interestingly, in the case of McCain, the facts are clear about where he was born. Any uncertainty is based on the legal question as to whether a person is a "natural born citizen" if delivery occurs in a U.S. military hospital in the Panama Canal Zone.
According to a State Department manual, U.S. military installations abroad cannot be considered "part of the United States" and "A child born on the premises of such a facility is not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States and does not acquire U.S. citizenship by reason of birth."
Prominent legal scholars, including Harvard's Larry Tribe, say that McCain has nothing to fear.

It's easy to imagine the right blogosphere sneering at Tribe's defense of a Democratic McCain.


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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Conference report: Vail

I've just returned from a "Foreign Policy Conference" in Vail, Colorado, cosponsored by the International Security & Arms Control Section of the APSA, the International Security Studies section of the ISA, and the Denver Council on Foreign Relations (DCFR), among others.

I presented two papers. One was coauthored with my graduate student, Phil McCauley , "The Illogic of the Biological Weapons Taboo." Phil worked for 19 years in a lab (on this kind of stuff), so we brought divergent backgrounds to this project.

In a nutshell, we argued that a taboo prohibiting bioweapons use could be dangerous in a world where (a) arms control efforts to limit capabilities are collapsing; (b) the U.S. threatens to go to war for counterproliferation; and (c) the U.S. basically argues that BW capabilities in the hands of certain states reflects an intent to use those weapons.

The other paper was "Threat Construction in the War on Terror: The Case of Pakistan." I argued that after 9/11, Pakistan could have been viewed as an "enemy" rather than a "friend" or "ally" in the war on terror. This is simply based on U.S. declarations about threats and understandings about Pakistan in 2001 and 2002. I discuss why Pakistan was not viewed as an enemy, but also address whether Pakistan's "role identity" could change in the foreseeable future.

Hopefully, pdf versions of both papers will soon be available here. All comments are welcome. If the organizers don't get them up soon, I'll post them somewhere.

Needless to say, writing these papers and attending the conference kept me from blogging as much as usual the last few weeks.

Strangely, I heard the names S. Fred Singer and Laurie Mylroie referenced favorably at this conference -- once by a panelist and once by an audience member from an ACFR chapter. So far as I could tell, no one around me batted an eye.


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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

OSS 117

Perhaps you've seen one of the trailers for the new Bond movie? The film opens November 14.

If that's too long to wait for a good spy film, may I recommend, "OSS 117: Le Caire nid d'espions" ("OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies"). It's very funny and is obviously informed by the Bond series -- particularly the Sean Connery era.

Double thumbs up from me! Check out the DVD.


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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Quack, quack.

A few minutes ago, at the Duck of Minerva blog, I posted "Do you live in the real America?" The fairly lengthy post addresses the increasingly obvious divisiveness recently featured in the 2008 presidential campaign.

Last Wednesday, I also posted my "Debate preview," which is basically a link to a funny video that parallels the McCain-Obama race for the presidency.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Anthrax emergency declared

Did you know that the Secretary of Health and Human Services, based on a recent determination from the Department of Homeland Security, declared an anthrax-related emergency on September 23? This is from the HHS website:
DECLARATION OF EMERGENCY PURSUANT TO SECTION 564 OF THE FEDERAL FOOD, DRUG AND COSMETIC ACT, 21 U.S.C. 360bbb-3(b)

On September 23, 2008, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security determined that there is a significant potential for a domestic emergency, involving a heightened risk of attack with a specified biological, chemical, radiological, or nuclear agent or agents--in this case, Bacillus anthracis. Pursuant to section 564(b) of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, 21 U.S.C. §360bbb-3(b), and on the basis of such determination, I hereby declare an emergency justifying the authorization of the emergency use of doxycycline hyclate tablets accompanied by emergency use information subject to the terms of any authorization issued under 21 U.S.C. §360bbb-3(a).

/s/

Michael O. Leavitt
Secretary

Date: October 1, 2008
Read the Notice in the Federal Register (pdf warning), however, and it seems clear that the HHS Secretary does not, in fact, believe that the U.S. faces an anthrax emergency:
there is no current domestic emergency involving anthrax, no current heightened risk of an anthrax attack, and no credible information indicating an imminent threat of an attack involving Bacillus anthracis.
So what the hell is going on?

In a letter (pdf warning) to HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff argued that the current situation justifies imposition of something like a domestic version of the Bush Doctrine. First, an anthrax attack would be a "material threat to the United States population" affecting national security. Second, a future attack would "result in a domestic emergency." Thus, Chertoff concluded that "there is a non-negligible possibility that a heightened risk of attack will arise."

Parse that last sentence: "a non-negligible possibility," (are you scared yet?) "that a heightened risk" (shaking?) "will arise" (you know, in the future).

I think scholar John Mueller would say the threat is "overblown" and that the risk of overreaction might be greater than the risk of attack.

Paranoid people link this to recent warnings about the potential declaration of martial law (thanks to the financial emergency) and the recent deployment of an active army brigade on U.S. soil (to address civil unrest, particularly in the event of a WMD attack).

Cynics will simply point out that the latest notice assures that millions of dollars will flow to drug companies -- and that both the pharmaceutical companies and the officials ordering the drug production will be released from future liability because of the declared emergency.


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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Getting hosed in Kansas

Today, I'm envying my aunts, uncles and cousins who live in Kansas. They probably get to see this ad all the time:

Trivia: Jim Slattery is exactly 13 years to the day older than Barack Obama (and me). I believe he spoke in one of my classes in 1982 when I was a student at University of Kansas. He was elected to the House that year, representing Topeka.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Vote fraud

Apparently, part of the right-wing anti-ACORN screed is about potential voter fraud. ACORN is registering voters and some of the registrations are obvious fakes (using clearly fake names, etc.). Matt Yglesias and Scott Lemieux note that registration fraud isn't the same as vote fraud. Will Mickey Mouse be allowed to vote?

I blogged about vote fraud before, but it is really important to keep in mind this quote from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Report on Florida Voter Fraud Issues (January 1998). I referenced it often in fall 2000:
  • The absentee ballot is the "tool of choice" for those who are engaging in election fraud.

The absentee ballot's very nature makes it the mechanism to use when trying to capitalize on a voter's infirmities or desire to make some quick money. Both federal and Florida law make absentee ballots available to anyone who seeks them, with no requirement of "justification" for not appearing in person at the polls. Given this easy access to absentee ballots, the "tool of choice" will remain popular among those who corrupt the elections process.
More from a bit later in the document:
"Actual false impersonation at the polls continues to occur regularly, although use of absentee ballots appears to be the preferred method of committing fraud."
My 2004 blog post quoted from a Paul Krugman column noting that Republicans were encouraging their voters to use absentee ballots. In Florida 2008, Republicans are requesting significantly more absentee ballots than are Democrats. In one part of Florida, they are requesting 75% more absentee ballots.


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The election

Loyal readers must recognize that I've blogged a lot less about the 2008 presidential election than I did about 2004. Partly, this reflects the fact that this election is not going to be as close as the last two. At least that's what the polls, the experts, and the insiders are saying.

Second, while I cannot imagine voting for John McCain for President, I've admired some of his previous "straight talk" on policy questions. He was "my favorite Republican" during the early aughts, before losing that title to Chuck Hagel and Ron Paul.

A large part of my problem with McCain 2008 is that he's backed away from the "maverick" positions I admired in the first place. Contrary to his current position, McCain originally opposed the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy, favored diplomacy towards all sorts of dubious states, fought the administration's policy of indefinite detention, supported the moratorium on coastal oil drilling, supported mandatory cap-and-trade proposals to fight global warming, etc. There's a comprehensive list of McCain "flipflops" here.

Even though I'm not writing as much about the election, I've still been following it very closely (at least that's what I told Rasmussen yesterday when I was polled over the telephone). I read the blogs linked in the first paragraph (or on my blogroll) and remain quite interested in the campaign minutiae, such as newspaper endorsements.


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Saturday, October 11, 2008

OCMS

I don't have any Old Crow Medicine Show CDs, though a couple of their cuts appear on Americana compilation CDs that I own. Tonight, my wife and I went to see them in Louisville and the show was entertaining.

OCMS play traditional music, much of it bluegrass.

I'm not a huge fan of that genre, but this show definitely wasn't exclusively bluegrass music. At times, OCMS sounded like Neil Young, Pure Prairie League, or BR-549.

Warmup band The Felice Brothers sounded really good to me. Check 'em out.


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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Boren on Bipartisanship

Monday, I went to a talk on campus by former Senator David Boren (D-OK) who was promoting his new book (all proceeds go to scholarships). This blurb is from the book website:
Bipartisan cooperation on behalf of national interests needs to replace destructive partisanship, and we should not rule out electing a president independent of both existing parties.
At a different local event covered by the newspaper, Boren discussed his vision of bipartisanship (as he did at the campus interview too):
"It is time for those in office to stop underestimating the American people," he said.

Boren, now president of the University of Oklahoma, said the country has gone wildly off course in the past 20 or 25 years as Washington politics have become more polarized and partisan.

He called for whoever is elected as the next president to build a truly bipartisan Cabinet -- and not just pick a token from the other party as interior secretary.

And he said we need to return to the days of smoke-filled rooms where the country's leaders -- outside the eyes of the public and the media -- can work together on the biggest issues of the day.

"It needs to happen," he said. "Government worked when it happened."
While the anti-democratic aspects of the smoke-filled rooms bother me, I'm also very troubled by Boren's call for bipartisanship.

Boren pointed out that since 1980, the federal debt had climbed from $1 billion to $10 billion and that the wealthiest 10% of Americans now hold 54% of America's wealth. The post-war average through 1982 was 34%. You can see a charter for yourself here (p. 6 in the pdf).

The last time the wealthiest 10% controlled this much wealth was 1929.

Boren didn't connect the dots, but the Republican (Reagan) Revolution largely explains both these facts. Reagan and Bush administrations cut taxes on the wealthy and dramatically increased borrowing to pay for defense spending and tax cuts. During the Clinton years, the top 10% did se their share of the national wealth increase from about 40% to around 45%, but Republicans controlled Congress for all but two of those years.

So, why should a number of Republican class warriors be brought into an Obama administration? Boren wants to strike deals with the extremists who have transformed America's political economy. Boren made an explicit and unfavorable comparison between the US and Brazil, where the wealthy (he claimed) have to hide in their homes behind the protection of armed guards.

Elsewhere, Matt Yglesias makes a case for partisan government.


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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

New Army Doctrine

The Army just released a new doctrine and it echoes the September 2002 National Security Strategy, which declared that "America is now threatened less by conquering states than we are by failing ones." That NSS served to justify wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which were both very weak states when the US went to war with them.

The Washington Post, October 5 has the details on the latest strategic plan:
The Army on Monday will unveil an unprecedented doctrine that declares nation-building missions will probably become more important than conventional warfare and defines "fragile states" that breed crime, terrorism and religious and ethnic strife as the greatest threat to U.S. national security.

...Today, such fragile states, if neglected, will pose mounting risks for the United States, according to Lt. Col. Steve Leonard, the manual's lead author. Weak states "create vast ungoverned areas that are breeding grounds for the threats that we fear the most, criminal networks, international terrorists, ethnic strife, genocide," he said. "The argument against it is: Forget all that; you still have . . . near peer competitors who are on the verge of closing the superpower gap."
The Post ran this story on p. A16, but my local paper had it on the front page above the fold.

In the October 2008 Atlantic Monthly, historian Andrew Bacevich writes that the development of the so-called "Petraeus Doctrine" meant that the Army is again fighting the last war -- Iraq -- instead of the next one.
According to the emerging Petrae­us Doctrine, the Army (like it or not) is entering an era in which armed conflict will be protracted, ambiguous, and continuous—with the application of force becoming a lesser part of the soldier’s repertoire...Historically, expectations that the next war will resemble the last one have seldom served the military well.
Bacevich fears that civilians will not engage in a debate with the professional military, meaning that "the power of decision may well devolve by default upon soldiers."

The Post story certainly suggests that the debate has been resolved within the army:
The stability operations doctrine is an engine that will drive Army resources, organization and training for years to come, Caldwell said, and Army officials already have detailed plans to execute it. The operations directive underpinning the manual "elevated stability operations to a status equal to that of the offense and defense," the manual reads, describing the move as a "fundamental change in emphasis" for the Army...

"It's certainly going to shape how we will allocate resources and how we direct training," said Col. Mike Redmond, director of the Army's stability operations division, who is executing an action plan to implement the doctrine with 157 different initiatives, such as directing the Army's medical command to develop plans advising foreign health ministries.
However, Bacevich notes dissent from Gian Gentile, an Army Lt. Col.
Iraq bids to transform the entire force into a “dead army walking.” We who believe this to be the case may be in error on some counts. Preparing to fight the last war will not be one of them.
The Post also quotes Gentile:
"All we need to do is look at Russia and Georgia a few months ago. That suggests the description . . . of future war is too narrow," said Col. Gian P. Gentile, an Iraq war veteran with a doctorate in history who is a leading thinker in the Army camp opposed to the new doctrine.

"I don't think the Army should transform itself into a light-infantry-based constabulary force," Gentile said. Instead, he said, "the organizing principle for the U.S. Army should be the Army's capability to fight on all levels of war."
For a defense of the transformation, Bacevich recommends consulting John Nagl's book.

This is an ironic end to the Bush era, given what GWB said about nation-building in his 2000 debates with Al Gore.


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Monday, October 06, 2008

Martial Law?

Last Thursday, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) accused bailout proponents of using extreme fear appeals to sell the rescue package. This is from The Congressional Record October 2, 2008:
The only way they can pass this bill is by creating and by sustaining a panic atmosphere. That atmosphere is not justified. Many of us were told in private conversations, if we voted against this bill, that, on Monday, the sky would fall and that the market would drop 2,000 or 3,000 points the first day and another 2,000 the second day. A few Members were even told that there would be martial law in America if we voted ``no.'' That's what I call fear mongering--unjustified, proven wrong.
Hat tip: Kathy G, who has a video link.

On his website, Sherman adds this:
In order to pass the Bill, Wall Street declared that unless they received $700 billion in unmarked bills, the Dow would drop by 4,000 points and blood would flow in the streets.
Despite the fact that bill was passed and signed into law, the Dow dropped 3.8% today (360 points). At one point, it was down nearly 8%, so the final number indicates a late rally. Keep in mind that this was the first full day of US trading since the bailout passed.


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Thursday, October 02, 2008

al Qaeda's electioneering

I just posted "al Qaeda's electioneering" over at Duck of Minerva.

Additionally, next Wednesday, I'm supposed to be interviewed by the BBC about US foreign policy and the election.


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Monday, September 29, 2008

Partisanship and the financial rescue

About 60% of House Democrats voted for the economic rescue package earlier today, even as over 2/3 of House Republicans voted against it. Nonetheless, the McCain campaign is blaming Obama and Democratic partisanship for the failure. McCain said the following a bit after 5 pm ET:
"Senator Obama and his allies in Congress infused unnecessary partisanship into the process. Now is not the time to affix the blame. It’s time to fix the problem. "
Forget for a moment the illogic in those consecutive sentences. What, specifically, does the McCain campaign reference as partisan? The answer is Nancy Pelosi's speech introducing the debate. Here's senior policy adviser Doug Holtz-Eakin:
Just before the vote, when the outcome was still in doubt, Speaker Pelosi gave a strongly worded partisan speech and poisoned the outcome. This bill failed because Barack Obama and the Democrats put politics ahead of country.
Read the speech and Speaker Pelosi blamed the Bush administration for the current crisis:
It [$700 billion] is a number that is staggering, but tells us only the costs of the Bush Administration’s failed economic policies—policies built on budgetary recklessness, on an anything goes mentality, with no regulation, no supervision, and no discipline in the system.

Democrats believe in the free market, which can and does create jobs, wealth, and capital, but left to its own devices it has created chaos.

That chaos is the dismal picture painted by Treasury Secretary Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke a week and a half ago in the Capitol.

As they pointed out, we confront a crisis of historic magnitude that has the ability to do serious injury not simply to our economy, but to the American people: not just to Wall Street, but to everyday Americans on Main Street.

It is our responsibility today, to help avert that catastrophic outcome.

Let us be clear: This is a crisis caused on Wall Street. But it is a crisis that reaches to Main Street in every city and town of the United States.

It is a crisis that freezes credit, causes families to lose their homes, cripples small businesses, and makes it harder to find jobs.

It is a crisis that never had to happen. It is now the duty of every Member of this body to recognize that the failure to act responsibly, with full protections for the American taxpayer, would compound the damage already done to the financial security of millions of American families.

Over the past several days, we have worked with our Republican colleagues to fashion an alternative to the original plan of the Bush Administration.
Now, compare that to what McCain said in Friday's debate:
we are seeing, for the first time in a long time, Republicans and Democrats together, sitting down, trying to work out a solution to this fiscal crisis that we're in.

And have no doubt about the magnitude of this crisis. And we're not talking about failure of institutions on Wall Street. We're talking about failures on Main Street, and people who will lose their jobs, and their credits, and their homes, if we don't fix the greatest fiscal crisis, probably in -- certainly in our time, and I've been around a little while.

But the point is -- the point is, we have finally seen Republicans and Democrats sitting down and negotiating together and coming up with a package.

This package has transparency in it. It has to have accountability and oversight. It has to have options for loans to failing businesses, rather than the government taking over those loans. We have to -- it has to have a package with a number of other essential elements to it.

And, yes, I went back to Washington, and I met with my Republicans in the House of Representatives. And they weren't part of the negotiations, and I understand that. And it was the House Republicans that decided that they would be part of the solution to this problem...

Somehow we've lost that accountability. I've been heavily criticized because I called for the resignation of the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. We've got to start also holding people accountable, and we've got to reward people who succeed.

But somehow in Washington today -- and I'm afraid on Wall Street -- greed is rewarded, excess is rewarded, and corruption -- or certainly failure to carry out our responsibility is rewarded...

look, we've got to fix the system. We've got fundamental problems in the system. And Main Street is paying a penalty for the excesses and greed in Washington, D.C., and on Wall Street.

So there's no doubt that we have a long way to go. And, obviously, stricter interpretation and consolidation of the various regulatory agencies that weren't doing their job, that has brought on this crisis.
If Pelosi repeats (and makes a bit more explicit) McCain's charges, then how is that overly partisan?

Who, exactly, presided over the failure of accountability? Who let greed call the shots on Wall Street and in Washington?

It was in the context of spending, but McCain offered the most scathing partisan attack issued over the past few days:
"We Republicans came to power to change government, and government changed us."
In this case, Republicans were supposed to deliver just 75 to 80 House votes and they failed.

The emergency rescue bill would have passed the House if 12 more Republicans (of 133 voting no) had joined their colleagues (plus 140 Democrats) and voted yes.


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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Trying to understand the foreign policy debate

At least seven times in Friday night's debate, Senator John McCain accused Senator Barack Obama of failing to understand an important dimension of national security policy. Let's review:

First, Iraq:
Senator Obama doesn't understand [1] the difference between a tactic and a strategy...There is social, economic progress, and a strategy, a strategy of going into an area, clearing and holding, and the people of the country then become allied with you. They inform on the bad guys. And peace comes to the country, and prosperity. That's what's happening in Iraq, and it wasn't a tactic.

...if we adopted Senator Obama's set date for withdrawal, then that will have a calamitous effect in Afghanistan and American national security interests in the region. Senator Obama doesn't seem to understand [2] there is a connected (sic) between the two...

Senator Obama still doesn't quite understand [3] -- or doesn't get it -- that if we fail in Iraq, it encourages al Qaeda. They would establish a base in Iraq...
What to make of all this?

Obviously, "the surge" is part of America's counterinsurgency approach in Iraq. Obama has long argued for a new US grand strategy; focusing on tactics within Iraq is not a sufficient way to discuss the national security problems of the US:
Senator McCain wants to talk of our tactics in Iraq; I want to focus on a new strategy for Iraq and the wider world.
If you read the July 15 speech I just linked, Obama clearly sees a relationship between Iraq and Afghanistan. In the debate, Obama noted that "al Qaeda and the Taliban have safe havens in Pakistan." Furthermore, "we took our eye off Afghanistan, we took our eye off the folks who perpetrated 9/11...we are having enormous problems in Afghanistan because of that decision" [to attack Iraq].

Obama should have directly dismissed the notion that al Qaeda would establish a base in Iraq if the US pulled out. Why would Sunni or Shia tolerate that? How would it be more threatening than the current safe haven in Pakistan? Previously, Obama has discussed a withdrawal strategy for Iraq that would retain capabilities for attacking the "remnants" of al Qaeda.

Afghanistan:
Senator Obama calls for more troops, but what he doesn't understand, [4] it's got to be a new strategy, the same strategy that he condemned in Iraq.
Obama, as noted, is calling for a new strategic prioritization of Afghanistan over Iraq. The July 15 speech:
"[T]he second goal of my new strategy will be taking the fight to al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan."
That address outlined a lot of specific measures to change US tactics in Afghanistan and Pakistan; "the surge" would not obviously be inconsistent with them.

Iran:
What Senator Obama doesn't seem to understand [5] that if without precondition you sit down across the table from someone who has called Israel a "stinking corpse," and wants to destroy that country and wipe it off the map, you legitimize those comments.
Obama pretty clearly explained what he meant by meeting without preconditions.
Now, understand what this means "without preconditions." It doesn't mean that you invite them over for tea one day. What it means is that we don't do what we've been doing, which is to say, "Until you agree to do exactly what we say, we won't have direct contacts with you."

There's a difference between preconditions and preparation. Of course we've got to do preparations, starting with low-level diplomatic talks, and it may not work, because Iran is a rogue regime.
Negotiation experts frequently point out that preconditions threaten to preclude negotiation -- and often fail the test of reciprocity. Moreover, the preconditions set by parties are often the precise goals of the diplomacy.

Imagine if Iran said that it wouldn't meet with the US unless America renounced the threat to use force. That precondition actually makes a lot of sense to many, but the current administration persistently says that "all options are on the table." It likely thinks that the threat to use force is part of its leverage in negotiations -- even if it would violate Article 2(4) of the UN Charter. Wouldn't Iran legitimize US illegality by meeting with the US without preconditions?

Next, Russia:
He doesn't understand [6] that Russia committed serious aggression against Georgia. And Russia has now become a nation fueled by petro-dollars that is basically a KGB apparatchik-run government.
From the August 9, Obama statement:
"Over the last two days, Russia has escalated the crisis in Georgia through it's clear and continued violation of Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity. On Friday, August 8, Russian military forces invaded Georgia. I condemn Russia's aggressive actions and reiterate my call for an immediate ceasefire. Russia must stop its bombing campaign, cease flights of Russian aircraft in Georgian airspace, and withdraw its ground forces from Georgia."
As for Putin's petro-dollar state, Obama used this as an opportunity to contrast his plan for energy independence -- built primarily on the promotion of alternative energy -- with McCain's many votes against alternative energy and his long-time support for oil interests. Over at the Duck of Minerva, Dan Nexon points out that Russia is now calling for a return to cooperative relations with the US and the international community!

Finally, Pakistan:
I don't think that Senator Obama understands [7] that there was a failed state in Pakistan when Musharraf came to power. Everybody who was around then, and had been there, and knew about it knew that it was a failed state.
These sentences immediately followed Obama's blistering attack of the status quo:
the problem, John, with the strategy that's been pursued was that, for 10 years, we coddled Musharraf, we alienated the Pakistani population, because we were anti-democratic. We had a 20th-century mindset that basically said, "Well, you know, he may be a dictator, but he's our dictator."

And as a consequence, we lost legitimacy in Pakistan. We spent $10 billion. And in the meantime, they weren't going after al Qaeda
The State Department's Richard Armitage caused a bit of a hullabaloo in early 2001 when he told Indian reporters that Pakistan might be viewed as a "rogue state." There's a great deal of difference between a rogue state and a failed state. Given its 1998 nuclear tests and its position on Kashmire, Pakistan was closer to a rogue than a failure when Musharraf's military coup toppled a democratically elected government in October 1999.

The State Failure Task Force phase 3 report from 2000 did not include Pakistan on its list of "Near-Total Failures of State Authority, 1955-1998" (the complete list is on p. 79). The report found times in Pakistan's past (1983 and before) when it was in serious trouble, but Pakistan was categorized as a "partial democracy" in the report.

If anything, the evidence suggests that Musharraf presided over Pakistan as it was moving toward failure.

As I said on Friday, I think it is pretty clear that Obama understands foreign policy. McCain perhaps fails to understand what foreign policy analysts mean by "grand strategy" and "failed state."


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Saturday, September 27, 2008

New banner

I'm not 100% happy with the new banner, but the old one had to go -- pictures of Tony Blair and Don Rumsfeld just didn't feel all that relevant anymore.

The original photos are all from government websites:



Feel free to play around with alternatives. I'm looking at roughly 600 by 100 pixels.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Instant Debate Analysis

1. John McCain kept saying "Senator Obama doesn't understand," but Barack Obama pretty clearly proved time and time again that he did.

2. Did McCain get the last word on every question? Whether he got the question first or last, he refused to let Obama have the last word. With the first point, this made him seem like a bully to me.

3. Obama blew the closing. I don't know why he talked about his Kenyan father when McCain had just said he wasn't qualified to be President. I suspect that people make their own judgments about qualifications, but I would have responded to something that outrageous.

4. McCain was able to dominate the agenda on economics. Obama let McCain make the discussion about taxes and spending, rather than unemployment and foreclosures.

5. Pundits are emphasizing how much Obama agreed with McCain, but that might have been intentional. Both guys have said they will bring a new kind of politics to Washington. Well, after 8 years of "my way or the highway," which guy seemed like the one who could work on a bipartisan basis to solve problems? First, you have to find room for agreement with opponents.


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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Duck

Today, at Duck of Minerva, I posted "For What It's Worth" about the recent deployment of an active Army brigade within the US. It's the first such homeland military deployment outside of a national emergency and it is meant to be permanent.

On Friday, September 12, I blogged "Kill the Invaders" about the Pakistani military's threat to shoot at US forces that cross their border to strike at the Taliban. The threat has now apparently escalated to violence.


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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Corporate Socialism

This seems like an appropriate week to blog about NY Times reporter David Cay Johnston's Free Lunch; How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You With the Bill). The collapse of investment firms on Wall Street presents a rare populist moment. It is not necessarily a good time to write a blank check to the elites of the investment class.

On April 7, 2008, The Nation published a review of Johnston's book by Daniel Brook. He provides a succinct summary of the book:
Johnston's contention is an audacious one: the level of inequality and corruption in contemporary America puts us in league not with our putative economic peers, Canada, Europe and Japan, but with Brazil, Mexico and Russia, countries "in which adults have the right to vote, but real political power is wielded by a relatively narrow, and rich, segment of the population." And, as in these unequal "democracies," American elites routinely raid the public purse rather than rely on the free market to succeed. Since the "Reagan revolution," and under the guise of privatization, deregulation and "market-based solutions," wealthy interests have set up a system that Johnston dubs "corporate socialism," in which they succeed through monopoly, public subsidy and even outright theft rather than through competition. And this rigged system, Johnston argues, is what's driving the new inequality off the charts. "Subsidy economics," he writes, "is at the core of the economic malaise felt for so long by a majority of Americans."
Compared to what's being debated this week -- $700 billion in corporate welfare -- Johnston's anecdotes are small potatoes. However, his overall economic data is eye-opening:
...[Johnston's] analysis of tax data, which he recapitulates in Free Lunch, shows that it is not merely the poor and middle class who are being left behind. Even those Americans in the ninety-fifth and ninety-ninth percentiles on the income scale haven't received outsized economic benefits over the past twenty-five years. The only people leaping ahead in winner-take-all America are in the top 1 percent--and more specifically the top .1 and .01 percents.
Incidentally, this data might explain a recent Pew Research result reported in the December 2007 Atlantic Monthly-- "19 percent of the wealthiest third of Americans see themselves as have-nots, suggesting that financial security is sometimes in the eye of the beholder."

Johnston's book looks like it is well worth a look.

As for the $700 billion bailout package -- I'm pretty skeptical of such a plan emerging from the Bush Treasury Department. Think about the administration's post-crisis record -- 9/11, Iraq, Katrina -- and then layer that with Bush economics, secrecy and outright deception. These guys typically provide cover for "looters with limos".


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