Archive for May, 2010

Brief Thoughts for the Week of 2010-05-28

Friday, May 28th, 2010

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Got too much to do

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

I’ve got too much to do to blog this week unfortunately. And next week, I’ll be away.

So, the blog will be undergoing a short month-long hiatus.

See you at the end of June!

Also, I’m working on a new format and some other ideas for how to present information I find interesting and useful that I’m planning on putting up in July.

(However, check in periodically if you wish. I may manage to blog a bit while away.)

The use of propaganda to re-define the political landscape

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Daniel Larison:

During the last sixteen months we have heard endlessly about Obama’s alleged “betrayals” of his “moderate, pragmatic” campaign and his pursuit of a “radical left-wing agenda” in defiance of the preferences of the majority. Republicans have been making these charges quite often despite the obvious “centrist” governance the administration has offered so far. The purpose of these charges is not to describe political realities. The goal is to re-define the political landscape and set down markers for future elections, so that there are ready-made ideological explanations for what happens later. It is no accident that these complaints have usually been coming from supporters of defeated, deeply discredited parties that are opposed by more than half of their countrymen.

Health Care Reform: A Test of Whether the Country Could Tackle Its Most Vexing, Long-Term, Systematic Problems

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Jonathan Cohn’s piece in The New Republic on how health care reform was passed is an excellent read. One of the most telling anecdotes was the story of how internally divided the administration was regarding pursuing health care reform at the start. The political advisers — Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod most prominently — favored avoiding the issue. And once significant push back was encountered, they favored abandoning comprehensive reform in favor of just tackling the problem of children without insurance. Of the prominent names in the White House who favored going forward through all these obstacles, the most famous and influential all opposed it. Save one — the one whose opinion mattered most. This particular passage probably best sums up the reason I saw health care reform as so essential:

Obama had come to view this debate as a proxy for the deepest, most systemic crises facing the country. It was a test, really: Could the country still solve its most vexing problems? If he abandoned comprehensive reform, he would be conceding that the United States was, on some level, ungovernable. Besides, several aides recall him saying, “I feel lucky.”

It’s only available in pieces currently to non-subscribers. But they’re releasing it in dribs and drabs to the rest: here’s Part OnePart Two, and Part Three. (Parts Four and Five have not yet been released.)

I have a feeling that when the retrospective histories of the Obama administration are written, the August-to-September 2009 period will be considered the turning point whereby Obama finally became comfortable in the office — and the moment the Obama administration began to gain some traction in making progress in this poisonous political environment — even against long-term systematic problems.

It was in this period that Obama made the Afghanistan policy his own — pushing back against the military forcefully even as he sided largely with their suggestions; and it was when Obama decided to go for health care reform even against a unified Republican opposition — and not just an easy bill, but one that went after the wrought issue of increasing health care spending.

This August-September period was when health care reform became about more than insuring millions of people — and instead became a test of whether or not Obama could break the hold of the idiocrats on our public conversation and make some small dent in tackling our systematic, long-term issues. It was tough; it was close; but the bill got done.

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Brief Thoughts for the Week of 2010-05-21

Friday, May 21st, 2010

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Must-Reads of the Week: The IRA, Journalism, Unsavory Profits, Bipartisanship, and the Tyranny of New York

Friday, May 21st, 2010

1. Double Agents in the IRA. I recently came across an excellent article by Matthew Teague in The Atlantic about the British counterintelligence program and the IRA. It’s from 2006, but still engrossing.

2. Restoring Journalism. Maureen Tkacik talks about her life as a journalist, the nothing-based economy, and the future of journalism:

If journalism’s more vital traditions of investigating corruption and synthesizing complex topics are going to be restored, it will never be at the expense of the personal, the sexual, the venal, or the sensational, but rather through mastering the kind of storytelling that understands that none of those things exists in a vacuum. For instance, perhaps the latest political sex scandal is not simply another installment of the unrelenting narcissism and sense of invincibility of people in power. Most of the journalists writing about it have—as we all do—some understanding of the internal conflicts that lead to personal failure. By humanizing journalism, we maybe can begin to develop a mutual trust between reader and writer that would benefit both.

What I’m talking about is, of course, a lot easier to do with the creative liberties afforded a blog—one’s humanity is inescapable when one commits to blogging all day for a living.

The piece is long, and worth every word. (H/t to John Cantwell.)

3. The Papacy, Blumenthal, and Now Goldman Sachs. The New York Times took on Goldman Sachs earlier this week with a look at the perfectly legal but unsavory practices it uses to make money:

Transactions entered into as the mortgage market fizzled may turn out to have been perfectly legal. Nevertheless, they have raised concerns among investors and analysts about the extent to which a variety of Wall Street firms put their own interests ahead of their clients’.

“Now it’s all about the score. Just make the score, do the deal. Move on to the next one. That’s the trader culture,” said Cornelius Hurley, director of the Morin Center for Banking and Financial Law at Boston University and former counsel to the Federal Reserve Board. “Their business model has completely blurred the difference between executing trades on behalf of customers versus executing trades for themselves. It’s a huge problem.”

4. Erroneous Assumptions. Matt Yglesias concisely summarizes what left-leaning advocates of bipartisanship have found time and again:

Oftentimes people reach the conclusions that conservatives might support this or that by the erroneous method of pretending that conservatives believe in the stated reasons for their policy positions. It seems to me that private views of wonks aside in practice the conservative political movement simply opposes anything that would increase government revenue and/or be bad for rich people.

5. The Tyranny of New York (cont). Continued from last week, many voices around the interwebs weighed in on the conversation started by Conor Friedersdorf on the tyranny of New York in media and culture. There’s a lot of good pieces to read on this — but the 2 I will recommend are this response in the New Yorker by Amy Davidson and this follow-up by Friedersdorf himself.  Davidson, as an aside mentions an E. B. White essay “Here Is New York” that I now need to read:

(Friedersdorf mentions “living vicariously through” E. B. White, who once wrote that there were three New Yorks, that of the native, the commuter, and the newcomer from smaller American places, and that “Of these trembling cities the greatest is the last—the city of final destination, the city that is a goal…Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness, natives give it solidity and continuity, but the settlers give it passion.” But I’ve never really bought that, as matchless as many of White’s descriptions of the city are, maybe because, as a native, I feel no shortage of passion, and don’t much like being called solid. And, again, for many of the most interesting newcomers, this is an entry point to America, not the “final destination.”)

[Image by me.]

Some brief thoughts on Rand Paul

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

All those people who brand Rand Paul a racist and use this clip to prove it aren’t worthy of serious consideration. It is either ignorance of libertarian philosophy or partisan hackery to claim so. It isn’t racism to claim that the government has no right to intervene in private businesses to stop discrimination.

As Ezra Klein explains though, it is relevant:

Paul’s defense of himself is that his take on the Civil Rights Act has nothing to do with race and so he is not a racist. But by the same token, the fact that Paul’s view on the Civil Rights Act is so dominated by his libertarian ideology that he cannot even admit race and segregation into the calculus is exactly why this is relevant to Paul’s candidacy, why it’s an issue and why it’s among the best evidence we have in understanding how he’ll vote on legislation that comes before him. If this isn’t about race, then it is about all questions relating to federal regulation of private enterprise. As a senator, Paul will be faced with that question frequently. And his views on it are clearly very, very far from the mainstream.

These libertarian views do reflect accurately an ideology whose language is gaining prominence in the GOP in the form of the Tea Party movement. This movement in its different incarnations has been around for some time, and emerged as a populist right-wing backlash to John F. Kennedy, to Bill Clinton, and now to Barack Obama. In each instance, the movement died as soon as it gained a toehold on power as it had no real agreed-upon agenda other than opposition to “liberalism=socialism=communism.”  Andrew Sullivan puts his finger on an important aspect of this:

[T]he tea-party movement [is] un-conservative. It is dealing with the world as it would like it to be, not as it is. It has an almost adolescent ideal it cannot compromise. I think that makes the movement, in its more serious incarnation (like Paul), a useful addition to the public debate, especially in reminding the GOP of some core principles it threw away under Bush and Cheney… Its bright, fixed glare also helps us illuminate what we believe in – merely by revealing what we no longer believe in.

I agree with Connor Friedsdorf and Andrew Sullivan and Daniel Larison that Rand Paul’s nomination is a good thing. Even if he wins the Senate seat, I see this as a good thing. To have his voice, his ideological clarity, as 1 of 100 would improve the Senate. The fact that his extremism could lead him to side with the Democrats on some issues (if he was able to resist the partisan pressures in Washington, which is a big if) and that his extremism could simultaneously help discredit and marginalize the GOP are both bonuses. Even without these, I would see his election as a net positive as it would give some measure of power to those people whose inchoate anger has helped form the Tea Party movement and force its members to make hard decisions about what they actually want.

Rand Paul is the rare right-wing politician who doesn’t just bad-mouth government but wants to get rid of the Federal Reserve, who opposes the government encroachment represented by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as the PATRIOT Act and the Affordable Care Act, who opposes Social Security and Medicare as well as any new additions from Obama. He would never campaign in favor of Medicare while calling Obamacare socialism — he would deride them both as such.

This is why I see Rand Paul as a clarifying figure who can help move our national debate forward — if he remains honest.

[Image by Gage Skidmore licensed under Creative Commons.]

An Epidemic of Not Watching

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

In lieu of reading some of my comments today, I suggest you read Peter Beinart’s trenchant article in the New York Review of Books on “the failure of the American Jewish Establishment” looking at some disturbing trends in Israeli politics and culture and the “epidemic of not watching among American Zionists.” Beinart fears that if current trends continue, the more right-wing and even racist younger generation of Israelis will lose their connection to the younger liberal American Jews and would instead rely upon the support of Orthodox American Jews and evangelical Christians who support the Jewish state largely because it’s existence will purportedly hasten the End Times.

There’s a lot of commentary on this which has been interesting — but the piece itself is by far the most insightful.

How Lawless and Increasingly Violent is the Arizona-Mexico Border? Not Very.

Monday, May 17th, 2010

I’m impressed with Jake Tapper’s handling of This Week in the interim before Christiane Amanpour takes over in August. Tapper seems committed to widening the opinions voiced on the show from the typical “Beltway” crowd to some of those voices most influential in the Beltway who are critical of it. Which means bringing on Glenn Greenwald and Bill Maher. I’m still waiting on his bringing in some conservatives similarly positioned as “outsiders” while being very influential in the Beltway. Maher and Greenwald substantially influence our political conversation while never before being given the opportunity to intrude on the polite Sunday morning territory and confront the people they so regularly criticize. In the same spirit, Tapper has added a fact check component to his show — in which Politifact evaluates the truthfulness of factual claims made in his interviews. This is a huge improvement given the churning of misinformation that seems to be the main purpose some leaders use it for.

The quality of Tapper’s program was brought to mind watching this clip of Mike Murphy, a Republican political operative and frequent guest on Meet the Press. (For what it’s worth, Mike Murphy seems a genuinely likable guy and often, even a straight-shooter — and I don’t mean this as an attack on him personally.) If David Gregory allowed a fact checker to go over the claims of his guests, then perhaps the above-moment with the very inside-the-Beltway figure of Mike Murphy would not have happened. Because you see that moment was entirely fact-free. Entirely. Yet, Mike Murphy’s statement represents an oft-repeated “fact” in the opinion media — especially on the right. And it is driving the actual policy of the state of Arizona.

Let’s look at Mike Murphy’s claims and the facts:

It’s a lawless frontier because of the failure of the Obama administration to protect the American border. People are getting killed and murdered.  It has become really bad in Arizona.

Describing illegal immigration in partisan terms as a “failure of the Obama administration” seems best explained as a fudge rather than a blatant lie. It’s been an ongoing problem that as a nation we do not control our borders and maintain a law which cannot be enforced. Gregory interjects as Murphy is speaking, “This goes back before Obama, though, to be fair.” However, by stating such, Gregory seems to be conceding Murphy’s general point.

But look at the stats on this “People are getting killed and murdered” bit — which “has become really bad in Arizona,” according to Murphy, as he voices the “Conventional Wisdom” accepted by David Gregory as well. Yet there have been exactly four (4) murders along this supposedly lawless frontier in the past year. One of them generated thousands of headlines about the scourge of illegal immigration, the death of the rancher Robert Krentz. These anti-immigrant activists who talk casually of “People getting killed and murdered” (as if to double the impact of each homicide) — of the overall situation being “really bad” — even of, specifically, many ranchers being killed — always seem to point to this single example — Robert Krentz. I’ve seen no news story or other evidence linking more than this one death to border crossing. I’ve asked a number of people who have said this to point to some statistic — and instead I get the story of Robert Krentz, being exploited for politics. Remember: Arizona’s border is supposed to be the worst example of a lawless border and yet there is this single example which is always pointed to in order to justify the claim of plural murders — and even huge amounts of violence. I do not doubt there are other deaths along the border — perhaps on the Mexican side — of people trying to make the illegal crossing themselves and dying of thirst or other privation.

Mike Murphy follows this up by doubling down on his above false claim in an attempt to both place the blame for this historic problem on the Obama administration and make the case that Arizona’s very violent crime rate along the border is getting worse:

[I]t’s gotten, it’s gotten worse and worse.

To be fair to Murphy, one could consider that he means that any level of violence is bad — and that it is getting worse. So, let’s take this as a separate claim — that Murphy is instead claiming that violence along the border is increasing. CNN reported:

According to FBI statistics, violent crimes reported in Arizona dropped by nearly 1,500 reported incidents between 2005 and 2008. Reported property crimes also fell, from about 287,000 reported incidents to 279,000 in the same period. These decreases are accentuated by the fact that Arizona’s population grew by 600,000 between 2005 and 2008.

Let’s give Mike Murphy the benefit of the doubt and assume he meant that the overall problem of illegal immigration into Arizona has “gotten worse and worse” under the Obama administration. Homeland Security helpfully provides statistics on this which I have compiled into this chart:

This drop in illegal immigration isn’t due to any Bush, Obama, or local level actions. It’s due to the recession.

However, another consequence of a recession is a surge in anti-immigrant sentiment.

Which explains why Mike Murphy along with much of the Republican establishment is out there demagoguing illegal immigrants by making false claims about all these murders and violence: Because during times of economic trouble, people look to scapegoat someone for their troubles — and immigrants, especially illegal ones, get some of the blame.

But let’s stop with this pretense of “violent illegal immigrants.” That is the stuff of demagogues and prejudice as it simply is not based on facts.

Instead, let us acknowledge forthrightly that the excitement over this issue is being drive by cultural and economic resentment rather than “violence.”

Brief Thoughts for the Week of 2010-05-14

Friday, May 14th, 2010

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