Posts Tagged ‘Texas’

Must-Reads of the Week: The Obama 20-somethings, Graham’s Cojones, Fannie/Freddie, Naive Conspiracy Theorists, Saban, Obama=Socialism, Political Imitations, Underdogs, Lost!, and Julián Castro

Friday, May 7th, 2010

This is a busy season for me — but there should be some more substantive blog posts next week…

1. The Obama 20-somethings. Ashley Parker for the New York Times Magazine profiles “all the Obama 20-somethings” in an interesting profile of the new crowd in D.C. of smart, highly educated, highly motivated, civic-minded, young Obama staffers.

2. Lindsey Graham’s Cojones. You gotta hand it to Lindsey Graham — if nothing else, he’s got guts — from Dana Milbank of the Washington Post:

The lone pro-gun lawmaker to engage in the fight was the fearless Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who rolled his eyes and shook his head when Lieberman got the NYPD’s Kelly to agree that the purchase of a gun could suggest that a terrorist “is about to go operational.”

“I’m not so sure this is the right solution,” Graham said, concerned that those on the terrorist watch list might be denied their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

“If society decides that these people are too dangerous to get on an airplane with other people, then it’s probably appropriate to look very hard before you let them buy a gun,” countered Bloomberg.

“But we’re talking about a constitutional right here,” Graham went on. He then changed the subject, pretending the discussion was about a general ban on handguns. “The NRA — ” he began, then rephrased. “Some people believe banning handguns is the right answer to the gun violence problem. I’m not in that camp.”

Graham felt the need to assure the witnesses that he isn’t soft on terrorism: “I am all into national security. . . . Please understand that I feel differently not because I care less about terrorism.”

Jonathan Chait comments:

There’s a pretty hilarious double standard here about the rights of gun owners. Remember, Graham is one of the people who wants the government to be able to take anybody it believes has committed an act of terrorism, citizen or otherwise, and whisk them away to a military detention facility where they’ll have no rights whatsoever. No potential worries for government overreach or bureaucratic error there. But if you’re on the terrorist watch list, your right to own a gun remains inviolate, lest some innocent gun owner be trapped in a hellish star chamber world in which his fun purchase is slowed by legal delays.

3. Why Isn’t Fannie/Freddie Part of FinReg? Ezra Klein explains why regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac isn’t in the financial regulation bill.

4. Naive Conspiracy Theorists. William Saletan contributes to the whole epistemic closure debate with a guide on how not to be closed-minded politically, including this bit of advice:

Sanchez goes through a list of bogus or overhyped stories that have consumed Fox and the right-wing blogosphere: ACORN, Climategate, Obama’s supposed Muslim allegiance, and whether Bill Ayers wrote Obama’s memoir. Conservatives trapped in this feedback loop, he notes, become “far too willing to entertain all sorts of outlandish new ideas—provided they come from the universe of trusted sources.” When you think you’re being suspicious, you’re at your most gullible.

5. Saban. Connie Bruck in the New Yorker profiles Haim Saban, best known for bringing the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers to the United States — but who made much of his fortune licensing the rights to cartoon music internationally. As a side hobby, he tries to influence American foreign policy towards Israel. He doesn’t come off very well in the piece, but at least this one observation seems trenchant to me at first glance:

Saban pointed out that, in the late nineties, President Clinton had pushed Netanyahu very hard, but behind closed doors. “Bill Clinton somehow managed to be revered and adored by both the Palestinians and the Israelis,” he said. “Obama has managed to be looked at suspiciously by both. It’s not too late to fix that.”

6. The Obama=Socialism Canard. Jonathan Chait rather definitively deflates Jonah Goldberg’s faux-intellectual, Obama=socialism smear:

For almost all Republicans, the point of labeling Obama socialist is not to signal that he’s continuing the philosophical tradition of Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter and Clinton. The point is to signal the opposite: that Obama embodies a philosophy radically out of character with American history. Republicans have labeled Obama’s agenda as “socialism” because the term is widely conflated with Marxism, even though Goldberg concedes they are different things, and because “liberalism” is no longer a sufficiently scary term. Republicans endlessly called Bill Clinton a liberal, Al Gore a liberal — the term has lost some of its punch. So Obama must be something categorically different and vastly more frightening.

Goldberg is defending the tactic by arguing, in essence, that liberalism is a form of socialism, and Obama is a liberal, therefore he can be accurately called a socialist. But his esoteric exercise, intentionally or not, serves little function other than to dress up a smear in respectable intellectual attire. [my emphasis]

7. Imitating the Imitators of the Imitation. This Politico piece by Mike Allen and Kenneth P. Vogel explains how some elite Republicans are trying to set up a right wing equivalent of the left wing attempt to imitate the right wing’s media-think tank-political infrastructure:

Two organizers of the Republican groups even made pilgrimages earlier this year to pick the brain of John Podesta, the former Clinton White House chief of staff who, in 2003, founded the Center for American Progress and was a major proponent of Democrats developing the kind of infrastructure pioneered by Republicans.

And of course, that right wing infrastructure was meant to imitate the left wing policy-media infrastructure of the left — the Brookings-New York Times axis. The whole imitation of imitation of imitation of imitation — spawning more and more organizations — reminds me a bit of those old Mad magazine comic strips:

8. The Underdog. Daniel Engber in Slate explores the underdog effect and various scientific studies of the underdog effect, including how it affects expectations:

The mere act of labeling one side as an underdog made the students think they were more likely to win.

9. Lost! Ed Martin in the Huffington Post is concerned with how the tv show Lost will end:

Not to put too much pressure on Lindelof and Cuse, but the future of broadcast television will to some extent be influenced by what you give us over these next few weeks.

10. Julián Castro. Zev Chafets of the New York Times Magazine profiles Julián Castro, mayor of San Antonio, Texas, and one of the up-and-coming Democrats. The article entirely elided his policy ideas or and barely mentioned his political temperament — but was interesting nevertheless.

[Image by me.]

“Outsiders are what people want right now.”

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

From James C. McKinly, Jr. and Clifford Kraus in the New York Times‘s reporting of the Republican party primary yesterday in Texas:

“You have got to give Rick Perry and his team a great deal of credit for being the longest-serving governor in Texas history and still running a campaign as an outsider,” said Mark Sanders, a Republican consultant. “Outsiders are what people want right now.”

Funding Both Sides of Mexico’s Drug War

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

We’re supplying the weapons and funding to both sides in the civil war between the Mexican drug cartels and the central government.

Republican state senator from Arizona, John Paton, is quoted by Randal C. Archibold in The New York Times summarizing our relationship with Mexico:

They send us drugs and people, and we send them guns and cash.

Though he probably didn’t intend it so, this remark works on several levels, illustrating how some of our current policies are the largest factors contributing to the destabilization of Mexico.

On the one hand, as Rick Perry, Republican governor of Texas, recently acknowledged:

Many of the guns aimed at Mexican law enforcement passed through our state, as did so many of the dollars funding those violent gangs.

It is estimated that $12 – $15  billion dollars is funneled to Mexico through the illegal drug trade and as James C. McKinley, Jr. in the New York Times reported:

A.T.F. officials estimate 90 percent of the weapons recovered in Mexico come from dealers north of the border.

In addition to weapons from legitimate dealers, some significant number of weapons have apparently been stolen from U.S. military bases and gotten into the hands of the Mexican cartels, which are now more heavily armed than the local police and in some cases, the military. Many members – and indeed, some entire police forces – have been coopted by the cartels through a combination of bribery and violence. Mexico’s former drug czar was arrested for taking bribes from the cartels; the Juarez police chief resigned after the cartels began systematically killing police officers until he resigned; just last week, a top investigative police officer was killed along with 10 members of his family.  More than 6,000 people were killed last year in Mexico’s war. Even allowing for politically expedient exaggeration, the fact that a top Mexican cabinet official would claim that the power of the drug cartels has grown to such a level that “the next president of the republic [could] be a narco-trafficker” demonstrates how serious a force the drug cartels are.

At the same time as American dollars and American guns have been powering the cartels, the America government has been funding the Mexican government’s war against the cartels. Most recently, with the Mérida Initiative, American has begun to funnel almost half a billion dollars a year to the Mexican government – most of it in the form of weaponry. A local television station described it as:

a plan to give 1 point four billion dollars in weapons and training to Mexico called the Merida Initiative is still under fire. Critics say arming Mexico could backfire…like it has in the past with other countries. But Kilburn says this plan seems well thought out.

“You are talking about buying heavy equipment, machinery, surveillance helicopters, airplanes and these things are less likely to get in the wrong hands.”

The cartels have taken to smuggling drugs in submarines; they have stolen U.S. army equipement; they often outgun the Mexican police; former Drug Czar General Barry McCaffrey described the situation:

The outgunned Mexican law enforcement authorities face armed criminal attacks from platoon-sized units employing night vision goggles, electronic intercept collection, encrypted communications, fairly sophisticated information operations, sea-going submersibles, helicopters and modern transport aviation, automatic weapons, RPG’s, Anti-Tank 66 mm rockets, mines and booby traps, heavy machine guns, 50 [caliber] sniper rifles, massive use of military hand grenades, and the most modern models of 40mm grenade machine guns.

But these items we are giving now are “less likely to get in the wrong hands.” I’m relieved.

The violence in Mexico is escalating. The San Francisco Chronicle recently called Mexico:

the latest and most sweeping test of the “too big to fail” imperative as White House policymakers try to steady a shaky world…

Given our current situation – funding and supplying weapons to both sides of this war on our border – it’s hard to see how can prevent Mexico from failing. The gun laws – and enforcement of laws preventing gun smuggling across the border – can be tweaked and made more effective. But this is not enough. We are contributing $400 odd million to combat the cartels and supplying the cartels with tens of billions of dollars at the same time. Yet, we cannot allow these violent gangs to take over Mexico – and we should not countenance their undermining of the rule of law in Mexico. Our prohibitionist approach is failing; our war is failing; what we must do is take a step back and evaluate our Drug War policies from a strategic perspective and see what changes we can make that might help stabilize our neighbor. 

Arizona’s attorney general, Terry Goddard, is careful not to suggest he supports the decriminalization of marijuana, but the facts he offers do suggest a course of action:

Right now, the item that’s fueling the violent cartels, the murders in Mexico, the cartel wars that are going on right now that have resulted in over 1,000 deaths this year, I think we need to take a very aggressive stand on that and marijuana is the number one producer for the cartels. Sixty to 70 percent of their gross profits comes from marijuana. So, I think we need to look very hard at something we haven’t looked at for years.

As the report recently issued by the former presidents of Mexico, Brazil, and Columbia stated:

Current drug repression policies are firmly rooted in prejudices, fears and ideological visions. 

The report went on to suggest what is beginning to look like the consensus, common-sense approach: if we can’t win while funding both sides of this war, we should try to dry up the source of funding and decriminalize, perhaps even legalize, marijuana.