Saturday, February 28, 2009

Is "Rosy" Back? Economists Question Obama's Economic Forecasting

President Barack Obama seeks to slice the enormous federal budget deficit in half by 2013. This seems like an impossible task, especially in light of the magnitude of the deficit he inherited from Bush, the increasing rate of government spending, and the implementation of new tax cuts.

But if the economy recovers as rapidly as Obama anticipates that it will, he might actually accomplish his goal. Many economists, however, question the administration's economic forecasts because they greatly exceed the projections of private economists and the Congressional Budget Office.

Here's a clip from a Yahoo News article on the story:
"They used to joke during the Reagan years that the highest-ranking woman in the administration was Rosy Scenario," said Nariman Behravesh, the chief economist at IHS Global Insight, a major private forecasting firm.

Rosy may be back in town, said Behravesh, who called the Obama administration's forecasts "way too optimistic."

For its part, the administration insisted that it hadn't cooked the books to show greater growth, and thus more tax revenues, in coming years. But the administration forecast is far higher than the projections for growth in the overall economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, of many private analysts. . . .

GDP plays the biggest role in determining the accuracy of deficit forecasts because weaker-than-expected growth swells government payments for such things as unemployment benefits and food stamps and reduces tax receipts.

In its budget, the administration predicted that the overall economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, will shrink by 1.2 percent this year but will grow by a solid 3.2 percent in 2010. That growth would be followed by even stronger increases of 4 percent in 2011, 4.6 percent in 2012 and 4.2 percent in 2013.

By contrast, the consensus of forecasters surveyed by Blue Chip Economic Indicators in February predicted that the GDP will fall by a larger 1.9 percent this year and then increase at weaker rates of 2.1 percent in 2010, 2.9 percent in 2011 and 2012 and 2.8 percent in 2013.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Obama v. Pelosi v. Reid: Top Democrats Challenge Obama on Assault Weapons Ban

The "Urban Policy" section of WhiteHouse.Gov contains a discussion of President Obama's positions on many issues including "Crime and Law Enforcement." With respect to criminal law policy, the website states that Obama and Biden "support making the expired federal Assault Weapons Ban permanent." The language refers to the now expired Assault Weapons Ban Act of 1994; the original statute phased out after 10 years. During his presidential campaign, Obama promised to renew the ban, and yesterday, Eric Holder announced that the administration would indeed seek to reinstate the policy.

Not so fast -- say Pelosi and Reid. According to The Hill, the two top Democrats in Congress do not want to bring back the ban. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, known favorably and pejoratively as a "San Francisco Liberal," said that instead of reviving the law, the government should "enforce the laws we have right now." And an aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that "Reid would oppose an effort [to] reinstate the ban. . . ." Neither Obama nor Holder have commented on this matter to the media.

Holder Statement: A New High for Medical Pot Proponents?

Medical marijuana advocates have long believed that President Obama would stop enforcing federal drug laws against medical pot users. Yesterday, they got a new high from Attorney General Eric Holder's statements on the issue:
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is sending strong signals that President Obama - who as a candidate said states should be allowed to make their own rules on medical marijuana - will end raids on pot dispensaries in California.

Asked at a Washington news conference Wednesday about Drug Enforcement Administration raids in California since Obama took office last month, Holder said the administration has changed its policy.

"What the president said during the campaign, you'll be surprised to know, will be consistent with what we'll be doing here in law enforcement," he said. "What he said during the campaign is now American policy."
I have always suspected that if Obama did anything on this issue, it would not come as a formal policy directive (such as an executive order). Holder's statement that Obama's campaign promise is "now American policy" suggests that is true.

But a lot of issues remain fuzzy. First, according to news accounts, Holder only addresses the specific question of federal raids on medical marijuana distributors, but he does not comment on the enforcement of federal law against the usage or possession of pot in other contexts. Even if the government does not conduct raids on large distributors of medical marijuana, it could still arrest and prosecute general distributors or users. Furthermore, if the anti-drug crowd goes up in flames over lax enforcement of federal law, Obama might reconsider the matter. But for now, the pot legalization crowd probably has a little buzz.

New Democratic Organization Wants To Chase Moderates Out of Office

A group of left-leaning Democrats have created a new organization called "Accountability Now," which will sponsor election challenges against moderate Democrats. The group, which has support from MoveOn.Org and the Service Employees International Union, hopes to move Democrats in Congress to the left, so that they will support President Obama's initiatives and respond to the people who elected them.

Two Things
First: Politics is very local. Many moderate Democrats embrace the center due to their own ideological background and for political necessity. This is true of both parties. Blue-state Republicans and red-state Democrats are often moderates. And their constituents (or "the people who elected them") are moderates as well.

If Accountability Now does not recognize this, its efforts could fail or even backfire (i.e., cause the election of Republicans). Republican candidates could take advantage of discord among Democrats. Also, in order to gain money and other assistance from the group, candidates could "punk" the organization by running to the left during the primaries but then dashing to the center in the general election -- which leads me to my second "thing."

Second thing: Why does the group believe that Obama wants to move or that he will move to the left? I strongly believe that social movement pressure can force moderate presidents to the left or right. Accordingly, I admire the efforts of liberals, including the founders of Accountability Now, who choose to organize around progressive politics. But I have not witnessed broad social movement activity surrounding Obama, and I doubt that one organization can do the work required of many.

According to opinion polls, Democrats (and independents) remain extraordinarily pleased with Obama. Consequently, most liberal activists have done very little in terms of publicly criticizing or pushing him on any issue. Many liberals have in fact defended him or remained remarkably silent even though he has replicated some policies (such as rendition, use of state secrets privilege, etc.) that the Left passionately contested during the Bush administration. So long as most voters remain pleased with Obama, he will have no incentive to move to the left (or right). Concerted pressure might accomplish this goal, but Accountability Now needs help from other progressives.

Finally, during the Democratic primaries, groups like MoveOn.Org and Service Employees International Union proudly supported Obama, whom they portrayed as a leftist dream come true. Now that Obama has grabbed the political center and has even embraced some of Bush's most despised policies, these groups believe they need to push him and other Democrats to the left. Even though they mistakenly assumed that Obama was a leftist, they still insist that they can isolate "real" leftists to challenge moderate Democrats and that their handpicked leftists will then push Obama -- whom they previously believed was a leftist -- to the left. Well, even though I'm cynical, I'll keep my eyes on this one -- and even send a contribution!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Pregnancy, HIV, and Sexual Morality: GOP Lamaker's Statement Causes Flap in Colorado , But Both Sides Are Being Hypocrites

Here's another "bah humbug" moment, courtesy of Dissenting Justice. Colorado lawmakers are considering proposed legislation that would require doctors to conduct HIV testing of all pregnant women. A woman could decline to submit to the test, but doctors would have to record her refusal in her medical records. The child's birth certificate would also state whether or not the mother submitted to the HIV test. The Colorado Senate website has a draft of the bill (note: the "marked up" document shows all of the edits to the bill).

Republican Senator Refuses to Help Promiscuous Women
Yesterday, the Colorado Senate passed the measure by a vote of 32-1. Despite the bipartisan support for the measure, a Republican senator's comments sparked partisan flames. Senator David Shultheis opposes the measure on the grounds that it would benefit "promiscuous" women:
"This stems from sexual promiscuity for the most part, and I just can't go there . . . ."

"We do things continually to remove the consequences of poor behavior, unacceptable behavior, quite frankly. I'm not convinced that part of the role of government should be to protect individuals from the negative consequences of their actions."
Earlier this week, another Republican state senator, Scott Renfroe, invoked the Bible and attempted to link "homosexuality" with murder during a debate on the extension of health benefits for the partners of gay and lesbian state workers. Together, the comments of Shultheis and Renfroe caused some Democrats to question Republican "leadership," even though the Senate Minority Leader, a Republican, co-sponsored the HIV-testing bill.

Some Democrats have also argued that individuals who are "pro-life" must support the bill in order to remain logically consistent. Former Governor Bill Owens, for example, argues that: "It's extremely inconsistent for any person who is pro-life to oppose this effort to potentially save the life of a child. . . ."

My Take: Both Sides Are Switching Sides a Bit
Let me state the obvious before continuing. I strongly disagree with Shultheis' position. Promiscuity is not the sole cause of HIV, and even if it were, this does not discredit the policy behind the legislation -- to provide appropriate medical care to pregnant women in order to prevent the transmission of HIV to their unborn children.

The Bill Places Fetal Health Above the Woman's Privacy
Despite my opposition to Shultheis, I disagree with the notion that only pro-lifers are switching sides. Pro-choice advocates (myself included) justify the right to an abortion on the grounds that the state should not inject itself into a woman's decisions related to her pregnancy, including whether or not she will terminate it. The woman's privacy interest is so strong that it defeats the state's interest in potential life until the moment of viability. And even after viability, abortion must remain available if it is necessary to protect the life or health of the mother. In sum, the right gives women a fairly strong liberty interest.

Liberals (and conservatives), however, support this measure which involves state regulation of medical decisions surrounding pregnancy. Although women have the right to decline testing, their medial records and their children's birth certificates will indicate whatever choice they make. Placing the decision in a woman's medical records will make it available for insurance companies as well. This contradicts the abortion rights discourse which places a premium on privacy and autonomy over pregnancy-related medical decisions.

The Bill Erodes the Privacy of HIV/AIDS Patients
Furthermore, progressives have always frowned upon mandatory HIV testing and have advocated anonymous testing upon request. The bill provides for mandatory testing - with a potentially weak escape hatch - but it does not offer anonymous testing. Pro-choice politicians have decided to compromise the autonomy of pregnant women in order to protect the health of potential life -- a position that conflicts with the reasoning of Roe v Wade (a decision I strongly support).

At least one liberal blogger has framed the issue the way I have. Ari Armstrong, of the blog Free Colorado, agrees that this legislation rests on logic that could undermine pro-choice arguments:
In recent years, Republicans opposed to abortion have been most interested in politically managing pregnancy care, as by trying to require ultrasounds prior to an abortion. . . .

If the state legislature "encourages" women to be tested for HIV, for the purported sake of the fetus, legislators open the door to future efforts to politically control medicine to restrict abortions. Leftists who endorse 179 while wanting to keep abortion legal are incapable of thinking in principle or seeing more than a few months down the legislative road.
Solution: Protecting Life Without Eroding Privacy
The incidence of pregnancy-related HIV transmission is extremely small. But if the state wants to lessen the rate (which is a valid goal), it should do so in a way that does not deprive women of privacy surrounding their test results. Recording the woman's decision on her child's birth certificate and medical records seems unnecessary and too great a restraint on privacy.

If the state, however, believes that the issue is so compelling that it should intrude upon the rights of pregnant women, liberals need to accept that they are compromising the liberty of pregnant women in order to promote a broader health policy agenda. Ultimately, liberals (and others) who support the bill might have the better argument. Nevertheless, when liberals only emphasize the potential health benefits to the fetus, they distort the reality that women will lose autonomy if the bill becomes a law. Finally, when liberals defend the proposed legislation by focusing exclusively on the the health of potential life, their arguments sound exactly like the rhetoric pro-lifers use when they oppose abortion.

GITMO: Why Is Obama Closing Such a Professional, Lawfully Run Facility?

Before his inauguration, President Obama announced that once he took office he would immediately start the process of closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center. The detention center has received deep criticism from domestic and foreign human rights advocates, civil liberties activists, and from liberal politicians. Many commentators have argued that Obama's election will allow the United States to move beyond its damaged global reputation because Obama will remedy civil liberties violations and end practices such as indefinite detention, "harsh" interrogations, and other procedural harms that gave Bush and the country a bad reputation in many parts of the world.

During his first week in office, Obama lived up to his promise and issued an executive order which requires the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center within one year. But the administration's position regarding the detention center has evolved tremendously this week as a result of two major developments.

First, Admiral Patrick Walsh of the Navy completed a review of the facility, which Obama commissioned. The Walsh report concludes that the detention facility complies with the Geneva Conventions. Walsh makes minor recommendations for improving the lives of detainees, such as giving certain "dangerous" individuals more outdoor recreation time. Human rights activists have condemned the report.

Second, Attorney General Holder has just completed a tour of the facility, and he also gives it a favorable review. Holder says that he is "impressed" by the "professionalism" of the staff at the facility. Holder also says that he did not witness any mistreatment of detainees. Instead, Holder says that he "saw a conscious attempt by those guards to conduct themselves in an appropriate way." Perhaps a visit by the Attorney General of the United States caused them to exhibit their best behavior. Everyone wants to impress the boss (or the boss's lawyer), right?

Question: If the Guantanamo Bay detention center is legally and professionally run, why is Obama closing it? I suspect that the decision to close the detention center has a lot to do with the president's campaign promises and the utter contempt that many liberals have for the facility.

But the decision to close the center could also form part of a broader strategy to send detainees to Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan where, arguably, they would not qualify for habeas corpus (like Guantanamo Bay detainees). The Obama administration has already embraced Bush's position that detainees at Bagram are not entitled to habeas corpus and that the government can try them in military commissions. Also, Holder and Solicitor General Elena Kagan have both argued that the United States can indefinitely detain Al Qaeda suspects, regardless of whether they were caught on the battlefield. CIA Director Leon Panetta has also said that the CIA will continue the practice of rendition, a program which transfers individuals to other countries without the formal procedures associated with extradition. Combining all of these powers, Bagram could end up becoming Obama's GITMO.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

You Won't Believe Your Eyes: Despite Anti-Earmark Fervor and Economic Crisis, Proposed Budget Would Fund Thousands of Pork Projects

Last Year: Earmarks = The Bubonic Plague
Last year, the major presidential candidates each made very moralistic arguments condemning "earmarks." Earmarks are provisions in federal budget legislation which direct agencies to spend allocated money on specific projects.

Obama made opposition to earmarks a centerpiece of his campaign. He even pledged not to request any earmarks for fiscal year 2009. And during his speech to Congress on Tuesday, Obama proudly announced that the stimulus was "free of earmarks." Furthermore, Obama, Clinton, and McCain all co-sponsored an unsuccessful legislative provision that would have imposed a one-year moratorium on earmarks. Boy have things changed!

This Year: Earmarks = "What We Do"
Although Obama fought off efforts by lawmakers who wanted to insert earmarks into the stimulus package, it seems that he might have capitulated this time around. According to an article on Bloomberg.Com, the House will soon approve a budget that contains $7.7 billion in funding for 8,570 special projects (roughly 2% of the budget).

Legislation which passed during the Fall of 2008 contains an additional $6.6 billion in earmarks. Despite all of the anti-earmark rhetoric during the presidential campaign, the nonpartisan watchdog Taxpayers for Common Sense estimates that the total amount of earmarks for 2009 (if the earmarks are not slashed from the final bill) is only $500 million less than last year's total.
The top Senators from both parties have responded to the earmark issue. Senator Harry Reid defends earmarks as allowing Congress to exercise its constitutional authority over spending. Directing spending is "what we do," Reid says. His argument is not without merit. In the absence of a specific allocation, the executive agencies have wide latitude over the use of budgetary authority. But this certainly contradicts the message that the candidates advanced during the presidential campaign. Reid has a response for this too: Congress is "a separate branch of government."

Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, who once bragged about his ability to bring bacon to his home state of Kentucky, says that he worries less about the "content" of the budget than its overall size. In other words, the inclusion of earmarks in the budget does not bother McConnell. Because both parties have padded the bill with earmarks, the position by Reid and McConnell should not surprise readers.

Examining the Pork
The Bloomberg article provides details of some of the pork in the proposed budget. Also, the Taxpayers for Common Sense website has a very extensive description of earmarks in the proposed budget, which the organization continues to update (here is the link).

Below, I have summarized some of the proposed earmarks. Do you consider these expenditures "reasonable," given the current economic crisis?

* 400,000, to combat bullying in Montana (huh?)

* 1.8 million, "swine odor and manure management in Iowa" (I suspect this might be a fairly important environmental issue in an agricultural state like Iowa)

* 900,000, Chicago's Adler Planetarium (requested by Rahm Emanuel before he left the House)

* 190,000, Chicago's Children's Memorial Research Center (Emanuel)

* 238,000, Academy for Urban School Leadership (Emanuel)

* 190,000, Advocate Health Care (Emanuel)

* 95,000, Kohl Children Museum of Greater Chicago (Emanuel)

* 95,000, Peoria Riverfront Museum (requested by Ray LaHood before he became Transportation Secretary)

* 381,000, University of Illinois College of Medicine (LaHood)

* 951,500, Sustainable Las Vegas (Shelley Berkeley and Harry Reid)

* 143,000, Las Vegas Natural History Museum (Reid)

* 190,000, Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody Wyoming (Barbara Cubin)

* 381,000 for Jazz at Lincoln Center, New York City (Jerrold Nadler)

Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen -- A Democrat -- Might Reject Portions of Stimulus

Democratic Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen recently announced that he might reject portions of the stimulus budget. If he actually follows through with this action, he would join several Republican governors who have indicated that they will reject stimulus money allocated to their states.

Bredesen complains that in order for states to receive federal money that Congress has allocated to increase the level of unemployment benefits, states must apply a new formula, which, if utilized, would increase the number of beneficiaries in Tennessee. Bredesen says that the overall expansion of unemployment benefits would put additional pressure on the state's already constrained budget.

Tennessee is a solid "red state," and both of the state's Republican Senators voted against the stimulus. Bredesen is essentially looking for political cover. His argument about the budgetary constraints of the unemployment provision could actually support a claim that the federal government should allocate more money to states that cannot finance the expansion on their own. Whether or not that happens, Bredesen can at least say he thought about the situation very carefully before accepting or rejecting the funds.

Bredesen made headlines during the Democratic primaries when he suggested that the "superdelegates" should host a "superdelegate primary" in order to expedite the conclusion of the divisive race between Senators Clinton and Obama. The DC rumor mill also places him on the short list of candidates to head the Department of Health and Human Services.

Senator Byrd to President Obama: Too Many Czars

Senator Robert Byrd (a Democrat) has criticized President Barack Obama for creating too many White House "czars" to direct his policy initiatives. According to Politico.Com, Byrd believes that the policy czars Obama has created to manage areas like health care reform, urban policy and energy and climate control could impede the system of checks and balances by taking away authority from Cabinet members, who are accountable to Congress and whom the Senate confirms.

Here's a clip from the article:
“As presidential assistants and advisers, these White House staffers are not accountable for their actions to the Congress, to cabinet officials, and to virtually anyone but the president,” Byrd wrote. “They rarely testify before congressional committees, and often shield the information and decision-making process behind the assertion of executive privilege. In too many instances, White House staff have been allowed to inhibit openness and transparency, and reduce accountability.”

The West Virginia Democrat on Wednesday asked Obama to “consider the following: that assertions of executive privilege will be made only by the president, or with the president’s specific approval; that senior White House personnel will be limited from exercising authority over any person, any program, and any funding within the statutory responsibility of a Senate-confirmed department or agency head; that the president will be responsible for resolving any disagreement between a Senate-confirmed agency or department head and White House staff; and that the lines of authority and responsibility in the administration will be transparent and open to the American public.”

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

LA Times Joins the Hillary Media Makeover

The media are covering Hillary Clinton in an all new light. She has gone from evil to brilliant and balanced overnight! I already covered this in a prior post. But now, the Editors of the LA Times (who endorsed Obama over Clinton) have joined the rebuilding effort:
Rather than lecturing China about greenhouse gas emissions, Clinton urged the government not to make the mistakes the United States and Europe had made, effectively taking partial responsibility for the problem. She said that lecturing China has never been productive and that it was time to give the country some of the respect due the world's third-largest economy. It was a successful first foray by the secretary of State. She'll have other opportunities to use the moral and political force of a superpower -- once this country has regained its standing -- to address human rights abuses in China.
Beat 'em up, build 'em up.

Former Owner of Republic Windows Shutting Down Another Company, Laying Off 100 Workers!

If you dig deeply on the Internet, you might find coverage of a fascinating development in the Republic Windows and Doors saga. Richard Gillman, the former owner of the now bankrupt company recently announced that he is shutting down Echo Windows and Doors, an Iowa company he purchased after dumping his Chicago workforce. The plant closure will cost 100 workers their jobs.

Orthodox Narrative: Bank = Evil
While the ratings-hungry media, opportunistic politicians, and orthodox liberals bashed Bank of America for the plight of the workers at Republic Windows and Doors, I tried to push their criticism towards a more logical direction: Richard Gillman, the company's owner. Federal and state law require employers to provide notice of shut downs or massive layoffs, and employers are liable for paying the workers during the notice period. These laws, however, do not extend liability to an employer's creditors for satisfying these obligations. So when liberals blamed Bank of America and the bailout for the workers' unfortunate plight, their criticism was misdirected.

Progressives, however, argued that because Bank of America, one of the company's creditors, received TARP assistance, it must extend credit to the company regardless of its ability to repay the debt. The concerted effort to demonize Bank of America obscured the employer's liability to pay the workers. It also prevented substantial coverage of more ominous actions taken by the company -- namely, that after firing the Chicago workers, the company's owner executed a plan to purchase a similar company in Iowa with a nonunionized work force and a lower cost structure. The employer then skipped town, leaving behind its workforce without their legally mandated salary and benefits.

The company also left the City of Chicago despite the fact that it had received almost $10 million dollars in subsidies from the city a few years prior to the layoffs. The city hoped that increased tax revenue would ultimately pay for its investment in the company's expansion of its facilities. Alas, this will not happen.

Republic Windows Owner Brings Lay Offs to Iowa
Republic Windows is now in bankruptcy, but yesterday its former owner Richard Gillman announced more startling news: He is shutting down Echo Windows and Doors, his newly acquired Iowa factory, and laying off its 100 workers. A manager at the plant blames Gillman for the deterioration of the company:

Back in Iowa, plant manager Dwayne Adams criticized the ownership's operation.

"They … basically ran it into the ground, the way we see it," Adams said.
If the company can get an investor to pump $650,000 in financing, management predicts that it can stay afloat. Where's the angry anti-bank crowd today? On to more sensational issues, I suppose.

Related Readings on Dissenting Justice:

MADE IN IOWA: Did Company in Chicago Sit-In Illegally Discard Its Workers and Quietly Relocate While Liberals Forced BOA to Pay for the Shady Scheme?

Republic Windows and Doors Received a Bailout from Chicago Before It Bailed Out of Chicago

Laid-Off Republic Windows and Doors Workers: Pawns in Political Football

"Scratching and Surviving" Less Newsworthy Than Politicians at Labor Protests: Scant Media Coverage of Republic Windows Workers After Sit-In

Factory Closes in Chicago; Workers Invoke Bailout During Protest

What (I Think) Progressives Should Have Done for Workers of Republic Windows and Doors

New Chapter for Republic Windows: Bankruptcy

Workers of Republic Windows and Doors Finally Pursue the Culpable Party: Their Employer

Signs of Life: Human Rights Groups Contest Pentagon Report on Guantanamo Bay

Last week, the Pentagon released a report -- commissioned by President Obama -- which concludes that the Guantanamo Bay detention facility complies with the Geneva Conventions. During the Bush administration, human rights activists passionately contended that the treatment of detainees at the facility violated domestic and international law.

The New York Times reports that the Center for Constitutional Rights and Amnesty International (two vocal critics of Guantanamo Bay) have blasted the report. The organizations played a large role in condemning Bush's policies at the detention facility, and the Center for Constitutional Rights represents several detainees.

Here's a clip from the article:
The Pentagon official who inspected the Guantánamo Bay prison at the behest of President Obama and declared its conditions humane described himself Monday as a “fresh set of eyes” who had been given free rein to go about his work.

But detainees’ lawyers and human rights groups ridiculed the 85-page report that the official, Adm. Patrick M. Walsh, sent to the White House this weekend. They called it a public relations gesture by the new administration to try to quiet criticism of the prison while officials work to close it within a year.

“There is no basis to believe, other than his say-so, that this was an independent report,” said Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Coming in the early days of the Obama administration, the exchange was notable for its similarity to the back-and-forth during the Bush years over what the Guantánamo prison is really like.
The article reports that the Pentagon prepared the study by conducting "random visits and interviews with detainees, guards, interrogators and commanders." Also, the author, Admiral Patrick Walsh, "is the vice chief of naval operations, and the prison is on a naval base at the southeastern tip of Cuba." These factors undermine the credibility of the study. The article reports that human rights attorneys have released their own study based on interviews with their clients; the human rights report makes dramatically different findings than the Pentagon study.

I wonder how "liberal" bloggers who have accused progressive critics of Obama's terrorism-related policies of being anti-liberal will react (if at all) to the latest news.

Has the Left Destroyed California? Um, No!

Real Clear Politics must be hungry for material to publish these days. What else could explain the blog editors' decision to publish Dennis Prager's unprincipled rant on the front page? Prager makes four stunningly problematic claims in his essay "From California to the Boy Scouts: Left Destroys More than It Builds." Prager argues that "the left" has destroyed the state of California, the Boy Scouts, Judeo-Christian religion, and education. What a powerful thing - the Left.

Crazy California Claims
Prager cites a battery of statistics -- from home foreclosures to job losses -- which he contends result from leftist policies. Prager argues that:
Virtually throughout its history, and certainly in the 20th century, California has been known as the place to go for dynamism and growth. It did not become the richest, most populous, and most productive state solely because of its weather and natural resources.

So it takes a lot to turn California around from growth to contraction, from people moving into the state to a net exodus from the state, from business moving into California to businesses leaving California.

It takes some doing.

And the left has done it.
According to Prager, the Left accomplished this drastic feat by spending and regulating. What a surprise.

The problems with Prager's analysis are too numerous to analyze in this limited space. But primarily, the essay suffers because Prager fails to prove that "the Left" runs California today and that it has run California through its economic decline. He also fails to demonstrate that something other than the Left governed California through its past periods of high economic growth. Similarly, he does not link prior periods of economic decline in the state to the Left. In fact, he does not place his "analysis" in an historical context at all. Furthermore, Prager does not consider that the entire world (including all of the 50 states) is experiencing a financial and economic crisis and that the Left cannot even arguably have caused the problems in each jurisdiction.

More importantly, Prager fails to analyze specific reasons for California's problems that actually result from "free market" policies, not from regulation. For example, he cites to businesses and middle-class people leaving the state as evidence that the Left has destroyed it. But the high demand for property in California makes it unaffordable for many people and companies. Intel is leaving California in favor of New Mexico (which has a Democratic government as well) - not because the company is fed up with the Left, but because its much cheaper to open new facilities in New Mexico. This same principle causes U.S. companies to shift manufacturing to Asia and other lower-cost regions and for Wall Street companies to relocate to Northern New Jersey -- a bastion of Democratic political power. Prager ignores this basic explanation for companies abandoning more expensive locations because it undermines his reductionist left-blaming analysis.

The deeply conservative South is the poorest region of the country, and many of the nation's wealthiest jurisdictions are liberal. Accordingly, Prager's analysis could easily support the conclusion that conservative political dominance does not lead to economic growth. Furthermore, the Left certainly did not control the United States during the last eight years of economic decline. But unlike Prager, I refuse to blame one party or ideology for the current economic crisis. Our complex and difficult financial times deserve far more thoughtful and less partisan and kneejerk analysis.

Boy Scouts et al.
Apparently operating under the false impression that he was "on a roll," Prager chooses to make his already simplistic analysis disjointed by adding a discussion of the Left's destructive impact on the Boy Scouts, Judeo-Christian religion, and education. Prager believes that the Left has destroyed the Boy Scouts by challenging its anti-gay policies. Prager argues that the ACLU is the culprit in this destruction (I am not sure whether the ACLU litigated a case against the Boy Scouts, but that's irrelevant).

The Boy Scouts spends more time and money defending itself against (and paying settlements and judgments for) negligence cases than sexual orientation discrimination claims. In fact, since the Supreme Court held (in 2000) that the Boy Scouts could lawfully exclude gays and lesbians, this has become a nonissue in most places. Parents, however, sue the Boy Scouts constantly because their kids allegedly suffer injuries during events the organization sponsors. This is a much larger financial drain on the Boy Scouts than any other litigation or "civil rights" matter. Parents across the political spectrum sue the Boy Scouts persistently; this is not a leftist movement. Furthermore, I reject Prager's assumption that civil rights enforcement is "destructive."

The rest of Prager's analysis is too simplistic to warrant discussion. The problems associated with his discussion of California appear with greater force in his effort to prove that the Left has destroyed religion and education.

Final Take
I am a nonpartisan progressive. I have criticized the Left often on this blog, including its arguments concerning the economy. I have also criticized conservatives. But I reject the notion that any party or ideology has a monopoly on ethics and sound policies. I also believe people often exaggerate the extent to which politicians shape economic conditions. Prager's deeply partisan rhetoric does not advance debate. Instead, he has recklessly tossed a hand grenade into a difficult and delicate situation.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Ryan Lizza "Hearts" Rahm Emanuel: Glenn Greenwald Dissects The New Yorker's "Love Letter" to Rahm

Glenn Greenwald of Salon.Com has released another irreverent essay, which ensures that he will forever remain an edgy blogger, rather than becoming a writer for a mainstream media conglomerate. In his latest essay, Greenwald dissects a "love letter" (also known as an "article") on Rahm Emmanuel that appears in The New Yorker.

Here's a clip (from a very lengthy essay):

[]The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza has written a very lengthy profile of Emanuel -- almost 5,300 words -- that is so reverent, one-sided, and glorifying that it is hard to believe it wasn't written by Emanuel himself. In fact, much of the piece consists of Emanuel praising himself and Lizza writing it all down uncritically. It's almost impossible to walk on the streets of Washington, DC, without bumping into a vehement critic of Emanuel, but Lizza doesn't manage to include any comments from any of them.

Instead -- like a writer from People Magazine wanting to ensure continued access -- he confines himself to quoting only Rahm's best-est friends: David Axelrod ("one of Emanuel’s best friends"); Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen ("a friend of manuel’s"); and Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg ("an old friend" whose DC house Emanuel lives in). Other than Lizza's inclusion of some light mockery by Fidel Castro of Emanuel's name, those are the only people who are allowed to speak about Emanuel in Lizza's piece (other than Emanuel himself).

We thus "learn" from Lizza's story that Emanuel really loves his kids ("I’m going to finally get to see my kids after a month. So that’s all I give a fuck about," and at the end of the interview, "he seemed more cheerful, knowing that he was that much closer to seeing his family"); he's "one of the more colorful Beltway celebrities . . . known for both his mercurial temperament and his tactical brilliance" and for "intimidating opponents and referees alike but never quite losing himself in the midst of battle"; his first-grade teacher praised him for "being larger than life"; Emanuel was key to the "historic" stimulus victory ("The last President to preside over a legislative victory of this magnitude so early in his Administration was Franklin Roosevelt"); he has been dealing with Congress "politely and with due deference"; when he spoke about his grandpa ("Gramp"), "his eyes welled up with tears"; Obama's selection of Emanuel "shows that [Obama] is honest enough about what he doesn’t know to try to fill in the gaps in his own experience" and reflects "an emphasis not on ideology but on details and problem-solving."

Rahm, you see, is -- as his good friend Stan put it -- "not an ideological Democrat. He’s not ideologically liberal. He comes out of Chicago politics, which is more transactional." He gets things done. Every political slogan of the Obama White House -- pragmatism over ideology; we're problem-solvers not partisans -- magically weaves its way into Lizza's narrative paean to Rahm. The only thing missing is Rahm's favorite color and recipes (though we do learn one of his winter get-away spots: Park City, Utah).

Check out the rest here: Ryan Lizza's People Magazine love letter to Rahm Emanuel.

Will Gary Condit Try to Get His Old Job Back?

The Chandra Levy murder case became an inexplicable media obsession -- particularly in light of the numerous other missing persons in this country. One comic nicknamed CNN the "Chandra News Network," and only the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center could switch attention away from the Levy feeding frenzy. The story ultimately cost Representative Gary Condit his election bid, as voters rushed to equate adultery with murder.

Now that Washington, DC police will soon arrest another individual for Levy's murder, I wonder what, if anything, this means for Gary Condit. Will he try to run for public office again? Probably not. But he has to wish that the arrest happened a lot sooner -- although it seems that some individuals believe that adultery alone justifies the harsh reaction to him. Perhaps people are trying to reconcile their prior mob mentality with the fact that recent developments might actually clear Condit's name.

Attorney General Holder Visits Guantanamo Bay After Pentagon Report Declares That Detention Facility Complies With Geneva Conventions

Last week, the Pentagon released a study which concludes that the Guantanamo Bay detention facility complies with the Geneva Conventions. During the Bush administration, however, human rights groups maintained that the treatment of detainees fell short of domestic and international law.

Attorney General Eric Holder is now visiting the facility to help design a strategy for closing it. In January, President Obama issued an executive order which requires the closure of the detention center within one year. It is unclear where the government will detain individuals once it closes the facility and whether, if prosecuted, they will receive trials in federal courts for alleged criminal activity.

Both Holder and Solicitor General Elena Kagan, however, have insisted that the government can indefinitely detain Al Qaeda members. The Department of Justice also agrees with the Bush administration's position that the reasoning of a 2008 Supreme Court ruling that allows Guantanamo Bay detainees to contest their detention before a federal court does not apply to the Bagram military base in Afghanistan because it is in the "theater of war" and because presenting detainees before a federal court would be infeasible.

Together, these two arguments could justify a policy of indefinite detention of terrorism suspects at Bagram, even as the government closes the maligned Guantanamo Bay facility. It remains unclear, however, whether the Obama administration will actually replicate Bush's policies by shifting the policy of prolonged detention to Afghanistan and away from Guantanamo Bay. Nevertheless, his administration has certainly embraced legal positions that lay the foundation for the continuation of these practices, which generated very passionate criticism from the Left during Bush's presidency.

Judicial Death Watch? Senator's Comments Raise Eyebrows

Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky raised eyebrows recently when he predicted that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who recently had surgery for pancreatic cancer, would soon die and that this would present an opportunity for a conservative judicial appointment.

Here's a clip from the article:
During a wide-ranging 30-minute speech on Saturday at the Hardin County Republican Party's Lincoln Day Dinner, Bunning said he supports conservative judges "and that's going to be in place very shortly because Ruth Bader Ginsburg. . .has cancer."

"Bad cancer. The kind that you don't get better from," he told a crowd of about 100 at the old State Theater.

"Even though she was operated on, usually, nine months is the longest that anybody would live after (being diagnosed) with pancreatic cancer," he said.

While it is true that Supreme Court observers have often expressed concerns about Justice Ginsburg's health, this is the first time I have heard a public official predict that she will die. It seems a tad uncouth.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Hillary's Media Makeover Continues: Secretary of State Clinton Scores High Marks for Her Asia Tour

The reporting on Hillary Clinton's first diplomatic tour sound remarkably different from the days when the media relentlessly portrayed her as a selfish, unstable, deceitful, club-wielding, kitchen-sink throwing, evil politician. Now, she earns high marks for bringing a warm face, fame, honesty, and deep intelligence to U.S. diplomacy.

Here's a clip from an Associated Press article that assesses her visit to Asia:
"A lot of international diplomacy is a head game," she told reporters in Seoul, South Korea, bluntly describing the administration's outreach to governments in North Korea and Iran and explaining her willingness to dive into crowds to make personal connections with foreigners. . . .

Her comments. . .came after she had enthralled young audiences in Tokyo, Seoul and Jakarta, Indonesia, with anecdotes about her childhood, her husband and her daughter, and charmed leaders in each capital with her ebullience.

"It's glorious to meet you," a Tokyo University student told Clinton at her first town hall meeting. It turned out to be a preview of the joyous receptions she would get in both public and private settings.

In Indonesia and South Korea, crowds seemed enraptured by her presence. Audiences asked questions well outside the realm of foreign policy - about motherhood, romance, career choices, beauty tips and her musical tastes.

"Such a great honor for me to be here," one Indonesian journalist gushed. "My question is you are probably the most popular U.S. secretary of state here in Indonesia. How do you deal with this and how do you think this would affect Indonesia-U.S. bilateral relationship?"

One of several female South Korean journalists asked how Clinton managed to look "very young and energetic" given her grueling schedule.

"I look very young? Oh my goodness, I hope somebody is recording this!" the 61-year-old Clinton said.
In addition to these comments, media outlets have largely ignored human rights groups' complaints about Clinton's view that the U.S. should not condemn China for its human rights record at this time. Isn't redemption wonderful?

Related Reading on Dissenting Justice:

Huffington's Hillary Makeover Continues: Pro-Clinton Essays A Dramatic Switch from Prior Coverage

Leftists Finally Realize Obama Is a Moderate; Huffington Post Suddenly Embraces Clinton and Political Center

Remember the Drama Over Those Missing White House Emails?

On another blog, someone questioned my liberal credentials because I methodically point out the blatant inconsistencies in the LOUDNESS of liberal criticism of Bush's policies compared with liberal silence or defensiveness when Obama replicates these same practices. But with new material emerging on a daily basis, I find it hard to let go of this role.

Bush's lack of transparency made him less than human to many liberals. [Editor's Note: For the literalists, that was sarcasm.] One issue that provoked liberal outcry during his administration centered around the loss of millions of White House emails. Although the Bush administration reported that it recovered and made public many of the emails, two advocacy groups that have sued the government say that the White House has not done enough. Recently, however, the Department of Justice decided to maintain Bush's position that the court should dismiss the lawsuits.

The Department of Justice wants to win cases. It represents the government. It is not "evil" for lawyers to argue for the dismissal of lawsuits against their clients. Lawyers have a natural and fixed desire -- and an ethical obligation -- to provide zealous advocacy for their clients. Accordingly, I do not disagree with the DOJ taking a firm stand defending the White House against the email litigation.

Nevertheless, if McCain had continued along this path, we would have heard numerous cries that he was "more of the same." Now, we only hear scattered criticism. What justifies the divergent reactions?

Ben and Barack: Like Peas in a Pod

If it is accurate, Benjamin Netanyahu's account of a conversation between him and Democratic-candidate Obama last summer confirms what only the most wilfully blind individuals cannot see: Obama courted the Left, but moved to the center after he secured the Democratic nomination (which is hardly an unusual move). According to an article in the New York Times, Netanyahu describes a portion of their meeting as follows:

As it was ending Mr. Obama pulled Mr. Netanyahu aside from their aides to a corner of the room in the King David Hotel.

“You and I have a lot in common,” Mr. Obama said, according to Mr. Netanyahu’s account. “I started on the left and moved to the center. You started on the right and moved to the center. We are both pragmatists who like to get things done.”
Question: Did Obama really describe himself as a "pragmatist"? If so, that adds a new perspective on the litany of media accounts which have used the exact same language to describe him.

Panhandling in China: Hillary Clinton Urges the Chinese to Keep Investing in Distressed U.S. Financial Markets

Continuing her tour of China, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged the Chinese to continue investing in the United States. In a move that could make a used car salesman blush, Clinton portrayed the United States as a "safe investment" and said that the two countries share a common fate because the United States is the most popular destination for China's exports. Translation: If you want us to continuing buying your widgets, give us the money to do so!

Here's a clip from the article, which appears on MSNBC.Com:
[Clinton] said during an interview with the show "One on One" during her stop in China Sunday that she thinks the Chinese are making a smart decision by continuing to invest in U.S. financial instruments. "It's a safe investment. The United States has a well-deserved financial reputation."

In order to boost the economy, the U.S has to incur more debt, she said. "It would not be in China's interest if we were unable to get our economy moving," Clinton said. "So by continuing to support American Treasury instruments, the Chinese are recognizing our interconnection. We are truly going to rise or fall together. We are in the same boat.
Last week, Clinton provoked anger among some human rights activists when she said that now was not the right time for the United States to highlight China's human rights abuses. Well, she's probably correct on that issue. The old saying that warns against "biting the hand that feeds you" seems relevant.

BREAKING NEWS from the Washington Times: When Eric Holder Was In Private Practice, He Did His Job!

The Washington Times has published an interesting article which reports that Attorney General Eric Holder did his job while he was a lawyer in private practice. Recently, Holder sparked a minor (if you disagree with the adjective, please feel free to choose your own) controversy, when he said that the country was a "nation of cowards" regarding issues of race.

The title of the Washington Times article -- "Holder Litigated Against Rights Claims" -- is almost as provocative as Holder's comments. The article reports that Holder "found himself on both sides of the courtroom on civil rights cases during his eight-year tenure at a high-profile Washington law firm." But the fact that litigators represent plaintiffs and defendants on the same issues is hardly newsworthy. Even in the area of criminal law, prosecutors later become defense attorneys or vice versa.

But the article's focus on Holder's representation of civil rights defendants seems particularly strange in light of the following fact: The Department of Justice, which Holder now runs, also represents defendants in discrimination claims. As the official lawyer for the United States, DOJ defends the federal government in all litigation, including cases alleging claims of discrimination. DOJ also defends the government in cases alleging deprivations of constitutional rights (including the rights to equal protection and liberty). Apparently, Holder's prior work prepares him for the complexity of his current job.

The article also states that the number of civil rights cases that went to a final verdict dropped during Holder's prior four-year stint at DOJ. But a number of reasons could have led to the decline -- including that the government settled more cases or that courts disposed of more cases on pre-trial motions (e.g., summary judgment or dismissal).

I was also struck by the inclusion of commentary from a woman whom the article reports was a plaintiff in a civil rights case against MBNA. The article reports that MBNA hired Holder to "fight off" (I have this image of Holder in fencing gear) the discrimination claim. The plaintiff in the case says she hoped that Holder did not get confirmed as Attorney General. The article does not present any of the facts of her case; it simply reports that the court ruled in favor of the company. But many factors, including the weakness of the plaintiff's case, could explain why she lost. Believing in the vigorous enforcement of civil rights does not require a concomitant belief that civil rights plaintiffs should always prevail.

Finally, the article reports that Holder also defended a bank against allegations that it provided "segregated" services to blacks. The court granted summary judgment for the bank. Summary judgment means that the undisputed facts establish victory for plaintiff or the defendant without the necessity of proceeding to trial. Although the article does not provide any facts from the case, proving race discrimination in civil rights litigation is usually very difficult. Unless the plaintiffs had pretty damning evidence, their claim of racial discrimination was doomed from the start, due in large part to conservative civil rights jurisprudence.

Final Word
In classic Dissenting Justice form, let's cut to the chase: I believe the article attempts to undercut Holder's inflammatory comments by portraying him as being on both sides of the fence with respect to racial justice. But it does a pretty poor job in this regard. Lawyers often represent defendants and plaintiffs on the same issues, and (more importantly) DOJ defends the United States against discrimination claims.

Furthermore, it's pretty difficult to draw implications about a lawyer's ideology or commitment to an issue simply because he or she represented a particular party to a case. Although lawyers often take cases for political or ideological reasons, most of the time, a case is just a case. Holder worked at a large law firm. I imagine that his representation in most cases did not reflect upon his own political values. Instead, he was just doing his job. For this reason, the comments of the civil rights plaintiff who did not want the Senate to confirm Holder seem misplaced.

Finally, I have not yet commented on the "cowards" issue because I have a natural aversion to drama, but I feel the need to address the matter briefly. Was Holder's statement inflammatory? You betcha (thanks, Sarah - I like this phrase). But underneath the surface, I thought he confirmed, even if for different reasons, what conservatives and moderates have said for many years: that "political correctness" has made people afraid to talk about race (or sex or anything worthy of discussion) for fear of being called a racist. Outside of the colorful nature of the comment, isn't it true that many people are indeed afraid of talking about race? If not - then go for it!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Two Important Terrorism Updates...But You've Heard Them Before

Today, the Obama administration decided to maintain the Bush adminstration's legal position, which asserts that individuals detained at the Bagram Air Force Base near Kabul, Afghanistan do not have a right to seek judicial review of their detention. The Department of Justice argues that, unlike Guantanamo Bay, the base is located in the "theater of war" and this makes judicial review impracticable." Also, the government argues that the Bagram detainees are not entitled to habeas corpus because they are subject to the Military Commissions Act of 2006 -- a statute that Obama denounced.

This military base is not subject to Obama's executive orders which require the review and subsequent closure of Guantanamo Bay. Also, the facility is not a longterm CIA prison which the executive orders also require the government to shutter. Presumably, the government can indefinitely detain individuals at Bagram -- rather than Guantanamo Bay -- without judicial review. Solicitor General Elena Kagan and Attorney General Eric Holder essentially validated this position when they endorsed indefinite detention of terrorism suspects during their confirmation hearings.

Obama's executive orders create a task force to study Guantanamo Bay and then subsequently to close it. Today, the Pentagon, responding to a request by President Obama, released an 85-page report which concludes that the maligned facility complies with the Geneva Convention. During the Bush administration, many individuals in the human rights community passionately disputed this position.

While the study finds that the facility complies with international law, it concludes that some of the more dangerous individuals should now receive play time:

The report recommended some changes, including an increase in group recreation for some of the camp's more dangerous or less compliant prisoners, according to a government official familiar with the study. The report also suggested allowing those prisoners to gather in groups of three or more, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the report has not officially been released.
I have written many articles which track the similarities between Bush's and Obama's anti-terrorism policies. For the record, I do not necessarily disagree with some of these practices. For example, I have argued that the government should probably receive wide latitude to invoke the state secrets privilege and that courts should defer to the government's conclusion that a potential item of evidence qualifies for the privilege.

Also, asserting executive authority to do a particular act, does not mandate the use of such power. So, even if the government believes it can detain terrorism suspects indefinitely, this does not mean that it will.

My purpose for engaging this subject arises from my belief that the Left must hold consistent positions and that it must rethink the uncritical approach it took with respect to Obama during the Democratic primaries and the general-election campaign. If McCain (or probably even Clinton) had won the election and began validating Bush's policies, my fellow liberals would condemn him as Bush III.

In order for our arguments to have legitimacy, we must remain consistent or explain why we shift. If progressives now believe that they overreached in condemning Bush, they should make this clear. If progressives simply wanted to drum Republicans out of power, they have made a mockery of the very values they claim to embrace. Criticism and consistency, rather than partisan defense of "our" candidate, can permit greater accountability. Silence and acquiescence do not. I hope I am not the lone progressive who sees this. Ok - that was a melodramatic ending. And for the record, outside of Ron Paul, I have not seen many conservatives criticize other conservatives for not taking Bush to task on his extravagant fiscal policies.

More on the Man of Steele: Can the Unexpected Hip-Hopster Bring People of Color to the GOP?

Yesterday, Michael Steele's Washington Times interview caused even yours truly -- a staunch progressive -- to take notice. Steele's plan to market conservative ideology to black and Latino urbanites intrigued me, but it also left me doubting that he could accomplish this mission. Although many blacks embrace some socially conservative agendas (e.g., soft on gay rights), the vast majority of blacks have preferred Democratic candidates over Republicans since FDR.

Black Voters' Candidate Preference
I have always believed that if Steele (or anyone else with a magic wand) could make the GOP more moderate and take the party closer to its "Rockefeller Republican" days, then he could perhaps modestly broaden the party's base. The Republican Party was not always synonymous with social conservatism, and the Democratic Party did not begin to monopolize black votes until the 1930s. The Republican Party sided with slaves over slaveowners, fought to establish racial equality after the end of the Civil War, and embraced civil rights legislation in the 1960s.

The Democratic Party, by contrast, supported slavery and excluded blacks from participating in politics through a host of legislative schemes (not to mention violence and intimidation). And historically, the Democrats, not the Republicans, have led the country into expensive and deadly wars.

Large numbers of blacks moved away from the Republican Party to support FDR, who attracted over 70 percent of the black vote in 1936. Most Democratic presidential candidates have earned the same or a greater percentage of black votes since that time. There was one exception: Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower received nearly 40 percent of the black vote in his first election. Adlai Stevenson, his Democratic opponent, decided to run with a segregationist in order to win white votes in the South. The plan worked - but it cost him black support.

Despite the Roosevelt revolution, around 30 percent of black voters continued to support Republican candidates until 1964, the year Johnson sponsored important civil rights legislation. Since that time, no Republican presidential candidate has earned over 15 percent of black votes. McCain only received 4 percent. He also received only small percentages of Latino and Asian-American votes.

White Voting Patterns, the Southern Strategy and Social Conservatism
After Southern whites fled the Democratic Party in the 1960s, the GOP became increasingly more dependent upon socially conservative voters to win elections. By the time Ronald Reagan defeated Gerald Ford, the moderate wing of the Republican Party had lost much of its influence in defining the party's national political agenda. The party decided to supplant the moderates in order to capture the South's abundant electoral votes.

The "Southern strategy" produced amazing results for the GOP. Bill Clinton is the only two-term Democratic president since Truman. And until Obama's victory, Clinton and Carter were the only two Democrats to win the presidency since 1964. Furthermore, after 1964, no Democratic presidential candidate has won a majority of white votes. Obama did not reverse this trend -- despite the dreamy rhetoric among many pundits which suggests that his election demolished race-based political cleavages.

Advice for Steele: Be Consistent About Governmental Intervention and About "Equality"
Obama's election, party loyalty, and deep distrust of the GOP make Steele's effort to lure persons of color a difficult, if not impossible, task. It would take a great deal of courage, innovation, and reformulation of ideology in order to accomplish modestly this goal.

In order to do this, Steele will likely need to convince Republicans to challenge their rhetoric that seeks to reduce deep social problems to individual pathology. This is a favorite trump card. Every group has "bad" apples - but unless conservatives believe that the majority of blacks and Latinos are bad apples (which is a conversation stopper), then they must remain open to other explanations for and solutions to prolonged inequity across social groups. Conservatives often blame the government for incentivizing people to choose poverty (and this still passes the laugh test), but this is just the extreme opposite of the notion that only governmental solutions can work. Room exists for both approaches.

Governmental Intervention
While many conservatives passionately reject any role for government in reducing class and other types of inequity, they readily invite the government into areas of other people's lives in order to regulate personal choices that seem patently inappropriate for governmental intrusion (and certainly inappropriate for a governmental veto). Many social conservatives, for example, vehemently insist that the government alone should decide the conditions under which a woman terminates a pregnancy. They also want the government to dictate whether or not terminally ill patients continue to receive life-sustaining medical treatment against their family members' or their own wishes. Conservatives have supported making criminals out of people who consent to intimate relationships (sexual or otherwise) with people of the same sex. And they believe that government-waged "wars" can reduce or rid society of drugs, kidnappings, sexual predators, violence, and terrorism.

If the government can accomplish all of these things better than "the people," then just maybe the government can do a few things to create conditions in which all people can have economic autonomy and opportunity. Favoring governmental intervention in order to police people, rather than to foster individual autonomy seems far removed from conservatism.

Social Equality
If Republicans want to broaden their base, they could fill the hole left by Democrats, who have not proposed solutions for substantive inequality -- by which I mean, actually doing something about the conditions of inequality such as poverty, homelessness, unequal schools, etc., rather than simply cheering the party's "diversity."

Conservative discourse already espouses the virtues of equality. When conservatives oppose affirmative action, for example, they do so by invoking the language of "equality." Conservatives presumably value racial equality so greatly that they view university admissions policies that dole out a few "points" to students of color in their applications as being the moral equivalent of the brutal regime of Jim Crow. If this is true, then this principle should lead them to at least the same degree of outrage concerning the detrimental effects of sending black, Latino and many poor white kids to vastly underfunded or racially isolated "poverty schools" (where a majority of the students qualify for "free lunch").

Blaming the children and their families for being locked into these suboptimal conditions contradicts conservative opposition to affirmative action. Instead of telling whites who challenge affirmative action to "suck it up" or accusing them of promoting socialism, conservatives criticize the government for treating people differently (even if only to a small degree).

Final Word
Unless conservatives begin to demand equality of opportunity in all settings and consistently remain open to the possibility of governmental and private solutions, then they will fail to expand their base to include people of color. Of course, I cannot demand that Republicans do these things when the "liberal" party has failed to do so or has done so inconsistently. But it's fun to dream. Also, unless the GOP can top the Democrats, then many people of color will just stay with the familiar.

So, Steele: if you can fit my long rant into a neat conservative package, put a ribbon on it, and sell it to Republicans, then you will have in fact done something "off the hook." Apparently, a "new school" of Republicans catapulted Steele to leadership. Maybe this will give him a chance to shake things up. Good luck!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Don't Blame the Current Economic Conditions: Obama's Softer Position on NAFTA Emerged Almost a Year Ago

As the Democratic primaries reached the nation's Rust Belt, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama began making harsh critiques of NAFTA, and they vowed to renegotiate the trade pact, even if this required pulling out of the agreement. Today, however, during a joint-press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Obama took a much softer tone regarding NAFTA and stated that he wanted to expand rather than reduce trade activity between the U.S. and Canada.

President Obama attributed his markedly different stance towards NAFTA to the global economic crisis. Specifically, he said that in the wake of the global recession, he needed "to be very careful about any signals of protectionism." He made similar statements earlier this week. Obama's softer stance on NAFTA, however, began as almost a year ago.

Obama's March 2008 NAFTA "Wink"
In March 2008, during the heat of the Democratic candidates' assault on NAFTA, a leaked memorandum of notes describing a meeting between Canadian Consul General Georges Rioux and Obama's economic policy advisor Austan Goolsbee created created a political firestorm. The leaked notes stated that Goolsbee tried to reassure Canadians that Obama's tough position on NAFTA was merely "political positioning" and that he was fully committed to free trade with Canada.

The leak of the memorandum triggered a response from Obama's campaign, which said that the notes distorted discussions between Goolsbee and Rioux. Although Goolsbee denied using the words "political positioning," he did not deny saying something similar.

Full Retreat on NAFTA By June 2008
As soon as Obama obtained the Democratic nomination, his rhetoric on NAFTA dramatically shifted. And just as the leaked memorandum indicated, he began to pull away from the harsh anti-trade rhetoric that defined the Democratic primaries in the Midwest.

During a June 2008 interview with Fortune magazine, for example, Obama said that he would not seek a unilateral renegotiation of NAFTA, even though both he and Clinton had vowed to do so earlier. When asked by Fortune to reconcile his softer position with his forceful campaign rhetoric, Obama stated that "[s]ometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified. . . . Politicians are always guilty of that, and I don't exempt myself."

Last Word: I agree that protectionism will not solve the country's economic problems, and it could even exacerbate them. And I never really expected Clinton or Obama to modify substantially the terms of NAFTA. But Obama's current pro-NAFTA position did not recently take hold. Instead, as soon as he secured the Democratic nomination, he began moving to the center on free trade, which confirms the content of the leaked memorandum.

"Born-Again Budget Conservatives"? You Betcha!

Earlier this month, Ron Paul chided fellow Republicans for behaving like "born-again budget conservatives." While Republicans blasted the stimulus package for increasing the national debt and burdening future generations, they failed to vote against Bush's extraordinary deficit- and debt-based spending during his eight years in office. Their support for his policies led to a dramatic explosion in the public debt. Blogger Infidel753 has the scoop:
When Bush took office at the beginning of 2001, the national debt (accumulated over the previous 224 years of American history) was $5,727,800,000,000. By the time he left office eight years later, it had grown 86%, to $10,626,900,000,000. . . an increase of $4,899,100,000,000.

Here's an illustration of how much money $4,899,100,000,000 is: if you spent a million dollars per day, it would take you 13,422 years to spend that much. That's more time than has passed since the dawn of agriculture. It's more than twice as long as humans have had writing.

Here's another: if the Bush debt increase were converted into a stack of one-dollar bills, the stack would be 327,000 miles high. This is almost one and a half times the distance from Earth to the Moon.To put it yet another way, during Bush's Presidency the average American's share of the national debt rose from $19,093 to $35,423, an increase of $16,330.
Infidel goes on to discuss the recent addition to the debt caused by the stimulus, although I suppose tax revenue will fund costs for a portion of the legislation. Regardless, the statistics are very sobering.

This should lay to rest claims that suggest the stimulus is crippling future generations. Eight years ago, the national debt was almost 1/2 its present size (not counting the stimulus), and there was a budget surplus. Arguments that focus only on the present grossly distort this history. We can only improve the situation -- as I tell my liberal colleagues -- by not acting like hypocrites and by pursuing honest assessments, even when they hurt. I believe this is such a moment for conservatives who want the nation's leaders to do a better job. Don't fall for the partisan trap of blaming others and not looking inward.

I do not agree with all aspects of the stimulus package and have some pretty significant concerns about it. But this does not permit me to ignore the past eight years of tax cuts coupled with a dramatic increase in spending by the government. Those policies did far more to enlarge the government's deficit and debt ratios than the stimulus.

Note: You can view the level of the public debt for any given day or range of days on the Bureau of the Public Debt website. This is a bureau within the Treasury Department. Here's the debt page: National Debt.

Man of Steele: RNC Chair Serves Major "Swagger" During Recent Interview

It's hard not to notice RNC Chair Michael Steele's recent interview with The Washington Times. Steele makes some very heavy promises about his plans to revitalize the Republican Party, which several commentators have dismissed as irrelevant. Some of Steele's ideas seem highly ambitious if not utterly impossible (e.g., luring black voters during the Obama era), but he earns points for his surprising "swagger" and for setting an "off the hook" (his words, not mine) agenda.

Here are some interesting clips from The Washington Times interview with Michael Steele:
Newly elected Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele plans an “off the hook” public relations offensive to attract younger voters, especially blacks and Hispanics. . . .

The RNC's first black chairman [says that he] will “surprise everyone” when updating the party's image using the Internet and advertisements on radio, on television and in print. . . .

"There was underlying concerns we had become too regionalized and the party needed to reach beyond our comfort" zones. . . ."We want to convey that the modern-day GOP looks like the conservative party that stands on principles. But we want to apply them to urban-surburban hip-hop settings.” [Editor's Note: Steele, please let me know how that plan goes!]

"Dissed" by Karl Rove?
At the end of 2006. . .[Karl] Rove nixed a growing movement among RNC members . . . to elect Mr. Steele as their next chairman.

Mr. Rove subsequently left the White House. . .and with President Bush on his way out of the Oval Office, the RNC was free to choose its own chairman instead of rubber-stamping the choice of a Republican White House. [Editor's Note: Is the author a little upset with Rove's prior decision?]

While other former top Bush White House and campaign officials sent congratulations on his election . . . Mr. Rove neither phoned nor wrote his congratulations, Mr. Steele told The Times.

Steele tells detractors to "stuff it."
Top party officials and officeholders have suggested that Mr. Steele name as deputy chairman someone who can run the national committee's vast operations in fundraising, communications, candidate recruitment and training, and voter identification and targeting. [Editor's Note: Overseer? Spy?]

“I can run this organization just fine,” Mr. Steele told The Times. “There will be no deputy chairman, period.”

Still, the talk among some prominent senior Republicans was that Mr. Steele would need someone with “more experience” to provide guidance and organization. . . . . “People who said I can't make the trains run on time never gave a reason. I say to them, 'Stuff it.'"

“The idea I am somehow going to handicap myself before I begin is nuts. I am not going to buy into this mind-set among a few people who probably have never run anything but their mouths.” [Editor's Note: LOL]

My Non-Republican Take: The Dissenting Justice likes "from the hip" commentary (I even liked Howard Dean), so Steele earns big points for this interview. But be careful, Mr. Steele. People do not like losing power or being told to "stuff it." You do not have the same freedom as some loudmouth cantankerous blogger. Finally, the "change" theme is apparently everywhere!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Well, at least they are catching up. Now Charlie Savage, a mainstream card-carrying journalist, has reported that Obama has claimed authority to engage in some of the most disparaged practices of the Bush administration -- such as using rendition and invoking a broad "state secrets" privilege. A few bloggers and journalists picked up on this a while ago. But this is still an interesting development. I am particularly interested in how progressives will respond.

Chill Out, Canada: Despite Tough Campaign Rhetoric Obama Will Not Touch NAFTA

As the Democratic primaries moved through the "Rust Belt," Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton sparred viciously over NAFTA. Clinton made her famous/infamous "shame on you" speech in response to Obama's campaign advertisement, which questionably portrayed Clinton as an avid supporter of NAFTA.

Obama threatened to force the Canadians to renegotiate provisions of the statute -- even if that meant unilaterally pulling out of the agreement. Obama also pushed a strong line that linked Hillary Clinton to the passage of NAFTA. Even though she was First Lady (and not a lawmaker) at the time, Obama portrayed Clinton as a fierce advocate of the legislation.

The situation became most heated when a Canadian official suggested that Obama "winked" at Canadians behind the scenes and tried to reassure them that his NAFTA-bashing rhetoric was simply political grandstanding. Obama responded by saying that the Canadian official grossly misstated the content of his position.

After he secured the Democratic nomination, however, Obama indeed backed away from his hard anti-NAFTA rhetoric. During a June 2008 interview with Fortune, Obama said that he would not unilaterally seek to reopen negotiations concerning NAFTA. Even though he had once described NAFTA as "devastating" and as a "big mistake," he brushed those comments aside as "overheated and amplified" campaigning.

An article appearing in today's New York Times describes Obama's latest statements regarding NAFTA. Obama discussed the importance of Canada as a trading partner during an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. The interview took place in advance of his scheduled trip to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Thursday.

The article confirms prior reports which reveal that Obama has substantially backed away from his anti-NAFTA rhetoric and appears unwilling to renegotiate the terms of the agreement. Here's a clip:
''I think there are a lot of sensitivities right now because of the huge decline in world trade,'' Obama said Tuesday when asked whether now was the time to renegotiate NAFTA. He maintained that labor and environmental standards, currently part of side deals, could be better enforced if woven into the main agreement.

''But what I've also said is that Canada is one of our most important trading partners,'' Obama said in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. ''We rely on them heavily. There's $1.5 billion worth of trade going back and forth every day between the two countries. . . .It is not in anybody's interest to see that trade diminish.''

The article also discusses the so-called "Buy America" provision in the stimulus package. Apparently this provision lacks teeth because it does not disturb existing statutory requirements, including those created by NAFTA and other free trade agreements.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Utterly Unsexy Good News. . .But I'll Take It!

In today's perilous times, even our "good news" comes from a depressing and utterly unsexy context. But I'll take it.

According to the CDC, the rate of infection from MSRA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, among patients in Intensive-Care Units has dropped by 50 percent over the last decade. The most dangerous, antibiotic-resistent staph infections impact hospital patients at much higher rates than the broader community.

Here's a clip from the Time.Com article:

According to national data from 1997 to 2007, the overall rate of MRSA infections among some of the most vulnerable patients in a hospital — those in the intensive-care unit (ICU) — dropped by nearly 50%. That downward trend was true of all bloodstream infections among ICU patients, including infections with strains of staph that can be controlled with antibiotics, reports Dr. Deron Burton, a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Public Health Service at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in a study in the Feb. 18 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Update: BB-Idaho has ruined the Utterly Unsexy Good News....Apparently, the bacteria are zapping fewer hospital patients, but taking over the poor little innocent children. Bummer.

Obama's Troop Surge Begins: President OKs 17,000 Additional Troops for Afghanistan

Today, President Obama approved a request by Defense Secretary Robert Gates for the deployment of more troops to fight the war in Afghanistan. The president authorized the deployment of 17,000 additional troops. According to MSNBC, military commanders hope that President Obama will deploy a total of 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan by the summer.

Now, He's Tainted: Senator Burris Says He Tried to Raise Cash for Blagojevich

Senator Roland Burris has admitted that he tried to raise money for former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich prior to receiving the Senate appointment, but after Obama's election victory. Previously, I argued that the Senate lacked the capacity to block him from taking the seat, based on the publicly available evidence. I stand by that conclusion. But this situation certainly smells bad.

The Senate could choose to expel him, but presumably explusions must relate to post-appointment behavior. Whether or not he committed perjury depends upon the specific content of the questions the Blagojevich impeachment committee asked him and the sworn statements he provided. But, if things continue they way they have so far, I suspect he will step down.

Is this scripted? If so, there is one wicked writer in the universe. This is exactly why defense lawyers ask clients to tell them "everything" they know about the situation prior to trial. Tune in for more drama.

Update: Keeping Things in Perspective
A really bright friend agreed with me that Burris is in trouble, but he also reminded me of my and his previous positions on the matter of campaign contributions and other assistance in exchange for appointments and other political favors. Substantively, it is difficult to distinguish what Burris has done (assuming he only tried to help get campaign donations for Blagojevich) from what politicians legally do everyday.

For example, New York Governor David Paterson will probably get campaign assistance from Kirsten Gillibrand, whom he chose to replace Senator Hillary Clinton. Many commentators have openly argued that Paterson should have picked Caroline Kennedy for the position precisely because she could use her deep political and financial contacts to help advance his own career. And despite the absolutely nasty competition between Obama and Clinton, she is his top Cabinet member. Clinton campaigned for Obama and headlined fundraisers on his behalf (as did former President Clinton) prior to his election victory. Her efforts helped to make sure that the Democratic Party remained unified. In exchange for her "contribution" to Obama, she received a high-level position. Does anyone really believe Clinton would be Secretary of State had she not campaigned on behalf of and helped raise money for Obama?
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