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Ethical arms deals? Don’t make me laugh.

In recent years it’s become fashionable to hate the pharmaceutical industry, or Big Pharma (presumably if it were Little Pharma we’d like it since it might be cute and fluffy, or otherwise scamp-like), and sure, there’s plenty to dislike about their business practices (especially when they keep merging and firing scientists, a view you’d also share if you were a pharmacologist). There’s also Big Oil, who’ve been making a lot of money and generally being beastly in places like the Niger delta, but bad as they are, in my opinion they’ve all got a long way to go before they’re able to compete in the “Big league of evilness” with the arms industry. Drugs and oil might be responsible for a lot of deaths, but that’s a byproduct; selling cluster munitions so that the repressive government of your choice can use them on people it doesn’t like results in deaths that were very much intended.

But, it’s very big business, and it’s business that the permanent members of the Security Council all have a piece of. Now, the US has had it’s own scandals with the defence industry, most recently the Boeing procurement scandal comes to mind, but hailing as I do from the UK, it’s BAE Systems and their woes that have caught my attention recently.

Foremost of these involves the al-Yamamah arms deal, a multibillion dollar arrangement to sell the Saudis a load of fighter jets that their princes can pose next to in sunglasses and flight suits trying to look fierce, although Farley will no doubt point out upon his return that they did manage to shoot down a couple of Iraqi Mirages during the 1991 Gulf War .

BAE systems won this highly lucrative arms deal, but greased a few palms along the way, a practice that’s part of doing business in that part of the world, but one that the west doesn’t really like to acknowledge. The biggest beneficiary was the Saudi ambassador to the USA, Prince Bandar, also known as Bandar Bush for his close ties to the 41st President and his chums. Bandar received around $100 million a year from BAE, for two decades, a pretty significant payout in anyone’s eyes.

As news of this began to emerge, the Serious Fraud Office in the UK began an investigation into the deal, right up until they were stopped by Tony Blair. This halting of the investigation was more than a little egregious, given Blair’s constant pontification on the importance of good governance, and the big deal he made about signing the UN’s anti-corruption treaty in 2003. One of the clauses of that treaty forbids signatories from taking economic benefit into account when investigating bribery.

Bandar gave Blair the fig-leaf of legitimacy he needed to stop the probe by threatening that Saudi Arabia would cease its cooperation in intelligence operations against Al Qaeda, and that was that. Or it would be if the FBI hadn’t also gotten involved. BAE does about 40 percent of its business in the US, and so US prosecutors claim this gives them jurisdiction over the company. BAE’s CEO was recently detained for a few hours after a visit to the US, and following the trial of the Natwest 3, I’d be cancelling any US trips if I were a BAE executive.

It’s not just the FBI who’re after BAE though. The little suburb of Harper Woods in Michigan is suing BAE over the scandal, as the town employees’ pension fund includes $135,000 worth of BAE stock. Churlish as it might seem, perhaps they shouldn’t have invested in an arms manufacturer if ethical corporate behavior was something they felt strongly about? As they say, if you lie down with dogs, expect to get fleas.

Being such a big player, this isn’t the only bribery scandal that BAE is involved in. They have links to Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, although the $50,000 he got seems a little pathetic compared to Bandar’s billion.

BAE are also imbroiled in a scandal in South Africa, where their bid to supply training jets was picked over a much cheaper bid from Italy, despite vocal opposition from the South African military. In that case, BAE gave the ANC, South Africa’s ruling party, around $1 million, money that the ANC used to finance their last election (although why they needed it is a little beyond me – the chances of anyone other than the ANC being elected is more than remote, despite the ANC’s great failings as a government). South Africa, taking cues from its one-time imperial master also quashed a fraud investigation, and leader-in-waiting Jacob Zuma used the threat of spilling the beans to help get him out of hot water after having raped a young family friend.

Distateful as all these cases may be, I have to ask: “what else did you expect from arms dealers?” If, as a nation, you want to be in the arms business, which the UK certainly does, coming second only to the US in annual sales, then you better accept that part of the cost of doing business is greasing palms along the way. If you don’t want to accept that fact, realise that the French, Chinese and Russians aren’t nearly as squeamish, and kiss goodbye to those jobs and your balance of trade.

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the smear machine isn’t functioning properly.

[ 7 ] June 10, 2008 |

Below, Bean points us to the NRO’s campaign spot blog, calling for the release of Obama’s birth certificate for some truly strange reasons (more good snark on the logic behind these “controversies” from marvelous Jesse Taylor, fresh off his sabbatical in The Real World).

Inexplicably, I’ve perused NRO’s The Corner blog occasionally over the years, but this is my first exposure to The campaign spot blog. This would seem to be a good place to watch the right wing smear machine functioning in the early stages. So, let’s see what they’ve been up to lately.

The issue that seems to be generating the most excitement at the moment is the “Jim Johnson controversy,” in which Obama places a businessman tied to the home mortgage crisis on his VP selection committee. See here, here and here. This is going to be a tricky one, as the ability to score any kind of relative gains with this is reliant on no reciprocal attention to the unsavory connections of McCain’s associates. Since he’s already been forced to bid adieu to his Myanmar junta lobbyists, I’m not sure this is a winning strategy overall for the GOP.

So what else have they got? Other than the birth certificate nonsense, the last few days have seen:

Some people like Obama a lot, and he’s not doing anything to stop them!

McCain’s full-throated support for a disastrous and unpopular war doesn’t actually make him a warmonger like those mean democrats say.

McCain would be in fine shape if only white people voted.

McCain responds to comments tying him to the sitting president whose central policy commitments he overwhelmingly supports by trying to tie Obama to a president who left office 28 years ago (omitted: similarities between Carter and Obama) Zing!

Obama may have written some of his first book ON FOREIGN SOIL!

Those Newsweek bastards didn’t let Lieberman aides spin their story, proving they are in the tank for Obama.

That, aside from a bit of McCain campaign stenography, is all they’ve got. I am a worrier and a pessimist, and I was expecting to find something that would feed those impulses, but it’s just not there. We’ve worked very hard to steel ourselves for the onslaught of the right wing smear machine, perhaps for good reason. But, a) that machine has suffered some collateral damage from the hit the Republican party has taken in the last four years, and b)some on the left may have been so concerned about underestimating it that we ended up overestimating it instead.

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Numbers Four and Five are What We Call "Related"

[ 14 ] June 10, 2008 |

As an addendum to Scott’s post below, allow me to quote directly from the “Stand Up For America Survey” (and donation pitch) that inexplicably arrived with the office mail this morning.

4. Senators Obama and Clinton support abortion and oppose overturning Roe v. Wade. Senator McCain has a twenty-five year pro-life record and supports overturning Roe v. Wade. Which presidential candidate’s positions do you support?

5. John McCain will nominate judges who enforce — not make — the law, judges of the quality and character of Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito. Senators Obama and Clinton voted against Justices Roberts and Alito and favor liberal activist judges. Which presidential candidate’s positions do you support?

The survey includes a postage-paid envelope that is, unfortunately, not large enough to contain a brick. The administrative staff around here have been debating whether an envelope filled with rocks would damage the sorting machines at the post office. Curiously, no one seems especially inclined to call and ask.

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McCain, Roe, and "Minimalism"

[ 0 ] June 10, 2008 |

Patterico objects to an LA Times editorial asserting that McCain will appoint justices who share his views that Roe v. Wade is wrong and should be overturned. Patterico argues that McCain has said that he would appoint judges like Alito and Roberts, who have declined (so far) to argue explicitly that Roe should be overturned.

But this is a distinction without a difference: there’s no evidence of any meaningful distinction between Scalia/Thomas and Roberts/Alito on the issue of reproductive freedom. None of the four will ever vote to rule a restriction on abortion unconstitutional. Whether the Court explicitly announces that Roe is overruled doesn’t matter if the Court is going to stop providing any meaningful protection for abortion rights. This was Rehnquist’s strategy in Webster: the Court could uphold a draconian ban on abortion without overturning Roe as long as there was some minor difference (such as a rape/incest exception) between one ban and the Texas law struck down in Roe. And I’m not even sure that such differences are necessary. After all, if we remember Carhart II — the most ridiculous example of the Roberts’s Courts fake minimalism — you can apparently uphold a statute virtually identical to one struck down earlier without overturning the previous case.

So the LA Times is essentially right. What matters is whether McCain will seek to appoint justices who will provide meaningful protection to aboriton rights, and it’s clear that he will not. There’s no reason to pretend that the de farco overrulings of the Roberts Court actually leave precedents standing. Whether the Court dismantles abortion rights piecemeal or through a single dramatic opinion isn’t important except that the former is politically better for the Republican Party. Democrats are under no obligation to provide this political cover.

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And this is necessary because?

[ 0 ] June 10, 2008 |

The NRO is echoing conservative calls for Obama to release his birth certificate to debunk…something or other that is unclear (vague claims that Obama was not actually born in the U.S. and other bunk like that).

My favorite rumor that the NRO would like the birth certificate to debunk: that Obama’s middle name is Muhammad not Hussein. Because Hussein is sooo much less “muslim-sounding” that he must be hiding something.

Is this the best the right wing can do?

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A newer deal?

It got somewhat lost yesterday, what with the world going loopy over a new iPhone, but the General Election kicked off properly, now that Senator Clinton has done the decent thing after finally acknowledged what most of us knew after the Pennsylvania primary. Barack Obama, freed of the need to be mindful of appealing to uncommitted primary voters, has launched a two-week tour targeting McCain, and if his speech in North Carolina was anything to go by, the gloves got left in Illinois.

Anyone who thought that Obama’s promise to bring a new kind of politics to the 2008 campaign meant a passive, ‘sweetness and light’ approach received a rude awakening as he repeatedly laid into McCain’s inconsistent positions and ill-thought out campaign promises, particularly on the economy:

John McCain once said that he couldn’t vote for the Bush tax breaks in good conscience because they were too skewed to the wealthiest Americans. Later, he said it was irresponsible to cut taxes during a time of war because we simply couldn’t afford them. Well, nothing’s changed about the war, but something’s certainly changed about John McCain, because these same Bush tax cuts are now his central economic policy. Not only that, but he is now calling for a new round of tax giveaways that are twice as expensive as the original Bush plan and nearly twice as regressive. His policy will spend nearly $2 trillion on tax breaks for corporations, including $1.2 billion for Exxon alone, a company that just recorded the highest profits in history.

Think about that. At a time when we’re fighting two wars, when millions of Americans can’t afford their medical bills or their tuition bills, when we’re paying more than $4 a gallon for gas, the man who rails against government spending wants to spend $1.2 billion on a tax break for Exxon Mobil. That isn’t just irresponsible. It’s outrageous.

Along the way, Obama has also been mooting the idea of using public spending to stimulate the economy, provide jobs, and tackling the growing problem of deferred maintenance of the nation’s infrastructure. To put that problem in context, the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission issued a report that underlined just how much work really needs to be done to the US’ highways and byways to bring them back up to spec: at least $220 billion a year for the next few decades. That’s almost twice as much as the country is spending in Iraq, which I think we can all agree is a lot of dough.

From where I’m sitting, putting the nation to work to start fixing the things that the baby boomers didn’t feel the need to pay for is more than a good idea, it’s an urgent necessity, and anyone who’s feared for their life braving the potholes on I-75 might agree. Then again, I’m a European and Keynesian policies aren’t the economic equivalent of McCain’s insult to his wife were I come from. Is the US ready for a public works program to try and return the country to its salad days of the 50s and 60s? Or has the Chicago school so thoroughly infected the discourse that any attempt would be portrayed as a remake of Il Duce draining the marshes?

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Whither Feminism?

Fire-thrower Linda Hirshman has a piece in the Washington Post today in which she bemoans feminism’s (newfound?) focus on intersectionality. She writes:

So what keeps the movement from realizing its demographic potential? First, it’s divided along lines so old that they feel like geological faults. Long before this campaign highlighted the divides of race, class and age, feminism was divided by race, class and age. As early as 1973, some black feminists formed a National Black Feminist Organization; in 1984, the writer Alice Walker coined the term “womanism” to distinguish black women’s liberation from feminism, the white version. In the early 1970s, writer and activist Barbara Ehrenreich argued on behalf of “socialist feminism,” saying that the women’s movement couldn’t succeed unless it attacked capitalism. The movement was barely out of its teens when Walker’s daughter, Rebecca, announced a new wave to distinguish her generation’s feminism from the already divided feminisms of the people who had spawned it.

This would have been enough to weaken the movement. But it still could have been like many other reform movements, which manage to remain effective by using such traditional political tools as alliances and compromises. There’s an old-fashioned term for it — “log-rolling.” Put crudely: First I vote for your issue, then you vote for mine.

The mostly white, middle-class feminist organizations could have established relationships of mutual convenience with groups such as the black feminists. An alliance like that might have been able to prevent the confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court in 1991. White feminists opposed him, but he had enough support among black voters — who are heavily female — to induce four Southern Democratic senators who were heavily dependent on black votes for reelection to cast the crucial votes to confirm him.

But feminists weren’t going to do things the old-fashioned, “political” way. Instead, faced with criticism that the movement was too white and middle-class, many influential feminist thinkers conceded that issues affecting mostly white middle-class women — such as the corporate glass ceiling or the high cost of day care — should not significantly concern the feminist movement. Particularly in academic circles, only issues that invoked the “intersectionality” of many overlapping oppressions were deemed worthy. Moreover, that concern must include the whole weight of those oppressions. In other words, since racism hurts black women, feminists must fight not only racist misogyny but racism in any form; not only rape as an instrument of war, but war itself. The National Organization for Women (NOW) eventually amended its mission statement to include interrelated oppressions.

Although other organizations work on women’s issues when appropriate, none of the other social movements were much interested in making intersectionality their mission. The nation’s oldest civil rights organization, the NAACP, which co-sponsored the 2004 march in alliance with women’s groups, says nothing about feminism or homophobia or intersectionality in its mission statement. The largest Hispanic rights organization, National Council of La Raza, unembarrassedly proclaims that it “works to improve opportunities for Hispanic Americans.”

While I have sometimes found myself nodding my head in agreement with Hirshman, I have to agree with Jill that Hirshman’s painting of feminism is outdated and, frankly, head-scratch-inducing.

Hirshman’s neat division of issues into “feminist” and “other” (my labels) just doesn’t work. As jill notes, Hirshman’s privileging of white, middle class feminist issues as “purely feminist” and the issues of poor women and women of color as somehow less feminist encapsulates and reinforces the problem that made feminism passe to begin with. People rightly perceived feminism as a wealthy white women’s movement. It’s come a long way (though certainly not all the way, as various blog brouhahas make clear) toward a broader notion of what issues are “feminist.” But Hirshman wants to drag us back. And young feminists — rightly — are not going without some kicking and screaming.

So Hirshman’s incendiary vision seems to be just a rehash of the same old intergenerational feminist battles. It’s time to put them away. For good.

Update: Jen @ Feministing has more, including reactions to an online chat with Hirshman today.

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Presidential Statement of the Day

[ 8 ] June 9, 2008 |

Gerald Ford, discussing the New Jersey, Ohio and California primary results with reporters, 9 June 1976:

I think the polls as a whole indicate that I am electable. We have an occasional poll that shows a dip here or a dip there, but if you take the consensus of the polls, I think it proves beyond any doubt that I am electable.

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Shape of the Earth, Views Differ

[ 0 ] June 9, 2008 |

Matt asks, in re: a ridiculous LA Times editorial claiming that McCain and Obama are pretty much the same if you just ignore their massive policy differences on virtually every important issue:

Clearly, though, there’s a substantial difference between the candidates and I have no idea why the press would think that obscuring that is a good idea — conflict sells papers! And it’s true!

Ah, how quickly we’ve forgotten 2000. Blurring policy differences between the candidates, and in particular confusion personal claims of moderation from Republican presidents with moderate policies, is central to Republican strategy. And the media is generally willing to go along. World-weary High Broderism, of course, requires above all else the assumption that elections don’t have significant consequences, allowing elections to therefore turn on meaningless personal trivia. (And this wasn’t just conservatives, either; remember Frank Rich’s endless string of Gush/Bore columns.)

And in 2000, of course, the message that there was no meaningful policy differences between a center-left Democrat and a Republican who governed to the right of the Texas legislature was reinforced by a narcissistic third party candidate bent on electing the latter. Hopefully, the small portion of alleged progressives for whom one centrist Democrat was fine but another one with a somewhat more progressive record is completely unacceptable will not have similar influence.

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So, I’m Thinking…

….that in order to avoid total insanity due to the tedium and pure mind-numbing boringness that is bar review, I may have to write a tragic opera about BarBri. Libretto and musical suggestions are welcome.

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Conservative History: Still Crap

[ 20 ] June 9, 2008 |

The thing is, this actually sounds like an improvement in the genre:

[Daniel] Flynn generally views the history of the left through the crude lens of a propagandist: he considers the Unabomber a member of the environmental movement, claims Lee Harvey Oswald was a “communist assassin” and insists that federal largesse makes Medicare recipients “a burden to everyone.” And Flynn so loathes the sexual libertinism of the Beats that he resorts to physiognomy, of all things, to explain the most flamboyant among them: “If ever a face projected the seediness and perversions of the brain behind it, Allen Ginsberg’s did.”

Well… I dunno….

I digress.

Flynn’s more favorable reviewers in creditless places indicate that he’s especially preoccupied with “antebellum communists,” including the followers of the proto-socialist Robert Owen or various communitarians devoted to free love and vegetables (not necessarily in combination).

Setting aside the fact that Flynn seems upset about such fascist innovations as offal ordure-free beef, the apparently lengthy treatment of antebellum reformers is bizarre, since every historian I can think of would place these groups — for all their unusual notions and utterly harmless optimism — squarely within a democratizing tradition that would also have included the protestant revivalism of the second (or third, depending upon how you count them) Great Awakening. Moreover, the momentum for post-civil war liberalism and progressivism derived almost completely from anxieties provoked by corporate capitalism, and the leading voices in these movements took their cues from German and American social science rather than from the failed communes of the 1830s. But Flynn, out-pantloading even the Pantload, apparently finds a straight line from graham crackers to gulags. Wonders never cease.

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Can Separate Be good?

We found out six months ago or so that teen pregnancy rates are up in the US for the first time in many years. This of course translates to more pregnant high school students (particularly given that there has not been an attendant rise in abortion rates). Pregnant and parenting high school students unsurprisingly may have a tough time meeting some of the obligations their schools place upon them. So the question becomes: how to best accommodate the needs of pregnant and parenting teens while enabling and encouraging them to stay in school? Under Title IX, schools are required to make accommodations for pregnant and parenting students. But many don’t.

One solution has been to set up separate schools for pregnant and parenting teens (so-called “p-schools”), including the Pritchett School in Boise, Idaho. According to a recent article:

The school offers day care and a baby-supply store. Mothers can nurse their babies at the back of classrooms. The school’s size — just 45 students — allows the girls to get a lot of attention. Classes start after 9 a.m., and extracurricular activities are focused on skills such as business, parenting, and family law.

Above all, the school drills the value of a diploma. Incoming students are snapped wearing a cap and gown. Their photos hang in the hallway as a visual goal.

In the past several years, the school has managed to get 80 to 92 percent of the girls to graduate, and roughly half of them go on to college or junior college. “I have big plans,” says Alicia, who is heading to Boise State University in the fall to study culinary arts. “I am going to be head chef of some fancy restaurant.”

Sounds pretty good, right? But there’s also a downside: concerns abound that the schools offer sub-standard education and that separating pregnant teens from their peers might not ultimately be a wise move. Because of these concerns, p-schools have lost funding and are facing closure.

So what are we to do? Continue to “mainstream” or provide the services pregnant and parenting teens need but only in a separate school? I’m not sure which trade-offs we should be willing to make.

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