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Bill Kristol: Man of Vision

[ 5 ] January 8, 2008 |

So as many folks are probably aware, Kristol launched his Times gig by misattributing a Michael Medved quotation to “the conservative writer Michelle Malkin” — a phrase that makes, in any event, about as much sense as “the gastronome Joey Chestnut.”

So in the spirit of kicking a deserving man while he’s down, here’s another nugget of crackerjack analysis from the Personification of Why Times Select was Actually a Brilliant Idea.

Some Democrats are licking their chops at the prospect of a Huckabee nomination. They shouldn’t be. For one thing, Michael Bloomberg would be tempted to run in the event of an Obama-Huckabee race — and he would most likely take votes primarily from Obama.

As someone once wrote, sadly, no:

NORMAN, Okla. — He arrived here for what seemed like it could be a big moment. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, eyeing a third-party presidential bid, joined Republican and Democratic elders at a forum to denounce the extreme partisanship of Washington and plot how to influence the campaign.

But even as the mayor gathered on Monday with the seasoned Washington hands on the campus of the University of Oklahoma, the surging presidential campaign of Senator Barack Obama seemed to steal energy from the event and set off worry elsewhere among Mr. Bloomberg’s supporters.

Mr. Obama has stressed that he wants to move beyond gridlocked politics and usher in an era of national unity. A key organizer of the effort to draft Mr. Bloomberg for a presidential run acknowledged in an interview on Monday that that Mr. Obama’s rise could be problematic.

“Obama is trying to reach out to independent voters, and that clearly would be the constituency that Mike Bloomberg would go after,” said Andrew MacRae, who heads the Washington chapter of Draft Mike Bloomberg for President 2008. “An Obama victory does not make it impossible, but it certainly makes it more difficult.”

Shouldn’t Kristol be spending his time advocating for an American invasion somewhere? If he’s just going to make shit up, shouldn’t he be aiming a little higher than this?

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On Killing the NPT

[ 0 ] January 8, 2008 |

So, Michael Dobbs at the Washington Post, in his capacity as debate fact-checker, made the argument that Barack Obama’s claim that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty “fell apart” during the Bush administration is a stretch:

There have certainly been a lot of reverses over the last seven years, particularly on North Korea, but things weren’t great under Clinton. It was under Clinton, after all, that India and Pakistan both tested nuclear weapons, which put a huge hole in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association sent an e-mail to Dobbs noting that neither Pakistan nor India were parties to the NPT, and that, moreover, the Bush administration has enjoyed significant reverses in several other regions on the non-proliferation issue. Dobbs reply was largely unresponsive (claiming that Pakistani nukes are a threat to the US is really sidestepping the issue), but did make the following argument:

Nevertheless, the twin nuclear tests by India and then Pakistan in 1998 came as a huge shock to the Clinton administration, and did much to undermine the international non-proliferation norms established by the treaty. Once those two countries went nuclear, other countries lost the incentive to abide by the treaty.

This may seem fairly arcane, but there’s really a lot going on here. Much of the problem revolves around the question of what, specifically, a treaty like the NPT is supposed to do. The “surprise” part of Dobbs argument above is simply a non-sequiter; whether anyone was surprised by the tests (and we certainly weren’t terribly surprised by the Pakistani test) is utterly irrelevant to whether the NPT was effective or not. The incentive bit is also wrong; neither Pakistan nor India were signatories to the NPT, so if incentives were changed it was by the international reaction to the tests, rather than the tests themselves. In this there was a clear, largely, and blindingly obvious distinction between the Clinton and Bush administrations; Clinton treated both states harshly, and Bush has essentially rewarded both (especially India). The Clinton reaction reinforces the NPT incentive structure, while the Bush reaction undermines it. Another way of putting this is that while the violation of a norm does tend to undermine that norm, the reaction to the violation is often just as important, and the reaction of Bush and Clinton was quite different. As such, Dobbs essentially has no case.

And then there’s all the other stuff that the Bush administration has done to undermine the NPT, including the inadvertent facilitation of North Korea’s nuclear program, the neglect of the CTBT (a treaty that established norms complimentary to that of the NPT), the drive for RRW (reliable replacement warhead), the various loose talk of developing new bunker buster nukes, and finally the establishment of a new non-proliferation norm that runs something like this: States that the US likes get to have nukes, and states that the US doesn’t like get bombed.

All in all, I’d say that the Bush administration has done a pretty effective job of killing the NPT. Moreover, given the contempt that the administration has had for any kind of international agreement that places any restrictions on US behavior, this is hardly surprising; I think they’re actually rather proud of their effort.

Jeffrey Lewis has more.

Cross-posted to TAPPED.

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Disagreeing with Steinem

[ 50 ] January 8, 2008 |

It’s a somewhat delicious coincidence that the “Iron my Shirt” scandal has broken on the very same day as the Times published Gloria Steinem’s op-ed column calling on women to vote for Clinton because she is a woman.

That said, I’ve got to agree with Melinda Henneberger here (words I thought I’d never say). Voting feminist does not necessarily equate to voting for Clinton. As much as I — and many other young feminists — would love to vote for her, she doesn’t support our progressive feminist values as strongly and vehemently as some of her competitors do. Maybe she once did, but that day has been lost in the morass of her “experience.”

And I don’t think Steinem does her any favors. In a way that feeds right into feminist critics, her column feels more like a scolding than a call to arms.

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Today in Racist Pandering

[ 3 ] January 8, 2008 |

Mike Huckabee advocates a return to Dred Scott-era citizenship rules for American-born children of illegal aliens. What’s even more pathetic is that he wants to join in crank litigation to claim that the 14th Amendment doesn’t actually say what it says:

Mr. Huckabee, who won last week’s Republican Iowa caucuses, promised Minuteman Project founder James Gilchrist that he would force a test case to the Supreme Court to challenge birthright citizenship, and would push Congress to pass a 28th Amendment to the Constitution to remove any doubt.

The last line is rich; crazily enough, I must admit to harboring “doubts” about whether the constitutional command that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside” in fact permits the United States to deny citizenship to people born in the United States. What’s the argument — that illegal aliens aren’t “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States? I don’t think that a complete exemption from the laws for millions of people is a good idea, but call me crazy…

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Bad Signs for Baze

[ 0 ] January 8, 2008 |

It’s been buried by NH primary news, but it’s worth noting that the Supreme Court heard Baze v. Rees yesterday. The case challenges Kentucky’s use of a three-drug cocktail to execute the condemned.

By all accounts, it does not look good for Baze, who is challenging the procedure. As Linda Greenhouse recounts this morning, even Justice Stevens appeared during oral argument to be heading down the path of least resistance; he suggested that he would avoid the constitutional 8th Amendment (cruel & unusual) question by holding that Kentucky is properly administering the drugs and therefore not causing the condemned undue pain.

Scalia, of course, would like us to return to the dark ages. From SCOTUSblog:

Justice Antonin Scalia, among the Court’s most conservative Justices, spoke out strenuously against any move to return the case for more evidence-gathering, suggesting that would only mean a continuing nationwide moratorium on executions with a resolution of the validity of the three-drug protocol put off; Scalia said “it could take years.” Scalia also was the one Justice who focused on a constitutional standard to apply to execution methods, saying that it is not a constitutional requirement that a state use “the method of execution that causes the least pain.” Those who wrote the Eighth Amendment, he said, were only concerned with punishment that amounted to actual torture, “the intentional infliction of pain….There is no painless requirement in there.”

So for the time being, it looks like the three-drug cocktail is likely to stick around, despite its defects. And we will continue to put down dogs more humanely than we execute humans.

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That’s Some Catch

[ 19 ] January 8, 2008 |

Kerry Howley gets it right in responding to John Edwards affecting Manliness in response to Clinton briefly crying:

Add to this useful list of the worst jobs in the world: consultant to any candidate with breasts. Show emotion and you’re weak; show strength and you’re a collection of servos. Respond to attacks with emotion and you’re “angry.” Respond with equanimity and you’re cold and distant. Shy from war and you’re too feminine to lead; embrace it and you’re the establishment’s whore. And the worst thing you can do? Acknowledge, in any way, shape, or form, the existence of sexism in these United States.


This also reminds me that I forgot to link to Howley’s NYT op-ed this weekend, which was also good. Yes, sure, in ideal world it would be nice if all candidates for public office had accomplishments entirely innocent of social conditions, but this is nothing like the actual world about American politics. Leaving aside even the most obvious examples like Bush, I don’t recall anyone saying that John McCain shouldn’t be considered for public office because he owes his place in office to his military service, and hos service (and subsequent visibility of his heroism) were partially a product of the fact that his father was an admiral and his grandfather was an admiral. It’s not surprising that women have often taken advantage of dynasties to gain political power; it’s exactly the same way in that men have exploited social connections, except that many of the networks available to politicians have historically been closed to women.

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Laugh Lines

[ 12 ] January 8, 2008 |

Heading into tonight’s New Hampshire primary with McCain and Obama as the frontrunners, I have to wonder….does anyone else find it funny that McCain keeps calling for change, yet his policy proposals ensure more of the same?

I know Romney, too, is touting himself as a candidate for change. All of which makes me want to short with derision. Is this some wonk’s strategy to undermine Obama’s calls for change?

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The Dilemma of the Irresponsible Media

[ 40 ] January 7, 2008 |

Dana is right, of course, that there was a considerable amount of sexism inherent in characterizations of Clinton’s debate performance on Saturday. (“Medusa look,” ugh.) This presents Democratic primary voters with a dilemma, for reasons that Matt’s point should make clear:

Getting good press is part of being an effective candidate and part of being an effective president. Will Obama continue to get this kind of worshipful coverage in the general election campaign? Probably not, especially if he has to run against Saint John of Arizona. But will he get better coverage than Clinton or Edwards would? Almost certainly. And I don’t think it makes sense to let resentment be the governing consideration here.

I’m a little ambivalent about this. On the one hand, I agree that since any major Dem would be vastly preferable to any major GOP candidate, it would be irresponsible to just ignore the fact that Obama is likely to receive much more favorable coverage than Clinton or Edwards. On the other hand, it’s important to be careful not to fall into a “blame the victim” trap here. While maybe some of the problems that Gore and Hillary Clinton have had with the media may be failures of management, I suspect most of the problem is caused by the fact that a lot of elite media figures don’t like them and there’s nothing they can do about it. (In Gore’s case, the evidence is pretty clear.) And in Clinton’s case, where some of the bad coverage reflects grossly sexist assumptions, there’s the additional risk that placing too much weight on media coverage will make this sexism become a self-sustaining dynamic that excludes women from political office.

For me, the dilemma is resolvable because while I would be extremely reluctant to let the prospect of unfavorable media coverage dissuade me from supporting a candidate I thought was clearly superior on the merits, I don’t think that Clinton has made this case. (YMMV.) But even if Clinton isn’t your first choice, it’s still important to be vigilant about sexist smears of her in the media — whatever its effect on the primary it’s unacceptable.

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Bagram: Still There

[ 72 ] January 7, 2008 |

There’s a good piece by Tim Golden in today’s Times about the detention center at Bagram, where conditions are even more bleak than at Guantanamo; conditions are overcrowded (the population having increased from around 100 to nearly 700 since 2002), detainees have no access to lawyers, and the the US continues in many instances to prevent the Red Cross access to prisoners in a timely fashion. Moreover, as Emily Bazelon among others reported nearly three years ago, there’s no question that the US has used torture at Bagram as well as other facilities in Afghanistan. And the Jacoby Report, the only official investigation into these abuses, was so heavily redacted as to be nearly useless — at least to anyone who might be interested in how detainees are defined, what kinds of interrogations tactics were approved, what oversight measures might have been in place to prevent abuses, and so on.

The Bush administration vaguely claims (as it does with Gitmo) that it would prefer to shut down the facility and turn over the mostly Afghan prisoners to the Karzai government, but the Times article makes it clear that this won’t be happening any time soon. There are several reasons for this, but among the more telling points made in the piece, Golden reports that while a new Afghan-run facility has been completed, the US won’t turn over the detainees unless Afghanistan promises to replicate the legally dubious system created by the Bush administration.

Yet even before the construction began in early 2006, the creation of the new Afghan National Detention Center was complicated by turf battles among Afghan government ministries, some of which resisted the American strategy, officials of both countries said.

A push by some Defense Department officials to have Kabul authorize the indefinite military detention of “enemy combatants” — adopting a legal framework like that of Guantánamo — foundered in 2006 when aides to President Hamid Karzai persuaded him not to sign a decree that had been written with American help.

On the one hand, it’s instructive to note that the Afghan government seems to be pushing back on this; I’m sure the weakness of the state itself (rather than any devotion to principle) explains the resistance. Still, the apparent permanence of the Bagram facility is an appalling prospect.

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Escaping the Penn

[ 9 ] January 7, 2008 |

One does indeed hope that should Clinton go on to lose the primary it would have the salutary effect of permanently discrediting Mark Penn. (Although, alas, always losing competitive campaigns hasn’t been much of a bar to cashing checks from Democratic candidates in every cycle in the past.) And I also agree that choosing Penn has to be seen in itself as a significant strike against Clinton, especially since her shrewd political intrinsics are supposed to be a major selling point. I don’t know about you, but I don’t fully trust someone willing to put her primary fate in the hands of the architect of Joementum! to win the general election.

Speaking of prescient Mark Schmitt posts, this critique of Penn’s largely worthless polling contains a passage that seems especially relevant:

Penn also makes a particular use of his political typology, which is to declare that a certain voter category of his own devising is “the key” to the election because it could go either way: soccer moms, office park dads, wired workers, etc., or in his corporate work, “Mom-fluentials.” Even if the category is firmly defined, and even if it is a “swing” category, that form of analysis rests on two other assumptions: That almost all other demographic categories are not swingable, and that the electorate cannot be expanded — that is, that non-voters cannot be made voters. But neither assumption is justified: As I argued last fall, Karl Rove showed that the Republican base could be expanded, and so can the Democratic base, and in 2006, virtually every demographic category increased its Democratic vote significantly. To define a particular group as key is to deny those other possibilities, and in doing so, leads to a particular narrowing brand of politics focused exclusively on the concerns of the group defined as “key,” which in Penn’s case is reliably the upper half of the middle class.

Obama’s upset win in Iowa is probably in some measure a result of his understanding things about American politics that Clinton’s team doesn’t. And the fact that Penn’s strategy is always focused on the upper-middle-class may explain why Obama’s apparent status as the “wine track” candidate hasn’t held up.

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Kristol Channels Friedman

[ 12 ] January 7, 2008 |

The general absurdity and delusion aside (how could anyone ever have expected something different from a cog so deeply enmeshed in the GOP/think tank machine; moreover, should Kristol be celebrating a defeat for the most right wing foreign policy candidate in the Dem primary?!), the worst part of Kristol’s column has to be this:

I was watching the debate at the home of a savvy, moderately conservative New Hampshire Republican. It was at this moment that he turned to me and said: “You know, I’ve been a huge skeptic about Huckabee. I’m still not voting for him Tuesday. But I’ve got to say — I like him. And I wonder — could he be our strongest nominee?”

Oh, come on, Bill, be straight with us; wasn’t it really a software engineer from Bombay? Or a Tel Aviv taxi cab driver? If you’re going to put together a Friedman-Kristol mashup, at least put in some effort.

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Grey’s Anatomy? Seriously?

[ 27 ] January 7, 2008 |

Old news, but I hadn’t seen before that Barack Obama had declared the Wire his favorite television program, while Clinton prefers Grey’s Anatomy, and Edwards remains stuck in 1994. It’s kind of interesting; even at this late date, I would have thought there was some risk for a politician in describing a preference for a show that constitutes “an elaborate, moving brief for despair and (ultimately) indifference”.

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