Niall Ferguson has written a column in which he and his editors make fools of themselves for writing allowing him to write that Barack Obama is like Felix the Cat because they are both black, and they are both “very, very lucky.” But firstly because they are both black.
Actually, Ferguson’s point — such that it is — is that Obama is lucky (see Yglesias and Jason Zengerle on the stupidity of Ferguson’s lede and premise, respectively). Here are a couple of reasons why, according to Ferguson, Obama is lucky.
Felix the Prez is lucky in domestic politics, too. After months of wrangling, Al Franken was finally confirmed as senator for Minnesota, giving the Democrats a potentially crucial margin of advantage in the upper house of Congress. To prove the point, the Senate last week voted by 68 to 31 to confirm the president’s pick, Sonia Sotomayor, as the next associate justice of the Supreme Court.
Obama is lucky because an incoming Senator who won election eight months ago is now being seated, eight months later. He’s also lucky because he picked a highly qualified nominee for the Supreme Court, and that the Senate voted to confirm this highly qualified nominee.
New thesis for Ferguson’s latest book: we’re very lucky that a system of currency evolved, because otherwise we’d all just be sitting around juggling objects that we could be using as money.
(image from flickr user teadrinker, under a Creative Commons license)
I’m not going to make a substantive comment on Sarah Palin’s hatchet job of an op-ed in the Post. Instead, I’m going to do what good East Coast elites are supposed to do: make fun of her.
The ironic beauty in this plan? Soon, even the most ardent liberal will understand supply-side economics.
The Americans hit hardest will be those already struggling to make ends meet. As the president eloquently puts it, their electricity bills will “necessarily skyrocket.” So much for not raising taxes on anyone making less than $250,000 a year.
Even Warren Buffett, an ardent Obama supporter, admitted that under the cap-and-tax scheme, “poor people are going to pay a lot more for electricity.” [emphasis mine]
Heh. At least she didn’t pull out any Michael Gerson-esque similes.
I meant to publish this on Monday, the day after I read gagged on the following article on the front page of The Washington Post, announcing Sarah Palin’s resignation:
Sarah Palin, the Republican Alaska governor who captivated the nation with a combative brand of folksy politics, announced her resignation yesterday in characteristic fashion: She stood on her back lawn in Wasilla, speaking into a single microphone, accompanied by friends and neighbors in baseball hats and polo shirts.
Palin offered few clues about her ambitions but said she arrived at her decision in part to protect her family, which has faced withering criticism and occasional mockery, and to escape ethics probes that have drained her family’s finances and hampered her ability to govern. She said leaving office is in the best interest of the state and will allow her to more effectively advocate for issues of importance to her, including energy independence and national security. [emphasis mine, in case you, dear reader, somehow missed the obsequiousness that is dripping out of this article]
I don’t think this depiction of events could be portrayed more favorably if it were written by Sarah Palin her-egomanical-self. Some facts omitted and distorted: Palin, a polarizing figure, cannot be said to have “captivated the nation” by any objective stretch of the imagination; her account of the “frivolous ethics probes” is here taken at unquestioned face value; her family has been scorned much less than she has shoved it in the public spotlight of her own volition; and, hilariously, the notion that proximity to Russia “national security” is an “issue of importance to her” is a crassly political seed-laying.
Beyond this, though, is my continued perplexedness over how Sarah Palin and her defenders can continue to harp on “media elites,” and blame them for her downfall, when even the supposedly liberal Washington Post bends over backwards to make her look good — is a “back lawn” with “friends and neighbors in baseball hats and polo shirts” anything short of an ideal for a politician? — in its coverage of an embarassing resignation.
In case we missed the message, the Post published this “news analysis” by Dan Balz alongside the above-quoted article:
Sarah Palin demonstrated once again yesterday that she is one of America’s most unconventional politicians, following an unpredictable path to an uncertain future.
That Alaska’s Republican governor has a flair for the theatrical — and plays by her own rules — was underscored anew by her stunning announcement that not only will she not seek reelection in 2010, she will resign her office this month.
But are Palin’s rules those of someone with the capacity to seek and win her party’s presidential nomination in 2012, as many believe is her ultimate goal, or of someone who has flashed like a meteor across the political skies but with limited impact? [emphasis, need you be reminded, mine]
When the the only other option than winning a presidential nomination is flying through the sky like a glowing meteor, I think it’s safe to say that we have an objectivity problem here.
Brian Fung of FP Passport uncovers some fascinating tidbits from U.S. interrogations of Saddam Hussein. I found the following extremely interesting.
Hussein continued the dialogue on the issues relating to the significant threat to Iraq from Iran. Even though Hussein claimed iraq did not have WMD, the threat from Iran was the major factor as to why he did not allow the return of the UN inspectors. Hussein stated he was more concerned about Iran discovering Iraq’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities than the repercussions o the United States for his refusal to allow UN inspectors back into Iraq. In his opinion, the UN inspectors would have directly identified to the Iranians where to inflict maximum damage to Iarq. [sic, and emphasis mine]
What’s most shocking is how completely U.S. policymakers seem to have missed this angle. So obsessed were they in Hussein’s “terrorist” threat — or, more accurately, in selling the fear of this threat to their political constituencies back home — that they entirely misunderstood motives that, with any serious study of the reason, would have been eminently clear.
Combined with something else I read recently (I think it was this) about the corresponding futility of trying to understand the Iranian nuclear program without reference, first and foremost, to the Iraq-Iran war, this information proves to me the preeminence of regional dynamics over the big “anti-American” confrontation that American politicians always seem to assume is the driving force of everything. This is hubris, certainly, but it is also just supremely short-sighted. And it’s the kind of thing that torture definitely won’t help you uncover.
(image from flickr user iDip under a Creative Commons license)
I’m all in favor of legalizing marijuana (and taxing it would be okay, too), but I think it’s an exaggerration to say it could “save California.”
FP’s Annie Lowrey on a bill introduced by Senators Graham and Lieberman that would bury every single photograph or video taken during GW Bush’s tenure in a deep dark secret cave classify detainee treatment photos/videos taken between 9/11/01 and 1/22/09 as impervious to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests:
It seems to me to be a dangerous thing — to group all photographs of detainees together, and ensure they never see light. This is no longer really about the Abu Ghraib photos; at this point, we know what happened, the perpetrators have been punished. But the Bush administration codified the abuse of detainees in secret prisons. It was systemic, and it was law. And if there are photographs of those interrogations, they should be open to FOIA requests, at the very least.
I agree wholeheartedly with sentences 1, 3, and 5; concerns should be taken into account when determine whether and which photos to release — namely the consent of those being abused in the photos, for example — but a blanket cover-up is in the interests of neither ensuring accountability, moving forward, or, chiefly, maintaining a free and open society. This smacks of a political move, and the fact that the chosen end date for the period is only two days after Obama’s inauguration seems designed to ensure that certain elements of Bush’s legacy are simply kept out of history.
So I cannot agree with the last two-thirds of the second sentence in the above graf. This may not be about the Abu Ghraib photos — let alone those at Bagram and any other black sites — and it certainly is not for those like Graham and Lieberman trying to politicize the issue in the other direction. But it is about torture, and U.S. policy, and what the highest-ranking officials in this country claimed to be law (I maintain that, Yoo/Bybee memo-like travesties aside, the prevailing laws of the United States and international human rights conventions never actually authorized such practices — the Supreme Court has already partially, retroactively, vindicated this view).
And the most chilling part of this whole historical episode is that we don’t necessarily know all the happened — and, quite clearly, the perpetrators have not been punished. We know much — the most fundamental outlines of the story — and we have known this for a very long time. I’m open to arguments that filling in lurid details right now could be counter-productive, but the moral affront of torture porn has never dissuaded 24 viewers, and, as damaging as these images may be to the United States’ position and reputation in the world, they are reality, not reality TV.
(image from flickr user ManilaRyce under a Creative Commons license)
See, now that wasn’t so hard, was it?
An al Qaeda suspect accused in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa will become the first Guantanamo Bay detainee to go on trial in a civilian U.S. court, the Justice Department said on Thursday.
And this is a guy with 286 different charges against him. If anyone can pull a Magneto-esque escape, then this might be the one.
The bio of Stephen Sestanovich at the bottom of this Washington Post op-ed reads as follows:
The writer is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and professor of international diplomacy at Columbia University. He was U.S. ambassador at large for the former Soviet Union from 1997 to 2001. [emphasis mine]
I wasn’t aware that we were maintaining an ambassador to entire collections of countries that dissolved almost a decade earlier (presumably Thailand was included in Mr. Sestanovich’s portfolio). Makes me wonder who the current ambassadors to the former Habsburg and Ottoman — to say nothing of the Mongolian or Persian — Empires are.
Didn’t see this one coming:
Former U.S. President George W. Bush will write a book about some of the decisions he made during his eight years in office, which will be published by the Crown Publishing Group in 2010.
Let’s just hope that W.’s memoir proves to be more interesting than his wife Laura’s was predicted to be.
Eli Lake, reporter for the always reputable Washington Times and frequent contributor to Marty Peretz’s New Republic, has a baffling piece in the latest issue of the latter. Writing on the contrast between Bush’s and Obama’s detention policies, Lake seems to be trying to bend over backwards to show that liberal Obama supporters are disappointed with their man’s inability to utterly repudiate every single aspect of Bush policy. But conceding that he has renounced the minor policy of torture is a fairly weak way to make this case.
As for rendition, the controversial practice of kidnapping terrorist suspects on foreign soil and frequently sending them to other countries, Obama shut down permanent CIA secret prisons known as black sites, where Al Qaeda leaders were often held after being captured…[Incoming CIA director Leon] Panetta said that terrorist suspects would not be picked up off the streets at random and sent to foreign dungeons for the purpose of being tortured…
Indeed, a senior White House legal adviser tells me, “There have been no changes to rendition policy, except to the extent that renditions would render people to places where they would be treated humanely”…Of course, doing more to ensure that rendered suspects are not tortured in those countries would represent a small measure of progress as far as human rights advocates are concerned. But it’s hardly the sweeping change many were hoping for.
So Obama is not changing rendition policies except for shutting down CIA black sites, not picking suspects off the streets without due process, ensuring that they are treated humanely, and not freaking torturing them. If that is a “small measure of progress,” I don’t really know what Lake is expecting of the radical “human rights advocates” whose attitudes he claims to depict.
The problem, it seems to me, is that Lake — like many who so eagerly picked up on Obama’s “false  choice between our safety and our ideals” comment in his inauguration speech — is operating exactly according to the very false dichotomy between “safety” and “ideals” that Obama rejects. Human rights defenders are not simply blinkered partisans for “liberty,” mere weights on the “ideals” side of this phony scale. No serious human rights proponent does not also not only acknowledge the needs of national security and the existence of bad guy terrorists, but also strongly embrace the concept of justice that has been supplanted by the tough-guy, torture-the-terrorists mentality of the Bush years.
So just to clarify, yes, it is a big step that the Obama Administration is not going to engage in sending detainees off to rights abusing countries to be tortured. Will suspects be arrested? Yes. Will some of them still be sent to their home countries to be tried? Yes. That seems a long way from locking up liberty in a foreign dungeon, though.
(image from flickr user KCIvey under a Creative Commons license)
I am annoyed that meeting with the families of 9/11 victims was probably a political necessity for Obama during his first few weeks in office. Among other reasons, the expectation that he do so renders the whole thing a cheap political stunt, almost akin to meeting with the winning Superbowl team.
I am even more annoyed, however, that Obama was evidently meeting with these families “about resolving the issues involved with closing Guantanamo Bay — while keeping the safety and security of the American people as his top priority.” By framing the meeting in this manner, Obama has essentially lowered himself to a level at which he feels he needs to justify the decision to close Guantanamo to those who suffered most directly from the actions of criminals who may or may not be held at the prison. This, in my eyes, almost seems like an apology to these folks, with a reassurance amounting to something like, “don’t worry, we’ll still get these terrorists.”
What this attitude misses, though, is that closing Guantanamo will be a more effective anti-terrorist strategy than allowing it to limp on as a damaging symbol to the rest of the world ever was. With no offense to those who bore the worst of the tragedy on September 11, they are not legal experts, they are not counter-terrorism experts, and they share with every other American the stigma that Guantanamo has become. They have greater personal stakes in the trials of those accused of helping to plot the attacks, of course, but the entire point of closing Guantanamo is so that those held there can actually be tried for the crimes they are accused of. By giving the impression that he is seeking moral approval for an astute policy decision he has already made, Obama is engaging in pure emotional pandering that, while it may be politically necessary, is unbecoming to the policy.
(image from flickr user Paul Keller under a Creative Commons license)
Permit me a silly thought experiment:
Let’s say, just for the sake of argument (hear that, IRS?), that I did not pay my taxes. Let’s also say, in a much more unrealistic leap of imagination, that President Obama nominated me to become Secretary of Health and Human Services. I daresay the Senate would reject my nomination.
But why would the Senate reject my nomination? This isn’t as stupid a question as it sounds (okay, it is as stupid a question as it sounds, but just bear with me). The Senate would reject my nomination because I have no experience whatsoever dealing with health and human services. I would not be rejected for the ancillary problem that I had failed to pay my taxes. That’s an issue, sure, and more of one for someone like Daschle, but my point remains: the focus would be on my utter unpreparedness for the position, not on my accounting misdemeanors.
This silly example is just a way of demonstrating that the most important attribute in a Secretary of Health and Human Services is experience dealing with health and human services, of which Mr. Daschle has plenty. Let my juvenile analogy be a plea for voting on nominees based on competence in the job in question, not on whether they fucked up on some totally unrelated part of their life.
Maybe, though, I’d be accepted, because I don’t wear red glasses.
(image from flickr user talkradionews under a Creative Commons license)
I do not understand whether it is bitterness, or truly hurt feelings, or an attempt at well-intentioned analysis that is prompting conservatives to rail against the “divisiveness” of Obama’s inauguration speech, but either way, the criticisms seem warrantless. Here’s Christian Brose, of FP’s Shadow Government, quoting himself:
Other wording, however, struck me as almost divisive. By saying “there are some who question the scale of our ambitions” or “what the cynics fail to understand,” Obama drew lines –- those who get it and those who don’t –- when some minor editing could have bridged differences. He spoke of the economic crisis as “a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some” –- undoubtedly true, but also somewhat too accusatory for an Inaugural. So too with, “We will restore science to its rightful place.” Point taken. But why not “affirm” science or “promote” it, something positive; “restore” just has a chiding quality to it that seems out of place in a speech like this.
Why is Obama under any obligation not to be “accusatory” toward those whose “greed and irresponsibility” undeniably — by Brose as well — drove us into financial crisis in this particular speech more than any other? Is it because the Inauguration is supposed to be nothing more than a feel-good but let’s-forget-why-we’re happy break from reality, or that conservatives are simply taking great pleasure in hoisting Obama by his own campaign’s unity petard? The former seems an unnecessary fiction, while the latter ascribes to conservatives a much more earnest embrace — albeit with a dagger in hand — of the “post-partisan inclusiveness” that they have hitherto seemed keen mostly on exploiting and mocking.
But what most irks me about Brose’s complaint is his quibbling over the word choice over how the Obama Administration will restore affirm do something generically positive to science. To “affirm” or to “promote” science would be to sell it out for the cheap price of mere lip service. I am sure that even President Bush would be eager to “affirm” or “promote” science in the abstract — but science needs more than just affirmation or promotion these days. It needs active restoration — not only acknowledgment of its importance in general, but the importance of implementing it in U.S. policy. This is a relevant difference, and the entire point of Obama’s specific citation of science would be washed away if he had only expressed some generic positive feeling toward science.
What Brose seems to really want — and understandably so, given his experience as a speechwriter for Republicans — is to tone down all the elements of the speech that reflected negatively on Bush et al. But Obama does need to shy away from speaking truths simply because he is president (contrary to the contrary lesson that one might take from era of WMD-esque folly). If some of his words were “chiding,” it is because too much of the past eight years warrants chiding.
(image from flickr user Muhammad Adnan Asim ( linkadnan ) # 2 under a Creative Commons license)