2 July 2014
- How recent Supreme Court decisions used neutral language to marginalise women.
Yet somehow, pointing out that the common thread in these cases is that women lose out is to be susceptible to claims that you are simply being emotional, that you don't get "the law." It's a pretty neat rhetorical place the conservatives on the Court have backed us into, because whenever you point out that the aggregate force of their opinions is to screw over women in this country as a general population, they can answer with an indulgent smile. "That's not what I wrote," you can imagine them saying, over and over again. They didn't really mean to wage any kind of "war on women." The law, as they see it, simply required it.
- The risk the Court's liberals are taking.
Once again, the justices have become predictably ideological along party lines over the past 30 years or so, which is evident in strategic retirements (that is, retiring when a same-party president can replace them). By staying put, Ginsburg (81) and Breyer (75) are taking a huge risk if they want to be replaced by Democrats. If Republicans get a Senate majority this November, and especially if it’s a large majority, there’s a fair chance they will simply refuse to confirm any of President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominees, and there’s nothing Democrats can do about that. And no one knows what will happen in 2016, but there's at least a reasonable possibility that Republicans could take the White House and hold it for eight or even 12 years.
- How Hillary Clinton is like John McCain.
The most relevant comparison for Hillary Clinton might be Senator John McCain. In the post-2004 period, Mr. McCain seemed like a formidable general election candidate who could help Republicans hold on to the White House despite President Bush’s declining approval ratings. Writing for Slate in 2005, Mickey Kaus joked half-seriously that “in a general election, it seems like Mr. McCain would come close to being elected by acclamation!”
- Sally Ride and the burden of being America's first woman astronaut.
NASA had to make some adjustments to accommodate the women in Ride’s astronaut class and later as it prepared to send her to space. It added a women’s locker room, which astronaut Judy Resnik, who later died in the Challenger explosion, festooned with a Tom Selleck poster. Rather than force astronauts to use urine-catching devices that resembled condoms, NASA added commodes to space vessels. Tampons were packed with their strings connecting them, like a strip of sausages, so they wouldn’t float away. Engineers asked Ride, “Is 100 the right number?” She would be in space for a week. “That would not be the right number,” she told them. At every turn, her difference was made clear to her. When it was announced Ride had been named to a space flight mission, her shuttle commander, Bob Crippen, who became a lifelong friend and colleague, introduced her as “undoubtedly the prettiest member of the crew.” At another press event, a reporter asked Ride how she would react to a problem on the shuttle: “Do you weep?”
- The Southern restaurants who wouldn't desegregate after the Civil Rights Act passed.
On July 3, Cafe du Monde, the coffee and beignet stand in the French Quarter of New Orleans, served its first black customers without incident. On July 5, the Sun and Sand motel in Jackson, Mississippi, served its first black dining room client, but closed the swimming pool.
Dozens more refused to desegregate. In the years after, the names of those restaurant owners became infamous: McClung in Alabama. Bessinger in South Carolina. Boyd in Georgia.
2 July 2014
I'm trying and failing to come up with a more intellectually bankrupt Supreme Court decision in the post–Bush v Gore era than Burwell v Hobby Lobby, decided yesterday in favour of craft store Hobby Lobby. District of Columbia v Heller disregarded long-held precedent and determined that the Constitution did protect an individual right to gun ownership, but it was internally consistent and coherent. Citizens United v FEC applied the concept of corporate personhood in irresponsible and damaging ways, but it did at least offer a logical interpretation of what constitutes political speech.
Heller and Citizens United were bad decisions. Hobby Lobby is worse. Like Bush v Gore, it fails on three counts: philosophically, logically, and instrumentally. It split the court 5–4, with the majority made up of judges appointed by Republicans and the minority consisting of those appointed by Democrats.
The details: the Affordable Care Act requires health plans to cover certain preventive women's health measures, including birth control. Hobby Lobby, a chain of craft stores owned by the Christian, conservative Green family, objected to the company's health plan being required to cover four of the birth control measures, saying — incorrectly — that they are abortifacients. "We're Christians, and we run our business on Christian principles," CEO David Green wrote in a USA Today article. "[The mandate] goes against the biblical principles on which we have run this company since day one."
However, the law does not require Green to offer employees of Hobby Lobby birth control — it requires that of the Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., the corporation that owns the Hobby Lobby stores, employees their staff, and maintains their health care plans. It's also the corporation that went to court to deny the women who work for it access to certain birth control measures.
The Hobby Lobby argument rests on the idea that a corporation can have a religion and therefore that its religious freedom may be unconstitutionally infinged. I thought this argument was plainly ridiculous in 2012 when Catholic-run universities and hospitals sought exemption from the ACA's requirements, and I stand by my argument today:
Hospitals aren't Catholic. Universities aren't Catholic. People are Catholic. And if Catholic people — or any kind of people — want to run a hospital or a university, they must do so according to the laws laid out by the federal government. Expecting religious people to conform to labour or health care regulations doesn't prevent them from practising their religion. No one is forcing Catholics to run hospitals or universities. The government is just saying they shouldn't expect special treatment because they're religious.
The administration ended up providing an exemption to the non-profit institutions I discussed above, but the same basic principle applies. David Green and his family are Christian, and the government should not infringe upon their religious practices. But a craft shop can't have a religion. A corporation1 can't have a religion. Belief requires consciousness, and whatever our strides in artificial intelligence, corporations aren't conscious.
Particularly since Citizens United, liberals have frequently expressed my philosophical objection by mocking the idea that "corporations are people." Yet, as Matt Yglesias explains here, there is nothing wrong per se with the idea of corporate personhood. "Forming corporations wouldn't make much sense unless corporations had many of the legal rights of persons, including most notably the right to own property and enter into contracts." The ability of people to create legal entities that can act as people has been of great benefit to our society.
But corporations should be considered people with rights and responsibilities only to the extent that they pertain to corporate practise. This is why I think Hobby Lobby is worse than Citizens United. Speech is a valid part of corporate activity — think, for instance, of advertising2. Religious practice has absolutely nothing to do with corporate activity, and hence it's completely illogical for corporations to be considered a person with religious beliefs3.
But the court isn't even consistent in awarding religious protection to corporations. "Our decision in these cases is concerned solely with the contraceptive mandate,” Justice Alito wrote in his opinion. "Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurancecoverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer’s religious beliefs. Other coverage requirements, such as immunizations, may be supported by different interests (for example, the need to combat the spread of infectious diseases) and may involve different arguments about the least restrictive means of providing them.
As Kevin Drum writes, this is reminiscent of the portion of the Bush v Gore decision that excepted that case from being used as future precedent. Further:
I think it's important to recognize what Alito is saying here. Basically, he's making the case that abortion is unique as a religious issue. If you object to anything else on a religious basis, you're probably out of luck. But if you object to abortion on religious grounds, you will be given every possible consideration. Even if your objection is only related to abortion in the most tenuous imaginable way—as it is here, where IUDs are considered to be abortifacients for highly idiosyncratic doctrinal reasons—it will be treated with the utmost deference.
This is not a ruling that upholds religious liberty. It is a ruling that specifically enshrines opposition to abortion as the most important religious liberty in America.
Or, as Linda Greenhouse argued last year:
There is something deeper going on in these cases than a dispute over the line that separates a contraceptive from an “abortifacient.” What drives the anger about this regulation is that, as the opponents see it, the government is putting its thumb on the scale in favor of birth control, of sex without consequences.
So the Hobby Lobby decision is based on a ridiculous notion, and it is applied with bizarre inconsistency. And, of course, by placing the non-existent religious interests over the health interests of very existent people, the Supreme Court is making it harder for women to make decisions about their own bodies and lives.
On that count: I have seen suggestions that the administration might be able to cover affected women by covering contraception itself — though, given the current Congress, this would have to be by means of regulation for it to take place. Even if the government can thus neuter the effects of the ruling, wouldn't this encourage companies to drop coverage under religious pretext, knowing that the feds would pick up the tab? And, as Jeffrey Toobin writes, there's every reason not to believe this decision will stay narrow.
1. The court has specifically applied its decision to "closely-held corporations." I don't see why this should make a difference. A separate legal identity is a separate legal identity.
1. I still disagree with Citizens United on the basis that it regards participating in the political system, something biological people do as citizens and voters, but corporate persons, being external to the democratic system, should have limited access to.
2. It is true that the Court's finding in Hobby Lobby was based on statutory law — the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act — whereas Citizens United was decided on constitutional basis. Nevertheless, as ill-advised it is to give a corporation this free speech right, it seems even more preposterous to me to give it any religious rights whatsoever.
30 June 2014
- In 2007, a Blackwater manager threatened to kill a State Department investigator in Iraq.
Just weeks before Blackwater guards fatally shot 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, the State Department began investigating the security contractor’s operations in Iraq. But the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater’s top manager there issued a threat: “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” according to department reports.
American Embassy officials in Baghdad sided with Blackwater rather than the State Department investigators as a dispute over the probe escalated in August 2007, the previously undisclosed documents show. The officials told the investigators that they had disrupted the embassy’s relationship with the security contractor and ordered them to leave the country, according to the reports.
- Being gay inside the George W. Bush White House.
In recent months, I’ve reported extensively on life in the closet of the Bush White House, and a number of his former aides are quoted on the record in this story for the first time about their experiences as gay Republicans in an administration that was perhaps the last of the era when institutionalized discrimination against gays and lesbians was still legal, if increasingly frowned upon. Their accounts offer a time-capsule view of a Republican Party — and a president — at war with itself over an issue on which public opinion and the law have now changed dramatically. At the time, it seemed to be great politics for Bush: Coming out against gay marriage, as Rove bragged in his 2010 book, Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight, “benefited my candidate” and “helped reelect him” in 2004. But since a Supreme Court decision last year, 19 states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage, just the outcome that Bush and his team fought to prevent, and a clear majority of Americans—a record high of 55 percent this year—now tell pollsters they support this right.
- "Authentic" politicians are overrated.
By contrast, “authenticity” has had a bad track record in the White House. I don’t doubt what Andrew Jackson “really” felt about American Indians or what Andrew Johnson “really” felt about African-Americans. Woodrow Wilson showed his “authentic” self during the debate over the Treaty of Versailles. Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter, and George W. Bush were three of our more “authentic” presidents; this did not serve our country well.
- How to impeach a president.
Last weekend, the South Dakota Republican Party voted to call for the impeachment of President Obama. It seems to be the first official adoption of impeachment as policy by a state GOP organization, but it's the latest example that parts of the conservative base are yearning for it. Since Republican leaders aren't on board, impeachment seems unlikely to actually happen unless some major new scandal emerges. But — just in case — here's how the process actually works.
- Did Republicans accidentally legalise marijuana in the District of Columbia?
If the amendment — which bars the city from spending any funds to “enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution [of marijuana and other drugs] for recreational use” — then takes effect after the decriminalization statute is officially on the books, the city would be in the odd position of having a decriminalization law that it could not enforce.
27 June 2014
- The Supreme Court says police can't search a suspect's cell phone without a warrant.
This general rule allowing searches incident to an arrest dates back about a century, long before the era of computers and the iPhone. So the justices who created and fleshed out this rule had no concept of what it would mean when many people carry a small device in their pocket that can access years worth of their emails and text messages, that can reveal a suspects’ finances and romantic partners, and that may contain extensive photo and video evidence of how they lead their lives. Riley teed up this question for the modern-day Supreme Court: when police arrest someone carrying a cell phone, does that arrest give law enforcement license to cull through the device and access whatever information they choose?The answer, according to a nearly unanimous opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, is no. “Cell phones,” Roberts explained, “place vast quantities of personal information literally in the hands of individuals. A search of the information on a cell phone bears little resemblance to the type of brief physical search” authorized by previous cases.
- Will another court decision embolden anti-abortion activists?
Abortion clinics received a major blow on Thursday, when the Supreme Court overturned a law in Massachusetts that gave patients and clinic workers a 35-foot buffer zone around the entrance of clinics, allowing them a few seconds to get into the clinic without having to be harassed by anti-choice protesters. In a surprising unanimous decision, the court found in McCullen v. Coakley that the buffer zone is an unjustified infringement on freedom of speech and told the state of Massachusetts to find another way to keep the peace and allow women to get into abortion clinics without feeling like they have to mace a bunch of people to get free passage (my words, not theirs).
- It doesn't matter where a party holds its convention.
Party quadrennial conventions in the modern era have two functions. They are multiday informercials for the ticket and for the party, and they are national gatherings of the expanded party, just as any organization’s national convention allows people to get together in person. So the decision of where to hold this supremely political event should really come down only to technical details about hotel rooms, camera angles, meeting rooms, and other similarly mundane stuff. Including, yes, the weather.
- In 2016, Hillary Clinton should not be the only woman running for the presidency.
For the very first time, there are four Democratic women who could plausibly run for president, four women whose names get mentioned on short lists and in wishful-thinking conversations among party faithful. Of course, only one is ready for the job today. Nobody of any gender has more
experience, name recognition, fund-raising capabilities, or real-world preparation for what awaits in partisan-riven Washington than Hillary Clinton.
- Did North Korea threaten to kill Seth Rogen so America would think it's too crazy to take seriously?
It certainly looks like yet another case of North Korea being crazy and aggressive. But this may actually be a pretty canny bit of public diplomacy by Pyongyang — and one that many Americans, by laughing at "crazy" North Korea, are unwittingly playing right into. According to North Korea expert Jennifer Lind, spewing apparently non-sensical threats at Hollywood funnymen is part of a larger, deliberate strategy to manipulate the West's view of North Korea. The more Americans point and laugh at those crazy North Koreans, the more we help them in that project.
24 June 2014
- Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran beat a Tea Party challenger with the help of black voters.
McDaniel ran on a platform of fiscal conservatism, criticizing Cochran's long record of support of government spending projects and earmarks — but the incumbent argued that Mississippi needed help from the government, and didn't retreat from making that case in the runoff. Indeed, Cochran appealed for the votes of Democrats and African-Americans. According to RL Nave of the Jackson Free Press, Cochran's campaign emphasized "his support for historically black colleges and universities, the Jackson Medical Mall and Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps" in mailings to majority-black neighborhoods. It appears to have worked[.]
- "Being a neo-con means never having to say you're sorry."
One would think that these devastating results would have discredited the neoconservatives forever, just as isolationists like Charles Lindbergh or Robert McCormick were discredited by World War II, and men like former Secretary of State Dean Rusk were largely marginalized after Vietnam. Even if the neoconservative architects of folly are undaunted by failure and continue to stick to their guns, one might expect a reasonably rational society would pay them scant attention.Yet to the dismay of many commentators — including Andrew Bacevich, Juan Cole, Paul Waldman, Andrew Sullivan, Simon Jenkins, and James Fallows — neoconservative punditry is alive and well today. Casual viewers of CNN and other news channels are being treated to the vacuous analysis of Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, and Bill Kristol.
- Why do Americans disapprove of Obama's foreign policy?
Indeed, if one digs into the NYT/CBS poll, one finds that majorities of Americans support the specific steps that the Obama administration is proposing on Iraq. Fifty-one percent support sending in advisers to the Iraqi military, 56 percent support the greater use of drones, and 77 percent do not support sending in ground troops. Nevertheless, 52 percent of Americans disapprove of the overall Iraq policy. Indeed, the striking pattern is that when Americans are asked about concrete policies, majorities tend to support the administration’s position. When asked about overarching policy towards Iraq, or towards the rest of the world more generally, majorities now tend to dislike what the administration is doing. In other words, foreign policy is the new Obamacare when it comes to polling.
- How Democrats surrendered on gun control.
Here is a truth so fundamental that it should be self-evident: When legitimately constituted state authority stands down in the face of armed threats, the very foundation of the republic is in danger. And yet that is exactly what happened at Cliven Bundy’s Nevada ranch this spring: An alleged criminal defeated the cops, because the forces of lawlessness came at them with guns — then Bureau of Land Management officials further surrendered by removing the government markings from their vehicles to prevent violence against them.
- Is Dallas transitioning to become a more mature city?
Many urbanists are not fans of DFW, and it’s easy to understand why. But I think it’s unfair to judge the quality of a city without considering where it is at in its lifecycle. Dallas has been around since the 1800s, but the metroplex is only just now starting to come into its own as a region. It is still in the hypergrowth and wealth building stage, similar to where a place like Chicago was back in the late 19th century. Unsurprisingly, filthy, crass, money-grubbing, unsophisticated Chicago did not appeal to the sophisticates of its day either. But once Chicago got rich, it decided to get classy. Its business booster class endowed first rate cultural institutions like the Art Institute, and tremendous efforts were made to upgrade the quality of the city and deal with the congestion, pollution, substandard housing, and fallout from rapid growth, which threatened to choke off the city’s future success. At some point in its journey, Chicago reached an inflection point where it transitioned to a more mature state. One can perhaps see the 1909 Burnham Plan as the best symbol of this. In addition to addressing practical concerns like street congestion, the Burnham Plan also sought to create a city that could hold its own among the world’s elite. And you’d have to argue the city largely succeeded in that vision.
23 June 2014
- Will Iraq prove to be a problem for Hillary Clinton's presidential hopes?
As the situation in Iraq deteriorates with no clear solution, Hillary Clinton faces the prospect of entering a presidential campaign with three unsettled global conflicts on which she'll be politically vulnerable from the right, left, or both.
That's a dilemma for a potential candidate who just wrote a 650-page book detailing her accomplishments helming American foreign policy, putting yet another asterisk on a record that should be her biggest strength.
- Is low public trust in government the reason for the unpopularity of Obamacare?
Low trust in government can also become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In a low-trust environment, politicians who want to expand the government’s role face a conundrum. Even when the public is supportive of their policy goals, Americans might well doubt the government’s capacity to deliver on those goals. And that in turn might encourage the architects of public policy to hide the government’s role, leading to public policies that are at once highly complex and obscured from view. That’s not a great recipe for rebuilding trust in government. But it’s an apt description of Obamacare.
- Should Republicans pin their 2016 hopes on Scott Walker?
That accomplishment — effectively eliminating collective bargaining for most public employees in the state, facing down the angry protests that followed, surviving a rancorous recall election—has vaulted Walker into the top tier of Republican presidential contenders for 2016. He is the closest person the party has to an early favorite, and not simply because of Chris Christie’s nosedive from grace or because Jeb Bush is still waffling about his intentions. Walker has implemented an impeccably conservative agenda in a state that has gone Democratic in seven straight presidential elections. Unlike Mitt Romney, or, for that matter, John McCain, he is beloved by the conservative base, but he has the mien of a mainstream candidate, not a favorite of the fringe. His boosters, who include numerous greenroom conservatives in Washington and major donors around the country, such as the Koch brothers, see him as the rare Republican who could muster broad national support without yielding a millimeter on doctrine.
- And should Democrats be looking at Martin O'Malley?
Over the past few years, O’Malley has enacted what reads like an activist’s wish list. He passed the DREAM Act in 2011 (now 36,000 undocumented immigrants have access to in-state tuition); the state gave driver’s licenses to tax-paying undocumented immigrants in 2013; and in April of this year, O’Malley informed the Department of Homeland Security that Maryland would no longer comply with the Secure Communities program that facilitates the deportation of undocumented immigrants.
- This map shows the most liberal and conservative town in each state.
20 June 2014
- The Iraq terror group: ISIS or ISIL?
In any case, neither ISIS nor ISIL are as accurate as "DAIISH," the Arabic shorthand for the group that no one in the English-language press seems to use. ISIS has become part of the English-language media's common parlance and has something of a ring to it — it's like the ancient Near Eastern goddess. So switching to ISIL is, if nothing else, a bit jarring.
- The US Patent Office has cancelled the Washington Redskins trademark.
Reaction to news that the Washington Redskins’ federal trademark registration has been canceled by the United States Patent and Trademark Office because it is “disparaging to Native Americans” raised a number of questions for the NFL team.
What happens next?
The team is likely to seek a stay of the decision and, as they did in the 1990s, they are likely to appeal the decision in court.
- Will Texas bring high-speed rail to America?
Richard Lawless, who as a C.I.A. officer posted in Tokyo in the 1980s was a frequent Shinkansen passenger, has long found America's failure to embrace high-speed rail "mind-boggling." But today the former Bush administration official is in a position to change things, as chairman and CEO of Texas Central Railway, a private company that plans to link Dallas and Houston with a 200-mile-per-hour bullet train as soon as 2021. The venture just might be high-speed rail's best hope in the United States.
- Should Southerners have more influence in the Republican Party?
They have a pretty good case to make. The GOP’s center of gravity is now most assuredly in the South. If we consider the South as the 11 states of the Confederacy plus Oklahoma and Kentucky, members from those states make up 106 of the party’s 234 members of the House (its other area of strength is the Midwest). One hundred and thirty-three of the 206 electoral votes Mitt Romney won — or 65 percent — came from those states. And in the Deep South in particular we see the most intensely Republican areas, where as many as nine out of ten white voters casts their ballot for Republicans.
Given that, it’s at least a little surprising that the top two spots in the House leadership are held by representatives from Ohio and California. It wasn’t always this way. In the mid-1990s, almost the entire Republican congressional leadership was Southern. Newt Gingrich of Georgia was the Speaker, and Dick Armey and Tom Delay of Texas were Majority Leader and Whip. Senate Republicans were led by Trent Lott of Mississippi, with Don Nickles of Oklahoma serving as whip.
- A map illustrating the land taken from Native Americans by the United States.
17 June 2014
Sarah Ferguson's interview with Hillary Clinton on 7:30 this evening included a rather ambivalent consideration from the potential presidential nominee of how the ANZUS Treaty applies to any potential conflict the US might have with China. From the transcript:
SARAH FERGUSON: So what would happen, God forbid, if there was a conflict with China over those islands? Could that trigger the ANZUS alliance with Australia?
HILLARY CLINTON: Well I hope we never even get close to thinking about that seriously because I hope that cooler heads will prevail. But I don't understand the aggressive posture that China is taking, declaring air defence zones and informing people they can't fly through what is international air space without getting Chinese permission. We of course are paying no attention to that. Pushing around the little Philippines, claiming property, small rocks and shoals, confronting Vietnam over its efforts to determine whether they have resources in what are clearly territorial waters. That should not go without an international and certainly a regional reaction. And what I tried to do as Secretary of State, working very closely with Australia, was to put together a regional alternative, a code of conduct, if you will. Now China hasn't bought off on that yet, but I think you have to keep pressing it because they don't want to be embarrassed or have the rest of the region basically claim that they are behaving in an aggressive manner, so this has to be a joint effort by all parties affected.
That's a lot of words, none of which are yes or no. And though the Treaty is worded so as to offer the respective parties some wriggle room, it's text suggests a Chinese attack on the US over the Senkaku would trigger the Treaty. Article IV:
Each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific Area on any of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional processes.
And Article V:
...an armed attack on any of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of any of the Parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific or on its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott seemed in closer accordance with the Treaty's text when he told US President Barack Obama last week that "Australia will be an utterly dependable ally of the United States." As my colleague Tom Switzer pointed out in The Drum, however, Abbott's defence minister David Johnston seems to have quite a different idea about the Treaty's terms:
The Washington definition of a gaffe is when a politician inadvertently tells the truth. David Johnston may have met that definition last night on the ABC's Lateline. When pressed by host Tony Jones on whether the US alliance "commits Australia ... if the US is in a conflict in our region", the Australian Defence Minister said: "I don't believe it does."
When Alexander Downer made similar remarks 10 years ago, he was widely denounced, not least by the Americans, privately at least. At the time of writing, no one, including the Prime Minister, has clarified the Defence Minister's frank remark. Perhaps Johnston's response to Jones' important question has more significance for US–Australia relations than the White House meeting today.
Clinton's response was far more elegant — and hence far less contentious — than Johnston's, but each has in common a reluctance to acknowledge that US and Australian security commitments could one day put the nations in conflict with China.
I'm inclined to believe conflict between the US and China is unlikely. No one would benefit from war in East Asia, and as much as all parties involved might like to stake out advantage where they can, there's little sign of the sort of genuine hot-headedness that turns foreign policy miscalculation into disaster. Australia will likely never have to choose between the US and China. But, regardless of the reluctance of politicians to speak it aloud, if the worst were to happen, Australia's already made its decision.
16 June 2014
- Who's to blame for the current mess in Iraq?
The Iraq invasion and occupation was ill-conceived, ill-executed, and ill-fated. It had terrible consequences not just for Iraq but for many other countries. It illustrated the limits of American military power—the opposite of what it was intended to do—and it helped accomplish what Osama bin Laden could never have achieved on his own: drawing the United States and its allies into an open-ended global battle with militant Islam. When you hear Feith and other architects of the Iraq invasion criticizing Obama for cutting and running, it is well to remember that.
- The problem Iraq presents for Barack Obama.
Obama's vision implies two things about American foreign policy. First, when you need to use force against terrorists, do it in a narrow way — targeted strikes, usually from drones, designed to pinpoint terrorist leaders and fighters and coordinated with local governments. Second, overreaction to terrorism can be a devastating own-goal. And the most obvious such overreaction — the Iraq war — must be repudiated without reservation.
These are the two core values at the heart of Obama's approach to terrorism. And the ongoing crisis in Iraq has brought them into direct, irresolvable conflict.
- Are Democrats united because Obama's policy successes have only been moderate?
This policy unity has been helped by the fact that Obama has had a moderate degree of success in achieving these goals. If he had had an easy time, the party might be divided between those wanting more radical action and those not in a hurry; if he had failed utterly, the party might be divided (as it was for much of the past three decades) between a liberal faction and a Republican-lite faction. As it is, however, Obama has managed to achieve a lot of what Democrats have sought for generations, but only with great difficulty against scorched-earth opposition. This means that the conflict between “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” — exemplified these days by Elizabeth Warren — and the more pro-big-business wing is relatively muted: the liberal wing knows that Obama has gotten most of what could be gotten, and the actual policies haven’t been the kind that would scare off the less liberal wing.
- America's view of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyno differs to Australia's.
Official Australian and American views of SBY diverge because we seek different things from Indonesian presidents. Australian interests regarding Indonesia, due to geography, are deeper and more immediate than American concerns. Perhaps for that reason, Australians look first for an Indonesian president who does no harm. Americans, on the other hand, have the luxury of aspiring to a role for Indonesia on the world stage commensurate with all the familiar statistics on its size and its status as a democracy — even if that is a role the Indonesian foreign policy elite do not aspire to, as Dave McRae argued in his Lowy Institute Analysis earlier this year.
- TIME magazine has built a political memoir name generator.
11 June 2014
- What does House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's loss mean for the GOP?
In the primary campaign, it’s worth noting, Brat hammered the majority leader less for ideological deviations than for personal and economic betrayals: For neglecting constituent services, for favoring Wall Street over Main Street and business interests over ordinary voters, and for being too willing to go along with the donor class’s consensus on immigration reform. (The challenger’s immigration argument, the focus of much attention today, really was Mickey Kaus-ian in substance, stressing wages and attacking corporate interests.)
- Kevin McCarthy and Pete Sessions are vying to be Cantor's successor.
But allies of Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) were asserting momentum Thursday morning in the race to succeed House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), hoping to swiftly seal the deal. That confidence came as Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Rules Committee, vowed again Thursday morning to mount a serious campaign for the job.
Sessions did so after Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said Thursday morning that he wouldn’t run for leader — a blow to the most conservative Republicans who saw him as their best chance to elevate a like-minded colleague into leadership.
- Cantor's loss will cost lobbyists a lot of money.
The shock to the value of these lobbyists can be significant. In a study published in the American Economic Review, the economists Jordi Blanes i Vidal, Mirko Draca and Christian Fons-Rosen found that lobbyists connected to United States senators suffered an average 24 percent decline in revenue when that senator left office; those connected to a House member experienced average revenue declines of 10 percent.
These effects appear to be especially strong for lobbyists connected to members serving on influential committees. Given the power Mr. Cantor wielded as majority leader and his potential ascension to House speaker, ties to him would have probably been similarly valuable before Tuesday night.
- The US should not go back into Iraq.
It’s always a tempting idea that if we had stayed a little longer, all would have been well. It’s worth recalling the neocon desire to stay in Iraq for decades if necessary, in order to somehow forcibly impose a democratic structure on a sectarian, authoritarian and pathological non-state. But this is based on the fundamental illusion that the surge achieved anything of substance in altering sectarian divisions or Islamist extremism and thereby we ever had a success to sustain. We didn’t. We were able to temporarily pacify — by bribes and military maneuvering — a civil war that had always simmered below the Iraqi surface and had flared brutally even as we had 100,000 troops in the country. The idea that a few hundred could have prevented Iraq’s return to its historic sectarian entropy strikes me as absurd. It is not crazy for a Maliki ally to air this idea to Filkins in order to exonerate Maliki in the ensuing blood bath. What’s crazy is to take it at face value.
- Should Martin Luther King replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill?
As if to underscore how much MLK belongs, notice that most of the men on this list — Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Hamilton, and Franklin — were arguably indispensable to the nation in its struggle to realize the promise of its founding ideals. King meets that standard.
Whatever one thinks of Jackson and Grant, they do not. So which of them to replace? Before drawing straws or picking a name out of a hat, I thought to ask, "Was either particularly instrumental in genocidal acts?" Then the choice was clear.
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