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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Presidential poison pen

So far, in more than six years of governing, President Bush has vetoed exactly one piece of legislation -- on stem cell research. It is a remarkable record, though the President has expressed fairly strong dissent from congressional action through his unprecedented extensive use of so-called "signing statements."

Now, the President is threatening to use the veto to stop Democratic efforts to end the war in Iraq (and for lots of other purposes too).

Unfortunately for Senate Republicans, who could almost surely stop the anti-war legislation with a filibuster, the Democratic proposal is popular. Today's Washington Post reveals the polling data:
A new Pew Research Center poll found that 59 percent of people surveyed want their congressional representative to support a bill calling for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq by August 2008, the deadline set in the House version of the spending bill, which passed by a 218 to 212 vote on Friday. Thirty-three percent of respondents said they wanted their representative to oppose it.
Apparently, the Republicans have decided that they don't want to lose the 2008 congressional elections on the issue of Iraq -- so President Bush is going to have to overturn the anti-war legislation with his own hand.

According to the Post article, the Republicans might be able to extract the withdrawal dates from the bill that passes their chamber, but the measure could well survive the conference committee with the House.


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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Nick's night job

Fairly frequently, the Louisville Courier Journal prints editorial cartoons by Nick Anderson, who worked for the paper from January 1991 to 2006.

I moved to Louisville in July 1991 and recognized him immediately as one of the city's great (and underappreciated) talents. His political cartoons provided some of the best content in the paper, even though he wasn't named the head cartoonist until the mid-1990s.

We met a few times over the years, but I didn't really know him. At a party, I recall once trying to convince him to run a cartoon about a local incinerator. He was polite, but I don't think he ever drew a cartoon about it. For a brief period about a decade ago, Anderson was even my neighbor -- he lived just a few houses down on my street.

These days, Anderson is on to bigger and better things. In 2005, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his cartooning. He left Louisville in 2006 and went to work for the Houston Chronicle.

I was a little surprised today to learn that he is sometimes working with multimedia. Check out this video on YouTube, which I found when I went looking for the more famous "1984" video of Hillary Clinton.


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Friday, March 23, 2007

218 micromanagers?

The House voted 218-212 today to set a timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Needless to say, that is far from a veto-proof majority.

Nonetheless, 218 is a majority of the 435 seat House of Representatives.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi knows what this vote means symbolically:
“Today, this new Congress took a new step to end the war in Iraq,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat. “The American people, their voices, have been heard.”

...Ms. Pelosi called the legislation, which took the form of an emergency spending bill, “a giant step to end the war and responsibly redeploy our troops out of Iraq” and concentrate on Afghanistan, “where the war on terrorism is.”
The President too understands the symbolism -- he even called it "an act of political theater."

Two Republicans voted with the majority, including long-time war foe Walter Jones of NC, while 14 Democrats voted no. Some of those who voted no didn't think the measure was sufficiently anti-war.

Here is the proposed timetable:
The withdrawal timetable provision, which calls for most American troops to be out of Iraq by Sept. 1, 2008, is part of a bill to provide about $100 billion to finance the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill would also impose a series of performance benchmarks, for Baghdad and for Washington, to show progress in the new Iraq. Withdrawal would be required even sooner if progress on those benchmarks could not be demonstrated.
I guess today's vote explains why the Dems wanted to work on Fridays.


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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Sports break

Twenty-four hours from now, I'll be glued to the TV watching Kansas play Southern Illinois in college hoops. I picked KU to win the entire tournament in several pools and hope they move on to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2004.

Rock chalk, Jayhawk!

Meanwhile, the Original Bitnet Fantasy Baseball League is conducting its pre-season draft. We pick a couple of guys each day via updated rankings. My Louisville Sluggers made several trades and cut to 12 players, so the team is much younger than it used to be.

I'll be waiting for guys like Daric Barton (#67), Billy Butler (#25), Adam Jones (#28), Tim Lincecum (#11), James Loney (#44), and Troy Tulowitzki (#15) to blossom as major leaguers. Those ratings denote Baseball America's rating of those prospects in 2007.

Three of the youngsters have yet to appear in a major league game. Did I mention this is a long-term keeper league with 23 other owners?

I also kept "veteran" Jeremy Hermida (#4 on the 2006 list).

Oh, and I retained Josh Beckett, Edwin Encarnacion, Rich Harden, Rich Hill, Derek Jeter, Jose Lopez, Jim Thome

Also drafted so far? Mike Jacobs, David DeJesus and Claudio Vargas.

I know that no one cares, but this helps me remember my roster down the road. Feel free to evaluate any of the players in the comments.


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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Quacks

I haven't posted very much recently on the Duck of Minerva group IR blog, but you might be interested in this bookkeeping update anyway:
  • February 6, I wrote about the prospects of war with "Iran."
  • January 30, I wrote about "Publicity" in the context of the climate change debate.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Gordon Smith

Republican Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon voted with the overwhelming majority of Democrats Thursday in an effort to set a timetable to withdraw American troops from Iraq. His side lost 50-48, but he had the pithy quote for the press:
“Setting specific dates for withdrawal is unwise, but what is worse is remaining mired in the quicksand of the Sunni-Shia civil war.”
How will Karen Hughes spin that one for the rest of the world?

Here's an idea: does Smith look French to you?


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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The 700 Club

Art Levine included this scary statistic in his piece on "Dick Cheney’s Dangerous Son-in-Law" in the latest Washington Monthly.
[EPA] data showed that at least 700 [chemical] sites across the country could potentially kill or injure 100,000 or more people if attacked.
The story explains how the Bush administration has let industry prevent any regulatory attempts to make these plants safe from attack.

3/16/07 Update: I forgot this telling passage from the article:
In January 2005, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) began a series of hearings looking at the subject before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, during which one grim highlight had been the testimony of [Richard] Falkenrath, the former homeland security adviser, who called chemical security the nation’s top domestic vulnerability and admitted that since 9/11, “we have essentially done nothing.”
Gulp. If only someone could do something about this problem.


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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

IPE 2007

In my field, "IPE" is an acronym for "International Political Economy."

However, I don't have to know very much about IPE to recognize that there are political and likely even security dimensions to the announcement by Halliburton that it is moving its headquarters to Dubai. The BBC, March 11:
Halliburton, the oil services company formerly headed by US Vice-President Dick Cheney, is moving its headquarters from Texas to Dubai.

The company said it hoped the move to the United Arab Emirates would help it expand its business in the Middle East.
In 2006, the BBC helpfully points out, Halliburton turned $2.3 billion in profit. But growth is good, right?

Here's an unintended critique, from the Veep, former head of Halliburton:
At a 1996 energy conference in New Orleans, Dick Cheney, then CEO of Halliburton said, "The problem is that the good Lord didn't see fit to put oil and gas reserves where there are democratic governments."
Amen.




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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Hypocrisy watch: 2007

What does it say about a country if Russia and China criticize your human rights record?

And you concede their argument?

From The Moscow Times, March 12:
"Washington has long practiced double standards in the sphere of human rights, depending on whether one state or another acts in accordance with [U.S.] political interests," the statement said.

These standards are particularly clearly visible against the background of what is happening now in Iraq, Afghanistan and at the military base in Guantanamo with the participation of the U.S. armed forces," the statement said.

At home, the statement said, "the United States, under various pretexts, limits democratic freedoms, interferes in the personal lives of its own people, effectively carries out censorship of the media and sends minors to the electric chair."
Russia was firing back at the US for its 2006 State Department Report.

The Shanghai Daily, March 10, included a discussion of China's retort: Human Rights Record of US 2006:
The document says the United States has a flagrant record of violating the Geneva Convention in systematically abusing prisoners during the Iraqi War and the War in Afghanistan.

In the United States, human rights violations committed by law enforcement and judicial departments are also common.

...In recent years, American citizens have suffered increasing civil rights infringements, as the US government has put average Americans under intense surveillance as part of terrorism investigations since the 9-11 attack
It goes on like that.

One thing the US has over Russia and China: self criticism. The BBC, March 9:
The FBI has been illegally obtaining information on the US public, a report by the justice department's inspector general has said.

The FBI used the Patriot Act, passed after the 11 September 2001 attacks, to compel the release of information illegally or improperly, it said...

"We believe the improper or illegal uses we found involve serious misuses of national security letter authorities," it concluded.
Then again, this admission more-or-less confirms one of the Russian and Chinese criticisms.

The FBI has filed about 45,000 national security letter requests annually since 2003.


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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Deliberative politics

The four people who read my coauthored book, Democratizing Global Politics, know that Nayef Samhat and I are proponents of "deliberative democracy."

Benjamin Barber (he blogs!) and (Lord!) Anthony Giddens are two prominent scholars who have influenced our work. Barber is known best for his writings about "strong democracy" and Giddens for his theory of structuration.

In any case, I was kind of surprised to read that these eminent political theorists were in the news -- because they were recently in Libya, debating political theory with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. For good measure, David Frost was there to moderate the discussion.

Gaddafi claims that Libya is ruled by "direct democracy," but the scholars called for a more open public sphere -- Gaddafi needs to allow a free press, free expression, and viable political opposition, for example.

Those are not exactly novel ideas, but this was a public debate with Gaddafi -- apparently for TV!

Plus, you've gotta see this photo.

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Spin: state of the art, 2007

The Washington Post has a story today about George W. Bush's flip-flops on foreign policy, especially the negotiations with Iran, North Korea and Syria. The neocons are not happy. Ledeen:
"I have never seen an administration with such an enormous gulf between the president's public statements and its actions," said Michael A. Ledeen, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "Presidential statements should reflect policy. They don't seem to in this administration."
And Bolton:
John R. Bolton, Bush's former ambassador to the United Nations, said the Berlin meeting "was clearly a shift" that yielded a deal rewarding North Korea for bad behavior.

Bolton was further disturbed by reports last week about administration officials backing off assertions about North Korea's uranium enrichment. "There's a risk that the administration looks weak through the media spin," Bolton said
Former Representative Lee Hamilton welcomes the Bush administration to the "reality-based community":
"The realities of the situation are becoming more apparent to them. . . . Presidents begin to focus very much on their legacy, and he recognizes that insufficient progress has been made on some of these international issues."
Former Senator Warren Rudman is quoted saying almost the same thing:
"Any administration, including this one, has to face reality that changes over time."
As recently as December, the President himself explained at length the preconditions for American negotiations with Iran and Syria. After explaining how these states must first suspend uranium enrichment and stop supporting terror or insurgency, here's Bush's simple conclusion about engagement:
And the truth of the matter is, is that these countries have now got the choice to make. If they want to sit down at the table with the United States, it's easy -- just make some decisions that will lead to peace, not to conflict.
Don't get me wrong, I'm pleased that the Bush administration has reversed itself, but the fairly blatant flip-flop and neocon opposition should be noted.


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Saturday, March 03, 2007

New Terror Study

Peter Bergen, working with Paul Cruickshank, has recently released a new study about post-9/11 terrorism rates. Their main finding:
The rate of fatal terrorist attacks around the world by jihadist groups, and the number of civilians killed in those attacks, has risen sharply since the invasion of Iraq. Comparing the period before the war (Sept. 12, 2001, to March 20, 2003) and the period since, there has been a 607% rise in the average yearly incidence of attacks - and a 237% jump in the fatality rate.
The authors relied upon data from the Rand Corp. and the Oklahoma City National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism.

Much of this violence is in Afghanistan and Iraq -- fight them there, so "we" don't have to fight them here, right? Well, that's not a complete explanation:
even after excluding these two hot spots, there has been a 35% rise in the number of terrorist attacks globally and a 25% increase in attacks on Western targets....

This has particularly been the case in the Arab world, whose countries excluding Iraq have seen 783% more fatalities from jihadist terrorism since the U.S. invasion....

Excluding Iraq and Afghanistan, we see a 150% increase globally in the rate of suicide attacks by jihadist groups since the war began.
The authors, who are fellows at NYU's Center on Law and Security, also found evidence of so-called "blowback" attacks in Saudi Arabia, France and Jordan. Those are attacks perpetrated by veterans of the Iraq insurgency.

The study does not include violence by Palestinian extremists. These are acts of violence by al Qaeda-inspired Sunni extremists.

Good news: Not counting civilian contractors in Iraq or Afghanistan, only 18 American civilians have been terror victims since the start of the Iraq war.

The full study results are in the March/April Mother Jones. There's plenty more there, including this nugget about the country that supplied 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11:
Mohammed Hafez, a visiting professor at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, in a study of the 101 identified suicide attackers in Iraq from March 2003 to February 2006, found that more than 40 percent were Saudi....

The Israeli researcher Reuven Paz, using information posted on Al Qaeda-linked websites between October 2004 and March 2005, found that of the 33 suicide attacks listed, 23 were conducted by Saudis, and only 1 by an Iraqi. Similarly, in June 2005 the Search for International Terrorist Entities (SITE) Institute of Washington, D.C. found by tracking both jihadist websites and media reports that of the 199 Sunni extremists who had died in Iraq either in suicide attacks or in action against Coalition or Iraqi forces, 104 were from Saudi Arabia and only 21 from Iraq.
Read the entire article at MJ.

Hat tip: AlterNet also has a story about this study: "The War on Terror Is the Leading Cause of Terrorism."


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