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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Clinton: When to obliterate Iran

I have some security question fors Senator Clinton. First, what policy choices should the U.S. pursue so as to avoid "doing something that would be reckless, foolish, and tragic."
CLINTON: Well, the question was, if Iran were to launch a nuclear attack on Israel, what would our response be? And I want the Iranians to know that if I am president, we will attack Iran. And I want them to understand that. Because it does mean that they have to look very carefully at their society. Because whatever stage of development they might be in their nuclear weapons program, in the next 10 years during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them. That's a terrible thing to say, but those people who run Iran need to understand that. Because that, perhaps, will deter them from doing something that would be reckless, foolish, and tragic.
Certainly, Dick Cheney was wrong pretending that deterrence cannot work against Iran.

However, it is morally reprehensible to talk lightly of obliterating a society. Would the U.S. really punish millions of innocent people if their government acted reprehensively? How could this be consistent with just war theory? Just think about proportionality for one moment.

Do all the Catholics in Pennsylvania who apparently voted for Clinton know about this?

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Monday, April 28, 2008

In the Valley of Old Men

Recently, my wife and I have had a Tommy Lee Jones film festival on DVD. Some weeks ago, we watched "No Country for Old Men," which won the most recent Academy Award for Best Picture. Saturday night, we watched "In the Valley of Elah." If you missed it, that latter film is about a father of a missing soldier just back from Iraq.

Except for the sappy song played during the flag raising near the end of the movie, I thought "In the Valley of Elah" was a better film.

In any case, "No Country for Old Men" would not have won our vote for Best Picture.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Basketball primaries

Did you catch this news item from the AP today? Barack Obama's campaign is offering young Indiana campaign workers the chance to play basketball with the candidate:
Obama's campaign has been intensely focused on new voter registration ever since staff arrived in large numbers back in mid-March. The campaign... [is] offering high school and college students who register their peers the chance to play basketball with the senator.
In the Hoosier state, this is a politically savvy move.

Indeed, several of the next primaries are in states that are basketball crazy -- Indiana and North Carolina on May 6 and then Kentucky on May 20. This March, the largest cities in these states had some of the "highest average television rating[s] and share[s] for the run of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament." Of the top 56 TV markets, Louisville finished #1, Charlotte was #2 and Indianapolis was #4. Additionally, Raleigh-Durham finished #10.

Is Obama's link to basketball authentic? Yes.

Barack Obama was a high school basketball player (footage here). His brother-in-law is a college head coach. Most importantly, Obama has continued to play basketball into adulthood -- the offer to young staffers isn't an awkward gimmick.

Even the NY Times has noticed Obama's love of basketball:
From John F. Kennedy’s sailing to Bill Clinton’s golf mulligans to John Kerry’s windsurfing, sports has been used, correctly or incorrectly, as a personality decoder for presidents and presidential aspirants. So, armchair psychologists and fans of athletic metaphors, take note: Barack Obama is a wily player of pickup basketball, the version of the game with unspoken rules, no referee and lots of elbows. He has been playing since adolescence...
That rough-and-tumble vision of pickup basketball might not jell completely with Obama's "change" agenda, but consider these elements:
...over the years, Mr. Obama’s gymmates have become loyal allies and generous backers....Though some of these men could afford to build courts at their own homes, they pride themselves on the democratic nature of basketball, on showing up at South Side parks and playing with whoever is around. At the University of Chicago court where he and Mr. Obama used to play, “You might have someone from the street and a potential Nobel Prize winner on the same team,” Mr. Duncan said. “It’s a great equalizer.”

It is a theme that runs throughout Mr. Obama’s basketball career: a desire to be perceived as a regular guy despite great advantage and success...
For fans in Kentucky, Indiana, and North Carolina, here's the money quote:
“I dream of playing basketball,” Mr. Obama said in a television interview
As frequently as he can, over the next month, I think Obama should appear with a basketball in his hands.

Based on this CNN footage, it appears he can shoot.

If he can win Indiana and North Carolina on May 6, the long campaign may be over.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Yesterday, at the Duck of Minerva, I posted "History lesson: PA 1980."

April 21, I blogged "Nuclear umbrella" concerning what the Democratic candidates said in the California debate about nuclear deterrence and proliferation in the Middle East.

From Friday April 11, you can find "Teaching from the blogosphere."

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Packing for a vacation in Mexico

The AP, April 16:
Mexicans spent a whopping $2.58 billion in bribes in 2007, some 42 percent more than they doled out just two years ago, according to a poll released Wednesday.

The survey, conducted by the nonprofit group Transparency Mexico, showed that 197 million bribes were paid nationwide in 2007 — compared to 115 million in 2005.
By these numbers, people in Mexico spent 8% of their incomes on bribes!

When does a traveler pay a bribe?
Smaller bribes include those shelled out to avoid traffic tickets or pay off informal "parking attendants," private citizens who block off sections of public streets and force drivers to "tip" them for giving them a space. The attendants, in turn, pay police for the right to operate...

Bribes move about 10 percent of all government transactions — including those to obtain construction licenses, vehicle inspection stickers and street-vending permits.

Among the top 10 most frequent bribes people reported paying were to city tanker trucks that deliver drinking water to homes in poorer neighborhoods. Others paid to get their trash collected, their goods passed through customs and their cars out of police lots after they were towed.
The good news? It works out to only $13 per bribe.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Debate analysis

The media is still buzzing about last week's Pennsylvania debate. Nico Pitney, National Editor at the Huffington Post, looked systematically at the one-on-one candidate debates to determine whether the latest contest was uglier or included more one-sided ("gotcha") questioning than those that preceded this one.

Here's his method:
I went through each of the four one-on-one contests between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, starting with CNN's debate way back on January 31, and cataloged every question, classifying them as follows:

# Policy and expertise: In this category, I put any questions about a candidate's policy preferences or legislative record, as well as questions about a candidate's experience ("Neither one of you have ever run a business, so why should either of you be elected to be CEO of the country?").

# Non-policy questions: Questions focused on politics, including electability and the role of superdelegates, as well as those about campaign management, such as releasing tax records or accepting public financing.

# Scandal questions: Questions about hot-button, non-policy issues like Jeremiah Wright or Clinton's Bosnia trip. (Note: this category does not include follow-up questions on these issues given to the opposing candidate; ie. Clinton being asked about Wright, or Obama being asked about Bosnia.)
What did Pitney find?
1) ABC's debate was in a class of its own, with more scandal and non-policy questions than any other. ABC asked the most scandal questions, and both ABC and NBC devoted only half of their questions to policy issues. The CNN debates were dramatically more policy-focused.

Here's a breakdown:

Policy Non-Policy Scandal
CNN (1/31) 31 3 1
CNN (2/21) 23 5 2
NBC 24 17 5
ABC 32 14 13

2) Barack Obama has received the overwhelming majority of scandal questions over the course of the four debates, by a margin of 17 to 4.
Interesting, eh?

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Debate critics

I had a conflict and missed the Democratic debate on Wednesday night. Apparently, from what I've heard and seen about the debate, the moderators were terrible.

This group of bloggers and journalists has taken its complaint public. Here are the first two paragraphs:
We, the undersigned, deplore the conduct of ABC's George Stephanopoulos and Charles Gibson at the Democratic Presidential debate on April 16. The debate was a revolting descent into tabloid journalism and a gross disservice to Americans concerned about the great issues facing the nation and the world. This is not the first Democratic or Republican presidential debate to emphasize gotcha questions over real discussion. However, it is, so far, the worst.

For 53 minutes, we heard no question about public policy from either moderator. ABC seemed less interested in provoking serious discussion than in trying to generate cheap shot sound-bites for later rebroadcast. The questions asked by Mr. Stephanopoulos and Mr. Gibson were a disgrace, and the subsequent attempts to justify them by claiming that they reflect citizens' interest are an insult to the intelligence of those citizens and ABC's viewers.
Read the entire letter and the list of signatories.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Transparency and the GWOT

The Washington Monthly torture issue includes a diverse array of writers, but their message is fairly redundant. Despite the resonance of the anti-torture argument, the US government nonetheless acted against this collective wisdom.

Unfortunately, the repetition is absolutely necessary.

Future administrations should heed Lawrence Wilkerson's warning about transparency:
The worst horrors of our war have yet to be revealed—but they will be. Secret prisons, renditions, homicides, torture, and innocents swept up in a vast network of detention—all will be revealed. It is the nature of our openness that it be so.
Given the inevitability of disclosures, politicians should think pretty carefully about their dubious secret policies.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Bittertown, U.S.A.

What he said:
"You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them," Obama said. "And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
What he meant to say (again):
The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

This is where we are right now. It’s a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years.
The latter is more eloquent, but the argument is much the same.

Lori McKenna knows what he's talking about.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Baseball 2008: Bolts from the Blue

Last weekend, I participated in my 20th Hardy House fantasy baseball league auction (draft). We have 12 teams and use American League players exclusively. One new roster quirk this year: we added a 10th pitcher and subtracted an outfielder. We thought this better reflected a change that real baseball teams have been making over the past 20 years.

The 2008 Bolts from the Blue (8 retained players in blue)

C Kevin Cash (BOS) $1
C Kelly Shoppach (CLE) $3
1B Nick Swisher (CHX) $22
2B Alexei Ramirez (CHX) $10
3B Wilson Betemit (NYY) $4
SS Derek Jeter (NYY) $30
MI Ben Zobrist (TB)$1
CR Ben Broussard (TEX) $5
OF Alex Rios (TOR) $28
OF Melky Cabrera (NYY) $11
OF Jason Kubel (MIN) $15
OF Grady Sizemore (CLE) $35
DH Billy Butler (KC) $22
Hitting $187

P Roy Halladay (TOR) $24
P Jeremy Bonderman (DET) $16
P Zach Greinke (KC) $7
P James Shields (TB) $6
P Dana Eveland (OAK) $3
P Jeremy Accardo (TOR) $3
P Joaquin Benoit (TEX) $3
P Manny Delcarmen (BOS) $3
P Chad Bradford (BAL) $2
P Brandon League (TOR) $1
Pitching $68

I left $5 on the table, unfortunately. I desperately tried to spend it, but other owners had even more money left to buy the few guys in the end-game that I wanted (namely C Jeff Mathis $3, IF Donnie Murphy $4, P Dan Wheeler $6, and P Joel Zumaya $7, named in that order and reflecting my increased willingness to burn my cash).

Reserve picks
1. OF Rocco Baldelli (TB) $3
2. UT Ryan Raburn (DET) $2
3. P Sean Green (SEA) $1

I'm really hoping Alexei Ramirez plays, because he can apparently hit and run.

As a Royals fan, I'm also pretty excited about Billy Butler and the rejuvenated career of Zack Greinke.

I didn't learn about the seriousness of Baldelli's injuries until another owner told me after I picked him. Ugh.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Obama Doctrine

I meant to mention it more than a week ago, but Spencer Ackerman's "The Obama Doctrine" is a good read in the March TAP.

Ackerman takes note of Obama's intent to transform US foreign policy:
When Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama met in California for the Jan. 31 debate, their back-and-forth resembled their many previous encounters, with the Democratic presidential hopefuls scrambling for the small policy yardage between them. And then Obama said something about the Iraq War that wasn't incremental at all. "I don't want to just end the war," he said, "but I want to end the mind-set that got us into war in the first place."

..."This election is about ending the Iraq War, but even more it's about moving beyond it. And we're not going to be safe in a world of unconventional threats with the same old conventional thinking that got us into Iraq," Obama said.
Ackerman describes how Obama and his advisors support a "human dignity" agenda that would -- contra the current policy approach -- seek to "fill stomachs, alleviate malaria, or protect neighborhoods from marauding bands of militiamen."
Extremists will forever be able to demagogue conditions of misery, making continued U.S. involvement in asymmetric warfare an increasingly counterproductive exercise -- because killing one terrorist creates five more in his place. "It's about attacking pools of potential terrorism around the globe," [General Scott] Gration says. "Look at Africa, with 900 million people, half of whom are under 18. I'm concerned that unless you start creating jobs and livelihoods we will have real big problems on our hands in ten to fifteen years."

..."He goes back to Roosevelt," [Harvard's Samantha] Power says. "Freedom from fear and freedom from want. What if we actually offered that? What if we delivered that in the developing world? That would be a transformative agenda for us." The end of the Iraq War mind-set, it turns out, may be the beginning of America's reacquaintance with its best traditions.
I previously noted this "human security" agenda that runs through Obama's foreign policy speeches. As Ackerman notes, some conservatives charge that Obama seeks a "post-American" foreign policy.

That's only true if one only accepts a fairly narrow definition of what it means to be American.

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Debate news and memories

Congratulations to the students and coaches from Wake Forest University for winning the 2008 National Debate Tournament.

After an outstanding season, the "A" team from University of Kansas (my alma mater) lost in the "elite eight." The accomplished "B" team was also one of the nation's top 16 teams this season (based on pre-tournament rankings) and lost in the "sweet sixteen" at the NDT.

At the CEDA national championship, that "B" team finished runner-up.

All this makes me feel old, by the way. This photo is from 25 years ago this week:I'm pictured with colleague Mark Gidley.

Note: In both 1983 and 2008, teams from Dartmouth College finished second at the NDT.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Up with parking

Today's CSM has good news, though the journalist describes it as "negative":
For the first time since 1980, when long lines sprouted at gasoline stations, Americans are beginning to cut down on their driving.

The slight decline in total miles driven – apparent first in December – may indicate that the twin forces of high gasoline prices and a struggling economy are starting to affect the US lifestyle...

The last time that Americans did cut down on their driving in response to high prices, around 1980, they reduced their driving for 14 months. "We're starting to see a similar pattern emerge," Mr. Swanson [an economist with Wells Fargo Economics in Minneapolis] says. "This could be a huge washout this summer and for a couple of years."
Obviously, I'm concerned about the "financial hardship" reported in the story -- but the bottom line is that Americans drive their large and energy inefficient cars too much.

Anyone who has traveled to Europe knows that high gasoline prices discourage unnecessary driving. In most European countries, gasoline prices have been several dollars per gallon higher than in the US for many, many years. These higher prices reflect taxes implemented to promote conservation and "green" policies. In some countries, the tax revenues are used to fund alternative energy.

Americans need to start thinking about gasoline the way that they think about cigarettes -- tax the costly behavior to discourage it and to pay for solutions.

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