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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Looking bad

Has the world changed much in the past half decade or so?

On Friday, 111 countries signed a treaty banning cluster bombs. According to the AP story in the LA Times, the new treaty
outlaws all current designs of cluster munitions and requires destruction of stockpiles within eight years. It also opens the possibility that European allies could order the U.S. to remove cluster bombs from bases on their territory."
The signatory states think this means something:
"The country that thinks of using cluster munitions next week should think twice, because it would look very bad," said Espen Barth Eide, deputy defense minister of Norway, which will host a treaty-signing ceremony Dec. 3.

Few western Europeans have declared that the US was "looooking gooood" in the past decade or so.

Didn't it look bad when the US continued to use anti-personnel landmines?

Didn't it look bad when the US attacked Iraq without UN authorization?

Didn't it look bad when the US refused to join virtually every other democracy and join the CEDAW?

Didn't it look bad when the US effectively forced friendly states to grant it an exemption from the ICC?

It's a long list, actually.

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Monday, May 26, 2008


I received a forwarded email today that included these two quotes, back-to-back. Their intent is fairly obvious, since "grave" and "serious" are synonyms:
"They don't pose a serious threat to us."
-- Barack Obama on Iran, speaking in Portland, Oregon on May 18

"I've made it clear for years that the threat from Iran is grave."
-- Barack Obama speaking in Billings, Montana on May 19
After a quick search, I discovered that these are already widely circulated on right-leaning blogs.In context, it is easy to see that both quotes are taken from part of the same argument about Iran. Obama said -- as he has often on the campaign trail -- that Iran is not a serious threat in the same way that the Soviet Union was.

Does anyone deny that?

Here's the first quote, as reported in the IHT on May 20, with surrounding phrases:
Obama said in a speech Sunday that "strong countries and strong presidents talk to their adversaries."

"That's what Reagan did with Gorbachev," he said, adding, "I mean, think about it: Iran, Cuba, Venezuela - these countries are tiny compared to the Soviet Union. They don't pose a serious threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat to us. And yet we were willing to talk to the Soviet Union at the time when they were saying, 'We're going to wipe you off the planet."'

Obama said Iran was a threat partly because it had been emboldened by a war in Iraq backed by Bush and McCain. "Iran is the biggest single beneficiary of the war in Iraq," he said.
And here's the second one, as reported on a Chicago Tribune blog on May 19:
"Anything but their failed cowboy diplomacy that has produced no results is called appeasement," Obama countered. "Here's the truth: the Soviet Union had thousands of nuclear weapons and Iran doesn't have a single one. But when the world was on the brink of nuclear Holocaust, Kennedy talked to Khrushchev and he got those missiles out of Cuba. Why shouldn't we have the same courage and confidence to talk to our enemies? That's what strong countries do. That's what strong presidents do."

Obama said he fully realizes the danger posed by Iran, but that it is nothing compared to those presented by the former Soviet Union.

"The Soviet Union had the ability to destroy the world several times over, had satellites spanning the globe, had huge masses of conventional military power, all directed at destroying us," he said. "So, I've made it clear for years that the threat from Iran is grave. But what I've said is that we should not just talk to our friends. We should be willing to engage our enemies as well. That's what diplomacy is all about."

Obama repeatedly stressed the risk posed by Iran, as he suggested that danger has grown because of policies supported by McCain.

"Iran is a grave threat. It has an illicit nuclear program. It supports terrorism across the region and militias in Iraq. It threatens Israel's existence. It denies the Holocaust," he said. "The reason Iran is so much more powerful than it was a few years ago is because of the Bush-McCain policy of fighting in Iraq and refusing to pursue direct diplomacy with Iran. They're the ones who have not dealt with Iran wisely."

Obama also called Iran the "single biggest beneficiary" of Iraq war and pledged to secure all lose nuclear materials during first term, if he is elected president.
More here.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Clinton's raison d'ĂȘtre?

This is not good:
ABC News' Kate Snow Reports: In an interview with the Argus Leader, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., took the unusual step of invoking the assassination of Sen. Robert Kennedy, D-N.Y., when discussing reasons why she was staying in the presidential race.

"My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. I don't understand it," Clinton said.
Did you see "The Daily Show" on May 14? They had some West Virginia voters commenting about candidate Obama here (the worst starts at about 1:45, though the entire piece is good).

None of them made death threats, but others have. Still, this seems to be in bad taste -- Did she jump the shark?

Just yesterday, I know some Democrats who think this was pretty bad news. Now, that seems mild.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Hillary's Hypocrisy

These days, Hillary Clinton has only one or two thin straws left to grasp in her efforts to win the Democratic nomination for the presidency. Voting is about to end -- Barack Obama has secured a majority of elected delegates even though Montana, South Dakota and Puerto Rico will still select 86 delegates.

Likewise, the Superdelegate "primary" -- which she was once winning by a sizable margin -- has turned away from Clinton. Obama has seized the lead among those convention participants and seems to add several more delegates each day. He currently leads the superdelegate race by 25 to 30 delegates. Just over 200 are yet to declare their allegiance.

By the math long accepted in this race -- Clinton too once agreed that the number for victory was 2025 -- Obama needs only about 60 more delegates to secure the nomination. Given proportional representation, he's going to get at least half of those from the remaining three electoral contests even if Clinton wins Puerto Rico by a 3-to-1 margin.

To get to the magic number assuring victory, Obama will likely need the support of fewer than 30 of the remaining 210 unpledged superdelegates.

So, where is Clinton making her last stand?

The answer is in Michigan and Florida, states where Clinton won both primaries.

However, Democrats agreed in 2007 not to campaign -- and not to count the delegates from those states. The states are being penalized harshly by the Democratic National Committee for moving their primaries to early dates, which competed for attention with traditional opening contests in Iowa and New Hampshire. Back in 2007, none of the candidates wanted to offend early voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Here's the Clinton press release from September 2007:
"We believe Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina play a unique and special role in the nominating process," Clinton's campaign said in a statement. "And we believe the DNC's rules and its calendar provide the necessary structure to respect and honor that role."
The Clinton campaign, like the campaigns of Obama, John Edwards, Joe Biden, Bill Richardson, Dennis Kucinich and Chris Dodd, signed a pledge not to "campaign or participate in any state which schedules a presidential election primary or caucus before Feb. 5, 2008, except for the states of Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina," as drafted by the DNC.

Note that this was not merely a pledge not to campaign. This was a promise not to participate in an election. Can one claim victory if such an election occurs? All the candidates save for Clinton and Dodd withdrew their names from the Michigan ballot. The DNC had already invoked the penalty. Clinton certainly agreed when she was campaigning in New Hampshire:
...she told a New Hampshire public-radio audience, "It's clear, this election [Michigan is] having is not going to count for anything."
Moreover, the DNC is not some disinterested third party. Hillary Clinton supporters were the mainstream of the Democratic party when these penalties were imposed. Some of her highest profile supporters helped make the DNC decision:
On Aug. 25, when the DNC's rules panel declared Florida's primary date out of order, it agreed by a near-unanimous majority to exceed the 50 percent penalty called for under party rules. Instead, the group stripped Florida of all 210 delegates to underscore its displeasure with Florida's defiance and to discourage other states from following suit. In doing so, the DNC essentially committed itself, for fairness' sake, to strip the similarly defiant Michigan of all 156 of its delegates three months later. Clinton held tremendous potential leverage over this decision, and not only because she was then widely judged the likely nominee. Of the committee's 30 members, a near-majority of 12 were Clinton supporters. All of them—most notably strategist Harold Ickes—voted for Florida's full disenfranchisement. (The only dissenting vote was cast by a Tallahassee, Fla., city commissioner who supported Obama.)
By the way, Clinton now has the support of 13 members of the DNC, to 8 for Obama, with 9 unaligned.

To hear Clinton talk now, however, voters from Florida and Michigan are comparable to the voters in authoritarian states, who are ruled by thugs who do not care about their concerns:
Speaking in Sunrise, Fla., Clinton said: "You heard Diana talk about coming from a country where votes don't count. People go through the motions of an election only to have it discarded and disregarded. We're seeing that right now in Zimbabwe -- tragically an election was held, the president lost, they refused to abide by the will of the people. So we can never take for granted our precious right to vote."
I wonder what Clinton thinks of elections in single-party states, where voters are given ballots that do not reflect electoral choice?

In the former Soviet Union, the state's sanctioned candidate used to get over 90% of the vote; Clinton managed only 55% in Michigan. Uncommitted ran a strong second -- with 40%.

Clinton has also been making the argument that she should be the nominee because she leads the popular vote:
We believe the popular vote is the truest expression of your will. We believe it today, just as we believed it back in 2000 when right here in Florida, you learned the hard way what happens when your votes aren’t counted and the candidate with fewer votes is declared the winner. The lesson of 2000 here in Florida is crystal clear. If any votes aren’t counted, the will of the people is not realized and our democracy is diminished. That is what I have always believed.
Independent sources that track the vote count reveal Clinton's hypocrisy on this issue.

Obama won a number of caucuses that do not report traditional vote counts. Would Clinton not want to count those votes? She won Michigan where Obama was not on the ballot. Indeed, the only calculations that give Clinton a popular vote lead are those that fail to count every vote -- by ignoring caucus results or by counting votes in states where voters had no chance to register their support for Senator Obama.

Make a reasonable estimate of the caucus results and exclude Michigan where Obama was not on the ballot, and the popular vote results do not favor Clinton. Barack Obama has not only secured more delegates than Hillary Clinton, he's ahead in the popular vote as well.

This would be a nice opportunity for Al Gore, who was genuinely wronged in 2000, to step forward and silence Clinton's latest argument. Failing that, this is likely to be resolved on May 31. It now appears that Obama's delegate lead is insurmountable, meaning that he's going to win the nomination even if Michigan and Florida delegates are seated. Democrats from those states have presented plans to the DNC that would not hand Hillary Clinton a last minute victory.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Election day in Kentucky

Some anecdotes as we wait for results from Kentucky (and Oregon):

1. Today, as I voted in Louisville, a well-dressed 50-something women turned around in the voting booth next to mine and cried out, "Hey, Barack Obama is not listed on my ballot."

The poll workers reminded her that she had requested a Republican primary ballot and told her that she could not vote for a Democrat until the November general election.

The woman turned back around and muttered under her breath, "But I don't want any of these guys." She may have said "losers" instead of "guys." Her voice was trailing off.

2. In the past five days, I've received 2 phone calls from the Obama campaign asking me if I planned to vote for him and reminding me where to vote. Sunday, my spouse received one of those calls too. Yesterday, we also received 2 tape-recorded calls from his campaign that reminded us to vote. Today, a kid from my daughter's high school knocked on our door to remind us to vote for Obama. We were also apparently canvassed by an Obama worker last week when I was not home.

We received no calls from Hillary Clinton's campaign, though some months ago we did receive mailed requests for donations to her campaign.

Moreover, as of last Friday, our local Obama office was completely out of yard signs. I've also seen a number of Obama TV commercials, but none that I recall for Hillary Clinton. Our neighbor has a Hillary sign, as do a few other people on the street. Nonetheless, I think Obama is winning my block and neighborhood.

That said, Hillary or Bill Clinton have been on the front page of the local newspaper almost every day for the past week because of community or state appearances. Obama was in town once and his spouse came through as well. She did not make the front page. The paper had a long piece about Chelsea Clinton, but it was in the opinion section.

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Bad News Alert: Brazil's Amazon

Within Brazil, who will speak out to defend the Amazon? The leading voice for preservation has resigned. BBC, May 12:
Brazil's Environment Minister, Marina Silva, a staunch defender of the Amazon rainforest, has resigned from her post...

"Brazil is losing the only voice in the government that spoke out for the environment," said Sergio Leitao, director of public policy for Greenpeace in Brazil.

"The minister is leaving because the pressure on her for taking the measures she took against deforestation has become unbearable," he added...

"The environmental area was relegated to no priority," said Denise Hamu, secretary general of WWF in Brazil. "She got tired of the thankless struggle."
Silva had unsuccessfully tried to block some major development projects -- two hydroelectric projects and a major road.

Silva's replacement is Carlos Minc, former Rio de Janeiro Environment Secretary. He is ready to securitize the Amazon. The AP has this story today in the IHT:
Minc on Monday insisted that anti-logging measures "will be maintained and reinforced." He announced plans to use soldiers to protect the environment and vowed to implement a "zero deforestation" program. He gave no further details.
I'd like to hear those details.

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Bad News Alert: Climate Change

Did you miss this item from last week?

This is from The Guardian, May 13, on global climate change:
Scientists at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii say that CO2 levels in the atmosphere now stand at 387 parts per million (ppm), up almost 40% since the industrial revolution and the highest for at least the last 650,000 years.

The figures, published by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on its website, also confirm that carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas, is accumulating in the atmosphere faster than expected. The annual mean growth rate for 2007 was 2.14ppm - the fourth year in the last six to see an annual rise greater than 2ppm. From 1970 to 2000, the concentration rose by about 1.5ppm each year, but since 2000 the annual rise has leapt to an average 2.1ppm.

Scientists say the shift could indicate that the Earth is losing its natural ability to soak up billions of tonnes of CO2 each year. Climate models assume that about half our future emissions will be reabsorbed by forests and oceans, but the new figures confirm this may be too optimistic.
About half of the latest surge is said to be caused by China's increased participation in the global economy.

Of course, over the past century, western states (topped by the U.S.) have contributed far more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than China.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Culture Update: "The Visitor"

Earlier this evening, I saw a very good film with global political overtones: "The Visitor." This is the description from the Internet Movie Database:
Walter Vale (Jenkins) is a widower who teaches economics at a Connecticut university. No longer motivated by his work, he lives alone, struggling to find passion and meaning in his life. In New York to present a paper at a conference, he goes to the apartment that he has kept since his wife was alive (but hasn't visited for some time) only to discover a young couple living there, having been duped by an acquaintance who "rented" it to them. Despite their great cultural difference, Walter befriends Tarek (Sleiman), a Syrian citizen and drummer, and gradually builds a friendship with Esi (Gurira), his girlfriend from Senegal. One day, when returning from Central Park with Walter, Tarek gets arrested for jumping a stuck subway turnstile, despite the fact that he had paid. The police discover he does not have legal papers and transfer him to an immigrant detention center in Queens. Feeling responsible for and connected to Tarek, Walter stays in New York to help and support him. Not hearing from her son, Tarek's mother arrives from Michigan to find out why, and she and Walter support one another while they attempt to free Tarek.

The movie is a painful illustration of the inhumanity of the post-9/11 immigration policies and procedures. At the same time, it beautifully illuminates the wonders of friendship, kindness, reaching out, exploring life and finding meaning in a challenging world.
In some ways, the film reminded me of "Lost in Translation." In that movie, the lead character (a white late-middle-aged American man) makes a connection in Japan with a young woman from the US. In this film, the white late-middle-aged American makes a connection inside the US with characters from Senegal and Syria. Until those links are established, the protagonist is alienated from the larger world.

Towards the end of the movie, the widower becomes enraged at public officials from his own country who treat him like a child -- protecting him from a non-threatening friend, making him move away from a service window when no one else is in line, etc.

It is a powerful film.

Thumps way up!

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Friday, May 16, 2008

This week at the Duck

Earlier today, I blogged "Appeasement Anecdotes" at the Duck of Minerva. Did you know that the right accused Ronald Reagan of appeasement when he successfully negotiated arms control with the Soviet Union? Within 3 years of that "appeasement," the Soviet Union was gone.

Wednesday, I posted "The Golf War," which concerned George W. Bush's sacrifices in the wars on terror and Iraq. Last night, on "The Daily Show," they too headlined this story as "The Golf War."

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008


By all accounts, Hillary Clinton is going to win today's West Virginia Primary.

At stake? 28 delegates to the Democratic presidential nominating convention.

If Clinton wins the state by a 75-25 landslide, she'll pick up 21 delegates while Barack Obama will receive 7. That's a net gain of 14.

Meanwhile, since last Friday when I last posted about the then-nearly tied Superdelegate "primary," Obama has picked up 14 more superdelegates, while Clinton has added one and lost one.

Indeed, Obama has now gained a net of 29 superdelegate endorsements since last Tuesday and has clearly taken a lead in that battle.

Don't be surprised tonight if the talking heads covering the election spend as much time talking about superdelegate endorsements as they do about West Virginia returns.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Duck doings

Today, at the Duck of Minerva, I blogged "New 'crimes against humanity'?" The piece considers the claims various political figures have tossed about concerning biofuel production. I also note some additional uses of this phrase in contemporary political debates.

On May 6, I blogged "The taboo," which is about the lack of debate concerning Israeli nuclear weapons -- especially in the US. Why is OK to talk of obliterating Iran, but not OK to talk about Israel's arsenal? [Note: this post originally appeared here, but I'm noting the Duck cross-posting because it was mentioned in a Chronicle of Higher Education footnoted from academic blogs post.]

Finally, May 2, I posted "Power outage" about the apparent decline in home runs in baseball following the most recent crackdowns against steroid use by players. Since posting some early season data, the major league HR rate has risen to 40.7 at bats per homer (from 41.8 in April). That's still down significantly from the rate during the rest of the aughts.

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Friday, May 09, 2008

The Superdelegate Primary

This week, including Monday, Barack Obama has gained commitments from 17 Democratic superdelegates.

Hillary Clinton has gained 3 new commitments, but has also lost 2 as Obama's additions include 2 delegates that previously committed to Clinton.

That means Obama has added 16 more delegates to his lead this week, which is about as many as he advanced his overall lead on Tuesday in the Indiana and North Carolina primaries.

ABC News is reporting that Obama now leads the "superdelegate primary."
With these [latest] endorsements, Obama has the support of 267 superdelegates and Clinton has 265 superdelegates.

...Clinton’s advantage among superdelegates was once massive and has been dwindling steadily since Super Tuesday, when she was ahead by over 60 superdelegates.
Other news organizations still report Clinton with a narrow lead, but the slow trickle may yet become an avalanche.

Apparently, Obama is now free to put together a "winning coalition" against John McCain.

Update at 6pm ET: The AP is now reporting that Obama gained 9 superdelegates today, including one that used to support Clinton. The AP's count (and DCW's) shows that the race for supers is now essentially tied.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Bargaining time

Virtually everyone agrees the Obama-Clinton race for the Democratic nomination is over. Today's NYT:
The moment came shortly after midnight Eastern time, captured in a devastatingly declarative statement from Tim Russert of NBC News: “We now know who the Democratic nominee’s going to be, and no one’s going to dispute it,” he said on MSNBC.
Expect a superdelegate avalanche to start growing more pronounced this week.

The next stage of the contest is a negotiation and Hillary Clinton loses much of her leverage if she stops campaigning altogether. Thus, she is making appearances in West Virginia today. She might crush Barack Obama in West Virginia and both sides know it. Presumably, both sides also know that while this result would look bad for him, it would do almost nothing for her electoral chances.

Thus, both sides should be talking now about the terms of her withdrawal from the race. HRC has personal debt to retire and will have concerns about delegations from MI/FL, the platform, and perhaps the Veep. She likely wants to place some of her staff on Obama's campaign and may want the power to name some potential Cabinet members.

My guess is Obama caves on the debt question and figures out a way to seat the delegations for MI/FL. However, he will reveal less interest on most of the other demands. He will accept some Clinton staffers who are known to his people.

The McCain-Obama race has started.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Clinton: 50 years may be enough

While many Democrats have piled on Senator John McCain for saying that it would be OK for the US to spend "maybe 100" years in Iraq, few have taken note of Senator Hillary Clinton's similar comment. Mark Kleiman has this from a "Face the Nation" transcript in February 2005:
Senator McCain made the point earlier today, which I agree with, and that is, it's not so much a question of time when it comes to American military presence for the average American; I include myself in this. But it is a question of casualties.

We don't want to see our young men and women dying and suffering these grievous injuries that so many of them have. We've been in South Korea for 50-plus years. We've been in Europe for 50-plus. We're still in Okinawa with respect to protection there coming out of World War II.

You know, we have been in places for very long periods of time. And in recent history, we've made a commitment to Bosnia and Kosovo, and I think what is different is the feeling that we're on a track that is getting better and that we can see how the Iraqi government will begin to assume greater and greater responsibility. The elections were key to that. The training, equipment, equipping and motivating of the Iraqi security forces is key to that. But so is our understanding that if we were to artificially set a deadline of some sort, that would be like a green light to the terrorists, and we can't afford to do that.
I suspect, as does Kleiman, that a Clinton candidacy would dramatically reduce Democratic options concerning Iraq against McCain in the fall campaign.

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Clinton hypocrisy on tax relief

I just watched a Hillary Clinton surrogate on MSNBC praising the $70 that average people might save this summer if her gas tax holiday is achieved. The surrogate said that Senator Obama might find that amount to be trivial, but that it was important to ordinary Americans.

So, I went to google investigating the Clinton campaign's response to the "Bush" stimulus. This is from April 28 on a CNN blog:
The federal government started depositing the stimulus checks Monday into bank accounts of 800,000 Americans hoping the extra money will encourage people to spend.

Between now and July, the treasury will distribute more than $110 billion to at least 117 million low and middle income homes.

[Bill] Clinton said the fundamental issue is most people need the checks to pay off credit debt and bills. “Even if it’s all spent the way the president and Congress hoped it would be,” the current housing crisis would dwarf any possible gains.
I think this demonstrates Senator Obama's point -- the gas tax holiday is a "phony" idea "calculated to win elections instead of actually solving problems."

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The Taboo

Political Scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt received a lot of heat for their recent work about the power of the Israeli lobby inside the United States.

Mearsheimer and Walt raised issues that are rarely discussed in the United States. Indeed. some describe this topic as "the third rail" of US foreign policy debate.

Now that the power of "the Lobby" has been made part of the US public debate, Israel's nuclear weapons program should also be scrutinized more publicly. Ordinarily, that subject is taboo.

Lew Butler (who used to chair the Ploughshares Fund) explained in an op-ed in the SF Chronicle, November 30, 2007:
Estimates are that there are probably as many as 200 [nuclear weapons] in the Israeli arsenal, including thermonuclear (hydrogen) ones.

What is surprising is that there is almost never any public discussion in the United States, and certainly none in the White House or the Congress, about these weapons.

...Clearly, the Bush administration is not going to talk publicly about our understanding, if any, with Israel about its nuclear weapons. And no member of Congress is rushing to get into a subject as politically delicate as this one. That leaves it to those of us in private life to begin the debate, for the sake of the United States and Israel.
Part of the reason nobody wants to talk about Israeli nuclear weapons is that any debate would quickly reveal American hypocrisy. How can the US put pressure on Iran or North Korea about their proliferation if it turns a blind eye to Israel?
The unspoken basis for U.S. policy about Israel's nukes seems to be that we don't want our enemies to have such weapons but we don't worry as much if our friends, like Israel, Pakistan and India, have them.
However, the lack of debate about Israel's arsenal occasionally causes US political leaders to make careless and immoral threats. Hillary Clinton's recent warning that she would "obliterate" Iran if it attacked Israel led me to note the following in comments:
I don't know why Israel's nuclear force isn't sufficient to deter Iran's. Estimates suggest that it has 100s of deliverable weapons, some in the form of accurate cruise missiles on relatively invulnerable submarines.
Butler asks a set of related questions
Is there any understanding between Israel and the United States, its principal source of military aid, about their use? If so, does the understanding cover "no first use," similar to the policy advocated in the United States at the height of the Cold War? What would the United States do if Israel were ever under an attack that might lead it to a nuclear response? Has the United States ever talked with Israel about its refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? For Israel, are the weapons more of a danger to its security than a defense?
I see no reason to avoid public debate about these issues.

An honest discussion about Israel's arsenal might lead the US to adopt policies that would reduce its hypocrisy. For example, achieving genuine nonproliferation in the Middle East might require Israel to abandon its reliance upon nuclear weapons. Alternatively, perhaps the US and the regional states could embrace some kind of mutual deterrence based on Iran maintaining a secure second strike force. Iran does not currently have a nuclear-armed ally willing to extend deterrence on its behalf.

How would the US respond if Russia announced that it would obliterate Israel if it used nuclear weapons against Iran?

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Friday, May 02, 2008

Email as echo chamber

I've known about Sidney Blumenthal's emails for some months, but did not write anything about them because I lacked first-hand evidence. I am not on Blumenthal's email list. However, I did link to a Newhouse New story about the email list back in mid-February when I discussed the Barack Obama-as-messiah smear.

Peter Dreier, who gets the material via a forward, explains how it works:
Former journalist Sidney Blumenthal has been widely credited with coining the term "vast right-wing conspiracy" used by Hillary Clinton in 1998 to describe the alliance of conservative media, think tanks, and political operatives that sought to destroy the Clinton White House where he worked as a high-level aide. A decade later, and now acting as a senior campaign advisor to Senator Clinton, Blumenthal is exploiting that same right-wing network to attack and discredit Barack Obama. And he's not hesitating to use the same sort of guilt-by-association tactics that have been the hallmark of the political right dating back to the McCarthy era.

Almost every day over the past six months, I have been the recipient of an email that attacks Obama's character, political views, electability, and real or manufactured associations. The original source of many of these hit pieces are virulent and sometimes extreme right-wing websites, bloggers, and publications. But they aren't being emailed out from some fringe right-wing group that somehow managed to get my email address. Instead, it is Sidney Blumenthal who, on a regular basis, methodically dispatches these email mudballs to an influential list of opinion shapers -- including journalists, former Clinton administration officials, academics, policy entrepreneurs, and think tankers -- in what is an obvious attempt to create an echo chamber that reverberates among talk shows, columnists, and Democratic Party funders and activists. One of the recipients of the Blumenthal email blast, himself a Clinton supporter, forwards the material to me and perhaps to others.
Blumenthal has gone from critic of "right wing conspiracy" to enabler. Apparently, some of the stuff he's circulated is comparable to the "Clintons-killed-Vince Foster" crap from the 1990s.

Jonathan Tilove of Newhouse News named some of the recipients back in February:
the list of those receiving Blumenthal's e-mail included reporters John B. Judis, a senior editor at The New Republic; Joe Conason, national correspondent for The New York Observer and columnist for; and Gene Lyons, columnist with the Arkansas Democrat Gazette and author of "The Hunting of the President: The Ten Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton."
Dreier names more:
Among those whose names show up as recipients of Blumenthal's emails are writers and journalists Craig Unger, Edward Jay Epstein, Thomas Edsall (Politics Editor of the Huffington Post), Joe Conason, Gene Lyons (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist and author of The Hunting of the President: The Ten Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton), John Judis, Eric Alterman, Christine Ockrent, David Brock, Reza Aslan, Harold Evans, and Josh Marshall; academics and think tankers Todd Gitlin (Columbia U sociologist), Karen Greenberg (NYU law school), Sean Wilentz (Princeton historian), Michael Lind, William M. Drozdiak, and Richard Parker; and former Clinton administration officials John Ritch, James Rubin, Derek Shearer, and Joe Wilson.
Mark Kleiman is fairly disgusted that the journalists kept this to themselves.

I think this is why some Obama supporters so actively want to find a politician who are
"hungry for a new kind of politics, a politics that focused not just on how to win but why we should, a politics that focused on those values and ideals that we held in common as Americans; a politics that favored common sense over ideology, straight talk over spin."
On substance, there's very little separating Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The former is a bit better on health care and some other domestic issues, while I like Obama's foreign policy better.

On political process, I see big differences. Blumenthal has been sending this stuff around for six months.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Religion in the public square

I don't think Reverend Jeremiah Wright speaks for Barack Obama and I'm not all that concerned that Obama attended his church for 20 years. Over the past few decades, since Ronald Reagan embraced Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority, we've heard many religious figures make incredible statements about politics. For the most part, their ties to specific politicians has not determined voting outcomes.

I think this reflects the insight Ronald Reagan offered when asked about the views of a John Birch Society member who supported him:
"if anyone chooses to support me, they're buying my views; I'm not buying theirs."
For most politicians, that's sage advice.

George W. Bush tried to take a similar stand in 2000 when Senator John McCain called Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell "agents of intolerance." This is what McCain said at the time:
"The politics of division and slander are not our values," McCain said in Virginia. "They are corrupting influences on religion and politics and those who practice them in the name of religion or in the name of the Republican Party or in the name of America shame our faith, our party and our country."
I've previously blogged about Pat Robertson's outrageous "contributions" to public debate. It is almost impossible to select a single representative example from so much nonsense, but here's one to pit against Wright:
"If I could just get a nuclear device inside Foggy Bottom, I think that's the answer. You've got to blow that thing up."
Colorful, eh? And he said that after 9/11.

This is from a transcript featuring Jerry Falwell on Robertson's TV network, September 13, 2001:
JERRY FALWELL: ...[T}he Lord has protected us so wonderfully these 225 years. And since 1812, this is the first time that we've been attacked on our soil, first time, and by far the worst results. And I fear, as Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense said yesterday, that this is only the beginning. And with biological warfare available to these monsters; the Husseins, the Bin Ladens, the Arafats, what we saw on Tuesday, as terrible as it is, could be miniscule if, in fact, if in fact God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve.

PAT ROBERTSON: Jerry, that's my feeling. I think we've just seen the antechamber to terror. We haven't even begun to see what they can do to the major population.

JERRY FALWELL: The ACLU's got to take a lot of blame for this.


JERRY FALWELL: And, I know that I'll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen'.

PAT ROBERTSON: Well, I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted that agenda at the highest levels of our government. And so we're responsible as a free society for what the top people do.
Back in 2000, then-Governor Bush tried to echo Reagan to distance himself from these kinds of remarks from Falwell and Robertson:
Bush acknowledged that Robertson, Falwell and other fundamentalist religious leaders have lined up behind his presidential bid. "They're supporters of ours, but I have all kinds of supporters," Bush said.
Obama supporters are probably ready to offer an amen to that, eh?

But what of McCain? Should it make a difference if the politician seeks out the controversial religious leader?

You've probably already heard about McCain pursuing the endorsement of controversial Texas pastor John Hagee. Indeed, he was "very honored by Pastor John Hagee's endorsement." In various public forums, however, Hagee has said that God sent Hurricane Katrina to New Orleans because of their offensive "level of sin." He's denounced all Muslims for having a "a scriptural mandate to kill Christians and Jews." There's more:
Catholic League president Bill Donohue said Hagee "has waged an unrelenting war against the Catholic Church. For example, he likes calling it ‘The Great Whore,’ an ‘apostate church,’ the ‘anti-Christ,’ and a ‘false cult system.’
Given the saturation TV coverage of Wright -- and the previous efforts to make Obama denouce Louis Farrakhan -- it is one-sided to think that we haven't seen more about this pastor and his endorsement of McCain.

In any case, rather than provocative statements in the public sphere, perhaps we should worry most about what religious figures say privately to politicians. This story concerns release of tapes from Richard Nixon's Oval Office in 1972. Reverend Billy Graham has had the ear of every president since Harry Truman:
In the taped conversation, Mr [Reverend Billy] Graham said the Jewish "stranglehold" on the media "has got to be broken or this country's going down the drain".

"You believe that?" [President] Nixon replies.

"Yes, sir."

"Oh boy. So do I. I can't ever say that but I believe it," Nixon says.

"If you get elected a second time, then we might be able to do something," Mr Graham replies.

Later in the conversation, when Nixon raises the subject of Jewish influence in Hollywood, Mr Graham says:

"A lot of Jews are great friends of mine. They swarm around me and are friendly to me, because they know that I am friendly to Israel and so forth, but they don't know how I really feel about what they're doing to this country, and I have no power and no way to handle them."
Jon Stewart played the tape on last night's "Daily Show."

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