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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

On socialism

The John McCain campaign charge about Barack Obama's alleged socialism is ridiculous:

1. Obama is basically promoting progressive tax policy -- placing higher tax rates on the wealthy and lower rates on the poor. McCain himself dismissed charges that this was socialism in 2000 when a student pressed him about it. Watch this video, which I originally saw on "The Daily Show."

2. McCain seems to be complaining about tax refunds to people who don't pay taxes. This hints of Reagan's welfare queens, though McCain refuses to acknowledge that Republicans like him (and Reagan) sought the Earned Income Tax Credit so as to provide government tax rebates rather than higher minimum wages to the working poor.

Incidentally, the working poor pay payroll taxes (and regressive sales taxes), so this idea that a huge portion of the population pays no taxes is just bunk.

3. McCain's health care proposal, which includes a $5000 tax rebate to individuals, is precisely the kind of alleged "socialism" that he attacks in Obama's plan.

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CSM: No more dead tree edition

The Christian Science Monitor, a fine paper with particularly good coverage of international affairs, announced that it will soon be available exclusively on-line. The story appeared in the NYT:
The paper is currently published Monday through Friday, and will move to online only in April, although it will also introduce a weekend magazine. John Yemma, The Monitor’s editor, said that moving to a Web focus will mean it can keep its eight foreign bureaus open.
The CSM website had these detail:
In 2009, the Monitor will become the first nationally circulated newspaper to replace its daily print edition with its website; the 100 year-old news organization will also offer subscribers weekly print and daily e-mail editions.
I suspect other papers will be doing this eventually.

One of my favorite magazines went web-only earlier this month. I hope it is a viable business model.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

On-line video and the 2008 election

Check out the Political Video Barometer on Shifting the Debate. That page includes a graph that indicates the political leanings and number of bloggers linking to particular videos related to the 2008 election. Left to right, the horizontal axis reveals videos linked by blogs rated liberal to conservative. The vertical axis reveals the quantity of links.

I clicked on a link for one of the most popular videos on conservative blogs: "Obama Citizenship" (episode 6), which claims to be the October Surprise.

The entire video is an interview with attorney Philip J. Berg, who claims to be a lifelong Democrat and former Deputy Attorney General in Pennsylvania. Berg says Barack Obama is not a natural-born citizen and is thus ineligible for the presidency.

It's interesting that so many conservatives are linking to this video. I wonder if they realize that he filed lawsuits to arrest George W. Bush and Dick Cheney because of their involvement in the 9/11 conspiracy?

In any case, the arguments he makes in the video are typical of conspiracy theorists. Some of the "evidence" is based on hearsay, second-hand accounts of what some people supposedly say. Other "evidence" is based on tortured logic. Obama went to school as a child in Indonesia. The country was at war at the time and only citizens could go to school. You get the picture, right?

He claims that images of Obama's birth certificate posted on the internet are fake, basically because one image includes an Hawai'ian state seal and another does not. Snopes sides with Obama.

Berg recently lost his suit to block Obama's candidacy because the court ruled he did not have standing. That's the soft part of the ruling:
In a 34-page memorandum and opinion, the judge said Berg's allegations of harm were "too vague and too attenuated" to confer standing on him or any other voters.

Surrick ruled that Berg's attempts to use certain laws to gain standing to pursue his claim that Obama was not a natural-born citizen were "frivolous and not worthy of discussion."

The judge also said the harm Berg alleged did "not constitute an injury in fact" and Berg's arguments to the contrary "ventured into the unreasonable."
It's good to see that the right-blogosphere is focusing on important matters for the nation's future.

If John McCain was the Democratic candidate, I'm sure many of these same bloggers would be linking to similar theories about his eligibility for the presidency. Interestingly, in the case of McCain, the facts are clear about where he was born. Any uncertainty is based on the legal question as to whether a person is a "natural born citizen" if delivery occurs in a U.S. military hospital in the Panama Canal Zone.
According to a State Department manual, U.S. military installations abroad cannot be considered "part of the United States" and "A child born on the premises of such a facility is not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States and does not acquire U.S. citizenship by reason of birth."
Prominent legal scholars, including Harvard's Larry Tribe, say that McCain has nothing to fear.

It's easy to imagine the right blogosphere sneering at Tribe's defense of a Democratic McCain.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Conference report: Vail

I've just returned from a "Foreign Policy Conference" in Vail, Colorado, cosponsored by the International Security & Arms Control Section of the APSA, the International Security Studies section of the ISA, and the Denver Council on Foreign Relations (DCFR), among others.

I presented two papers. One was coauthored with my graduate student, Phil McCauley , "The Illogic of the Biological Weapons Taboo." Phil worked for 19 years in a lab (on this kind of stuff), so we brought divergent backgrounds to this project.

In a nutshell, we argued that a taboo prohibiting bioweapons use could be dangerous in a world where (a) arms control efforts to limit capabilities are collapsing; (b) the U.S. threatens to go to war for counterproliferation; and (c) the U.S. basically argues that BW capabilities in the hands of certain states reflects an intent to use those weapons.

The other paper was "Threat Construction in the War on Terror: The Case of Pakistan." I argued that after 9/11, Pakistan could have been viewed as an "enemy" rather than a "friend" or "ally" in the war on terror. This is simply based on U.S. declarations about threats and understandings about Pakistan in 2001 and 2002. I discuss why Pakistan was not viewed as an enemy, but also address whether Pakistan's "role identity" could change in the foreseeable future.

Hopefully, pdf versions of both papers will soon be available here. All comments are welcome. If the organizers don't get them up soon, I'll post them somewhere.

Needless to say, writing these papers and attending the conference kept me from blogging as much as usual the last few weeks.

Strangely, I heard the names S. Fred Singer and Laurie Mylroie referenced favorably at this conference -- once by a panelist and once by an audience member from an ACFR chapter. So far as I could tell, no one around me batted an eye.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

OSS 117

Perhaps you've seen one of the trailers for the new Bond movie? The film opens November 14.

If that's too long to wait for a good spy film, may I recommend, "OSS 117: Le Caire nid d'espions" ("OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies"). It's very funny and is obviously informed by the Bond series -- particularly the Sean Connery era.

Double thumbs up from me! Check out the DVD.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Quack, quack.

A few minutes ago, at the Duck of Minerva blog, I posted "Do you live in the real America?" The fairly lengthy post addresses the increasingly obvious divisiveness recently featured in the 2008 presidential campaign.

Last Wednesday, I also posted my "Debate preview," which is basically a link to a funny video that parallels the McCain-Obama race for the presidency.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Anthrax emergency declared

Did you know that the Secretary of Health and Human Services, based on a recent determination from the Department of Homeland Security, declared an anthrax-related emergency on September 23? This is from the HHS website:

On September 23, 2008, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security determined that there is a significant potential for a domestic emergency, involving a heightened risk of attack with a specified biological, chemical, radiological, or nuclear agent or agents--in this case, Bacillus anthracis. Pursuant to section 564(b) of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, 21 U.S.C. §360bbb-3(b), and on the basis of such determination, I hereby declare an emergency justifying the authorization of the emergency use of doxycycline hyclate tablets accompanied by emergency use information subject to the terms of any authorization issued under 21 U.S.C. §360bbb-3(a).


Michael O. Leavitt

Date: October 1, 2008
Read the Notice in the Federal Register (pdf warning), however, and it seems clear that the HHS Secretary does not, in fact, believe that the U.S. faces an anthrax emergency:
there is no current domestic emergency involving anthrax, no current heightened risk of an anthrax attack, and no credible information indicating an imminent threat of an attack involving Bacillus anthracis.
So what the hell is going on?

In a letter (pdf warning) to HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff argued that the current situation justifies imposition of something like a domestic version of the Bush Doctrine. First, an anthrax attack would be a "material threat to the United States population" affecting national security. Second, a future attack would "result in a domestic emergency." Thus, Chertoff concluded that "there is a non-negligible possibility that a heightened risk of attack will arise."

Parse that last sentence: "a non-negligible possibility," (are you scared yet?) "that a heightened risk" (shaking?) "will arise" (you know, in the future).

I think scholar John Mueller would say the threat is "overblown" and that the risk of overreaction might be greater than the risk of attack.

Paranoid people link this to recent warnings about the potential declaration of martial law (thanks to the financial emergency) and the recent deployment of an active army brigade on U.S. soil (to address civil unrest, particularly in the event of a WMD attack).

Cynics will simply point out that the latest notice assures that millions of dollars will flow to drug companies -- and that both the pharmaceutical companies and the officials ordering the drug production will be released from future liability because of the declared emergency.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Getting hosed in Kansas

Today, I'm envying my aunts, uncles and cousins who live in Kansas. They probably get to see this ad all the time:

Trivia: Jim Slattery is exactly 13 years to the day older than Barack Obama (and me). I believe he spoke in one of my classes in 1982 when I was a student at University of Kansas. He was elected to the House that year, representing Topeka.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Vote fraud

Apparently, part of the right-wing anti-ACORN screed is about potential voter fraud. ACORN is registering voters and some of the registrations are obvious fakes (using clearly fake names, etc.). Matt Yglesias and Scott Lemieux note that registration fraud isn't the same as vote fraud. Will Mickey Mouse be allowed to vote?

I blogged about vote fraud before, but it is really important to keep in mind this quote from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Report on Florida Voter Fraud Issues (January 1998). I referenced it often in fall 2000:
  • The absentee ballot is the "tool of choice" for those who are engaging in election fraud.

The absentee ballot's very nature makes it the mechanism to use when trying to capitalize on a voter's infirmities or desire to make some quick money. Both federal and Florida law make absentee ballots available to anyone who seeks them, with no requirement of "justification" for not appearing in person at the polls. Given this easy access to absentee ballots, the "tool of choice" will remain popular among those who corrupt the elections process.
More from a bit later in the document:
"Actual false impersonation at the polls continues to occur regularly, although use of absentee ballots appears to be the preferred method of committing fraud."
My 2004 blog post quoted from a Paul Krugman column noting that Republicans were encouraging their voters to use absentee ballots. In Florida 2008, Republicans are requesting significantly more absentee ballots than are Democrats. In one part of Florida, they are requesting 75% more absentee ballots.

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The election

Loyal readers must recognize that I've blogged a lot less about the 2008 presidential election than I did about 2004. Partly, this reflects the fact that this election is not going to be as close as the last two. At least that's what the polls, the experts, and the insiders are saying.

Second, while I cannot imagine voting for John McCain for President, I've admired some of his previous "straight talk" on policy questions. He was "my favorite Republican" during the early aughts, before losing that title to Chuck Hagel and Ron Paul.

A large part of my problem with McCain 2008 is that he's backed away from the "maverick" positions I admired in the first place. Contrary to his current position, McCain originally opposed the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy, favored diplomacy towards all sorts of dubious states, fought the administration's policy of indefinite detention, supported the moratorium on coastal oil drilling, supported mandatory cap-and-trade proposals to fight global warming, etc. There's a comprehensive list of McCain "flipflops" here.

Even though I'm not writing as much about the election, I've still been following it very closely (at least that's what I told Rasmussen yesterday when I was polled over the telephone). I read the blogs linked in the first paragraph (or on my blogroll) and remain quite interested in the campaign minutiae, such as newspaper endorsements.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008


I don't have any Old Crow Medicine Show CDs, though a couple of their cuts appear on Americana compilation CDs that I own. Tonight, my wife and I went to see them in Louisville and the show was entertaining.

OCMS play traditional music, much of it bluegrass.

I'm not a huge fan of that genre, but this show definitely wasn't exclusively bluegrass music. At times, OCMS sounded like Neil Young, Pure Prairie League, or BR-549.

Warmup band The Felice Brothers sounded really good to me. Check 'em out.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Boren on Bipartisanship

Monday, I went to a talk on campus by former Senator David Boren (D-OK) who was promoting his new book (all proceeds go to scholarships). This blurb is from the book website:
Bipartisan cooperation on behalf of national interests needs to replace destructive partisanship, and we should not rule out electing a president independent of both existing parties.
At a different local event covered by the newspaper, Boren discussed his vision of bipartisanship (as he did at the campus interview too):
"It is time for those in office to stop underestimating the American people," he said.

Boren, now president of the University of Oklahoma, said the country has gone wildly off course in the past 20 or 25 years as Washington politics have become more polarized and partisan.

He called for whoever is elected as the next president to build a truly bipartisan Cabinet -- and not just pick a token from the other party as interior secretary.

And he said we need to return to the days of smoke-filled rooms where the country's leaders -- outside the eyes of the public and the media -- can work together on the biggest issues of the day.

"It needs to happen," he said. "Government worked when it happened."
While the anti-democratic aspects of the smoke-filled rooms bother me, I'm also very troubled by Boren's call for bipartisanship.

Boren pointed out that since 1980, the federal debt had climbed from $1 billion to $10 billion and that the wealthiest 10% of Americans now hold 54% of America's wealth. The post-war average through 1982 was 34%. You can see a charter for yourself here (p. 6 in the pdf).

The last time the wealthiest 10% controlled this much wealth was 1929.

Boren didn't connect the dots, but the Republican (Reagan) Revolution largely explains both these facts. Reagan and Bush administrations cut taxes on the wealthy and dramatically increased borrowing to pay for defense spending and tax cuts. During the Clinton years, the top 10% did se their share of the national wealth increase from about 40% to around 45%, but Republicans controlled Congress for all but two of those years.

So, why should a number of Republican class warriors be brought into an Obama administration? Boren wants to strike deals with the extremists who have transformed America's political economy. Boren made an explicit and unfavorable comparison between the US and Brazil, where the wealthy (he claimed) have to hide in their homes behind the protection of armed guards.

Elsewhere, Matt Yglesias makes a case for partisan government.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

New Army Doctrine

The Army just released a new doctrine and it echoes the September 2002 National Security Strategy, which declared that "America is now threatened less by conquering states than we are by failing ones." That NSS served to justify wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which were both very weak states when the US went to war with them.

The Washington Post, October 5 has the details on the latest strategic plan:
The Army on Monday will unveil an unprecedented doctrine that declares nation-building missions will probably become more important than conventional warfare and defines "fragile states" that breed crime, terrorism and religious and ethnic strife as the greatest threat to U.S. national security.

...Today, such fragile states, if neglected, will pose mounting risks for the United States, according to Lt. Col. Steve Leonard, the manual's lead author. Weak states "create vast ungoverned areas that are breeding grounds for the threats that we fear the most, criminal networks, international terrorists, ethnic strife, genocide," he said. "The argument against it is: Forget all that; you still have . . . near peer competitors who are on the verge of closing the superpower gap."
The Post ran this story on p. A16, but my local paper had it on the front page above the fold.

In the October 2008 Atlantic Monthly, historian Andrew Bacevich writes that the development of the so-called "Petraeus Doctrine" meant that the Army is again fighting the last war -- Iraq -- instead of the next one.
According to the emerging Petrae­us Doctrine, the Army (like it or not) is entering an era in which armed conflict will be protracted, ambiguous, and continuous—with the application of force becoming a lesser part of the soldier’s repertoire...Historically, expectations that the next war will resemble the last one have seldom served the military well.
Bacevich fears that civilians will not engage in a debate with the professional military, meaning that "the power of decision may well devolve by default upon soldiers."

The Post story certainly suggests that the debate has been resolved within the army:
The stability operations doctrine is an engine that will drive Army resources, organization and training for years to come, Caldwell said, and Army officials already have detailed plans to execute it. The operations directive underpinning the manual "elevated stability operations to a status equal to that of the offense and defense," the manual reads, describing the move as a "fundamental change in emphasis" for the Army...

"It's certainly going to shape how we will allocate resources and how we direct training," said Col. Mike Redmond, director of the Army's stability operations division, who is executing an action plan to implement the doctrine with 157 different initiatives, such as directing the Army's medical command to develop plans advising foreign health ministries.
However, Bacevich notes dissent from Gian Gentile, an Army Lt. Col.
Iraq bids to transform the entire force into a “dead army walking.” We who believe this to be the case may be in error on some counts. Preparing to fight the last war will not be one of them.
The Post also quotes Gentile:
"All we need to do is look at Russia and Georgia a few months ago. That suggests the description . . . of future war is too narrow," said Col. Gian P. Gentile, an Iraq war veteran with a doctorate in history who is a leading thinker in the Army camp opposed to the new doctrine.

"I don't think the Army should transform itself into a light-infantry-based constabulary force," Gentile said. Instead, he said, "the organizing principle for the U.S. Army should be the Army's capability to fight on all levels of war."
For a defense of the transformation, Bacevich recommends consulting John Nagl's book.

This is an ironic end to the Bush era, given what GWB said about nation-building in his 2000 debates with Al Gore.

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Martial Law?

Last Thursday, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) accused bailout proponents of using extreme fear appeals to sell the rescue package. This is from The Congressional Record October 2, 2008:
The only way they can pass this bill is by creating and by sustaining a panic atmosphere. That atmosphere is not justified. Many of us were told in private conversations, if we voted against this bill, that, on Monday, the sky would fall and that the market would drop 2,000 or 3,000 points the first day and another 2,000 the second day. A few Members were even told that there would be martial law in America if we voted ``no.'' That's what I call fear mongering--unjustified, proven wrong.
Hat tip: Kathy G, who has a video link.

On his website, Sherman adds this:
In order to pass the Bill, Wall Street declared that unless they received $700 billion in unmarked bills, the Dow would drop by 4,000 points and blood would flow in the streets.
Despite the fact that bill was passed and signed into law, the Dow dropped 3.8% today (360 points). At one point, it was down nearly 8%, so the final number indicates a late rally. Keep in mind that this was the first full day of US trading since the bailout passed.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

al Qaeda's electioneering

I just posted "al Qaeda's electioneering" over at Duck of Minerva.

Additionally, next Wednesday, I'm supposed to be interviewed by the BBC about US foreign policy and the election.

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