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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Steve Earle on Guns

"Devil's Right Hand" off "Copperhead Road."

I cannot believe that the CD was released in 1988 -- 25 years on. I listened to the first three Steve Earle records very, very frequently. The first two, I had purchased on vinyl and this was one of my first CDs.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cameron on Democracy

David Cameron
David Cameron; Photo credit = Foreign Press Association in London on Flickr

Have you read British PM David Cameron's address to the United Nations General Assembly, delivered September 26, 2012? In the speech, Cameron reminds the global audience that he is "a Liberal Conservative, not a Neo-Conservative." He continued:
I respect the different histories and traditions that each country has. I welcome the steps taken in countries where reform is happening with the consent of the people.  I know that every country takes its own path. And that progress will sometimes be slow.
Thus, he offers a hopeful reading of developments following the so-called Arab Spring and calls for the United Nations and the Security Council to support the "building blocks of democracy," which he defines most simply as "fair economies and open societies." In another section of the speech, he elaborates that the building blocks also include "the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law, with the majority prepared to defend the rights of the minority, the freedom of the media, a proper place for the army in society and the development of effective state institutions, political parties and wider civil society."

By making this claim, Cameron offers an implicit critique of the former George W. Bush era, when elections and democracy were often equated. Here's a snipped from a Bush speech in 2005, delivered as Iraqis were about to hold an election:
We are living through a watershed moment in the story of freedom. Most of the focus now is on this week's elections -- and rightly so. Iraqis will go to the polls to choose a government that will be the only constitutional democracy in the Arab world.
 In Cameron's words, however, "democracy is not – and never has been – just about simply holding an election. It is not one person, one vote, once." Think about the endurance of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, and the longstanding U.S. claims about how his election represents democracy for Afghanistan.

Despite making these arguments about elections, Cameron demonstrates progress after the Arab Spring primarily by pointing to election results:
First of all, there are those who say there has been too little progress, that the Arab Spring has produced few tangible improvements in people’s lives. This isn’t right. Look at Libya since the fall of Gaddafi. We have seen elections to create a new Congress...

As we saw so inspiringly in Benghazi last weekend, they are taking to the streets in their thousands, refusing to allow extremists to hijack their chance for democracy. The Arab Spring has also brought progress in Egypt where the democratically elected President has asserted civilian control over the military, in Yemen and Tunisia where elections have also brought new governments to power and in Morocco where there’s a new constitution – and a Prime Minister appointed on the basis of a popular vote for the first time. And even further afield, Somalia has also taken a vital step forward by electing a new President.
By the way, Bush's most famous speech about democratization, his Second Inaugural address, never mentioned the words "ballot," "election," "vote" or "voting."  Remember the theme of that speech? Cameron's fairly extensive discussion of religion focuses on the compatibility of Islam and democracy.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

International Organizations and Power

Though we missed the print deadline for the 12-volume International Studies Encyclopedia (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), Nayef Samhat and I completed our essay "International Organizations and Power" some time ago. I just learned this week that it was recently published in the online edition of the work sometimes known as the ISA Compendium. The project was completed with the cooperation of the International Studies Association leadership and membership.

Apparently, the Payne and Samhat (2012) piece may also appear in a future hard-copy supplement to the encyclopedia. Meanwhile, I'd like to see an electronic copy of the piece. My institution does not subscribe, the one-year of free access granted to ISA members expired, and Wiley-Blackwell has not yet sent me a copy.

As ISA members know, all ISA publications are now "published" electronically and regular membership does not include hard copies of the journals. Thus, it is possible that this piece will never appear anywhere other than in this online form. I guess I'm comfortable with that, but it would be better if more scholars and students had easy access. The piece might be useful for a class...

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Democratic Majority?

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Yesterday, Democrat Barack Obama was inaugurated for his second term as U.S. President. His party, in fact, has won at least a plurality of the votes in five of the past six presidential elections. On average, Democrats have received about 4.5 million more votes than Republicans in every presidential election since George H.W. Bush won decisively in 1988. Was that the end of the Reagan era?

The Democratic party has also controlled the U.S. Senate since the 2006 midterm elections. Indeed, in the fifteen years between January 2001 and January 2015, Democrats will have controlled the Senate for all but four and one-half years. That's roughly two-thirds of the years to-date of the twenty-first century.

Republicans currently control the U.S. House of Representatives, but this is thanks largely to gerrymandering and quirks of political geography. Democratic candidates in the 2012 elections received one million more votes than did Republicans. Indeed, has estimated that Democrats were actually preferred roughly 52-48% by the electorate in the most recent elections. The Democrats controlled a majority of the House from January 2007 until January 2011, which means they have won a meaningful majority of votes cast in three of the past four congressional elections.

Why mention these facts? Well, it is interesting how quickly political reality can change. Remember when some pundits and insiders were predicting a "durable" majority position held by the Republican Party?

That alleged majority was built largely on the Republican control of the south and the exurbs. To get a taste of the era, consider the following analysis that I found while going through old drafts of posts that were never posted on this blog. The piece was written by Ronald Brownstein in the February 2006 issue of The American Prospect. The columnist was reviewing four contemporary books about the South and American politics:
The South now furnishes the decisive votes for Republican control of the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the White House. Outside the South, Democrats still hold the advantage in the competition on all three fronts. But the Republican dominance of the South has grown so pronounced that it swamps the Democratic strengths elsewhere and provides the GOP with its margin of majority for both Congress and the White House.

Consider the Senate. In the 11 states of the old Confederacy plus Oklahoma and Kentucky -- the generally accepted political definition of the South -- Republicans hold 22 of the 26 Senate seats. In the rest of the country, Democrats control seven more Senate seats than the GOP....

The same is true in the House. Outside the South, Democrats hold a 152-140 edge in House seats....The imbalance is even more pronounced in the race for the White House. In 2000, Al Gore won just over 70 percent of the Electoral College votes at stake outside the South. But George W. Bush narrowly won the White House because he swept all 165 Electoral College votes in the 13 southern states. Four years later, John Kerry won 68 percent of the Electoral College votes outside the South. But Bush won because he again swept the 13 Southern states -- this time worth 168 Electoral College votes after population growth measured in the 2000 Census.
In my review of the 2004 presidential election results, I noted some "ongoing demographic changes" that were already influencing voting patterns in Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Virginia. I described these as a "good sign for Democrats for 2008 and beyond," even though they had just experienced their most disappointing election of the past quarter century.

I suspect, somewhere, Republican analysts are looking at the most recent voting and demographic data in an effort to find some pathways to victory in 2016.

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Argo: Spoiler Alert

I saw "Argo" yesterday and then searched around briefly to see how much the story was embellished. If you haven't seen the film and don't want to know the answer to that question, stop reading. NOW.

The film tells a great story about the CIA and the Canadian government helping 6 Americans from the U.S. embassy in Tehran escape Iran in 1980, months before the ~50 kidnapped hostages were freed.

The BBC has the details about the film's accuracy. :

Argo's final scenes are superbly tense, as the six [embassy escapees] make it onto the plane by the skin of their teeth. The CIA had given them false departure documents for which, of course, there were no matching arrival forms.
The big climax is a heart-pounding chase down the runway as gun-toting members of the Revolutionary Guard try to stop them taking off.

"Absolutely none of that happened," says Mark [Lijek, one of the escapees] .

"It's true there could have been problems with documentation - it was our biggest vulnerability.

"But the Agency had done its homework and knew the Iranian border authorities habitually made no attempt to reconcile documents.

"Fortunately for us, there were very few Revolutionary Guards about. It's why we turned up for a flight at 5.30 in the morning; even they weren't zealous enough to be there that early.

"The truth is the immigration officers barely looked at us and we were processed out in the regular way. We got on the flight to Zurich and then we were taken to the US ambassador's residence in Berne. It was that straightforward."
Lijek also says that the location scouting scene in the Grand Bazaar never happened. 

Put differently, a very large portion of the film's drama was manufactured to make for more entertainment. This does not bother me, but many viewers will probably treat the film as Truth.

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Monday, January 07, 2013

2020 Presidential Election: A Blue Blowout?

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Photo credit: Troy McCullough (Idle Type)

Last Friday, Congress certified the 2012 Electoral College results and Barack Obama was officially reelected by a tally of 332 to 206. Unofficially, the Associated Press counted the number of individual votes the candidates received in nationwide balloting. In the AP's final election result, Obama got 51.1% of the vote, while Mitt Romney received 47.2%.

Many analysts have already highlighted the startling vote percentages Barack Obama achieved in 2012 among Latino and Asian voters. Here's how the Boston Globe framed it on November 9, 2012:
Exit polling by The New York Times showed Asian-Americans voted for Obama over Romney 73 percent to 26 percent, after backing him against John McCain 62 to 35...
Obama’s 47-point advantage among Asian-Americans on Election Day was bigger than his edge among Latinos, 44 points, or women, 11 points.

In 2008, Obama beat John McCain among Latinos by about two-to-one: 67% to 31%.  Romney managed to win only 27% of the Latino vote in 2012, while Obama won 71%. That's a bit better than 2.5 to one.

Given demographic changes, Latinos are expected to be an even greater electoral force in the coming decades. In 2010, there were about 50 million Hispanics living in the US, or about 13% of the population. By 2030, the numbers will be 78 million and they will comprise almost 22% of the population.

Asian-Americans are the fastest growing ethnic group in the US. There were just over 17 million Asian-Americans counted in the 2010 census, constituting 5.6% of the population. If the last decade's population growth holds up, there will be more than 25 million Asian American in the US in 2020. The US government forecasts 20 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders living in the US by 2020. By 2050, they are expected to make up nearly 10% of the US population.

Unless Republicans can increase their appeal to these demographic groups, they are in for more electoral disasters. Republican election strategist Ed Gillespie pointed out in January 2012 that his party would be in big trouble by 2020 if even 2008 voting patterns held:
“If the Republican Party nominee in 2020—just two elections after this one--gets the same percentage of the white, African-American, Hispanic and Asian-American vote, according to current projections the Democrat will win the White House by 14 percentage points.”
In the policy realm, Vice President Joe Biden already predicts that the Republican party will recognize the reality and cooperate with Democrats to pass immigration reform in the new Congress.

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Sunday, January 06, 2013

America's Enemies

This weekend, I'm spending some time preparing for my graduate seminar on international politics. As many IR scholars do, I typically begin with realism in order for the students to wrap their minds around some of the discipline's core ideas: states, interests, power, threats, security, etc.

Many IR theories position themselves vis-à-vis realism in order to critique, deconstruct, etc.

One obvious problem: realists tend to focus on great power competition and we seem to be in an age that lacks that feature of international politics. In any case, the American public certainly seems to think so. Last February, Mother Jones reported these interesting results of a recent Gallup survey:

Less than a quarter of respondents think that China is America's greatest enemy. The general public is not alone, of course, as John Mearsheimer, perhaps the most prominent academic realist, has long lamented the fact that policymakers fail to treat China as a serious foe.

I'm using the label "threat inflation" for this post because I'm far from convinced that the realists are correct. China and the US have some competing interests, but it also seems pretty clear that they also share many interests and are essentially partners in many endeavors.

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