Archive | December, 2009

Old Posts, Renewed

18 Dec

Here are some most posts, taken from the Archives, that are worth reading for the first time or revisiting for all the good times you had the first time. Enjoy.

Deconstructing Obama’s Speechwriting

Do we need another Ferdinand Pecora to put the rich on trial?

Bittman on our diets, our world, and out future

Dating during a recession

Healthcare Tumbles, Democrats Fumble

16 Dec

“This is essentially the collapse of health care reform in the United States Senate. Honestly the best thing to do right now is kill the Senate bill, go back to the House, start the reconciliation process, where you only need 51 votes and it would be a much simpler bill.”

Howard Dean is not happy. The healthcare reform bill that has bounced up and down the walls of Congress is nothing more than a vestige of its peak form. There is immense frustration within the liberal ranks due to the back-breaking compromises made by Democrats and the President to appease a few, or sometimes just one (Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-CT), to get the bill signed by the holiday break. The public option was the first to be offed, then the Medicare buy-in, and now the option to purchase more affordable medicine abroad was deemed too much to support.

Within the ranks of the Democratic party there is a sense of brewing mutiny. Dean is not the only Democrat suggesting a scratch and re-do. Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL) says he cannot vote for the bill as is. Too much has been compromised, he says, for him to feel this will enact true reform:

“I am committed to voting for a bill that achieves the goals of a public option: competition, cost savings and accountability. I will not be able to vote for lesser legislation that ignores those fundamentals […] My colleagues may have forged a compromise bill that can achieve the 60 votes that will be needed for it to pass. But until this bill addresses cost, competition and accountability in a meaningful way, it will not win mine.”

On the other side of the same aisle, moderate and conservative Democrats are still not swayed and unwilling to back this bill, even after it has been watered down so much. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) cannot vote for a bill that includes any provisions that fund abortions. Period.

“I’m not on the bill. I have spoken with the president and he knows they are not wrapped up today. I think everybody understands they are not wrapped up today and that impression will not be given.”

Friendlies within the other party, like Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), are still hesitant about the bill but involved in the process. In all, the support Harry Reid took months to solidify, and the outreach the Democratic caucuses and President Obama have made to other parties has resulted in an impasse that is quickly deteriorating the strength of the reform.

What Howard Dean is suggesting, redoing the bill through the reconciliation process, is immensely risky. Essentially, passing a bill through the reconciliation process can be done with only 51 votes, a simple majority. It gives the image that it was stuffed down the throat of the minority. In order for the bill to qualify for reconciliation, it would need to go through major changes, as the legislative maneuver is only used for budget measures. This is what Dean meant by a simpler bill.

This is gaining some steam in both houses, but Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) says it simply cannot work due to the complexity of the bill:

“Reconciliation is a very spare and thin process with limited opportunities. For example, no insurance reform if we do reconciliation. We won’t give American consumers the tools that they need to fight back against the health insurance companies.

And I think they understand, as we do, that’s a very, very important element in this package.”

This does not mean it will not be used. It may just mean that the bill will become a budgetary reform of healthcare, focused on the numbers, not so much the provisions.

At this point, the Democrats feel the breath of an electoral defeat in 2010. The bill is almost alien to those who initially supported it, and those who do not are waiting for all the spinning plates to come crashing down. President Obama and the Democrats are fumbling their political strength after 2010. Maybe a rematch is not such a bad idea.

Lieberman's Medicare Tantrum a Flip-Flop

15 Dec

Sen. Joe Lieberman loves the spotlight. He relished running with Gore in 2000  as his VP; he was giddy when all eyes jumped on him for breaking ranks with the Democratic Party and becoming and Independent; and he savored the months when he was considered the frontrunner to be McCain’s VP choice (which he was, if it weren’t for outside forces that bent the Maverick’s hand).

Now, the spotlight is shining on him once more. This time as the Gang of 1 against healthcare reform.

His latest objection is over the expansion of Medicare to those below the current qualifying age of 65. Proponents of the current healthcare bill want the qualifying age to be lowered to 55, as a way of helping people who don’t have coverage and cannot afford it due to the high premiums their age would trigger. Lieberman was clear this past weekend on his refusal to accept such a preposterous measure.

Too bad he was for it a few months ago. The video below surfaced yesterday and is set to deflate the hot air balloon Lieberman has been riding for years. Is he for-gainst it, or just against whatever everyone is for?

Obama's Nobel Prize speech and the necessity of Just War

14 Dec
photocredit: White House Blog

photocredit: White House Blog

There was hardly any single way President Obama could accept the Nobel Peace prize successfully. His harshest critics are his compatriots, people who should be proud that their president is being honored on the world stage, but instead are ridiculing the prize and process. So when Obama accepted his prize on Wednesday in Oslo there was little he could say to convince the bitter many. His speech spent few words on explaining why he deserved it. In fact, he downplayed it enough to potentially insult the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

What he did do was explain his intentions as president, in particular why he believes fighting in Afghanistan is justified and necessary. He went on to give a speech about the principles of ‘just war’ theory, America’s role in global affairs, and his pragmatic optimism of the future.

Just war theory has developed over many centuries by various philosophers, many attributing St. Thomas Aquinas, in the 13th century, as the father of the belief system. It regained prominence in American political discussions during the Vietnam war, arguing what is the just way to fight and end a war. One of the main proponents of including just war theory into the Vietnam debate was Michael Walzer, with his comprehensive and compelling book on morality and war, Just and Unjust Wars. Ever since the 70’s concepts like jus ad bellum (just reason to start a war), jus in bello (just way of fighting a war), and jus post bellum (ending a war justly), have been a staple of all discussions about America’s wars.

On Wednesday, President Obama gave what has to be one of his most revealing speeches on foreign affairs thus far.

Obama laid out, in what at times seemed like a professor’s lecture, the argument that the war in Afghanistan fit the just war model and was a sort of necessary evil.

The president is on record for naming Reinhold Niebuhr as one of the most influential political philosophers in his life. Niebuhr was a towering intellectual figure in the first half of the 20th century that was known for his insights into the complex relationship between morality and politics. Niebuhr was a pragmatic optimist, calling America’s pride a double-edged sword, and a man confident humanity could make progress, but in small, measured steps.

On Wednesday Obama made statements that are fairly common sense, but are hardly ever uttered by a politician, much less a president. After offering a fair share of humility, claiming his accomplishments compared to past prize-winners are “slight,” he went on to explain his war strategy. His decision to expand America’s presence in Afghanistan came after many hoped he would adopt a much more pacifist strategy, one past Nobel Prize winners, like MLK Jr., would have probably preferred.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their [Mandela, MLK, Gandhi] examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

This reinforces the so-called Obama ideology: sober, carefully optimistic realpolitik. “Evil does exist in the world,” could never be said by a doe-eyed idealist; it is a true, but loaded statement only said by someone preparing to tackle that ‘evil.’

He went on to make a very Neihburian statement about human progress:

So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly inreconcilable truths — that war is sometimes necessary, and war at some level is an expression of human folly. Concretely, we must direct our effort to the task that President Kennedy called for long ago. “Let us focus,” he said, “on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions.”

Gradual evolution in human institutions implies both pragmatism and optimism: pragmatic hopes for human progress, and optimistic that human institutions (government, alliances, grassroots organizations) will lead that effort.

Niebuhr and Walzer believed that war can not only be justifiable, but at times the best (and last) of options. Niebuhr said it was our “self-interest” to accept our responsibilities as world leader. Walzer saw virtue in military interventions during ethnic and regional conflicts, such as genocide and unjust invasions. Obama made subtle mentions of this responsibility and its benefit:

Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest — because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.

Obama furthered the point that America is, as Madame Secretary Albright used to call her, the “indispensable nation.” Global stability is at risk in Afghanistan, Obama said. A loss there is a loss felt in every other country.

[…] In many countries, there is a disconnect between the efforts of those who serve and the ambivalence of the broader public. I understand why war is not popular, but I also know this: The belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it. Peace requires responsibility. Peace entails sacrifice.

Niebuhr thought that politics could indeed be an agent of change, but it was still politics, full of compromise and tit-for-tat. He was a firm believer that a saint could remain saintly even in hell, but very few people could pull off that feat. Anyone hoping to change the world could do so in politics, but they often fall victim to its corrupting vices. An advocate of change needs both vision and a strong stomach. Obama echoed that belief when he explained his diplomatic outreach efforts:

Let me also say this: The promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking diplomacy. I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach — condemnation without discussion — can carry forward only a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door.

The speech overall was very well-written, at times lofty and at times unfiltered and realistic. Obama was able to communicate what many felt he needed to, which was painstaking humility and an explanation of the Committee’s decision. But it also went far beyond that. It let anyone willing to listen to it in its entirety know what is fueling Obama’s foreign policy.

After the speech, I am sure the Committee was slightly disappointed, hoping he would have accepted the prize with much more panache. I am also sure, however, that many liberals and conservatives were scratching their head by the end of it: why is it so hard to pigeonhole this president into an ideology?

It’s because he doesn’t have just one, and it’s a fluid process.

Old Posts, Renewed

5 Dec

Here are some most posts, taken from the Archives, that are worth reading for the first time or revisiting for all the good times you had the first time. Enjoy.

The Paradox of Pride: Pride Makes, And Breaks, The Politician

Rosarito and the Drug War

Mexican Television for Dummies

It's All Political: Obama's Afghanistan Plan

4 Dec

It’s All Political is a conversation between the main author of this blog, Jaime, and a frequent contributor, Ashley. It is a commentary on the most important news, events, and ideas of the moment. Ashley’s blog can be found at Coffee Late at Night.

Jaime: Hi, Ashley. I think the important news this week needs to be addressed. It’s on everyone’s mind, and, I believe, it has brought Americans to a standstill: What was Tiger Woods’ pre-nup?

Ashley: Well at this point it seems like the pre-nup is changing based on the number of women he’s slept with outside his marriage.

Jaime: I see. So by Saturday it might be his wife who has the Nike endorsement. Well, in all seriousness, there couldn’t be a better time for President Obama to reveal–if you can even call it that by now–his plan for Afghanistan. Not only is the number one athlete in the world taking most of the headlines and water-cooler chatter, but his plan is hardly a surprise by now.

Ashley: Turns out the leaks were not quite as accurate as predicted, I thought for sure he would focus on a counterinsurgency strategy like McChrystal outlined in his August memo. But first, what did you think of the tone of his speech in general?

Jaime: I have mixed feelings about it. I like it because it set realistic, narrower goals for Afghanistan, and a strategy that I was silently rooting for. It focuses on districts, tribes, and brings interaction with Afghanistan down to the micro-level. In a way, it makes a solid Karzai government a bonus–the tribal leaders will have a stronger relationship with the US than ever before.

I thought it came short when it addressed Americans. To this day, there is no call for sacrifice by any of our elected official, in particular the president, for these two wars. I think people need to know and feel what war really costs. I am not advocating he tell people that if they don’t carpool they ride with Hitler, like during WWII, but there needs to be something he asks from us to support the burden placed on our troops, their families, and innocent civilians abroad. I know you have qualms with the process that brought him to the speech, but what did you think?

Ashley: I think we are looking at it in a similar way. I thought the speech was unsatisfying. He was giving a speech trying to justify at least another 18 months at war and he didn’t incite much passion. I was looking for him to convince doubters, give them a reason to be outraged or upset. But instead he seemed to say, “well, we’ve got to do this even though we really don’t want to.” We should want to. These terrorists came over on our turf and took the lives of our people. Have we forgotten that? I know he mentioned 9/11 but it lacked the personal touch that, say, Reagan would have had.

Jaime: It was definitely a reserved speech. Some people even called it cold and calculated. I woudn’t go that far. I think Obama was not trying to rile up the troops or stir up patriotic fervor, but calm nerves. I think he did that with a fairly comprehensive and pragmatic plan.

As for the terrorists, this new plan addresses that. There are many reasons why I am thankful Bush is no longer in office, but one is that his foreign policy was so manipulated by the neo-conservative agenda of nation-building. This is what has led to one empire after another to fall. This new plan tells people, “Yeah, that whole nation-building bit? Not so hot right now.” It is much more modest: destabilize al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, avoid a Taliban takeover of the country, and prepare the Afghan forces to keep themselves afloat. That is very different to the Bush model: build a free and democratic Muslim nation.

Ashley: I support his plan. I think he set things on the right track so that we can hopefully make progress. I’m also pleased with his decision to focus on Taliban forces. While the number of troops is important, it’s what we do with those troops that will make the difference. So, I can support the strategy, but can you guess what I don’t support?

Jaime: Does it rhyme with limeline?

Ashley: You’re good. Why on earth would he announce a timeline for the war? How can you convince people that this is a war we should be fighting when you give them an 18 month deadline?

First off, we don’t have enough troops over there even with the surge to get this done in 18 months. Second, is there any reason why he couldn’t have waited out the withdrawal announcement? I feel like Obama is trying to please both sides..”yes we’ll give you more troops but we’re also getting the troops out of there.” It doesn’t make sense to me. He should have let the troop surge sink in before sharing the “possible” withdrawal date with everyone, including al Qaeda and the Taliban, who he pretty much invited to just wait out the war. I have a feeling this will come back to bite him in his re-election campaign.

Jaime: It sounds like you are looking out for him. I didn’t know you had a hidden Obamamaniac in you, Ashley. I think the deadline makes sense in any war where there is an occupying force that does not intend to colonize the land but is waiting to hand it over to the local government. Americans are barely getting over their Iraq war fatigue. An open-ended war would not only be a drain on the American spirit, but on any politician looking to make progress on other issues in spite of it.

It also makes sense geopolitically: the US needs the Afghan government to understand we will leave them once the burden is too much. If the plan focused more on the macro-level, and relied on Karzai becoming the Superman he is incapable of being–being a fraud does not help–I’d think a deadline would be a dangerous thing. But this plan relies on cooperation from districts, provinces, and tribes. The Karzai government is almost an afterthought. There is greater power in Afghanistan at the local level than at the federal level.

As for al-Qaeda and the Taliban, if there seems to be insufficient progress in closing off their access to power in Afghanistan, Secretary Gates and Clinton, along with the Joints Chief of Staff, have testified that the deadline is “flexible” and based on “a review of the conditions” in late 2010. Even if it weren’t, Obama would not want to be the president that left Afghanistan an anarchic power vacuum.

Ashley: Don’t get too excited! I was merely stating that I’ll be the first to point this out come re-election. Sure, we’re tired from Iraq, but do the American people really want another war that turns out to be a failure? I think saying that we will be there until the job is done would be more uplifting than plotting an escape route.

We need to acknowledge that annoucing a withdrawal date is going to encourage members of the Pakistan Army to hedge their bets with the Taliban to protect themselves after we pull out. I think Rep Mike Pence said it best when he said,”It never makes sense to tell the enemy when you’re going to quit fighting in a war.” I understand that the President was trying to convey to the people of Afghanistan that we will allow them to build up their nation and stand on their own two feet, but in this case I believe that the President made the wrong decision. He is putting the security of Afghanistan at risk, especially for an arbitrary cut off date.

Jaime: 2010 is shaping up to be a very interesting year. Not only are there very important, and potentially crippling elections for both parties, but Obama will have essentially owned the economy, the war, healthcare, and global warming. It will be interesting to see what Democrats and Republicans use as turning points in the war, and how they will use them against each other. I think the first thing to look out is how many base-level members of the Taliban turn in their allegiance and become a part of the counter-insurgency. On top of the secretaries and the Joints Chief of Staff, Former Centcom commander Anthony Zinni has been a strong advocate of this strategy. Back in October, 2009, he said the US should “absolutely” be “negotiating with Taliban elements.” Do you think this may the first sign of success or failure for this plan?

Ashley:  I place a lot of value on what Zinni says, considering he foresaw problems arising from Afghanistan before 9/11 happened. I think that the strategy will be effective as long as we keep our focus on the Taliban as well as al Qaeda, who while smaller in numbers, pose a huge threat on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. We also need to continue to build up Karzai’s regime,as difficult as that may be, with Clinton leading the way. I’m just relieved that Obama finally made a decision. I’m interested in seeing how things pan out in the next few months, with the President being heavily critized from both parties. I think that a successful end to the war in Afghanistan could single-handedly get him re-elected, but I don’t see that happening in 18 months.

Jaime: If we don’t see a resolution to the Afghanistan war within 18 months I guess we can just keep tallying the mistresses that played “18 holes” with Mr. Woods. What is your count so far?

Ashley: I believe we are up to three at this moment, but tomorrow is another day.

Huckabee Shouldn't Have Apologized

2 Dec

It’s not even 2010, and already two of the supposed GOP front-runners for the 2012 presidential election have taken themselves out of the race. Sarah Palin has quit her job as a politician, both consciously and not, and is now just another pretty talking head. Her memoir was just one more thing to add to her already impressive litany of failures and shots in the foot. At least she has her “gotcha” money.

And now Mike Huckabee. The former governor of Arkansas and presidential hopeful is under fire for granting clemency to a convicted burglar back in 2000 who shot and killed four sheriff deputies in Seattle, WA, last week. The killer, Maurice Clemmons, was shot and killed earlier this week. Both events are immeasurably tragic and complex, but what is most puzzling is the uproar this unleashed against Huckabee.

Earlier this week Mike Huckabee apologized for his decision 9 years ago. He shouldn’t have. His decision in 2000 was reasoned and well-supported by the trial judge. The parole board decided to parole Clemmons, not him.

As Huckabee explained in a piece he wrote yesterday:

The case before me was of a 16 year old who received a disproportionate sentence of 108 years for burglary and robbery charges[…] The reasons were straightforward — a unanimous recommendation from the board, support from a trial judge and no objections from officials in a case that involved a 16 year old sentenced to a term that was exponentially longer than similar cases and certainly longer than had he been white, upper middle class, and represented by effective counsel who would have clearly objected to the sentencing.  (His race, economic status, or education level are not excuses for his behavior because many people of color who are uneducated and living in abject poverty are civil, trustworthy, and honest to a fault and many well-educated, wealthy, white people are dirtbags — think Bernie Madoff).

So why the rage?

It seems to be coming from both sides, which is even more puzzling. The right claims he should have been stern with Clemmons and denied any sort of early release–shame on him. The left does not go that far, but claims he should be partly to blame for the death of four innocent members of the police force.

But what Huckabee really did was act rationally and with compassion. He took into consideration the race, economic status, and the background of the convict, and saw the glaring unfairness in the sentencing. He made a reasonable decision, considering the convict’s age and crime. He decided he deserved a “second chance.” There was no apparent signs of psychosis or psychological imbalance . He made the right decision and had no way of knowing this tragic week would have taken place.

Somehow that is being missed amongst talk of “political implications in 2012” and the “savage acts in Tacoma.” Nuance is being sacrificed.

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