The hard part

See this column in Slate by Stewart Baker, formerly general counsel to the NSC. It is a very evenhanded discussion of what the civil liberties lobby has been slow to acknowledge: that some of the reforms suggested by the Bush administration in the Patriot Act and elsewhere, however crude and arrogant, respond to real structural deficiencies in the ability of the intelligence and domestic law enforcement communities to effectively prevent and prosecute terrorist plots.

A short while ago, I had the pleasure of listening to Mary Jo White, the former U.S. Attorney who handled all the major terrorism cases of the nineties lay out a clear eyed picture of how many of the privacy protections built in to the national security architecture repeatedly failed to efficiently handle these cases, her analysis refreshingly free of both political points and doomsday scenarios. Baker's column shows how these protections turned catastrophic in the months preceding 9/11.

Civil liberties advocates and liberals in general need to take into account the need for intelligence reforms to bolster their case against the Administration. The questions about the efficacy of the intelligence community are real and critical, and recognizing this without resorting to zero-sum doomsday scenarios does not have to mean caving to the administration's neanderthal notions of civil liberties. Counting the FISA 'wall' as part and parcel of sensible reforms that need to be made would be a genius way to coopt the administration on their proclaimed monopoly on intelligence wisdom. Indeed, the administration is ripe for criticism that it has done more to hamper effective intelligence gathering than anything in recent memory--but we can hardly make that accusation if we're pretending there's no problem to start with.

The key, as Mary Jo White argued, is an oversight regime that is both transparent and legitimate. No doubt Congress would be falling over themselves to approve a new bill that, while enjoying bipartisan support, took real, practical steps to address terrorist conspiracies. Maybe then they could sleep at night after passing the Patriot Act based on its title page.


And this

A new blog (to me at least) which is just fantastic. It's The Decembrist...start with this post entitled "What if Bush is a Nixonian Liberal?".


And now a burn on David Brooks from Calpundit.


Sweet burn on David Brooks by Josh Marshall here. The running theme of Brooks columns appears to go something like this: U.S. and specifically Bush fuck-ups in foreign policy and on the ground in Iraq can be blamed on the all-American virtues that run so strong in Bush and Co. that they end up sabotaging policy. As if we needed more confirmation that there is no end to the absurd contortions the administration and its supporters will do to escape meeting responsibility for their missteps. You start to wonder what would happen if one time they didn't take a partisan line at the expense of all other considerations. Will they spontaneously combust? Maybe a rip in the time-space continuum? It better be something good.

P.S. Sorry to rip on David Brooks so much. I just can't help it. Maybe it's intellectually lazy, since his columns don't require any real dissection, just pointing and laughing. But he claims to be the voice of a 'new conservative conventional wisdom,' and when someone uses the Times op-ed page to make a claim on the conventional wisdom, it can be really, really dangerous and distorting, and needs to be blown apart and ridiculed at every turn.

Obviously, a great deal of very angry people don't agree with most of what Paul Krugman puts in his column. But he's only promoting his personal interpretations of economic and policy developments, no one else's. If you want to take issue with Krugman, you can directly argue with his assertions (which admittedly can be wrapped in a snide tone, but we allow that of columnists). With Brooks, you don't know where to start. You understand that the endpoint will be either a nice bonus for the president or a sense of how liberals are passe and just don't understand people in the red states, but as to why that is true or not is anyone's guess.

You want to talk about imperialism?

Check out the super-size Times editorial on how industrialized countries hobble the bright side of globalization's logic with protectionist trade policies and an unwillingness to confront domestic interests about the massive subsidies they receive.

This is such a huge story, and so revealing of the real challenges to promoting the ideals of prosperity and, ultimately, democracy which we espouse. And yet, somehow the globalization debate which took center stage during the late 90s has become largely an afterthought. The fanatical anti-globalization rhetoric of Seattle has become woefully tired and inadequate, while Bill Clinton's forceful, if problematic vision of humane globalization has no place on the national stage anymore. The Bush administration, true to form, continues its special ADD brand of politics, letting expediency guide ideology, sacrificing real engagement for any hollow ploy that makes for a good blurb on the Fox News crawl.

But the questions are hardly going away. Developing nations will only demand more equality in international markets, justly chagrined that Europe, the U.S. and Japan think they can talk tough about an honest rules-based international trading regime while rigging the outcomes. It's well past time to get over the idea that globalization is akin to a free lunch for the West. Developing economies have come too far, and have grown too adept at global competition to tolerate this sort of thing. And you can forget about international regulations to dull the sharp edges of globalization in the developing world unless we make good on these obligations.

More later...in the meantime, see this column by Bernard Wasow (scroll down to the 12/23 entry).

It begins

Democrats would do well to take a page from Paul Glastris' recent article on tompaine.com, which outlines a sensible package of family oriented programs of the kind you can be sure voters will want to see more of. Oh wait. They will get them soon. It will be called the 'compassion agenda' and it will very quickly dwarf the importance of the increasingly rancorous Democratic infighting.

It's t-minus 2 or 3 weeks until Bush takes off the gloves, and from the leaks that we've seen already, no one should be underestimating the tsunami of pitch perfect deception which Democrats will have to scramble to respond to. At its heart will be a package of tax reforms for retirement which will look and sound like a great way to encourage middle class savings (thanks to the usual statistical sleights of hand) while actually digging us deeper into debt with big cash gifts to the wealthy. (David Brooks, sounding like a consultant for Karl Rove, gives a nice sarcasm free preview of the rhetorical trimmings which will make this easier to swallow).

In addition to poking holes in G2's new proposals and exposing deceptions about his past initiatives (public opinion on Medicare and No Child Left Behind ARE up for grabs--let's not be lulled into pretending otherwise), the Democrats will have to put forth distinctive, coherent domestic (and foreign) policy platforms that ring true with voters.

That's a tall order, to be sure, and it will require a kind of creativity and political virtuosity which has been largely absent from the current field...


The Next Democratic Party

GREAT article by Michael Tomasky in the new Prospect, here. And on the same note, Harold Meyerson's recent article about the DNC under Terry McAuliffe. Read those two for an idea of what Dean's campaign and recent operations reforms at DNC central mean to the party's future. Tomasky's point about the different ways Clinton and Deanism reform the party is right on.

Clinton's was a triumph of message more than anything else. He understood the broad swath of would-be Democrats that saw appeal in certain big conservative issues, he tried to honestly approach them from a liberal perspective, and on many fronts, he succeeded. He expanded the things Democrats could talk about with authority, and reclaimed ground which Republicans had been mercilessly beating Democrats on for years. But Clinton found success by calculating his message. Dean might do it by calculating individuals.

Building a majority by message may have an adverse effect on political loyalty. The danger is that voters become passive consumers of politics, evaluating packages of policy and judging individually whether each maximizes their agreement. Dean's campaign, on the other hand, starts with the loyalty and (hopefully) moves towards the coherent message. Dean supporters know they're having fun, that they're involved in a community, and that others in that community share some of their values. They are willing to put aside some discrepancies in position and abandon their candidate over inconsistencies; they are bound by big common goals, not finely calibrated policy positions.

Going after swing voters is one, albeit critical, thing. But it means nothing if yourwould-be base is eroding or not expanding. Dean's strategy may be the best hope for making sure that doesn't happen.


Diebold shamefulness

Yikes. New revelations leaked from Diebold (the sketchy touchscreen voting machine company with extensive ties to Republican politicians) internal memos yesterday. This time, it has employees talking about deliberately making voter verifiable printout components (the only way to ensure 100% accuracy) prohibitively expensive for states to consider adding. This situation is only getting worse. It may be getting to the point where Congress has to require the voter printouts or nothing, lest we spend the next 20 years quibbling about the validity of election results. Again, it does not help that Diebold's CEO is a huge Bush donor.

You said that to say what?

See David Brooks today. Someone please explain to me what the fuck he is talking about. This piece is just so bizarre. It's kind of a clumsy satire about how the Bush administration's refreshing honesty in their foreign policy dealings has become a liability. Um, ok, dude. Whatever.

More to the point, I do think Iraq critics dropped the ball on the no contracts for war opposing countries story. Josh Marshall has a good response. As Marshall qualifies in hindsight, the issue is NOT fairness in war profiteering contracts. It's about the administration's ever more absurd ways to publicly dis our former friends by pretending that the deteriorating Iraq situation is some kind super-cool club that other countries only wish they were in.

Critics argued the foolishness of this, and picked up another gem of administration bungling when the restrictions broke on the same day that the U.S. was starting to ask for debt forgiveness from many of these same countries. But they didn't cover themselves well, and Bushsters scored a twofer: a nice line about how war opposers are so ridiculously anti-American that they are sympathizing with European multinational companies, and the image of European countries as all frustrated and kicking themselves because they can't get their greedy cowardly hands on that sweet 18 billion dollar chunk of American taxpayer money. Foiled again you lousy frogs!

We should have seen that coming.



Between the revelations about Bush's ties to drug discount card managers and the Pentagon finding Halliburton overcharging for oil, the brazenly loose ethics of the administration are getting a full public workout.

Is this fair game in the reelection campaign? Most Bush criticism has avoided the rampant quid pro quo, instead focusing on the administration's intelligence deceptions or just plain incompetence. Newspapers have done a fair job of reporting on these stories--at least Halliburton is a household name. But none of them have evolved into true scandals.

Part of this may be that we've just gotten use to different ethical 'benchmarks' in the last few years. It's a little hard to keep track of all the shady dealings in Washington these days. In fact, that's pretty much implicit in the word 'deal' now. So it has to be really egregious before, you know, we'd really ask the president to explain himself. God forbid.

But these are not cheap scandals. They are essential to understanding how the current president makes our policy. And there is a neverending backlog to draw on, fairly well documented by the press and ultimately inexcusable. No Democratic nominee should think they can't do a little public education from time to time. The nominee has to avoid getting in to a pure war on the issues, because Bush will say absolutely anything and he'll be seen as having more credibility. The untold story of the last three years, and I mean details, are going to be critical to the war for public opinion in this election.


More debate

More advice for Dean: Get some statesman-speak. Dean's lack of a larger vision for international policy and the U.S. relationship with the Middle East was notably absent from his responses to Iraq questions, while, at the same time, Kerry and Lieberman both spoke very eloquently here. Dean can't forget that while Bush sold half the war with fear and deceptions, the other half was sold by pretending to be Woodrow Wilson. If Dean can't match that language and vision, and marry it to his critique of the war, he won't get very far with Bush. Americans are actually kind of interested in these questions right now, and good answers buy a lot of the credibility that Dean will sorely need. More on this later.

Debate tonight

Methinks a good idea for Howard Dean sometime in the near future would be to settle all this jabber about how he hasn't been consistent on his issues. If he has the luxury in New Hampshire and Iowa that everyone says he does, he really ought to take some time to set the record straight. Despite how its played in the press, I don't think anyone who really believes in a Dean candidacy is going to be all that betrayed if it turns out he's not Kucinich. But at the same time, everyone who has been giving him leeway to excite the base and make headlines by any rhetoric necessary are starting to get a bit nervous about pinning down the substance. And besides, it would only gracefully cement his frontrunner status to start talking intelligently and seriously about policy when everyone else is trying to out Bush-hate him.


Bush isn't LBJ either

I attended an interesting panel last night at the New School on immigration issues, with Cyrus Mehta, from the American Immigration Law Foundation, and Dan Tichenor, a visiting scholar at the Wilson school.

Tichenor gave some very good background on the history of immigration policy in the U.S., context which ought to be far more present in today's debates than it is.

After World War I, the U.S. imposed draconian country-of-origin quotas for immigration, quotas which suppressed net immigration levels to nearly zero during the 30s and early 40s. Following World War II, Congress codified these laws and imposed new Cold War-minded restrictions on immigrants' political persuasions (no anarchists, communists, etc) but also introduced new preference categories for immigrants with special skills/relatives already in the U.S. In 1965, Congress finally abolished the quota system, replacing it with a qualitative preference system and country specific ceilings.

Tichenor noted that one of the most powerful arguments persuading President Johnson to support and sign the bill was made by his national security staff. They warned that a restrictive immigration policy would make the U.S. appear hypocritical in the eyes of the world; we couldn't make honest overtures to the citizens of communist countries to reject tyranny and insularity if we remained a stubbornly closed society ourselves.

Hmmm, that sounds reasonable now doesn't it.

Read the speech LBJ gave at the signing ceremony for the bill to get an idea of just how antithetical to our national values the current crackdown on immigrants is, here.

The real story

In case anyone missed this remarkable Chicago Tribune series on the impact of the war on terror on immigrant families in the U.S., read it NOW. It is utterly devastating, and points to the real human cost of the domestic side of the war on terror. While many on the left exhaust themselves with hypothetical civil liberties violations, life in America for Middle Eastern immigrants and citizens has become an all too real police state that is quickly hardening the hearts and minds of those who should be our most valuable allies.


I did my undergrad at AEI...

Check out this troubling piece from David Brooks in the International Herald Tribune, discussing the 'discrimination' which conservative academics are subject to, and Stanley Fish's response in the Chronicle of Higher Ed. Sometimes the only way out are institutions like AEI, Cato, and Heritage, Brooks says, where conservative intellectuals can escape a life of silent shame.

This is getting ridiculous. Do we really believe that a hack political operation like AEI, built a few decades ago by right wing impresarios to add fuel to beltway infighting is on the level with the world's preeminent institutions of learning? Do we really think that because AEI researchers' talking points aren't passing scholarly muster that the whole institution of higher learning is corrupt and false? That truth is on the side of the thinly veiled research wing of a major party and its supporters, as opposed to the institutions produced by hundreds of years of critical thought? Sure, that makes sense.

The process of developing and vetting scholarly thought is very complicated and requires a lifetime of commitment, and therefore is rather obscure to the majority of citizens. Some clever 'wingers realized that if you're not so worried about convincing your scholarly peers, but instead are targeting a mass audience for political instead of academic ends, it's pretty easy to just label the whole thing a leftist sham. Once outside the ivory tower, you can affix the label of truth to whatever politically convenient conclusion you like.

The right wing assault on the integrity of higher education has greater implications, however. Declaring a comprehensive political ideology does not translate into a seat at the academic table. In universities, we strive to create a sphere insulated from political interests where the work of knowledge can advance without pressure from the day to day calculus of power. The preservation of spaces like this in a liberal democracy are essential to its health, and that means respecting the standards which they develop organically. When right wingers play politics with the academic world, exerting their considerable media and political pressure on life within the university and dictating which systems of belief and which standards of evidence higher learning should take up by appealing to "fairness," they are chipping away at the very foundations of one of the nation's most valuable institutions.

The demon in the machine

Paul Krugman takes on the issue of paper trail voting, which I guess is a sign that this has really hit the liberal outrage mainstream after kicking around as a third-string complaint for a while. The point in contention goes something like this. The Help America Vote Act (HAVA), the federal law enacted two years ago, creates new standards for voting machines, voter registration protocols, and provides funds to state governments to replace punch card (like Palm Beach) and lever machine (like NYC) systems with more accurate systems, like optical scan ballots or touch screen terminals. The law specifies that all voting systems must produce a paper record capable of 'manual audit capacity.'

That seems like a pretty straightforward requirement until one confronts the special requirements of touch screen systems which run on computer software. Another requirement of HAVA requires that voters must be able to verify their vote before casting it. This is simple on a lever machine or optical scan system, where what you see is invariably what you get. But with a touch screen system, it is completely possible that a program could display one ballot for voter verification while electronically registering another.

It doesn't help that the process of developing and selling these touch screen machines has been just about as shady as possible. The biggest manufacturers have deep and suspect political ties across the country, and there are numerous stories of shady lobbying practices. Furthermore, because private corporations are building and programming the machines, their software is proprietary. That means no one but company employees has access to the programming code, both in development, debugging and repair--basically, that states and localities must resign the integrity of their elections to the good faith of private corporations. It's an ugly situation, and, given recent coverage and now Krugman's column, we may be entering a new era where elections conducted on the new systems are categorically worthy of suspicion.

Critics of the new systems say there is only one way to ensure that the touch screen systems record votes accurately: require that touch screen systems output a paper ballot which voters can verify and is then either directly counted or used to audit the total count produced by the machines. This is the ONLY way, say paper trail supporters, to be 100 percent sure that our elections are beyond reproach.

Now, there are some practical issues at stake here. Supporters of touch screen technology warn that the price of this extra security measures may be sacrificing the touch screen option altogether, which, of course presents some valuable advances in how we conduct elections. Touch screens not only provide the disabled with new options for casting a private vote, they also offer the ability to produce ballots in any language and make voting a more user friendly experience. What's more, these systems will be adaptable to future innovations, such as an ATM-style voting regime, where an ID number or card can call up a personalized ballot from any terminal in the country.

With budget crises already ensuring that state and local governments will be spending no more than the federal funds allotted to them on new voting systems, any price difference on the already expensive touch screens could make the technology prohibitively expensive, thereby forfeiting an opportunity that is unlikely to come again anytime soon.

But finding the middle ground here has proven next to impossible. The federal body which was is supposed to oversee voting system technology can offer little guidance as its formation was repeatedly postponed, and major touch screen manufacturers appear to have politicians across the country tucked firmly in their pockets.

With little hope of reclaiming transparency and effective regulatory oversight on touch screens, it seems the fail safe measure of voter verifiable paper trails may be our only chance to avoid a future where demoralizing uncertainty lurks around every contested race.


WTC memorial mishaps

Maureen Dowd being unexpectedly helpful, here

Identifying Saddam's victims

See this harrowing story from Sunday's 60 minutes about the process of identifying the victims found in Saddam's mass graves, the same technology that was applied to the mass graves found in the wake of the Balkan wars.

The truth is, when you see something like this, all of the quibbling about honesty and intelligence failures and war planning seem to fall away. These fights, seemingly so vital and decisive appear very petty in comparison to the dark political horrors which our late twentieth century has tolerated.

The larger questions still remain, and they dwarf the relatively small problem of international terrorism. How can such abominations persist in an interconnected world? How does one build a world where authoritarianism is a liability and political murder cannot be hidden away? How can our foreign policy be made consistent with our national values, not fake-hypocritical-forgotten in 5 minutes consistent, but proactively so; in effect a new mission for our presence abroad that leads by example, innovation and integrity?