Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bush's Last Day Party

So it's official we're going to have a Bush's Last Day Party at our house on Jan. 20th. I just signed up to make it a host party for MoveOn.org. We already have our life-sized Barack standup for pictures, and I'm devising a "Pin the Donkey on the Ass" game with prizes. Plus beer 'cause Barack is Irish.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Don't Hurt the Shoe Guy

If you threw a shoe at Saddam Hussein your whole family would have been tortured to death. It's really important that everybody gets it that you can throw a shoe at the president of the United States and live to tell the tale. That's why I signed up as a fan of the shoe-throwing guy on Facebook. Today we're hearing reporting that people overheard his being beaten, that he has broken ribs, and so forth. Big mistake. President Bush needs to make sure that the shoe-throwing guy isn't harmed. Unfortunately Bush has spent the last eight years trying to turn the US into Paraguay, so I'm not optimistic.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Caroline, Be a Kennedy, Not a Bush

I always thought it was fitting that George W. Bush was appointed President by the Supreme Court in 2000. It's just so declasse to be elected by popular vote don't you know, so much germ exposure, and do you know some of those people have never even traveled abroad (er...never mind). All the good stuff - RNC chairman, CIA director, baseball commissioner - these are appointive posts.

The case of the Bushies comes to mind this week with the news that Caroline Kennedy has announced that she is actively seeking New York Governor Paterson's appointment to the Senate seat being vacated by Hillary Clinton. It's one thing to announce that one is running for election. That is the first appeal in a campaign of appeals to the voters, who are many. But to announce that one is running for appointment is not an appeal to the appointer, who is one. You appeal to one person, preferably, in person. A public announcement puts pressure on the appointer, enough so that this may have been a miscalculation. Maybe Paterson will feel obliged to decline to appoint her so as not to appear to have caved in. (And Paterson himself has not ever been elected governor: curiouser and curiouser.)

Another curious thing is the kind of boutique nature of this Senate seat since the patently carpet-bagging Hillary Clinton moved to New York to campaign for it in 2001 (granting she did an exemplary job by all reports). Caroline Kennedy is someone who, like Hillary Clinton, might easily be elected to this Senate seat by the voters of New York on the basis of associations, popularity and name-recognition. But as a potential appointee she conspicuously lacks any formal qualifications, and the governor, presumably, is supposed to appoint a professional caretaker (a politically adventitious one of course) to fill the seat until the next election. I think it would be great to have Caroline Kennedy in the Senate, but there are fundamental procedural problems here that she may not overcome.

(Three days later: sure enough, now some are in favor of Kennedy and some opposed: Cuomo had more support in a poll reported on MSNBC last night. So now Paterson will take a political hit whether he appoints her or not, through no fault of his own. If I were him I'd be mad. And I wouldn't appoint her.)

Friday, December 12, 2008

GOP's Last Stand?

The Senate Republicans, in their theological zeal to avoid developing a national automobile industry policy of any kind, have voted to scatter our automobile industry to the winds, and the workers be damned. Make no mistake that under bankruptcy it will be the salaried workers who get the shaft. Pensions, health insurance, stock options and everything else they have will be on the judge's block. It is Republican opinion that bankruptcy is the best way to get at the union, which is obviously the source of all the problems, representing as unions do today some five percent of American workers, and espousing such radical notions as that workers worldwide should not be forced to accept wages reflecting the labor market in, say, Bangladesh.

What is striking is that the Senate GOP makes this stand in the teeth of dire warnings from all quarters: Bush, Obama, Wall Street, Senate Democrats and everyone else within shouting distance have warned of the consequences of abandoning hundreds of thousands of workers and an industrial plant stretching across the Great Lakes. It's almost a ritual flaming out of the Republicans, a kind of noble hari-kari on the ruins of Reaganismo. Because it is now the old guard of the "movement" conservative Republicans in the Senate who will now possibly be remembered as, if not the party that shot down the American auto industry, at least the party responsible for the distribution of suffering when the bills came due: the politically culpable party.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Myths of Chicago

I'm not buying the "corrupt Chicago" line about Rod Blagojevich's outlandish flameout. East Coast elites would not hesitate to point out that Albany is the problem in New York state politics, not NYC. Chicago municipal politics is a stepping stone to national politics in its own right and its elite is a national elite (the Daley family, Jacksons Rev. and Jr.,Harold Washington etc). Blagojevich is a reflection of an old political-machine culture, to be sure, but look to Springfield for the problem and count your blessings that you've got Chicago.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Game of Chance

The recount in the senate race in Minnesota gives me another opportunity to make a point that I thought was important during the Florida electoral debacle of 2000. In 2000 the lawyers for the two parties were quick to step in and define the process as a legal one between the parties: may the best lawyer win. In the end the Supreme Court essentially appointed Bush, acting out of a well-intentioned but misguided sense of duty to resolve the crisis. The issue here as I see it is about who the interested party is, and I would argue that that party is the electorate, not the political parties.

The fact is that in a state-wide vote involving hundreds of thousands and even millions of votes, any margin in the three digits is a statistical tie. In that circumstance there literally is no truth about who won the election. The phrase "margin of error" refers to the logical impossibility of establishing, within such a narrow margin, which candidate actually received the majority of votes. While Minnesota has a good reputation for clean and fair processes, I don't think that a recount process that ignores the problem of the margin of error is in the best interests of the voters, considered generically. The political point is that the interests of the voters considered as a group is not the same as the interests of either of the parties.

Say I voted for Franken (or Gore) and my neighbor voted for Coleman (or Bush). The outcome is a statistical tie within the margin of error. At that point my neighbor and I have an equal right to satisfaction. That is, every voter, granting that the electoral process has not determined the winner (it is a tie), deserves an equal chance of satisfaction as that of every other voter: we are not the political parties, we are sovereign individual voters. The fair thing to do is to flip a coin (or any other equivalently random process). That way my neighbor and I enjoy equal chances of satisfaction, uncorrupted by the vagaries of a highly politicized legal process. It doesn't matter what the parties want: the parties are not sovereign. The voters are sovereign, not at all the same thing. That is why a game of chance is actually the most rational way to decide an election when the vote has fallen within the margin of error.

As of this evening my guy, Al Franken, is up by about 600 votes. Doesn't matter. Flip a coin.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Bring Back the State Department

A perspicuous column by David Brooks in today's NYT inspires me to weigh in at this moment when the incoming administration will have an opportunity to make some basic reforms not only of US foreign policy, but of the foreign policy apparatus itself.
One of the most institutionally destructive episodes in United States history was the evisceration of the State Department in the period from the onset of the Cold War during the Truman Administration through the "loss" of China in 1948 and the subsequent McCarthyist witch hunts for "communists" in government in the early 1950s. The State Department, long a preserve of professional, career diplomats, linguists and scholars, became a favorite whipping-boy of politicians of the time who painted Foggy Bottom as elitist, intellectual, internationalist and not to be trusted. The by-the-numbers worldview of the Cold War painted every regional conflict as a chess piece in a strategic struggle between East and West, and every regime around the world as a proxy of one side or the other. Under those circumstances professional diplomats, always unpopular in an anti-intellectual, populist country, became unacceptably inconvenient as any nuance of understanding was a rough spot to be smoothed and covered over with Cold War rhetoric.
This minimalist worldview led to the partition of Vietnam after democratic processes in that country produced results inconvenient to Washington's Cold Warriors, and to American support for dictators of the worst sort around the world. It also led to the eclipse of the professional State Department in favor of the unbridled Imperial Presidency, with its own in-house foreign policy apparatus under the new, Orwellian language of "national security." Today we are left with a State Department with little or no power compared to the National Security Council and the Defense Department, one that is woefully incompetent in the areas of language and intelligence (broadly construed, as it should be, to include historical and cultural expertise).
Bottom line: US foreign policy has long been politicized, with no independent, professional voices allowed to be heard in the White House.
In an earlier post I recommended that NATO be disbanded as we evolve a new set of trans-Atlantic security arrangements, ones that do not assume a forward role for the US particularly in matters pertaining to European security. I also think that the National Security Council and the post of National Security Adviser are relics of the Cold War era. Let's streamline and professionalize our government and get back to the days when a professional State Department gave advice that was independent and professional (admittedly State like all parts of government has always had a degree of politicization; maybe we can do better).
While we're on the topic, I think that the choice of Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State is a good one. Now the Clinton's fortunes are tied to Obama's, but more than that Obama has put the interests of the country first: far from mixing the message, the presence of the Clintons (plural) as US foreign policy players sends the message to foreign leaders that the US government is unified. That the vice-president-elect is the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee amplifies this effect even more.