Saturday, October 16, 2004

Stewart Smackdown

Jon Stewart lays the smackdown on the hosts of CNN's "crossfire." Watch Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson squirm uncomfortably as Stewart bashes their puny little show into tiny shreds.

Brilliance. And Andrew Sullivan and Wonkette agree.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Tort War

Uncivil Litigator takes out the heavy artillary on a fellow blogger who criticized his pro bono actions for an indigent client. The blogger, who is a major advocate for tort reform, argues that UCL's actions have helped contribute to the rising costs of insurance and is a major drain on social resources.

If I knew who UCL was, I'd card this line:
A society which primarily resolves disputes by resort to courts of law is a just and economically efficient society. Societies without a strong legal infrastructure, in which neither individuals nor corporations can count on the resolution of disputes through the consistent application of unchanging legal principles, are societies which foster economic waste, discourage foreign and domestic investment, and encourage an environment of chaos and even violence. The opposite of such a society is one which puts its corporations and individuals on notice that, when a dispute arises and the parties to the dispute fail to resolve their issues amicably, principles of long-standing, well-established law can and WILL be imposed upon them to bring the dispute to a civilized end.

UCL's defense of the current legal system is top notch. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

I'm Wrong...Again

I was wrong the last time I thought Kerry would lose and I was wrong again. Kerry wins this debate bigtime. And not only that, but it wasn't because Bush screwed up either. Bush gave probably his best performance of the night. But Kerry was smooth, in focus, and in control. Here's round-by-round score card


Bush: Actually, this was one of your best performances. Few grimaces, didn't lose temper, seemed in control. Arguments weren't bad at all. One BIG mistake: You did say that you weren't worried about Bin Laden. That you denied it makes it all the worse, and I think it will really hurt you. When going for the "short and sweet" argument (like on Abortion), you have to be careful, the argument you make has to be SO intuitive that no other explaination is necessary. "Litmus Test" doesn't qualify. Religion part seemed heartfelt but a little shaky at times, which was surprising. Good humor at the end, but the self-deprecation early on probably hurt more than helped. Argumentatively you were outclassed, and I think you knew it. Grade: B

Kerry: Simply magnificant. Did everything I could have asked for and more. Managed to sneak in (with help of the moderater) some of the FP criticism which are working so well, good job FINALLY calling Bush on his "I don't worry about Bin Laden" statement. On arguments, you were rock solid. Clear, concise, and intuitive. Only weak spot was in paying for it, kind of slid out of answering that. But Bush can't get too much traction on the issue because he's far worse on at, as you pointed out (though the Soprano's reference might have been over the top). But these are nitpicks, this was a great job. Grade: A+

This was pre-spin. The only thing I checked was to make sure that Bush really did say he "didn't care about Bin Laden" and he did. Let's see what the pundits have to say, but I think this will be a huge boon to Kerry's candidacy.

Back in Jitter Mode

Well, the jitters are back. I can see tonight's debate turning out very, very badly for John Kerry. Why? Well, in the last debate I thought that Foreign Policy swung what was otherwise a close debate into Kerry's column. In Arizonia, Kerry doesn't have that crutch. But worse for Kerry is the fact that he's EXPECTED to win tonight. Part of why Kerry's huge win in the 1st debate moved polls so much was that it was supposed to be on his weaker issue. Now, I don't think this is necessarily true, I think the President is if anything more vulnerable on FP than he is domestically. But for the media, reality isn't what matters, perception is. And since the media has framed the economy as the President's achilles heel, if he performs with marginal competence (a benchmark he exceeded in debate 2) then he will be seen as the victor for the same reasons Kerry won the first debate: reassuring the American people.

This debate could go quite right, and John Kerry has proven me wrong before. But it could go very, very, wrong, and once again I'm left on the edge of my seat.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

One Election Down...

I wrote earlier to congratulate Afghanistan on having a reasonably successful presidential election. Matthew Yglesias writes on why Afghanistan has proven itself to be so much more successful in this regard than Iraq. Daniel Drezner adds his own thoughts, including the observation that Iraq has oil wealth. On this point, John Judis wrote a brilliant article way back on March 31st, 2003 for The New Republic(subscription only). Excerpt:
After the colonial powers departed at the end of World War II, oil provided the newly independent governments of the Middle East a veritable windfall--either through concessions or later through outright ownership of their country's oil facilities. With their new income, the states' kings, emirs, and sheiks were no longer dependent on their countries' merchants or workers for tax income. They could finance their governments entirely out of oil revenues. They could also use these oil revenues to buy off the citizenry through social-welfare systems, state jobs, land grants, and lucrative contracts. Their citizens became passive recipients of government largesse--paying no taxes and receiving no representation.
In the Middle East, oil wealth provided a shortcut around the centuries-old transition from feudalism to capitalism and from absolutism to democracy that had taken place in Western Europe. The oil states did not have to endure the privations of what Karl Marx called the "primitive accumulation of capital." They didn't have to coerce peasants to leave their land to become impoverished wage-laborers in order to provide profit margins for fledgling entrepreneurs. They didn't have to extract taxes from a reluctant population. And they didn't have to grant democratic rights to a citizenry that grew increasingly restive under these demands. Because of its oil wealth, Libya could go from one of the poorest countries in the world, with a per capita income of $50 in 1960, to one of the well-to-do, with a per capita income of $2000 just a decade later, without exacting sacrifice from its people. Lost in this developmental shortcut, however, was the creation of an active citizenry, a thriving civil society, and a democratic political system.

One more thing of note: Yglesias credits at least part of Afghanistan's success to Zalmay Khalizad's talent as proconsul. I have no reason to doubt that Khalizad is a very talented diplomat. Indeed, the success we've had in Afghanistan seems to attest to his skill. However, there is at least some irony in having Khalizad as our ambassador to a nation we invaded and took over by force (along with having John Negroponte as our ambassador to Iraq). Most people have never heard of Khalizad, but he is virtually a household name amongst Policy debaters as the single best author in favor of a strong US Hegemony. Indeed, his article even made my list of good hegemony arguments back in the early days of the blog. Having a vociferious advocate for unrestrained US power (though to be fair, Khalizad wants us to be a "benevolent hegemony") in charge of one of the countries the US is currently occupying, while we are trying to convince the world we are NOT on an imperial mission, strikes me as somewhat unwise.

Victory Briefs Column

The Debate Link empire keeps on expanding. I've now gotten a column on the Victory Briefs website. Victory Briefs is one of the top sources of debate information and commentary in the country, and also runs a superb summer institute for high school debaters. I'm proud to be on their team.

For loyal readers who are worried, this a) will NOT reduce any posting on this blog and b) will not spell the end of my "Debate Arguments" feature on this site. The column on VB will focus on specific issues for my old event (Student Congress) as an event. It won't focus on contemporary issues (like this blog does). In other words, don't worry, be happy!

Monday, October 11, 2004

You Gotta Fight

I blogged earlier about the inexcusability of Bush delaying attacking the Fallujah insurgents in order to help him in our domestic elections. Now, the LA Times reports that this is becoming a trend (Kevin Drum with the tipoff).
The Bush administration will delay major assaults on rebel-held cities in Iraq until after U.S. elections in November, say administration officials, mindful that large-scale military offensives could affect the U.S. presidential race.

...."When this election's over, you'll see us move very vigorously," said one senior administration official involved in strategic planning, speaking on condition of anonymity.

....Any delay in pacifying Iraq's most troublesome cities, however, could alter the dynamics of a different election -- the one in January, when Iraqis are to elect members of a national assembly.

With only four months remaining, U.S. commanders are scrambling to enable voting in as many Iraqi cities as possible to shore up the poll's legitimacy.

U.S. officials point out that there have been no direct orders to commanders in the field to pause operations in the weeks before the Nov. 2 election. Top administration officials in Washington are simply reluctant to sign off on a major offensive in Iraq at the height of the political season.

And it goes beyond delaying assualts. President Bush has asserted time and again that he "listens to the generals on the ground." This has been his primary defense against Sen. Kerry's charge that we went into Iraq with insufficient troops to win the peace (a charge Paul Bremer has--inadvertantly--backed up). Unfortunately, he's going to have a tough time explaining why General Oscar B. Hilman of the 81st Brigade Combat Team has had his request for more troops denied twice. Hilman runs an important base Northwest of Baghdad that has come under frequent insurgent fire. The cited reason is that troops are all tied up in the Sunni Triangle region. Spencer Ackerman explains the possible meanings:
When a ground commander requests troops to carry out his mission, and is told that those troops are needed elsewhere, there are only two interpretations. One is that the commander's superiors determine that the request is unnecessary, and the commander in fact has what he needs. This is highly unlikely in this case, given Anaconda's tactical importance as the largest logistical base in Iraq. The attacks have gotten so bad that the cargo planes that fly in to resupply the base keep their engines running to avoid losing the aircraft to insurgent mortar fire. The idea that Hilman is blowing smoke when he says he needs additional forces just to protect his base is simply not likely to be true.

The other interpretation is that there aren't enough troops to enable the commander to fulfill his requirements. It's getting hard to deny that this is the case in Iraq. And it surely reflects frustration that Hilman is detailing his two rejections to a reporter. Which leads to further series of questions: Why is Hilman really being denied? How far up the chain are Hilman's requests flowing? Are commanders at Multinational Force-Iraq stymieing requests from ground commanders to preserve the Bush administration's fiction that there are enough troops in Iraq?

If it weren't for the fact that President Bush's stubborness is killing American soldiers, I'd be tempted to brag about finding yet another lie/distortion in Bush's debate performance. But at this point, I just pray for the welfare and safety of the men and women whose lives are merely an election year pawn for Karl Rove and his allies.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Prosecutorial Misconduct

A few days ago I noted my intense discomfort with the manner in which the Death Penalty is carried out in this country. Now I've come across at least one perverse reason for death sentences: They are procedurally easier to overturn in the case of innocence than life in prison.

How Appealing links to a New Orleanes Times-Picayune story about Travis Hayes. Hayes was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison along with his friend, Ryan Matthews, who recieved the death penalty (they were caught together). However, DNA evidence cleared Matthews of any involvement in the crime, and he was released and exonerated of all charges. Since it was Hayes testimony (which was taken after 6 hours of interrogation in which the mentally retarded Hayes was denied food, sleep, or bathroom breaks) that was the only firm evidence implicating either in the crime, it stood to reason that Hayes would be released as well.

However, the Jefferson County District Attorney's office has opposed Hayes' appeal, arguing that his claims are procedurally barred since he is not a death row inmate. As William Sothern put it, "It is a sad state of affairs that in order to get exonerated, a man first needs to be sentenced to die."

Read the whole article. It presents a very compelling portrait of an innocent man stuck in a legal system that simply doesn't care. Prosecutors need to remember that their job is to achieve justice, not just convictions. When getting "tough on crime" means ignoring clear facts to keep innocents in jail, then our legal system has spun out of control.

Afghan Congrats

I want to congratulate Afghanistan on having their first Democratic Election! Although there were some irregularities (which could cause some problems in terms of legitimacy), this was a giant milestone in the country's push towards democracy.

I'm not sure how much of this is President Bush, and how much of this Mr. Karzai, and how much of this is the sheer willpower and determination of the Afghan people to make freedom work. But regardless, I think we can all agree that this is huge step for democracy and liberal values around the world. And it's important that we cross party lines to say so.

I'm probably going to write a longer (and more critical) post when the post-election analysis and commentary starts hitting the blogosphere and newsstands. But for now, a hearty congratulations on a job well done!