Saturday, February 02, 2008

Slurring Words

I really shouldn't be surprised or upset by this, but I am. In the wake of my last post pointing out that in no way, shape, or form is Samantha Power a disciple of the Walt/Mearshimer thesis, Paul Mirengoff at Powerline has decided instead to double-down on the argument -- claiming that she "actually goes even further than Walt and Mearsheimer" and taking portions of this interview wildly out of context to assert she's making "some sort of modern blood libel." We already had an email conversation in which I explained why the spin he's putting on this interview is completely bogus, but Mr. Mirengoff apparently prefers to play shock jock.

This was a slimy, disgusting political hit job that showed reckless disregard for truth or decency. I had hoped that he'd show me a bit more respect than this, but the desire to smear Obama and his advisers trumps all.

I'll be keeping that in mind.

Dueling Assholes

The Berkeley City Council versus Senator Jim DeMint. Maybe if they distract each other sufficiently, they won't do anything else that requires my attention.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Svalbard Prepares to Strike

Via Duck of Minerva, it appears that Svalbard's plans for world annihilation are continuing unabated. Duck has been monitoring the Svalbard threat for some time now, but thus far it has fallen on deaf ears.


Mike Huckabee after being heckled by Code Pink protesters:
"The beauty of America is that a person can come and even make a disruption, and you know what, that person is not going to be taken out and shot."

Yes, I suppose that's a good thing (but how will the base react to him going soft on Code Pink?).

MN-Senate Poll

My dad will be thrilled to see these numbers:
Democratic Primary (MoE 4.5%)

Franken 42
Ciresi 18

General Election Matchups

Coleman (R) 40
Franken (D) 43.2

Coleman (R) 43
Ciresi (D) 38

Full results here.

My dad hates Norm Coleman. But, being a former attorney at his law firm, he loathes Mike Ciresi.

And as for me (I'm voting in the MN caucus)? Well, familial loyalty prevents me voting Ciresi (as do his pro-life attitudes). I wouldn't have a problem with Franken, except he was a complete and utter asshole to a friend of mine while at a Carleton rally earlier this year, for no good reason (this has turned many folks at Carleton -- who should be firmly in Franken's camp -- hardcore against him). Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer is an option, except I like for my vote to count.

Tough call.

California Dreaming

Where is Obama in California? Well, he just picked up the endorsement of the LA Times. And also that of the California SEIU, which previously had been backing John Edwards. Plus a lot the structural aspects of the primary cut in his favor. Except that a good chunk of California's electorate has already voted absentee, before Obama's surge began. But then, those voters -- demographically speaking -- are solidly Clinton people no matter what Obama does.

It'll be exciting, no doubt about that.

The Spaniard

Matt Yglesias reports that the new hip insult amongst conservatives for John McCain is "Juan McCain." Because apparently McCain isn't sufficiently committed to hating on Latinos or something.

Can we please stop the fiction that there isn't a significant anti-Hispanic sentiment motivating the broad anti-immigration coalition?*

* I'll accept that there are some folks who are anti-immigrant who really have no objection to Hispanics, in the same way that I'll accept that Barry Goldwater's opposition to the Civil Rights Act was motivated by federalism. True, but it's hardly descriptive of the controlling element of the debate.

The Spaniard

Matt Yglesias reports that the new hip insult amongst conservatives for John McCain is "Juan McCain." Because apparently McCain isn't sufficiently committed to hating on Latinos or something.

Can we please stop the fiction that there isn't a significant anti-Hispanic sentiment motivating the broad anti-immigration coalition?*

* I'll accept that there are some folks who are anti-immigrant who really have no objection to Hispanics, in the same way that I'll accept that Barry Goldwater's opposition to the Civil Rights Act was motivated by federalism. True, but it's hardly descriptive of the controlling element of the debate.

Variety is Nice

I just got admitted to my first Ph.D program (in political science). No details for you (email me if you want them), but it is a school which has also admitted me to its law program.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Philosophical Quote of the Day: Internal and External Goods

It's from Drucilla Cornell, but she's discussing the work of Alasdair MacIntyre in After Virtue. I'm copying it because I find interesting the discussion of "internal" and "external goods" as delineations between a particular action and the social context outside of it:
He [MacIntyre] explains the concept of "goods internal to" a practice by the example of teaching a child to play chess. Initially, he suggests, the child might learn to play only if given, say, money or a piece of candy, which would represent for MacIntyre goods external to the practice of playing this game. In time, however, the child may learn to play for the goods internal to the game -- for example, the achievement of a particular "analytical skill, strategic imagination and competitive intensity." It is only when the child plays the game with these internal goods in mind that she can be truly said to be engaging in a practice. Unlike the money or candy, these internal goods are not particular to the individual; they are for the good of the entire community of practitioners. By having them as a goal the individual practitioner can indeed benefit the others: the child in MacIntyre's example may discover a new chess move that will enhance the game's practice.

As MacIntyre's definition of a practice indicates, there are rules and standards of excellence for a practice that constitute the practice itself. When an initiate enters a particular practice, she must learn the rules and accept the authority of the definitive standards lest she be said not to be engaged in the practice at all. Here MacIntyre stresses the social aspect of the practice: the child cannot obey certain rules and pay attention to a few standards and still be said to play the "complex form of socially established cooperative activity" called chess. Like [*317] the practice's goods, however, its standards and rules are not immutable; they have changed in the history of the practice and are subject to the practitioners' criticism. MacIntyre suggests -- and this seems to be the final point in his definition -- that by pursuing the practice's present goods according to its authoritative standards of excellence and rules, the practitioner might arrive at new conceptions of these goods, standards, and rules.

Drucilla Cornell, Toward a Modern/Postmodern Reconstruction of Ethics, 133 U. PA. L. REV. 291, 316-17 (1985).

I'm not sure I agree with MacIntyre entirely on this (MacIntyre's next step is to say this reunites fact and value by defining virtue through the internal goods of a practice, but Cornell points out several serious problems with this formulation), but it's certainly interesting.

The Clintons as Mosiac Figures

Matt Yglesias links to a Harold Meyerson editorial arguing that, while Bill Clinton was an extraordinarily important figure for the resurrection of the Democratic Party, in order to take that next step we need to leave him and his family behind. He uses the Biblical metaphor of the Exodus -- Jews had to wander in the desert for forty years so those with the slave mentality would die out, and a new generation -- born in freedom -- could take command. Ultimately, Moses himself, the leader responsible for Jewish liberation, dies just short of reaching the Promised Land.

Yglesias comments:
It's hard to imagine more thankless tasks than organizing for George McGovern in Texas or bearing the torch of progressive politics in late-1970s and early-1980s Arkansas. And of course Bill Clinton really did take the lessons learned from winning in that inhospitable territory and put the Democratic Party back in the White House. From that vantage point, he governed well and proved to a country that had come to doubt it that Democrats could be trusted to run the federal government. But is 2008 the hour of Mark Penn? I don't see it.

Even as an Obama supporter, this makes me very sad. Moses, of course, is a tragic figure. And, given the debt we owe Bill Clinton, it seems churlish to toss him aside as we finally reap the benefits he did so much to sow. It's hard to remember now (especially for folks of my generation, who grew up in the Clinton era), but prior to his election the Democratic Party was seen as dead in the water. Even as late as 1992, cartoonists were making jokes about how it'd be easier to run as a Communist and win than as a Democrat. Clinton got us out of the wilderness and resurrected the party brand.

No matter who wins the Democratic nomination, he is owed a great debt of gratitude for that. And no matter who wins the Democratic nomination, both he and his wife deserve a place of honor in the Democratic pantheon -- historically and in the future.

It's Got To Be The Test

Neat historical tidbit from the G-Bitch, citing "The Gendered Society" by Michael S. Kimmel:
Test scores were no better as indicators. At the turn of the century, women were found to be scoring higher on comprehensive examinations at New York University. Since scientists “knew” that women were not as smart as men, some other explanation had to be sought. “After all, men are more intelligent than women, examination papers or no examination papers,” commented the dean of the college, R. Turner. “Women have better memories and study harder, that’s all. In tasks requiring patience and industry, women win out. But when a man is both patient and industrious, he beats a woman any day.” (It is interesting to see that women’s drive, ambition, and industriousness are used against them, rather than labeling the problem as men’s impulsiveness, impatience, and laziness). In the 1920s, when IQ tests were first invented, women scored higher on those tests as well. So the experimenters changed the questions. (31)

And the footnote to that:
Turner is cited in “South Side Observer, 29 April 1896; C.A. Dwyer, “The Role of Tests and Their Construction in Producing Apparently Sex-Related Differences,” in “Sex-Related Differences in Cognitive Functioning,” M. Wittig and A. Peterson, eds. (New York: Academic Press, 1979), p. 342.

Via Feminist Law Profs, who write that "Just Because You Are A Paranoid Feminist Doesn’t Mean The Sexists Aren’t Out To Get You." Heh.

That being said, my LSAT scores, of course, are unimpeachably accurate indicators of my legal intelligence.

UPDATE: G-Bitch wants you to know that the true props should go to Ceejay, who was the original source for the quote.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

"Almost Certainly"

From the end of an overall weak Forward editorial on Barack Obama:
Is Barack Obama a Muslim? Almost certainly not. Was he ever a Muslim? Almost certainly yes.

Barack Obama is "almost certainly" not a Muslim? No, he's not a Muslim, period. This isn't controversial.

Was he ever a Muslim? Again, no, he wasn't, unless we define it by birthright, in which case it switches from being utterly false to meaningless. Almost certainly, at no point did Barack Obama consciously identify as being Muslim (and if showing up in temple a few times is enough to make you part of a religion, anyone who ever grew up in Bethesda is Jewish through Bar Mitzvah ceremonies alone).

Guess Who's Back?

With John Edwards' withdrawal today, progressives today ran a serious risk of having to vote for a non-White male. Fortunately, Ralph Nader appears ready to step in and save us from that eventuality. Nader specifically cited the absence of two other White men formerly in the race -- Edwards and pixie-stick Dennis Kucinich -- as motivating his exploration of yet another bid.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Quote of the Evening: Rights Talk

From the ever-brilliant Martha Minow:
"Rights" can give rise to "rights consciousness" so that individuals and groups may imagine and act in light of rights that have not been formally recognized or enforced. Rights, in this sense, are neither limited to nor-coextensive with precisely those rules formally announced and enforced by public authorities. Instead, rights represent articulations -- public or private, formal or informal -- of claims that people use to persuade others (and themselves) about how they should be treated and about what they should be granted. I mean, then, to include within the ambit of rights discourse all efforts to claim new rights, to resist and alter official state action that fails to acknowledge such rights, and to construct communities apart from the state to nurture new conceptions of rights. Rights here encompass even those claims that lose, or have lost in the past, if they continue to represent claims that muster people's hopes and articulate their continuing efforts to persuade.

Martha Minow, Interpreting Rights: An Essay for Robert Cover, Yale Law Journal 96 (1987): 1860-1915, 1867.

UPDATE: I should clarify that this is not the rights conception "from the left" -- it is part of the conception by Minow, and presumably some fellow travelers (which, in turn, includes me to some extent) -- most of whom, I admit, are "from the left" to greater or lesser degrees. We are, alas, not all that powerful people -- certainly, we are not the shadowy cabal that controls "the left" and dictates its opinions.

Is Samantha Power a Closet Walt & Mearsheimer Disciple?

It doesn't make sense to me, but at the end of this post Paul Mirengoff asserts that Obama adviser and foreign policy guru Samantha Power "subscribe[s] to the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis that that the U.S.-Israel relationship is the product of Jewish power politics, rather than strategic interest."

He's not the only one saying this. Here's The American Thinker making a similar claim, as well as Anti-Liberal Zone.

Noah Pollak appears to be the source, linking to this May 2007 interview with Professor Power. I've bolded the part they think is important, but I include the entire question for context:
Q. Though some analysts see U.S. foreign policy woes as a recent phenomenon, you argue that recent foreign policy missteps by current U.S. leaders have exposed and exacerbated long-standing structural and conceptual problems in U.S. foreign policy. Please explain.

Power: It is tempting to see Iraq as the source of all our woes now, whereas I see Iraq as the symptom, in some measure, of a number of longstanding trends and defects in American foreign policy.

One example is the US historic predisposition to go it alone. Because we have long undervalued what international institutions have to offer, we believed that we could go into Iraq, and as soon as we declared the mission accomplished, we expected to be able to turn the problem over to others, regardless of how they had been treated in the run up to the invasion. This thinking is very flawed, but not all that new. In a uni-polar world, the Clinton Administration was able to get away with an instrumental relationship with international institutions, but that is harder with the rise of new powers who are willing to challenge the United States in international bodies. It is also harder now that the Iraq war itself has exposed so many US weaknesses.

In addition, we long saw international authorization as a luxury, something good for global public opinion, but not very relevant to US national security. But what we have seen, by revealing our indifference to international legitimacy both in the Iraq war and in the practices carried out in our counter-terrorism efforts – the disavowal of the Geneva conventions, prisoner abuse, extraordinary rendition, etc. – is that being seen to thumb our nose at international law actually has profound security ramifications, as more and more people seek to take up arms against U.S. citizens and interests.

Another longstanding foreign policy flaw is the degree to which special interests dictate the way in which the “national interest” as a whole is defined and pursued. Look at the degree to which Halliburton and several of the private security and contracting firms invested in the 2004 political campaigns and received very lucrative contracts in the aftermath of the U.S. takeover of Iraq. Also, America’s important historic relationship with Israel has often led foreign policy decision-makers to defer reflexively to Israeli security assessments, and to replicate Israeli tactics, which, as the war in Lebanon last summer demonstrated, can turn out to be counter-productive.

So greater regard for international institutions along with less automatic deference to special interests – especially when it comes to matters of life and death and war and peace – seem to be two take-aways from the war in Iraq.

This is not the W&M hypothesis. At worst, it's a very diluted form of their thesis, in that it argues that sometimes the US listens to pro-Israel special interests, and that sometimes leads to bad results. This, she says, is emblematic of a broader, systemic flaw in how the US conducts foreign policy -- we let special interests construct what the "national interest" is and it leads us away from where we ought to go (Contra Pollak, it is not arguing in any way that Israel was responsible for America's war in Iraq).

W&M, of course, argue that US foreign policy in the area is controlled by the "Israel Lobby", and more importantly, that this is a unique exception to the way foreign policy decision-making operates. Far from being emblematic of anything, the Israel Lobby, from W&M's Realist stance, represents a dangerous exception to the Laws of the International System, which dictate that nation's have fixed and concrete security interests and always pursue them. This exceptional quality is the key reason why W&M's thesis is so offensive -- it's essentially an argument about Jewish hyperpower. But that makes it qualitatively different from persons (like Power) who believe that many factors beyond bare security interests influence how foreign policy operates, and observes that special interests advocating for Israel are one of them.

It is, of course, possible that Power has written something more directly on point that affirms W&M's hypothesis. But I highly doubt it, seeing as they come from drastically different schools of thought on international relations. W&M's thesis operates from a premise that Power doesn't share -- namely, that domestic, moral, or transnational forces never exert meaningful influence on foreign policy. Power appears to believe the opposite -- that these factors are extremely important influences on foreign policy decision-making (for good and for ill).

UPDATE: I sent Paul an email and asked for clarification. He responded with another Power quote, that her version of a sound mid-east policy would require "'alienating a domestic constituency.' That's close enough to the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis for me."

Not only is that not even close to the W&M thesis, it borders on being a truism. Americans (including Jewish Americans) have differences on what we want our mid-east policy to be. For example, I suspect Paul and I differ significantly. One of us is going to be alienated by whatever proposal ends up being adopted. If it's now controversial to point that out, we've got a serious problem on our hands.

Of course, to reiterate again, Walt & Mearsheimer's thesis is not about who opposes their ideal vision of mid-east policy. It's about their perception that the Israel Lobby possesses extreme control over US foreign policy that leads us to do things their predictive model says shouldn't happen. When we collapse every policy that deviates from the Commentary Magazine line as "subscribing to the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis", we're exploding their argument way beyond its actual scope.

Sebelius' Big Moment

Everyone who saw her seems to agree:

1) The speech was pretty weak,

2) It's really hard to deliver an effective SOTU rebuttal,

3) We should give her a chance in other, less stacked contexts.

I particularly agree with Kevin Drum: She was trying to sound like Barack Obama, and failing miserably at it.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Maryland Push

A blogger at Pam's House Blend has the scoop on the recently introduced bill in my home state to legalize same sex marriage. Counting the number of sponsors, The Baltimore Sun calls its prospects for passage "uncertain." One problem is that, despite Maryland's liberal tint, the leadership is lukewarm to the bill at best. "Gov. Martin O'Malley and House Speaker Michael E. Busch have said that they prefer civil unions. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller opposes both same-sex marriage and civil unions." Moreover, especially up in Baltimore, the Catholic church is very influential among liberal legislators, which complicates efforts significantly.

But that doesn't mean the bill is doomed. For one, any state that has the type of legislative skew Maryland has towards Democrats is reasonably favorable terrain. For two, Maryland voters are far more open to gay marriage than those of most states. 44% favor changing the law to allow gay marriage, while 51% oppose a change. Importantly, 59% of White Marylanders are in favor of the change. This matters because Black Democrats in the legislature are probably at least somewhat to the left of their constituents on this issue. That doesn't mean they're guaranteed allies, but it does mean they're probably persuadable. Finally, even though he opposes both gay marriage and civil unions, Senator Miller at least has apparently promised not to whip his caucus on this issue, making it far easier for pro-equality forces than if the leadership was proactively working against them.

Ultimately, this is a tough fight, but a fight we can win. Maryland stands on the cusp of becoming the first state to legalize gay marriage without any judicial prompting whatsoever. It would be a proud day for my state, and I hope that we see it soon.

The Pieces Fall into Place

After delivering the State of the Union response, Kansas Governor and Democratic rising star Kathleen Sebelius will endorse Barack Obama for President.

It's part of an overall good swing of endorsements for Obama, including Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA), the highest ranking Latino House member. The latter is particularly significant because Obama has shown some weakness among the Latino vote.

But Sebelius is not just a particularly talented Democratic governor, or even another notch in a flurry of recent Obama endorsements. She's a red-state governor, and more importantly, a red-state governor with a knack for flipping Republicans to the Democratic Party. She fits exceptionally well with Obama's post-partisan campaign style, and would make a stellar Vice Presidential pick. With this endorsement, that chatter will only get louder.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Two Random Thoughts About Obama

I have two thoughts to share after Barack Obama's historic win in South Carolina.

1) One of my Republican friends here at Carleton (I write that as if there are more than a half-dozen active Republicans on this campus) has admitted he is "terrified" of Obama, who he describes as the "Democratic Reagan." Someone who can articulate the Democratic agenda clearly and eloquently and bring people over from all sides. Dave Kopel said his victory speech "sounded like a President," and even the National Review's K-Lo was so mesmerized by it that she momentarily forgot that there were actual issues in this election and that she disagreed with Obama on every one of them.

2) Though I absolutely, positively adore Obama, and think he's a wonderful speaker, there is a nit I really need to pick during his oratory. He has this facial expression that he falls back on all the time. I call it his "stare of destiny." After a bit of soaring oratory, during the roaring applause, he looks a bit upwards and off to the side, staring intently with vision out into the distance. It's the Barack Obama equivalent of Magnum. He does it compulsively, and it's actually beginning to scare me. If he could find some new expressions to mix in with that one, I'd be very happy.