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8/12/2004

Adolescent Argument

Bloomberg: Kerry Was `Consistent' on Iraq, Wants Troops Home
Bush lacks maturity.

Aug. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, responding to criticism from President George W. Bush that Kerry has changed position on Iraq, told supporters he's been ``consistent'' and suggested Bush lacks ``maturity.''

``The Bush folks are trying to say that we've changed positions, this and that,'' Kerry told a rally at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas yesterday. ``I have been consistent all along, ladies and gentlemen. I thought the United States needed to stand up to Saddam Hussein. I voted to stand up to Saddam Hussein.''
Our 58 year old incumbent President should grow up.
`New Nuance'

At a political rally of Republicans in Pensacola, Florida, yesterday, Bush, 58, said Kerry had introduced a ``new nuance'' in explaining his vote for the war even though Kerry now criticizes Bush's handling of Iraq.

***

``After months of questioning my motives and even my credibility, Senator Kerry now agrees with me that even though we have not found the stockpile of weapons we all believed were there, knowing everything we know today, he would have voted to go into Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power,'' Bush said. ``I want to thank Senator Kerry for clearing that up -- although there are still 84 days left in the campaign.''

***

Two years after voting for the war in Congress, ``and almost 220 days after switching positions to declare himself the anti-war candidate, my opponent has found a new nuance,'' Bush said of Kerry's position.

Terrorists Want You To Pay Full Price for Your Medication

From the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

FDA: Terrorists May Attack Imported Drugs

The acting commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says that nonspecific "chatter" indicates that terrorists may seek to attack the American food and drug supply, particularly less-expensive drugs imported from Canada and elsewhere, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

The commissioner, Lester Crawford, told the wire service that the possibility of such an attack had moved to the top of his list of concerns over recent attempts by many states and cities to save money by importing less-expensive drugs. In the past, the agency has declared such imports illegal, citing concerns that they may be improperly labeled, contain incorrect doses, or have the wrong ingredients.

Crawford conceded that while there are no specific indications that the food or drug supplies are targeted by Al-Qaida and other terrorists, "it is a source of continuing concern."

His comments came two days after Vermont announced its plans to sue the agency for denying the state's application to import Canadian drugs for its employees and retirees.

The agency is under mounting pressure to relax its hard-line stance over drug imports. Crawford said the FDA hasn't decided whether to vigorously challenge Vermont's pending lawsuit, the AP reported.

The latest sign of growing discontent with domestic drug prices appears to be occurring in the FDA's own backyard. The Washington, D.C., government has placed a link on its Web site to a guide for ordering drugs from Canadian pharmacies, according to Thursday's Washington Post.

An FDA spokesman repeated the agency's contention that such drugs are illegal and potentially unsafe. City Administrator Robert Bobb said he approved the link to give residents more options, although he said he'd strike the link from the site if U.S. officials could show him that it was violating federal law, the Post reported.
I would love to see some evidence for this. Preferably without burning any double agents.

"Mocking" Inappropriate

The New York Times > Washington > Campaign 2004 > Political Memo: Bush's Mocking Drowns Out Kerry's Explanation of Iraq Vote

George Bush is "mocking" John Kerry for his statement that he stands by his decision to vote in favor of the use of force authorization. Bush claims this is a "new nuance," a flip flop. It goes without saying that Bush is not treating this with the seriousness it deserves. But David Sanger, the author of the NYT piece, is playing along. He says

"Mr. Bush, sensing he had ensnared Mr. Kerry, stuck in the knife on Tuesday, telling a rally in Panama City, Fla., that "he now agrees it was the right decision to go into Iraq." The Kerry camp says that interpretation of Mr. Kerry's words completely distorted the difference between a vote to authorize war and a decision to commit troops to the battlefield.
First, his analogy is hardly appropriate. Is "sticking the knife in" a euphemism for distorting? Second, his first reaction to the Bush distortion is citd to the "Kerry camp," rather than in anobjective voice. Later, though, he says this:
In fact, in interviews since the start of the year, Mr. Kerry has been relatively consistent in explaining his position.

Mr. Bush may be seeking his moment now because polls show that Mr. Kerry's approach to Iraq is resonating with voters as strongly as Mr. Bush's - in some cases more strongly. That may explain why Mr. Kerry is willing to suggest some dates for the start of troop withdrawals, something he would not do a month ago.
Why wait until paragraph 20 out of 24 to note that the entire controversy is an artificial gotcha game?

George Bush's knife would be a spoon if it was dulled on the truth.

8/10/2004

Government Inaction and Liberty Violation

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Sudan massacres are not genocide, says EU

I am reluctant to demean the catastrophe in Darfur by using it as a prop in a political theory debate, but I will.

"But it is clear there is widespread, silent and slow killing and village burning of a fairly large scale. There are considerable doubts as to the willingness of Sudan's government to assume its duty to protect its civilian population against attacks."
Oppression can look like this. The failure to prosecute lynchings, or nonstate violence against Blacks, was the defining characteristic of Jim Crow. Asymmetrical enforcement of laws plagues poor communities to this day - a Randall Kennedy observation I was initially quite hostile to, but which I now basically agree with. There is no liberty under seige.

Disingenuous Doddering

The Atlantic Online | July/August 2004 | When George Meets John | James Fallows

This article is not available online, but it is an important one. Excerpts of it are available here An NPR interview with the author is available here.

Part of Fallows' argument is that even Bush's linguisitc troubles are scripted, part of a persona designed to appeal to certain voters while minimizing media criticism. Actually, that is more Lakoff's interpretation of some of the footage Fallows has, but it is a worthwhile observation nonetheless.

Bush is a notoriously opaque speaker, with mangled diction and made up words. Nonetheless, he has parsed words with the best of them (see: "imminent threat;" al-Qaeda-Hussein cooperation; nuclear threat in Iraq). And he has gotten away with it - he has erected a teflon barrier of imprecision and confusion that lets him avoid accountability for everything he does.

And it is deliberate. Kerry's meticulous accuracy and "caveats and curlicues" are a liability. Not only does he have a comprehensible record that can be mined for apparent contradictions, but his nuance may turn off voters.

Now is the time to start lowering expectations for the debates. Bush will perform better than he should, he will stick to his talking points and will look strong and resolute. Mainly because he will say he is strong and resolute 29 times. Kerry may make the mistake of actually trying to argue with the man, a tactic that Gore proved fails miserably. He simply needs to talk to the people, and hope they see through Bush's tactics.

FYI

I am a proud nuancer.

8/09/2004

Outline of a Critique of Libertarianism

Libertarianism is a laughable political ideology. Wariness of government power, realistic consideration of the potential for government activity, and respect for markets are important, but they are better represented by typical American liberalism than by libertarianism. With this as my starting position, let me outline my objections to libertarianism. Not all libertarians argue everything I claim they do, but all of the following arguments are made by some libertarians.

1. Moral Objections

Libertarianism undervalues democratic governance and political rights. Libertarians argue that governmental intrusion into markets and private interests are illegitimate infringements of liberty. Such intrusions should be rejected for deontological reasons, as violations of rights. This argument fails to consider the countervailing political rights, which have also been historically considered important aspects of liberty. Libertarians give no credible rationale for valuing economic rights over rights of self governance and political participation. What they do say is that participation in markets can confer democratic legitimacy. This argument, which equates dollars and votes, is revisionist and dystopian. The strong version of this objection is that libertarians hold an authoritarian position against the collective expression, imposing "pure tolerance."

Libertarianism undervalues the threat to human interests posed by "nonstate actors". The state is not the sole source of coercion unless one adopts a decidedly non-libertarian critique of the action/inaction dichotomy. In many cases, it is not the most morally significant source of coercion.

Libertarianism overvalues certain economic activities. Libertarians argue that all market transactions are by definition Pareto superior, and that participation in markets is equivalent with economic freedom. They simply ignore or blithely dismiss the centuries of economic and sociological thought contesting this notion. From Thorstein Veblen to Robert Hale to Horkheimer and Adorno, participation in markets is decidedly mixed morally. They elevate an amoral process of allocation to an ultimate moral good.

2. Methodological Objections

Libertarians are horrible historians. Libertarians argue that America is a Lockean nation. They hold an anachronistic notion of Lockeanism, and they overestimate the significance of Lockean theory to the development of American governmental institutions. They hold an anachronistic, inaccurate understanding of Adam Smith, preferring the revisionist interpretation that originated in the British reaction to the French Revolution. In short, their depiction of American history is poor even for lawyer's history.

Libertarians are poor lawyers. Libertarians are decidedly formalist in their approach to the law. Formalism is an incoherent legal philosophy. In its weak applications it is capable of justifying everything, in its strong nothing. It has antidemocratic and perverse implications.

Libertarians are poor logicians. Libertarians build their ideology on an edifice of indefensible dichotomies. Concepts like a sharp public/private dichotomy can be defended on utilitarian grounds, but unless one reverts to natural law, it is impossible to leap from those utilitarian justifications to the deontological arguments advanced by libertarians. The inaction/action dichotomy suffers similar difficulties, as does state/nonstate.

Libertarians are poor social scientists. Libertarians adopt a radical, Hayekian skepticism about the potential for governmental action. Fedsoc adherents to bowdlerized interpretations of Coase believe government regulation is capable of producing only inefficiencies, despite clear social science contradicting them. Libertarians tend to take as given behavioral characteristics that are decidedly contingent.

3. Political Objections

Libertarians undermine public discourse. The tendency to reduce all activities to rights or liberty considerations forces discourse onto opaque and confused paths. Kneejerk rights discourse renders transparent many important considerations that should be subject to discussion and contestation.

Libertarians undermine their own ends. Many institutions are strengthened by well designed, democratic constraints. Markets are stronger when subjected to democratic control and governmental regulation.

Not Ownership, Abdication

Bush is rolling out his "ownership" agenda, which is a euphemism for privatization of most of good government programs. The idea for "private savings accounts" attached to social security is particularly odious:

"THE PRESIDENT: See, what you're hearing is -- that's a very interesting -- (applause.) See, what -- what Chris just said is part of an attitudinal shift towards Social Security that is taking place in the country. When I was coming up, it was pretty well assumed that Social Security would be all right -- until people began to calculate the fact that there's a lot of baby boomers who are going to be on the system relative to the number of payers into the system, like Chris. And the fundamental question is, can we change the system by strengthening it, so that Chris can realize there's something available for him after he pays for me? That's really what we're talking about, isn't it?

And what he just said was, he said, look, if you look at the rates of return on the money in the Social Security trust fund, they are so abysmally low, that it is impossible -- virtually impossible from a fiscal perspective, to make the system work without raising taxes on him and his family, to the point where it chokes productivity and progress.

And then what he said was, he said, well, would government please consider putting aside some of my own money -- at his choice -- in a personal account, an account that he could manage under obviously strict guidelines, but could get a better rate of return for his money than that which we're now getting inside the Social Security trust. And by the way, it would be an account that is his own -- or their own, that they could then pass on to whomever they wanted to pass it on to. I support the idea of creating a personal saving account for younger workers in order to make sure the system is solvent. (Applause.)"
Why is it so bad? First, because it is founded on an absolute fabrication: Social Security has a remarkably healthy balance sheet. There is no risk of default until after I'm retired, which is a long way off. Second, there are already plenty of tax exempt savings options. IRAs and 401ks provide exactly what Bush is endorsing, except that they are not mandatory. Third, Bush has never come to grips with the idea of transition costs, how allowing people to divert a portion of their payroll taxes won't produce a shortfall in Social Security obligations. Either people will pay higher taxes elsewhere, or people will have reduced retirement benefits. Fourth, and most important, Social Security is a covenant between the government and the people. If we take care of the elderly today, there will be a safety net there for us when we retire. Bush's understanding of social security - it's a savings program on which someone should expect a return - is a horrible distortion of the historical record. It is not a savings program - it is help for the elderly and the retired. It is a right of citizenship, a sign of our civilization. George Bush's silence signifies his desire to abdicate this collective responsibility.

Foxes in the Henhouse - Coal Industry Lobbyists Regulating the Coal Industry

The NYT has a fine expose on the laughably pro-industry bias of the Bush administration's approach to the coal industry.

Much is left out, though. The sorry case of whistleblower Jack Spadaro, and the involvement of Sen. Mitch McConnell and Labor Sec. Elaine Chao, for instance.

Hold on Cunningham, Threatening Counterproliferation

James Cunningham has been nominated to be ambassador to the UN organizations in Vienna, including the IAEA, the UN agency monitoring nuclear proliferation. Senators John Kyl R-AZ and James Inhofe R-OK have placed a hold on his nomination. The reason for the holds are unclear, but undersecrectary of state for amrs control and international security John Bolton fears Cunningham isn't "tough" enough. It is unclear what "tough" means to a Helms acolyte who doesn't believe the UN exists:

At a 1994 panel discussion sponsored by the World Federalist Association Bolton claimed "there's no such thing as the United Nations," and stated ''if the UN secretary building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference.''
The holds have serious national security implications. Cunningham will not be able to represent the United States at the September IAEA meetings, which will focus on nuclear terrorism.

Wyden seeking investigation into abuses by Allawi's Iraq

Senator Ron Wyden D-OR has requested an investigation into allegations of abuse by Iraqi jailers. The abuse took place the day following the U.S. transfer of sovereignty to Iraq and Iyad Allawi. It was observed by Oregon Army National Guard soldiers, who were ordered to "just walk away."

"Let Freedom Reign!"

Terrorism is not the problem

The 9-11 Commission report says it. Prof. Record at the Army War College says it. Terrorism, or assymetric warfare, is not what we are fighting against. We are fighting against a virulent strain of sadistic Islamic radicalism. Oh yeah, and against whoever is in Iraq right now.

Terrorism is never pretty, but there are times when assymetric warfare is not only acceptable, but good. Parisian resistance to Hitler for instance.

Fight enemies, not tactics.

Detroit Trial, Convertino, and al-Libi

The AP has an important article out about the bungled proescution of the Detroit AQ cell. Intelligence that would have helped both the defense and the prosecution was declared off-limits by the DoJ, even though both parties were aware of it.

Note, though, that one of the main examples of embargoed intelligence evidence is now seriously contested.

"There was a series of evidence, pieces of evidence, that we wanted to get into our trial that we were unable to do -- things that would have strengthened the case immeasurably and made the case much stronger, exponentially," Convertino said.

For example, the FBI had learned before the trial that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Al Qaeda's training camp chief, told interrogators after his capture that bin Laden had authorized an attack on the Incirlik air base in Turkey where US military jets had flown missions over Iraq for the past decade, Convertino said.

The interrogation was deemed important because the FBI found in the Detroit terror cell's apartment sketches of the same Turkish base, including flight patterns of US jets. Libi's testimony would have connected the Detroit defendants to a planned Al Qaeda attack, Convertino said. But Libi was "spirited off from Afghanistan to Egypt, and we were not able to interview him or use him as a witness," Convertino said.

Turkish authorities said recently that their evidence shows that bin Laden authorized an attack on the base but that he later abandoned the plan because security was heightened. US officials raised security at Incirlik within days of the Detroit discovery, Air Force officials say.
Al-Libi has recanted most of his testimony, and there is evidence it was given under duress. More collateral damage from our horrible, disastrous decision to torture people.

The Department of Justice retaliated against U.S. Attorney Richard Convertino for his criticisms of the agency in the aftermath of the trial. Convertino sued Ashcroft. Sen. Chuck Grassley R-IA is defending Convertino.

Miscellany:

Ashcroft leaked information about the case for political purposes. (Previewing Khan?)
Ashcroft's Appointment of a "Special Attorney"
FBI interviewed the Judge
Evidence withheld from Defense

 

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