The Closet Moderate: December 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Still hopey

Just in time for Obama's birthday, his people have released this report, which clears him of all wrongdoing ever, but specifically with regard to the sale of his former Senate seat. And it's written by the lawyer, who represented John Hinckley, Bill Clinton, and Elian Gonzales's dad, so it will certainly be seen as fair and impartial by politicians throughout the country.

Also, if you're an mean-spirited, unemployed tax lawyer, you'll be sure to enjoy the typo on page 2. Happy festivus!


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Recount reality show

Want to kill three hours? The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has all of the disputed ballots in the Minnesota Senate race, and you can vote on them!

As far as I can tell, the Lizard people are running away with it.


Cabinet v. Bureaucracy

President-elect Obama has delighted his most hard-core constituency -- nerds -- by naming a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Steven Chu, to be Secretary of Energy. And this guy won a real Nobel, not one of the ones they give to obscure Europeans who hate America. While a physicist might be useful as an advisor on physics, being the head of the Department of Energy will be a waste of Chu's brain.

I know what you poindexters are thinking: "It's the Department of Energy; this guy studied lasers, the awesomest kind of energy; therefore he should run all things energy. Q.E.D."

Not so fast, nerd. Answer me this: what does the Secretary of Energy do? Wikipedia says the DOE is in charge of "the nation's nuclear weapons program, nuclear reactor production for the United States Navy, energy conservation, energy-related research, radioactive waste disposal, and domestic energy production." OK, these are some scientific jobs, but what does the Secretary himself do? It can't be that technical, since Clinton nominated a couple of lawyers and a former Congressman with a political science degree to do the job. Bush picked another lawyer, then a chemical engineer. All of these people may have been good cabinet members, but I doubt any of them (except maybe Bodman, the engineer) knew dick about energy. In fact, the greatest use most Presidents have for the job is balancing the cabinet's race and sex quotas.

The cabinet is not supposed to be a collection of experts; it is a group of executives who run their departments and give the President advice. Being the smartest guy in the room -- and Dr. Chu probably will be -- doesn't mean you're smart or give good advice on governance. Politics is full of questions that don't have a single right answer. The cabinet should be made up of people who are practiced in the art of the possible, i.e., politics. Smart folks like Chu should advise the cabinet members, and occasionally advise the President, but as the head of a bureaucracy, their talents are wasted.


They Call Me "Prognostradamus"

Remember when I predicted that al-Maliki would take advantage of American security guarantees to consolidate his power?

I'd like to take this opportunity to pat myself on the back. As the article mentions, this strike could be an effort to preempt a coup. Certainly, the Interior Ministry and National Security Ministry would be the likely originators of any coup. That said, America is still--for better or for worse--invested in Iraqi democracy and we'd be unlikely to let a coup attempt succeed.

More likely, al-Maliki has seen the writing on the wall and is moving against his enemies while he still has cover from Centcom and the British. If he can remove his political adversaries while the United States maintains a deterrent military presence, he's positioned himself well for post-occupation rule.

Unrelatedly, it turns out that "an elite counterterrorism force that reports directly to the office of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki" is a useful Praetorian tool when you're in the business of seizing power.


Reaping What You Sow

President Elect Obama is going to find that pedestal that his rabid supporters on the left placed him upon a difficult place to govern from. In fact, he has already angered many lefties with his cabinet and advisory choices. Hilary Clinton is too old-school Washington politics, Rahm Emanuel is too vicious, Robert Gates works for the loathsome Bush.

And now, his choice of evangelic pastor, Rev. Rick Warren, to deliver the invocationation at his inauguration has outraged gays, liberals, and human rights folks. Rev. Warren is socially conservative and has publicly railed against the usual evangelical targets of abortion and gay marriage. However, he also promotes the "new evangelical" mission. He is not Fred Phelps, or even Jerry Falwell. He supports green environmental measures, works to help those infected with HIV/AIDS, and has several initiatives to improve communities in Africa. Liberals like that kind of stuff, don't they?

It is a good thing then, that it was those at the center who elected Mr. Obama. Because only in reaching out to those who think differently than him will he ever bring about the change that he promised. While it may have been those young people, who formerly felt distant or disenfranchised in the democratic process, that shook their political apathy and rallied behind Mr. Obama, giving him name recognition, cash, and a flood of cheesy YouTube videos, it was those in the political center who ultimately tipped the election in his favor.

The change that many who voted for Mr. Obama sought was not a dramatic one where American becomes a giant free-love hippie commune. The moderates who supported Mr. Obama wanted a change in the way that decisions are made. Many conservatives, such as your humble blogger, voted for Mr. Obama not because of his policies or as a reaction against Mr. Bush's policies, but rather because they wanted to see a man in office who would listen to many different sides.

Yes liberals, Mr. Obama's victory was a victory for you. But he is a man who has said from the beginning that he would invite all to the table, not just cronies and yes-men. That means dealing with people and even honoring people that you may not agree with 100%. Intolerance cuts both ways.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Economy down generally; bribery holding steady.

Illinois's governor Blagojevich was faced with the difficult proposition of how to choose Obama's successor in the Senate. Lots of Democratic pols made worthy arguments about why they should be chosen, but only one can be Senator. Fortunately, he came up with a clever solution: sell that shit to the highest bidder. Who says Democrats don't believe in the free market?

Seriously, though, this is really dumb. Shouldn't all politicians, especially Chicago politicians, assume that the feds are listening to everything they say? They just got Ted Stevens for some shitty bribes that probably didn't even affect his vote, and this guy thinks he can sell a U.S. Senate seat? If you ever find yourself holding a political office and saying to someone that you'd like to "get some [money] up front, maybe" in return for an appointment, try to make sure you're not chatting with an informant wearing a wire, for fuck's sake.

I'm sure someone will try to tie this to Obama, but that person will not be me. I doubt Blago was planning on cutting him in.

UPDATE: The text of the complaint is here (PDF!) The part about the Senate seat begins on page 56.

UPDATE #2: So, Tony Rezko's name is all over this complaint. Shouldn't the news stories at least mention this?

UPDATE #3: Here are some choice lines from the guv'nor:
Page 60: "ROD BLAGOJEVICH stated, 'I want to make money.'"
Page 66: "ROD BLAGOJEVICH said that the consultants (Advisor B and another consultant are believed to be on the call at that time) are telling him that he has to 'suck it up' for two years and do nothing and give this 'motherfucker [the President-elect] his senator. Fuck him. For nothing? Fuck him.'"
Page 66: "Later in the conversation, ROD BLAGOJEVICH said he knows that the President-elect wants Senate Candidate 1 for the Senate seat but “they’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation. Fuck them.”"
Page 63: "ROD BLAGOJEVICH agreed it was unlikely that the President-elect would name him Secretary of Health and Human Services or give him an ambassadorship because of all of the negative publicity surrounding ROD BLAGOJEVICH." [This will likely turn out to be correct -- Cal]


Monday, December 08, 2008

Good News, Everybody!

This is your semi-regular panic-inducing news update:

Terrorists set a bunch of stuff on fire in Mumbai (or, if you're an English alcoholic and all-around jackhole like Christopher Hitchens, "Bombay") and shot a bunch of people. Said assholes may be a splinter group of group of assholes (Lashkar-e-Taiba, Urdu for "Group of Assholes") that were sketchily supported by Pakistan's ISI. So now we've got one nuclear state thirsting for the blood of another nuclear state, which is awesome if you love having your dress pattern tattooed on your back via nuclear blast.

The total ratfucking of the US economy continues apace. Even Playboy is feeling the crunch and when our titty magazine industry founders, America is imperiled. Relatedly, major homeless person bedding distributor the Tribune Company declares bankruptcy under the weight of a astonishing 13 gigabucks of debt. Apparently, being helmed by an evil Patrick Stewart doesn't make you recession proof. Fortunately, the shitbox-on-wheels industry looks likely to stagger on, having persuaded Congress to give them money with the cunning argument "we make shitty cars, give us money or we'll fuck the entire state of Michigan into the ground."

The Israeli/Palestinian conflict may be heating up, planes are falling from the sky, piracy is on the rise, Al-Qaeda may have just taken over Somalia, the Taliban is apparently choking Karzai out with its bare metaphorical hands, my old thesis advisor is apparently rehabilitated enough to get some page-space (in all fairness, he actually knows what he's talking about this time), Stephanopolous impies that Dennis Kucinich either is a poseur or likes rough sex, and women are cutting babies out of themselves to give birth before they lose their healthcare.


Don't worry though, we have a tag for all this shit.


Israel's "Israel Lobby" Problem

Let's be clear, the central reason for the existence of Israel (as a state, not a nation) is as a form of reparation for the inhuman atrocities inflicted on European Jewry during the 20th century: pogroms, the Sho'ah, and anti-semitism. Given that, it seems rather idiotic for extremist settlers to embrace gut-churning acts of violence in defense of their illegal outposts in Palestinian territory. Daniel Levy has some intelligent thoughts on this issue. I'm going to skip the usual "a plague on both your houses" assessment of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and explain, instead, why I think that extremist settlers could be a serious threat to the state of Israel:

To keep this sort of short, I'm going to write at the highest level of abstraction. Israel is a state with some hierarchy of interests, presumably centered around territorial defense, economic prosperity and peace. These interests are probably shared by a fair number of Israelis as well. Most people would, ceteris paribus, prefer to be richer and not actively being shot at. The extremist elements within the Israeli settler movement do not share that hierarchy of interests. Their primary interest is in preserving their own existence and the rest of the world can go hang. Let me be a little more nuanced about that claim: settlers place a high enough value on the continued existence of their illegal settlements that they are willing to pursue actions in service of that goal the outcomes of which are likely to damage the Israeli political process and/or the Israeli citizenry (provoking Palestinian reprisals, polarizing the Israeli body politic, and so forth).

That's only a problem because as Israeli citizens they are entitled to the protection of the state in a way that the Palestinians, for example, are not. Thus, Israel finds itself in the unenviable position of protecting a group of people who not only don't share the interests of the Israeli people at large, but in fact are actively endangering those interests through their actions.

There are two other layers of complication here. First of all, the settlers are not just a bunch of nuts bivouacked on a hilltop somewhere. They are an active organized political constituency within Israel proper, with a number of influential allies in the Israeli right wing. On the level of optics, the image of a community of Jews surrounded by enemies and fighting to survive and keep what they have is a poignant one for a people who have such a profound history of oppression. Sure, it doesn't apprehend the truth of the situation, but it's truthy enough to be persistent and powerful.

Obviously, it's not a foregone conclusion. It may be that the settler groups overplay their hand and alienate their political benefactors (who find it too politically costly to support their agenda) and the Israeli public. It could also play out like the French confrontation with Algeria, in which Pied Noir intransigence and French paralysis eventually led to a series of brutal confrontations that both radicalized the Muslims of Algeria and felled several French governments.

I'm nowhere near enough of an expert on the I/P conflict or the Israeli political process to assess these probabilities, but the combination of Netanyahu's rise and last week's violence don't augur well.


Thought for the Day

Sunday was Pearl Harbor Day, so it feels fitting to give a shoutout to the Ace of Aces, a legendary dubya-dubya-eye-eye pilot whose obit shared the front page with news of the Hiroshima bombing. His name? Dick Bong, leading to the (now) hilarious headline:

"Jet plane explosion kills Major Bong, Top U.S. Ace."

In this post-9/11 world of heavy, unironic patriotism, I think we could all stand to remember that there was a time in our history where we revered Major Dick Bong.


Monday, December 01, 2008


Usually after a big electoral victory, the punditry will suggest that maybe the losing party is completely destroyed and will never be seen again. I remember some of this in 2002 and 1994, and I'm sure older readers can remember similar examples (my dad says this was the talk in 1964, as well). This year should be no exception, and like those other years, the punditry will be wrong.

The two major parties have far too many connections and far too much money to simply collapse and drift away. There is one area of the country, however, where the the Republicans' nationwide network and public image is hurting its candidates: New England. After the 2006 elections, there was one Republican House member from New England, Christopher Shays of Connecticut. After the 2008 elections, there are none. On the familiar map of election results by county, there is only one colored red in all six states (Piscataquis County, Maine, population 17,235.)*

The picture is not all dire for New England Republicans. They still have some representation in the areas in which a party member may buck the party leadership: the Senate (two out of twelve are Republican) and the governorships (three out of six). These people would not be recognizable as Republicans in other ares of the country. Vermont's Governor Jim Douglas is a Middlebury graduate who signed a bill banning discrimination on the basis of "gender identity." I defy you to find a Republican south of the Potomac Rappahannock who even knows what that means.

How is a Republican moderate like Shays supposed to succeed in such a place when, even as his views are fairly close to the center for his area, he is relentlessly tied to the party's regionally unpopular leaders?

Here, the label is dragging down the product. The solution, then, is for New England Republicans to disassociate with the RNC. This isn't really a plea for a third party; it's more of a plea for a relabeled second party. A group that supports fiscal responsibility, reasonable patriotism, and freedom in your personal life could be a moderate counterweight to the welfare-state Democrats of the American Northeast. New England Republicans already differ from the rest of the country's Republicans on the issues -- they don't care if you're gay, and they don't get too upset if you smoke weed now and then. But neither are they Libertarians with a capital 'L' -- they don't want to return to the gold standard, and they don't think Social Security is the vanguard of socialism.

So what should they do to be competitive again? Secede from the national party. Mostly, this is just changing the name, like how the Minnesota Democrats are called the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party. But more than just a new sign on the front door, this new group would have independent leadership. They would vote how they want on issues in Congress, without regard to the regular Republican leadership (kind of like now). The new name, be it "Progressive Republican" or what have you, would let suspicious hippies know that voting for their candidate doesn't mean voting for Karl Rove, or whoever the new boogieman will be on lefty blogs.

*For comparison's sake, note that in 2000, George W. Bush won three counties in Vermont alone. Vermont.