Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cole's End Game

Juan Cole made a good point on all this. What's the end-game here?

What I can't understand is the end game here. The Israelis have pledged to continue their siege of the civilians of Gaza, and have threatened to resume assassinating Hamas political leaders, along with the bombardment. The campaign of brutal assassinations launched by Ariel Sharon earlier in this decade were, Sharon, promised us, guaranteed to wipe out Hamas altogether. Do the Israelis expect the population at some point to turn against Hamas, blaming it for the blockade and the bombardment? But by destroying what was left of the Gaza middle class, surely they a throwing people into the arms of Hamas. The US experience of bombing North Vietnam and mining Haiphong Harbor, etc., was that it only stiffened Hanoi's resolve. The massive Israeli bombardment of Lebanon in 2006 did not achieve any significant objectives. In fact, Hezbollah was politically strengthened; it now sits in the Lebanese cabinet and has been recognized as a formal national guard for the south of the country. Its stock of rockets has been replenished. There is a UN buffer now, but in the past such buffers have been removed when hostilities threaten.

If the Gaza population doesn't turn on Hamas, and Israeli measures don't destroy the organization (which they helped create and fund back in the late 1980s when they wanted a foil to the secular PLO), then what? They'll just go on half-starving Gaza's children for decades? Malnourished children have diminished IQ and poor impulse control. That would make them ideal suicide bombers. Plus, sooner or later there will start to be effective boycotts of Israel in Europe and elsewhere over these war crimes. The Israeli economy would be vulnerable to such moves.

Of course, there are only 1.5 million Gazans, and they increasingly are being forced to live in Haiti-like conditions, so in the short term the Israelis can do whatever they want to them. But I can't see this ending well for the Israelis in the long term. Very few insurgencies end because one side achieves a complete military victory (I think it is about 20%). But by refusing to negotiate with Hamas, Israel and the United States leave only a military option on the table. The military option isn't going to resolve the problem by itself. Gaza is a labyrinth. Those Qassam rockets are easy to make. There is so much money sloshing around the Middle East and so many sympathetic Muslims that Gaza will be kept just barely afloat economically, making Hamas hard to dislodge. And the Israeli blockade of Gaza is so distasteful to the world that eventually there is likely to be a painful price to pay for it by the Israelis.

There is this fantasy that continually arises in the minds of western military planners, for whatever reason: that foreign pressure—including foreign military pressure—will so demoralize a native population that they will turn on their own government, destroy them, and embrace the outside aggressors.

But that never happens. Ever. I can't think of a single conflict in modern history where that has been the case. Hell, outside of maybe Herodotus I can't think of a single ancient conflict that worked that way. To believe that the Gazans will act this way defies belief.

And yes, I'm sure that's what all the anti-Hamas rhetoric is supposed to do. But it won't work. The world isn't listening. You cannot dictate people's reactions to your own use of force. You can influence them, and guide them, and hope for the best, but you cannot dictate them. Police can't do it, militaries can't do it, and you'd better believe that the State of Israel can't do it.

I think the smarter people know that, which is why I presume that the architects of this are interested more in rhetorical cover that will justify the pre-existing prejudices of domestic constintuencies. But let's not pretend it's a military strategem. It's not.

Then again, western governments haven't been thinking much about end-games for a while now, have they? Ignorance or cynical excuse-building. Your choice, I suppose.

Would You Give the Electric Chair for Spitting on the Sidewalk?

No, of course you wouldn't. That'd be ridiculous. It's entire out of proportion to both the crime and what is necessary. It'd probably deter spitting, but you'd see it as monstrous.

And, by the same token, would you kill a whole family if someone within it committed a crime? Or maybe a whole village? A whole town? No, of course you wouldn't. Not only are you still disproportionately punishing, but now you're engaged in collective punishment as well.

So why, exactly, is Whatzisname approvingly quoting some guy who says that disproportionate collective punishment is a-okay? Does this mean that we should firebomb Osaka for some bad sushi? Maybe wipe out the Chinese because your pet died a while back? Should Americans be put to the sword because of Abu Gharib?

There are good reasons why collective disproportionate response is almost universally seen as ethically unacceptable. I do still think that Hamas was unutterably stupid for engaging in their brinksmanship. I also still cannot and will not endorse this nonsense, especially from an-increasingly-deserving-of-scare-quotes "liberal". Being a liberal takes more than a party membership.

Especially one who can't figure out that saying this:

Although Hamas won the Palestinian elections, it took Gaza by force, in the process hurling rival Fatah members down to their death from high-rises and shooting others in the knees with the declared aim of maiming them. Some democracy.

In any case, Israel in fact “recognizes,” de facto, Hamas’ rule in Gaza, which is precisely why it is justified in attacking the Hamas-ruled Strip, recognizing that it is indeed being governed by a terror entity. Israel did not launch the operation because Hamas is in power there – rather, it did so because Hamas is a terrorist organization that has deliberately targeted civilians with thousands of rockets over the past 8 years.
Do either of these men seriously understand what they're doing by acknowledging that governments can be so easily labelled "terror entities?"

(Nobody tell Noam Chomsky; he'd die laughing!)

Sure, they're probably just being intellectually dishonest. They're only focusing on the civilian mortality numbers, and deliberately avoiding the civilian casualty numbers, which are catastrophic. They're playing that ridiculous game of insisting that the other guy's choices excuse your own. And whatzisname is pulling that stupid trick of whining about the term 'militant' to try to distract from real issues.

But it's also possible they actually believe this stuff. And I, for one, wouldn't want either Israeli or Canadian leaders advised by men who think that decimation is a policy.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Rather-Gate Redux?

So the old conventional wisdom that Bush was vindicated and Dan Rather disgraced over that "Bush skipped out on his National Guard duties" stuff is, apparently, once again up for grabs. Not only that, but he's going whole-hog on CBS bowing to conservative political interference:

A $70m lawsuit filed by Dan Rather, the veteran former newsreader for CBS Evening News, against his old network is reopening the debate over alleged favourable treatment that Bush received when he served in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam war. Bush had hoped that this controversy had been dealt with once and for all during the 2004 election.

Eight weeks before the 2004 presidential poll, Rather broadcast a story based on newly discovered documents which appeared to show that Bush, whose service in the Texas Air National Guard ensured that he did not have to fight in Vietnam, had barely turned up even for basic duty. After an outcry from the White House and conservative bloggers who claimed that the report had been based on falsified documents, CBS retracted the story, saying that the documents' authenticity could not be verified. Rather, who had been with CBS for decades and was one of the most familiar faces in American journalism, was fired by the network the day after the 2004 election.

He claims breach of contract against CBS. He has already spent $2m on his case, which is likely to go to court early next year. Rather contends not only that his report was true - "What the documents stated has never been denied, by the president or anyone around him," he says - but that CBS succumbed to political pressure from conservatives to get the report discredited and to have him fired. He also claims that a panel set up by CBS to investigate the story was packed with conservatives in an effort to placate the White House. Part of the reason for that, he suggests, was that Viacom, a sister company of CBS, knew that it would have important broadcasting regulatory issues to deal with during Bush's second term.

Among those CBS considered for the panel to investigate Rather's report were far-right broadcasters Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.

"CBS broke with long-standing tradition at CBS News and elsewhere of standing up to political pressure," says Rather. "And, there's no joy in saying it, they caved ... in an effort to placate their regulators in Washington."

Rather's lawsuit makes other serious allegations about CBS succumbing to political pressure in an attempt to suppress important news stories. In particular, he says that his bosses at CBS tried to stop him reporting evidence of torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. According to Rather's lawsuit, "for weeks they refused to grant permission to air the story" and "continued to raise the goalposts, insisting on additional substantiation". Rather also claims that General Richard Meyers, then head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top military official in the US, called him at home and asked him not to broadcast the story, saying that it would "endanger national security".

Rather says that CBS only agreed to allow him to broadcast the story when it found out that Seymour Hersh would be writing about it in the New Yorker magazine. Even then, Rather claims, CBS tried to bury it. "CBS imposed the unusual restrictions that the story would be aired only once, that it would not be preceded by on-air promotion, and that it would not be referenced on the CBS Evening News," he says.

It's good that Rather's done this. A lot of us out in the wild were never satisfied with the idea that Rather was somehow "discredited". It's clear he was under enormous political pressure from conservatives, and a lot of the gotchas they used to try to discredit the story were never as sound as some pretended. It's also clear that CBS had decided to play ball, and were willing to do and say whatever it took to ensure that their competitors didn't benefit from broadcast regulation changes at their expense.

With conservatives practically discredited, it might be the right time to revisit this story, and make the case that bowing to conservative pressure is not going to benefit you in the long run. A reputation for integrity is worth more in that long run than a friendly White House.

Samuel Huntington Passed Away

First, I hope you all had a great holiday season.

Second, Samuel Huntington, the father of the "clash of civilizations", died Wednesday at age 81. I don't agree with a lot of what he wrote, and I find that as time goes on I agree with less and less; but I cannot disagree that he has had a profound influence on the field of International Relations as a whole, and International Security specifically. His ideas will likely long outlive anybody alive as I write this, but one can only hope that his more fearsome predictions will have proven to be untrue.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Gazans Fire Rockets at Israel

...Israel drops big bombs on Gaza. About 200 people died when Israel launched air strikes against pretty much every Hamas security installation in Gaza, with about 270 wounded.

The Gazan response? More rockets.

There seems to be no plan here. The Israelis should know by now that air strikes of this sort never deter attacks by whatever fraction of Hamas decides they want to prove how anti-Israeli they are to their comrades. To the extent that they simply destroy capability they may have some utility, but we're talking tiny, almost man-portable rockets here, not ICBMs. You're never going to destroy the capability of using those.

And, naturally, the rocket attacks are completely pointless. An Israeli tragically died recently and a number have been wounded, but they're simply not going to do any significant or lasting damage. At best they might have driven Israelis away from the border, but this has been going on for YEARS. At this point those Israelis that are left within rocket distance are those who are not going to be frightened into leaving their homes.

So we have a failure of credibility and deterrence all around. Israel will not get what it wants, and Hamas (or whatever fraction of them still thinks this is worthwhile) will not get what they want. The only thing either will get is a higher body count.

Edit: Okay, the other thing they'll get is propaganda points for their various talking-head proxies, which seems sometimes to be the only damned thing they care about in the first place. Expect Israeli representatives to go on and on about the "need for security" and "show of strength" and that sort of thing, carefully ignoring the question of how, exactly, this is supposed to deter anybody. Expect Palestinians to focus on the body count and the blockade and suchlike, while delicately tiptoeing around the fact that it was, yes, serial rocket attacks into Israel that provided Israel the reason/justification/excuse in the first place.

And expect both to be whining like children about "who started it."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Rewritten Whatzisname

"Again, to my Democratic friends: get over your Fox News fixation."

Yeah, the Canadian version sounds just as goofy.

Look: Only a few months after an election where critical, game-changing events happened on an opinion journalist's show, said journalist (and his network) were rewarded with a plum patronage position. Mike Duffy is the guy who probably worked the hardest out of anybody to scuttle the Liberals' chances; he was a balder, fatter O'Reilly except with poorer production values. And now he's a Conservative Senator.

Not that Iggy and his 'centrist' Liberal faction probably minded, considering they were—as is becoming awfully apparently—all for the scuttling, since they were confident of winning the prize. Duffy did them as much of a service as he did Harper. And since this is whatzisname we're talking about- he has no problem with playing nice with small 'c' conservatives as long as they haven't crossed him or his superiors. Harper was his best friend, too, until Harper made the mistake of letting his contempt for Chretien slip.

But, hey, what's done is done. Dion's gone, Iraq-or-bust-Iggy won the crown (kinda), and everybody's happy, right? Well, maybe not actual liberals, who await with baited breath what this "move to the center" is supposed to mean, exactly, but everybody else, right? Certainly CTV is happy: they're about the only journalists around with a viable retirement path!

I, for one, can't wait to see what Warren's reaction is when Fox North savages his guy. The Dems learned that lesson. The Liberals will too.

Downward Shift

From a different entry on Daily Kos, there was a reference to this Bloomberg report about the retail sector. By and large sales are dismal, but take a look at this:

J.C. Penney Co., Nordstrom Inc. and Gap Inc. all reported sales drops of 10 percent or more at stores open at least a year. The decreases were less than some analysts estimated after 50 percent-off discounts lured customers grappling with the U.S. recession. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. posted a 3.4 percent gain, beating its forecast...

...Limited Brands Inc., the owner of the Victoria’s Secret chain, dropped 12 percent, while Costco Wholesale Corp.’s global sales declined 5 percent. Abercrombie & Fitch Co. plunged 28 percent. The teen apparel retailer, known for its shirtless male models, said last month it won’t use promotions to lure shoppers to protect its brand image.

"The news out of Costco and Wal-Mart wasn’t really that bad,: Jessica Hoversen, a foreign-exchange and fixed-income analyst at MF Global Ltd. in Chicago, said in a Bloomberg Television interview. "That’s definitely a positive, and Black Friday sales weren’t as bad as everyone thought they would be"...

...The comparable-store sales gain by Wal-Mart beat the world’s largest retailer’s forecast for a 1 percent to 3 percent increase and the average analyst estimate of 2 percent, according to Swampscott, Massachusetts-based Retail Metrics.

“Aggressive rollback initiatives helped kick off solid sales for the month,” Wal-Mart said. Home furnishings, apparel and electronics sales improved.

“Wal-Mart’s pricing message was just overwhelming on Black Friday, it was all about value,” said Sarah Henry, a retail analyst with MFC Global Investment Management.
And finally?

Higher-income consumers are reining in spending because of stock market declines, said Henry. Neiman Marcus Group Inc. sales fell 12 percent, while Saks had a 5.2 percent drop, better than the 20 percent fall estimated by analysts. Nordstrom Inc. sales retreated 16 percent.

December sales may see a lull until the week before Christmas, said Henry.
All this is the opposite of what had happened during previous Bush downturns. Then, the sales for Wal-Mart declined, whereas the high-end stuff tended to remain the same or better, indicating that the old truism about "the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer" was if anything an understatement.

But look at what's happening now. In an era where lower-income people are being hit hard, numbers for Wal-Mart and Costco are either beating projections or narrowly missing them, whereas Neiman Marcus, Saks and Nordstrom are taking it on the chin. That suggests that middle-class and perhaps even upper-middle-class consumers are sucking it up and heading out to the discounters.

It makes sense since their spending was buoyed by stock holdings, free credit and exploding home values--all of which are gone--but it paints a grim picture for the future. It suggests that the characteristics of American consumption may have been severely changed, and without American consumption, the foundations of the global market system become very weak indeed. Sure, it'll adapt, but what will the new system look like?

edit: The DKos diary was about the pathetic husk of a newspaper that the LA Times has become, by the way. Yes, I'm a blogger, and I've been one for longer than the vast, vast majority of the ones you see out there...and the decline of the newspaper bothers the hell out of me. Blogs are not a substitute for real journalism. They are, still, by-and-large personal opinion pieces.

The fact that the real journalists of the world end up looking for work while the right-wing blowhards keep their bought-and-paid-for conservative-funded bully pulpits is NOT a good thing.

Looks like Al Won

Daily Kos sez Franken's up by 48

The Minnesota Canvassing Board today allocated the rest of the withdrawn challenged ballots, and Al Franken now unofficially leads by 48 votes. Crazy shit.

The Coleman campaign tried to get the board to reconsider some of its decisions, but was rebuffed.

Left to be decided -- 1) the claim by the Coleman campaign that some absentee ballots were counted twice (Nate discusses that issue here), and 2) the fate of over 1,000 improperly excluded absentee ballots.

The duplicate ballot issue is a hail mary by the Coleman campaign, as it's not expected to be necessarily favor its campaign, while the improperly excluded absentee ballots are expected to heavily favor Franken.

Al has won this thing. At this point it's just a matter of waiting out all the legal challenges and appeals.

Any time someone tells you "well, my vote just doesn't matter", point them towards this and say "yes it does, idiot." You don't know whether it'll be five thousand votes or just five votes. All you can do is do your part.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Six Billion in Bonuses for Seven Billion in Profits

If you hadn't already realized that the whole Wall Street mess was all about enriching the brokers and "analysts" that put Ameica into this mess, let me point you to Kos and the Times:

The five largest firms on the street handed out $120 billion in bonuses over a five year period -- more than the GDP of 150 nations.

Still, we are talking 2006. Those were the fat years, right?

In all, Merrill handed out $5 billion to $6 billion in bonuses that year. A 20-something analyst with a base salary of $130,000 collected a bonus of $250,000. And a 30-something trader with a $180,000 salary got $5 million.

But Merrill’s record earnings in 2006 — $7.5 billion — turned out to be a mirage. The company has since lost three times that amount, largely because the mortgage investments that supposedly had powered some of those profits plunged in value.

Unlike the earnings, however, the bonuses have not been reversed.

First, how astounding is it that an investment firm handed out $6 billion in bonuses on $7.5 billion in profits? It certainly shows where their priorities lay. And of course the "profit" was generated by enormously overvaluing derivatives, swaps, and bundled securities that were worth more in their fevered imaginations that in the real world. In other words, the reputable companies on Wall Street inflated their values ridiculously, paid themselves insane levels of bonuses based on the numbers they generated, left taxpayers holding the bag, and cried all the way to their multimillion dollar second or third homes.

The difference between what Bernard Madoff did and what the rest of Wall Street has done is little more than a question of semantics. Heck, at least most of Madoff's squandered billions went to paying off investors in his schemes.

Funny that the Republicans didn't stage a protest over the investment firms handing out enough bonuses that they could have covered most of the mortgages in foreclosure. But then, it's not like these guys were in a union and hauling down those fat $23 an hour paychecks.

And, more importantly, it's not like the Republicans' golf buddies, frat-mates, families and college chums were in those unions. While everybody's getting deservedly angry over the Rick Warren anti-gay kind of Republican, remember that there are only two kinds of Republican, and this is the other kind of Republican. They're also bastards, but for a completely different reason.

(Also remember that these guys and their aspirational suck-ups are the ones bleating about bootstraps and the market. Always remember that.)

Edit: Title fixed.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Obama is Time's Person of the Year

Yeah, that was pretty much a given. Whether or not I agree with his cabinet choices—and I'm feeling a lot better about them these days after the Chu choice—his story was inarguably the most important single person's story of 2008.

Yes, the crash was probably a more important story, but then again, the crash also proved decisive in washing away any remaining fears about Obama's "communism". After all, if capitalism has failed so badly that Tom Friedman is starting to draw comparisons between Communist China and America where China comes off looking better, screaming about "pinkos" just isn't going to get much traction.

Obama rose from an also-ran candidate as of this time last year to the President-Elect of the United States of America, and did it by understanding its electoral machinery and national mood more completely than any candidate in living memory. One can only hope that he'll keep it up.

"a criminal enterprise launched by madmen cheered on by a chorus of fools and cowards"

Go Matthew!

I think it’s crucially important not to allow these positive sentiments about soldiers and marines to deteriorate into sentimentality about the mission they were undertaking in Iraq. The Iraqi people didn’t ask to be liberarted conquered and occupied by a foreign power that destroyed their country and then immediately set about meddling in Iraqi politics and until just a month or so ago was struggling mightily for the right to permanently station military forces on Iraqi soil contrary to the will of the Iraqi public. Not only did Iraqis not ask for such services, but nobody anywhere has ever asked for them.

The harsh reality is that this was not a noble undertaking done for good reasons. It was a criminal enterprise launched by madmen cheered on by a chorus of fools and cowards. And it’s seen as such by virtually everyone all around the world — including but by no means limited to the Arab world. But it’s impolitic to point this out in the United States, and it’s clear that even a president-elect who had the wisdom not to be suckered in by the War Fever of 2002 has no intention of really acting to marginalize the bad actors. Which, I think, makes sense for his political objectives. But if Americans want to play a constructive role in world affairs, it’s vitally important for us to get in touch with the reality of what the past eight years of US foreign policy have been and how they’re seen and understood by people who aren’t stirred by the shibboleths of American patriotism.
Bolding's mine. And, like Matthew, I'm extraordinarily concerned that nobody's trying to "marginalize the bad actors" for reasons that should be quickly obvious: If there are no consequences, they'll do it again, since the rewards for being on "the right side" were so handsome.

Hell, they still are. The biggest lesson I've learned from all of this--and it's a timeless one I should never have forgotten--is that being right is absolutely irrelevant. What matters is whether or not your position is popular. A position that's unpopular but correct will be marginalized; a position that is popular but incorrect will be apologized until the ends of time. Politics: it's the stereotypical high-school drama writ large.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

American Monarchy

Kos is peeved at Caroline Kennedy:

It's clear that a significant contingent on this site believes that Caroline Kennedy should be senator because her last name is "Kennedy", and because they "like her". It is unseemly that she's being considered for the seat simply because of her family lineage and her ability to pick up the phone and ring the governor, but pointing that out is "bashing Caroline". It's all ridiculous, and yes, depressing.

Because as much as people on this site and others fight for a more small "d" democratic political system, one that isn't so tilted in favor of the rich, famous, and connected, there will always be a significant majority that is desperate for an American monarchy and will discard notions of meritocracy to reward their favorite political dynasty.
The answer, I believe, is simpler than that.

People like familiarity. People are comfortable with familiarity. They prefer to be ruled by those they think they know instead of those they find alien. (Obama is a master at making people think they know him; he doesn't buck this at all.)

And who, honestly, is more familiar than a celebrity? People often know more about celebrities than those in their own lives. They're told news about them daily, know every detail about their habits, and they're features on the television, which has always been arbiter of what's important, significant, and acceptable among Americans. The stuff on television is more real than anything in the real world.

In these frightening times, it's quite understandable. Why wouldn't people be attracted to rule by familiar celebrity? Why not an American Monarchy that's knowable and predictable?

Even if you don't agree with it, it's not a complicated concept.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Wee Bit of a Folllowup

I made fun of Andrew Coyne over on Macleans for some ridiculous market fundamentalist hypocrisy, and since posting links there is always a bit tricky, I'll put my confirmatory sources here in a reprint with links attached:

Deficit financing? During a recession?


That sounds like Keynesianism, and that man Keynes was not only a communist but a sissy besides! Rock-ribbed (small-l) libertarians like Coyne will not stand for this! Especially considering Coyne has demonstrated that he can go it alone, without any intervention by the goverm…

[frantic whispering]

what’s that?

[more whispering]

Coyne regularly appears on government-financed public television, and edits a magazine that as, of 2006-2007, received $3.1 million from the “Publications Assistance Program” and $400,000 from the “Support for Editorial Content” component of the Canada Magazine Fund?

And also benefits from all the spending the government does on keeping foreign publications out and piracy prevention?

[confirmatory whisper]

Whoops. Er, never mind then.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Auto Bailout Fails in Senate

I think, honestly, that the Dems should start raising the question of the "nuclear option." The Republicans' obstinacy is harming the entire country. Especially because they're using that ridiculous "$69 per hour" dodge that lumps together American auto companies' obligations to pensioners in with current salaries.

It smacks of a ploy to try to screw pensioners out of their money- certainly in line with that bunch, but still odious enough to make me wonder if the filibuster is a luxury the times cannot afford.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Outliers is Amazing

It's also tragically depressing, since it shows just where the advantages for "outliers" actually come from, and it's not something they're born with.

More later, perhaps, but I'd definitely recommend it. In a great way it's even changed how I think about politics and economics, far more so than anything else Gladwell has written.

So Much For Democracy

Without a single delegate or member vote cast.

Without a single public debate.

Without a word about what he's supposed to do.

Without anything even approaching a platform.

Without any explanation given about what "moving to the center" is supposed to mean.

That's how he won.

Were the Democrats to have gone through a similar exercise, they would have nominated Hillary. And they would have lost.

I wish the Canadian Liberals all the best. But I no longer am convinced they're worth my time. I had fixed on them because I had thought that they were the last bastion of honest-to-goodness liberal democratic thought and belief in the west, without its tainting by "I got mine, Jack" market fundamentalism in Australia or Europe and its association with communism in America. Instead, it appears that they are, if anything, just like the Liberal Democrats in Japan: a party of power and privilege that pays lip service to democracy; and not even that to their grassroots.

I hope, for Canada's sake and liberalism's sake, that I'm wrong about this choice of an arch-supporter of torture, adventurism, and abandonment of progressive and liberal principles in the name of a fanciful "move to the center".

But I don't expect to be.

Good luck. Eh.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Drama in Canada Appears Over

With Parliament prorogued (put on hold) until the new year, PM Stephen Harper's job is saved for the time being. And perhaps longer than that. There are already rumors and whispers that the Liberals are going to crack apart over the thing, especially considering the dubious quality of Stephane Dion's response speech yesterday.

(Nobody on his staff, apparently, had access to a broadcast-quality camera. So he ended up putting out what amounted to a YouTube video.)

I don't think this is good, but I sympathize with Canada's governor general, Michaelle Jean, who was put in an impossible situation over this. She may have made the only choice available to her, and it's the job of the opposition to make Harper wear it.

I do think, though, that the Liberals are missing something. Whether or not any individual Liberal supports the Coalition or not, they're all going to wear it on election day. Paul Martin showed that you can't distance yourself from your party's past, so I'm shocked that Michael Ignatieff is making obvious moves to distance himself from this situation. It won't help him win over angry Conservatives, and it certainly won't bolster his already-poor reputation among Canadian progressives. It's political gibberish.

(Well, fine, political gibberish from Ignatieff isn't exactly "shocking" per se.)

Oh, and speaking of gibberish, check out Bloggin' Tory Stephen Taylor over at Macleans. Their site was one of the better places for discussion of Canadian politics, since the Globe requires a ream of personal information, the Star is dull as dishwater, the CBC plays host to roaming packs of howler monkeys and the National Post's commentariat are just mad.

But, as is usually the case, a magazine has brought some bleating conservative idiot on board, and now he'll ruin everything.

Ah well, I'll just go back to complaining about Obama's cabinet picks.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Less Happy About the Clinton Nomination

I still don't get it. She was pretty much rejected because of her foreign policy positions. So, of all the possible positions she gets...Secretary of State? Sure, I can bringing her in, but it remains a ludicrous choice that isn't going to help America's relations much.

It'll be Dion

Looks like the Liberals have figured out where they're going. Dion will be PM, not Ignatieff.

I'd still say this was pretty inevitable. Neither Rae nor Ignatieff nor LeBlanc (nor any other potential leadership contender, and there may be several now that 24 Sussex is the prize) could possibly grant the other one the massive advantage that would be de-facto incumbency.

Dion was the only sensible choice. And I still suspect that he won't actually be a bad one.

Now THIS Appointment, I Likes

Wee bit dated, but Obama's appointing prominent Net Neutrality advocates to his FCC review team.

The Obama-Biden transition team on Friday named two long-time net neutrality advocates to head up its Federal Communications Commission Review team.
Susan Crawford, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, and Kevin Werbach, a former FCC staffer, organizer of the annual tech conference Supernova, and a Wharton professor, will lead the Obama-Biden transition team's review of the FCC.

Both are highly-regarded outside-the-Beltway experts in telecom policy, and they've both been pretty harsh critics of the Bush administration's telecom policies in the past year.

Their jobs will be to review the agency and arm the president, vice president and prospective agency leader with all the information needed to make key decisions as they prepare to take over.

The choice of the duo strongly signals an entirely different approach to the incumbent-friendly telecom policymaking that's characterized most of the past eight-years at the FCC.

This March at a telecom policy conference in Hollywood, for example, Crawford bluntly told Ambassador Richard Russell, the White House' associate director on science and technology policy, that he lived in a fantasyland when he asserted that the United States' roll-out of broadband is going well.

"I think it's magical thinking to imagine that we're somehow doing fine here, and I just want to make sure that we recognize that even the [International Telecommunications Union] says that between 1999 and 2006 we skipped form third to 20th place in penetration," she noted acidly at the annual Tech Policy Summit, a gathering of top officials in the world of tech policy (of which Wired.com was a participant and sponsor.)

"We're not doing at all well for reasons that mostly have to do with the fact that we failed to have a US industrial policy pushing forward high-speed internet access penetration, and there's been completely inadequate competition in this country for high speed internet access," she said.

And in a final introductory statement during her talk (that's likely to send shivers down the spines of telecom company executives) she said that she believes internet access is a "utility."

"This is like water, electricity, sewage systems: Something that each and all Americans need to succeed in the modern era. We're doing very badly, and we're in a dismal state," she said at the time.
Now that last comment really, really speaks to me. Internet access is absolutely needed to succeed, and is as much a utility as anything.


Well now, this is even more interesting. Although Rae figures have denied it (and why wouldn't they?) the current hot rumor is that Count Ignatieff will be crowned, Bob Rae will step aside for a courtier position, and who knows what happens to Stephane.

I have serious, serious reservations about the man, particularly his foreign policy. I think his torture-as-astrology justification for "coercive interrogation" is naive, and his attitude towards Iraq critics insulting. His gaffe on Lebanon said more than he admits, and I can understand why Ukrainians did their level best to keep him from getting his seat in the first place.

But on the worst issue—his insistence that the party should be dragged to the right—he would now find himself in an intensely difficult situation. After all, the Liberals would be part of a left coalition, which means he couldn't drag the party to the right lest he face the whole thing falling apart on his watch. If anything, he'd have to swallow his pride and watch as the locus of power shifted to the left. And as his foreign policy would be subject to a veto by Social Democrats, of all things, he would be forced to stifle any and every tendency towards torture apologias, foreign adventurism, and neoliberal excess. He'd also need to squelch that imperious attitude, as it wouldn't wear well with the coalition partners.

In short, he'd have to give up pretty much everything that I find objectionable about the man, as he grins and bears the weight of a coalition that really has nothing to do with the positions of Iggy-the-author and Iggy-the-campaigner.

I could work with that.

Edit: On the other hand, I'm becoming more and more convinced that he's holding the entire deal hostage because he can't countenance the idea of Dion becoming PM. Which makes sense, considering his faction's behavior, but I can't imagine anybody would give a tinker's damn for his chances were he the guy that kept the Liberals away from forming a government out of his own pique, and left them to the tender mercies of "kick 'em while they're down" Harper.

The Coalition is Official

Well, well, well. Guess it's on after all.