Monday, August 31, 2009

# Posted 11:03 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHY ARE JEWS LIBERALS? That is the title of Norman Podhoretz's new book. It won't be out until September 8th, but the current issue of Commentary presents a symposium on the book, with contributions from prominent Jewish authors, mostly conservatives.

Best I can tell from the symposium, the main thrust of Podhoretz's argument is that American Jews have confused the Torah of Judaism with "the Torah of liberalism". Authentic Jewish values have been displaced by liberal ideology, masquerading as a viable substitute for religion. If that is Podhoretz's argument, then I completely disagree. Either way, I'd like to offer some of my own thoughts on why American Jews are so liberal, based on my twenty-plus years as a liberal American Jew and my shorter years as a part of the Republican Jewish minority.

If you knit together the arguments made by the participants in Commentary's symposium, you get a very robust picture of why American Jews are overwhelmingly liberal. Rabbi David Wolpe observes that Jews
Have felt like outsiders for three millenia...somewhere in the Jewish soul, there lurks a scintilla of suspicion as to our Americanness.
Or to put it slighly differently, there lurks considerable suspicion as to whether "real" Americans sincere truly accept American Jews as part of America, or merely tolerate them because America demands a certain tolerance.

I grew up Jewish in New York. My family belonged to a liberal Conservative congregation, while my brothers and I attended a much more conservative Orthodox day school. On both sides of the divide, there was always considerable doubt as to what the goyim truly believed. We insisted that we were 100% American, but we insisted so forcefully because we were never sure.

Liberalism is the discourse of the outsider, of the victim and of diversity. Is it any surprise that a people of outsiders, with a long history of victimization, now subscribe to a political philosophy that demands respect for all forms of diversity?

To appreciate more fully the way in which American Jews think of themselves as outsiders, it is essential to consider their relationship with Christianity. As Michael Medved points out, there is no question which party identifies itself more closely with Christian values and which with secular ones. I think Medved pushes his argument way too far when he writes that in America today, "the sole basis of Jewish identity involves rejection of Christianity."

But American Jews' deep and abiding fear of Christianity -- especially evangelicals -- should not be underestimated. Growing up in Jewish New York, I shared the conviction that somewhere out in Middle America, there were tens of millions of Christian conservatives who wanted to write the Bible into law. Their Bible, the one that had served so often as a pretext for pervasive anti-Semitism. The only way to protect our Bible and ourselves was to fight aggressively for a secular America with an iron wall separating church and state.

Medved notes that the only Jews who reliably vote Republican are the Orthodox, who have considerable reservations about a full-on commitment to secular values. I think that's right. In my experience, Orthodox Jews share a deep fear of Christianity, but also sense that liberalism does not respect their way of life. They are outsiders among the outsiders. With no outlet for their values, they are more inclined to vote their interests, which are better represented by Republicans.

Jonathan Sarna, the Brandeis historian, adds another critical piece to the puzzle of Jewish politics. In order to understand why American Jews are so liberal, one cannot remain narrowly focused on politics in America. In Britain, Canada and Australia, Jews are evenly divided between center-right and center-left. The critical difference between those countries and our own is that only the United States has a left-of-center party that is so vocally pro-Israel. The hard left may not have much nice to say about Israel, but Democratic politicians are almost as enthusiastic as their Republican counterparts.

All I would add to Sarna's observation is that the relentless efforts of American Jews are one of the principal reasons that the Democratic Party is so pro-Israel. Thus, American Jews have reinforced their own commitment to liberal politics by ensuring that liberal politics reflected their commitment to Israel.

The liberalism of American Jews should not be a mystery. The essential concerns of the American Jewish community are also essential concerns of the Democratic Party: respect for diversity, the firm separation of religion and politics, and an enduring commitment to Israel.

Republicans will never be able to talk about diversity in the same way Democrats -- nor should they. Barack Obama may be antagonizing many supporters of Israel at the moment, but I suspect he will not change the nature of his party.

Only when it comes to church and state is there potential for a change of heart among American Jews. I believe that Jewish fears of evangelical Christianity are so powerful because American Jews don't know much about evangelicals and don't have much occasion to interact. There is no reason to expect that will change any time soon, even if change would be for the good.

Until then, Jewish Republicans will have to enjoy being outsiders.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 11:00 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HAS DARTH CHENEY INFILTRATED THE WASHINGTON POST? I just want to provide a few more quotations from the same article about Khalid Sheik Mohammed that Sonny quoted earlier. I really never thought I'd read anything like it in the Post or any other leading American paper. Here goes:
These [accounts] provide previously unpublicized details about the transformation of the man known to U.S. officials as KSM from an avowed and truculent enemy of the United States into what the CIA called its "preeminent source" on al-Qaeda. This reversal occurred after Mohammed was subjected to simulated drowning and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other harsh interrogation techniques.

"KSM, an accomplished resistor, provided only a few intelligence reports prior to the use of the waterboard, and analysis of that information revealed that much of it was outdated, inaccurate or incomplete," according to newly unclassified portions of a 2004 report by the CIA's then-inspector general released Monday by the Justice Department.

The debate over the effectiveness of subjecting detainees to psychological and physical pressure is in some ways irresolvable, because it is impossible to know whether less coercive methods would have achieved the same result. But for defenders of waterboarding, the evidence is clear: Mohammed cooperated, and to an extraordinary extent, only when his spirit was broken in the month after his capture March 1, 2003, as the inspector general's report and other documents released this week indicate.
I am anti-torture and, like John McCain, I think the Bush administration made a lot of bad calls on the subjects of interrogation and detention. But many other critics have assumed there is no real debate to be had because the alleged benefits of harsh interrogation are just a delusion conjured up by Cheney & Co. to defend the indefensible.

That is why this article in the Post is so unusual. It tells us that the tradeoffs between liberty and security are real. Of course, that point is hardly original. Yet few mainstream publications have granted that the actions taken by the Bush administration reflected a serious, evidence-based evaluation of how best to satisfy our needs for both liberty and security.

There is still plenty of room to argue that those actions were wrong. But it is no longer sufficient to dismiss them with contempt and assume that the debate ends there.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Thursday, August 27, 2009

# Posted 11:55 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HEALTHCARE: OBAMA VS. SCHUMER: Give Chuck Schumer credit. He was trying really, really -- yes, really -- hard to pretend that the President hasn't waffled on the public option, backing away from his commitment to liberal reform. Here's Schumer and David Gregory on Meet the Press:

MR. GREGORY: You're not backing away from [the public option], but there is concern within the Democratic Party that President Obama is backing away. Here was the headline in the New York Post this week that spoke for a lot of liberals, actually, both publicly and privately: "Sellout! Liberals howl as Bam `caves' on the health plan." This is what the reference was to, the president's weekly radio address back in July during which he said this.

(Videotape, July 18, 2009)

PRES. OBAMA: That's why any plan I sign must include an insurance exchange, a one-stop shopping marketplace where you can compare the benefits, costs and track records of a variety of plans--including a public option to increase competition and keep insurance companies honest--and choose what's best for your family.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: That was July. But just a week ago the president said this.

(Videotape, August 15, 2009)

PRES. OBAMA: All I'm saying is, though, that the public option, whether we have it or we don't have it, is not the entirety of healthcare reform. This is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: You say it's essential, Senator Schumer; the president saying now it's just a sliver. He's backed away, hasn't he?

SEN. SCHUMER: I don't think he's backed away at all.
Can Schumer persuade you that there's no contradiction? Here's the rest of his answer:

I've talked to the president personally about this in the last few weeks. He believes strongly in the public option. Obviously he is working hard to get a bipartisan bill, because that would be a better bill. But I believe that at the end of the day we will have a public option. And frankly, I believe we could get a public option that could be passed with the 60 Democratic votes we had. A level playing field public option, where the public option competes on a level playing field with the insurance companies, was backed in the House by both Blue Dog Democrats and more liberal Democrats. And I think that's the direction we're going to end up in.
Is this a word game, or is Schumer wearing rose-colored glasses? Democratic negotiator, Sen. Kent Conrad said again on Sunday that there simply are not the votes to pass the public option. If the Senate supports a co-op based reform plan, will Schumer tells us that counts as a "level playing field public option"? The only thing I'm counting on is a surprise.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 11:53 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AFGHANSITAN: NO, WE ARE...SORT OF...NATION BUILDING? I've been looking for some clarity on our strategy in Afghanistan. The President seems to have one foot on each side of the fence. Now it seems the military brass is a bit confused. Here's Adm. Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Meet the Press:

MR. GREGORY: We're rebuilding this nation?

ADM. MULLEN: To a certain degree there is, there is some of that going on.

MR. GREGORY: Is that what the American people signed up for?

ADM. MULLEN: No, I'm--right now the American people signed up, I think, for support of getting at those who threaten us. And, and to the degree that, that the Afghan people's security and the ability to ensure that a safe haven doesn't recur in Afghanistan, there's focus on some degree of making sure security's OK, making sure governance moves in the right direction and developing an, an economy which will underpin their future.
Those last couple sentences are actually pretty coherent, although less than eloquent. If we don't want the Taliban and Al Qaeda to have safe havens in Afghanistan, then our strategy has to extend to political and economic development as well as military action. But clearly, Adm. Mullen knows that he isn't supposed to call that nation-building.

The President pays constant lip service to how difficult the road ahead will be in Afghanistan. He insists "The road ahead will be long. There will be difficult days."
Am I for nation-building? Yes, but. Securing the people is the number one objective of counterinsurgency. Politics is integral to counterinsurgency operations and economics are important as well, although our economic objectives have more to do with restoring normalcy than fighting poverty.

'Nation-building' is an unfair terms since its connotations are so ambitious. Almost by definition, nation-building is the unrealistic pursuit of Jeffersonian democracy and 21st century capitalism in the backwaters of the developing world. Yet at the same time, he refuses to level about the costs of the war by saying that our purpose is no broader than "to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan."

Public support for the war is evaporating, mainly on Obama's side of the aisle. The chances of rebuilding it are low if there's no straight talk coming from the White House.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 11:51 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE MYSTERY OF A "LIBERAL CONSERVATIVE" FOREIGN POLICY: Will Inboden ably explores the mystery of what British foreign policy will look like once the Tories take charge (since everyone in London knows the will). Will explains why, from a British perspective, it actually makes a certain amount of sense for the Tories to talk about having a "liberal Conservative" foreign policy." Still, its contents are more than somewhat vague. Will writes,
For all of David Cameron and the Conservatives' political success in becoming poised to win nationwide elections, their policy priorities remain elusively vague. This is certainly true on domestic policy, but even more so on foreign policy, which remains an enigma to many British observers. The politics of this are understandable. Why spell out specific policies which might elicit criticism and turn off some voters, especially when Gordon Brown's manifest governing failures make almost any opposition party look good in comparison?
An opposition party coming to power without making clear what it actually stands for? Just by attacking the unpopular incumbent? In a country that is one of the world's great democracies? Perish the thought!

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

# Posted 9:11 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HAPPY BLOGIVERSARY, KEVIN! It's been seven years now that Kevin Drum's been blogging. His story says something great about the blogosphere.

Some of the early bloggers were grad students in their pajamas. (Why is everyone looking at me?!?!?) In contrast, Kevin had a successful career in business, then decided to try his hand at blogging in his free time. His good nature, command of details and overall intelligence rapidly brought in a growing audience. Eventually, Kevin accepted an offer from the Washington Monthly and has been blogging professionally ever since.

This is exactly what the blogosphere was supposed to do. It was supposed to open political debate to intelligent people who deserved a say but never made commentary a vocation.

I got an e-mail from Kevin shortly after he started blogging. He said he read my blog and maybe I'd be interested in his. I most definitely was. On occasional visits to California, I got to meet Kevin in person. He even had a bloggers' dinner at his home.

I'm curious if new bloggers still make connections that way. It was all very casual back then. We were like model train enthusiasts, or hobbyists of some other sort that people don't exactly understand. We felt like we had something in common, even though we'd never met.

With blogging so widespread, I'm guessing that people don't feel a connection to each other just because they blog about politics. On the other hand, it's getting more and more normal to become real friends with people you know online.

In the old days -- way back, almost seven years ago, when I was young -- I think bloggers were a lot more optimistic about the potential for raising the level of debate across party lines. I get the sense that Kevin isn't all that upbeat anymore.

Some people think bloggers are the problem, not the cure. I think Kevin might suggest that the problem is partisanship, primarily on one side of the aisle. Personally, I think it's just the way democracy is. Technology won't change it.

But even if the new era of civility hasn't begun, I think blogging has done opened some very important doors. Seven years from now, I hope I'm still reading Kevin Drum.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 9:08 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

If you read accounts of the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, people generally always seem to think that American and Saudi and Pakistani support for the Mujahedeen was an important factor. I don’t see anyone saying “it was all a big waste of time and the same stuff would have happened anyway.”
Ask and ye shall receive! Two days after Matt put up his question, Fred Kagan posted a detailed look at the Soviet campaign in Afghanistan. So how important was US support for the Mujahideen in the 1980s?
Urban legend has it that the introduction of American Stinger MANPADs led to Soviet defeat. In fact, Stingers did not show up until 1986, and the Soviets had already lost the war by then and, indeed, taken the decision to leave. The advent of Stingers did not defeat a Soviet strategy that was working; it accelerated the collapse of a strategy that was failing.
Matt also asks,
The Taliban has, as best as anyone knows, nothing remotely resembling [the Mujahideen's] level of external support. So why isn’t that making more of a difference? Is our side actually much less effective than the Soviets were when you control for the change in external support?
While providing an excellent history and analysis of the Soviet intervention, Fred's article doesn't compare the relative effectiveness of US and Soviet efforts. Here's my quick take: The Soviets invaded Afghanistan with roughly 125,000-150,000 troops. They kept them there for almost a decade.

If you consult Brookings' Afghanistan Index, (p.11) you'll see that by the end of 2006, there were still only 35,000 US and NATO troops in Afghanistan. The number today is only 64,500.

Just over two years ago, Barack Obama gave a speech entitled The War We Need to Win. In it, he insisted that Afghanistan was coming apart because the US never provided the resources, military or otherwise, required for victory. Comparing our troop levels to the Soviets' only reinforces that point.

Obama promised that the United States would not turn its back on Afghanistan a second time. Yet Democratic support for the war is collapsing, even though it is supposed to be the "good" war and Iraq the "bad" one.

If Republicans have to give Obama the support he needs to win, so be it. But we'd appreciate some bipartisanship on this one.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 9:06 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SO CAN ANYONE ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING ABOUT GLOBAL WARMING? The new issue of Foreign Affairs is hot off the presses. Its cover package includes three articles about global warming that are well worth reading. The focus here is entirely on how to solve the problem. This is a discussion of the politics, not the scientific debate behind it.

First up is Michael Levi, who provides a very sobering look at how hard it will be for this year's Copenhagen conference (the successor to Kyoto) to produce meaningful results.
Hopes are higher than ever for a breakthrough climate deal. For the past eight years, many argued that developing nations reluctant to commit to a new global climate-change deal -- particularly China and India -- were simply hiding behind the United States, whose enthusiastic engagement was all that was needed for a breakthrough. Now the long-awaited shift in U.S. policy has arrived.
But George Bush's America wasn't the only problem:
The odds of signing a comprehensive treaty in December are vanishingly small. And even reaching such a deal the following year would be an extraordinary challenge...

Many U.S. lawmakers want absolute near-term emissions caps from China and India, but those countries will not sign up for anything of the sort for at least another decade. And before they consider a deal of any kind, Chinese and Indian negotiators are demanding that developed countries commit to cutting their greenhouse gas emissions by over 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, but none of the world's wealthiest countries will even come close to meeting this goal.
And what if, miraculously, Copenhagen does result in a breakthrough treaty?
Even a blockbuster deal in which every country signed up to binding emissions caps would come nowhere close to guaranteeing success, since the world has few useful options for enforcing commitments to slash emissions short of punitive trade sanctions or similarly unpalatable penalties.
Levi returns often to the challenge of negotiating a deal that can satisfy both the West as well as India and China.
Americans accustomed to thinking about climate diplomacy within the framework of the Kyoto Protocol may assume that the obvious next step is to translate reduction goals into emissions caps, put them in a treaty, and establish a system for global carbon trading. But this would be problematic for three reasons.

First, negotiators from developing countries would insist on much less stringent caps than whatever they thought they could meet...

Second, even if a developing country met its agreed emissions cap, other nations would, in the near term, have little way of verifying this, since most developing countries, including China and India, lack the capacity to robustly monitor their entire economies' emissions...

And finally, even if the problems of excessively high caps and poor verification could be solved, simple caps would have little value on their own. Canada is a case in point. Ottawa will soon exceed its Kyoto limit by about 30 percent, yet it will face no penalty for doing so because the Kyoto parties never agreed on any meaningful punishments. The United States and others have essentially no way to hold countries such as China and India to emissions caps short of using punitive trade sanctions or other blunt instruments that would make a mess of broader U.S. foreign policy. Obsessing narrowly in Copenhagen over legally binding near-term caps for developing countries is therefore a waste of time.
Seriously? The Canadians? Are there no good countries left in global politics?

Anyhow, Levi argues that the best hope for Copenhagen is a partnership that helps China and other developing countries clean up their act at home:
Shifting China onto a cleaner path will require Beijing to identify specific ways in which it can make deep emissions-intensity cuts. That could include better enforcement of building codes, mandating the use of efficient technology in factories, new subsidies for renewable energy, or a provisional commitment to use carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology on new coal plants by 2020. The United States and other wealthy countries should then offer to help China in whatever ways they usefully can. When it comes to building codes, Washington could help develop Beijing's monitoring and enforcement capacity...wind power could be expanded by encouraging China to improve its protection of intellectual property, which would attract investment from international firms; and to help slash emissions from coal, the U.S. and Chinese governments could fund private demonstrations of CCS technology and share the resulting intellectual property.
Those are certainly interesting ideas, but one has to wonder about the political plausibility of an approach that rests on China welcoming foreign involvement in its domestic affairs and becoming a leader in the defense of intellectual property rights.

It will certainly be interesting to see whether the US government approaches Copenhagen in the same modest spirit as Mr. Levi.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Thursday, August 20, 2009

# Posted 8:29 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GET PAID TO VOTE AGAINST OBAMACARE: If it doesn't include a public option. Kevin points out that Blue America has raised almost $200,000 to distribute to Dems who pledge to vote against any reform bill without a public option. Since Kevin's post this morning, the total has risen to $277,000. Kevin observes,
The Blue America money helps make the promise to vote against any bill without a public option more credible. Right now, no one believes it. Everybody thinks that, in the end, liberals will cave and vote for it regardless. But with this money in place, which is going to people on condition that they vote against any bill without a public option, it makes it genuinely hard for them to turn around and vote Yes after all. It helps turn a meaningless threat into a credible one.
We can only hope. Also, Kevin explains the politics of the Democratic proposal to split the healthcare reform package into two bills.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 8:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NEW IDEAS ABOUT HEALTHCARE REFORM: Well, they're not exactly new ideas. They're new to me. More importantly, they're ideas that didn't seem to make the cut for either Democratic or Republican talking points. Which doesn't mean they're good ideas, but at least they're thought provoking. (Hat tip: david1clark)

In June, New Yorker correspondent and practicing physician Atul Gawande profiled the town of McAllen, Texas, which has the honor of having the highest Medicare cost per patient in the nation. Healthcare costs are so high in McAllen because doctors there prescribe so many more tests and procedures (although there is no evidence this translates into additional health for their patients).

That's interesting, because neither party seems to be saying that the problem in America is that we get too much healthcare. The President says he will save hundreds of billions by eliminating waste and fraud, not by limiting treatement.

Why are doctors so interventionist in McAllen? In one word, the answer is capitalism. Doctors in McAllen have quite an entrepreneurial streak and seem to be interested in making as much money as possible. In other words, Gawande thinks President Obama may have been onto something when he suggested that doctors remove kids' tonsils just to make money.

Going further, Gawande argues that paying doctors by the procedure is why costs are out of control throughout the country, not just in McAllen. At the world-famous Mayo Clinic, which pays its doctors a salary, costs remain low even though the care is the best in the world.

Would it be so easy to duplicate that achievement on a national level? I don't know. Is it possible that doctors everywhere are too interested in money? I'm skeptical. None of my friends who've gone to medical are in it for the money. But misaligned incentives can lead good people to make bad decisions. Color me curious.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 7:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OBAMA FIGHTS THE GOP'S WAR IN AFGHANISTAN: Jazz linked earlier to the new ABC-WaPo poll results on Afghanistan. I'd like to take a closer look at the data.

The Post's headline reports, Public Opinion in US Turns Against Afghan War.
Among all adults, 51 percent now say the war is not worth fighting, up six percentage points since last month and 10 since March. Less than half, 47 percent, say the war is worth its costs. Those strongly opposed (41 percent) outweigh strong proponents (31 percent).
Yet strangely, 60 percent approve of Obama's handling of the war and
Broad majorities across party lines say they are confident that the United States will defeat the Taliban and succeed in spurring economic development.
I think public opinion is far more nuanced than the WaPo headline suggests. The situation is very complicated because we have a Democratic president, deeply admired by his own party, now sending additional troops to fight a war that his fans oppose and his critics support. The Post observes,
Overall, seven in 10 Democrats say the war has not been worth its costs, and fewer than one in five support an increase in troop levels.

Republicans (70 percent say it is worth fighting) and conservatives (58 percent) remain the war's strongest backers, and the issue provides a rare point of GOP support for Obama's policies.
Unfortunately, the WaPo data sheet doesn't provide a breakdown by part of who approves of the President's handling of the war. The WaPo article mentions that 43% of Republicans approve, which implies that Democrats and independents approve to a much greater extent, if Obama's overall ratings is 60.

In other words, Democrats (and possibly independents) approve of Obama's performance, are confident that he can bring the war to a successful conclusion, but don't think the war is worth fighting. That's not a contradiction. I am sure we could win a war against Canada, but it still wouldn't be worth it (although possibly enjoyable).

The harder thing to know about Democrats (and liberals, whose opposition is even greater) is whether they oppose the war in such great numbers because it has been especially bloody the past few months, or whether they really don't believe that this is a war of necessity, no matter how often Obama says so.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 6:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AFGHANISTAN: THE FUNDAMENTALS OF COUNTERINSURGENCY. This is a response to Jazz's post from earlier today. Like Jazz, I am disheartened by the carnage in Afghanistan and the lack of progress we've made over the past eight years. But I think Jazz's call to end the war now is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what US and NATO troops are actually doing in Afghanistan and why. Speaking on Tuesday to the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars), the President explained clearly and concisely why we must defeat the Taliban:
This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people.
Jazz writes,
We may not have found Osama bin Laden, (and who knows if he’s really even still alive?) but we broke the back of their organization, sending them fleeing into mountain caves and disrupting their abilities to plan and conduct terrorist activities. We’ve lost track of how many of them we’ve killed. It may be fair, at this time, to say that we’ve made our point.
But this war is not about making a point. It is not about the number of terrorists we kill. It is about the strategic objective of denying Al Qaeda a safe haven. If we retreat, Al Qaeda will return. Jazz writes,
The problem is that we were never, ever going to catch or kill all of them, and they remain able to recruit replacements all over the world. It was never the sort of battlefield where we could find an enemy army to defeat in one decisive battle. You don’t defeat an enemy in what is essentially a pre-industrial age country by sending in thousands of missiles to bomb their piles of rubble into smaller piles of rubble.
Our strategy has nothing to do with bombing piles of rubble. Nor is about seeking a decisive battle or killing every terrorist.

Our strategy is guided by the counterinsurgency manual developed by Gen. Petraeus and other top officers. The manual identifies the essential counterinsurgency mission as providing security to the population. The application of that approach helped turn around the war in Iraq. There are many differences between Iraq and Afghanistan, but the fundamental principle remains the same. You win by protecting the people (and teaching them to protect themselves), not by hunting down every last terrorist. Jazz writes,
I would still support a large surge of troops into the arena if our leaders could assure us that they had some definitive targets which could be taken out with one last, big push. But that doesn’t seem to be forthcoming.
The painful lesson learned in Iraq (and a generation ago in Vietnam) is that we cannot think in terms of targets. It is about securing the population. As Jazz noted earlier in his post, "we were never, ever going to catch or kill all of them." That is precisely why we cannot think in terms of targets.

The good news is that this war is not, as Jazz fears, being driven by
the mistaken belief that we can drag Afghanistan kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
The people of Afghanistan are not expecting us to turn them into the next Silicon Valley. They want security. If we commit to staying until they can protect themselves, they will support us. They know the Taliban up close and tend to resent them deeply -- and fear them. If the people sense we are preparing to leave, they will not risk offending the Taliban by supporting us.

This war cannot be won quickly, but it can be won.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

# Posted 3:10 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CAN REFORM CURE KRUGMAN-ITIS? Krugman-itis is terrible. I should know. I used to suffer from it myself. When I was younger, I used to believe that Democrats were always at a disadvantage because they were too honest for their own good.

This state of affairs was depressing, but also intoxicating. I believed with all my heart that my party was more honest, more intelligent and more enlightened. So now I empathize with those, like Paul Krugman, who still suffer from the same afflication. In his latest column, Krugman writes,
At this point, all that stands in the way of universal health care in America are the greed of the medical-industrial complex, the lies of the right-wing propaganda machine, and the gullibility of voters who believe those lies.
The right-wing propaganda machine is a very unpredictable thing. It failed tragically to persuade gullible voters to vote against Barack Obama last November. It also fell short in the congressional elections of 2006. Fortunately, it has now recovered its magical powers and has been able to swing the electorate away from their natural support for universal healthcare.

I think you see what I'm getting at. The right-wing propaganda machine -- or if you prefer, "the vast right-wing conspiracy" -- is a convenient foe that can be blamed for any setback. Or conveniently ignored when he doesn't do his job.

Now, for a minute there, I began to wonder if I was a victim of the right-wing propaganda machine. Now, I don't believe in death panels and I don't believe that anyone is going to pull the plug on grandma, but maybe all that time I spent reading the Weekly Standard had subtly begun to warp my mind.

Thankfully, Krugman's colleague David Brooks was there to shake me to my senses. As he told Jim Lehrer on Friday,
[Obama] just tells a lot of whoppers now. Now, believe me, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin are saying some things that are extremely off the charts untrue about the plan, but I just wrote down some of the things Obama said today which are whoppers.

He said everyone can keep their health care plan. Well, the CBO doesn't say that. Six million people are going to lose their plan. Preventive care saves money. That's not true. It's going to cost $90 billion a year. That's not true. It's probably going to cost twice as much when it's fully implemented. Government will be out of health care decisions.

He tells one thing after another, making it seem so easy. Well, believe me: This is not easy. It's going to take some sacrifices and some really painful cuts for people to get this system under control.
One of the unfortunate symptoms of Krugman-itis is that it may blind you to the dishonesty of your political allies. As long as folks on the other side (especially Rush Limbaugh) are saying things that are completely off the wall, you have license to ignore the disingenuity on your own side of the aisle. In fact, you may even believe that the policies you favor are right simply because such awful people oppose them.

In addition to missing the dishonesty on your side of the aisle, Krugman-itis may also blind you to those things that make your policies unpalatable to real, live voters. As Ross Douthat, another one of Krugman's colleagues, points out,
For liberals trying to find the money to make health insurance universal, [Medicare's] inefficiencies make Medicare an obvious place to wring out savings. But you can’t blame the elderly if “savings” sound a lot like “cuts.” When the president talks about shearing waste from Medicare, and empowering an independent panel to reduce the program’s long-term costs — well, he isn’t envisioning a world where seniors get worse care, but he’s certainly envisioning a world in which they receive less of it.
But the biggest problem with Obama's plan may be that there is no plan at all. Robert Reich may be on Paul Krugman's side, but he knows that the President himself bears just as much responsibility for the current situation as the lying liars on the right. Reich asks,
Why are these [townhall] meetings brimming with so much anger? Because Republican Astroturfers have joined the same old right-wing broadcast demagogues that have been spewing hate and fear for years, to create a tempest.

But why are they getting away with it? Why aren't progressives -- indeed, why aren't ordinary citizens -- taking the meetings back?

Mainly because there's still no healthcare plan. All we have are some initial markups from several congressional committees, which differ from one another in significant ways. The White House is waiting to see what emerges from the House and Senate before insisting on what it wants, maybe in conference committee.

But that's the problem: It's always easier to stir up fear and anger against something that's amorphous than to stir up enthusiasm for it.
On the other hand, if Obama's plan weren't so amorphous, people might object to its actual contents. Or they might demand an explanation of how he'll pay for it. If Obama's plan were the one Reich wanted, the public might even be angrier. (And Reich might come down with a serious case of Krugman-itis, since he would be incapable of understanding how anything other than "fear and hate" could prevent the American public from supporting an idea he knows is so good.)

The funny thing is, I'm not intrinsically hostile to many of the reforms Democrats have proposed. I may be a Republican, but I agree that healthcare costs are out of control and we need some major reforms. I'm willing to consider any idea on the merits, even it involves more government involvement in healthcare.

But when push comes to shove, I'm much more concered with the truth-value of what the President says than I am with the integrity of Limbaugh & Co. I don't like it when the President publishes an op-ed (in Mr. Krugman's NY Times) in which he avoids taking a position on any of the specifics, but still promises that "reform will finally bring skyrocketing health care costs under control." And as David Brooks pointed out, Obama isn't letting himself be bound just by the facts.

I wish I could take six months off from my job just to study health care, so I could really understand what's going on instead of having to trust what other people say about the subject. But since that's not going to happen, I'm not going to support the reforms unless I really have confidence that the President is telling it like it is.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

# Posted 6:10 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DR. OBAMA IN 800 WORDS: I was actually glad to see that Barack Obama had written an op-ed about healthcare reform for the Sunday Times. I haven't paid serious attention to all the talk about death panels and astroturf. I'm a foreign policy guy and I'm not all that interested in the tactical politics of healthcare reform.

Sure, I am a Republican and I am skeptical of all things Obama. But I haven't written him off in the healthcare debate. I figure the White House will soon wake up and accept that its strategy of waiting for Congress to produce a plan has become a dead end. And then the President will finally tell us what kind of reform he actually wants.

Just not yet. Yesterday's op-ed was a wish list, not a plan. Yes, we all want affordable insurance that will move with us from job to job. We all want doctors and patients to make the important decisions. We all want rapid care that prevents problems before they happen.

But what will it cost? How will we pay for it? Do we need a public option? Don't ask me. And don't ask Barack Obama.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 6:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FEAR AND ELECTIONS IN AFGHANISTAN: Dexter Filkins of the NY Times reports from the village of Tarakai in Helmand province, one of the most violent in Afghanistan. The residents of Tarakai explain very clearly why the war is not going well:
“When you [i.e. American forces] leave here, the Taliban will come at night and ask us why we were talking to you,” a villager named Abdul Razzaq said. “If we cooperate, they would kill us.”
The Taliban have threatened to cut off the fingers of those who vote.
“We can’t vote. Everybody knows it,” said Hakmatullah, a farmer who, like many Afghans, has only one name. “We are farmers, and we cannot do a thing against the Taliban.”
If this were only a war for hearts and minds, the Taliban would not be doing well. The same was true of Al Qaida in Iraq. The question is whether we are committed enough to provide lasting security.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 6:07 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THREE CHEERS FOR THE MORTGAGE INTEREST DEDUCTION! That may sound hopelessly wonky, but what it means is thousands of dollars off my tax bill, each and every year. I'm not kidding. My wife and I will be saving more than $10,000 a year as a result of buying a home instead of renting.

Why? Because of instead of paying rent to a landlord (which isn't deductible), we'll be making monthly payments to the bank that provided our mortage (which is 100% deductible).

As a first time home buyer, it's hard to believe the kind of incentives the government provides. It's especially hard to believe in the aftermath of a financial crisis driven by reckless lending to home buyers.

Putting this all in perspective is Prof. Thomas Sugrue of the University of Pennsylvania, author of a forthcoming history of real estate in modern America. It turns out that the interest on mortgage loans has been deductible since 1913. But the New Deal is what really started the housing boom:

Easy credit, underwritten by federal housing programs, boosted the rates of home ownership quickly. By 1950, 55% of Americans had a place they could call their own. By 1970, the figure had risen to 63%. It was now cheaper to buy than to rent. Federal intervention also unleashed vast amounts of capital that turned home construction and real estate into critical economic sectors.
So is big government actually responsible for much of the boom we attribute to free markets? Or did this kind of stimulus only work because it was based on incentives, instead of direct government administration of the housing sector? With better planning, could we have avoided the bust that followed decades of boom?

I don't know. I'm just a first-time home buyer.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 6:06 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TWITTER WILL VANQUISH EVERY TYRANT: Jon Last sharply questions the Twitter-euphoria generated by recent events in Tehran. In spite of rose-tinted predictions that historians would celebrate Twitter's liberation of Iran and the beginning of a new era of global politics, the streets are now quiet in Tehran, the result of traditional head-bashing.

Jon argues that this overestimation of Twitter's political influence is very much a product of the Web 2.0/social netorking mindset, which encourages users to see themselves as the center of the universe.

I think there's a broader trend here, as well. Americans have an old habit of celebrating technology as the hand-maiden of freedom. Ten years ago, internet enthusiasts celebrated Web 1.0 in the same way that they exult about 2.0 today. Remember when everybody was saying that the internet would bring democracy to China?

Even if the June uprising sounded the death knell for the current dictatorship in Tehran, we should resist the temptation to give all the credit to Twitter. In almost every great uprising, the newest technologies play surprising roles. Twenty years ago, we were surprised by the role that fax machines played in raising awareness of events in Tiannanmen Square.

But what really drives these revolutions is a traditional and persistent desire for freedom.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 6:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE INCOMPREHENSIBILITY OF DONALD RUMSFELD: Last week, Christopher Caldwell reviewed Bradley Graham's new book about Donald Rumsfeld. As soon as I have time to digest 800 pages of Graham's prose, I'll let you know what I think of the book. For now, I'll just say that Caldwell picks up on one of the central challenges of studying Rumsfeld. Washington now dismisses Rumsfeld as a tragically stubborn ideologue. Yet when Rumsfeld took charge of the Pentagon in 2001, at the age of 68, he had an extraordinary career of successful leadership behind him. There was every reason to believe that he could master the facts of exceptionally complicated situations and transform failure into success. Caldwell writes,
Elected to Congress in 1962 at age 30, Rumsfeld, Graham writes, was a reformer who “never met an organization he didn’t want to change.” He co-sponsored what became the Freedom of Information Act, and reliably fought for civil rights legislation. He was a darling of this newspaper [the NY Times] and so skeptical about the Vietnam War that when Henry Kissinger saw Rumsfeld and his wife, he would sardonically flash the peace sign. Rumsfeld also had what Graham calls “a deep moral streak.” While running the Pentagon, he refused on ethical grounds to meet with defense-industry executives...

Such talents served [Rumsfeld] well as chief executive of the pharmaceuticals company G. D. Searle, where he turned a $28 million loss into a $72 million profit and brought aspartame to market; he got similar results in the early 1990s as C.E.O. of the General Instrument Corporation, a pioneer in high-definition television that needed a favorable hearing from the Federal Communications Commission.

Rumsfeld’s ability to work Congress and the regulatory bodies helped him in business. By the end of the 1990s he was worth between $50 million and $210 million. But he was more than a glorified lobbyist. He amassed information patiently and thoroughly, and would not be bullied into acting before he had mastered it. And he has never lost his ruthlessness in questioning structures kept in place by mere inertia.
It's not hard to understand why Bush chose Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense. If Rumsfeld hadn't been the one to bring such misery to the Pentagon by the end of his tenure in 2006, the most logical candidate to save the Pentagon wouldn't have been Bob Gates. It would've been Rumsfeld.

So what happened between 2003 and 2006? I guess I'll have to read the book.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Thursday, August 13, 2009

# Posted 11:30 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

If you're not going to have a public option, don't pretend you're doing health care reform.
Should Obama take this seriously, or will the Democratic left accept whatever Obama prescribes? In the roundtable discussion after the interview, Peggy Noonan observed,
Maybe it would be good for the president if the left got absolutely furious about something.
It would be good from the perspective of building Obama's image as a centrist, but will it cost too many votes in the House?

I guess it depends on whether one thinks that Dean has much influence on the Hill. Some people might dismiss Dean's opposition as sour grapes. As Dean told the HuffPo, he wanted to be Obama's Secretary for Health and Human Services, but Obama "decided to go in a different direction." Call me a cynic, but I have a sense that if Dean were the head of HHS, he would be defending Obama's ambivalence about a public option.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 11:28 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JIM JONES' WHISKEY-TANGO-FOXTROT MOMENT: In an interview with Fox News Sunday, Jim Jones confirmed Bob Woodward's account of the message that Gen. Jones brought to our commanders in Afghanistan:
[CHRIS] WALLACE: The new U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, reportedly wants more U.S. troops sent to Afghanistan.

But according to the Washington Post, you told our top brass in late June that the president was done sending additional troops. And I want to get to the quote. "If there were new requests for force now, the president would quite likely have a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment."

Everyone in the room caught the phonetic reference to "WTF," which in the military and elsewhere means "what the expletive."

JONES: Right.

WALLACE: General, did you say that?

JONES: I did say that, but in the context of the overall strategy.
As indicated by Jones answer of "Yes, but...", he was ready to walk back his no-more-troops message, once Wallace put on some pressure:
WALLACE: But are you ruling out more troops for Afghanistan?

JONES: As you know, as you mentioned, General McChrystal is doing a comprehensive assessment, which is what any military commander does when they take over a significant job.

And the secretary of defense has heard his preliminary report, has asked some questions. It will come up through the chain of command, and then we'll see what...

WALLACE: But if he asks for more troops, you're not ruling it out?

JONES: Not ruling it out at all.
This really just raises more questions then it answers. What does Jones really think about sending more troops? What does Obama really think about sending more troops? Does Jones really know what Obama is thinking? And does the White House have a clear strategy for Afghanistan?

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 11:25 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ANOTHER NON-CONTROVERSIAL MEDAL OF FREEDOM WINNER: The week before last, I pointed out the WaPo's assessment that Barack Obama "hasn’t included any particularly controversial choices in his first picks" for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In light of medals being given to Ted Kennedy and Desmond Tutu, I wasn't sure if that was the most accurate description.

As it turns out, the Medal winner provoking the most controversy is Mary Robinson, former Irish president and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. In response to Robinson's selection, 45 GOP congressmen, including Eric Cantor and Mike Pence, have written a letter to the President asking that he reconsider his choice. (Hat tip: JM)

Why? Robinson has a long record of hostility toward Israel, best represented by her presiding over the 2001 "anti-racism" conference in Durban, South Africa. According to the GOP letter,
"Under [Robinson's] leadership, radical regimes hijacked Durban I and turned it into an anti-Israel, anti-Semitic, anti-American hatefest."
Sounds to me like nothing out of the ordinary for a UN high official. Anyhow, the GOP letter goes on to mention that Obama himself repudiated Durban by refusing to send US representatives to a follow-on conference held this year. If so, why exactly does Obama want to give Ms. Robinson our nation's highest civilian honor?

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

# Posted 7:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A SMALL ISLAND OFF THE COAST OF EUROPE: I just got back from a very short trip to the UK to attend the wedding of an old classmate. One thing that struck me while I was there was the complete unpopularity of Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The polls show Labour trailing the opposition Conservatives by as much as 15 points, with less than ten months to go until the next election.

In the old British colony now known as the United States, we seem to take it for granted that it was the mistakes of our politicians and bankers that provoked the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Democrats blame the crisis on Republicans and vice versa.

Heading over to the UK, I expected everyone, both strangers and friends, to demand that I explain how the American government managed to ruin everything. When I lived in the UK, no one hesitated to demand justification on my part for all sorts of things that happened in Washington (especially the decision to invade Iraq).

But this time, all the fingers were pointing at Gordon Brown. Brown served as Chancellor of the Exchequer (equivalent to our Secretary of the Treasury) for ten years before being promoted to Prime Minister. There's really no one else in the UK to shoulder the blame. But why not point a finger or two across the Atlantic?

I'm not sure. The absence of finger-pointing didn't really strike me until I got on the plane back home. Part of the answer may have to do with a general sense of goodwill toward Barack Obama, but I don't see why that should get in the way of blaming Bush, if one were so inclined.

Interestingly, both Americans and Britons have a reputation for being somewhat self-absorbed and parochial. In our rush to point-fingers, have both of us simply assumed that the culprit lurks nearby? Or does democratic politics simply demand that Americans and Britons (and presumably Frenchmen and Germans) all blame their political opponents at home for the crisis, rather than looking abroad?

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 6:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FLYING RABBIS BATTLE SWINE FLU: A cost effective approach to health care:
Dozens of rabbis and Kabbalah mystics armed with ceremonial trumpets took to the skies over Israel on Monday to battle the swine flu virus, according to local media reports.

About 50 Jewish holy men chanted prayers and blew shofars (ritual rams' horns) in an aircraft circling over the country in the hope of stopping the spread of the virus, some of those involved in Monday's venture were quoted as saying.

"The aim of the flight was to stop the pandemic so people will stop dying from it," Rabbi Yitzhak Batzri was quoted as saying in the mass-circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth.

We are certain that, thanks to the prayer, the danger is already behind us," added Batzri.

Tuesday's newspaper report carried a photo showing bearded and black-clad
Orthodox Jewish men standing on the steps of an aircraft of short-haul airline Arkia.

The Health Ministry has confirmed more than 2,000 cases of swine flu, with five fatalities.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 5:48 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"TALIBAN NOW WINNING": It was certainly quite a jolt to pick up my Wall Street Journal and see this big headline smack in the middle of Page One: Taliban Now Winning.

The article is based on an interview with US commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal. The very first words in the story are,
The Taliban have gained the upper hand in Afghanistan, the top American commander there said,
But no matter how hard you look, you won't find an actual quote from McChrystal in which he says the Taliban is winning or that they have the upper hand.

Curious about this inconsistency, Jim Hanson of Blackfive e-mailed McChrystal's office to get its take on the situation. (Hat tip: BR) The commander's public affairs office began his response like this:
I sat in on the interview, and the Journal article overstated Gen
McChrystal's position. The Commander did not say the Taliban was
winning in his interview, as suggested by the headline.
This kind of thing really frustrates me. It is reasonable to argue that the Taliban is winning. But it really throws off the debate when professional journalists so clearly compromise their own norms of impartiality.

Now, just because professional journalists show bias doesn't mean their judgement about Afghanistan is wrong. We may well be losing. In 2003 and 2004, a lot of journalists were right about the disintegrating situation in Iraq. But they also saw evidence where none existed and editorialized in what should've been straight news reports.

Reacting to this kind of bias, I discounted a lot of pessimistic reports coming out of Iraq. That was a mistake. I think a lot of other supporters of the war made the same mistake. I don't want to see that happen again. I'd appreciate a little help from the professionals, though.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Monday, August 03, 2009

# Posted 11:18 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NEOCONS RUNNING THE NY TIMES? Recently, the Weekly Standard mocked the NY Times for confessing to no fewer than seven factual errors in its remembrance of Walter Cronkite. Then yesterday, the Times' Public Editor, Clark Hoyt, devoted an entire column to exploring just how its possible for the Paper of Record to make seven mistakes in a single article. Hoyt reports,
Five editors read the article at different times, but none subjected it to rigorous fact-checking, even after catching two other errors in it...

Seemingly little mistakes, when they come in such big clusters, undermine the authority of a newspaper, and senior editors say they are determined to find fixes.
Here's what we learn about Alessandra Stanley, author of the mistakes in question:
Stanley said she was writing another article on deadline at the same time and hurriedly produced the appraisal, sending it to her editor with the intention of fact-checking it later. She never did...

For all her skills as a critic, Stanley was the cause of so many corrections in 2005 that she was assigned a single copy editor responsible for checking her facts. Her error rate dropped precipitously and stayed down after the editor was promoted and the arrangement was discontinued. Until the Cronkite errors, she was not even in the top 20 among reporters and editors most responsible for corrections this year. Now, she has jumped to No. 4 and will again get special editing attention.
I'm glad to know there are twenty writers at the Times more prone to errors than Ms. Stanley.

Although you may have sensed a bit of schadenfreude in this post, I will take note of a very different response from my wife. She found it petty for the Times to review in such detail how mistakes were made. Certainly, that approach only whets the appetite of perennial critics such as myself.

I responded that this is the only way to ensure accountability. Unless names are named and responsibility is taken, journalists will not be accountable. Politicians are accountable to the voters, to their adversaries, and to the media. As bloggers are so fond of saying, who watches the journalists?

The fourth estate is by no means as powerful as the government, but is certainly powerful enough to warrant persistent oversight. As for oversight of the blogosphere, the comment section is open.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Sunday, August 02, 2009

# Posted 11:21 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OBAMA, BURMA AND INDONESIA: Via the always thoughtful Dan Twining:
Last Friday, Indonesia's electoral commission certified the winner of the country's recent presidential election, a free and fair contest that demonstrated the strength of democratic norms in a country ruled for decades by strongmen supported by Washington. Meanwhile, next door in Burma, a political show trial is preparing to convict that country's legitimately elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, of "crimes" she did not commit, most likely renewing her jail sentence to prevent her from contesting elections next year. Curiously, the Obama administration is flirting with the idea of normalizing relations with Burma's military junta, at a time when Indonesia's example -- and Indonesian leaders' outspokenness about Burma's repressive political system -- should be spurring the United States toward greater support for Southeast Asian democrats, rather than legitimizing the notion that Burma should be governed by the kind of strong hand that has been thoroughly discredited in Indonesia and across the region.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 10:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT OBAMA SECRETLY BELIEVES: James Kirchick has a very interesting article in the Sunday Post. Since declaring himself as a candidate for President, Barack Obama has consistently stated that he opposes gay marriage. Yet it is practically an article of faith among liberals that Obama secretly supports gay marriage, but says the opposite for political reasons. James writes,
I've lost track of the number of liberal friends and acquaintances, gay and straight alike, who assure me that Obama "really" supports same-sex marriage and, furthermore, that this point is obvious...This is convenient for liberals because it allows them to deflect blame from politicians they like onto those they don't, namely conservatives, the sincerity of whose opposition to same-sex marriage they never challenge.
It's interesting that liberals give their elected officials a pass on this issue. In contrast, liberal activists have relentlessly criticized Democratic politicians who secretly opposed the invasion of Iraq but chose to go along with the war for political reasons.

Consider a second analogy. What if liberal politicians secretly opposed discrimination against an ethnic or racial minority, but said otherwise in public to protect themselves? That would be unconscionable. Opposition to racism is an issue where we expect politicians to follow their convictions regardless of the cost.

Yet how often do advocates of gay rights insist their struggle is the civil rights movement of the 21st century? As the name of the Human Rights Campaign indicates, gay rights activists see their struggle as no different from campaigns against racism and oppression.

As both a Republican and an advocate of equal rights, I have mixed emotions about all of this. Like James, I agree that denying one's convictions speaks very poorly of any elected official. On the other hand, if the gay community knows that Barack Obama is on their side, why should he incur the political costs of actually saying so? Important strides toward equality are being made all the time. Younger Americans favor equality in much greater numbers than their parents.

Here's one point I take away from all of this: If discrimination against gays and lesbians really were as bad as discrimination against blacks in the 1960s, gays and lesbians wouldn't be nearly as forgiving of Obama or any other politician who kept his support for equality a secret.

And one final point about regarding Obama's secret beliefs: In his heart of hearts, he never, ever would have chosen to drink Bud Light. It doesn't go well with arugula.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 10:05 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SPEAKING OF NON-CONTROVERSIAL PEOPLE...As noted below, the WaPo described President Obama's candidates for the Presidential Medal of Freedom as not "particularly controversial". Aside from the points MK raised about Ted Kennedy, it's worth noting that Desmond Tutu isn't exactly a stranger to controversy either.

Wikipedia reports that Tutu has persistently compared Israel to apartheid South Africa, called on Jews to forgive the Nazis, and suggested in 2002 that "the Jewish lobby" suppresses justified criticism of Israel. As Tutu memorably put it,
People are scared in this country [the US], to say wrong is wrong because the Jewish lobby is powerful - very powerful. Well, so what? For goodness sake, this is God's world! We live in a moral universe. The apartheid government was very powerful, but today it no longer exists. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosevic, and Idi Amin were all powerful, but in the end they bit the dust.
Sounds to me like someone who deserves America's highest honor.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 10:00 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CAN A SCANDAL LAST FOR FORTY YEARS? SHOULD IT? On Thursday, President Obama announced that he would award the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, to sixteen individuals, including Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Mary Katherine is not amused. She asks how many individuals considered complicit in vehicular manslaughter could be given such an honor. Would a conservative (or any non-Kennedy) rise to the heights of the Senate with Chappaquiddick on their resumes?

Yet that was forty years ago. Kennedy has won re-election several times since then, indicating that the people of Massachusetts consider the scandal to be over. Republicans such as John McCain have often worked with Kennedy on major legislation. Interesting, here's what the WaPo write up of Obama's announcement said:
While President George W. Bush encountered some criticism when he awarded the medal to such Iraq war power players as then-Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, former CIA director George Tenet and occupation viceroy L. Paul Bremer, Obama hasn't included any particularly controversial choices in his first picks.
As MK notes,
It is considered bad form for conservatives to mention Mary Jo Kopechne (who would have been close to 70 now if she had lived), especially now that Kennedy himself has fallen ill with a brain tumor.
The unwritten rules that govern political scandals never seem to make all that much sense. We can all point to someone on the other side who got away with something awful. That's how it is.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 2:39 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HOW THE NY TIMES MAXIMIZES EFFICIENCY IN TOUGH ECONOMIC TIMES: Kevin Drum notes that the NYT had three correspondents all live-blog the President's beer with Skip Gates and Jim Crowley.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 2:22 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PALIN: ANATOMY OF THE DIVORCE RUMOR. The Orlando Sentinel reports on an Alaska blog's claim that Sarah Palin is getting a divorce:
The No. 1 search term in Google right now is “sarah palin divorce.” The reason? A couple of bloggers in Alaska posted stories this morning claiming to have inside information that former Gov. Sarah Palin is divorcing her husband, Todd.

The bloggers went on to claim that Sarah Palin plans to leave the state, possibly moving to Montana...

The story, naturally, is getting attention on politics blogs, but nothing has moved on the wires at this hour. This looks like one that will burn up the blogs on the Internet for a few hours but not make it into print outside the tabloids.

CBS News appears to be the only mainstream media weighing in on the issue on its news page online rather than just in a blog. This story on its politics page (and on web sites of its affiliates) adds a quote from one Palin attorney, who says the divorce story is “categorically false” and another Palin lawyer who says the rumors are “totally untrue.”

CBS News goes further to tamp down the rumor by quoting its own political director as saying that Palin often campaigned without her wedding ring. And a CBS News producer who followed Palin on the campaign trail says that the claim that the Palins weren’t talking to each other at last weekend’s picnics “appears to be untrue.” The online story, though, does not note on what basis the producer made that assessment. Was he there last weekend or is he reporting what his sources are telling him?

CBS also says Palin may make a statement herself later today.
This is one of those stories where truth will out. Either she's getting a divorce or she isn't. But it's fascinating to watch how this kind of story develops now that the web ensures instant distribution, forcing the media to respond, rather than acting as gatekeepers who can determine when a story breaks.

My best guess is the story's not true. Others, like Kathy, are taking it very seriously. Given the kind of things that get said about Sarah Palin, a fair amount of skepticism seems to be in order.

PLUS: Jonathan Martin writes, "By having her spokeswoman repeat the charges to rebut them in a public form, Palin effectively guaranteed coverage from the mainstream media that otherwise would not report claims attributed to unnamed sources on an anonymous blog."

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Saturday, August 01, 2009

# Posted 1:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE GOP WAS DOOMED! Analogies are flying. What year is this for Republicans? 1964? 1976? 1992? I think 1937 deserves more attention. I noticed this in a review of a book about FDR:
Roosevelt had won the 1936 election by a crushing landslide--a total of 61 percent of the popular vote that enabled him to carry all but two of the 48 states--and his Democratic coalition of labor, northern liberals, and the Solid South had similarly steamrollered through Congress in 1936, leaving the wounded Republicans, who had reigned supreme in both houses during the prosperous 1920s, with a pathetic 17 senators (out of 96) and 88 House members (out of 435).
Makes 2009 seem like paradise.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 12:38 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DAVID BROOKS MIXES POLITICS AND RELIGION: This may make sense if you're Jewish:
Gail, as you know, I begin and end my days by reciting Congressional Budget Office reports. I even put on tefillin, just to make it seem holy.
FYI, Wikipedia has a pretty good description and photo of tefillin.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 12:33 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MICHAEL SAVAGE: CRUNCHY, HIPPIE LIBERAL. What leads someone to become a fire-breathing right-wing talk show host? Answer: A Ph.D. from Berkeley in nutritional ethnomedicine. Seriously.

The current issue of The New Yorker has a very interesting profile of Michael Savage [registration required]. Although the magazine's profiles of conservatives often degenerate into caricature, this one is surprisingly fair-minded, even affectionate.

As for Savage's origins, we find out that in 1978 Michael Alan Weiner
earned a degree that sounds like something from a conservative parody of liberal university culture: a Ph.D. in nutritional ethnomedicine from the University of California at Berkeley. As Michael A. Weiner, [Savage] built a small empire as a consultant and the author of a string of crunchy advice books: "Plant a Tree"; "Earth Medicine, Earth Food"; "The Art of Feeding Children Well"; "Maximum Immunity".
While the article was being researched, Savage challenged the author, Kelefa Sanneh, to be more objective than other liberal journalists:
Over the years, Savage has noticed that his disdain for the mainstream media is weidely reciprocated...So when he received an e-mail from a journalist asking for an interview, he was deeply suspicious. He read the e-mail on the air -- he kept the writer anonymous, and didn't mention that the request came from The New Yorker -- and then asked his listeners, "Should I do the interview or not?"...

About a week later, Savage revisited the topic -- "my continuing correspondence with a big-shot magazine writer." He quoted the latest exchanges, along with his tart response, in which he asked, "Why must all of you in the extreme media paint everyone you disagree with as demonic? Why is the homosexual agenda so important to the midstream media?"
Surprisingly, this approach seems to have paid off. Among the striking passages in Sanneh's profile is this one:
The immoderate quotes meticulously catalogued by the liberal media watchdog site mediamatter.org are accurate but misleading, insofar as they reduce a willfully erratic broadcast to a series of political brickbats.
Never thought I'd read that in The New Yorker.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 12:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TRIAL BY TELEVISION: NBC PURSUES RWANDAN GENOCIDAIRE. This week's New Republic has a great feature on Leopold Munyakazi, a Rwandan exile and American college professor accused of initiating a mass murder during the genocide in 1994.

NBC is going after Munyakazi as part of a new series focused on war criminals living in the United States. For NBC, it's a simple, compelling story about good vs. evil:
After class, a swirling retinue of about ten cameramen, technicians, and professional interrogators descended on Munyakazi, a broad-faced middle-aged man with an accented, lilting voice. The professor, who had been given little notice, was stunned and refused to talk on camera. After some time, two members of the faculty who knew Munyakazi, a philosophy professor and the director of the school's peace-studies program, joined the standoff, which only heightened the tension. The professors angrily challenged the Rwandan prosecutor. "They kept talking about 'competing narratives' of the genocide," Ciralsky says. "Which really could be considered code for denying the genocide."
Genocide is black and white, but the case against Munyakazi is very gray. The Rwandan's governments efforts to prosecute him seem deeply politicized. At the same time, Munyakazi defense is full of inconsistencies. The professor also has a habit of blaming the genocide on its victims.

The article's attitude toward NBC's trial-by-television is mostly contemptuous, but there is a silver lining to the cloud:
[NBC's new series] "The Wanted" has inspired a great deal of critical derision--Variety called it "a lowlight in a year filled with them for the news divisions," while the Los Angeles Times deemed its style "ridiculous"--but the show's producers have made at least one unique contribution to the debate over Munyakazi: They actually talked to Rwandans about him. The episode on the professor's case, which is likely to air in August, will give voice to this set of witnesses. In one interview, a former policeman who served time in jail after the genocide tells the investigators that Munyakazi asked him for more bullets for his AK-47. A confessed genocidaire tells them that the professor led him on "night patrols" that searched for Tutsis hiding in the bush. A stooped woman squats on a riverbank and recounts how she survived a massacre on that same spot, a massacre she believes Munyakazi helped to inspire. "Where is justice? They should pay for what they did," she says. "That's why we're here," Scott Tyler, the show's ex-Navy Seal, solemnly replies.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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