Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Short List - August 31, 2011

Pundit's Corner

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

  • NTC forces (better, Jason?) have given Qaddafi loyalists in Sirte a Saturday ultimatum to surrender or face assault.
  • Sudan. Still not good.
  • Our Man in Kabul has apparently pulled the rug from under us once again--this time in reportedly effective talks with the Taliban. This Editor's opinions about ill-behaving client states is well known.

George W. Bush, 9/11, and Intelligence

I plugged for the National Geographic interview of George W. Bush yesterday in The Short List.  Hopefully our (limited) readership watched it last night, because I think it's important for a few different reasons.  The interview kicks off two weeks of solemn commemoration of the events of 9/11, how it changed our world, how the United States changed, and what it might mean for the future.  It's fair to say that the events of that day, unbeknownst to me at the time, changed my life and I will always remember where I was, and what I felt watching the second plane hit.

The interview splices in images and video from 9/11 and the days immediately following.  The feeling in the pit of my stomach is as visceral as it was 10 years ago when I saw it happen live.  Anger, sorrow, fear, anxiety all flash through my body every time I see the second plane hit.  And you can tell that discussing 9/11 still gets to President Bush.  That unmistakable mix of anger and sorrow is evident in his eyes.  He discusses why he lingered in a Florida elementary classroom after Andy Card told him about the second plane.  He discusses his frustration in being shuttled around the country and not being allowed to return to DC immediately.  He discusses how Saddam Hussein's name was mentioned on September 11th, though he doesn't indicate a particular member of his senior staff.  He also spends a fair bit of time decrying the communication equipment available to him onboard Air Force One.  He discusses a great many things, but two things really stood out to me.

First, as if a mantra he discusses how he never planned to be a "war time president," and how America was now "at war."  This could be legacy protection, but it could also be that he legitimately felt he was suddenly transformed into a war time president in the mold of Lincoln or Roosevelt (he draws no such comparison).  I've had a hard time, in retrospect, considering the acts of 9/11 and our actions following as a "war."  And I fear that President Bush wraps himself in the "war time president" cloak so we might dismiss the extra-judicial actions of his administration in the years that followed.

The second thing that struck me was toward the end of the interview.  He says "I was not acting strategically," and follows up saying he believed what he was doing was protecting the American people.  I know that 9/11 was an extreme case of terrorism, but to think that in the following seven years that the President of the United States did not act strategically just dumbfounds me.  Certainly in those first 24 to 48 hours it is about command control and strategy comes later, but the admission that the whole response was not strategic seemed to confirm for me a bias I had before the interview that the interview just reinforced.  President Bush was not up to the challenge of the situation.

If you listen during the interview you notice how little he decided as President.  There are briefings.  Information is coming in.  Things are happening, but there doesn't seem to be any decisions that began with President Bush.  He was a passenger to his own administration on that day.  Perhaps it was due to the poor communication system on Air Force One.  Perhaps the military had a protocol for a terrorist incident of this magnitude and it was implemented step-by step.  Perhaps the gears of the state were well-oiled and responsive to this kind of shock.  I have my doubts.  And so what emerges is the image of a figurehead president being shuttled around the country while the serious people make decisions and secure America.

In a post at Democracy in America today, E.G. posts commentary on the recent exploration of Gov. Perry's intelligence.  Towards the end of the post he says something that captures a bit of my reaction to the interview.
So this kind of examination leads us to a broader question: even if we could assess a candidate's intelligence... how clever does a candidate need to be, and how important is intelligence in a president? It's tempting to say that a person elected president can't actually be stupid, because otherwise we would be hard-pressed to explain how they got to be president.
And yet it wasn't intelligence that Bush was lacking in the interview.  He knew what was going on, the gravity of it, and that action needed to be taken.  E.G. continues:
I would prefer a president who isn't overtly anti-intellectual or hostile to empirical analysis, both of which suggest small-mindedness and ideological devotion.
So would I, and I don't think President Bush is hostile to empirical analysis as it related to terrorism, but by his own admission he did not approach the issue of terrorism strategically.  That's why his account of the day makes him sound like a bystander.  He was overwhelmed by the situation, and could not break it down strategically.  He knew something needed to happen or rather that many somethings needed to happen, but the sequence eluded him. The interview, I think, reveals a man with good intentions for his actions on 9/11 and in the years that followed, but a man sorely out classed by the gravity and complexity of the problems that led to 9/11 and the consequences of our responses.  

The Short List - August 30, 2011


Monday, August 29, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

  • Qaddafi's wife, daughter, and two of his sons have sought refuge in Algeria. The NTC describes Algeria's giving refuge as an act of aggression.
  • Reports of the death of Al Qaeda's number two may have been greatly exaggerated. Or maybe not. We don't know.
  • For the second time in two weeks, Turkey claims to have killed well over 100 PKK in raids.
  • Politico asks if Rick Perry is dumb. Outstanding -- remember when we talked about whether W was dumb and he won the Presidency -- maybe we should focus more on the fact that he's out of his damn mind than question whether he's dumb. Praying for rain may sound stupid, but when it mobilizes thousands, it ain't.
  • U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Blackburn has temporarily enjoined enforcement of Alabama's tough new anti-people of color anti-immigration law.
  • Hey, maybe this has something to do with the unpopularity of Obamacare?

The Short List - August 29, 2011

  • The East Coast is trying to dust itself off after Hurricane Irene lashed the coastline and point further inland.  there are 24 deaths reportedly linked to Irene, but the damage and devastation have thankfully been far less then originally predicted.

  • Former President George W. Bush was interview by National Geographic about 9/11 and the interview premiered last night.  It will re-air tonight at 9pm ET and this editor strongly recommends you watch.  I'm also planning a commentary to post today or tomorrow.

  • Meanwhile, Dick Cheney has a book coming out that he believes will have "heads exploding" in DC.  Former Secretary of State Colin Powell took his tarnished credibility to Face the Nation yesterday to dispute several of the claims Cheney makes in the book In My Time.  Your editor takes that swipe as someone who believed going to Iraq was the right decision because of Sec. Powell's presentation to the UN Security Council.

Friday, August 26, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been



The Short List - August 26, 2011

  • Syrian protesters are incredible.
  • Yet another Japanese PM resigns.
  • Mexico's armed conflict, still under-reported.
  • Israeli and Egyptian security cooperation will lead to the re-militarization of the Sinai.
  • And the AU (read: South Africa) is on the verge of recognizing the TNC as the government of Libya -- I wonder if AU dysfunction in the face of the Libyan revolution opens space for greater Western political intervention in Africa, maybe lifting the bar to Western-first recognition of Somaliland.
  • People up and down the East Coast are seeking Shelter from the Storm as Irene bears down.
  • Arizona is challenging preclearance. I think the suit is a non-starter, if the Court wanted to strike down preclearance it would have in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District 1 v. Holder. Instead, the Court determined that all districts should have the ability to bail out of preclearance. Why so few--maybe no?--districts have bailed out is a question that some Voting Rights experts ascribe to the cover preclearance gives localities that engaged in horrific discrimination in the pre-VRA era.
  • Pataki out.
  • Swampland sees Ron Paul as Rodney Dangerfield.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been



The Short List - August 25, 2011

  • With attention focused on Libya, African states are struggling to respond to the famine in the Horn of Africa -- a famine preventable were there any government in Somalia to speak of.
  • Libyan rebels besieged in Misurata were aided by a surveillance drone of Canadian manufacture. And the Arab League has recognized the TNC -- in many respects, the Arab League has played midwife to the new Libya, without its endorsement there likely would have been no No-Fly Zone.
  • Sri Lankan is set to end its Emergency
  • Despite raids killing more than 100 PKK in the last week, a bombing in southeast Turkey has wounded 2 Turkish soldiers.

  • Showing more rationality than they're often credited with, 51% of the American people blame Bush for the economy. Now if this would only translate into a recognition by elected leaders that you can't cut your way out of a near depression.
  • Playbook reports that Perry will make his debut at the Reagan Library, joining that great contest that occurs every four years -- no, not the straw poll, not the caucus, not using an intermediary to spark racist fears in South Carolina; no, friends, but the out-Reagan your rivals while mostly ignoring Reagan's record contest! My money is on Bachmann; she's just crazy enough.
  • Huntsman is still registered to vote at the Governor's mansion (where he has not lived since he left office on August 11, 2009) -- this is outrageous! Do we know if cast a ballot in 2010? That's voter fraud! Just imagine the outcry if he were a member of an underrepresented population in a swing state . . . actually, it's been two years since he left the mansion, if he were a member of an underrepresented population in a swing state he would have been expunged by now, whether he still lived at the address or not.
  • Shocking: Gay people live outside of San Francisco and Greenwich Village.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

Interstellar (almost)
  • A Russian rocket bound for the International Space Station failed to reach orbit and crashed back to earth.  With the end of the U.S. space shuttle program these sorts of re-supplies are critical, though the astronauts are in no immediate danger of running out of food.

  • CIA and NYPD join forces to track Muslim communities in New Jersey, jurisdiction and civil liberties potentially be damned.

  • After the quake, inspectors continue to look for any damage, though thankfully none has been found.  Joshua Keating on how events like this can become an even bigger deal because a lot of journalists live in DC.  Course the East Coast (and your editors in DC) survived the earthquake only to gear up for Hurricane Irene which is set to at least glance the nation's capitol.  It may do far worse to the eastern seaboard.

  • Gov. Rick Perry is in the lead.

The Short List - August 24, 2011

  • Yesterday, Libyan rebels took Bab al-Aziziya, Qaddafi's compound in Tripoli as well as Ras Lanuf. Fighting is ongoing in Tripoli and elsewhere today. At the same time, the so-called Contact Group is moving to unfreeze assets so they can be provided to the rebels-cum-government.
  • Syria is set to face yet more sanctions and Ambassador Robert Ford has been defiantly traveling around Syria to meet the Syrian opposition.
  • The Satellite Sentinel project has uncovered evidence of mass graves in South Khordofan.

  • Bam's in a dead heat.
  • PPP says Perry would get 22% of Iowa caucus-goers -- determining likely caucus-goers is notoriously difficult. This Editor wonders how many Parry would get?
  • Pataki in? I'm going to guess Pataki would not improve Colin's outlook.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Favorite Picture from Today

The Short List - August 23, 2011


  • Colin isn't the only conservative unhappy with the GOP field.
  • Chaffetz out.
  • The Obama administration is setting out to reduce the costs of the regulatory state -- Cass Sunstein has led-up the effort, making administrative law geeks everywhere happy.
  • And the slow death of the fairness doctrine is over.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Thus Spake Juan Cole

Professor Cole provides this analysis of Libya's nearly fulfilled revolution.
Moreover, those who question whether there were US interests in Libya seem to me a little blind. The US has an interest in there not being massacres of people for merely exercising their right to free assembly. The US has an interest in a lawful world order, and therefore in the United Nations Security Council resolution demanding that Libyans be protected from their murderous government. The US has an interest in its NATO alliance, and NATO allies France and Britain felt strongly about this intervention. The US has a deep interest in the fate of Egypt, and what happened in Libya would have affected Egypt (Qaddafi allegedly had high Egyptian officials on his payroll).
I would add only that the United States also has an interest in not boxing-in states and leaders in such a way as their only option is to play a destabilizing role in the international system. The only tolerable endgame after the West moved to isolate and marginalize Qaddafi was his ouster--sooner rather than later.  

The Short List - August 22, 2011


  • The D-Trip pulled in slightly more cash than the NRCC in July.
  • The Democrat and Union-led Wisconsin recall, though unable to swing the legislature, has caused Scott Walker to recalibrate--and it's reverberating in Ohio.
  • Politico considers the GOP's Libyan dissonance (and incoherence) and its putting them on the wrong side of history (once again).
  • And Jon Huntsman showed up to fight.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Song of Qaddafi

Qaddafi addressed the Libyan people, today. The desperation of his situation is patent in his remarks, suggesting for the first time that he recognizes his position even as he calls for a levee en masse:

You possess all sorts of weapons. Those of you without a weapon should come and receive a weapon. All the weapons depots must open and the masses must be armed. Thousands must receive weapons now. Open the depots. I give the order to open the depots to arm the masses.
I am with you now, I am with you in Tripoli. There shall be no retreat - we will not retreat until the last inch of land we want to liberate.
Events appear to be accelerating as rebels close in on Tripoli -- and Qaddafi's regime appears to have only days left. 

"Mermaid Dawn"

After Libyan rebels took Zlitan, Zawiyah, and Gharyan, effectively encircling and cutting off Tripoli, an uprising broke out in Tripoli. Opposition groups in Tripoli, mostly quiet since Qaddafi's brutal crackdown in February and March, launched an uprising codenamed "Mermaid Dawn." At the same time, the Libyan rebels who have made rapid advances over the last two weeks to bring them to Tripoli's doorstep have pushed into Tripoli itself. Qaddafi's grip over Tripoli, at least, seems to be nearly broken. It remains to be seen whether Sirte, Qaddafi's hometown, and its environs will fall easily in the wake of Qaddafi's ouster from Tripoli or whether it will remain a redoubt of pro-Qaddafi support.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Short List - August 19, 2011

  • Republican Congressmen are asking Gov. Perry to avoid rhetoric that suggest people are "treasonous" or that Obama isn't a patriot.  Rep. Roskam (R-IL) said, "That's not something you want to lead with if you're trying to get independents to come your way."  Your editor wonders which Republican primary Rep. Roskam is referring to in referencing outreach to independents.

  • An exhibition game between the Georgetown Hoyas and a pro team in China ended in with a brawl yesterday.
Pundit's Corner

Thursday, August 18, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been



A Theory of Government – A Response

Our friend Colin at To Get Rich Is Glorious posted a two-part blog (one and two) over the weekend encapsulating his theory of governance. It is remarkable both for its scope and for its relative brevity, coming in at just about 2,600 words it addresses everything from democracy (the least bad option of governance) to politicians (which come in two varieties: malevolent or incompetent) to legislation (sausage) to bureaucracy (in gross, worse than politicians; in detail, victims of their own occupation). It is worth a read. It is also worthy of response. Because my own theory of government is not as fully developed as Colin’s, I will try only to respond to a few points.

Voters are Irrational. Colin adheres to this well worn trope of wisdom and subscribes to its insipid logic: voters are irrational ergo democracy is fatally flawed. He then points to all sorts of phenomena as evidence that voters are irrational—for instance, Barack Obama was endorsed by celebrities, therefore voters are irrational; Kennedy looked better than Nixon on TV and that influenced the election, therefore voters are irrational; and concludes that Obama’s victory over Sec. Clinton in the 2007–08 Democratic Primaries is attributable to youth, good looks, race, or oration (and, therefore, voters are irrational).

As someone who has spent a rather large amount of time interacting with voters and attempting to persuade them—and worked against the Sen. Obama in those very same primaries—I am sympathetic to the notion that voters are sometimes influenced by what we more policy-oriented folks view as insubstantial factors. But this being true for some voters does not render it so for other voters. In fact, a Project Vote analysis of the 2008 electorate found that the electorate that pushed Sen. Obama into the White House was more strongly progressive than the normal electorate, explaining both the gains of Democrats in 2008 and the retrenchment in 2010 when this electorate stayed home. In fact, these voters, by casting a ballot for the most progressive candidate in the race, acted rationally. (Notably, the same survey reveals that Tea Party adherents represent an extraordinarily small portion of the electorate—a true outlier community: lily white, well educated and fully employed or retired, upper middle-class to upper class, generally older and possessed of the notion that the poor or unemployed should be left to fend for themselves).

Nor is it true that a voter who votes based on a single issue is irrational—Colin may disagree with that particular voter’s calculus but the voter has surveyed the field of issues, weighted those issues, and accorded an overwhelming weight to the single issue that moves him or her to the polls. If one selects as the baseline of rationality doing something that garners to you the outcome you desire, then single-issue voting is not assailable as irrational.

Putting aside whether voters are or are not rational, and whether their relative rationality is uniform or even a fair characterization in gross, let us assume that they are all irrational. In this respect, Colin’s theory of government is the most curious. He argues (generally) that the market is the salve for all problems. Yet the free market is premised on the idea that economic actors (let us call them consumers) are rational. Who are these consumers? Well, by and large, they are the same as the voters. Why then would an individual behave rationally when making consumer decisions but not rationally when making electoral decisions? Is it any accident that political campaigns and products manufacturers both use advertising firms—sometimes the very same advertising firms—to win over consumers (voters) to their products (candidates)? Does this then suggest that consumer are not rational actors because they purchase Crest (Kennedy) over Arm & Hammer (Nixon)?

Worse, the market is premised on the notion that there is no information disparity between economic actors. This is of course ridiculous—it is, after all, an ideal; I will leave to another day the discussion of whether this particular ideal is more ridiculous than ideals in general. Democracy requires no such premise to function but, of course, prefers well-informed (although not fully-informed) voters.

Bureaucracy and Legislation. I will lump these two topics together because it is worth noting that the bureaucracy developed to fill the very gaps in the efficacy of legislation that Colin highlights. However, rather than acknowledging this, he unironically trots out progressive critiques of legislatures from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, used to argue for the administrative state. He then attacks bureaucracy with stereotypes that mostly ignore how the administrative state functions or how administrative law operates.

Bureaucracy may indeed connote those adjectives Colin ascribes it, however it denotes the specialization of government. It is intended to rectify the very problems Colin points out by alleviating the legislature’s burden of grappling with complex, technical questions beyond the ken of most if not all legislators. Is it perfect? No, of course not. No human construct is perfect, not even the market. But does it do a good job? By and large, the answer to that question is yes, it does do a good job. You may disagree—Colin certainly does—with the policy choices made by various administrations and the administrative state they have managed but is water and air cleaner today than it was 40 years ago? Yes. Are our cars safer to drive? Yes. Has malaria been effectively driven out of the United States? Yes. Do thousands of farmers rely on—and appreciate—the USDA’s Extension Service? Is our military the most advanced in the world? Yes. Have we explored more of the cosmos than the any other state—or collection of states—on the planet? Yes. What about land-grant universities, like Nebraska? Or a university established for the education of civil servants, like George Washington? These are all products of the administrative state. In fact, your ability to read this blog post right now is a product of the administrative state.

Now, because I’m a fair minded person, and because I’m committed to using this space not merely to advance progressive ideas but to actually engage in debate, I must acknowledge that there have been failures of the administrative state. Indeed, the failure of the enforcement side of the administrative state has played a significant role in the most egregious domestic crises we have witnessed over the last 10 years. But of these, several—Deepwater Horizon, Katrina, the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster—are not the product of the administrative state per se but a product of an administration committed to the destruction of bureaucracy. Unable to achieve that de jure it set about to do so in a de facto manner. And in so doing it was quite successful. And in its success we have had terrible results.

Quibbles. Finally, I must quibble with a few characterizations. First, the government to Apple analogy—though it never gets tired despite its patent baselessness—is flawed. The various departments of Apple are not akin to Congress. Rather, they are like the administrative agencies within the Executive Branch. Instead, the Board of Directors plays a more Congress-like roll (though this is still imperfect). And while Jobs need not get the buy-in of every department in Apple to pursue a new product, neither does the President need to get the buy-in of all the agencies. But as surely as the President needs the support of Congress to carryout those things that are not accorded to him, so does Jobs need the support of the Board of Directors to do those thing for which he is not solely empowered. Let us not forget, however, that ultimately both the Directors and Jobs are accountable to the shareholders. Who vote. Like in a democracy.

Second, the incentives argument, though persuasive on its face, ignores how the FDA (or most bureaucracies) actually function. There are numerous good lay and casebooks on this subject.

Third, the empire building critique can be leveled at anything. At literally any entity. Should we expect administrative agencies or corporation to commit suicide? Should this be valued? Or should we instead leave it to voters (and their agents) and shareholders (and their agents) to render these decisions. Ah, the very essence of democracy.

Finally, the critique of politicians—and the broader critiques leveled in the “Theory of Government”—is generally directed at the federal government but seems to cherry pick bad examples from local government, leaving the reader with the impression that 1) the federal government shutdown a lemonade stand; and 2) that bureaucracy across levels of government is somehow monolithic. More worrisome, though, is that the critique seems to conflate flawed politicians with flawed elections. The two certainly exist. But it is overbroad to say that all politicians are bad or incompetent—but, if you truly believe that, then perhaps you should run for office or at least find and go work for a candidate in whom you believe. As for elections, one solution to the problem of competitive elections would be to institute national election standards rather than allowing each state to parochially tweak its election code to suit established interests.