Posted by Brad @ 6:48 pm on November 30th 2008

Quote of the Day

Just to be provocative.

“But there is another rendition of the story of modern conservatism, one that doesn’t begin with Goldwater and doesn’t celebrate his libertarian orientation. It is a less heroic story, and one that may go a much longer way toward really explaining the Republican Party’s past electoral fortunes and its future. In this tale, the real father of modern Republicanism is Sen. Joe McCarthy, and the line doesn’t run from Goldwater to Reagan to George W. Bush; it runs from McCarthy to Nixon to Bush and possibly now to Sarah Palin. It centralizes what one might call the McCarthy gene, something deep in the DNA of the Republican Party that determines how Republicans run for office, and because it is genetic, it isn’t likely to be expunged any time soon.”

Neal Gaber, “The GOP’s McCarthy Gene”

Posted by Cameron @ 1:19 pm on November 30th 2008

The Perils of Parliamentary Democracy

This place has been pretty quiet during this extended holiday weekend.  We would do well to remember that the rest of the world doesn’t shutdown in order to travel, eat, and shop like Americans do on the Thanksgiving weekend.  The world keeps turning.  Well, Canada is part of the rest of the world.   While they do celebrate Thanksgiving, they celebrate it on a different day way back in October.  I’ve always been mildly fascinated by Canada and keep more of an eye on our neighbor to the north than most Americans.  In that spirit, I thought I’d share some of the political craziness occurring up there.

Though it was overshadowed by the American Presidential election, Canada recently had a federal election themselves.  It was Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s intention to turn his then minority Conservative government into a majority one.  Instead he only was able to turn his minority government into a stronger minority government, gaining 46% of the seats in Parliament and falling short of the needed majority.  Minority governments are a quirk of Parliamentary Democratic systems. Along with coalition governments, they are inherently weak and usually shortly lived. Because they lack a majority of votes, it is notoriously difficult to pass legislation and effective policy. They’re caretaker governments.

Well, life was pretty simple in the subsequent weeks after the election. Stephen Harper retained power with his somewhat emboldened but still minority Conservative Government. The Liberal Party was badly beaten in the last election, earning it’s poorest result ever. It was embroiled in a leadership crisis. It’s leader of the last few years, Stéphane Dion was widely criticized as a poor communicator in English and unable to properly represent the Liberals. One of the two other main political parties, the New Democrats, thrived during the least election, primarily at the expense of the Liberals. The NDP picked up eight seats on top of their previous 29. This was all pretty normal. A minority government was formed, and the losing political parties were picking up the pieces.

Then all hell broke loose last week. The Conservatives presented an economic plan that prompted the opposition parties into action. There was stated dismay among many that proposed plan did not include any form of economic stimulus. The plan also included some controversial measures to ban public sector employees from striking until 2011. It also proposed the elimination of a subsidy granted to political parties based on how many votes they receive. The government literally pays political parties C$1.95 for each and every vote. Harper proposed eliminating that. These elements prompted a firestorm of political maneuvering. Literally within hours, there were words being uttered like “coalition government”, “motion of no confidence” and “new Prime Minister”. Recall that the current government is a minority government. They have 46% of the seats in Parliament. This means that the other three parties, have 54% when combined. Should the other parties collude, they are able to form a coalition government. The thing is, the other parties don’t like each other. The Liberals and NDP are not easy bedfellows, with the NDP typically drawing support from the Atlantic coast and the liberals more of an Ontario and western party. The Bloc Québécois generally hate everybody, much like the French.

As these developments happened at a breakneck pace, the Prime Minister successfully sought to delay the proposed motion of no confidence. It was scheduled to occur tomorrow and has instead been pushed back to December 8th. This gives everybody some time to breathe. Instead of going from minority government to coalition government in 96 hours, now there’s a week to figure things out. Under pressure, the Conservative Party scrapped the plan to eliminate the political party subsidy in an effort to appease the opposition parties. Here are some highlights from some must read CBC articles:

The Quebec separatist party offers tentative support, “bribe us and we’re yours”:

The Bloc Québécois would not be part of any coalition government, but has expressed support for the idea as long as the coalition provides economic help for Quebec’s forest and manufacturing sectors.

Canada is still technically under the thumb of the Queen of England. The Queen’s envoy is called the Governor General who has authority to call together portions of Parliament to form government and whatnot. The last time one was asked to exercise real authority in forming a government was back in the 1920s, making the current power struggle pretty rare. She’s probably heading back to Canada to be ready for whatever happens:

If the no-confidence motion passes, the Liberals and New Democrats would visit Gov.-Gen. Michaëlle Jean to request her permission to try to form a coalition government.

There are reports the Governor General’s office has made contingency plans to cut short her trip abroad. She is on a four-country tour of eastern Europe and isn’t expected back until Dec. 6. The Canadian Press quoted aides as saying she is being briefed on the situation.

The political maneuvering:

Former NDP leader Ed Broadbent had confirmed earlier in the day that he had been in talks with former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien about the possibility of a coalition stemming from disagreement with measures proposed in the government’s fiscal update, delivered Thursday.

“I’ve talked to Mr. Chrétien. He and I both discussed what would be a good situation here for the people of Canada, for Parliament, and we’ll see what happens,” Broadbent told CBC News. He called the Conservatives’ update a “joke.”

All three opposition parties — the New Democrats, Liberals and Bloc Québécois — have criticized the Conservatives for not including in their fiscal update a stimulus package to help boost Canada’s slumping economy.

Posted by Jerrod @ 8:36 pm on November 27th 2008

Technology, crowds, and “breaking news”

Perhaps the thing that struck me the most while I was reading up on the Mumbai attacks was a report that the Indian government had requested Twitter feeds to stop reporting on the movements by the police and military. Twitter is one of those things that I’ve known about for a long but simply haven’t had any urge to participate in. It always struck me as a huge distraction (I’ve got enough of those with just a handful of bookmarks) if not an outright narcissistic, “social Web 2.0”, fad, kind of like an overindulgent Facebook status line that gets broadcast around the internets.

But now, looking at the #mumbai twitter feed, I’m taken back to the 9/11 attacks and the forum thread that we had. That thread was a place for people to share the news and share the experience as it unfolded and it was very…convenient? useful? nice? comforting? I’ll say therapeutic for lack of a better word. Twitter isn’t quite the interactive medium that a forum thread is, but it clear wasn’t just a narcissistic social web masturbation. The quality of the news was immediate, relevant, unfiltered, and good enough that the authorities felt it might be undermining their attempts to control the situation.

Other social technology came into play. People have also put together a Google Document that lists casualties and status reports. And of course Flickr has some incredible photography. This is some fascinating use of technology by crowds.

As I’m writing this, someone submitted to that twitter feed that CNN is reporting on Twitter and the attacks. I haven’t read the entire twitter feed; I don’t know if the whole thing is even still available as I was only able to jump to the 100th page which is only 5 hours old. The CNN article mentions that it wasn’t just reporting of events but requests for blood donors at specific hospitals.

However, CNN also mentions the amount of rumor and wild speculation that filled the twitter feed. It’s important to keep in mind that this kind of unfiltered access to people’s input on a situation is likely to have tremendous nuggets of information that standard news reporting simply can’t collect as readily or effectively, but at the same time it’s bound to have plenty of garbage by ignorant or even intentionally malignant contributors. Just because it was twittered about doesn’t make it true.

And just because twitter was so interesting in this case doesn’t mean I’m going to start tweeting or even reading it. Probably.

Posted by Mark @ 2:56 am on November 27th 2008

Thanksgiving Video

(more…)

Posted by Liz @ 7:12 pm on November 26th 2008

Finding the limit

Conor Friedersdorf from The Confabulum points out a remarkable article in the Washington Post about a Pro-Choice medical student trying to determine whether or not to become an abortion doctor. It’s rather graphic in parts, but a worthwhile read. I found the conversations the woman has with Pro-Life doctors and other med students to be particularly noteworthy.

Abortion was a tough issue on both sides, Litty said, because it sometimes seemed they were arguing about two different things. Lesley and the Medical Students for Choice argued from the point of view of “a woman’s body, a woman’s choice,” she said. “We argue from the side of respect for life. For me and so many, there is no ‘choice.’ I think the decisions made leading up to conception were the ‘choice.’ “

Abortion is one of those passion-inducing issues where there exists the tendency to stereotype or vilify the opposite side. I like the consideration in this article, the matter-of-fact conversation, and I especially like the quote above because it encapsulates a lot of the difficult nature of the abortion debate – there are two different arguments occurring, neither of which quite allow for middle ground.

Posted by Brad @ 5:49 pm on November 26th 2008

Michelle Obama and the Politics of Feminism

Lisa Schiffren has a post up at The Corner that reminds me a lot of the whole “second gen feminism v. third gen feminism” thing that Liz speaks of now and then. At issue is Michelle Obama’s role as first lady. Michelle, of course, is whip-smart, has a Harvard Law degree, is accomplished and has strong opinions. But she’s indicated that she intends her role to be more “mom in chief” than Hillary Clinton. This is rubbing some old school feminists the wrong way. Lisa’s roundup:

Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, who is smarter than your average feminist, (and has a Harvard law degree to prove it) has a column today which amounts to whining about the fact that Michelle Obama, who has a Harvard Law degree, has announced that she will be the nation’s “mom in chief” above all other roles. Marcus frets that she is choosing to be “Jackie Kennedy” when her education and ambitions fit her to be Hillary Clinton.

Jen Rubin at Contentions finds this exaperating. Marcus’s complaint, she notes, reminds us that feminism was never about choices. It was only ever about choosing power.

Lisa also notes that not only, in her estimation, is Michelle doing the right thing, she may also be doing the smart thing. Hillary Clinton, it must be remembered, was a lightning rod for the first few years of Bill Clinton’s presidency. Indeed, “lightning rod” is putting it mildly—she was a whole new level of lightning rod. And many on the right are already if not poised, then crouched against Michelle Obama. The “first time I’ve been proud of America” really stuck in their craws, and they’re kind of looking for a reason to turn against her. They could solidify against her and turn her into a caricature at the drop of a hat, but as of yet they’re more or less on the fence. It may be wise for Michelle, whatever her intentions, to hang back for awhile and let other things take precedence and, if she chooses to take a more active role, to do so later.

Of course, that presupposes that Michelle has any interest in taking said active role, which most of the evidence suggests against. She really does just seem to be primarily interested in making sure her daughter’s retain some parental normalcy in the upcoming years, and its damn hard to blame her, whatever you think of Michelle’s personal potential.

In related news, if it’s possible to make Lisa Schiffren swoon, this exchange from the Barbara Walters interview does:

Obama: “It sounds kinda like a girly dog.”

Michelle: “We’re girls. We have a house full of girls.”

Obama: “We’re going to have a big rambunctious dog, of some sort.”

Posted by Liz @ 5:33 pm on November 26th 2008

Planets Converging

NASA has deemed this holiday weekend to be great for star-gazing.

(Unless it is cloudy or you live in Antartica.)

Posted by Brad @ 5:25 pm on November 26th 2008

Coleman-Franken Minnesota Recount Update

So, this Minnesota Senate race is turning into one of the marquee recount fights of modern politics, second only to the 2000 Florida presidential race one, but much more clean.

We’re nearing the end of the first recount phase, and Coleman’s lead has actually expanded to 238 votes, with two caveats that render that meaningless: 1. Nobody seems to know exactly what that lead is. That number is according to the Secretary of State’s office, but that actually might not be the most reliable source for a number of reasons.

2. The lead right now is as much a function of ballot challenges—and Coleman is challenging a lot more—than actual votes gained. Nate Silver, among others, have suggested that, as such, the lead is enormously artificial, more a PR thing (“we won the recount”) in preparation for the rulings on the contested ballots, where Franken will undoubtedly gain significant ground and may well take the lead. But an effective PR thing; the Coleman people can claim they won the election, they won the first recount, and it was only “election officials” who turned it to Franken. Which is disingenuous to say the least, but that’s how the game is played.

In any case, Franken’s camp still maintains it’s down to double digits. They claim Coleman leads by 84, however that is on the assumption that all Coleman challenges will be rejected. Most probably will be, but not all. So the real lead may be somewhere in the 125-150 range.

As the recount winds down, presently at issue is what to do with more than 12,000 rejected absentee ballots. The Coleman campaign says, basically, “burn them; they were rejected.” The Franken campaign demands they be sifted through and challenged as well, and very likely, if that were done, Franken would win (even if 95% of them were indeed rejected, that 5% may well be enough, and most figure Franken has an edge (though no idea who significant) on absentee ballots). Today, the Minnesota Canvassing Board sided with Coleman, although in so doing they bent over backwards to indicate that they were not necessarily the final word on the subject.

Franken has two outs. Nate Silver (sorry for the extensive quote, Nate!):

The first is that the Canvassing Board will reconvene next week to consider a proposal to have county officials sort through their absentee ballots to determine which absentee ballots appeared to have no valid reason for rejection — a so-called “fifth pile” of ballots, as there are four valid criteria in Minnesota for rejecting absentees. The Canvassing Board could then rule that ballots in the fifth pile be counted. The Franken campaign seems inclined to let this process play out for now; in the meantime, at least one county (Itasca) appears as though it may re-evaluate the rejected absentee ballots on its own, without awaiting instructions from the state.

The second mechanism would be to do the good, old-fashioned American thing and sue. It is quite likely that the Franken campaign will sue if the Canvassing Board does not mandate that the “fifth pile” ballots be counted; the reporters at The Uptake think such a lawsuit would have a fair chance of prevailing.

The St. Paul Pioneer press reports that about 12,000 absentee ballots were rejected statewide. Undoubtedly, the vast majority of these were rejected for valid reasons, but reviews of such ballots in counties like Ramsey (St. Paul) have revealed that material numbers were rejected due to human error, and Minnesota’s Secretary of State, Mark Ritchie, has estimated that between 500 and 1,000 absentees were rejected improperly.

The behavior of both the Coleman and Franken campaigns would suggest that Franken stands to gain if these absentee ballots are reconsidered, but the extent of the potential gain is hard to determine. In late October, a Public Policy Polling survey showed Al Franken with an 8-point lead over Norm Coleman among persons who had already voted, although that survey slightly overestimated Franken’s support overall. Most likely, Franken would stand to add a vote for somewhere between 1 in every 10 improperly rejected absentee ballots, and 1 in every 20. Given this range and the estimate of improperly rejected absentees provided by Ritchie, that would suggest that Franken campaign stands to gain a net of somewhere between 25 and 100 votes if these ballots are in fact counted by the state.

The Minnesota recount has so far been a model of fairness and attempting to precision. That said, this is going to come down to dirty boxing on every single ballot. Franken, for his part, seems disinclined to make the Al Gore mistake of respecting the process too much, and is going to be leaning on the system just as much as Coleman promises too. However, unlike Florida (where, I believe, more people showed up that day to vote for Gore than to vote for Bush), it’s unclear that Franken actually has more votes and just has to win. It really is pretty much dead even, to a ballot, and the margin is going to solely be a function of ballot challenges. I.e. there is no objective “count” here; how this race comes will solely be a function of subjectivity. MN officials feeling like they want to close this thing up, Coleman could justifiably win by 250. MN officials feeling like they want to be generous and liberal in terms of how they judge things, Franken could justifiably win by 100. If you’re a betting man, the truth probably comes somewhere in the middle—-that “Coleman by 84″ish margin that the Franken camp sees. But this is not a race to be betting on.

Posted by Brad @ 5:56 pm on November 25th 2008

Good News for Jehovah’s Witnesses

Michael Jackson converts to Islam, apparantly.

Hat tip to VBD, which manages a much more rousing commentary than I can presently muster.

Posted by Brad @ 5:14 pm on November 25th 2008

Brennan Out

He will not be the director of the CIA, or any other senior intelligence post.

His pick—and the fact that he was in on the ground floor of all the worst excesses of the intelligence community as directed by Bush—spurred a modest but significant blowback from some quarters (Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Sullivan of particular note). It spurred this post by me, and I’ve been working on another.

Guess I won’t have to. Today, he publicly put in his letter of “don’t hire me”. Citing specifically the reaction from the trial balloon being floated, he notes bitterly that he had nothing to do with the issues at issue, but goes on to not wish to be a distraction.

He was by far the least confidence-aspiring and least change-oriented high-level pick Obama has floated thus far, which was pretty depressing as, for many of us, that’s precisely the area where we hope to see the biggest 180. He may well have not been personally involved in the wiretapping and torture scandals, but this is one case where people demanded that the officer in charge look like the change Obama was promising.

I take that first comment on the First Read site thoughtfully:

I don’t know anything about Mr. Brennan specifically, but it’s gonna be hard to find someone with experience who WASN’T involved at some level (or with at least the appearance of it) in the CIA torture stuff.

That’s true enough, to some extent. But the reaction to Brennan, and the transition team’s high level of responsiveness to it, may ensure that we get a real reformer in the role. The fact that Brennan went down on this issue is a very, very positive development, no other way to slice it.

Glenn Greenwald, who has been front and center on this, notes:

This is really exceptional news on multiple levels — the best political news I’ve heard since the election…

I think Obama is entitled to a lot of leeway on appointments and is entitled not to be condemned — or praised — other than for things he actually does. And while I have found some of his appointments questionable, Brennan was the only prospective appointment that, speaking only for myself, was completely unacceptable. Advocacy of Bush’s interrogation and rendition programs should exclude anyone from consideration for any important position, let alone CIA Director or Director of National Intelligence.

This is an important victory. It’s absolutely vital that these bright lines be re-established. Brennan’s being denied a top intelligence positions due to his past advocacy of these abuses is a big step towards achieving that, particularly since it was due to pressure from those who insist that these political values not be de-prioritized or ignored…

In light of his record and statements, a high-level appointment for Brennan would have signaled ambivalence and ambiguity in exactly the areas where unequivocal clarity is urgently needed.

All true.

Great news today.

Posted by Brad @ 3:42 pm on November 25th 2008

Obama Goes After…Farm Subsidies?

Buried in his economic announcement today, something that stuck out. The Ticker:

In a speech just concluded announcing two more economy appointees — CBO chief Peter Orszag to the Office of Management and Budget and Robert Nabors (House Approp. Comm.) to be his deputy — President-elect Obama gave an example of one piece of wasteful government spending: farm subsidies.

Obama cited a GAO report out yesterday that said from 2003 to 2006, “millionaire farmers” got $49 million in farm subsidies despite earning more than the $2.5 million cutoff in annual income.

“If it’s true,” Obama said, “it’s a prime example of waste.”

With the announcement, Obama joins a long and largely defeated line of presidents and officials who’ve tried to kill farm subsidies, a perk as deeply ingrained in a nation built on the Jeffersonian Agricultural Ideal as any other.

Subsidies have been constructed and preserved by powerful Midwest lawmakers and are very difficult to pry loose.

To the president-elect, we say: Good luck with that. Let us know how it works out for you.

More here. But he said that as part of an even more general point:

Obama stressed the need to set up a long-term plan to reduce what he called the nation’s structural deficit once an economic recovery was “well under way” to avoid leaving “a mountain of debt for the next generation.” Still, as was the case during the campaign, Obama offered few examples, citing the need to reduce health-care costs and end wasteful government subsidies in industries like agriculture.

Structural deficit? Long-term plan after the stimulus to protect against leaving a mountain of debt for the next generation?

Put that in the “I’ll believe it when I see it” file, but man, Obama’s moving faster to the right than the Republican party has in a decade or more.

Hooray!

Posted by Brad @ 3:33 pm on November 25th 2008

Meanwhile, Across The Pond…

Iain Murray passes along the news from London (which you would already know if you browsed our blogroll regularly). Namely, Gordon Brown passed on his pre-budget report, to a very hostile reception.

The Taxpayer’s Alliance notes that Brown’s borrowing will double the debt from what it was for the Great War. Dizzy has been all over it, noting the squeeze it will put on the middle class (people will, roughly, be losing an extra thousand pounds a year), the trouble it will put Labour in in holding on to marginal seats (as if they needed more trouble), the public hates it, and oh yeah, alcohol duties will rise by 8%, which is sure to help Labour keep its tenuous hold on power in Merry Ole England.

In related news, the Political Studies Association has named Boris Johnson—a drinking man’s politician if ever there was one—the Politician of the Year, adding to identical awards from GQ and the Spectator.

Maybe I can coax Dizzy into writing us another Letter from London.

Posted by Brad @ 2:42 pm on November 25th 2008

More Skepticism Please

Glenn Greenwald, by way of making a point, links to a New York Times editorial written when Dick Cheney was appointed as the Vice Presidential nominee. Click through to Greenwald for the analysis, or here for the original editorial, excerpted below:

In choosing Mr. Cheney as his running mate, Gov. George W. Bush has turned to an unflappable Washington insider whose easygoing exterior masks a steely confidence, a man who, once he makes a tough decision, never looks back.

”He sort of chews on issues, and chews on them until he makes his mind up,” said former Secretary of State George P. Shultz, ”then he goes on and he doesn’t second-guess himself. He has very good judgment.”

Mr. Cheney, 59, who served 10 years in the House of Representatives and four as President George Bush’s defense secretary, brings stature, decisiveness and decades of government experience to a campaign sometimes short on all three.

But the real secret to his success may be an ability to wrap a staunchly conservative ideology in a mantle of moderation and civility to get people to trust him and get things done.

It is not just Republicans who feel at ease with Mr. Cheney, who while in the House opposed abortion and gun control and supported aid to anti-Marxist rebels in Nicaragua and President Ronald Reagan’s ”Star Wars” anti-missile shield. Mr. Cheney has a knack for working with political rivals, colleagues say.

Leon E. Panetta, a former Democratic congressman and White House chief of staff, recalled that Mr. Cheney was one Republican with whom he could confide during sensitive Capitol Hill budget negotiations.

”There was never any question he had conservative views, but he was always someone you could deal with and talk to, and never one to demagogue the issues,” Mr. Panetta said. ”I trusted that what I said would not be used against me in negotiations” . . . .

And he abhors the scorched-earth politics that came to characterize House Republicans under Speaker Newt Gingrich.

I love the “mantle of moderation and civility” bit. Oy vey.

Lots of praise, including from me, for the “pragmatic” “experienced” picks Obama is turning too. And, given the honeymoon period, that’s natural. But as Greenwald reminds me, it’s worth picking through the tea leaves a little more deeply.

Posted by James @ 2:13 pm on November 25th 2008

I am impressed that Brad can still type.


Obama Win Causes Obsessive Supporters To Realize How Empty Their Lives Are

Posted by Brad @ 1:55 pm on November 25th 2008

Haha

“In Thanksgiving Tradition, Bush Pardons Scooter Libby In Giant Turkey Costume”.

Posted by Brad @ 1:35 pm on November 25th 2008

Jack Bauer and Torture Propaganda

I’ve written about this before, and offer the usual caveat that I’m not promoting anything but a reflection on the show and its place in American culture (and popular sentiments, and thus policy). Certainly, because I don’t advocate any sort of censorship doesn’t mean I have to balk at making cultural critiques on the negative influence that some speech has. In particular, I find the idea behind 24 to be a masturbatory fantasy that many on the right reflexively cling to and that sadly informs a fairly wide swath of American consciousness on the issue of torture, arguing as it does more than a little explicitly that the “ticking time bomb” scenario is real, justifies torture, and that we oughtn’t be pussies about such things (which is what we are when we oppose torture).

Anyway, Phillippe Sands has a great article up in The Guardian on the matter. He relates this anecdote:

My writings on this subject have generated a decent mailbag over the past few months. But the most interesting correspondence came just last week. “I’m a US actor, living in Los Angeles,” wrote the author. “In September of 2007, I was offered a role on 24.” The actor told his agent to reject the offer, because he objected to the programme’s message. His agent told him that Howard Gordon, the principal executive producer, wanted to speak. The actor sent Gordon an email, expressing his concerns about the positive depictions of torture on the programme. Apparently, a lengthy exchange followed, in which the two debated the morality of torture and the potential impact of 24 on the moral sentiments of its millions of viewers. The actor offered to make the dialogue public, and Gordon apparently responded with “some enthusiasm”, until Fox’s publicity department stepped in and warned him against any exposure of the exchanges.

The actor shared with me some extracts of Gordon’s views. He told the actor that “I lack the conviction that torture is, under any circumstances, an unacceptable option”. He lacked that conviction because “I lack the knowledge, I just don’t know enough about the efficacy of torture”. I’ve no reason to doubt that Gordon is a thoroughly decent man. He’s smart; he went to Princeton. Through his work he would have access to a great number of lawyers, any one of whom would have told him, if he had cared to enquire, that torture is illegal in all circumstances. His own convictions, or lack of knowledge, are a total irrelevance.

Gordon also told the actor about his belief that it was “essentially true that … 24 posits that torture is a necessary evil that works and is therefore acceptable”. There was also an indication of concern. “I would hate to think,” wrote Gordon, “that I’ve somehow been the midwife to some public acceptance of torture.”

Well, the reality for Gordon, on the account given to me by Diane Beaver as well as others, is that he seems to have become the very midwife he feared. And not just to the public acceptance of torture, but to its actual use on real, living human beings.

Perhaps this might give Gordon and his colleagues some pause for thought. Perhaps this might encourage a rethinking of the entire thrust of the programme. Perhaps Day 7 might do the right thing and embrace reality: that torture is not justified, that it can never be lawful, that it produces unreliable information, and that it serves as one of the best recruiting tools for those who seek to do us serious harm. In short, torture doesn’t work, and it’s not a legitimate tool in the fight to protect national security.

Popular culture is, of course, a critical, if not the critical, component as both a reflection and a shaper of national consciousness. And 24, to my mind, is one of the most interesting popular culture brands of the 21st century so far. Its intersection with the thinking that goes into American policy is not hard to find, and even harder to dismiss as harmless popcorn fun.

Posted by Brad @ 12:00 pm on November 25th 2008

New Conservative Principle Six: Free Market, not Big Business

This is a big one.

One of the most obnoxious side-effects of Randian economic thinking is its conflation of corporatism with free markets. I find it very noble to defend oil companies (who do, all told, a pretty phenomenal job in America), or Wal Mart, or business and entrepreneurship generally. That’s all well and good. But I find one of the most corrosive and intellectually lazy aspects of libertarian Republicanism in recent decades (really, since the early 80s) to be the notion that “what’s good for Ford is what’s good for America”.

As I mentioned below, one of the pitfalls Republicans fall into is their conflation of the status quo as being one and the same with free markets, when in fact that is far from the case. We have managed care in health care, we have a blended economy as far as our financial, real estate, and even our manufacturing economies are concerned, and for anyone to argue that our tax codes as it pertains to corporations is already suffering from too much progressivity, you’ve got blinders on.

The fact of the matter is our government puts their thumb on the scale in favor of corporations and big business—either explicitly or (just as often) implicitly—far more often than it does to their detriment. And yet, to hear Republicans speak of it, free market advocacy amounts to nothing more than critiquing all liberal policies, in favor of the status quo. Americans at large, quite rightly, smell a rat.

The best comprehensive smackdown of this way of thinking is up at CATO, called “Corporations vs. the Market; or, Whip Conflation Now.” The whole thing is worth a read. As it pertains to this, a few excerpts:

If libertarians’ left-wing opponents have conflated free markets with pro-business intervention, libertarians’ right-wing opponents have done all they can to foster precisely this confusion; for there is a widespread (though again not universal) tendency for conservatives to cloak corporatist policies in free-market rhetoric. This is how conservative politicians in their presumptuous Adam Smith neckties have managed to get themselves perceived—perhaps have even managed to perceive themselves—as proponents of tax cuts, spending cuts, and unhampered competition despite endlessly raising taxes, raising spending, and promoting “government-business partnerships.”

Consider the conservative virtue-term “privatization,” which has two distinct, indeed opposed, meanings. On the one hand, it can mean returning some service or industry from the monopolistic government sector to the competitive private sector—getting government out of it; this would be the libertarian meaning. On the other hand, it can mean “contracting out,” i.e., granting to some private firm a monopoly privilege in the provision some service previously provided by government directly. There is nothing free-market about privatization in this latter sense, since the monopoly power is merely transferred from one set of hands to another; this is corporatism, or pro-business intervention, not laissez-faire. (To be sure, there may be competition in the bidding for such monopoly contracts, but competition to establish a legal monopoly is no more genuine market competition than voting—one last time—to establish a dictator is genuine democracy.)

Alas, libertarians are not innocent here—which is why the answer to my opening question (as to whether it’s fair to charge libertarians with being apologists for big business) was no and yes rather than a simple no. If libertarians are accused of carrying water for corporate interests, that may be at least in part because, well, they so often sound like that’s just what they’re doing (though here, as above, there are plenty of honorable exceptions to this tendency). Consider libertarian icon Ayn Rand’s description of big business as a “persecuted minority,”[14] or the way libertarians defend “our free-market health-care system” against the alternative of socialized medicine, as though the health care system that prevails in the United States were the product of free competition rather than of systematic government intervention on behalf of insurance companies and the medical establishment at the expense of ordinary people.[15] Or again, note the alacrity with which so many libertarians rush to defend Wal-Mart and the like as heroic exemplars of the free market. Among such libertarians, criticisms of corporate power are routinely dismissed as anti-market ideology. (Of course such dismissiveness gets reinforced by the fact that many critics of corporate power are in the grip of anti-market ideology.) Thus when left-wing analysts complain about “corporate libertarians” they are not merely confused; they’re responding to a genuine tendency even if they’ve to some extent misunderstood it.

There is an obvious tendency for vulgar libertarianism and vulgar liberalism to reinforce each other, as each takes at face value the conflation of plutocracy with free markets assumed by the other. This conflation in turn tends to bolster the power of the political establishment by rendering genuine libertarianism invisible: Those who are attracted to free markets are lured into supporting plutocracy, thus helping to prop up statism’s right or corporatist wing; those who are repelled by plutocracy are lured into opposing free markets, thus helping to prop up statism’s left or social-democratic wing. But as these two wings have more in common than not, the political establishment wins either way.[19] The perception that libertarians are shills for big business thus has two bad effects: First, it tends to make it harder to attract converts to libertarianism, and so hinders its success; second, those converts its does attract may end up reinforcing corporate power through their advocacy of a muddled version of the doctrine.

Much more at CATO. Read it. Incorporate it.

Posted by Brad @ 11:22 am on November 25th 2008

Does Health Care Reform Kill Republicans For Good?

So argues a few Republicans. Notably James Pethokoukis and Rammesh Ponnuru. The latter:

Obama’s health-care plan is designed to evolve into a national health-insurance program along the lines of Canada’s. The resulting government monopoly or near-monopoly on health insurance would stifle innovation, require bureaucratic rationing, and infringe on freedom. But it would also move American politics permanently leftward … the inevitable disappointments and failures of a nationalized system would just as inevitably be blamed on underfunding, creating a bidding war that liberals would usually win … the creation of a new system would make free-market alternatives look more radical to the public than they do now, because they would be more radical. The public’s aversion to risk, which now hurts advocates of liberal policies as much as it helps them, would only help them. So national health insurance could be a lasting political success for liberals even if it is a colossal policy failure; it could, indeed, succeed politically because of its failures.

I understand the argument, and think it’s probably right, but still find it a curious argument. On some level it reads “National health insurance would kill the Republican party because everybody would like it.” If you can’t win the argument before, during, and after the policy implementation…well then, you’ve lost the argument.

On another level, I certainly understand that as these things get implemented, they become nigh-on intractable. It becomes the status quo, and the psychological default, when the status quo isn’t satisfactory, is to layer on more action. That’s also, by the way, one of the big reasons why conservatism is in such dire straights. Because conservative solutions are backwards-looking more often than not (at least in some sense), they often don’t look like solutions at all, and instead come off as just poo-pooing the problem. Which works, precisely up to the point where most reasonable people do indeed perceive a real problem (as in health care), at which point voters go shopping for options. And that’s where conservatives lose. Frankly, by tying the argument up into a reverse Chicken Little position (“There is no problem! All is well! Our health care system is the best in the world! Change is not needed!”), conservatives often appear to have no solution. They do, of course, but they’re just as likely as anyone, it seems to me, to forget that, and instead bunker sounding a lot like Baghdad Bob, which, to voters, becomes synonymous with “no real ideas”. And again, that works for precisely as long as it takes for voters to get to the point where they’re actively looking for solutions and ideas.

Conservatism, then, needs to begin recasting itself as a philosophy of solutions, and begin to recast its conservative ideas of how to deal with things as being themselves proactive. I think this is actually something that should be at the heart of the New Conservative Principle project. This does not mean, by the way, that conservatives ought to embrace some kind of Big Government Republicanism. Far from it. But instead of just a “critique of all change”, conservatism itself needs to embrace change as a guiding principle (because voters sure do, when the status quo they don’t like). In the case of health care, some conservative plan to break the gridlock of insurance companies and big government getting between the doctor/patient relationship, and particularly the doctor/patient relationship where the patient, as the consumer, has all the power and all the options, would be a good start. That’s at least something Republicans can go to voters with and say “you want something done? You’re right, something ought to be done. Here is what needs to be done; elect us to do it.” This is America, after all; our national instinct is preternaturally geared away from “Well, we have tough problems, and sadly we can’t do anything about them, so let’s just suck it up and find our answers in Stoicism.”

Absent that realization, I find it hard to cry for Republicans when the American masses realize that our health care system is indeed screwed up, and I sympathize with them (the masses) when they have the impulse to try something new rather than just settle on the devil they know (and hate). If Republicans don’t want that process to be the death knell for their political future, they need to be there at that point of sale too, not just standing at the door protesting.

Posted by Brad @ 10:23 pm on November 24th 2008

Hillary Is Constitutionally Ineligible to be Secretary of State

Not that anyone gives a toss about such things anymore.

Even if the vetting problems involving former president Bill Clinton’s finances can be resolved, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton may face another roadblock on her way to the secretary of state’s chair.

It’s called the Constitution of the United States, specifically, Article One, Section Six, also known as the emoluments clause. (“Emoluments” means things like salaries.) It says that no member of Congress, during the term for which he was elected, shall be named to any office “the emoluments whereof shall have been increased during his term.” This applies, we’re advised, whether the member actually voted on the raises or not.

In Clinton’s case, during her current term in the Senate, which began in January 2007, cabinet salaries were increased from $186,600 to $191,300. This situation has arisen before, most famously in the case called “The Saxbe Fix,” but it involves a controversial, somewhat tortured reading of the Sacred Document.

That “fix” came in 1973, when President Nixon nominated Ohio Sen. William Saxbe (R) to be attorney general after the famed “Saturday Night Massacre” during the Watergate scandal. Saxbe was in the Senate in 1969 when the AG’s pay was raised.

Congress acceded to Nixon’s request to lower the attorney general’s salary to its pre-1969 level. Apparently this had been done once before, in 1909, for a senator in line to be secretary of state. And President George H.W. Bush, as he was leaving office, approved a Saxbe fix so that Treasury Secretary Lloyded Bentsen could move from the Senate to take that job.

But Democrats in the past have inveighed against this sleight-of-hand. In the Saxbe case, 10 senators, all Democrats, voted against the ploy on constitutional grounds. Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), the only one of them who remains in the Senate, said at the time that the Constitution was explicit and “we should not delude the American people into thinking a way can be found around the constitutional obstacle.”

Call it the Hillary Amendment?

Posted by Brad @ 8:09 pm on November 24th 2008

The Foreign Policy Team

It looks to be shaping up like this:

Secretary of State: Hillary Clinton

Secretary of Defense: Robert Gates

Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security: Janet Napolitano

National Security Advisor: Gen. Jim Jones, a retired 4-star Marine Corps general who actually supported John McCain but is considered pragmatic and very well-qualified.

Director of National Intelligence: Retired Adm. Dennis Blair who’s worked with the CIA and is well versed in clandestine military operations.

And let us not forget Joe Biden will also be hanging around.

That’s, if anything, a fairly center-right team as far as foreign policy is concerned, of the sort we might have seen, roughly, with George H.W. Bush. I think the closest thing to a neocon there might actually be Hillary. And, ironically, she’d be the closest thing to a far left pacificist too. In any event, as Donklephant notes, seems like a hard turn away from ideological-based foreign policy and towards a pragmatic, hard-nosed real-world one. I still have plenty of qualms about how Hillary Clinton operates on the inside, but not too many at all with the general shape of the team.

Now we’ll have to see how, and if, they work in action.

Posted by Brad @ 5:07 pm on November 24th 2008

DE-Sen: Biden’s Replacement? Biden’s Senior Adviser

Well then.

Gov. Ruth Ann Minner said today she will appointed Ted Kaufman, a longtime, close adviser to Sen. Joe Biden to fill the senator’s seat until a 2010 special election, a move that some warned could leave Delaware’s Democratic party feelings bruised for years to come.

The selection of the former Biden chief of staff was widely seen as a move by Vice president-elect Biden to protect his seat for his oldest son, Attorney General Beau Biden, now deploying to Iraq with his Delaware National Guard unit.

Snubbed with the choice was Lt. Gov. John Carney, considered a party favorite for the appointment. Carney as recently as last week had said he would take the job under any terms offered, including as a “placeholder” who would serve only until the 2010 regular election.

Those assurances apparently fell short of Biden’s requirements. Minner had said several times since Biden’s election to the vice-presidency that she would seek his guidance for the appointment.

[…]

Kaufman worked for Biden for 22 years, retiring in 1994 as chief of staff of the senator’s Washington office. He was senior adviser to Biden’s 2008 Presidential campaign and served the same role for his vice presidential bid. He is also one of Biden’s two representatives on Obama’s transition team.

Wow. That’s pretty…brazen.

So this guy has never held elected office, and his professional experience is solely as a Biden aide. And he gets the nod over the Lt. Governor? Talk about a ham-fisted, naked power-grab on Biden’s part. I don’t know that the blowback on this in Connecticut is going to be worth it in the long run to Beau, who probably could have won the seat outright against most anyone. At least I hope not. Is Delaware going to stand for that?

Posted by Brad @ 3:53 pm on November 24th 2008

Obama’s Economic Plan: Lower Taxes, Raise Spending

So it seems from his remarks today. Of note in the address:

1. He still means to lower taxes on that bottom 95% as a centerpiece. His tax hike on the top income earners sounds like it will be pushed off until those tax cuts expire after the 2010 fiscal year.

2. His stimulus package will be increased, probably two-fold, putting it at around 300 billion, though some are saying it could be anywhere as high as 700 billion. Most estimates guess 500 billion. I may wind up eating crow on that one, although most of what he’s proposing still strikes me as targeted and defensible. He sez:

Further, beyond any immediate actions we may take, we need a recovery plan for both Wall Street and Main Street – a plan that stabilizes our financial system and gets credit flowing again, while at the same time addressing our growing foreclosure crisis, helping our struggling auto industry, and creating and saving 2.5 million jobs – jobs rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, modernizing our schools, and creating the clean energy infrastructure of the twenty-first century. Because at this moment, we must both restore confidence in our markets – and restore the confidence of middle class families, who find themselves working harder, earning less, and falling further and further behind.

I have asked my economic team to develop recommendations for this plan, and to consult with Congress, the current Administration and the Federal Reserve on immediate economic developments over the next two months. I have requested that they brief me on these matters on a daily basis, and in the coming weeks, I will provide the American people and the incoming Congress with an overview of their initial recommendations. It is my hope that the new Congress will begin work on an aggressive economic recovery plan when they convene in early January so that our Administration can hit the ground running.

Which is just a rehash of what he’s been saying all along, save that it sounds like it might be bigger than advertised.

3. Curiously, Obama seems to be running to the right on bailouts, at least relative to most Democrats and most of the present administration (the actual Republican critics of bailouts at all are being relatively quiet these days). I am sure that bailouts are still in the offing, now that the federal government is apparantly in the bailout business, but he seems naturally a bit skeptical about throwing money around in the Paulson way, which is a good sign, and his team seem to be very focused on going through very carefully all the bailout-ish items on the agenda.

So, two competing take-aways:

A. Obama will indeed add to the deficit, as anybody could have predicted. The level at which he does so has risen, but is still less than, say, the last six months of the Bush administration. Nevertheless, Obama’s going to have a longer-term challenge of raising revenue. How he deals with the ensuing tax increases that are probably necessary and probably have been since the beginning of this decade will be something to watch, though he may be able to punt it until his second term.

B. I hate to say it, but even the spending doesn’t sound awful to me. Lower taxes and raise spending is pretty commonly accepted as the balance you have to strike when you’re in economic crisis-management mode, which I don’t think anybody doubts we are indeed in. His spending proposals, while they make my libertarian heart bristle, don’t sound nearly as bad as some alternatives, and seem to be mostly focused on short-term artificial economic padding that hopefully builds long term infrastructure. However, again, none of it sounds particularly institutional, i.e. we won’t be wrestling to disentangle the death-lock of these programs 40 years from now, as we do on entitlements. And, it sounds a lot better to me than just writing a blank check to industry.

So the plan seems to be to have progressive tax cuts, and then an injection of new spending not into the government (i.e. entitlements) as much as into the economy (i.e. “job creation”).

Anybody howling mad at this? Again, I’m trying to find reasons to object, and coming up a bit short. Not a libertarian ideal by any stretch, but on the whole sounds pretty reasonable to me.

Posted by Rojas @ 11:55 pm on November 23rd 2008

It didn’t take long.

Today’s New York Times:

In light of the downturn, Mr. Obama is also said to be reconsidering a key campaign pledge: his proposal to repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. According to several people familiar with the discussions, he might instead let those tax cuts expire as scheduled in 2011, effectively delaying any tax increase while he gives his stimulus plan a chance to work.

When I posted repeatedly about fiscal discipline during the campaign, I often encountered the retort that Barack Obama, despite his massive spending proposals, was going to increase the deficit less than John McCain would. The rationale for this claim was that Obama, unlike McCain, would repeal the Bush tax cuts.

I said at the time that this wouldn’t happen. My scenario was that Obama would deal away the tax cuts at the bargaining table in exchange for spending increases. I didn’t imagine that he’d toss them out the window less than a month after his election.

Funny. The economic situation hasn’t changed since the election; yet one of the fundamental keystones of Obama’s plan has. If Republicans had done such a thing, I suspect it would be called a “bait and switch”. But this is Barack Obama, so I suppose we shall have to think of something else to call it.

Posted by Brad @ 10:31 pm on November 23rd 2008

Drug Education I Can Get Behind

TEENAGE school students have been given access to a controversial brochure called A User’s Guide to Speed while attending a NSW Government-promoted anti-drug and alcohol program.

The 35-page booklet, included among drugs literature displayed to up to 100 Year 8 students and parents during a community information day, contains a section on “tips to avoid getting bad speed”.

In it, teenage readers are told: “If you don’t already have a reliable dealer, try to find one and stick with them.

“When you’re using a new batch, only try a little at first … you can always use the rest later if you need to.”

The booklet’s availability during workshops at the Toronto Courthouse near Newcastle – along with another on “Choosing to use” that was ordered to be pulped in June by former Health Minister Reba Meagher – has outraged anti-drugs campaigners.

Produced by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, the user’s guide tells teens amphetamine-related speed can suppress appetite and help in weight loss.

Users are urged to take breaks from using speed, allow time to “come down” so it doesn’t interfere with work or study and to carry the phone number of a legal aid solicitor with them.

One of the authors, drugs educator Paul Dillon, said yesterday the brochure’s presence at the community day was an “unfortunate mistake”.

Mr Dillon said the resource, produced to help amphetamine users cut down or quit the habit, was inappropriate for 14 and 15-year-old high school students.

Seems to me that that’s all just good advice.

Posted by Brad @ 9:34 pm on November 23rd 2008

Obama’s Emerging Cabinet

Andrew Sullivan, who gets a lot of flak from our bloggers, nevertheless has a very good take on it in the Sunday Times, and one which I agree with almost entirely. Also included: implicit answers to the criticisms of James on “change” and Rojas on Clinton.

Posted by Rojas @ 7:49 pm on November 23rd 2008

Rojas completely wusses out, part 2

The puppycam just gets better and better:

Posted by Brad @ 7:04 pm on November 23rd 2008

Music Video of the Weekend

Steriogram – Walkie Talkie Man

Posted by Brad @ 2:53 pm on November 23rd 2008

Bye Bye Russia

The international financial crisis hits home.

MOSCOW — Russians have begun to feel the chill of the financial crisis, as it triggers layoffs and wage-payment delays reminiscent of the economic collapse in the late 1990s.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin promised new measures, including lower corporate taxes and higher unemployment payments, in addition to an existing bailout package.

Government data show that wage arrears jumped in October to over four billion rubles ($145 million), their highest level in a year, and that firms owe back pay to 300,000 people. Economists say the real figures are likely to be higher, though far below those seen in the 1990s, when tens of millions of people were affected. Then, workers went without salaries for months on end, sparking nationwide protests.

A Moscow-based advertising executive said she hadn’t been paid her salary of 40,000 rubles a month since September. “I keep going to work because I don’t want to lose all the money I’ve earned,” she said. “I’m hoping I might get paid before the New Year.”

The government has insisted there is no serious crisis and that Russia is much better off than Western countries, airing public reassurances on state television. But as the banking system stutters, the ruble falls and firms dismiss staff, that storyline is becoming harder to sell.

First on the chopping block: recent EFL teacher hires. My job offer got rescinded this weekend due to “economic conditions” and the school (which draws primarily from the Moscow business community for clients” is laying off 20% of its teaching staff and freezing new hires until September 2009 “at the earliest”.

So, given that I’ve arranged everything in my life towards moving to Russia in January, I’m SOL. I’m giving myself the week before I figure out my next move. No clue what I’ll be doing past Christmas now.

Posted by Brad @ 7:41 pm on November 21st 2008

Obama’s Thinking on the Auto Bailout

Donklephant flags an interesting article on some rumblings from the Obama camp about how they might deal with the auto industry crisis.

Bloomberg:

In a prepackaged bankruptcy, an automaker would go into court with financing in hand after reaching agreement with lenders, workers and suppliers on what each would give up and on the business plan to be followed. The process might take six to 12 months, compared with two to five years if the automakers followed an ordinary Chapter 11 proceeding and worked out agreements under a judge’s supervision, Bane said.

[…]

A representative of Obama’s team has already contacted at least one bankruptcy-law firm to say that Daniel Tarullo, a professor at Georgetown University’s law school who heads Obama’s economic policy working group, would call to discuss the workings of a so-called prepack, according to this person.

U.S. lawmakers yesterday delayed until December a vote on whether to give General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC a $25 billion bailout. GM today said it would idle production at four plants an extra week and return some corporate jets to conserve cash. Automakers could use a judge-supervised bankruptcy to reduce debt and reject expensive contracts.

“It creates the environment to deal with GM’s problems but limits government financial commitment,” said bankruptcy lawyer Mark Bane of Ropes & Gray in New York.

This is what you get for electing a thinking person to the presidency. Marxist, or even Bushian, he ain’t.

Justin Gardner:

So what does this tell us about Obama?

First, he’s positioning himself as the anti-Bush right away. He has a preference, but if that’s not politically feasible, he’s not going to be stubborn.

Second, this is a signal that bi-partisanship won’t be lip service. True, we’ll have to see where this goes, but an encouraging sign nonetheless. And in times like this, there’s little room for ideological demagoguery.

Third, he could be willing to go against labor interests who may not budge on their contracts/pensions if the auto companies got a bridge loan. Chapter 11 would force the unions to make concessions or risk looking like they’re the ones who scuttled the deal.

I would add this: who knows if this idea pans out, but it’s refreshing to see someone actually exploring the issue rather than immediately devolving to demagoguery of one kind of another (“Bail them out unconditionally!” “Let them die no matter what!”). There were a lot of knocks on Obama during the campaign that his thinking begins and ends with just throwing money at stuff. I found no evidence of that then, or at least not to any extent beyond just regular mainstream left-of-center thinking. It seems increasingly evident that, if anything, the Obama team seems less inclined to do that than our current executive team (and I’m not just talking about the bailout; think tax cuts, think national security budgets, think Iraq, etc.).

But we’ll see. In any case, I take it as a positive tea leaf that Obama and his team seem to be thinking about this issue as if they were, you know, adults dealing with a complex and difficult issue for which, perhaps, bending over backwards to place it in an ideologically pure political context would be a disservice and a distraction more than an effective pragmatic paradigm.

Posted by Brad @ 6:53 pm on November 21st 2008

Geithner for Treasury, Richardson for Commerce?

Two biggies. The first:

New York Federal Reserve Bank President Timothy F. Geithner is to be nominated as President-elect Barack Obama’s Treasury secretary, according to a person close to the transition process…

It sounds like he’s a Treasury Secretary with a background skewed towards the international. Wikipedia entry:

After completing his studies, Geithner worked for Kissinger and Associates in Washington, D.C., for three years and then joined the International Affairs division of the U.S. Treasury Department in 1988.

In 1999 he was promoted to Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs and served under Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers.

In 2002 he left the Treasury to join the Council on Foreign Relations as a Senior Fellow in the International Economics department. He then worked for the International Monetary Fund as the director of the Policy Development and Review Department until moving to the Fed in October 2003. In 2006 he became a member of the influential Washington-based financial advisory body, the Group of Thirty.

Which is kind of fascinating.

For commerce, though this sounds like pure speculation, Richardson is coming up as a favorite, presumably because he pretty much has to go somewhere (though he could also do Interior or Energy). I don’t think Richardson has any particular background in commerce, but to say that of Bill Richardson is kind of like saying Stephen Hawking doesn’t have any particular background in statistics. Is Richardson really this good, or is, hate to say it, somewhat a function of tokenism that he’s had about the most varied background in the history of the world as it concerns national politics?

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