Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Thoughts on Sotomayor

Obama just named his first nominee to the Supreme Court. I’ve been reading up today and here is a quick summary of what I’ve learned.

1. She is very qualified, very smart, has lots of experience and is extremely meticulous in her decision-making. One article I read said that she includes extensive footnotes of support and evidence even on non-controversial points. In other words, she is well respected in the legal community.
2. She will probably be attacked on the following points:
a. She once said in an off-hand, tongue-in-cheek way that law students should want clerkships on the Appellate Court because that is where the laws are made. She clarified that the Court does not make law, that she does not agree with the practice, and that it is mostly a product of the interpretive power of the Court, but some will argue that this makes her an activist.
b. In an interview once she suggested that a Hispanic woman with diverse life experiences would likely make better decisions than an old white man because he would have less lived experiences to draw from. Conservative commentators have said this makes her a racist.
c. She voted to not hear a case of reverse discrimination. White firefighters were arguing that affirmative action policies were preventing them from receiving fair promotions. The decision that she was a part of was apparently dismissive, much less thorough than is her M.O. Conservatives are again arguing she is a racist. More thoughtful critics are concerned about what it means that she did not pay as careful attention to this particular case.
So far that’s all I’ve heard for criticism. Limbaugh has already called her a racist, so for what that’s worth…
3. She seems to be liberal but it’s hard to say how much. She seems fairly acceptable to most conservatives. One right-wing commentator said that the extreme left would be disappointed with her as a selection, another that she is a far less radical choice than the extremely radical Obama could have made, and many highly conservative Republican Senators voted for her confirmation to the Appellate court (including Orin Hatch from my home state, Utah).
4. In spite of her relative moderation the liberal bloggers seem very happy to have her as the nominee. No one is complaining that she is too liberal or not liberal enough.
5. She has very few rulings, none of them seem major, on hot-button legal issues like abortion.
6. She saved baseball.
7. Identity politics: Do not expect a lot of Republican opposition. Republican strategists that advise about how to court the Hispanic vote insist that major opposition to her confirmation would be the nail in the coffin for the GOP’s hopes to get Hispanic votes. I seriously doubt they would do this, and are already avoiding the harsh rhetoric being used by conservative talk radio and such, but if they did it would, in my humble opinion, be the kiss of death for the Republican Party. I predict an easy confirmation. Here is a cool article on that question: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-court-assess27-2009may27,0,4057686.story

Friday, April 17, 2009

Pirates, the Mob, Drug Lords and Sergio Fajardo

The thing about Pirates is that we can’t just kill them all. Here is a very interesting article I discovered via Kundai and the magic of Twitter (yeah, I twit):
It happens to have the awesome point that “you are being lied to about pirates,” but the other key elements are thus, pirates are viewed as local heroes, they are an INEVITABLE outgrowth of the social conditions in Somalia.

Somalia is a failed state and has been for over a decade. Violence is normal, hope does not exist. The coast is the primary source of wealth. However, because Somalia has no functioning government they cannot enforce and protect their coastal waters. As a result European fishing vessels are overfishing their coast and leaving no food for the people of Somalia. In a different, non-fishing coastal area, the Italian mafia is dumping nuclear waste on behalf of some European governments. The result has been massive sickness and death.

Many of the pirates emerged as a volunteer coast guard to protect the fishing rights of the Somali people and to prevent illegal nuclear dumping. Pirates therefore enjoy a great deal of local support and popularity. Obviously there is a level of opportunism and violence that is unacceptable (hostage taking, attacking innocent people, etc).

That’s the thing about piracy though, it is a way to make a great deal of money in Somalia while all other avenues lead to poverty and despair. You can kill as many pirates as you want, there will always be people willing to risk their life if the upshot is their only chance out of the desolation of the failed state of Somalia. It is the same reason that no amount cops on the street or mandatory minimum sentencing in the laws will eliminate drug dealers in America. If you have places where the schools are broken, opportunity is a myth, and lots of money can be made pushing drugs, the potential benefits will always outweigh the risks. There have been countless rap songs on this very subject (Biggie, 2 Pac, Jay Z, etc. all have numerous songs with lines advancing this very argument). Now imagine that opportunities are even worse. There are no schools, there is no chance of being an athlete, there is no career in music. Imagine there are no social programs, no fish in the ocean, no food, no protection. In becoming a pirate you risk your life, but the chances of being killed are much smaller than the chances of being arrested in America for peddling drugs. Almost all drug dealers get arrested at some point, virtually no pirates end up being killed. EVEN IF WE CHANGE THAT and kill as many pirates as we can, when the option is a life of opulence and danger or a life of starvation and hopelessness there will always be adventurers willing to risk it all for a chance at a better life. As long as these conditions persist there is absolutely no chance of solving the problem.

So what should be done? Well, I have a good idea about the “what,” not so much on the “how.” Medellin, Colombia provides an excellent case study of how a violent, corrupt society built on the hopelessness of poverty and the opulence of crime can be transformed. It was once the home of Pablo Escobar, the epicenter of global narco-trafficking and a place with little hope. Now violence has dramatically decreased, it is safe to visit, the drug trafficking has by and large moved elsewhere and the people have hope. I believe that Sergio Fajardo knows best how this came to be and what programs are needed to replicate this success elsewhere. Listen to him explain how Medellin was transformed:

Friday, March 13, 2009

Stewart/Cramer and a new name for terrorists

If you have not seen the Jon Stewart/Jim Cramer exchange yet, please do yourself a favor and watch it. I’m going to post the whole exchange, the hype leading up to it and everything, but if you don’t want to watch 45 minutes of youtube videos then please do yourself a favor and at least watch the 3 part interview posted at the end. It is MUST WATCH!!! The analogy floating around is to the time when Jon Stewart killed crossfire, and I think the analogy is apropos.
While many things come out of this, the one I wish to highlight is how Jon Stewart appears to be modeling good journalism. He criticizes Cramer and CNBC for bad journalism and shows them, through his interview, what good journalism looks like. Imagine if CNBC had used a similar technique when CEOs went on to their shows. Cramer complains about Paulson lying in an interview. Why complain, why not expose him on air like Stewart just did to you? It’s what they do on Meet the Press. Use this exchange as a template. I would like to say that it would be unfair to make Cramer the fall guy. He was honest enough to come on the show and not make too many excuses for stuff. He should be admired for his bravery and thanked for acting as a useful prop. Without him this smack-down could not have happened.

However, before I post any of these things, I want to emphasize a story that may have flown a bit under the radar. The Obama administration is abandoning the “enemy combatant” label for people suspected of terrorist activities. This was a big deal in the debate community last year and rightly so. Bush in part used the label to carve out a legal grey area. Enemy combatants were supposedly neither criminals who have the rights of criminals nor soldiers who have Geneva rights. The label was also a symbolic move that helped hide the fact that our country was obtaining people, some innocent and some guilty, holding them without charge (or hope of release, or any ability to contact the outside world, a terrifying thought for those who ended up being innocent), and subjecting them to “enhanced interrogation” (a lovely euphemism for, among other things, torture). The Washington Post recognized the significance of this shift:
“Though dropping the term "enemy combatant" will have little practical effect, it is a symbolic move by the Obama administration to break with the past”.

This change is an important symbolic break. It is an acknowledgment that everyone is human, whether we suspect they are terrorist or not, and that everyone should be treated as such. It is a great relief for me. When I was a kid I always believed that if something terrible happened, if I was exposed to injustice, if I were confused with someone else, I could always count on my country to keep me safe. That was the great thing about America, my innocence would be found out. After all, you can’t treat me this way, I’m a human just like anyone else. This is a purely symbolic move, but it is an important one because it restores a bit of that childhood faith. It reassures me that there isn’t a different category of person, a category of person that isn’t just as human as anyone else. If for no other reason I wanted to highlight tat particular story.

Now, the Stewart/Cramer debate, set up first then interview. BTW, if you are reading a facebook feed of my note then the embedded stuff probably doesn’t work and you’ll have to go to benwarnerspolitics.blogspot.com to watch the videos.



Saturday, February 14, 2009

Republicans bad strategy

Ok, so I’ll work on this whole “regular” thing. I read somewhere that if you want your blog to earn a readership you need to post at a consistent time so people can eventually integrate reading it into their habits. Perhaps if I had more faith that I will one day have a “readership” or anything that resembles more than a hodgepodge of curious friends and family I would be better at this “schedule.” I’m happy to write for my hodgepodge though, and I’m sure my hodgepodge doesn’t lose sleep over my irregularity (is there a bowel movements joke here?)

I am motivated to return to my Interneting by an argument I would like to make about the Republican Party. I firmly believe that they are focused on a myopic and short-sighted goal: discredit Obama. There is no strategic vision here. You’ll never win elections with “them the bad guys.” There has to be some believable element of “we are good guys.”

If the Republicans vote almost totally against the stimulus, water it down, fight it tooth and nail, they can later argue that Obama wasn’t able to transcend partisanship. Sure, they look like assholes, but he also looks like he failed in his mission. Given how impossible it will be to fix the economy in 2 years, they can also argue that the stimulus didn’t work and was wasteful spending. Here is the problem, they also look like assholes. They look petulant and uncooperative. I don’t think they care. I think they honestly believe that 2010 will be all about Obama: if he looks good they loose, if he looks a bit tarnished maybe they have a chance.

The Republicans are at a rare crossroads and have a real opportunity to reinvent themselves and their message yet all they want to do is drag down the President (in a time of full crisis no less). Here is some evidence of what it is like inside their heads. This is part of a transcript taken from the post-election conference at the Dole Institute (soon to be published on the Dole Institute website, just as soon as I can finish editing the transcript for them : )

The broader context of conversation is basically this: it is suggested that McCain could have beat Obama on the strength of his character but that his attempts to trash Obama ruined that strength of character. The McCain campaign managers respond that the whole election was only about Obama and if they didn’t discredit him they would lose. The participants in this particular conversation are Nate Silver from fivethirtyeight.com, Kelly O’Donnell from NBC News, Sarah Simmons, Deputy Director of Strategy for the McCain Campaign and Christian Ferry, Deputy Campaign Manager for the McCain Campaign. (the program also had campaign managers from every significant primary campaign, two from Obama’s, and representatives from the New York Times, New York Post, TalkingPoints Memo, Edison polling, and maybe something else I’m forgetting but these other participants weren’t speaking up at this particular point of dialogue).

Nate Silver:
It seems to me that the in between would be to have one message but to have it be John McCain’s message. Sometimes it felt like it was a more generic Republican, Steve Schmidt message and not John McCain’s message.

Kelly O’Donnell:
For example?

Nate Silver:
Well, the celebrity thing, which I think was effective in the short term. That’s not really McCain’s brand. If you’re concerned about campaign finance and not going with public financing being against his brand, well so is Britney Spears, I think.

Sarah Simmons:
I actually thought that was completely consistent with his brand. He was saying that he was a guy of substance. We were running against a guy who had basically gotten into this race and had turned into a celebrity such that reporters didn’t ask him serious questions. Voters would parrot back his message with, “we’ll fix that economy with a dash of hope and a splash of change.” Part of our argument was that there wasn’t a substantive message coming out of the Obama campaign. I think that is a reasonable thing to discuss on a political campaign. You guys probably disagree, I hope you disagree, but I think that’s a reasonable thing to be discussing on a campaign.

Christian Ferry:
We decided early on, and I’d be curious to know your thoughts, that this campaign was about Barack Obama. This was a change election. We’ve said it over and over again. The primaries were about change. There was going to be a new direction and a new president and change. From our perspective this campaign was going to be about Barack Obama. If Barack Obama could clear the hurdle and show that he had the experience, that he had what it takes to be President of the United States, chances were he was going to win this election. The celebrity ad, you say that is not John McCain’s brand, but it wasn’t about John McCain, it was about Barack Obama.

Nate Silver:
This is where I disagree. If you look at the head to heads with Obama and other Republican candidates back in the primaries, Romney was losing to Obama by 12 or 15 points. Fred Thompson was losing by 12 or 15 points. Giuliani was losing by 10 points. Only McCain was competitive in the first place. That says that it is a lot about McCain. The things that make McCain not Mitt Romney were important and some of those were lost.

Christian Ferry:
I would disagree. I mean, this was a change election. Looking back on primary polling to make that conclusion is useful but at the end of the day it was going to be a match between someone who had won a Republican primary and someone who had won a Democratic primary and at that point you’ve got to reexamine the race and look at it all over again.

Sarah Simmons:
Barack Obama’s candidacy changed between the primary and the general election too. I think he became, I do think the process was very good for him as a candidate. I think he became stronger. He became more articulate. He became better at delivering his message. I watched a lot of the primary debates and there was a lot of “um” and “uh.” You guys are right, he is better in a long format because it’s difficult for him. I don’t know if it’s difficult for him or if he wasn’t as practiced at delivering his message in a short format. I also think that’s like comparing apples to oranges.

Christian Ferry:
I do believe that in this environment John McCain was a particular kind of Republican who had a chance to win in this difficult environment. But in order for him to have that shot people needed to come to the conclusion that the change Obama was offering wasn’t the direction the country needed to go.