Friday, October 28, 2011

Joe Nocera and Robert Bork

I'm catching up now on Joe Nocera's column from last weekend saying Robert Bork was really not very extreme at all, and it is congressional Democrats who started the gridlock craziness in opposing Bork.

You can't make this stuff up. The shame is that this is the NY Times op-ed page. They can get anyone they want. They have some good people. Some people who know what they're talking about. And some who don't. It's not like there is a shortage of smart people out there.

Nocera has just been a joke, period.

For more on Nocera and Bork: David Weigel, Jamie Raskin.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The murder of Brad Will, five years later

Five years ago today, Brad Will was murdered in Oaxaca. The men responsible for his death have still not been brought to justice.

The U.S. is expanding its operations within Mexico, with the DEA reportedly taking a direct role in building up informants in the cartels. Meanwhile, we can't seem to get justice for our own guy.

Basic justice in much of Mexico is rather lacking. Until that's repaired (and this isn't stuff you do overnight), it will be rather difficult to restore security, short term or long. That should be the basic goal.

The U.S. if funding a chunk of Mexico's internal war now, through the Merida Initiative. That's pretty certainly bad in its current form. If the US is to fund Mexico, the funding should be going toward building the institutions of justice.

The U.S.'s relationship with Mexico is already pretty awkward. We're running our own operations, going around parts of the Mexican bureaucracy we (perhaps rightfully) don't trust. Demanding justice for our own guy isn't exactly going to be what tips the boat. And so what if it did? It would in fact fit in with, not clash with, what should be our main theme: building justice. The Bush and Obama administrations have, for whatever reasons, decided to just let it go.

Previously: A small step toward justice in Brad Will case: court forces release of activist Moreno (2/10), Three years later, no justice in Brad Will murder (10/09), In Brad Will case, Mexican government moves ahead with its farce (7/09) and Grim but expected development in Brad Will case (10/08).

Monday, October 24, 2011

Post fronts Facebook

Re the Washington Post's front page Facebook story today... I've stopped counting. It just got too exhausting. I don't think those people are ever going to get it. It's too bad.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

WaPo now giving away Sunday paper for 50 cents

From the October 18th LivingSocial email in the DC area:

Many papers do discount deals to woo customers, who then stick with the subscription after the price goes up to the normal amount. But giving away a full year of Sunday papers for 50 cents each? That sounds extreme to me. And remember, the Post doesn't get that full amount -- usually these discount services, the Groupons and such, keep about 50%. So the Post is not getting 50 cents, but probably just somewhat more than half of that.

At some point I think the print advertisers would start getting unhappy about this. How do you know the people are looking at the Sunday paper if they're only paying 50 cents for it?

The Iranian "plot", follow-up

This is back from October 12th, but I wanted to highlight it: Glenn Greenwald's rebuttal to the US claims on the Iranian 'plot'. I haven't followed the fall-out. But they sure backed down from some of those claims awfully quickly.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Obama thinks he can convince people he's suddenly populist. I doubt it.

Peter Wallsten reporting in the Washington Post last week:
President Obama and his team have decided to turn public anger at Wall Street into a central tenet of their reelection strategy.

The move comes as the Occupy Wall Street protests gain momentum across the country and as polls show deep public distrust of the nation’s major financial institutions.

And it sets up what strategists see as a potent line of attack against Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, a former investment executive whom Obama aides plan to portray as a wealthy Wall Street sympathizer.
The campaign can and will yet take many tacks. But it sure sounds like they're going to give this one a try.

It says something about the impact the Occupy Wall Street movement has had on the politics. The White House seems to genuinely fear a populist movement from the left leaving them behind. That's good that they fear it.

Wallsten rightly points out several ways in which the Obama campaign's strategy will be, um, tricky. The Administration bailed out the banks and is filled with the bank people (right up to Chief of Staff), and the campaign relies rather heavily on the bank people's money. How on earth does the campaign expect to fool people into thinking Obama is suddenly a populist? It seems unlikely.

The President can make pledges about what he'd like Congress to do, and what he'll do in 2013. But suffice to say it's not exactly likely he's going to give back all his donations from the bankers, and renounce all such future donations. Or that he'll get rid of the bankers who occupy many of the key posts in the administration.

The Obama Campaign thinks, I think, that it can pull this off because they'll be running against Mitt Romney. And when both general election candidates claim to be men of the people, team Obama thinks they can make a more convincing claim, and will win over the public.

I'm not so sure it would work that way. Romney, or whoever the Republican candidate, will come up with endless grist about how much the Obama Administration and campaign are one with the bankers. They won't even have to stretch the facts if they care not to. And while it would be awkward for Mitt himself to criticize Obama as being Big Money, he can have his surrogates do much of that work, or hand over their tips for free to the press.

Such a battle, over who is more populist, likely wouldn't be won based on the facts of which candidate gets somewhat less money from bankers than the other candidate. It would instead probably be won based on the usual: which candidate plays the refs better, or is perceived to be more like the guy you'd want to have a beer with. In the 2012 election, it may also be heavily dependent on which candidate people think will be more likely to get them a job. It's not clear yet which candidate will win on that. But populist rhetoric by itself, not backed up by action, probably won't fool that many people.

If team Obama thinks they'll necessarily win a populist battle because they'll be running against Romney, I think they're mistaken. Remember, many people thought George W. Bush was something of a folksy man of the people. They were unaware, or didn't care about, his wealth.

As progressives, I think we should judge Obama on these issues in the same way we should judge him on most issues: on his actual actions, not on his pledges. If he pledges, for example, that he'll actually prosecute some bankers, but that it will take time, so hold until 2013, we should mostly ignore the pledge. But if he actually did it, then perhaps we'd reward him with our votes.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Iranian plot?

It just seems hard to believe: that the Iranian government could have been behind a planned attack on the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington. Time will tell. But I think it likely that the story will turn out to be much softer on at least one of the two sides -- either the link to the Iranian government, or the extent to which an attack was planned. We shall see.

Politics 101

Every once in a while I go back and read David Roberts' "Policy in an age of post-truth politics." You should too. Because he's right.

Right wing coffee

Turns out Peet's Coffee & Tea is on the board of the far-right California Chamber of Commerce. Jonathan Zasloff has the story.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Will the Media Ever Get That a Movement Might Not Have a Leader?

I didn't want to put "Tahrir Square" and "Occupy Wall Street" into the same headline, because I didn't want anyone to think I was saying there's much equivalent about them. There isn't. But they, along with the Tea Party, are examples of movements that don't have individual leaders. And in each case, the U.S. media has had an outright fit about it.

Start with the Tea Party, which the media have not been able to get enough of. Demonstrations with just a few dozen people often bring waves of reporters. And the accomplishments of the Tea Party are indeed huge: literally dozens of new radical members of congress, a change in Republican politics and indeed a fairly dramatic influence on domestic policy. The movement doesn't have a leader. Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck may be heroes, but even their role is frequently overplayed.

But when the Washington Post did a big look at the Tea Party in 2010, it simply could not get over the lack of a leader: "a new Washington Post canvass of hundreds of local tea party groups reveals a different sort of organization, one that is not so much a movement as a disparate band of vaguely connected gatherings that do surprisingly little to engage in the political process. ... As a whole, they have no official candidate slates, have not rallied behind any particular national leader, have little money on hand, and remain ambivalent about their goals and the political process in general."

That the movement had accomplished so much without an individual leader could have been a lesson about the potential of movements without leaders. The article, like just about every other one, went the other direction: the lack of a leader was a sign of something wrong.

The story in Egypt, and in other movements in the Middle East, has been similar. For various reasons, these movements have been largely decentralized. And, suffice to say, often successful.

But even articles that reported on the decentralized nature of the movement sometimes led with an individual. And a lot of media were giddy about ElBaradei, and the possibility that he would be the 'leader' they were looking for.

Again, the lesson could have been that movements without an individual leader can be enormously effective. But few outlets considered that thinking, instead insisting that the decentralized nature was a hurdle to be overcome.

Look, there are two parts of this. One is just that stories about individuals are in high demand, particularly in certain forms of media, like magazines (have you read the New York Times Magazine in the last decade?). So there's a bias toward that sort of story. But the second is just this continued refusal to look at the successes of decentralized movements as evidence that leaderless movements can be effective.

Which brings us back to Zuccotti Park and the Occupy Wall Street demonstration. It's decentralized, which is often reported as a weakness. But as always, the leaderless system actually has many advantages and disadvantages. Everyone can have their opinion on which are greater. But the historical record shows that centralized and decentralized each guarantee neither success nor failure.