Some observations about the Russian invasion

So I'm a little disheartened about the lack of diaries/commentary on this site about the ongoing crisis in the Caucasus.  I've been itching to find a good discussion so I could add my uninformed/off-the-cuff opinions, but it seems the thing to do today is to either relive the primaries, discuss the Edwards soap opera, or post uncritical Obama campaign talking points on the front page.

So I'll make my own damn diary, and opine as I please!  Man I love teh Internets.

1.  This is a major move by Russia, and it has as much to do with Georgian repression of the South Ossetians as the invasion of Iraq had to do with WMD.  Putin's been fucking with his neighbors over gas and oil resources for years now (see: Ukraine in 2005, Belarus in 2007) and this invasion clearly has designs beyond the disputed regions of S. Ossetia and Abkhazia.  Currently, Russian forces are sitting outside of Tblisi, and the Russians have all but acknowledged that they seek full-fledged regime change, probably to control the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline and thereby monopolize fuel deliveries to Europe.

2.  It's a major move against the U.S. Russia's rhetoric has been strongly critical of America, and this move comes against our strongest ally in the region.  Georgia as the third-most troops of any country in Iraq, and has pushed for NATO membership.  Putin is a stone player, and he knows exactly what he's doing.

3.  The U.S. has no sticks to use against Russia, and everybody knows it. Thanks to the Bush administration's systematic squandering of any moral authority the U.S. once had, we have not a lick of credibility in the international community.  Putin has so far steadfastly rebuffed any attempts at diplomacy, and his dissing of Bush and Sarkozy in Beijing before flying directly to the front was basically a major middle finger to that coalition people love to call "The West." What are we going to say?  "You can't unilaterally intervene in another country merely to control their natural resources!" Nope, lost that card.  "Your citing supposed Georgian abuses of the Ossetians is an obvious pretext!" Uh, don't have that one either.

4.  The U.S.'s inability/refusal to come to Georgia's aid is chilling our other allies to the bone. The basic deal the U.S. has made to our allies in recent years has been: "support our adventures in VietIraq, and you'll be on our side, subject to our protection and whatever market aid we can give you." You think Ukraine, Pakistan, Taiwan, South Korea, et al are reassured by our inaction as tanks roll into the Georgian capital?  This is where George W. and the U.S. were hugely popular, and which underwent a rare, peaceful transition into a Western-style democracy--the very transformation we urge on everybody in the world if they don't wanna get regime-changed.  Now they know how good our word is.

5.  Barack Obama needs to step up, like now. His initial statement was kind of wishy-washy, playing the same kind of on-the-one-hand equicovation that people used to use in the Balkans back in the day.  ("The Serbs and the Bosniaks both need to stop the violence!")  And his campaign's statement trying to tie the crisis to its current theme--McCain as corrupt insider in bed with the lobbyists--was a serious misstep.  It made him look petty, small-minded, and out of it.  If I were Plouffe I'd be on the horn to him right now, saying "Barack, this is a major world crisis, you cannot be seen surfing in Hawaii while John McCain is playing statesman."

I've staked a lot of my support for Obama on my belief that he has it in him to be a major statesman and player on the international scene.  Right now, the free press McCain is getting while Obama mellows on the beach only helps him, playing as it does to his campaign's main theme that McCain, not Obama, is the only candidate capable of taking on Putin without being played.  Obama strengthened his initial statement, I was pleased to see--now he needs to come back from vacation and show us what he's got.  How will his multilateral, carrots-and-sticks, talk-to-our-belligerents foreign policy handle this particular crisis?

I want to see it.

[As always: my take only, of course.]

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More baseless VP speculation

Thanks to QTG's comment in another thread, I just typed in the following web addresses:

. . . and sure enough, only one of them links directly to the Democratic Party's website.

Meaningful?  Meaningless?  Discuss.

(If it's true, color me disappointed.)

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Professor Obama

Cross-posted at The October Protocol.

The NYT ran a long feature Wednesday about the twelve years Barack Obama spent teaching law at the University of Chicago. The paper's framing of the story is that Obama kept himself aloof from the Chicago faculty, made his political ambitions known, and shrewdly kept his positions on policy questions such as affirmative action and government regulation close to the chest.

"He surfaced all the competing points of view on [Lani] Guinier's proposals with total neutrality and equanimity," says Prof. David Franklin, sounding a familiar theme about Obama that he excels at dispassionate analysis, with a gift for empathizing with both sides of hot button issues.  The flipside to this gift, of course, is that it leaves people heavily invested in academic and intellectual camps wondering whose side he's really on.

My take on the article's portrait of Obama as a professor, and the insights that can be gleaned from his Constitutional Law exams and answer keys, is that they confirm my view of him as a thoughtful and careful legal mind more interested at getting at the heart of policy disputes than in resolving them.  His course materials emphasize the realities of racism, disenfranchisement, and poverty--and the distortions those realities have on a democratic political process--while at the same time acknowledging the failures of heavy-handed attempts to fix them from the top down.  One question from a 1996 exam asked students to analyze two hypothetical proposals by a black mayor, in a heavily segregated city split 50-50 between blacks and whites with a significant history of institutional racism in the power structure, to ensure that the awarding of construction contracts and the hiring of firemen better reflect the city's racial composition.  Both proposals are facially race-neutral, with the construction proposal skewing toward companies based in low-income neighborhoods and the fireman proposal doing away with a (possibly culturally-biased) written exam.

Obama's answer key to both questions isn't earth-shattering: he's looking for students to analyze the right cases (Aderand, Croson, Washington v. Davis, etc.) and put forth good arguments about the level of scrutiny such proposals would face in court and the likelihood of surviving.  What strikes me though is his understanding that it's not enough to believe that the mayor is right, or that his proposals are a good idea--you have to convince a court that the proposals play by the rules the Supreme Court has set down regarding discriminatory intent, narrow tailoring to a compelling state interest, and so forth.   He seems keenly aware that knowing your arguments are the right ones is not enough in a sprawling, diverse democracy: you need to take seriously the opposing views, pare the issues down to their cores, search for the common ground, and move from there.

Lawyers are trained to be advocates, to take a goal (my client's best interest) and pursue any and all threads that lead to that goal while ignoring, minimizing, or attacking those that don't.  Obama's not an advocate.  He's a balancer.  He doesn't make a stand and then use whatever arguments happen to be convenient to defend that stand til the crack of doom--he weighs competing sides, acknowledges the impossibility of always being right, and looks for common ground.  So when Richard Epstein complains that "he's always been a thoughtful listener and questioner, but he's never stepped up to the plate and taken full swings," he means Obama's never planted his flag in the sands of an idea and loaded his guns to defend it, right or wrong.

Which is exactly what voters sick of pig-headed, reflexive partisanship find so refreshing.

By way of reflexive balance, I note the extensive use of the words "I" and "me" in Obama's memos and communications to his law classes.

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How will Obama react to D.C. v. Heller?

Many, including me, were disappointed at Senator Obama's statement opposing the Supreme Court's ruling that child rapists could not be sentenced to death.  I see it as a tactical move to appeal to the large numbers of Americans who support the death penalty.  Now, I'm not freaking out and screaming CONCERN at the top of my lungs, but as a careful adoption of a not-so-progressive position on an issue many progressives care about, it is duly noted.

My real question is this: how do you think Sen. Obama will react to the likely outcome of D.C. v. Heller?  This case, set to come down any day now, will likely reveal the Court's never-yet expressed doctrine on the Second Amendment, and will set the rules for all gun-control efforts in the future.  Per SCOTUSblog, Heller is the only case left from its original batch, and Justice Scalia is the only justice without a majority opinion from that batch.  Not a good sign for those of us who don't favor radical reinterpretations of two hundred years of Constitutional law based on what was good policy for the matchlock muskets and devolved federal structure of 1784.

Obama's position on the Second Amendment:

Repect the Second Amendment. . . . as a former constitutional law professor, Barack Obama believes the Second Amendment creates an individual right, and he greatly respects the constitutional rights of Americans to bear arms.  He will protect the rights of hunters and other law-abiding Americans to purchase, own, transport, and use guns for the purposes of hunting and target shooting.  He also believes that the right is subject to reasonable and commonsense regulation.

Source: onal/#sportsmen (click "read the full plan.")

There's a fair amount of wiggle room in that policy position.  If the Court announces an individual right to bear arms, which seems likely, Obama will probably have to support it publicly.  The question will be the kind of "reasonable and commonsense regulation" the Court will allow--if it allows any at all.  I personally expect a somewhat broad consensus that the Second Amendment does, in fact, provide an individual right, and then a confusing mess of concurrences and dissents about exactly what kind of regulation of that right is permissible.

So, how will/should Obama play this?  Gun control, like the death penalty, is one of those issues that the great swath of Americans known as "the middle" seem to agree on: they're for it, but not too much.  My prediction is that, whatever the specifics of the holding, Obama will play to the mountain west in his response. Which I'm okay with.  I guess.

I just hope that if Scalia goes completely off the deep end and declares an untouchable, sacred right to the automatic assault rifle, Obama will speak out strongly in favor of the need for gun control.

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What she gonna do?

Cross-posted at The October Protocol.

Clinton, tonight, that is.  Her camp's been sending out mixed signals all day, and the campaigns's message discipline has faltered as of late.  (Which makes perfect sense.  When the campaign ends, Ed Rendell will still be governor of Pennsylvania and Terry McAuliffe will still be Terry McAuliffe.  Harold Ickes and Howard Wolfson are losing prime shots at sick White House status points.  It's not hard to guess why they're sending the signals they are.)

Way I see it, she's got a couple of options.

1) She concedes and endorses.  Most likely to happen if his supposed cache of superdelegates collectively informs her campaign this afternoon or evening.  Against the advice of the most loyal, she congratulates Obama and ends the campaign.  This last detail is important--she has the Nixonesque need to believe she's making the decision alone, in the best interests of something larger, and against the advice of those who are helplessly loyal.

2) More realistically, she "acknowledges" his lead in the pledged delegate race, but holds up the fallacious parallel of her (disputed) lead in that non-metrical metric, the popular vote.  "He's leading in one metric, I am in the other." This will allow her to justify suspending, instead of ending, her campaign, and her non-endorsement of Obama.  Sadly, this will mean that she needs an excuse to keep going--fundraising and paying off debt and all that--so she'll probably trot out her appeal of the MI/FL decision to the Credentials Committee and suggest that she's waiting for superdelegates to stab Obama by switching to her at the last minute.  (Which, of course, they are technically free to do.)

3) She ignores Obama's passing the threshold, delcares Paul "General Bethlehem" Villarreal (my nickname, not his) her new campaign manager, and declares Stage III of the campaign: All Out War.  On to Denver!  You'll pry this nomination from my cold dead hands!  Did you know Obama is a muslim crackhead who got head from a male hooker in the back of a limousine?

Throwing the coins in accordance with Protocol guidance reveals Option 2 as most likely.  It's tough to give up the dream.  She'll use any argument she has, no matter how tenuous.  It seems obvious to most observers that, should she continue, her chances of wresting the nomination from Obama are tiny while those of torpedoing the party are huge.  But ambition and isolation work strange effects on highly public figures whose power plays work out across vast canvasses.  To succeed at the level Clinton has succeeded at requires a kind of doublethink, a comfort with cognitive dissonance: you've got to convince yourself first, even if all external indications point against you.  I will be the nominee. 

Before Clinton concedes to Obama, she'll have to concede to herself.

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A Love Supreme

Cross-posted at The October Protocol

It's more than just Coltrane's sickest album.  It's also what I feel for the highest court in the land.

And in light of that love, it's never too early to start handicapping the candidates' possible SCOTUS picks!

Supreme Court appointments worm their way into political discourse in strange ways.  Generally speaking, voters don't give a shit: no politician scores huge points by talking about the least accountable branch of government.  But to movement soldiers on the Right and the Left, control over the Court is the great prize.  In this bizarro campaign season, when both parties are facing the possibility of revolt, partisans of the candidates are using the Court to rally the troops.  Unite around Obama or turn the Court over to Scalia and Thomas!  Vote for McCain or permanently lose the chance to overturn Roe!

The current age of composition of the Court makes this election particularly crucial. The liberals are older, the conservatives younger: in January 2009, Stevens will be 88, Ginsburg  75, Breyer 70, and Souter 69.  Kennedy and Scalia will both be 72, Thomas 60, Alito 58, and Roberts a frisky 53.  The next president will likely be able to replace Stevens, Ginsburg, and Souter (who hates being on the Court)--Breyer, Scalia, and Kennedy love being justices, and Thomas will hold on grimly until his seat is plucked from his cold, dead hands.  Three seats for the November victor is a legacy worth fighting for: FDR's picks were radically changing American jurisprudence and society for thirty years after his death, and Reagan's might end up doing the same.

Yesterday's NYT spotlights the differences between McCain's and Obama's philosophies on SCOTUS appointees.  Briefly: McCain has sold his soul to the right and pledges more of Roberts and Alito; Obama wants empathy.

Of course, these handy soundbites greatly simplify things.  Let's not forget that McCain, the champion of campaign finance reform, filed an amicus brief in FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life to no avail, as the two justices he claims to want to emulate effectively gutted the Court's previous upholding of McCain-Feingold.  And Obama taught law for ten years at the University of Chicago, hardly a hotbed of empathy-based jurisprudence.  Campaign rhetoric is campaign rhetoric: I expect that both candidates would hew closer to the ideological center in their SCOTUS picks.

With that in mind, and without further ado, The October Protocol shortlists.


Sonia Sotomayor: Second Circuit (Clinton); 54 years old; appointed to the Southern District of New York by GHW Bush; would be the first Hispanic justice since Cardozo; reliably liberal; widely considered a front-runner if the Democrat wins.

Diane Wood: Seventh Circuit (Clinton); 58 years old; certified MILF; mentioned as possible pick for Kerry; more moderate than other liberal judges; academic star and respected judge; from Obama's home circuit.

Merrick Garland: D.C. Circuit (Clinton); 56 years old; oversaw the Oklahoma City and Unabomber investigations for the Clinton DOJ; considered relatively moderate.

Deval Patrick/Jennifer Granholm: Governors of Mass. (52) and Mich. (49), respectively.  Obama has floated the idea of nominating a politician in the mold of Earl Warren, former (Republican!) governor of California.  Patrick was head of the Civil Rights Division in the Clinton DOJ; Granholm was the Michigan attorney general.  Both have the legal chops and the real-world experience to add a shot of pragmatism to a Court made up entirely of former circuit court judges; both are also partisan Democrats, and might only add to the politicization of the Court.

Harold Koh: Dean of Yale Law School; 54 years old; clerked for Blackmun; Ass't Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor under Clinton; respected author and essayist on human rights and international law; criticized as a partisan Democrat; intellectual heavyweight; would be first Asian-American on the Court.

Other options: Kim Wardlaw (9th Cir.); Leah Ward Sears (Georgia Supreme Court); Cass Sunstein (University of Chicago); Barrington D. Parker (2nd Cir.).


Michael McConnell: Tenth Circuit (GW Bush); 53 years old; prominent Constitutional scholar; widely cited as a likely pick to replace Rehnquist; proponent of originalism; supports a Constitutional amendment banning abortion--but then again, thinks it's the only way to do so.

Alex Kozinski: Chief Judge, Ninth Circuit (Reagan); 58 years old; distinguished essayist and legal scholar; idiosyncratic judge with a strong libertarian bent; not an `originalist' like Scalia or `batshit crazy' like Thomas; author of the greatest judicial line ever: "The parties are advised to chill."

Maureen Mahoney: Appellate lawyer, Latham & Wilkins; 54 years old; deputy Solicitor General under GHW Bush; distinguished advocate; argued for the University of Michigan in favor of its affirmative action program in Grutter v. Bollinger; highly competent attorney in the mode of John Roberts.

J. Michael Luttig: General counsel for Boeing; 54 years old; star of the conservative legal movement who resigned from the Fourth Circuit for a higher-paying job; often compared to Scalia in philosophy and temperament; clashed with Bush administration over executive prerogatives in the Jose Padilla case.

Edward Prado: Fifth Circuit (GW Bush); 61 years old; former federal public defender; touted as a moderate option to replace O'Connor; subject of a "Draft Prado" movement for a Latino Supreme Court justice not named Alberto Gonzalez.

Other options: Janice Rogers Brown (D.C. Cir.); Priscilla Owen (5th Cir.); Emilio Garza (5th Cir.); Eugene Volokh (UCLA and The Volokh Conspiracy).

And the doozy:

Richard Posner: Seventh Circuit; 69 years old; widely considered the most brilliant judge in America; immensely prolific scholar and philosopher; self-declared Pragmatist in the mode of Oliver Wendell Holmes; noted proponent of the Law & Economics school; supports both the president's power to order torture and the legalization of soft drugs; unquestioned intellect and lack of partisan identification make him a lock never to sit on the Supreme Court.

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More of this, please, John

Sen. McCain the other day:

"If I am elected President, I will work with anyone who sincerely wants to get this country moving again. I will listen to any idea that is offered in good faith and intended to help solve our problems, not make them worse. I will seek the counsel of members of Congress from both parties in forming government policy before I ask them to support it. I will ask Democrats to serve in my administration. My administration will set a new standard for transparency and accountability. I will hold weekly press conferences. I will regularly brief the American people on the progress our policies have made and the setbacks we have encountered. When we make errors, I will confess them readily, and explain what we intend to do to correct them."

[Sorry for the lack of block quotes, I'm programmatically impaired.]

I applaud this sentiment from Sen. McCain and I see it as an effect that Obama is already having on the General Election.  Since the beginning of the primary season, I have hoped that we would see a McCain v. Obama match up in the fall, because I trust both senators to finally start the long, hard process of stitching up the partisan divide.  Some argue it's unstitchable; I'm not so sure.  But moves like this and his rebuke of the NC party's Wright ad are a step in the right direction.

That's why I feel like it's incumbent on Democrats and progressives to encourage McCain to use this kind of language, and to call him out strongly when he tries bullshit moves like tying Obama to Hamas.  A lot of the right already hates McCain because they see him as too bipartisan, too willing to reach out to the Democrat enemy.  There will be strong pressure on him to allow the party's machinery to undertake dirty, Swift-boat attack campaigns.

I hope the public pressure stays on him to resist.  The party's hardcore have already indicated that they plan to ignore his calls for temperance and a moderate tone.  He remembers South Carolina in 2000.  The more we can encourage him to match Obama in raising the tone, the better an election we'll have.  

I'm expecting a tough fight from McCain.  He's a politician, after all, and I'm sure this fall campaign won't be free from the usual bullshit.  (Hamas, McSame, etc.)  Both sides will distort and paint their opponents in unflattering colors.

But encouraging this kind of talk from our politicians is what we want to do.  We just need to be on them to live up to it.

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A Request for the Doomsayers

Just a request for those on this site who like to spread gloom and doom about Sen. Obama's chances in the general against Sen. McCain, should Obama win the nomination.

Could you tag your dire pronouncements of the end of the Democratic party, Obama's surefire crushing loss, and the inevitably barn-red electoral map come November with a little disclaimer as to whether this is something you desire?

It's easy:

"McCain is going to crush Obama this fall, no contest, the Democratic party is toast for the next quarter century, you'll never get the Clinton coalition back." (^)

(^) I do not wish for this to happen.


"McCain is going to slice through Obama's weak-ass coalition like a hot knife through butter, the Democratic party has been irredeemably destroyed." (^)

(^) I do wish for this to happen.

It would make it easier to know who to respond to.

For those who don't want McCain to beat Obama--and I must give props to Alegre here, passionate Clinton supporter, who has declared she will support the eventual nominee--I feel you!  Let's make sure it doesn't happen.  It sucks when your candidate loses--or is currently losing--and especially when your candidate is as skilled, passionate, and intelligent as Sen. Clinton.  It's hard to switch gears, and I don't expect many will unless/until Clinton concedes.  (Which she really has no reason to do until PR has voted.)  So, I'm glad to know we'll be on the same side soon enough.  Some of your pessimism may be warranted.  It will be a tough GE, no doubt.  Let's get on it.

For those who claim to choose McCain over Obama: could you briefly summarize Clinton's agenda, and then explain to me how a McCain election will help further that agenda?  

Because it seems to me that Clinton's agenda presumably includes withdrawing troops from Iraq (something I don't support, by the way), her health care program (which I do), SCOTUS appointees to counteract the originalist coup and preserve Roe v. Wade, and (gas tax holiday aside) reasonable and progressive economic policies.  

I find John McCain an admirable man in many respects, and I'm not looking forward to the prospect of Democratic sites using the same bullshit tactics on him that they decry when used against their own candidate.  (If it's bad when they do it then it's bad when we do it, and don't even get me started on nicknames like "McSame" . . . weak fucking sauce.)  But a McCain administration would actively defeat and/or set back every single aspect of the agenda Clinton is running to implement.  Can you explain how helping elect McCain will, in any way, help the things Clinton's running for?

Cynical Koan wants to believe that, for many Clinton supporters wailing about a McCain landslide, it's not about getting a Democratic agenda enacted.  It's about some sort of personal validation.  Reasonable Koan would like to be persuaded otherwise.

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