Saturday, February 24, 2007

Bin laden

It amazes me that the failure to get bin Laden, and the continued disinterest in getting him, has not been a bigger story. That the Bush administration and conservatives in general have gotten away with minimizing its importance is a scandal. Part of the problem though, is that we on the left have done a poor job in expressing our opinions in terms of basic principals. I have read any number of folks on the left saying that the failure to get bin Laden is a huge failure, but rarely explaining exactly why.

If I might be permitted a brief tangent, I have long noted an odd behavior pattern among a wide circle of people I have known. It is regarded as some sort of bad form to spell out one's arguments in complete detail and to present them from basic principals. It seems to be widely considered proper to leave it to the listener to figure out some of your argument. This seems to be common at least among the college educated and it is not restricted to political discourse. This habit may be fine for many situations but it serves us poorly in political discourse. I will take this space then to present as many of our arguments back to basic principals.

So, why is getting bin Laden so important. The reason this is so important is related to why we are so unhappy with the Iraq war. What then are the basic principals. Any system for enforcing some kind of norms (whether in law or in international relations) need to meet certain requirements if the system is to work. The system must
  • clearly identify, and have broad agreement as to what, are and are not violations
  • catch and punish those who violate the norms
  • leave those who do not unmolested

Perhaps the above is too academic, but it just boils down to "if you hurt us you will be punished, otherwise you will be left alone."
We on the left feel that it is important to clearly indicate that massive assaults on civilians should be a violation. Therefore, the conservative/Bush approach of leaving those who launched such an attack (bin Laden) unmolested and instead killing and maiming large numbers of people who were no part of the attack (Iraqis) is a huge failure. Under the standards the left is trying to establish, the rest of the world has clear guidelines whereby they can avoid our retribution, and clear conditions under which that retribution will be inflicted. Under the Bush system, there is no way of predicting when the retribution of the United States will be inflicted. And under those conditions, our power of retribution, our power to enforce international norms is completely erased. That is why we are outraged at the Bush administrations. That is why the failure to get bin Laden is such a huge deal.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Support the Troops

Of course, the past several days have been filled with the report, and commentary on the report, by the Washington Post on the conditions at Walter Reed. The report consists of part one and part two. Read them, they are eye opening, terrible, and a disgrace to this nation. Another report can be found at the Army Times. Or, for a complete listing of this issue go to America Blog and read throughout.

More shocking, perhaps, than the conditions at Walter Reed and the treatment of our soldiers returning from Iraq, though those are atrocious, have been the responses from the White House, and the administration. The Tony Snow response today was pretty much - this is somebody elses's problem, why are you bothering us. These people really do think in terms of a servile class and a privileged class (to which they belong), and our soldiers are just servants to be used and discarded solely for the well being of the privileged few.

Note the difference from the Democrats on the same issue. Expect that some action will soon be taken and that, via Congressional action, some improvement will be made. The White House will not do, or accomplish, anything.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Larger War on Terror

So how is this Republican administration doing on the larger war on terror. Well a couple of stories over on TPM muckraker would suggests, maybe not so well. It seems that Al Qaeda is doing really well for itself in Pakistan. It has largely rebuild the infrastructure of its network and is rebuilding, with quite some success, its training camps in Afghanistan. It is also now firmly ensconced in Pakistan where, due to their nuclear capability we really can hardly get at them. All this thanks to the brilliant foreign policy of George Bush.

Then there is this story, with follow up here. Why are there major Republican fundraisers who are also funding terrorist training camps in Afghanistan? This should be stopped.

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House Passes - Senate Blocked

Well the House passed its resolution 246-182 (including 17 Republican yes votes), but the Republicans in the Senate once again held up having the debate, but by a narrower margin then they had the last time they tried to prevent debate, 56-34. The political shifting is starting and we need to keep up pressure on all fronts, political and media. This is now clearly a Republican war and the public do not want it.

Now, the Republican push back is continuing, but it is getting ever weaker. Yes the media are still reporting things like this, portraying the current vote as Democratic weakness. The public is not longer buying it, however. Some in the media have been trying to portray the surge as a success because there had been a week of somewhat less violence in Baghdad. That, however, has sadly come to an end, see also here. Look, conditions in Iraq are bad for us strategically and tactically. The surge is not improving the situation. This has long since been a ill-conceived operation that has been badly implemented and from which we need to withdraw. At this point we are fighting for nothing but an effort to save the reputation of George Bush and his fellow neocons.

I should point out something on the fighting in Iraq and how well the surge is going, essentially a heads up on Republican spin for the coming month of March. Every year since the invasion, for reasons that I don't know, the US and coalition casualty rate has dropped, significantly in March. As I say, I don't know why, but it is very consistent. Actually, to be completely accurate the low month in 2004 was February, in 2005 and 2006 it was March. The decrease was around 50% which is a much larger month-to-month swing than occurs at any other time. If it happens again, expect the Republicans to trumpet it as "proof" that the surge is working. Be prepared to point out that this is no different that occurs in any other year at this time. Similarly, if the casualty rate does not decline, we can be quite sure that the surge is being an expensive failure.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Pelosi on the House Resolution

Go here to read Nancy Pelosi's remarks on the upcoming vote on the House Resolution in opposition to George Bush's surge.

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Which Resolution?

I think John in DC has a good proposal with regards to Senate vote on the Iraq War. Of course, his proposal is rather like what I suggest here, so I suppose I should approve. What John suggests is that Sen. Harry Reid put forth a resolution offering up George Bush's surge proposal. No tricks in the language, just have the Senate vote up or down on what it is George Bush is proposing to do. Check John's post over at America Blog for the details. Rather than try and get a debate on whether or not the Senate opposes George Bush's surge, simply get a vote on whether or not the Senate supports the surge. The Democrats will, clearly, not vote in support, but what do Republicans do? Do they vote to support in opposition to the wishes of the majority of their constituents? Do they oppose the surge and leave open the question of why then are they not supporting efforts to end it? Do they oppose an opportunity to support the President? I certainly think that the plan has merit

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Anti-Surge Resolution

Well things are heating up in the House and now in the Senate on George Bush's surge and the Iraq War. The House debate has been quite illuminating with numerous excellent speeches on the Democratic side. Check out Pelosi's blog at The Gavel for some of these speeches via YouTube. You can see the Democratic talking points here. The Democrats have been on the mark with regards to the failings to date, the inability of this administration to formulate or execute any kind of plan, and the inadequacy of the "surge" to accomplish anything and the general popular opposition to the war. The Republicans, on the other hand, are in an absurd position. They have failed to argue that the current plan has any reasonable chance of success. Instead they are apparently arguing that the overall objective is so important we must stick with this plan, which has no chance of success. This makes no sense. If the ultimate objective is so important (Western civilization apparently hangs in the balance) then it is vital that the plan be one that will work. The vote in the House will certainly be in favor of the anti-surge resolution. The Democrats are solid and the following Republicans are already on board as well

  1. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest
  2. Rep. Mike Castle
  3. Rep. Jim Ramstad
  4. Rep. Ric Keller
  5. Rep. Ron Paul
  6. Rep. John Duncan
  7. Rep. Steve Latourette
  8. Rep. Phil English
  9. Rep. Fred Upton
  10. Rep. Walter Jones
  11. Rep. Howard Coble

That makes eleven that I can account for. These were pretty much all found over at TPM.

Both Sen. Clinton and Speaker Pelosi are making clear that Bush most certainly does not have Congressional authorization for his war with Iran. In spite of all the bluster and sabre rattling of the past few weeks, few folks are giving this administration much credibility. Now I also see that Rep. John Murtha will be using his position to keep the administration on the straight and narrow and to prevent further escalation. A lot of people have been complaining that the Democrats are not immediately ending this war, but the fact of the matter is that the political opposition needs to be built first. Two thirds of both houses could be needed to bring things to a stop. The good news is that the political opposition is building and is becoming quite substantial. We will see that in the House on Friday.

Furthermore, it looks like we will be seeing it too in the Senate on Saturday. After the Republicans derailed debate on the war last week, but Sen. Harry Reid is going to force a vote on Saturday on whatever the House passes on Friday. The Senate Republicans, it seems, may have to debate this war after all.

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Pelosi's Plane

Well other folks have been covering this bamboozle (Josh Marshall's term for it, and correct in my opinion). See Josh Marshall (search throughout for stories on the Pelosi plane flap. Josh has done a number of posts on the issue) for the straight dope on it and see this post by Mark Kleiman for the sarcastic approach. This really is a bamboozle as Josh puts it. The Republican outrage is based entirely upon stuff made up by Republicans and easily refuted by minimal research. If this stuff really makes them mad, they should stop making it up.

Consider this statement from the House Sergeant at Arms that it he, not the Speaker, requested the larger plane, and did so out of security concerns. He issued that statement on February 8, but is it really the case that none of those who are speaking out against Speaker Pelosi thought to ask the Sergeant at Arms first before speaking out. If so, that only reflects badly on the character and intelligence of those speaking out. Then there is this statement by Madam Speaker herself which destroys the rest of the complaints by the complainers. One of the complaints raised the whiners is that if this larger more expensive plane is needed to fly cross country then she should just fly commercial. Of course, her response has been, since day one, "I'm going commercial".

As an additional note, are we all supposed to believe that the Republican leadership is really so lacking in brainpower that it didn't occur to them that given the security concerns, stopping the plan to refuel is not a good idea. I'm not an expert in this field, but I'm pretty sure that stopping to refuel makes the security a lot harder.

But for the good news on this issue and on the general hope that Democrats will fight back, it would appear that there will be hearings in the House on both Congressional and Executive use of military planes. Jack Murtha has requested that the Pentagon turn over records of such travel, covering the past two years, and to turn it over within a month. So this will look into how Hatart used his plane and the use of these planes by Cabinet level appointees, which is allowed under the law. After all the flap about Speaker Pelosi, abuses found in those areas should be entertaining.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Maryland News

Just a few bits on what is happening here in Maryland with our new Gov.

O'Malley is reaching out strongly to labor, working families and the middle class. All very good, in my opinion. I am a strong supporter of labor and believe that a viable labor movement is a great benefit to the country.

The Maryland budget is not in quite such difficulty as was previously thought. An expected $20 billion shortfall may be as little as $9 billion. That is good news indeed.

The state looks posed to adopt more environmental friendly legislation.

Early voting may be coming to Maryland. This could be very good for getting greater participation in the electoral process.

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Authorization of Use of Force

Well the House is warming up to advance a non-binding resolution expressing that body's opposition to Bush's escalation. While a binding resolution would be better, this is a good first step and should go better than the effort has so far in the Senate. The Democrats in the House enjoy a substantially larger majority. One concern with regard to the various proposals for these resolutions, whether binding or not, is the expected Presidential veto. The House, and more certainly the Senate, will not have the two-thirds majority needed to override anytime soon. Republican disaffection is growing, but not that fast.

Of growing concern now, of course, is the possibility that this Administration will launch some attack on Iran. There is widespread agreement that the Administration has no such authority to do so, but this Administration has not shown much concern over such things as appropriate authority. Some consideration is being given now as well to an official expression from the Congress that the White House does not have that Authority. Again one must consider that any such expression is, unless I'm very much mistaken, subject to veto.

One option that might help get around this occurred to me recently. Could the Democrats not propose to grant the authorization of force against Iran, and vote it down? The failure of a bill to pass the Congress is not subject to veto (although it would not shock me to see this White House try to claim otherwise) so the rejection would stand. There would then be a very official statement that Congress had considered that authorization and denied it.

It seems like a move worthy of consideration, but I have seen no mention of it elsewhere.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Nature v Nurture

There is a good diary over on Kos concerning the so-called nature vs. nurture debate. This is one of the more contentious, and in my opinion silliest, debate going on. There is a strong tendency to believe that given that each of these two things (nature and nurture, genes and environment) contribute to the characteristics an organism has each factor can be assigned some ranking, or percentage, of importance in the characteristics seen. This view is completely unfounded. I go into this in more detail here, but both genes and environment are 100% necessary and their role cannot meaningfully be divided into degrees of responsibility.

One comment to the diary, by aludlam, had this to say

But (and I'm being theoretical here, so don't slam me too hard)

If we could say with some level of confidence that one side of that equation is definitely less involved than the other, is it not prudent to come to the conclusion that the opposite factor is dominant?

eg - we look at 20 pairs of twins raised apart, and 19 of the pairs wind up having similar tastes in music, based on a survey of songs. We obviously don't have all the data on their development, but the end result leads us to believe that genetics plays a significant role in predisposition toward certain types of music - perhaps so much so that genetics determines the ear formations that determine what melodies are appealing absent some aversion event (eg, one of the 20th pair of twins got dropped on his head while listening to Mozart as a baby).

We can't measure these things except in the objective. Doesn't mean the objective is a worthless measurement. Just that more care is needed in interpreting the results.

To which I responded

Part of the problem is, what range of environments are you considering. See "environment" is not a single thing, but a near infinite range of possible things. If you could have a measure of the ability of identical twins to correctly identify faces at a given age and at 30 feet, say, taken throughout human history. You would find an exceedingly strong correlation with genetics, because that ability is largely determined by the shape of the eye, which is set by genes. But you would also have a large group of folks (since the invention of eyeglasses and in places where glasses are available) for whom the correlation would disappear. How does one classify that in terms of nature vs. nurture?

There is just no meaningful way for us to describe the degree to which "environment" can affect a characteristic when there are so many possible "environments".

I occurs to me that another analogy might help as well. Trying to assign a degree of responsibility to genes and environment is about as useful as trying to assign degree of responsibility to air, fuel and spark in the operation of your car's engine. Each is essential and the running of your engine is a result of the interaction between the three. Changing, or removing, any of the three will affect your engine's performance, but we cannot say that it's running is 33% due to the fuel, 33% due to the air and 33% due to the spark. Nor can we make amy more sense by assigning different percentages. It just is not a sensible way to understand how these components relate. A similar relationship holds for genes and environment.

But also note that I am in no way saying that because we can't assign some particular percent responsibility to genes that therefore they do not matter. This makes no more sense than to say that because we cannot assign a particular percentage responsibility to fuel in your car's engine, that therefore fuel does not matter. It again is just not the way these things work.

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