The Columbia Critic

A place to debate anything we want to. We'll talk Columbia campus issues. We'll talk up the homosexual problem. We'll talk China. And we'll talk without resorting to partisan rhetoric. We may be left. We may be right. But we aren't going to be quoting any party line. We're leading the discussion. But feel free to chime in. Hannity and Colmes this is not.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Hillary claims that Rove obsesses about her...

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that President Bush's chief political strategist "spends a lot of time obsessing about me."

This would be disturbing on so many levels if I weren't taking this blatantly out of context.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Death Becomes Her

From OpinionJournal:

Death Becomes Her
Bernard-Henri Lévy, a left-wing though philo-American French author, pens "A Letter to the American Left," which appears in The Nation. Blogger Thomas Lifson notes this Lévy plaint:

Why haven't we heard from more intellectuals like Susan Sontag...?

The answer, of course, is the same reason we haven't heard from dead white males like Plato, Shakespeare and Tocqueville. Susan Sontag died in 2004.


Sunday, February 26, 2006

Port deals and the global economy

Since the the beginning of the post-war era, the United States has been the premier example in setting foreign investment precedence and projecting outward into the global marketplace. Granted we have had our protectionist policies when it comes to agriculture and steel and cars, and even rising tech. But more often than not America has been willing to forego protecting much of its labor pool in order to promote policies of free trade and push our own production value upwards. In finding cheaper labor and resources, U.S. based companies have been able to produce better products for cheaper all the while allowing other nations to take part in the spoils (albeit meekly, one precious penny at a time). True this has resulted in the US abandoning many of the industries that long defined our labor pool, and the turnover rate has been enormous in the move from a hard industrial to a service-based economy. But it is a sign of our progress. So we have benefitted tremendously from overseas investing. And many other nations have benefitted as well. Indeed the world has benefitted. Not only through increased productivity but through decrease in violence. Thats right - worldwide conflict is at an all time low. You may not think it from watching CNN. But its true.
So the global economy has been a boone to productivity and to national security. Global exports then should play a key role in our national security strategy. And we should strive towards efficiency and towards stabilizing our continually developing interdependencies.
We want our trade partners to be successful. Why? Because this will enhance their productivity, thus granting us, the consumers, greater surplus. Ricardian economics states that nations should specialize in those areas in which they have a comparative advantage. So who has the comparative advantage in the specialized service of port administration? Those nations that most heavily depend on trade! Think HONG KONG, DUBAI, DENMARK, SINGAPORE, TAIWAN, CHINA, GERMANY. So when one of these nations offer a deal that will further their specialization, and increase their interdependency with us, it does two things. First it brings them more money, which in turn increases their productivity, which eventually returns to us in the form of savings and consumer surplus. Second, it requires them to beome increasingly dependent on the United States. The U.S. becomes a foreign interest of, as an example, the UAE. The closer trade partners are, the less likely they are to become belligerent towards one another. So one can see why the demands to renig against our port deals with the UAE are easily derided as hypocritical, when we spend so much of our time professing the need for free trade and the importance of globalization.
On the converse argument, it is easy to argue that the UAE poses a security threat. And I do think the deal will fail utterly. The lack of transparency on the issue doomed it from the beginning, and I think rightfully so. I certainly would want some very public and very clear assurances before handing over the control of 21 (!!) of our ports to a country like the UAE. Furthermore, 21 ports is a bit much, and screams of preferential treatment when we could easily generate deals with any number of other major port companies around the world with a slice of that number. Mistakes were made, and I am very critical of what has occured thusfar. But remember this: Al Qaida and the Islamists know well what they are doing when they target economic centers of trade. They fear and loathe the "connectivity" inherent in globalization, and it is their ultimate goal to disconnect Islamic society from the rest of the world. And whether the UAE is in charge or not we should expect more attacks on ports worldwide. Even so, the fact that we are willing to curtail connectivity and increased foreign investments out of simple fear proves that they have already had a marked effect. They've been able to further retard the integration of Arab economies into the global marketplace without even pulling a trigger. With nothing but simple fear and mistrust.
We must find a way to ensure our security without breaking our economic ties with the middle east, particularly the hopefuls, the non oil-dependent service industries. This is where the real battle against Al Qaida lies. The hearts and minds begin and end in the wallet.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Do you REALLY want democracy?

From Slate:
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal focuses on Shiites ticked at the U.S. because of the nudging to form a unity government: "It triggered deep resentment across a broad swath of Shiite society, with many Shiites complaining that they won the election and should be free to form a government without U.S. pressure."

This is the problem with focusing on democratic reform as an end goal. Democracy has no inherent value for liberalism; society must add that ingredient.

The 'gay governor' loses the votes of youth

Apparently Illinois Gov. Rod Blag ... Blagevoc... Blagojevich doesn't watch the Daily Show.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

China bans Elmer Fudd and Roger Rabbit

Economic protectionism takes on many forms, especially in countries that are seeking to nurture domestic industries. But amidst the big debates on fixed exchange rates and labor wages, there is still room to be found for the not so crucial industries. Word now comes that China is banning foreign films that mix animation and live action, like Space Jam and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.

Aiming to both curb foreign influences on Chinese youth, and also to foster the domestic animation industry, the move faces two huge obstacles: 1) China doesn't have much of an animation industry and 2) the Chinese love foreign cartoons. While these are obviously remediable problems, it remains to be seen how effectively the government can reshape viewer preferences without further investments in developing oh-so-crucial animators who can create a Chinese Daffy Duck or a Blue's Clues with Chinese values.

This surely does not rank up with other forms of censorship for importance. It is more amusing than newsworthy so far. Though the Muppets had better watch out in case the Chinese become opposed to American-operated puppets...

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

4th Generation Warfare

4th Generation Warfare is the term that military thinkers have come to use to describe conflict in the post cold war era. It is said to include all forms of conflict in which the other side refuses to fight fair, and it harkens back to the strategies employed by and copied from Native Americans in the Revolutionary War and beyond. It is an extremely effective form of warfare, and one that US forces have and will increasingly encounter in today's multilateral environment.
The main thrust of 4GW operations are to
  • Undermine enemy strengths (this may seem obvious, but most of modern warfare has involved direct attacks on enemy strengths -- find the enemy army and destroy it).
  • Exploit enemy weaknesses.
  • Use asymmetric operations (weapons and techniques that differ substantially from opponents).
Main tactics are to employ rear area operations (attacking a society rather than military force), psychological operations (i.e. terrorism), and continual innovation (think IEDs)

Primary proponents of the 4GW outlook on the future of warfare are the Army and Marines. Primary opponents are the Network Centrist Warfare people. Mainly the Air Force and the Navy - who rather than engaging their stategists in fighting current conflicts are still looking towards China big red menace to fight a strategic war with lots of nice big nukes and fancy fighter planes dogfighting with MiGs.

Having studied much of both these theories of future conflict, I think one of the best descriptions I have seen can be found in the first few pages of John Arguilla's book "In Athena's Camp : Preparing for Conflict in the Information Age."

The game of Go provides a better analogy for conflict [than chess] in the information age, especially for irregular warfare and for networked types of conflict and crime at the low-intensity end of the spectrum. Whereas chess starts with all pieces on the board, Go begins with an empty board. ... All stones are alike, there is no king to decapitate, and no queen or other specialization. ... taking pieces is of secondary importance. The goal is to control more of the battlespace than one’s opponent does. Once emplaced, a piece exerts a presence in that part of the board, making it easier for the player to place additional pieces on nearby points in the process of surrounding territory. As a result, there is almost never a front line, and action may take place almost anywhere on the board at any time.

Thus Go, in contrast to chess, is more about distributing one’s pieces about than about massing them. It is more about proactive insertion and presence than about maneuver. ... It is more about creating networks of pieces than about protecting hierarchies of pieces.

This really gives a good projection as to the primary role that information warfare and network centricity will play in what has long been considered the realm of bullets and grunts.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Is HAMAS rule really all that bad?

I vividly recall a number of articles and stories at the end of last month that seemed to be all about the doom and gloom of a Hamas ruled Palestinian government. The Times was particularly schizophrenic in that it couldn't decide whether to drool over the Bush admin's 'utter failure' or to decry the end of any hope for peace in the middle east (as it seems to do at least a few times every year).
Honestly though I am surprised at the reaction. It is foolish 1) to expect that any other group had a greater chance of succeeding in winning the elections (I mean they used the same tactics as Bush in 2000 elections) and 2) to assert that this is unequivocally a bad thing.
It is true that Hamas has little experience in actual politics. It is an organization full of expert militiamen and terrorists, but not a single statesman. But nothing does better to pacify a group of angry armed men than responsibility at home - kissing babies and such.
What is the best thing we can do as a nation and an international community? Respect them. At least in terms of their legitimacy. They were elected in democratic elections, fair and square, and that must be recognized. That doesn't mean we don't take a hard line with them. We have a right to make demands, but now so do they. The fatah movement may have been preferred, but I am not sure that they would have been better. Hamas represents the discontented and the troubled. The horrific and murderous, yes, but also the downtrodden. Hand them the reigns, and they may actually do something constructive. They've spent years making their practice destruction and hatred. Lets see what they can do with the power to create and build...
Fatah was not Hamas, but they were certainly not perfect either. They were unfailingly corrupt, and Hamas provided a certain transparency that could never be hoped for with Fatah. We may not like what they stand for, but we know exactly what it is.
That is not to say that rule by Hamas won't be a horrific failure. It may be so. Still, look at Lebanon and Hezbollah. Not exactly a great situation, but they aren't nearly as active in terms of violence and destruction as they once were.
I think the U.S. and the E.U. have taken a good stance thusfar, except in one instance and that is their relations with Iran. Just as with Hezbollah, Hamas has clear ties to big money Syria and Iran. Is the singular isolation of Iran, then, a good policy? If we could engage Iran as the large main state actor in the region to perform regional stabilization duties in the Middle East, rather than treating them like the nuke-happy "Big Tan Menace," we might actually be able to move away from the 'inevitable' hardline Israel/Mideast split that would result in a Mideast/West Berlin-Wall-type situation and lock them out of possible integration into the global marketplace.

Monday, February 20, 2006

And it's a wrap!

Sean and I just got back from the first taping of A Voice in the Crowd, the new political debate show on Columbia Television that I host. It was a great first episode, with lively debates about the Muslim cartoon controversy and government wiretapping. I will update when I know the air date of the episode.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Fukuyama's Piece in the NY Times

Fascinating piece. I am not going to go too far to explain the nuts and bolts of it. Read it. I am currently doing as much. And trying to figure out how to respond.

I feel as if I agree with a lot of the analysis he offers about the failure of neoconservatism, although I can't quite say I follow his tract completely. As he himself argues his work believes that there is an unavoidable marxist (materialist) development that will eventually end in modernized society and associatedly in liberal democracy. I have never been one for a materialist assumption of futurity, so I can't quite agree. But Fukuyama, someone I once dismissed as being just one of those neocons...he is gaining greater credence in my view. And I look forward to his new book.

An interesting place wehre I think we cross is in our view of hegemony and the associated strong response. Interesting, huh Brian? Quotation here:
Radical Islamism is a byproduct of modernization itself, arising from the loss of identity that accompanies the transition to a modern, pluralist society. It is no accident that so many recent terrorists, from Sept. 11's Mohamed Atta to the murderer of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh to the London subway bombers, were radicalized in democratic Europe and intimately familiar with all of democracy's blessings. More democracy will mean more alienation, radicalization and — yes, unfortunately — terrorism.


Coming tomorrow: The Bad PR Prez

After a lengthy discussion about cartoons, muslims, abu ghraib, and teddy roosevelt with my girlfriend tonite, tomorrow I'm going to explain exactly how President Bush has been a failure in the crucial field of public relations, and how his short-sightedness in image-shaping is hurting the United States today.

stay tuned folks...

The cartoon controversy timeline

The Washington Post has published a very good summary of where the Danish cartoons came from, and what has happened since. Click on the post's title for the link.

Friday, February 17, 2006


Brian, I completely disagree, for once.

I thought about commenting, but with a fervor abound I thought I should make this a post.

I think that what clouds most assessments of the 3rd world is the exact moniker that is given to it: 3rd world, other, non-primary. It is built into our criticisms of a lot of people because for the most part they have been the great other. Islam has had it pretty bad. Mostly because most all muslims live in the great monolith which is the 3rd World: understanding the religion in terms of Western progress is difficult because the region (politically and socially) has been stunted by the inattention or intervention of the Dominant States.

As an aside, we must first look over a hundred years ago and review the changes that were undertaken in the muslim world under the auspices of the Ottomon Empire and the rising Selafi Movement of clerics that espoused relatively modernist notions of rationality and reinterpretating scripture to fit modern institutions: finding a space for religion in a modern secular world. Change was not bad. It was highly awaited by many.

The fact that the Muslim world has become provacative must be seen in the light of more recent history. This is not the cause of Islam or, and I am utterly shocked you would evoke Huntington (even in mild jest), any clash of civilizations. Lest we forget the history of this past century of intervention, oil exploitation and the rise of a revolutionaries.

Anger in the Middle East is mirrored by those in Latin America (if you were to listen to unofficial rhetoric) and I would suggest that it is also strong in parts of Africa. People condemn American imperialism, and at the same time celebrate acts of defiance against America: in Panama they celebrate the day of the Martyrs when Panamanians were killed by American soldiers for putting up their flag; in Mexico they celebrate the Day of the Boy Heroes when young soldiers were slaughtered by American Marines. It has become ingrained into the history and the mythic personality of so many cultures. Being defined as being 'non-western' has taken its toll psychologically...if you read literature from the area of this world, it basis itself on loss, emasculation and fear.

Provocative clerics and outspoken critics are not unique, but they are the products of our common history; or at least the forces that have made cultures subordinate to other cultures. A historian of the Middle East, James Gelvin, makes an interesting conclusion. There is, in reality, very little difference between rising Anarcho-syndicalists (that saw themselves forgotten by the rising bourgeoisie) in the early 19th century, and the current radicals. They are participating in our global marketplace: and see their chance for opportunity, change and progress dependent on others, and react violently, but in reality they are full of fear.

The news upsets you today. But what would you do if your existence, your every motion, feels as if it is externally dependent. A loss of identity. So by cynically looking at groups and saying: oh wow they are reinforcing the criticisms against them. We have, in part, refused to understand or develop a full understanding of the products of hegemony and subordination that have developed in these areas. For everyone that quotes Gramsci or Foucault, and even Orientalism of Said, it seems these are 'words' without any weight. Hegemony is not seen as a theoretical or some sort of pretentious snaring: it is a very real concept that is experienced daily. As far as I know from studying and researching Latin America: the greatest support is given to those willing to claim the pulpit and stand in opposition to the USA. To claim sovereignity. And in the spirit of Woodrow Wilson to actually offer up self-determination.

People are very angry. And as such there is a slew of irrational actions. How do we approach these events with the right degree of understanding and condemnation is our task at hand. Letting cultures feel as if they have the ability to, like we do in the US, mobilize in the global social ladder, is certainly one possibility. A task that will never be aided by your calls of impossibility.

What does this mean for us? It is, by all means, an attack on the USA. They are threats to our continued dominance and primacy. By all means their destruction and our cynical hackling should continue, if we want to Keep America First! International Politics would dictate that like any other game you should make sure your enemies are weak. But, to stand outside of society and to de-associate ourselves from the conflict...there are deeper things brewing that require more attention.

Slowly coming around

More than anything else that has happened in recent years, the continuing furor over the Danish cartoons is slowly shifting my views about the impossibility of dealing with radical Muslims.

A Pakistani Muslim cleric said Friday that he and supporters were offering rewards of more than $1 million for killing Danish cartoonists who drew caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

Maulana Yousef Qureshi, a cleric in the northwestern city of Peshawar, said during Friday prayers that he personally had offered to pay a bounty of 500,000 rupees ($8,400), while a jewelers association was putting up $1 million, and others were offering $17,000 plus a car.

Qureshi repeated the offer at rally later in the city to protest against the cartoons.

Issues about freedom of speech are quickly becoming about much, much more than speech. What we are now seeing is a continuing reaction of hard-line, intractable Muslim beliefs coming into conflict with the realities of a world where information and people flow between borders. Other religions have adapted to this new reality over the previous decades, but much of conservative Islam has not. Will we see Huntington's Clash of Civilizations? Surely that is an exaggeration, especially when considering the relative lack of power the MIddle Eastern nations have on a military scale. But we are going to be facing more incidents like these; the question is how accepting we continue to be. I don't believe this indicates Islam is a backwards religion, but instead, it is the religion of a region that has remained out of the mainstream of change, so that the culture and the religion have played off each other to isolate themselves from the reality of globalization and liberal social values.

More later, I like to limit the length of posts to sub-essay length.

Are you ugly? Go straight to jail, don't pass "Go"

Apparently ugly people are more likely to commit crime. Now I have a scientific grounding to make fun of the not-so-pretty.

The key graf:
Mocan and Tekin aren't sure why criminals tend to be ugly. Other studies have shown that unattractive men and women are less likely to be hired, and that they earn less money, than the better-looking. Such inferior circumstances may steer some to crime, Mocan and Tekin suggest. They also report that more attractive students have better grades and more polished social skills, which means they graduate with a greater chance of staying out of trouble.

At times like this, it is good to be a handsome young man...

German Cartoon of Suicide Bombers Angers Iran

From this article:

"A cartoon in a German newspaper likening Iranian soccer players to suicide bombers has provoked anger in Iran and an official demand for an apology."

"earlier this week, the Iranian Embassy in Berlin demanded that the paper apologize for the cartoon. On Tuesday demonstrators in Tehran threw firebombs at the German Embassy."

Ummmmm. Do we see a problem here?

That's the way to show the German cartoonist was wrong to depict Iranians as, well, bombers.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Typo of the Week

You have to love the Chinese press. Observe:

"Canada will provide aid to the Palestinians unless the new Palestinian government renounces all forms of violence and recognizes Israel, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement on Tuesday."

I know the Canadians are a bit out there, but I think the word "not" should have been following "will" in that sentence. Either that, or this is further justification to invade Canada for its incitement of hate and violence in the Middle East.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

“Hamas Says U.S. Must Respect Palestinian Vote”

You have to hand it to Hamas: they have plenty of chutzpah. Boldly, they proclaim that the U.S. and Israel should respect the Palestinian vote, even as they are still publicly committed to Israel’s destruction. The most they will hint at is a potential 15-year truce, which gives them just enough time to build up a larger armed force to attack Israel with and push the Jews to the sea. After all, as the article from my previous post shows, Palestinian terror groups are now preparing a “Third Intifada” and brag about the new surprises and weapons they were able to bring into their arsenals during the past three month “truce” (and then they have the nerve to criticize Israel for attacking them while they were doing it – as if Israel is obligated to let them arm themselves fully and only attack when rockets are landing in Tel Aviv.)

The fact is that Israel and the United States have respected the decision of the Palestinian people. Accepting that vote, however, does not translate into accepting Hamas. Hamas has not cleaned its hands of the blood of thousands of Israelis just by being elected, and the U.S. and Israel – and the rest of the world – have every right and responsibility to make sure that money that they allow to go to the Palestinian Authority does not fall into the hands of terrorists. International aid is not, and has never been, a birthright of the Palestinian Authority. Instead, it has been given consistently since the Oslo Accords to build up an infrastructure for a peaceful and democratic Palestinian State as part of a two state solution. If Hamas rejects that end solution, as it does, then international aid serves no purpose other than to help prolong the conflict.

The Palestinian people have voted. They chose a Hamas government. That can be respected. But Israel, the United States, and the rest of Europe and the world don’t have to make life easier for Hamas as a result.

Israel, the U.S., France (PM Dominique de Villepin), England, Germany, and so forth have all declared simple conditions for a Hamas government to get assistance: it must recognize the right of Israel to exist, it must commit to the past agreements signed as part of the peace process, and it must renounce the use of violence – not as part of a temporary ceasefire but entirely. Those are fair conditions, and conditions that past elected Palestinian governments have accepted. If Hamas cannot accept them, then states can respect the Palestinians’ vote but show them the consequences of electing a party that refuses to make peace to power.

As most polls demonstrate, people voted for Hamas because they thought Hamas would be better able to provide basic services. Israel has every right to show Hamas and the Palestinian people that Hamas cannot possibly provide those services outside the context of a peace process aimed towards a two state solution.

Israel can respect the Palestinian vote, but it cannot cooperate with a party with the blood of thousands on its hands and sworn to Israel’s own destruction. If Hamas itself wants to be respected by Israel, it should recognize the right of Israel to exist. If it can’t do that, it will have to find a way to provide public services without the cooperation of the Israeli government or international community.

A Third Intifada?

That’s what Palestinian groups have been saying. Islamic Jihad, and even the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade (the militant wing of Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah Party), have been talking about resuming attacks against Israelis. For the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, its to sabotage Hamas. Of course, the best way to sabotage Hamas is to attack Israelis – so that Israel responds. Ironically, this is from the same Fatah Party that is seen as preferable to Hamas, and yet it is trying to resort to deadlier attacks against Israelis to sabotage Hamas just as Hamas plotted deadly attacks to sabotage Fatah in the Peace Process in the 1990s. For Islamic Jihad, by contract, it’s a result of Israeli decisions to withdraw from Gaza and now parts of the West Bank – perceived as a sign of weakness. So much for the doves who have harped for years that Palestinians are only attacking Israel because they want the Israelis to leave. As soon as the Israelis start withdrawing, now they are faced with a more militant Palestinian government and threats of new “massive violence” unleashed by the “preferable” secular Palestinian parties and the more traditional militant groups as well.

Even more disturbing, however, are the signs that attacks are already in the operational phase. When the Israelis have apprehended 12 would-be suicide bombers in 10 days, there’s trouble on the horizon. And the boasting of terror leaders in the Palestinian territories is eerie at best – that their third intifada will include “suicide bombings, rocket attacks against Jewish communities and ‘a few new surprises in our arsenal.’" With the Egyptians doing little to stop the free flow of goods – and weapons – into Gaza, and with Iranian and Syrian aid flowing more freely than ever, one can only wonder what they mean. Indeed, with the pressure on Syria and Iran right now by the international community, I could see Iran and Syria encouraging a confrontation in Israel to take the world’s spotlight off of both of their flagrant violations of international law.

So what is Israel to do? Who knows, but it has a right to defend itself. And it doesn’t have to wait until bombs go off to exercise it.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Air Marshals -- Saving the skies, two lines at a time.

So I am all into the imperfectability of man concept. Looking at weaknesses, and thinking about how this makes us human. To be a country of laws, necessarily implies that we live with the expectation that good-faith is not enough. Why create a law if you do not believe that someone will transgress. Granted, the majority of people do not break laws, but everyone has the ability to do so. But this also means that we each have a different relationship with the law: there is never a full eqaulity before the law because, necessarily, I as a first offender am not as bad as a fifth offender.

And so when you hear something completely ironic like today's news "Two Air Marshals Accused of Drug Smuggling," you can't help but think: those guys deserve a worse punishment than an average person.

If those sent to protect us are violating the laws, is this worse than if some joe-schmoo was caught doing it, some poor girl from Colombia? It is a real question and a real problem. Yes, everyone is equally vulnerable to this behavior, if we assume that yes we are all human (and there is no sinister gene, or a correlation between being dropped as a baby and pursuing illegal activity). But, to use a more local example, if my RA had to be CAVA'd should she be regarded with the same sort of deference that would be given to me if it were to happen? Isn't she, as an agent of the government, a more egregious crime deserving of a harsher sentence.

I think so. There is a certain responsability that these men had sworn to take, and the fact that they have run around it and put other lives in danger, they should have to pay...worse than a regular joe.

"Cheney Steps Up War on Lawyers" definitely gets my award for the best headline about Cheney’s hunting mishap yet: “Cheney Steps Up War on Lawyers.” Since nobody has posted on Cheney’s “smoking gun” yet(it's by Corpus Crispi Texas and not Iraq after all – who knew?), I’ll pick up the slack.

The irony, of course, is that this might be a win-win situation. It has the potential to make Cheney look better; after all, who doesn’t enjoy seeing a lawyer gunned down? Ithas the potential to make lawyers look better too. After being gunned down, the lawyer was able to grin and take it. What a sport! And it even can help the NRA. I can see their new headline now: “Guns don’t kill people. People with good aim kill people.”

Of course, jokes aside, we do have a problem in this country with litigation. In our federal courts alone, the numbers of cases are staggering. Observe:

U.S. District Courts: Civil Cases –
Filed in 2005: 278,712
Terminated in 2005: 260,980
Pending as of Jan. 2006: 281,172

U.S. District Courts: Criminal Cases –
Filed in 2005: 70,364
Terminated in 2005: 64,430
Pending as of Jan. 2006: 67,867

U.S. Courts of Appeals –
Filed in 2005: 65,418
Terminated in 2005: 57,486
Pending as of Jan. 2006: 54,908

U.S. Bankruptcy Courts –
Filed in 2005: 1,590,975
Terminated in 2005: 1,612,145
Pending as of Jan. 2006: 1,654,018

(Figures from )

And the number of cases handled by state courts dwarfs these figures. If this not a drain on our system, I don't know what is. So, getting back to serious policy, I think Cheney has the right idea. But next time, Mr. Vice President, shoot to kill.

(Note: This was written by a prospective law student.)

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Reintroduction of John Rowland

Not to be forgotten behind the mist which is the current political air (of scandal, sneaking, foul politics and egregious ethics) is the man who started it all (at least this recent wave): John Rowland, EX-Governor of Connecticut.

To really grasp the extent of this culture of deceipt - American corruption, vaster in terms of money than any Latin American or African dynasts that we complain about - it has lasted so long that Rowland went to jail and has now been released.

I have always confided in the underdog against the champions of supremity. There is something terribly exciting about seeing the underdog succeed. It must be the natural sympathetic character of this underdog, or perhaps an inner desire for parity in society. And so when guys at the top crumble there is a moment for change. At this moment in our wonderfully unappealing two party system the underdogs are the Democrats. As pundits debate how the Democrats can find their voice, I do not think we should politicize reality, perhaps instead of finding a way to spin the truth, Democrats should just be honest and say what is wrong is wrong. Ignoring this problem will only lead it to fester, deep under our skin like any amount of nasty things you can imagine.

The truth, dare I call it now, America is subject to the same impulses of other nations: including vast corruption, unethical actions, and ideological forays. American Exceptionalism defines itself on virtue: the virtuous sword of the world (clearly a legacy of our christian crusading). Without virtue our nation falls unto itself, collapsing in bitter deconstruction. That is unless we admit mistakes and renew our national mythology around things less polemical. We stop with these silly ideas of America leading the world, as if it were some sort of contest - some kind of manifest destiny upon us. That attitude in a globalized world will bring more enemies than friends; arrogance is the friend of confrontation. We should instead seek parity, friendship and cohesion with partners; teach "cooperation" and common identity within our nation and abroad. If, however, we continue this driving desire to be omnipresent, omnipotent it will alienate the world...slowly, surely.

I do not mean this as some sort of warning - I am not about to commit a grievous error like many others before me and say this country is bad, or poisonous. I enjoy my time here, primarily because of my family, my friends and the liberty I have to spend time with them in comfort. But, I, as a citizen, am slowly starting to reach my breaking point: when I can no longer support a crooked system, but worse, a crooked system that tells the world it's right. Call a spade a spade, fix it, let the underdogs have their chance to shine, let them rise, let them become corrupt, and switch the circle again. It is very cynical way to look at it, but at least in the small moment that the nation rallies for change...there is the chance for real improvement (before we forget about things, as we have forgotten about John Rowland).

If we believe in some sort of business cycle, our classical economic growth that has its ups and downs, but over the long haul always grows, then certainly we can call this a down period as we await new growth. And no down period can end without sacrifices and changes. We may not have to sacrifice tax-cuts, or our love of petroleum and the easy/fast life-style, but certainly at some point we will have to sacrifice our ego. Most of the world does not look at us with awe (this is not an islamic fundamentalist thing, but moderates across the Middle East, in Europe, in Africa, Asia and in Latin America). Like that kid in college who was cool freshman year as he flaunted his money and impressed you with his charisma, the game gets old and that guy turns into a complete asshole. And this guy can't just cover it up by giving money out at christmas, by trying to be the life of the party all the time. He can't pay for friends. No amount of money or false aid can prevent people from seeing him as a jerk. Because at the core, it is true.

John Rowland's prison sentence is over, and perhaps we can end our charade as well.

George Clooney turns Michael Moore into a verb

Forget "googling." George Clooney has stated the new verb of the year. Talking about his movie making style::

"Clooney is quite sniffy about Moore, whose modus operandi he finds obnoxious and counter-productive. He uses his name as a verb - "I don't Michael Moore this shit," he says. "I don't come out and go, 'Look what these fuckers do.'" He thinks subtlety - class - gets better results."

The Roosevelt Institution: Thinking Big

Think Big, Really Big
By Brian Wagner

February 10, 2006

Student groups come and go—most without ever making an impact outside of their insular campuses. But beyond that limited framework, students are constantly thinking about how to enact change. The problem most students face when trying to influence the world outside their campuses is one of respect. Adults support students only so long as they don’t feel their authority and intellectual superiority is challenged. The Roosevelt Institution is in the process of doing just that.

The nation’s first student think tank, the Roosevelt Institution is the tool that students have long needed, especially those who seek to share ideas that they hope will be taken seriously outside of the undergraduate setting. Established in January 2005 by several Stanford University students, then merged with similar groups on other campuses, the Institution has grown to include 120 chapters across the nation, with a new one being added every week. A brainstorm has become a rapidly growing, sustainable phenomenon.

Convinced that student minds, when brought together, could provide policy suggestions just as­—or more—effectively than the ideas being tossed around in the public forum by their elders, undergraduates like Stanford University junior Quinn Wilhelmi chose, after the unsurprisingly rhetoric-heavy 2004 election, to venture into uncharted territory. Wilhelmi, a friend of mine from Oregon political wars, is now the organization’s executive director. He describes the think tank as, “a populist movement of young, dedicated Americans demanding to partake in not only electing candidates, but in governing our country.”

The beauty of the Roosevelt Institution is that its national staff serves only to facilitate the creation of new chapters—they do not attempt to set policy or otherwise manage local chapters. Like other national staff members, Wilhelmi doesn’t claim much credit for the Institution’s success. “All we’ve done is help weave together the network that makes our collective voice powerful.“ This decentralized system allows chapters to develop their own personalities, while still encouraging inter-chapter cooperation through the online Web site, which any chapter’s members can access.

The Columbia chapter, founded last year by Josh Lipsky, CC ’08, has maintained a low profile so far, due in large part to what Lipsky acknowledges as the difficulties of starting anything new on a student group-heavy campus like Columbia. Columbia’s small band of merry Fellows—as Roosevelt calls its members—have already issued a sexual education report for the College Democrats and a transportation study for New York City Council campaigns. With the proper administrative team and publicity machine, Lipsky should soon be able to copy the success of NYU’s chapter, which has grown to 80 people in one semester. His goal is for the chapter to become a prominent force in the debates on tuition reform at Columbia. “It’s time we join Princeton and Harvard in offering a world-class education to everyone,” Lipsky asserts. “I want Roosevelt to figure out how Columbia can afford it.” While he hopes to expand the group over the next year, his current team of fellows already meets every Wednesday evening in Lerner.

The future for chapters in New York is bright, as the Roosevelt Institution’s national team will be moving to New York this summer for its second annual summer conference, providing an opportunity for Columbia students to get involved in Roosevelt’s national brainstorming.

Since the national staff does not set policy, each campus’s members shape its policies. Wilhelmi likes to describe the Institution’s philosophy as such: “We believe think tanks ... should operate independently from current or traditional political alliances. Indeed, ideas themselves are not born of political parties but merely adopted by them.”

The impact of the Institution has yet to become apparent to anyone, including the Institution’s national staff. But imagine the possibilities for years to come: a local RI chapter writing a policy paper that could be turned into real policy by people like Michael Sessions, the 18-year-old mayor of Hillsdale, MI.

The greatest lesson the Roosevelt Institution may be able to teach, at the national and local levels, is that the intellect of a learned student can be just as valuable as that of any adult. With the respect created by an established think tank, student voice may be undergoing a new revolution which will bestow upon it newfound gravity and legitimacy in the public sphere.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

In the words of Senator Obama: Democrats "have been in a reactive posture for too long."

Finally, some common sense from some Democratic leaders. After all, I’ve been saying for a few years now that the problem with Democrats, in my view, is that they have become a party that’s just about opposition; they have become the anti-Bush party rather than a party of ideas. A reactionary party in my view, that opposes everything Bush and Republicans do for opposition’s sake and without any clearly presented alternatives, is not one that can retake the confidence of the American people. And that’s why I’m glad to see a few prominent Democrats recognize that.

First, there is Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), who comments in this article from the New York Times that “We have been in a reactive posture for too long. I think we have been very good at saying no, but not good enough at saying yes." I couldn’t agree more.

As Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee (a Midwestern/Southern Democrat!) adds, “We're selling our party short; you've got to stand for a lot more than just blasting the other side… The country is wide open to hear some alternatives, but I don't think it's wide open to all these criticisms. I am sitting here and getting all my e-mail about the things we are supposed to say about the president's speech, but it's extremely light on ideas. It's like, 'We're for jobs and we're for America.' "

When I mention this, of course, Democrats have attacked me for it, denied it, and basically treated me as if I am too partisan to see the situation clearly. I hope Senator Obama and Governor Bredesen will be taken more seriously by their peers.

I would like there to be a serious and responsible alternative to Republican leadership in this country. I think the two party system is a good system and a remarkably stable one, but that depends on two good alternatives. It’s such a tragedy, then, that today’s Democrats have failed to present to many Americans a serious alternative rather than the blanket opposition and criticism that has become their trademark since 2000.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Rove Misstep?

The White House has been twisting arms to ensure that no Republican member votes against President Bush in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s investigation of the administration's unauthorized wiretapping. Congressional sources said Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove has threatened to blacklist any Republican who votes against the president. The sources said the blacklist would mean a halt in any White House political or financial support of senators running for re-election in November.

"It's hardball all the way," a senior GOP congressional aide said.

Karl Rove, in my opinion, has been one of the most brilliant political strategists I've ever seen or heard of. Every move is coldly cool and calculated; it's almost as if he knows what's going to happen before it's going to happen, like a puppetmaster moving all the marionettes.

This move to line up the rank and file of the GOP just doesn't seem like a good move at all. Right now, the only leverage the Bush administration has in Washington is the good fortune of a. being in office b. Having a Republican dominated House and Senate and c. having the remnants of Tom Delay's K-Street project GOP lobbying giant machine. Bullying congressmen, especially during a time where the President already has senators like Arlen Specter scratching their heads, seems to be a recipe for backlash. Not funding dissenting Congressmen is bad for America and if anything, is going to widen the hairline cracks already forming within the GOP.

I don't know the statistics, but during this year of re-elections, it seems to be in the best interest of the Republicans to back the incumbent, especially with the balance of power beginning to teeter towards the Democrats. Democrats have been spreading the slogan "Culture of corruption" all over the Republicans. In my opinion, that's well deserved, but if the White House wants to maintain an advantage in the bodies that do the checking and balancing, it should be in their best interest to present a united front with a little honesty. Say congressmen get pissed off that Rove is basically trying to squash their pride, telling them that they are pawns in his game, tell them that they are there because of him and have no ability of their own. Say they get pissed. Who is going to get the money and the presidential backing? A porn star that loves rifles and is anti-abortion?

Then again, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Rove really does hold everyone's political destiny in his grubby chubby hands, and maybe everyone in Washington (at least on the Republican side) knows it. The Whitehouse has everything to lose here, 6 years of political dominance and not a whole lot to show for it, why play hardball, why toy with the possibility of losing the only weapons you have?

Monday, February 06, 2006

He is Malcolm Gladwell

The man who brought you "The Tipping Point" and "Blink" also happens to be really good at summarizing his beliefs. Not surprising to anyone whose noticed he writes small books.

"If I could vote (and I can't because I'm Canadian) I would vote Democrat. I am pro-choice and in favor of gay marriage. I believe in God. I think the war in Iraq is a terrible mistake. I am a big believer in free trade. I think, on balance, taxes in America — particularly for rich people — ought to be higher, not lower. I think smoking is a terrible problem and that cigarette manufacturers ought to be subjected to every possible social and political sanction. But I think that filing product liability lawsuits against cigarette manufacturers is absurd. I am opposed to the death penalty. I hate S.U.V.'s. I think many C.E.O.'s are overpaid. I think there is too much sex and violence on television."

Proving a point?

Though I strongly believe that the protests growing up around the controversial Prophet Muhammed cartoons could have been stymied to a large degree by official apologies early on, apologies that would have been, if not shining defenses of free speech, at least shining examples of smart politics, this quote from a BBC article is a bit worrisome:

"They want to test our feelings," protester Mawli Abdul Qahar Abu Israra told the BBC.

"They want to know whether Muslims are extremists or not. Death to them and to their newspapers," he said.

So they want to know if Muslims are extremists. And this man's reply is "kill them all." Not the best advertisement of your public relations savvy.

Friday, February 03, 2006

From the Duh-partment of Common Sense

A Louisiana man is starting a class action lawsuit against Apple, claiming that iPods can cause loss of hearing when turned up to 115 decibels.

My take: Would this man sue the guy who created the jackhammer? If you don't realize that loud sounds hurt your ears, don't go blaming others for your stupidity. This is common sense.

That is all.

And the winner is....

I'll admit that I'm slightly surprised. Roy Blunt (R-MO), otherwise known as Mini-DeLay, lost the vote for House Majority Leader, despite hustling for votes over the past months. What this means, with the winner instead being "reformer" John Boehner (R-OH), is unclear as of yet, but I'd venture several guesses, mostly all positive to the general political climate:

1) The Republicans' unwillingness to remain under the thumb of a K Street hardliner who enjoys strong-arming dissenters in the ways of his mentor can is a sign that there is a chance DeLay-style politics can be disavowed.
2) Despite the mileage Democrats could have gotten out of attacking Maj Leader Blunt for his DeLay connections, the appointment of Boehner should hopefully lead to a lessening of the war-time relations that often exist.
3) His name is "Boner". I don't care if he says it is "BAY-ner", the Republicans are now led by a huge boner. yes, i write my own jokes.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Google Can't Find Tiananmen

This ran in the Spectator today. See Sean's earlier post ( for a different angle.

Google Can’t Find Tiananmen
By Brian Wagner
February 02, 2006

Beware the cult of the dollar.

Money, it is said, slicks the wheels of politics, business, and everyday life. But the conclusion that money should come before standards hinges dangerously on allowing companies to be held unaccountable for their actions.

When companies like Google and Microsoft compromise their standards in order to operate in foreign countries that don’t share the same social values as the West, they justify themselves through the bottom line of profits. Google announced last week that it would censor its search engine so that the Chinese public couldn’t access information their government wanted blocked. Therefore, Google was justified in becoming a state-supported censor because if it didn’t acquiesce, it wouldn’t be in a position to make more money.

Corporate social responsibility, free parking, and environmental friendliness all exist only after the dollar has its say. Profit before virtues. You scratch my back and then I might scratch yours. It is an obvious part of capitalism, but that does not mean it should always remain unchecked and unquestioned.

Companies have, in recent legal cases like Kasky v. Nike, demanded the same right to free speech as any private citizen. Having been granted the power of speech by the Supreme Court, they now seek to avoid being held responsible for the power of action.

China, a country I have studied for years, is progressing toward greater freedoms of speech, thanks in large part to pressure applied by foreign business interests over the year. But censorship, especially on the Internet, remains prevalent in the Middle Kingdom, and corporate giants like Microsoft and Google are currently part of the problem. While it is true that economic openness can have great effects in changing a country’s political practices, a unique behemoth like China should be continually prodded in order to ensure change. When our companies join in on censorship—an act so antithetical to American beliefs that it remains a swear word in politics—we have to question the standards to which our corporations should be held.

Bill Gates recently stated, “I think [the Internet] is contributing to Chinese political engagement. ... Access to the outside world is preventing more censorship.” This is true. The Internet, in its role as a globalized forum and transmitter of information, is inevitably increasing Chinese awareness of other belief systems and ways of life. Progress toward individual freedoms is being made. But does this constant undercurrent of change justify the role of the largest American companies in being censors themselves?

Microsoft’s choice isn’t between censorship and failure. Their other option is to remain on the moral high ground. These companies are doing quite well, thank you very much, without the Chinese market. No matter how Gates twists the debate, the issue still remains that Microsoft is a censor who is helping to maintain an authoritarian regime with a dismal human rights record. Does he have to place his company in that position? No. Chinese companies are lining up to take advantage of technological advances. But Gates can’t admit Microsoft isn’t needed—that wouldn’t accord with the cult of the dollar.

Google recently attacked the European Commission for considering censorship of offensive online video content. When possible, Google, whose corporate motto is a cheeky “Don’t Be Evil,” will fight censorship at every turn. But with dollar signs floating across spreadsheets, morals and values become expensive baggage.

American companies, by importing their practices to China, can open up the nation. But Bill Gates’ belief that progress will occur without constant external and internal pressure is an extremely lazy way out of adhering to basic Western beliefs about the right of the individual and the responsibilities of the corporation.

Globalization may help Microsoft and Google span the globe, but so long as they are based in the United States, we shouldn’t allow them to take rain checks on basic moral and legal underpinnings of American thought and law just because the cult of the dollar pushes them toward greater profits.

Who Wins?

Today the House passed House Resolution 653, which is related to S.1932 that was passed using VP Cheney's tiebreaking vote.

It is, of course, the measure that calls for the end or revision of over 150 social programs. The first problem is that this cut is not enough. We will still be in deficit each year; which means the debt has no place to go than up.

There is no firm plan to pay down the debt.

And in the meanwhile, defense spending remains not only an impressive chunk of discretionary spending -- but there is no cap on its continuance.

Our polemic, it seems, is no longer liberty v. security. It is not so banal, so simple and understandable as this. We have through revisions to Medicare, the death of programs such as Adult Literacy etc. come to hurt most of the programs that go to those with the most need. The response by the government is to offer firm tax breaks that put money back into the hands of working adults. The irony of it all: those that don't pay taxes because they are too poor not only do not get a rebate, they get programs cut.

I would like to single out the great Congressman from NY Randy Kuhl. Why? Because he is my congressman and his top issue is this kind of financial literacy. Of course huge deficits are not suggested (although their economic effects are believed to be minimal). And I must say that many efforts, at least how they are advertised, try to better manage programs. But while the gist of the resolution is not wrong, the thought process seems a bit off.

In a modern welfare state, the task of government has been to provide for those least fortunate complete with the understanding that some people will not take advantage of their services. It catches people from falling through the cracks, but in itself is not yeast -- it doesn't make people rise up like a phoenix. Providing these necessary tools that free-market society does not offer, or would not without enticements, is considered by our culture and society the right thing to do.

Redefining this through minimizing these programs has drastic consequences. As a meritocratic nation, or so we shall become, the emphasis on growth of lets say 85% of the nation shall proceed at the competitive stream. And with minimizing valuable programs and taking away loan opportunities we cut a large percentage of our population out of the loop.

The population size and effect...I need numbers, and will look them up and run calculations (however shifty they may be). And as I stay up at the early hours this morning reading the actual text of some small passages it is rather shocking what is happening. A disabled veteran, for instance, can only claim upto 10,000 when returning from war to have his house adjusted for standards, or the same to buy one that is already outfitted. Of course people have read how it effects us college students: nothing seems to be too far out of the ordinary except they are changing the Pell Grant rates, and there will be, asthe NY Times reported, higher loan rates. Overall, it is going to yield an interesting few years as this lasts until 2010.

What does this mean for the country? I feel a pretty strong shift. Of course this wont call an end to pork-barrel projects that build bridges to no-where and fund efforts that never happen; and worse yet supply funds in kickback schemes such as the one we have seen in Iraq, and the bribery scandals that have recently embroiled Congress. I would call these egregious issues that should take pre-eminancy, but I suppose I should take my back seat -- I don't control the agenda, but I sure as hell wish I did.

It all makes me quite livid, particularly with Congressman Kuhl for his complicity. Why him? because he is MY Congressman. I think I will ask him: If we are without liberty nor opportunity, is security even worth the argument? It is quite the interesting predicament. I do not need to melodramatize it so much; but it is a real issue - something I believe deserves more attention than I think it has reserved. A story of such historic proportions shouldn't be an afterthought. I would hope people renew the fight to question the legitimacy; it was good to read many moderate republicans voted almost shamefully and wish they could change their vote.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Hamas Victory, But Israeli Action for Peace Continues

I'm sorry I haven't had time to post a longer argument about the Hamas victory to date, and what that victory might mean for the prospect of peace in the region, but that will be coming shortly. I would expect this weekend before I head to Paris, so stay tuned...

In the meantime, though, the article linked to on this post is worth reading. It shows that even after a Hamas victory, and the refusal of Hamas to recognize the State of Israel or the legitimacy of the peace process, Israel continues to dismantle "illegal settlements" in the West Bank, now that Gaza has been withdrawn from. It has taken on its own more extreme elements, even at the expense of the unity of its government (the split from Likud earlier this year) and the safety of some of its police and forces that are now being attacked violently, having learned from Palestinians in Gaza that violence may cause Israeli forces to back down.

In line with the roadmap and two state solution, of course, I believe that Israel is correct to dismantle illegal settlements in accordance with the roadmap. Yet the fact that they continue to pursue such steps, when the Palestinian Authority even under the full control of Abbas and Fatah refused to attempt to deal with their own Palestinian radicals (the first step of the roadmap), highlights yet again the uneven nature of the process from the beginning. Israel acts; the PA either doesn’t act or, now with Hamas in control, does not even recognize the legitimacy of Israel or the roadmap process.

The problem all to often has been for Israel that, regardless of what it does, it does not have a credible partner for peace.

And we must not entirely blame Hamas for believing that they are not being treated fairly. Because they have an armed wing, the international community has threatened not to deal with it. The international community never, however, forced Abbas' Fatah itself to disarm its own armed wing -- the Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade -- when it was in government.

The Palestinian security force numbers in excess of 60,000 men; Hamas is estimated to have nearly 5,000 fighters. Yet there has never been the will by the Palestinian leadership to disarm the forces that continued to terrorize Israel and even Palestinians themselves (just ask the thousands who have been accused of being “collaborators” in recent years, if you can stomach speaking to unmarked graves). The international community must therefore stand with unity, as it has been until now, and demand that any Palestinian leadership that is to be accepted and aided must recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence, and accept the agreements made through Oslo already. In addition, to prove these conditions, the PA must finally take the first step of the roadmap seriously and begin to dismantle its terrorist infrastructure.

I realize that these steps are unlikely to be accomplished overnight, but, until they are, Israel has conceded enough to prove its dedication to the peace process. Until there is a viable and active partner in peace, there is no peace process. Israel is justified, then, in preserving its own political unity for what is sure to be a struggle ahead rather than remaining committed to carrying out the roadmap that the Palestinian leadership has shown no intention of following.

Ok, so that is my rant of the day. I’ll hopefully have a bit more balanced (and in some ways even optimistic!) post about the elections to come.