Friday, April 27, 2007

Losing the Independent Press and the Price We Pay

Bill Moyers made waves this week with his special report on the role of the press in the run up to the war in Iraq. His story dovetails nicely with PBS Frontline's ongoing series of reports on the state of the press. Both are available online, and well worth watching. I would start with with Part III of the Frontline series, followed by Moyers's Buying the War.

Moyers has few true revelations and little new information, but it is well worth going back and seeing how badly the press got this war wrong, and revisiting some of the more egregious false claims of the pundits. Those pundits, as Moyers points out, are alive and well in American journalism. Many have been promoted. No one has been called to account.

The Frontline report helps to illustrate why American journalism is failing. No one does real reporting anymore, save a few national newspapers, and even they are cutting back. The newspapers are still highly profitable, but their readership and their revenue is in steady decline, and so sacrifices must be made for them to maintain their high margins and keep the corporate overlords happy. This was very much my concern while researching the media ownership rules last summer. Maintaining the prohibition on TV-newspaper crossownership has long been a central goal of the Democrats with respect to the media ownership rules. While I certainly see the value in that policy, for me the financial well-being of our newspapers has to be the top concern. I'm frankly not sure whether they would be helped or hindered by relaxing the cross-ownership rule. But I think we have to be willing to try anything that might preserve our last bastions of actual journalism.

Of course, the Moyers piece illustrates that even when newspapers have the resources to perform serious research they can fail to use them when caught up in the political conventional wisdom (as was the case of the New York Times and the Washington Post with Iraq). The conventional wisdom is created in part by the efforts of political actors (the White House in particular), but also by the media itself when it parrots the lines fed to them by those political actors. When real journalism is a small slice of the news media universe it seems that it is easily cowed by the overwhelming majority of the press for whom statements issued by the White House define reality. There needs to be a critical mass of independent press for news outlets to gain the courage of numbers to be willing to take risks.

Neither of these two pieces paints the whole picture on its own, the business of the news and the politics of the press, but together I think they give us a good look at what has gone wrong. The newspapers have a long way to go before they can recoup their lost hard-copy profits through their online presence. Given how much the internet has shaken up other industries, it's not clear they ever will. If they don't we can look forward to further setbacks to the quality of journalism in the US. We need to start to consider the degree to which quality reporting is a public good. In my opinion, in a democratically governed nation, journalism is the highest order of public good. The public cannot make informed choices if there is no one to inform them. If the market is unable to provide what we need, we will have to explore other avenues.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Government Without Conscience

Recall my post on the head of the GSA holding a meeting for a Rove deputy to present Republican election strategies to GSA appointees, asking for their help in the upcoming elections? Well it wasn't just the GSA. 20 of these briefings were conducted with 15 federal agencies, including the EPA, Health and Human Services, Interior, Labor, HUD, Treasury, Education, Agriculture and Energy, NASA, the Small Business Administration, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Office of National Drug Control Policy and USAID. The GSA administrator, Lurita Doan, faced Henry Waxman's House Oversight Committee yesterday. The Committee has testimony from a half dozen witnesses that Doan asked Rove aid Scott Jennings, at their meeing in late January of this year, how GSA projects could be used to help "our candidates". As for Doan's appearance, it's clear she attended the Al Gonzales seminar on congressional hearings. She claimed to have no recollection of the Jennings presentation. Shown one of his powerpoint slides titled "2008 House Targets: Top 20", Doan claimed to have no idea what it meant. Upon the suggestion that it referred to representatives targetted in the 2008 election by the White House, Doan responded that such an interpretation was speculation. It must be fun the shamelessly lie on the stand.

What's sad is, were it not for the Democratic wins in the midterm elections, the administration might have gotten away with this stuff. I just hope we spend the next two years seeing this adminstration ripped apart and dismantled, brick by brick by brick. Hopefully it will be painful enough and leave enough of a lasting memory to deter other presidents from going down this road for a very long time.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

One Scandal To Rule Them All

Josh Marshall has an interesting post tying together Prosecutorgate and the Abramoff investigation into a single mega-super-scandal. It makes sense...

I've Waited Six Years for this Foreign Policy Address

Barack Obama's foreign policy speech. He gets it all right. Not just on policy, but on tone and approach, which in foreign policy are at least as important as the X's and O's. This is where we should have been on September 12, 2001. A lot of people (primarily political junkies) already resent the Obama hype level (see Slate's Obama Messiah Watch), but the guy keeps hitting them out of the park. Andrew Sullivan's comments:
Obama's speech yesterday is his most detailed yet on foreign affairs. It is emphatically not isolationist; it is emphatically not against the use of military force when necessary; it is emphatically pro-military in its call for many more troops. On the critical issue of Iraq, Obama has taken a stand - a clear one for withdrawal, with the possibility of a strike-force over the horizon. This is a very difficult call, and the timing and execution of withdrawal will be dispositive. But one core strength of Obama's candidacy is that he got this war right when many of us got it wrong. He deserves more of a listening than many of us do. If his speech yesterday was any indication, there will be much to chew on. I'm sorry to see no commitment to a carbon tax; I'm unsure of whether diplomacy can or will work with Pyongyang and Tehran. We will all have to listen and watch Obama closely these next few months in weighing his candidacy against others'.

But this much we can already say: Obama brings something no one else does to this moment. By replacing one of the most globally despised and domestically divisive presidents in American history with a young leader half-Kansan and half-Kenyan, America would be saying something to the world: Bush-Cheney is not who we are. America is not what it has come to appear to be. This country is among the most culturally and racially and religiously diverse on the planet. America has long been a powerful and vital beacon for human rights - not, as recently, the avatar of torture, rendition and executive tyranny. The simple existence of Obama as a new president in a new century would in itself enhance America's soft power immeasurably, just as a clear decision to leave Iraq would provide much greater leverage for diplomacy and military force in a whole variety of new ways. Obama would mean the rebranding of America, after a disastrous eight years. His international heritage, his racial journey, his middle name: these are assets for this country, not liabilities.

This is the reason for his ascendancy. This is what the American people sense and the world awaits. This is what the Islamists fear. That last alone is reason to feel hope.

And the reaction over at DailyKos? Obama presents a "weak, mealy, and shockingly conservative platform. ... apparently Obama has joined the exalted ranks of the criminally misguided on foreign policy." This, of course, on one of the back pages, because the Kos front page has decided Obama doesn't exist unless they have something they can rag on him for (particularly if they can contrast him with their golden boy, John Edwards).

Sullivan likes it, the Kossacks hate it; I'm sold. I've commented before on the lack of a moderate liberal net presence as sites like DailyKos have drifted farther towards the fringe. So far I haven't found a liberal answer to thoughtful moderate conservatives like Sullivan, The Cunning Realist, Greg Djerejian, and Dan Drezner. I won't be surprised if we start to see some schisms in the liberal netroots over the next 6-8 months as the primary season heats up, and I'm hopeful something a little more reasonable will come out of it.

To close, an excerpt from Obama's address:
In today’s globalized world, the security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people. When narco-trafficking and corruption threaten democracy in Latin America, it’s America’s problem too. When poor villagers in Indonesia have no choice but to send chickens to market infected with avian flu, it cannot be seen as a distant concern. When religious schools in Pakistan teach hatred to young children, our children are threatened as well.

Whether it’s global terrorism or pandemic disease, dramatic climate change or the proliferation of weapons of mass annihilation, the threats we face at the dawn of the 21st century can no longer be contained by borders and boundaries.

The horrific attacks on that clear September day awakened us to this new reality. And after 9/11, millions around the world were ready to stand with us. They were willing to rally to our cause because it was their cause too – because they knew that if America led the world toward a new era of global cooperation, it would advance the security of people in our nation and all nations.

We now know how badly this Administration squandered that opportunity. In 2002, I stated my opposition to the war in Iraq, not only because it was an unnecessary diversion from the struggle against the terrorists who attacked us on September 11th, but also because it was based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the threats that 9/11 brought to light. I believed then, and believe now, that it was based on old ideologies and outdated strategies – a determination to fight a 21st century struggle with a 20th century mindset.

There is no doubt that the mistakes of the past six years have made our current task more difficult. World opinion has turned against us. And after all the lives lost and the billions of dollars spent, many Americans may find it tempting to turn inward, and cede our claim of leadership in world affairs.

I insist, however, that such an abandonment of our leadership is a mistake we must not make. America cannot meet the threats of this century alone, but the world cannot meet them without America. We must neither retreat from the world nor try to bully it into submission – we must lead the world, by deed and example.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Gonzales: Nothing To See Here...

AG Alberto Gonzales in today's Washington Post:
I know that I did not -- and would not -- ask for the resignation of any U.S. attorney for an improper reason. Furthermore, I have no basis to believe that anyone involved in this process sought the removal of a U.S. attorney for an improper reason.
All of these documents and public testimony indicate that the Justice Department did not seek the removal of any U.S. attorney to interfere with or improperly influence any case or investigation. Indeed, I am extremely proud of the department's strong record of vigorous prosecutions, particularly in the area of public corruption, where Republicans and Democrats alike have been held accountable for their crimes.
Recently retired career DOJ attorney Daniel Metcalfe, in a recent Legal Times interview:
Actually, I began earlier, in the first Nixon administration, as a college intern in 1971. But I was there again in the Watergate era, when I worked in part of the Attorney General's Office during my first year of law school in 1973-1974, and then continuously as a trial attorney and office director for nearly 30 years. That adds up to more than a dozen attorneys general, including Ed Meese as well as John Mitchell, and I used to think that they had politicized the department more than anyone could or should. But nothing compares to the past two years under Alberto Gonzales.

To be sure, he continued a trend of career/noncareer separation that began under John Ashcroft, yet even Ashcroft brought in political aides who in large measure were experienced in government functioning. Ashcroft's Justice Department appointees, with few exceptions, were not the type of people who caused you to wonder what they were doing there. They might not have been firm believers in the importance of government, but generally speaking, there was a very respectable level of competence (in some instances even exceptionally so) and a relatively strong dedication to quality government, as far as I could see.

Under Gonzales, though, almost immediately from the time of his arrival in February 2005, this changed quite noticeably. First, there was extraordinary turnover in the political ranks, including the majority of even Justice's highest-level appointees. It was reminiscent of the turnover from the second Reagan administration to the first Bush administration in 1989, only more so. Second, the atmosphere was palpably different, in ways both large and small. One need not have had to be terribly sophisticated to notice that when Deputy Attorney General Jim Comey left the department in August 2005 his departure was quite abrupt, and that his large farewell party was attended by neither Gonzales nor (as best as could be seen) anyone else on the AG's personal staff.

Third, and most significantly for present purposes, there was an almost immediate influx of young political aides beginning in the first half of 2005 (e.g., counsels to the AG, associate deputy attorneys general, deputy associate attorneys general, and deputy assistant attorneys general) whose inexperience in the processes of government was surpassed only by their evident disdain for it.
You have to remember that this is a Cabinet department that, for good reason, prides itself on the high-quality administration of justice, regardless of who is in the White House. Ever since the Watergate era, when Edward Levi came in as attorney general to replace former Sen. William Saxby soon after Nixon resigned, the Justice Department maintained a healthy distance between it and what could be called the raw political concerns that are properly within the White House's domain. Even Reagan's first attorney general, William French Smith, did not depart greatly from the standard that Levi set; as for Meese, I knew him to be more heavily involved in defending himself from multiple ethics investigations than in bringing the department too close to the White House, even though he came from there.

More recently, of course, the DOJ-White House distance hit its all-time high-water mark under Janet Reno, especially during Clinton's second term. And even John Ashcroft made it clear to all department employees that, among other things, he held that traditional distance in proper reverence; he proved that this was no mere lip service when, from his hospital bed, he refused to overrule Deputy AG Comey on what is now called the "terrorist surveillance program." Especially in the wake of 9/11, which strongly spurred the morale and dedication of Justice Department employees, myself included, I saw only a limited morale diminution in general during the first term.

But that strong tradition of independence over the previous 30 years was shattered in 2005 with the arrival of the White House counsel as a second-term AG. All sworn assurances to the contrary notwithstanding, it was as if the White House and Justice Department now were artificially tied at the hip -- through their public affairs, legislative affairs and legal policy offices, for example, as well as where you ordinarily would expect such a connection (i.e., Justice's Office of Legal Counsel). I attended many meetings in which this total lack of distance became quite clear, as if the current crop of political appointees in those offices weren't even aware of the important administration-of-justice principles that they were trampling.

This matters greatly to Justice Department employees of my generation. They are now the senior career cadre there, with the high-grade institutional knowledge that carries the department from one administration to the next, and when they see a new attorney general come from the White House Counsel's Office with a wave of young "Bushies" in tow and find their worst expectations quickly met, they just as quickly lose respect for nearly all of the department's political leadership, not to mention that leadership's "policy concerns." That respect is a vital thing, as fragile as it is essential, and now it's gone.
It's a great interview, the best discussion I've seen so far on this matter. And Metcalfe lays far more of it than I'd have imagined directly on Gonzales's head.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Big Lobbying Money + Complicated Subject + Stupid Tech Writer = Gigantic Mess

Subtitle: Robert X Cringely is a bloody idiot.

The job of a tech writer is to explain the universe of high technology to laymen in terms they can understand. To clarify confusing topics, to illuminate, to inform. So why does PBS's Robert X Cringely insist on writing on topics about which he so obviously does not have even a wisp of understanding? This week he writes about net neutrality, a topic inspired, apparently, by his suspicion that his broadband provider may be messing with his faxes over his VOIP service. He goes on to discuss how ISP's already implement quality of service prioritization (QoS), which he refers to as tiered service, which means that we have, in fact, never had network neutrality. It also, he says, means the internet is not a "best efforts" network as all the pundits say it is. All of this is, of course, wrong. That's not unusual for Cringely. What irritates me is that this is an important issue, and the wrong characterization that Cringely just published is exactly the line of bullshit that the lobbyists for incumbent networks are trying to sell. This makes Joe unhappy. So I'm going to take time out of my day to do Cringely's job for him.

It's easiest first to define net neutrality by what it is not:

Net neutrality is not an effort to prohibit QoS prioritization or traffic shaping. If you want to (as Cringely says in the article) give top priority to VOIP, then routing tables, then commercial broadband service, then consumer broadband service, there is absolutely no problem with that. Knock yourself out. If you want to dial down bandwidth on popular filesharing ports because the bittorrent users are clogging your network, again no problem. This is not what net neutrality is about (with one caveat I'll get to below). (And in case anyone cares, traffic prioritization is not, as Cringely believes, mutually exclusive with being a "best efforts" network (which the internet by and large is).)

Net neutrality also does not prohibit tiered service offers. If you want to give you end users a choice between a $20/mo 2mb service, a $40/mo 10mb service, and an $80 100mb service, there's no problem with that.

And here is what net neutrality is:

Net neutrality prohibits discrimination based on source. All data of the same type gets the same treatment regardless of who it comes from. So you can discriminate as much as want between different types of data, as long all packets within each class get the same treatment. The point of this is that a service provider is not allowed to favor its own websites, email, VOIP system, streaming video service, etc. over a competitor's. If you want to give your VOIP system high priority service, then Vonage gets that service too. Similarly, service providers not allowed to preference third-party services who pay them a fee. So charging Vonage for special priority carriage then turfing other VOIP providers isn't allowed either. That's net neutrality.

Where this gets tricky is where a service provider doesn't offer VOIP or streaming video over the internet, but offers an analogous non-internet-based service over the same line (phone service for DSL, cable TV for cable modems). In that case, prioritization by type acts as a proxy for prioritization by source. If you throttle down all VOIP service equally, that still gives preference to your non-internet phone service. To that extent, and only to that extent, net neutrality may have something to say about type-based prioritization.

The cable and phone incumbents have spent boatloads of lobbying money to promote the misconceptions about net neutrality that Cringely put on display in his column. Traffic shaping based on packet type is highly useful, and generally accepted as a desirably practice. Likewise tiered service offers to end users serves an important purpose in the market. If the incumbents can get everyone to believe that these things would be trashed by net neutrality, it makes their job much easier in arguing against it. This lobbying effort has been quite effective, and I see these misconceptions all over the place. It always bothers me, but much more so when I see it from a perceived authority figure like Cringely. Tech writers have a duty to clarify this issue, not to muddy it further.

And, by the way, Cringely, the reason your fax doesn't work over VOIP has nothing to do with net neutrality. VOIP uses lossy compression tuned to work with human voices, not the blips, bleeps, and squawks of a fax modem. Your fax machine doesn't work over VOIP because the fax transmission is being garbled by that compression. Buy yourself a scanner and toss the fax machine, it's obsolete.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Talking Point Punctured

Did Bill Clinton do something shady or unusual when he asked all of the US attorneys to tender resignations after he took office? Hardly. Ronald Reagan replaced 89 out of 93 US attorneys in his first two years after taking over from Carter. George H.W. Bush even replaced 88 of Reagan's US attorneys in his first two years. And George W. Bush, of course, replaced all of Clinton's US attorneys. The article doesn't say what the practice was prior to Reagan, but quotes one Carter appointee noting that turnover "is the tradition of the office. U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president, and when a new administration comes in, everybody knows you will have a new U.S. attorney."

Total War on Iraq

I was rather shocked today to find a column on CSM from a former managing editor arguing that the reason the US is struggling in Iraq (and didn't win in Korea and Vietnam) is our unwillingness to engage in total war. And what, exactly, does John Dillin mean by total war? The complete destruction of an enemy nation, including massive civilian casualties. As examples he cites the firebombing of Dresden and Tokyo, the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Sherman ravaging the American South. There's certainly a compelling argument that such tactics should never be acceptable (particularly compelling with respect to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for which there is compelling evidence to suggest the bombings were completely unnecessary to prompt Japanese surrender and had far more to do with the Cold War than WWII). But even accepting the premise that such attacks can sometimes be permissible, there's a pretty major difference between those situations and Iraq: in each of those conflicts the US faced an active state opponent, with troops in the field and territory under its control.

The idea of waging such a war in Iraq is not only absurd, but morally reprehensible in the extreme. We don't face state opposition. The Iraq government is our putative ally. We control the entirety of Iraq. For us to target Iraqi population centers for indiscriminate bombing wouldn't be waging war, but rather an exercise in genocide. At least in WWII there was always a means for our opponents to end the slaughter: unconditional surrender. What would signal a stopping point in Iraq? The Iraqi state has already conceded. It would simply be a gratuitous massacre lasting until our bloodlust had been sated.

But would it work? Perhaps if we slaughtered millions of Iraqis the insurgents would throw in the towel (although a couple million dead Vietnamese argue to the contrary). But even if they did, and even if we weren't troubled by the morality of it, where would this leave us internationally? Could anyone ever again regard us as a force for good in the world? Would our standing in the conflict with Al Qaeda and political extremism be improved? It would be an umitigated disaster.

Dillin's argument strikes me as another reflection of the general frustration that our military opponents have evolved and adapted in the days since WWII. The tactics we used there cannot work anymore, and that's no accident. It is precisely because the US military is amazingly proficient at total war that no enemy will ever allow us to bring that proficiency to bear. They know that for all our might in defeating armies and conquering territory, when it comes to holding territory over the long term, we are merely human. They can concede the field then engage us in a knife fight. And in doing so they gain the added benefit of transforming a military conflict into a political one, happily revealing our serious deficiencies in that arena. Our enemies have learned from the wars of the last century and moved on. Maybe it's time we did the same.

Monday, April 09, 2007

I Think We Took the Red Pill...

...and now we're going to see just how deep the rabbit hole goes. This DOJ thing is spiraling off in a dozen directions at once:

- US attorney in Wisconsin pushed into a voter fraud case that the appeals court referred to as "beyond thin" by the Rove Machine?

- Monica Goodling, the underqualified "party loyalist" DOJ attorney who resigned last week after pleading the 5th, appears to have been a key player in the US attorney hiring and firing process.

- Another DOJ party loyalist, former assistant to Deputy AG Paul McNulty (who admitted to having given false testimony to Congress), and Goodling co-conspirator, Rachel Paulose, was appointed as US attorney in Minnesota, where she recently drove several of the office's top staffers to resign.

- The DOJ's latest excuse for firing David Iglesias (he was an 'absentee landlord') could land them in further legal trouble: Iglesias was away serving in the Navy Reserve, and his position was protected by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.

- This has all gotten to be a bit much for Gonzales who apparently can't keep his own bullshit straight, to the point that his staff is pulling him out of planned TV appearances. Can't wait for the Senate date...

It has gotten to be a bit much for Slate too, as they has moved their Gonzo-resignation-meter up to 86% likely. Keep digging folks...

Sunday, April 08, 2007

I'm at the Wrong School

Here I had thought that the key to getting ahead was to go to a respectable top tier law school, had I but known that the pipeline to hot jobs ran through Regent University School of Law, I might have chosen differently. Who knew Pat Robertson was a legal genius? It's a school that leaves its students well prepared for the challenges of the federal hiring process, like this one:
In a recent Regent law school newsletter, a 2004 graduate described being interviewed for a job as a trial attorney at the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division in October 2003. Asked to name the Supreme Court decision from the past 20 years with which he most disagreed, he cited Lawrence v. Texas, the ruling striking down a law against sodomy because it violated gay people's civil rights.

"When one of the interviewers agreed and said that decision in Lawrence was 'maddening,' I knew I correctly answered the question," wrote the Regent graduate . The administration hired him for the Civil Rights Division's housing section -- the only employment offer he received after graduation, he said.
More here.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Corrupt to the Core

In order to fully appreciate the depths of the prosecutor scandal, I think it's necessary to place it into the general context of how this administration views the federal government. In that respect the new scandal involving the GSA provides considerable insight. The General Services Administration is the agency tasked with providing material support to the federal bureaucracy. They provide buildings, transportation, equipment and supplies of all sorts to the various federal agencies. It is a massive organization with a $60 billion annual budget. In January top administrator of the GSA, Lurita Doan, hosted a meeting for GSA appointees at which one of Karl Rove's deputies, J. Scott Jennings, made a powerpoint presentation on the Republican strategy in the 2008 congressional elections, identifying the hot races and the party's prospects for success. Doan then asked Jennings, "How can we use GSA to help our candidates in the next election?"

This appears, as the article notes, to be a blatant violation of the Hatch Act, but it's not so much the legalities that interest me in this issue. I can't help but view this administration's approach as embodying the long-standing hostility of certain parts of the Republican party (not least of which being the libertarian wing of it) towards government. While he certainly didn't invent this meme, Ronald Reagan probably popularized it more effectively than anyone else. Government, we came to understand, is the problem, not the solution. I'm certainly open to arguments that the government often does things poorly or takes on tasks that are not well suited to it, but when you go from specific criticisms to a generalized anti-government dogma, I can't help but think you eventually, inevitably, end up with the Bush administration.

If you spend all of your time out of government vilifying government, how can we expect you to have any respect for the institutional integrity of the government once you're in charge? If it's all bullshit anyway, why not appoint a horse and pony show administrator to head a critical government agency? Why not use the resources of government agencies to attack your political opponents? Why not use them to sell favors to fatten your campaign coffers?

Government, whether we like it or not, prefer it big or small, is a necessity. We'll never do away with it altogether. And for all our checks and balances there can be only so much democratic and institutional oversight. Plenty of constitutional governments have failed in the past (and we're witnessing one failing in real time in Iraq), not because their constitutional structure was faulty, but because that is only one part of the equation. Another part is a culture of respect for the traditions and integrity of the institutions of government. Much of what happens in our government comes down to the degree to which federal employees feel the weight of public trust on their shoulders, and the responsibility instilled by the tradition of the offices they hold. The Republican tactic of promoting a deep suspicion and overpowering cynicism about everything related to the government destroys that culture and is now destroying the institutional integrity of our government. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. They have ended up with the government they always thought we had (but in reality didn't).

I think this is a large part of why Barack Obama excites me and Hillary Clinton terrifies me. It's going to take someone like Obama to rebuild public trust in the integrity of the federal government. We're going to need a visionary and a statesman, and someone of substantial personal integrity. Clinton, perhaps more than any other candidate running on either side of the aisle, will serve only to deepen cynicism about government. She is just the sort of plasticky, blow-dried, political-consultant-run marionette that inspires distrust of the entire political system. The Bush administration has dealt our constitutional system a serious blow. To have it followed by another administration that only deepens the growing chasm of mistrust between the American people and their government could, I think, be disastrous.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Housing Market Bailout

I'm usually on here defending regulation from Henry and V, but this story just irks me. Ohio is raising $100m to bail out homeowners with ARMs facing foreclosure. Who the hell gets an ARM when interest rates are at their lowest levels in many decades? An ARM is a wager between you and your lender: if interest rates fall, you win, if they rise, they win. If you start from an historic low, who do you think is going to win that wager? This is a market populated by predatory lenders and foolish debtors. Dumping tax dollars in to keep it afloat may not be the brightest idea.

At This Point, I Should Just Admit...

...I'm a fan of Francis Fukuyama. He defends himself against association with Bush administration neoconservatism in this Guardian column. I think his comments are right on the money. To wit:
The End of History was never linked to a specifically American model of social or political organisation. Following Alexandre Kojève, the Russian-French philosopher who inspired my original argument, I believe that the European Union more accurately reflects what the world will look like at the end of history than the contemporary United States. The EU's attempt to transcend sovereignty and traditional power politics by establishing a transnational rule of law is much more in line with a "post-historical" world than the Americans' continuing belief in God, national sovereignty, and their military.

Finally, I never linked the global emergence of democracy to American agency, and particularly not to the exercise of American military power. Democratic transitions need to be driven by societies that want democracy, and since the latter requires institutions, it is usually a fairly long and drawn out process.

Outside powers like the US can often help in this process by the example they set as politically and economically successful societies. They can also provide funding, advice, technical assistance, and yes, occasionally military force to help the process along. But coercive regime change was never the key to democratic transition.

Malaysian Cars Suck

Apparently. This is pretty funny.

Update: Here's the video.

Monday, April 02, 2007