Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Chalmers Johnson and America's Imperial Decline

Chalmers Johnson's one of the nation's foremost experts on Japanese politics and international economic competitiveness. A professor emeritus at UC San Diego, Johnson's book, MITI and the Japanese Miracle: The Growth of Industrial Policy, 1925-1975, remains one of the most important selections on Japanese politics graduate syllabi. In recent years Johnson's been writing on trends in American foreign policy, particularly the consequences of America's clandestine intelligence operations and the "blowback" from U.S. strategic reach and ambition.

Johnson's got a new book out, Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Empire, which looks at what Johnson sees are threats to the republic from the country's massive military industial complex, which emerged from our post-World War II foreign policy of containing threats to U.S. national security.

Nemesis received
an outstanding review by Tim Rutten in today's Calendar at the Los Angeles Times:

The thesis proffered here is that, since the end of World War II, the United States has been undergoing a kind of creeping coup in which the growth of an imperial presidency, the development of the CIA as a secret presidential army, the bloating of an outsized military establishment, and a venal and derelict Congress have conspired to undermine the American republic — perhaps irremediably.
Much of what Johnson denounces is the Bush administration's advocacy of executive branch supremacy in the realm of national security, manifest, for example, in the adminstration's early policies on the detention and torture of enemy combatants. But Johnson goes too far in making his case, essentially equating the Bush administration's excesses with the totalitarianism of Hitler's Nazi regime. Here's what Rutten says about that analytical overstretch:

Many of the conclusions Johnson teases from his shrewdly assembled and analyzed material are not so convincing. For example, appropriating Hannah Arendt's description of Adolf Eichmann — "desk murderer" — and applying it to Cheney, George W. Bush and Donald H. Rumsfeld isn't just histrionic, it's wrong on the merits, wrong in ways so fundamental that it renders moral judgment itself a uselessly blunt instrument. However horrific events in Iraq have been, they have nothing in common with Hitlerian Germany's "final solution," and it does violence to both reason and history to carelessly suggest otherwise for mere effect.

On the other hand, when Johnson argues that America "will never again know peace, nor in all probability survive very long as a nation, unless we abolish the CIA, restore intelligence collecting to the State Department, and remove all but purely military functions from the Pentagon," he presents a case that demands consideration.
That sounds pretty fair. Rutten goes on to give additional examples of the difficulties of Johnson's analysis. For example, even if the Bush administration succeeded in elevating White House power into an "imperial presidency," the election of a Democratic majority in the November midterms has already started the process of restoring the balance of power among the branches in the federal system. The democracy's not in jeopardy of succumbing to a military dictatorship any time soon, as Rutten ably points out.

(An interesting aside here is that Johnson's book shares its title, Nemesis, with the second edition of Ian Kershaw's authoritative biography of Adolph Hitler, Hitler: 1936-1945, Nemesis. I agree with Rutten, though, that comparing Bush to Hitler -- or U.S. foreign policy to Nazi foreign policy -- defies reason. The antiwar left, nonetheless, loves to denounce the Bush administration as fascist. Whether the shared title was deliberate or coincidental is an intriguing footnote to Johnson's scholarship.)

I've been reluctant to read Johnson's latest books. Upon skimming The Sorrows of Empire at Barnes and Noble, for example, I got the feeling the work was just a dressed-up, high-brow anitwar attack on the Bush administration war policies. Rutten's cool-handed review has convinced to give Johnson's writing a second look, however. There's a growing debate on America's continued leadership of the global system -- which I have discussed
here and here, for example -- and Johnson's work certainly adds an important dimension to the discussion.

Costa Mesa Immigration Crackdown Snares Both Petty Offenders and Serious Criminals

The City of Costa Mesa, in Orange County, California, has taken a get-tough approach to immigration in recent years. Much of city's local politics has focused on the illegal alien debate, and Mayor Allan Mansoor raised the stakes in enforcement when he authorized in 2006 city police officers to check the federal immigration status of accused suspects in the local criminal justice system.

The beefed-up approach has been effective, and
according to this Los Angeles Times article both petty offenders and tougher criminals have been apprehended and processed for deportation under the crackdown:

In a city that has clashed loudly and publicly over immigration laws, the arrest of Marcelino Tzir Tzul underscored the worst fears in Costa Mesa's Latino community.

The 37-year-old illegal immigrant from Guatemala was picked up for riding his bicycle on the wrong side of the street, brought before a federal agent at the city jail and then shipped to a federal lockup to await his likely deportation.

For months, Latino activists had worried that Costa Mesa's decision to become one of the nation's first cities to enforce federal immigration laws would result in people such as Tzir being swept off the streets.

"This is exactly what we feared," said Amin David, who heads Los Amigos of Orange County, a Latino advocacy group.

But others, including the mayor of Costa Mesa, applaud the crackdown, even if it means that people who have committed minor crimes are caught in the process."

I believe illegal immigration is wrong. It's breaking the law," said Mayor Allan Mansoor, an Orange County sheriff's deputy.

During a three-week period in December, 46 Latino men picked up in Costa Mesa were taken to the Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster to await deportation hearings. Half were held on misdemeanor charges.
Here's what happened to Tzir:

Wearing work boots and a blue sweatshirt stained from the previous day's work, Tzir rode his blue mountain bike down Placentia Avenue, through the heart of the town's Latino community. When he turned left on Hamilton Street, an officer stopped him and told him he was riding on the wrong side of the road. He also didn't have a bicycle license.

Without an ID, Tzir was taken to the city jail, where a federal agent recently assigned to the city determined he was in the country illegally. Before he could alert family or friends, he was shipped to the lockup in Lancaster to await a deportation hearing.

"The sin I committed was to enter this country illegally," Tzir said in a recent jailhouse interview in Spanish. "I regret the pain I have caused my family, but I will leave with my head held high because I know that all I did here was to work hard."

Although Tzir's crime was minor, many of those swept up in Costa Mesa in December were arrested on serious charges. Of 20 arrest records the city was able to provide, most involved men in their mid-20s charged with crimes such as selling drugs and burglary. One involved a 19-year-old accused of having sex with a minor.
Costa Mesa's doing the right thing, and hopefully more municipalities will get with the program. The difference between minor and serious offenses by illegal aliens is an emotional, but not legal, distinction. It doesn't matter that people like Tzir are hard working and low profile -- they're in the country illegally and subject to federal immigration enforcement procedures, including deportation. Obviously, alien rights activists oppose strict enforcement, perhaps thinking that illegal immigrants are entitled to be here, because the American Southwest was "stolen" from Mexico.

I've blogged on the local angle of the immigration debate before, for example,
when an Oregon state judge billed Mexican President Vicente Fox for the costs of incarcerating Mexican criminals in Umatilla County jails, as well as the case of the Minutemen in Laguna Beach, California, who were successful in shutting down a local illegal alien day labor center.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Los Angeles Police Broadening Antigang Efforts

Monday's New York Times ran an insightful article on the Los Angeles Police Department's antigang unit, which has gained increased attention from the community and political leaders following the recent outbreak of ethnic violence in the city:

At twilight on Friday, in the heart of the territory of the latest notorious Los Angeles gang, a woman in a passing car calls out a tip to Officer Dan Robbins, sending him racing toward a corner and a man he believes is a member of the 204th Street gang.

As Officer Robbins’s black-and-white patrol car speeds forward, the man, Jose Covarrubias, 20, turns away and drops what appears to be a small pipe.

“Come here! Get your hands up!” Officer Robbins of the Los Angeles Police Department shouts as he jumps out of the car and handcuffs Mr. Covarrubias, arresting him on suspicion of possessing drug paraphernalia, a methamphetamine pipe.

“You arresting all the black people here on Harvard Boulevard, too?” Mr. Covarrubias asks, now seated on a curb, making plain the racial tension in this neighborhood, Harbor Gateway, that has commanded the city’s attention.

They know each other, this gang unit officer and Mr. Covarrubias, who Officer Robbins says is a relatively new member of 204th Street, a Latino gang that gained notoriety last month when two members were charged in what the police said was the racially motivated killing of a 14-year-old black girl, Cheryl Green.

The crime stunned the city as a sign of growing violence among blacks and Latinos in some struggling neighborhoods and brought renewed promises from the mayor, the police chief and the F.B.I. director to reverse a surge of gang violence. They have promised more officers chasing the worst gang members, more school and community counselors and more cooperation among agencies.

In the department’s Harbor Division, far from the worst in gang crime but the focus of political and news media attention since the killing, officers have started joint patrols with other police agencies. A deputy city attorney, Panagiotis Panagiotou, has ridden with Officer Robbins for part of his shift in an effort to broaden prosecutors’ gang knowledge.

Crucial to the effort are the knowledge and wherewithal of gang unit officers like Officer Robbins, whose focus is tracking gangs operating in and near Harbor Gateway, a compact 12-square-block collection of apartment houses and single-family homes in a narrow sliver of Los Angeles 20 miles from downtown.

Officer Robbins, 36, has been on the force for 12 years, the last two with the Harbor Division gang unit.

He embodies in many ways the newest incarnation of the gang enforcement detail, which has a storied but troubled past.

Los Angeles has long been a model for other cities in gang enforcement. Police officials from across the country and Latin America will gather here on Feb. 7 to share information and strategize. Chief William J. Bratton, visiting Washington this week, plans to meet with members of Congress and federal officials to advocate for more sharing of intelligence on gangs, terrorists and organized crime groups.
Read the whole thing. I was particularly impressed with the individual resourcefulness of Officer Dan Robbins, a member of the antigang unit, who has adapted his policing to the city's bureaucratic restraints (rules and procedures) that often limit the squad's effectiveness. The article also indicates that members of the Latino 204th Street gang harbor racial hatred of blacks, and some of the interracial violence reflects group competition over the recent demographic changes city neighborhoods. I blogged about this in an earlier post, "L.A. Gang Violence Stirs Fears of Ethnic Cleansing."

Monday, January 29, 2007

Early California Primary Likely to Have Little Effect

There's been discussion in California of moving the state's presidential primary earlier into the campaign season to give California a larger voice in selecting the major party nominees. In Sunday's Los Angeles Times, Philip Trounstine published an excellent commentary on the push to frontload the California nomination vote. Trounstine suggests that moving up the state's primary may not make that much of a difference, and in fact may be self-defeating, by giving the early contests in Iowa and New Hampshire even more power:

WITH SUPPORT FROM Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and leaders of both parties in the Legislature, the prospects are looking good that California will move its 2008 presidential primary from June to February.

That would put the contest for the largest bloc of delegates (about 12% or so) needed to win a party nomination at the front end of the nominating process, after Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

From the standpoint of California — which traditionally has served as little more than an ATM for campaign cash — this would be a good thing. Why should such a big and important state weigh in at the end of the nominating process, when the races are all but settled by puny, one-dimensional states that matter not a lick in November? Think about it:

• Iowa, which is 92% white, has a population about the size of San Diego County.
• New Hampshire — 94% white — is smaller than Sacramento County.
• Nevada's population is just a bit larger than that of San Bernardino County, and South Carolina's is considerably smaller than the San Francisco Bay Area's.

To run well in California, a presidential primary candidate can't get by with boutique issues and handshakes in living rooms and coffee shops. He or she must demonstrate broad appeal to party members, must not only be able to perform hand-to-hand politics but display a media presence and the ability to speak to myriad constituencies on a wide range of issues.

And because you don't exist in California politics if you're not on TV, a candidate must have the ability to raise and spend a lot of money effectively. But that's not enough. He or she has to have something to say, for without a clear and simple strategic message, no candidate can capture California.

A Democrat who wants to carry California must appeal to labor liberals in Los Angeles and Oakland, to gun-rack flag wavers in Fresno and Bakersfield, tree huggers in Marin and Ventura counties and high-tech pragmatists in San Jose and San Diego. He or she has to connect with Latinos, blacks and Asians without driving away white union members in Long Beach.

A Republican has to appeal to churchgoers in Riverside and Anaheim, business owners in Redlands and Huntington Beach, middle managers in Fullerton and Pasadena, farmers and ranchers in Modesto and Delano. He or she has to capture the pro-life, prayer-in-school crowd without alienating all those moderate suburban Little League parents.

In short, a candidate who can capture California, with all its diversity, can be competitive in his or her party in virtually all the big states — Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio, for example. A statewide victor in California is a national, not just a regional, candidate. Win California and you're ready for prime time.
It's a good piece. Trounstine argues that if a number of other states also decide to hold their primaries on February 5th, we'd have essentially a national primary, with California's potential clout being diluted by the nationwide campaign and diversified media attention. The traditional bump of momentum the Iowa and New Hampshire winners get would be magnified, and the candidates with the largest campaign warchests -- those best able to stay in the race and get their message out -- would be the beneficiaries. Hello Hillary, Barack, John (McCain), and Rudy!

Trounstine then mentions the usual drawbacks to the process: The voters won't have much time to weigh the various candidacies, with the powerful media having more influence on the outcomes than individual-level evalution and reflection. This is an old story, that seems to be getting worse every four years. Fundraising gets more intense every season, with low levels of primary participation, and the weighted influence of the early states, making the eventual nomination results unrepresentative of the broader national mainstream.

Black Voters May Not Support Barack Obama

Earl Ofari Hutchinson argues in the Christian Science Monitor today that black voters are not likely to support Barack Obama's campaign for the presidency in 2008. Here's Hutchinson's introduction:

Political interests trump race. That's the hard lesson likely 2008 presidential candidate Barack Obama will soon learn. Those who think black voters will automatically support one of their own need to think again. Recent history proves that point.

A survey in January 1996 showed that the so-called black president, Bill Clinton, nosed out Jesse Jackson and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan in popularity among blacks. Eight years later, when Al Sharpton made his presidential foray in the South Carolina Democratic primary, he barely nudged out eventual Democratic presidential contender John Kerry among black voters. State and national black leaders put their muscle behind Senator Kerry or John Edwards.

In the 2006 midterm elections, Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, pro football great Lynn Swann in Pennsylvania, and Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele – all Republicans – banked heavily on getting black voter support to beat their white Democratic opponents in state races. They failed miserably.

Blacks were enraptured with President Clinton and have supported white Democrats for good reason. They believed these seasoned politicians would deliver on their promise to fight for jobs, education, and healthcare. And they either held office or were good bets to win. Interests and electability trumped color.

The same rules apply to Senator Obama. Blacks may puff their chests with pride at the prospect of him breaking racial barriers, but they'll still judge him on two crucial questions. Can he deliver on bread and butter issues? And can he win?

The second is critical. Many blacks are leery that he's a media-created flash in the pan, and will wilt under the campaign's intense glare. Most black voters desperately want to end Republican White House rule. But that doesn't mean they'll support just any Democrat. It's got to be a Democrat with whom they feel comfortable.

In the eyes of many blacks, Obama departs from past black presidential contenders such as Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun, and Messrs. Jackson and Sharpton. They were readily identifiable, urban-bred, African-Americans who spoke out boldly on civil rights, poverty, and economic injustice. On the other hand, the racially mixed, Harvard-trained Obama, as the so-called postracial candidate, has soft-pedaled these issues. It's no accident that his appeal among whites seems stronger so far than among blacks.
Read the whole thing. Hutchinson goes on about how Hillary Clinton and, especially, John Edwards satisfy the voting interests of African-Americans. He also notes that Obama's a political newcomer, and that the first-term Senator has achieved little substantive policy successes during his time in office.

All true, of course. Yet Hutchinson's really talking about fundamental redistributive issue positions black voters want in the presidential candidates. Obama's famous for his 2004 Democratic Convention speech demanding more personal responsibility from individuals in American public life. This theme is a perennial American value, but historically black political leaders -- like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, mentioned by Hutchinson -- have been much more inclined to focus on black victimhood and the accumulated disadvantages from which blacks are arguably entitled to compensatory treatment from government. Such things like continued affirmative action and generous social welfare benefits for the black poor are those policies to which Hutchinson refers as "black interests." Such policy themes have been staples of the Democratic Party platform for decades, and it's time the party moves away the old-line liberal positions to a more modern version of equality of opportunity and personal achievement.

In a recent post I spoke of the current black leadership's "Blood of Martyrs" strategy, citing Juan Williams new book, Enough. I noted there that this trend in grievance politics is debilitating to black advancement, and the message of hard work and individual effort needs to become the rallying theme of a new black movement toward greater upward mobility. So far, in this current presidential campaign, Barack Obama hasn't laid out a compelling theme to that effect. But based on his past speeches and pronouncements, his pragmatically moderate approach to personal versus governmental responsibility may indeed be the message black voters need.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Diverse Democratic Presidential Field Draws Minority Campaign Contributors

This weekend's Wall Street Journal has an interesting article on the rise of ethnic minority contibutors in the fundraising sweeps for this presidential election. The new ethnic donors are apparently drawn in by the diversity of the emerging field of Democratic candidates, as well as by their increasing affluence as a new fundraising constituency:

The emergence of viable black, Hispanic and female presidential candidates -- combined with unprecedented pressure for campaign donations -- is drawing a new generation of female and minority donors to the intensifying contest for cash among 2008 Democratic aspirants.

Illinois' Barack Obama, the only African-American currently in the U.S. Senate, is courting a network of rising African-Americans in law firms, at high-tech companies and on Wall Street. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, whose mother is Mexican, is mobilizing Latino business owners. And New York Sen. Hillary Clinton is tapping into email lists of individual women across the country.

A survey of political donors to the 2000 presidential campaign found that 68% were men and 96% were white. Blacks and Hispanics each accounted for 1% of the givers, according to John C. Green, director of the Bliss Institute at the University of Akron. That's the most recent campaign he has analyzed by those categories.

But this year, "the diversity of the Democratic pool may well expand the donor universe" for the party, Mr. Green said.

Bursts in ethnic, racial and gender giving inspired by a particular candidate have happened before. In 1988, blacks and women rallied around the Democratic candidacies of the Rev. Jesse Jackson and former Colorado Rep. Patricia Schroeder -- while the party's eventual nominee, Michael Dukakis, was energizing the Greek community.

But the political coming of age of today's candidates coincides with growing economic clout and political savvy among constituencies new to the fund-raising game. In 1988, 485,000 black households and 340,000 Hispanic households had earnings of more than $100,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Last year, that number exceeded 1.1 million apiece for blacks and Hispanics. And today, the largest political-action committee in the country is Emily's List, an organization of women that directed more than $45 million last year to female Democrats who support abortion rights. In 1988, Emily's List raised just under a million dollars.
Read the whole piece. I must admit being surprised at the degree of exclusion of minorities in the fundraising system in earlier years (they accounted for less than 5 percent of campaign contributions in 2000). The flipside, though, is that the newfound clout of minorities might provide a new burst of vitality for the parties in their efforts at increasing political inclusion among previously disadvantaged groups.

One other point strikes me, though. The piece mentions how Kate Michelman -- the former head of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) -- intends to work with John Edwards as an advisor, rather than Hillary Clinton, which goes against the natural feminist pull of a woman supporting a woman candidate for president. Michelman's clearly working on the basis of rational self-interest, rather than gender solidarity. On the other hand, Henry Cisneros, a Hispanic former mayor of San Antonio, Texas, and former Bill Clinton administration cabinet member, has rejected assisting the Hillary Clinton campaign, despite his previous affiliation's with the Clinton political machine. Cisneros instead intends to work on behalf of New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson's presidential campaign. Richardson's Hispanic, and I consider him to be one of the most qualified hopefuls in the emerging Democratic field. Yet, Cisneros' decision to support Richardson on the basis of ethnic ties is troubling, I think, as it reflects an in-group solidarity that goes against the civil rights movement's foundational goals of seeking multiracial integration. While the election of Richardson to the White House as the nation's first Latino president would be a historical first, such an outcome would be even more monumental should it reflect the efforts of a cross-racial coalition intent on putting the best possible candidate into the Oval Office.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Antiwar Demonstration to Focus on Congress

Antiwar groups will mount a massive rally against the Bush administration's troop surge plan today in Washington. According to this New York Times report, protesters will vent their anger at the Congress, arguing that Democratic legislators are ignoring the will of the people with their lackluster response to the adminstration's Iraq escalation:

Tens of thousands of demonstrators are set to arrive in the capital this weekend for a major antiwar march, staging the first of several protests intended to persuade the new Democratic-controlled Congress to do more than simply speak against President Bush’s Iraq policy.

But do not look for senators to be standing among the protesters on the Mall on Saturday. Despite a consensus building around a Senate resolution to oppose sending more troops to Iraq, even the most liberal Democratic senators do not appear eager to align themselves with a traditional antiwar protest.

So the groups that are organizing the demonstrations against the president’s strategy are also carrying out a sophisticated, well-financed lobbying campaign on Capitol Hill. Their behind-the-scenes efforts are intensifying, relying on tactics deployed in a cutthroat political race.

Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, a coalition of labor unions, and other groups that have traditionally rallied against wars, has raised $1.5 million since it was formed two weeks ago. The group is singling out Republicans and Democrats who have spoken out against the war, but who have so far declined to pledge support for a resolution denouncing Mr. Bush’s plan to increase the number of troops.

Next week, the group intends to fly Iraq veterans to the home states of Republican senators who serve on the Foreign Relations Committee and voted Wednesday against the resolution condemning the administration plan, including Senators Norm Coleman of Minnesota and John E. Sununu of New Hampshire. Television advertisements are scheduled to be shown in some of the same states in an effort to apply pressure before the Senate vote on the resolution in early February.
The organizational efforts of the antiwar camp represent a different kind of politics than 1960s-era antiwar activism. This is quite a sophisticated network of left-leaning interest groups using modern, technology-driven methods to bring pressure on congressional leaders to thwart the Bush troop push. The proposed demonstrations seem to be more in line with the anti-globalization protests we've had in recent years, like Seattle's violent WTO demonstration in 1999. I'm amazed, though, how little the left-wing movement nowadays resembles the antiwar activism of the Vietnam generation. There's no military draft in this war, and protest rallies have been sporadic, seemingly much less of a mass movement for social change than was true in earlier generations. Indeed, last year's massive pro-immigration rallies in Los Angeles appeared much more like a movement, reflecting a diversity push toward illegal immigrant rights that captures a generational culture shift (not to mention an anti-American demographic reconquista agenda).

Friday, January 26, 2007

Affirmative Action Facing Turning Point Nationally

This morning's New York Times has an update on the developing politics of affirmative action nationally. With the electoral success of Michigan's Measure 2 last November -- which banned racial preferences in the state -- universities and activists across the nation are rethinking how they can maintain desired racial balances in college admissions. Here's some background:

With Michigan’s new ban on affirmative action going into effect, and similar ballot initiatives looming in other states, many public universities are scrambling to find race-blind ways to attract more blacks and Hispanics.

At Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, a new admissions policy, without mentioning race, allows officials to consider factors like living on an Indian reservation or in mostly black Detroit, or overcoming discrimination or prejudice.

Others are using many different approaches, like working with mostly minority high schools, using minority students as recruiters, and offering summer prep programs for promising students from struggling high schools. Ohio State University, for example, has started a magnet high school with a focus on math and science, to help prepare potential applicants, and sends educators into poor and low-performing middle and elementary schools to encourage children, and their parents, to start planning for college.

Officials across the country have a sense of urgency about the issue in part because Ward Connerly, the black California businessman behind such initiatives in California and Michigan, is planning a kind of Super Tuesday next fall, with ballot initiatives against racial preferences in several states. He is researching possible campaigns in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming, and expects to announce next month which states he has chosen....

Mr. Connerly said that a decade ago, when California passed its ban, Proposition 209, he thought the state was ahead of its time, but that now, he believes “the country is poised to make a decision about race, about what its place in American life is going to be — and I really believe the popular vote may be the way to achieve that.”
A decisive national statement on race preferences is needed. The Rehnquist Court by the 1990s had been requiring more strict scrutiny of race conscious policies, but the Court's 2003 decisions coming out of Michigan preserved the use of affirmative action in admissions decisions. Sandra Day O'Connor argued that in 25 years the nation would no longer need race preferences in determining seats at America's campuses -- and for some the 25-year limit can be seen as a last chance timeline for disadvantaged groups to get their achievement levels up to par. Connerly hopes to speed up the process, as do I. Blacks and other minorities can and should compete on equal ground in the academic realm. Affirmative action simply provides a crutch for the less prepared and discriminates against those most qualified for the rigors of university life.

I'm not surprised by the supportive positions on continued racial preferences expressed by some of those interviewed in the article:

“You’d think public universities are charged with special responsibility for ensuring access, but it could come to be exactly the opposite, if there are a lot of these state initiatives,” said Evan Caminker, the dean of the University of Michigan Law School, adding, “in terms of public values, it’s a big step backward.”
No, I would think that the special responsibility of public universities is to remove all formal barriers to enrollment, and let measures of academic excellence determine which students are accepted. But wait! Academic achievement's not the most important thing to diversity mavens. The college experience is getting to be all about "comfort levels" for minorities on campus. Or at least one gets that idea when listening to college administators. Check out this quote -- in reference to the low numbers of blacks currently enrolled at the University of California -- which I see as basically supportive of self-segregation among underrepresented groups:

“Folks look for a place that’s comfortable,” said Richard Shaw, Stanford’s admissions dean. “They want a sense that there’s kids like them at the institution.”
Stanford's student body is 11 percent African-American, and the larger black enrollment there allegedly creates a greater happiness zone for black students. I blogged about this phenomenon in my earlier post on UC Riverside's high diversity, which is held out as a key attraction for qualified minorities applying to the school. Diversity's fine, as I've said many times. My hope remains, though, that traditionally underrepresented groups will seek the highest levels of academic attainment, and that they won't make excuses about gaps in achievement when not everyone makes the grade.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Bush Administration's Key Backers Defect Over Iraq

Today's Wall Street Journal reports that substantial elements of the Republican Party's base have grown increasingly unhappy with the Bush administration, and particularly the Iraq War. Conservatives worry that the administration has lost its focus, and top conservative policy issues will lose their privileged position at the forefront of the Washington policy agenda:

Fallout from the war in Iraq, which already has weakened President Bush among the general public and in Congress, now is causing problems with the group that has been his mainstay: social and economic conservatives.

These longtime loyalists, appreciative of Mr. Bush's record on issues ranging from tax cuts to his veto of federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, also have supported his war policies. But Mr. Bush's annual State of the Union message Tuesday night aggravated their underlying fear: that the president might become so consumed by the worsening conflict in Iraq -- and chastened by Democrats' takeover of Congress -- that he will give up on the issues they care about.

"I think the president left a lot of conservatives shaking their heads" by avoiding the issues atop their agenda, said Bill Lauderback, executive vice president at the American Conservative Union.

Yesterday morning, the weekly meeting of conservatives that is convened by antitax activist Grover Norquist, a White House ally, was marked by "tense exchanges" with administration press secretary Tony Snow over border enforcement and Mr. Bush's immigration proposals, according to conservative activists.

Conservatives are becoming more openly critical, adding to the president's woes and emboldening Democrats for battles ahead. Increasingly, they are looking beyond Mr. Bush for a new standard-bearer, though no one in Republicans' emerging 2008 presidential field has yet captured conservatives.
Actually, there's been some grumbling across the conservative base for some time. Bruce Bartlett, a top conservative from way back in the Reagan years, wrote a book last year entitled Imposter, arguing that George Bush wasn't a true conservative, and that the direction of the Bush administration's policy thrust had betrayed much of the conservative agenda. This Washington Monthly blog entry from Kevin Drum notes that while Bush talks the talk on conservativism, his positions are not genuinely part the broader conservative ideological tradition. Indeed, I've come to see Bush as more of a neoconservative -- especially in foreign policy -- than a true American conservative in the tradition of William Buckley.

The Globalization of the Oscars

The Academy Awards Nominations were announced this week, and yesterday's Los Angeles Times ran an interesting article on how this year's top picks demonstrate the increasing emergence of a global film community. Here's part of the introduction:

Most days, everyone in Hollywood assumes that the world revolves around them. But as the nominations for the Academy Awards proved, show business is now revolving around the world.In saluting movies that were often made outside the nation's borders and that grappled with disquieting international issues such as terrorism, global warming and the personal costs of war and violence, Oscar voters Tuesday honored a collection of movies that were decidedly not Hollywood-centric.

The plots of three best picture nominees ("Babel," "The Queen" and "Letters From Iwo Jima") unfold overseas. Four of the five women competing for the best actress Oscar (Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren and Kate Winslet) are not American. Britain's Paul Greengrass ("United 93") and Stephen Frears ("The Queen") were nominated for best director, as was Mexico's Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu ("Babel").

"The world is changing, and I think that the film community is now a global film community," Gonzalez Iñarritu said. "It's not anymore about cultural barriers or language barriers. It's emotion and humanity. We are using the power of cinema to cross borders. We are understanding that now there's a cultural connection that needs to happen. Most films can reveal the nature of other countries and other people around the world."
Read the whole article, which provides more details on the countries of origin for the films and nominees. I've long appreciated the global nature of film, as I've been a big fan of foreign cinema for some time. The article does note, however, that the emergence of a global film community has its origins in the American movie industry -- and especially Southern California. Many of the films had Hollywood as the creative or financial backbone for the production. Globalization has been and remains American-led, and the case of the internationalization of the Oscars is no exception.

This New York Times article also notes the heightened international flavor to this year's Oscar races.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Democratic Hopefuls Are Silent on Terrorist Threat

Jeff Jacoby makes an interesting observation in today's Boston Globe on the troubling silence among top Democratic presidential prospects on the threat to the United States from the forces of radical Islam. It turns out not one of the announced candidates has made a serious case for confronting the terrorist threat, which Jacoby considers the existential issue of our time. Here's the introduction:

THE SURGE is underway, and more rapidly than many of us were expecting. The influx of new troops into Iraq? No, of candidates into the 2008 presidential contest.

So far this month, Senators
Hillary Clinton of New York, Barack Obama of Illinois, and Chris Dodd of Connecticut, plus Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico -- Democrats all -- have formally launched White House campaigns (or "exploratory committees"). Already in the race were former senators John Edwards of North Carolina and Mike Gravel of Alaska, former governor Tom Vilsack of Iowa, and Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich.

Eight Democrats, eight would-be commanders-in-chief -- all running for president in a time of war. So which of them, on getting into the race, had this to say about the nature of the enemy confronting us?

"We are engaged in a war against an axis of Islamists, extremists, and terrorists. It is an axis of evil. It has headquarters in Tehran and Waziristan. But because of the unconventional nature of this war, it also has headquarters in cities throughout Europe and Asia and Africa and the United States of America, in cells that operate in the shadows but are prepared to strike us again as they did on September 11th, 2001.

"The enemy we are fighting is . . . totalitarian. It is inhumane. It has a violent ideology and a goal of expansionism and totalitarianism. It threatens our security, our values, our way of life as seriously, in my opinion, as fascism and communism did in the last century."

Can't match that assessment of the global jihad with the Democratic candidate who uttered it? Don't feel bad; it was a trick question. Those words were actually spoken by Senator Joseph Lieberman at a
forum on Iraq this month. Lieberman shared the podium with GOP colleague John McCain, who was no less blunt in his evaluation of the war and its stakes.
Jacoby notes that Senator John McCain, so far the frontrunner among GOP hopefuls, also considers the Islamist threat as the defining issue of the election:

The Democratic candidates, by contrast, are virtually silent on the subject....

The Democrats seem prepared to emulate John Kerry, who
insisted in 2004 that "we have to get back to the place we were" before 9/11. Back, that is, to treating Islamist terrorism not as "the focus of our lives," but merely as "a nuisance" that we need "to reduce" -- like gambling, he said, or prostitution.

Heading into the 2008 campaign, our political universe is still divided. On one side are those who see the Islamists as a nuisance to be controlled. On the other: those who regard them as an existential enemy to be destroyed. On the relative strength of those two camps, the next election may well depend.
The irony here is that should the United States remain free from a terrorist attack over the next couple of years, and with the country therefore benefiting from an aggressive battle against the terrorists at home and abroad, a reduced sense of threat perception within the electorate might then make it more likely that a Democrat will be elected.

Princeton Asian-American Bias Debate Turns Nasty

Princeton University has been in the news recently due to allegations that the school's admissions policies discrimate against Asian-American students, who are underenrolled at Princeton -- and elite universities nationwide -- relative to their high levels of academic achievement. Of late, though, it turns out the campus debate on Asian-American admissions has turned nasty. The school newspaper recently ran an article parodying Jian Li, a Yale student who was rejected by Princeton, and who has filed a discrimination claim against the university with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights. This New York Times story has the details:

Belda Chan, a senior at Princeton University, was stunned when she encountered an article in broken English in the annual joke issue of the student daily parodying an Asian-American student who had filed a civil rights complaint against Princeton.

“The editor in chief said their intention was to spark a dialogue on race,” said Ms. Chan, a history major from Massachusetts whose parents immigrated from China. “Obviously that’s happened. But hate crimes spark dialogue too, and that doesn’t mean they are good things and that we approve of them and that they will help in the long run.”

Perhaps even more than the complaint by Jian Li that he was rejected for admission by Princeton because of his race, the article published last Wednesday has put front and center the question of whether elite universities treat Asian-American students fairly in admissions and whether those students who are admitted face bias.

“Hi Princeton! Remember me?” the parody began. “I so good at math and science. Perfect 2400 SAT score. Ring bells? Just in cases, let me refresh your memories. I the super smart Asian. Princeton the super dumb college, not accept me.” Later, it said: “What is wrong with you no color people? Yellow people make the world go round. We cook greasy food, wash your clothes and let you copy our homework.”

Students, faculty and college administrators have condemned the article. The newspaper, The Daily Princetonian, printed an editors’ note expressing regret for upsetting readers and saying that a diverse group, “including several Asians on our senior editorial staff,” had written the column.

“We embraced racist language in order to strangle it,” the note said. “At its worst, the column was a bad joke; at its best, it provoked serious thought about issues of race, fairness and diversity.”

I'm sure there are more appropriate ways to promote discussion on the acceptance success of Asian-American admittees. The Times piece notes that the student newspaper's editors are trying to put the controversy behind them, and for good reason. The parody displayed plain intolerance and bigotry. Unfortunately, the episode seems symptomatic of a backlash among some on the left against pure merit-based admissions policies at the country's elite educational institutions.

I blogged previously about California's experience with college admissions in the Proposition 209 era, for example,
here and here. Especially interesting is how the success of Asian students has given rise to demands to bring back racial preference policies, as well as a growing trend in self-segregating acceptance patterns among highly qualified black students in the UC system.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Jamestown Settlement: Planting a Nation Where None Had Stood Before

This week's U.S. News cover story on the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, Virginia, came with perfect timing. My copy arrived in my mailbox last night, just in time to look over and digest before my lecture today on America's colonial background and revolutionary heritage. I shared the copy with class, noting that U.S. history dates back quite a while, not just from 1787 and the constitutional convention, but to this earlier era of exploration and settlement. Here's a segment from the article's introduction:

Thirteen years before the Mayflower brought Pilgrims to Massachusetts, the Virginia colony served as England's toehold on a continent eventually inhabited and governed mostly by English-speaking people. History books list Jamestown, founded in 1607, as America's first permanent English settlement, and its 400th anniversary will be celebrated this year with festivals, exhibits, and commemorative coins, plus a springtime visit by Queen Elizabeth II. But that success in Virginia was not the piece of cake it first was billed to be. For years, Jamestown was a deadly fiasco, periodically in peril and ultimately revived and enriched by cultivation of a habit-forming weed and the toil of indentured whites and enslaved blacks.

In Europe's race to colonize the New World, England started late. For nearly a century after 1492, the English watched with envy as Spain dominated much of the hemisphere that Columbus discovered. In 1587, two decades after the Spanish settled St. Augustine in Florida, the English abandoned their insular ways and planted 110 men, women, and children on Roanoke Island off present-day North Carolina. When a supply ship returned later, all were gone. Even now, no one knows what became of that "Lost Colony."

Sir Walter Raleigh, the favorite courtier of Elizabeth I, reportedly lost 40,000 pounds on the venture. His reward, granted in advance, was knighthood and the Virgin Queen's permission to name the new land Virginia, in her honor. They envisioned Virginia as every place north of Mexico that the English could take and occupy.

Despite the costs and setbacks, pressures mounted for another expedition. English traders imagined colonists producing wine and olive oil, harvesting timber, and uncovering gold. Others saw Virginia as an ideal home for the poor. England's population was rising rapidly, but jobs were stagnant. Ministers noted that God ordered man to multiply and fill the Earth. What better place to do so than the vast and—as they perceived it—empty continent across the sea?
It's a nice piece. I particularly liked the article's balanced retelling of Jamestown's founding, and it's very substantial difficulties. The article is free from the radical, anti-colonial ideology one would get from left-wing activist professors. Indeed, the piece is clear that the Virginia settlers might not have made it without help from the Native Americans. Also, local chieftan Powhatan comes off as a rational opportunist, making friends with the newcomers when it fit his interests, and opposing them when it became clear that the colony's growth threatened the sovereignty and survival of his community.

Writing this post reminds me of an earlier entry -- from last Thanksgiving --
citing Betsy Newmark's holiday post, where she gave thanks for the great freedoms we enjoy, and suggested that we delve in and learn more about our phenomenal heritage. The U.S. News piece is a well-done journalistic diversion along those lines. In that earlier post I also cited Schweikart and Allen's A Patriot's History of the United States as an example of the kind of historical literature that might help one better appreciate our past, warts and all.

(Editorial Note: Lest any leftist radicals become offended, this post's title is a play on the words of an early Jamestown ballad, cited in the article's conclusion: "Wee hope to plant a nation / Where none before hath stood." Certainly, the American Indians had a nation in the lands of the future Virginia settlement; they simply weren't able to defend their nation and indigenous civilization from the coming of the American nation-state.)

Monday, January 22, 2007

Clinton Campaign Will Break Public Finance System

This morning's Los Angeles Times reports that Hillary Clinton expects to forego public campaign financing in both the primaries and the general election, a move that could bring about the end of the public funding regime that's been in place since the Watergate era. Clinton's campaign website is asking for donations for both the primary and the general elections, and her operation is expected to easily raise more than the $83 million allocated by the FEC for the major party nominees:

Abandonment of the public financing system would threaten the survival of a Watergate-era measure that was supposed to limit the influence of big donors in presidential politics and enable more candidates to compete.

If major candidates walk away from public financing, "it really calls into question why it exists at all," said Federal Election Commission Chairman Robert D. Lenhard, a supporter of the system.

The system is being rendered obsolete by escalating campaign costs, sophisticated fundraising techniques, tepid public support and major candidates such as Clinton who could raise $100 million on their own before the first 2008 primary — and $500 million by election day.

There are efforts to revive the system. "It is a reversal, but not necessarily a fatal reversal," said Steven Weissman of the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute in Washington, among the groups pushing to rescue public financing.

But it remains to be seen whether the heavy spending forecast for 2008 will, as public-finance advocates predict, trigger public disgust and lead to changes.

Until then, "to be considered a top-tier serious candidate almost by definition means you're not going to be participating in the public financing system" in either the primary or general election campaigns, said Democratic consultant Chris Lehane of San Francisco, who worked in the Clinton White House.

As originally envisioned, the matching funds system offered candidates a deal: In exchange for voluntarily limiting their spending, the federal government would provide them with tax money to defray primary campaign costs and relieve them of having to raise money in the general election.

Taxpayers pay for it by checking a box on their income tax forms earmarking $3. But despite outcries against the influence of private money in politics, the concept has not caught on with the public. At its height in 1980, 28% of taxpayers marked the box. Now, not even 10% ask that part of their taxes be used for presidential campaigns.

It's a system that seems almost quaint in an age of Internet fundraising and in the face of other laws that have the effect of opening the way for big campaign spending. Though $83 million seems huge, it might pale by comparison with the sums that candidates could raise from private sources — increasing the likelihood that nominees would leave the public money on the table.

"It is mind-boggling," said Washington political consultant Jeffrey Bell, a Republican who supports public financing.
The notion behind public financing is that with taxpayer financed elections, candidates would be beholden to the general public and not the "special interests." But as the article notes, public funding has never really taken off, and the number of people who authorize contributions the presidential campaign fund has declined steadily over the years. It's also interesing that the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation of 2002 -- which sought to reduce the role of money in campaigns by banning "soft money" contribution to the national parties -- is likely the major factor working to kill off public financing of elections in the U.S.

I posted on presidential campaign finance in December,
discussing the jockeying on the Republican side to determine who will be heir to the Bush family political machine's massive fundraising network. In that post I noted that Hillary Clinton's campaign has raised the stakes for 2008, with a likely $100 entry fee the requirement for top-tier candidates. That number looks small when compared to the $500 million Clinton will likely raise for the general election in 2008. Mind-boggling, indeed!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

L.A. Gang Violence Stirs Fears of Ethnic Cleansing

Surging incidents of racial gang violence in Los Angeles are raising fears among community members and public officials of a broader campaign by Latino gangs to cleanse black residents from some city neighborhoods. This Los Angeles Times article has the background:

The headlines are among the most stark documenting gang violence. A Latino gang member, without saying a word, guns down a 14-year-old black girl standing on a sidewalk. A black gang member shoots a Latino toddler point-blank in the chest.

For the most part, though, the role racial animosity has played in gang crime has gone unexamined, largely undocumented in crime statistics and often tamped down by politicians and law enforcement officials anxious about inflaming tensions.

That changed this month when Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Police Chief William J. Bratton and L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca all spoke with unusual candor of their concern that an increasing number of gang crimes appear to be born out of racial hatred. In a few instances, the Los Angeles Police Department has identified Latino gangs they say are indiscriminately targeting African American residents in what appear to be campaigns to drive blacks from some neighborhoods.
Check out the whole article, which argues that the increase in interracial attacks may actually be motivated more by territorial jealousies than racial hatred. Still, the toll has been shocking. In addition to the unspeakable murders of the two babies cited above, the city is reeling from last month's murder of Cheryl Green, a 14 year-old black girl from the Harbor Gateway neighborhood. Green's killing -- and the larger fears of racially-motivated attacks city-wide -- was the subject of a front-page New York Times analysis earlier this week:

Cheryl’s killing last month, which the police said followed a confrontation between the gang members and a black man, stands out in a wave of bias-related attacks and incidents in a city that promotes its diversity as much as frets over it....

Much of the violence springs from rivalries between black and Latino gangs, especially in neighborhoods where the black population has been declining and the Latino population surging. A 14 percent increase in gang crime last year, at a time when overall violent crime was down, has been attributed in good measure to the interracial conflict.
The upsurge in gangland attacks comes amid overall decreases in Los Angeles crime, where statistics on burglaries, car thefts, rapes, and assualts have been dropping for five years. Gang violence has been more difficult to stem, however. Heather MacDonald, in an op-ed piece in today's Los Angeles Times, argued against a broad, bureaucratic response to the crime problem, suggesting that solutions to the plague of gang violence are found in the restoration of marriage and family in the inner cities:
THE LOS ANGELES City Council recently paid $593,000 for a report on how to end the city's rising gang violence. The taxpayers didn't get their money's worth. The much-ballyhooed study, directed by civil rights attorney Connie Rice, makes a whopping 100 recommendations yet can't bring itself to mention the most important driver of gang involvement — family breakdown.

"A Call to Action: A Case for a Comprehensive Solution to L.A.'s Gang Violence Epidemic" recycles all the failed nostrums from the war on poverty, such as government-created jobs, "life-skills training," "parenting education and support" and "crisis intervention." Since the 1960s, trillions of dollars have been spent on such programs without so much as making a dent in the underclass culture that gives rise to gangs. And these initiatives will never make a significant difference in that culture as long as the vast majority of young males in inner-city neighborhoods are raised without their fathers.

To be sure, plenty of heroic single mothers are bringing up law-abiding young men. But the evidence by now is overwhelming: Boys raised in fatherless homes, on average, are disproportionately likely to get involved in crime and fail in school. Without a strong paternal role model, these boys are vulnerable to the lure of macho gang culture as a surrogate for a father's authority.

When the norm of marriage disappears from a community, furthermore, the pressure for young males to become socialized evaporates as well. Boys in South Los Angeles and other gang-plagued neighborhoods grow up with little expectation that they will have to woo and marry the mother of their children. The standard assumption is that girls and women will raise their children by themselves, resulting in an out-of-wedlock birthrate of greater than 70%. Freed from the necessity of marriage, boys have little incentive to develop the bourgeois habits of selfdiscipline and deferred gratification that would make them an attractive prospect as a husband.
MacDonald also suggests that boosted support for the Los Angeles Police Department, along with community involvement to restore positive cultural norms, are likely to be a more effective remedies than the recycling of Great Society-era governmental social-policy programs.

Hillary Clinton Confirms 2008 Presidential Campaign

Hillary Clinton confirmed Saturday that she intends to seek the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. This Los Angeles Times report, noting a Clinton campaign video available on the campaign's website, indicates that she's got some big personal obstacles in the way of a successful bid:

In her video clip and written statement, Clinton lost no time in confronting two of the major questions that loom as hurdles to her drive for the nomination — how she will reckon with her early support for the war in Iraq and whether wary voters will look beyond the furors of her eight high-profile years as Bill Clinton's influential first lady.
An additional (and major) challenge she faces is the formidable field of primary opponents also vying for the party's nomination:

A conflicting spate of recent polls suggested Clinton is poised at the top of the field, but they also showed Obama would be a formidable foe in the early contests, as would former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.

A Washington Post-ABC News nationwide poll released Saturday of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents showed Clinton far ahead of the pack. She was backed by 41%, compared with 17% for Obama and 11% for Edwards.

But a survey released last week by pollster John Zogby of likely Democratic voters in the New Hampshire primary showed Obama slightly ahead, with Clinton and Edwards tied.

Already in full campaign mode, Edwards has staked out a strong antiwar position, disavowing his 2002 Senate vote to authorize the Iraq invasion. His aides suggest that Clinton's refusal to do the same could harm her chances among Democratic activists in Iowa and New Hampshire, where sentiment against the war runs high.

In the primary campaign, Clinton can be expected to emphasize her political experience — especially in contrast to Obama, who has been in the Senate barely more than two years, and Edwards, who quit the chamber after one term.

Clinton has established a reputation as a hardworking lawmaker. She secured a seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee and, in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, concentrated on domestic security issues. She also has sought better benefits for members of the military and focused on improving the economy of upstate New York.
Clinton's obviously well-prepared to serve as president. In fact, in an earlier post citing the New Yorker's recent article on the Democratic frontrunners, I was impressed with Clinton's sophistication on foreign policy and the Iraq War. Clinton is running well behind John McCain in head-to-head polling matchups, however. And while it's still early in the campaign season, it remains to be seen if Clinton -- during her time in the Senate -- has repositioned herself enough ideologically to appeal to broad segments of the American electorate.

Joseph Lieberman Remains Unbowed on Iraq

Senator Joseph Lieberman is interviewed in this weekend's Wall Street Journal. Lieberman's defeat by Ned Lamont in his primary election, and his subsequent comeback as an independent, was one of the most compelling political stories of 2006. Lieberman remains steadfast in his support for the Iraq War, and he's one of the main Senate backers of President Bush's troop escalation plan to stabilize the country. Here's what he says:

"Iraq is the central part of a larger and ultimately longer-term conflict in the Middle East between moderates and extremists, between democrats and dictators, between Iran- and Iraq-sponsored terrorism and the rest of the Middle East. . . . Are we going to surrender to them, surrender that country to them, and encourage people like them to be in authority and power all over the Middle East and in a better position to strike us again?"
Here's more:

In 2003 "we did something that was right and courageous, which was to overthrow Saddam Hussein," says Mr. Lieberman. "He was a genocidal dictator, he tried to assassinate a former American president, he used chemical weapons [on his] . . . own people . . . He was a hater of the United States." Saddam was a danger, not to mention a barrier to creating a democratic Middle East that ceases to be a threat to the U.S.
Lieberman's views are the minority position in the Democratic Party, and public opinion generally, but he's still resolute on the goodness of our cause. Lieberman:

....remains unmoved today by those colleagues who have abandoned the cause, lamenting that they were "deceived" about the existence of WMD or that they have "lost confidence in the leadership of the president." Says Mr. Lieberman: "If you still think, not only that the original purpose of going in was right, but that how it ends will have a significant effect on American security for a generation or more to come, then you don't back away." And that, he says, counts even in the face of faltering public opinion. "I think we are elected to lead. . . . Americans are understandably responding to the carnage they see on TV every night, and what we have to urge them is not to surrender to the people who are causing that carnage."
Read the whole thing. Leiberman's lucid on the consequences of American failure in Iraq, and he pinpoints the growing threat from Iran to the consolidation of the Iraqi state, and to American interests in the region as a whole:

We're in a war which has it origins in this part of the world, in the Middle East, in the conflict within Islam. If we pull out and essentially surrender to the extremists and terrorists, they are naturally going to follow us right back to our shores.

"If we leave the place collapses. And it's more than civil war, it's ethnic cleansing. The Iranians come in and dominate a good chunk of the country. Al Qaeda takes over a good part and uses it as a base. The Kurds [can sustain themselves] but it gets very ominous. . . . And then the same group of people who attacked us on 9/11, they achieve a victory, and they will use that victory to strike at us again."
I blogged last year about Lieberman's primary defeat in my post, "The Lamont Victory and the Lieberman Resurrection." Connecticut voters did the right thing be returning Lieberman to the Senate.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

New Congress Has Mixed Support in Public Opinion

The American public is giving the opening session of the new Congress mixed marks, according to the latest Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll:

Approval of Congress has increased since the midterm elections ousted Republicans from their House and Senate majorities, and Democrats are viewed in a more positive light after two weeks in power, according to the survey.

But only 25% of those surveyed believed Democrats have formulated a clear direction for the country; 58% said they had failed to.

Those results amount to a mixed report card on the much-ballyhooed "100-hour" agenda House Democrats set for themselves as they took power.

They made a strong start with House passage of some broadly popular bills, such as an increase in the minimum wage and a cut in student-loan rates, which passed with significant Republican support. It was a rare display of bipartisanship after years of the party-line splits that marked GOP control.

But the survey underscores that Democrats still have much to prove to voters as the Senate debates these bills and lawmakers in both chambers turn to more divisive issues, such as the federal budget, global warming and Iraq.

Overall, the poll found 36% approve of how Congress is doing its job — hardly a mandate, but up from 30% in September.
The poll also found a 34% approval rating for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whereas a plurality of 41% said they didn't know enough about the San Francisco Democrat to have an opinion.

The survey also shows high support for the range of policies that the Democrats are currently introducing in Congress. Eighty-one percent of those surveyed back an increase in the minimum wage, for example, and 80% supported government negotiating lower prescription drug prices for the elderly.

This week's Times poll also surveyed public opinion on the Bush administration's Iraq build-up,
with the results published Thursday. A large majority of Americans opposes the Bush troop surge, and public trust of the president has declined to the lowest levels in a Los Angeles Times survey.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Chinese Missile Shoot Raising U.S. Security Issues

China conducted an anti-satellite missile firing last week, which destroyed one of China's own outdated satellites, but raised alarm-bells in Western capitals concerning Beijing's threat to the global commercial satellite system. This Los Angeles Times story has the details:

The Chinese military shot down one of its own aging satellites with a ground-based ballistic missile last week, demonstrating a new technological capability at a time of growing Bush administration concern over Beijing's military modernization and its intentions in space.

The shoot-down, which U.S. officials said occurred on the evening of Jan. 11, prompted a formal protest from Washington that was joined by allies including Canada and Australia, U.S. officials said Thursday. Japan has demanded an explanation, and Britain and South Korea are also expected to file formal objections.

"The United States believes China's development and testing of such weapons is inconsistent with the spirit of cooperation that both countries aspire to in the civil space area," said Gordon D. Johndroe, spokesman for the National Security Council. "We and other countries have expressed our concern to the Chinese..."

The shoot-down has rattled U.S. defense officials, who are concerned both about the commercial crafts and government spy and military satellites that operate at that height.

Larger telecommunications satellites and certain military satellites that provide early warning of missile launches travel in much higher orbits — up to 23,000 miles above Earth....

Concerns about rising threats to U.S. satellites led the Bush administration to issue a new national space policy in August, which held that the U.S. viewed freedom of action in space as important as air or sea power.

The administration was widely criticized for its aggressive attitude toward defense activities in space. But a White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Thursday that satellites and access to space were considered vital to U.S. national and economic security and that any event "that can hinder passage through space" was of concern.

This is a troubling development. CNN reported this morning that the missile test is creating a degree of chill in U.S.-China relations not seen since the 2001 American spy-plane incident, in which a U.S. surveillance aircraft crashed into a Chinese jet fighter.

I blogged yesterday on China's growing global role and its challenge to U.S. hegemonic leadership of the international system.

According to MIT's Barry Posen, in his article, "
Command of the Commons," the U.S. currently enjoys unrivaled military leaderhip in the command of space. Top U.S. military personnel are quoted in the article as indicating the U.S. in 2001 had 100 military and 150 commercial satellites in space (close to half of all active space satellites), and space-related assets served a vital communications role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Posen also notes that the NAVSTAR/GPS (global position system) satellite system serves a military function as its primary purpose, and that civilian GPS utilization for commercial purposes is permitted by the U.S. government.

Posen notes the nature of security concerns surrounding U.S. control of space:

The dependence of the United States on satellites to project its conventional military power does make the satellites an attractive target for future U.S. adversaries. 33 But all satellites are not equally vulnerable; low earth orbit satellites seem more vulnerable to more types of attack than do high earth orbit satellites. Many of the tactics that a weaker competitor might use against the United States would probably not be usable more than once—use of space mines, for example, or so-called microsatellites as long-duration orbital interceptors. The U.S. military does have some insurance against the loss of satellite capabilities in its ºeet of reconnaissance aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles. A challenge by another country could do some damage to U.S. satellite capabilities and complicate military operations for some time. The United States would then need to put a new generation of more resilient satellites in orbit. One estimate suggests that the exploitation of almost every known method to enhance satellite survivability would roughly double the unit cost.
Command of the commons is the military basis for American global preponderance. The Chinese anti-satellite missile test is threatening to that dominance, but it will be decades before U.S. military leadership in space is eroded by international peer competitors. Still, because command of space -- as well as the air and seas -- is vital to long-term U.S. national security, prudence requires checking rival states' effort to weaken U.S. primacy, and the Bush administation is correct to vigorously protest China's space weapons development.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Next Great Power? China's Challenge to American International Dominance

With America's Iraq project on the ropes, I've recently noticed more articles in the press discussing America's waning global influence in international politics. Indeed, there's something of a revival of the "declinist" paradigm of international relations, a trend popularized in the 1980s with Paul Kennedy's book, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers.

Well, there's another article of this neo-declinism genre in this week's Time.
The cover story looks at the rise of China, arguing that the 21st century may be the "Chinese Century," which is already evident in some ways with China's contemporary forward thrust across a range of issues in global politics:

You may know all about the world coming to China--about the hordes of foreign businesspeople setting up factories and boutiques and showrooms in places like Shanghai and Shenzhen. But you probably know less about how China is going out into the world. Through its foreign investments and appetite for raw materials, the world's most populous country has already transformed economies from Angola to Australia. Now China is turning that commercial might into real political muscle, striding onto the global stage and acting like a nation that very much intends to become the world's next great power. In the past year, China has established itself as the key dealmaker in nuclear negotiations with North Korea, allied itself with Russia in an attempt to shape the future of central Asia, launched a diplomatic offensive in Europe and Latin America and contributed troops to the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Lebanon. With the U.S. preoccupied with the threat of Islamic terrorism and struggling to extricate itself from a failing war in Iraq, China seems ready to challenge--possibly even undermine--some of Washington's other foreign policy goals, from halting the genocide in Darfur to toughening sanctions against Iran. China's international role has won the attention of the new Democratic majority in Congress. Tom Lantos, incoming chair of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and a critic of Beijing's human-rights record, told TIME that he intends to hold early hearings on China, on everything from its censorship of the Internet to its policies toward Tibet. "China is thinking in much more active terms about its strategy," says Kenneth Lieberthal of the University of Michigan, who was senior director at the National Security Council Asia desk under President Bill Clinton, "not only regionally, but globally, than it has done in the past. We have seen a sea change in China's fundamental level of confidence."

Blink for a moment and you can imagine that--as many Chinese would tell the tale--after nearly 200 years of foreign humiliation, invasion, civil war, revolution and unspeakable horrors, China is preparing for a date with destiny. "The Chinese wouldn't put it this way themselves," says Lieberthal. "But in their hearts I think they believe that the 21st century is China's century."

That's quite something to believe. Is it true? Or rather--since the century is yet young--will it be true? If so, when, and how would it happen? How comfortable would such a development be for the West? Can China's rise be managed peaceably by the international system? Or will China so threaten the interests of established powers that, as with Germany at the end of the 19th century and Japan in the 1930s, war one day comes? Those questions are going to be nagging at us for some time--but a peaceful, prosperous future for both China and the West depends on trying to answer them now.
The piece is very balanced. I appreciated the following passage in the article, which notes some important caveats regarding China's bid for preponderance:

If you ever feel mesmerized by the usual stuff you hear about China--20% of the world's population, gazillions of brainy engineers, serried ranks of soldiers, 10% economic growth from now until the crack of doom--remember this: China is still a poor country (GDP per head in 2005 was $1,700, compared with $42,000 in the U.S.) whose leaders face so many problems that it is reasonable to wonder how they ever sleep. The country's urban labor market recently exceeded by 20% the number of new jobs created. Its pension system is nonexistent. China is an environmental dystopia, its cities' air foul beyond imagination and its clean water scarce. Corruption is endemic and growing. Protests and riots by rural workers are measured in the tens of thousands each year. The most immediate priority for China's leadership is less how to project itself internationally than how to maintain stability in a society that is going through the sort of social and economic change that, in the past, has led to chaos and violence.
Read the whole thing. The article includes some interesting data on China's growth, on military spending as a proportion of GDP, etc., although more attention might have paid to relative economic and military gains vis-a-vis the United States.

In the 1980s, when Kennedy was writing, people were talking about Japan being the leading 21st-century power. In the 1990s -- with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Japan's stagnation -- there then came a big round of attention to China's growth and its threats to international stablility -- one pessimistic book even argued for The Coming Conflict With China.

Talk like that tapered-off late in the decade, as it became increasingly clear that America had restored a degree of unrivaled mastery in international politics. I don't worry too much about America being surpassed any time soon as the world's unipolar hegemon, despite our problems in Iraq. For my earlier post on the future of American global preponderance, click here. See also, Avery Goldstein's International Security article on the rise of China, "Great Expectations: Interpreting China's Arrival."

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Pizza for Pesos Fuels Immigration Debate

I first heard about the Texas pizzeria that takes cash payment in pesos a week or so ago on Fox News. A couple of day later, NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams ran a segment on the story. Then I found this article on the topic at the New York Times on Monday. Here's the introduction:

Jose Ramirez and two friends stopped by a Pizza Patrón here after work on Thursday for a carry-out dinner. Mr. Ramirez, his jeans dusted with white chalk from the construction site, ordered a Hawaiian and La Patrona — a large with the works.

The pies cost him almost 220 big ones. Pesos, that is.

Mr. Ramirez, 20, received his change in American coins and said he liked the chain’s new “Pizza por Pesos” promotion. He had been in the United States for 15 days — his home is in Guanajuato, Mexico — and he wanted to spend the last of his Mexican currency....

The employees at this Pizza Patrón in East Dallas, one of 59 in five Southwestern and Western states, were still puzzling over the conversion rates almost a week after the chain started accepting peso bills on Jan. 8.

But the promotion has already hit a nerve in the nationwide immigration debate. The company’s Dallas headquarters received about 1,000 e-mail messages on Thursday alone. Some were supportive, but many called the idea unpatriotic, with messages like, “If you want to accept the peso, go to Mexico!” There were even a few death threats.

Antonio Swad, president and founder of Pizza Patrón, said he was surprised by the outcry.

“I certainly wasn’t expecting ‘pizza for pesos’ to become a touchstone for the immigration issue,” Mr. Swad said. It was nothing more than an effort to “reinforce our brand promise to be the premier Latino pizza chain,” he said. “We’re businessmen.”
The emergence of a duel currency system in Texas is another example of the weakening of American sovereignty and national identity in the current era of out of control immigration:

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, a group that seeks to limit immigration, said he was concerned that Hispanics could create a parallel mainstream in the United States.

“It’s a trivial example, but Hispanics now have their own pizza chain,” Mr. Krikorian said. “It’s a consequence of having too many people arrive from a single foreign culture, and may well reflect a kind of cultural secession.”
This cultural secession is leading to the demographic reconquista of the Southwestern United States, according to Samuel Huntington in his book, Who Are We: The Challenges to America's National Identity.

For my recent post on Peggy Noonan's compelling argument if favor of slowing down the pace of immigration, which would allow the U.S. to absorb and assimilate those newcomers already here,
click here. See also Business Week's 2004 cover article, "Hispanic Nation," for more on the nature of the Hispanic challenge to the American cultural mainstream.