Archive

  • VETO POINTS.

    VETO POINTS. The article's a week old, alas, but I did want to recommend Cass Sunstein 's review of Sanford Levinson 's interesting-sounding new book Our Undemocratic Constitution . Levinson offers all sorts of objections to the the U.S. constitutional structure based on basic democratic principles (allocations of senators, the electoral college, life-time judicial appointments, etc.), but also makes a different (though related) critique: More generally, Levinson objects to the whole system of bicameralism on the ground that it gives rise to so many "veto points," allowing the democratic will to be thwarted. By its very nature, bicameralism makes it harder to enact legislation, simply because it allows measures to be defeated whenever one house is unwilling to approve of them. And even if we endorse bicameralism, must we accept the president's veto power, which has now become a crucial part of the law-making process? Levinson notes that at the founding, and for decades thereafter, the...
  • THIS HAD TO HAPPEN TO CANADIANS.

    THIS HAD TO HAPPEN TO CANADIANS. Canadians in Afghanistan have met an unexpected obstacle : Canadian troops fighting Taliban militants in Afghanistan have stumbled across an unexpected and potent enemy -- almost impenetrable forests of 10-foot-tall marijuana plants. Gen. Rick Hillier, chief of the Canadian defense staff, said Thursday that Taliban fighters were using the forests as cover. In response, the crew of at least one armored car had camouflaged their vehicle with marijuana... "We tried burning them with white phosphorus -- it didn't work. We tried burning them with diesel -- it didn't work. The plants are so full of water right now... that we simply couldn't burn them," he said. Even successful incineration had its drawbacks. "A couple of brown plants on the edges of some of those (forests) did catch on fire. But a section of soldiers that was downwind from that had some ill effects and decided that was probably not the right course of action," Hillier said dryly. That's a...
  • The Tierney Challenge: Lifting More People Out of Poverty Than Wal-Mart

    In today's column (Times Select) John Tierney asks what organization has lifted more people out of poverty than Wal-Mart. He points to the large number of poor people in the developing world who have seen substantial improvements in their living standards because they were able to work in factories producing goods for export to rich countries. While his counterfactual is a bit skewed (most of these people still would have been producing goods for export to rich countries even in the absence of Wal-Mart), his column should again remind real free-traders of the great humanitarian good that could be filled by the Wal-Mart Times. If only the proponents of free trade would eliminate the barriers that protect high paying jobs in rich countries for people like Tierney and Thomas Friedman, as well as the high-paying jobs of doctors, lawyers, and the other professionals who occupy the top ranks of the pay scale in the United States, hundreds of millions of people in the developing world could...
  • A SLIGHT OVERSIGHT.

    A SLIGHT OVERSIGHT. Paul Krugman 's column today makes the obvious but always crucial point about what's at stake in three weeks: There are two reasons why party control is everything in this election. The first, lesser reason is the demonstrated ability of Republican Congressional leaders to keep their members in line, even those members who cultivate a reputation as moderates or mavericks. G.O.P. politicians sometimes make a show of independence, as Senator John McCain did in seeming to stand up to President Bush on torture. But in the end, they always give the White House what it wants: after getting a lot of good press for his principled stand, Mr. McCain signed on to a torture bill that in effect gave Mr. Bush a completely free hand. And if the Republicans retain control of Congress, even if it�s by just one seat in each house, Mr. Bush will retain that free hand. If they lose control of either house, the G.O.P. juggernaut will come to a shuddering halt. Yet that�s the less...
  • IN PRAISE OF...

    IN PRAISE OF GOOD ENOUGH. A couple folks, including Jason Zengerle and Ross Douthat , wonder why I thought John Kerry 's overdue interview with Bob Woodward put the former nominee in a positive light. As they noted, nothing he said was particularly revolutionary, and most of it just relies on gathering noted experts and listening to them. Which, I'd suggest, would be a genuine improvement. But if Kerry's comments are a bit overly resonant of Ross Perot 's "I'll get all the smart people, lock 'em in a room, and not feed 'em till they finish" attitude towards governance, there's a more serious reason I found the interview worthwhile. First, there's a fair amount of common sense in there that hasn't been particularly common in government as of late. After 9/11, Kerry says he would have asked, "What are we up against? What is this all about? Did these guys just attack us because this is part of Osama bin Laden 's strategy for a greater caliphate in the Middle East, or are they attacking...
  • MEHLMAN SPEAKS. ...

    MEHLMAN SPEAKS. The American Spectator had breakfast with Ken Mehlman today, and got his perspective on the midterms. He said : 1) The election must be framed not as a referendum, but as a choice. When the question isn't "are you happy now?" but "who do you want, going forward, to handle taxes, national security, and judges, the conservatives or the liberals?," then the conservatives (and, by extension in most cases, Republicans) do better. 2) The generic poll numbers in the past few weeks have major errors. a) the polls have sampled a significantly higher proportion of Democrats than actual turnout has shown over the past 25 years. b) the Democratic voters and the Democratic-leaning districts are "less efficiently allocated" than Republican ones, so that whereas the Dems have a big edge in already-Democratic districts, the race in the battleground GOP-held districts is 50-50 -- and that's even with the mis-sampling. 3) Despite the polls, actual turnout in primaries has belied the...
  • A PERSONAL NOTE.

    A PERSONAL NOTE. After over a year of living in Egypt, studying Arabic, and working for an Egyptian NGO, I am finally back in the good old US of A. I had an incredible experience, but I am happy to be back in a country where everything works, where people are accustomed to standing in line, and where you don't have to haggle nearly every time you want to buy something. So, America: it's great! Alas, its current foreign policy is making Americans less safe and the world a more dangerous place. Now that I'm back here, I want to touch briefly on how the Bush administration and the Republicans in Congress have engineered this disastrous situation. A lot of smart people have said a lot of smart things about this ( for example ), but I want to keep it simple for now. The basic problem with Bush foreign policy is that rather than expanding the infrastructure of peace and prosperity, his team has focused on a handful of bad actors, and they have failed miserably at their own approach. Saddam...
  • MORE ON SUCKERS.

    MORE ON SUCKERS. David Kuo 's recent turn as Disillusioned Bush Follower du jour offers another welcome addition to the burgeoning literature as to why you wouldn't hire anyone still employed by this carnival of charlatans to park your car, let alone govern the country or play with the Army. I have adopted the Karl Rove quote -- "Just get me a f***ing faith-based thing" -- as my personal favorite quote of the Avignon Presidency. Nevertheless, there is something almost pathetic about Kuo, a true believer in the employ of true deceivers. Egged on by Lesley Stahl , he recounts how regularly famous television preachers were treated with disdain in the West Wing. Pat Robertson was called insane and Jerry Falwell , ridiculous. James Dobson was somebody who needed to be leashed. Name a serious Christian leader, Kuo told Stahl, and that person got smack talked about him in the White House. Well, first of all, Robertson is nutty , Falwell is ridiculous , and the polity would be infinitely...
  • HI, I'M AMERICA,...

    HI, I'M AMERICA, AND I'VE BEEN AN EXPANSIONIST POWER FOR 230 YEARS. In contrast to Matt , this Robert Kagan piece in The New Republic didn't bug me much at all. The more folks -- particularly on the right -- who dispense with the fiction that the U.S. was ever anything but an expansionist power, the better. America has convinced itself that we've always been a shy, sensitive, introspective nation only occasionally and reluctantly roused to roughhouse play. Our historical memory encompasses little but World War II, and so our interpretation of our own foreign policy instincts is benevolent and benign. The rest of the world, however, hasn't participated in this process of continuously forgetting our many years of overthrowing their leaders, deploying expeditionary forces to their lands, and pressuring them into supporting our interests -- and those memories color their reactions to our every move and initiative. Maybe we could all agree to disagree, but our lack of appreciation for the...
  • DEAF EAR.

    DEAF EAR. In an aggressive demonstration of their establishmentarian orientation, The Washington Post 's comprehensive coverage of the current controversy at Gallaudet University (the nation's only liberal arts college for the deaf), on both the news and opinion pages, has clearly skewed towards the school administration. The issue, for those who haven't been following, is that a clear majority of the Gallaudet student body, and many faculty staff and alumni, oppose the selection of university's new president, Jane K. Fernandes , and the manner in which she was chosen. The Post 's news coverage has mentioned a supposed counter-movement in support of Fernandes that no one else (including me, when I've gone to Gallaudet to cover the student blockade of campus) has confirmed. They have also repeated Fernandes' complaint that those who oppose her feel she "is not deaf enough" -- something none of the protestors interviewed by me , or any other reporter, have actually heard from Fernandes...

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