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Archive for September, 2008

I see your pirates and raise you

On the BAMF scale, the British Army Gurkhas rank pretty high. A delightful legacy of colonialism, these Nepalese volunteer soldiers have an elite record of fighting for the crown.

Historically, the Gurkhas suffered from their exceptional status within the British military: While veterans from other countries, including Ireland and South Africa, were entitled to live in Britain after four years of Army service, Gurkhas were not. No matter how many years or service or medals, they were forced to apply through regular channels requiring them to show “strong ties” to the country besides their military record. (Claimants could cite relatives already in Britain, or the need for urgent medical treatment.) Given Nepal’s colonial history, the distinguished record of the Gurkha units, and the fact that the four-year rule applied to all other veterans, it’s frankly hard to find a non-racist explanation for the policy. Many Gurkha veterans, including winners of all sorts of military honors, currently remain in poverty in Nepal.

Last year, a government review expanded the four-year rule to Gurkhas with a huge caveat: the policy would only apply to those discharged from the military after 1997. The government neglected the thousands of pre-1997 veterans on grounds that the regimental headquarters had been located in Hong Kong, not Britain, until that year.

Facing this, lawyers brought a test case on behalf of 5 veterans and 1 widow demanding inclusion of all Ghurkas under the standard four-year rule. The government expected that “Crown service as such [would] probably not be sufficient,” and even claimed that “Winning the Victoria Cross…[did not] necessarily constitute a strong tie.”

Today, the good guys won. The High Court of London, citing the “moral debt of honour” of the British people, ruled that the four-year standard be expanded to include Gurkhas discharged before 1997. Laywer Martin Howe called it “a victory that restores honour and dignity to deserving soldiers who faithfully served in Her Majesty’s armed forces,” as well as “a victory for common sense, fairness, and the British sense of what is right.” The ruling could affect up to 2,000 Gurkhas.

Good for the veterans, good for the lawyers, and good for the High Court of London.

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Congressman Barney Frank is a witty guy. When California Republican David Dreier was passed over for a House leadership position, the openly gay Frank was asked whether he thought this was because Dreier was “too moderate” or because of persistant rumors about Dreier sexual preferences. His reply?

“[Dreier] didn’t get it because he was moderate. And I’m going to a moderate bar after work.”

Frank is Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and led the push for the bailout bill. Immediately after the bill’s failure, House Republican Roy Blunt (R-Tobacco) pinned blame on Nancy Pelosi, claiming that her “partisan floor speech” drove 12 Republicans to vote against it instead of in favor as they had promised him. An aide to the Speaker called it “absurd,” adding that “you don’t vote on the speech, you vote on the bill.” Further, none of the 9 Republicans who made floor speeches after Pelosi even mentioned hers, nor did any other Republicans complain besides Blunt.

And so back to Barney Frank, who looked the final roll call and did the math:

“One of the truly great coincidences in the history of numerology. The number of deeply offended Republicans who put feeling over country turned out to be exactly the number you would need to reverse the vote.”

Frank is right. Twelve is the perfect number for a political trick. Without the dozen alleged Pelosi defections, the final 205-228 failure becomes a perfect 217-216 pass (with one abstention.) Had Blunt blamed the Speaker for any number less than this, it wouldn’t have changed the outcome anyway. Had he cited a large number like 20 or 30, it wouldn’t have been believable since no Republicans actually cited her speech as having influenced their votes.

I’ll make a conjecture: Blunt straight-up lied. Does anyone honestly think that 12 Republicans switched to “no” votes on a seemingly urgent bill supported by their House, Senate, and White House leadership because mean aunt Nancy hurt their feelings? Blunt looked at the final tally, realized it was a lost cause, and threw out a magical number.

Today, Blunt backed away from his whiny-ass bullshit. It’s possible he felt like a fool being called out. It’s also possible that he realized his political mistake. It’s a much easier sell for Democratic leadership to pin the bill’s failure on obstructionist Republicans than for Blunt to blame a 1-minute floor speech no one saw. Even without a cue, Americans are blaming the GOP by a 2-1 margin. Explains why fatty Blunt has moved back to the bi-partisan blah blah blah he was carrying on before…

Oh, and I’m with everything Digby said.

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I was always under the impression that part of the current pop culture fascination with maritime piracy sprang from commonness of internet piracy.  People, I think, like to indulge in the 18th century fantasy of rum and plunder because it serves as a kitschy extended metaphor for their bittorrent habit.  ‘Yarrr, it be the Morrisey discography ripe for the takin’, yoho yoho’.  Often we forget that there are, you know, actual pirates still lurking the waters–and stealing Ukrainian tanks!

The story of Somali piracy as an institution is interesting.  It began as a vigilante force to protect the tuna-rich waters off the coast from international commercial fishing operations when the central government collapsed over a decade ago.  They eventually evolved from armed tax collectors to straight up pirates because it was more lucrative — quiet million dollar pay outs from counties who want their men and property back, no harm done.  In an interview with the New York Times, the Somali pirates’ spokesmen Sugule Ali claims that they didn’t know there was and estimated $30 million in weapons on the ship they hijacked, but that they simply boarded because it’s standard procedure to attack large, vulnerable vessels.

“We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits,” he said. “We consider sea bandits those who illegally fish in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas. We are simply patrolling our seas. Think of us like a coast guard.”

Yet another timely example of how one man’s criminal is another’s folk hero. I do not condone the pirate’s actions but admit to being struck by their romantic sort of BAMFness.  Theres something inspiring about people of a developing nation demanding ransom on the high seas from their neocolonial detractors.  If nothing else, it forces us to remember that even those we dismiss as powerless can forcefully insert themselves into international economic and military discourse.  Pushed too far, some people will arm themselves, organize, and board your frigate.

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All this financial stuff is above my pay grade.  If any commenters want to debate the economics of the bailout, it’s all yours.  But a few unconnected thoughts first:

1)  It’s the politics, stupid.  One thing I did see coming, no one in a tight re-election race was voting for this $700 billion boondoggle.  Voting against it was cheap & easy populism, and the obvious choice for candidates facing 100-to-1 phone calls against.  (Actual public opinion isn’t that bad, but Congressmen respond to volume.)  The boys over at Fivethirtyeight did the math to verify, so here’s the “vulnerable” House members:

REPUBLICANS
AK-AL  Young         R      NAY
CO-4   Musgrave      R      NAY
CT-4   Shays         R      YEA
FL-8   Keller        R      NAY
FL-21  L Diaz-Balart R      NAY
FL-24  Feeney        R      NAY
FL-25  M Diaz-Balart R      NAY
ID-1   Sali          R      NAY
IL-10  Kirk          R      YEA
MI-7   Walberg       R      NAY
MI-9   Knollenberg   R      NAY
MO-6   Graves        R      NAY
NC-8   Hayes         R      NAY
NV-3   Porter        R      YEA
NY-29  Kuhl          R      NAY
OH-1   Chabot        R      NAY
OH-2   Schmidt       R      NAY
PA-3   English       R      NAY
VA-2   Drake         R      NAY
WA-8   Reichert      R      NAY

VULNERABLE GOP = 3 YEAS, 17 NAYS (15%)
OTHER GOP = 62 YEAS, 116 NAYS (35%)

DEMOCRATS
AZ-5   Mitchell    D      NAY
AZ-8   Giffords    D      NAY
CA-11  McNerney    D      YEA
FL-16  Mahoney     D      YEA
GA-8   Marshall    D      YEA
IL-14  Foster      D      YEA
IN-9   Hill        D      NAY
KS-2   Boyda       D      NAY
KY-3   Yarmuth     D      NAY
LA-6   Cazayoux    D      NAY
MS-1   Childers    D      NAY
NH-1   Shea-Porter D      NAY
NY-20  Gillibrand  D      NAY
PA-4   Altmire     D      NAY
PA-10  Carney      D      NAY
PA-11  Kanjorski   D      YEA
TX-22  Lampson     D      NAY
WI-8   Kagen       D      NAY

VULNERABLE DEMS = 5 YEAS, 13 NAYS (28%)
OTHER DEMS = 135 YEAS, 82 NAYS (62%)

ALL VULNERABLES = 8 YEAS, 30 NAYS (21%)
OTHERS = 197 YEAS, 198 NAYS (50%)

…and one of their helpful readers adds:  Of the 26 Congressmen not up for re-election at all, 23 voted “yes” with only 2 opposed and 1 abstention.

Of course another way to read this is that the conservative House members killed it themselves; take out the “vulnerables” and the GOP still manages to sink the thing.  But clearly, having to face the voters with this albatross was hugely prohibitive.

2)  Revolt of the masses. (No, not the real one.)  Consider that this bill had the support of the President, Vice President, both leaders in the House, both Presidential candidates, and all related Committee chairs on both the House and Senate sides; as well as the leaders at the Federal Reserve, SEC, and every other relevant government institution.  And it still failed by a good 20+ votes.  I can’t think of a bill that had such bipartisan support, the entire elite political establishment and most of the media, and yet failed.  Fact is, not only was it a terrible bill but it was a cynical one as a leaked conference call revealed.  The question then becomes…

3)  What next? Probably a similar bill.  Maybe some small changes to grab a few more votes.  What kills me is that we’re looking to people like Alan Greenspan, Hank Paulson (former Goldman CEO,) and Bob Rubin (Clintonomics, ) to plan our way out of this. It’s the way we do things – turn to the same fools who drove us into a ditch in the first place.  No one on the Iraq Study Group had the good sense to oppose the war before it started.  Washington has a very small coterie of Wisened Old Whiteys (WOWs,) epitomized by Lee Hamilton who served as Chair of both the Iraq Study Group and 9/11 Commission.  Hamilton’s a fine old man, but aren’t we moving towards intellectual calcification here?

I want my “experts” to have actually been a) right and b) not pursuing conflicts of interest.  I’d like to hear from Nouriel Roubini instead of the de-regulators and speculators who got us here.  I’d like to hear what Steve Pearlstein thinks.  Galbraith.  Fuck it, give me Eliot Spitzer’s prescience.  (If you want Roubini’s plan, registration is free.)  Why don’t we look at how someone else did it?

Instead, we’re more likely to get a scaled-down version of the same bill by the end of the week.  A few words tacked on or excised to win votes, cheers from the people who put us in this situation, and a nice bipartisan signing ceremony to bring a few hundred points back to the Dow.  Mazel tov, but what are the odds it constitutes the necessary rethinking of the past couple decades worth of unicorn political economics?

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source

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The $64,000 question

Name a Supreme Court decision.

“Roe v. Wade.”

Point, wingnuts.  Now name another.

“…”

Seriously.  Jonathan Martin reports:

“Of concern to McCain’s campaign, however, is a remaining and still-undisclosed clip from Palin’s interview with Couric last week that has the political world buzzing.  The Palin aide, after first noting how “infuriating” it was for CBS to purportedly leak word about the gaffe, revealed that it came in response to a question about Supreme Court decisions.

After noting Roe vs. Wade, Palin was apparently unable to discuss any major court cases.

There was no verbal fumbling with this particular question as there was with some others, the aide said, but rather silence.”

Brown v. Board?  Marbury v. Madison?  Kramer v. Kramer?

It could get real ugly the end of this week.  CBS apparently has more video footage from the Couric interview.  The network shot parallel sit-downs with Palin and Biden, which they had planned to run in advance of the VP debates.  According to Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post:

“The worst may be yet to come for Palin; sources say CBS has two more responses on tape that will likely prove embarrassing.”

No one knows the full content, but we could be talking epic fail.  (L’shanah tovah, everyone.)

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Plus ca change

The Republican Party traffics in racism.  This is not to say every Republican is racist.  Nor to suggest that a good-faith argument about affirmative action is impossible.  Nor to absolve fool-ass Democrats and our theoretical alliesHowever.  (And it’s a big “however:”)  The Republican Party is populated by an impressive cast of racist politicians, staffers, and supporters, who sometimes make the mistake of voicing their prejudices in public.  Witness:

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The spokeswoman for the Republican Party in Nevada’s most populous county was removed from her post Saturday, after she said the Democratic Party made black people “dependent on the government.”

Best part?  Ms. Didi Lima is herself Hispanic.  Bestest part?  She wasn’t just a party spokeswoman, she was co-chair of John McCain’s Nevada Hispanic Leadership Team. Full account of her remarks:

“We don’t want (Hispanics) to become the new African-American community,” Lima told The Associated Press. “And that’s what the Democratic Party is going to do to them, create more programs and give them handouts, food stamps and checks for this and checks for that. We don’t want that.”

“I’m very much afraid that the Democratic Party is going to do the same thing that they did with the African-American culture and make them all dependent on the government and we don’t want that,” she said.

It’s a pattern.  Fernando Baca, GOP chairman of New Mexico’s most populous county, resigned last week after saying “Hispanics came here as conquerors.  African-Americans came here as slaves. … Hispanics consider themselves above blacks,” so that they “won’t vote for a black president.”  Stay classy, Baca.

Clearly this is a really / decent / group / of / people / who / are / being / misrepresented.  Must be that damn liberal media.

Bond villain Auric Goldfinger nailed it:

“Once is happenstance;  Twice is coincidence;  The third time, it’s enemy action.”

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