Department of Are You ******* Kidding Me?

The tagline for the (generic, pretty uninteresting) New York Times article on the future direction of African-American politics is:

Many African-Americans are uncertain of what the civil rights movement accomplished and how it should move forward.

“…what the civil rights movement accomplished…”??

My God. I spent a lot of time as kid with two black families and both Joe and Theodis could tell me and told me at every opportunity that they could – very clearly and elequently – what the civil rights movement had accomplished, and how proud and happy they were for their fellow Southern blacks who’d finally had enough.

I’d suggest that a better use of the time of whatever editor wrote that, and of the Times’ valuable newsprint (and web space) would be collecting some oral histories of just what the civil rights movement accomplished so that we all have some appreciation for it. Then once they – and the rest of the country is in touch with what we’ve done we might be able to think about “how to move forward.” You’d think that in honoring Rosa Parks, the New Freaking York Times would be able to do that.

Good grief.

The Troubled State of Those Who Support Bush

Greg Djerejian has a great post up at the Belgravia Dispatch that pretty well sums up my views on the state of play in Iraq and on my posture toward the Administration.

I think I have broader domestic-policy differences with Bush and his crowd than Greg does, but that’s kind of a given given that I’m a liberal. But he speaks for me when he says that

Back in October of 2004, I wrote a a long post in this blog supporting the re-election of George W. Bush largely based on the central importance of Iraq. Then and now, I believe to my core that the stakes in Iraq are immense, and could well determine America’s standing on the global stage for score years or more. Despite my revulsion at Abu Ghraib, my contempt for hubris-ridden, reckless Administration officials like Donald Rumsfeld, and my fear that George Bush’s lack of foreign policy expertise could have him proving an emperor with no clothes–I calculated that the alternative would be materially worse.

I’ll offer a cavil about a few things, and then sit back and try and figure out how I can do nearly as good a job as he is of making concrete suggestions.But let me start with the cavils.

I’ve read a ton of history, and I have a fondness for reading contemporary sources where such exist. All of them – from Thucydides onward – talk about war as the province of error, of chaos, of the worst in human nature – and they’re not just talking about the killing part.

I really do think that one product of the centrality of television and movies to our generation’s learning; the ‘closedness’ of experience in television and films – the neat way that events interact with intentions, and the way that the experiences on screen end as the closing credits come up.

We just flat don’t understand how messy the real world is, and when we’re presented with that mess – errors, misjudgments, the bad judgement and dishonesty that are inescapably part of human action, we throw up our hands and react like a Hollywood star who sees an imperfection in the paint on our new Ferrari and just walks away from it.

This doesn’t excuse errors, and don’t for a moment think that I believe that those who make them should not have to bear the consequences. In fact the thing I like the most about our system is that people bear the consequences – even if it is at times one that seems just but unfair. And no, I don’t think this Administration should escape consequences either.

But the really sad thing is that people like me have no choice but to support the Administration, because the alternatives – as much as I’ve tried to look for them – look as doltish as John Kerry. I’ve got – we’ve all got – the choice between someone who is trying to do the right thing for what appears to be the right reasons, but is both feckless and mulishly stubborn; and those who neither convince me that they know what the right thing to do is, and certainly offer little evidence that they would do better.


I should have been paying more attention…

For the last four months, I’ve been working in my off hours with a couple of folks on a better way to do blog (and web) search, with a particular emphasis on how best to take a user somewhere they’d like to go – if they only knew it existed.

I took some of the concepts that I had sketched out in the original round of design for Pajamas Media, and took them forward into some interesting new areas.

We’ve been through a series of rounds of design, and finally had a high-level design good enough to start coding – which we’d anticipated would take a couple of weeks for the framework functionality.

The basic concept was simple…instead of tagging your browser with cookies showing where you’d been, create a central repository of places you’d been and thought were interesting.We’d do this with a browser plugin that had two controls on it…a “save this place” control, and a “go look at my places” control.

A unique identifier would be embedded in the control, so when you saved a place, we’d associate it with a unique user; when you registered to get the plugin, you’d have the choice of registering under a pseudonym or your real name, and of whether to make the places you saved public, private, or ‘by invitation.’

The data would be used in a couple of ways…

Let me go lick my wounds for a day or two, think about whether anything we were working on ws novel enough to be worth keeping moving forward on in the light of today’s news, and I’ll probably start talking about them in the context of some general notions about where the blogswarm ought to go and how we can make better use of it.

Meanwhile, go take a look at the beta Yahoo ‘My Web’ toolbar…sigh.

OK, a couple of lessons here. First, when you have what you’re convinced is a really good idea…don’t take SIX months to do anything about it. Stay up late, tell your family you love them and will see them in a few months, play less, get it done, and get it done NOW. Other people just as smart as you are working hard to solve the same problems.

To quote one of the classiest things I’ve ever heard said about business…”They won, we lost. Next.” Sigh.

Democrats To The Sewers!!

I’ve argued for a long time that one issue that the Democratic party ought to jump onto with both feet is that of leading the charge to fix and improve the infrastructure in our cities, states, and nation.

Joel Kotkin called it “sewer socialism” and sign me up as one, because if there is a critical role for government to play, it’s here.

The levee failure in New Orleans points out both the cost of not maintaining our infrastructure…the levees failed because they were badly designed, built, maintained, and monitored – and also the problems inherent in building and managing infrastructure in a warren of Federal agencies, state government, and local bodies. At every level, attention is seldom paid – I mean what politician wants to dig into the details on things like sewer construction or road rights-of-way?

And it points out the pervasive haze of corruption, in which things like sewer construction and road rights of way are not driven by engineering needs, but instead become a part of the pork platter in which political connections matter more than competence.

Vaclav Smil has a column on infrastructure up at TechCentral Station; in it he estimates that catching up on infrastructure will cost the Pentagon’s budget for five years.
He cites a new report by the American Society of Civil Engineers:

The complete report makes for an extremely depressing reading as the only bright spot (increased waste recycling has cut the total volume of solid waste and waste-to-energy plants now consume nearly 20% of all garbage) is overwhelmed by a litany of degradations, failures, risks, backlogs, shortfalls and warnings. Just half a dozen bullets convey the overwhelming nature of the report’s findings:

* by the year 2000 27% of all bridges were structurally deficient or functionally obsolete

* investment in roads and bridges would have to increase by 94% in order to reach the projected cost of maintaining and improving the current level

* many sewer systems (some a century old) and water treatment facilities are well past their designed lifespan and while there is a shortfall of $ 12 billion a year to pay for their renewal, federal funding has remained flat for a decade

* total number of unsafe dams has increased by 23% since 2001, to nearly 2,600

* most states have just a decade’s worth of remaining landfill capacity

* half of all navigation locks work beyond their 50-year design span, inland navigation increased by more than 30% since 1980 but construction funding dropped by some 60%

Government keeps grossly underestimating the resources needed to stop a further slide. For example, the FAA put the cost of airport development and reconstruction at $ 6.5 billion a year but the American Association of Airport Executives sees the need for at least $12 billion a year during the next five years. Expectedly, the overall bill to fix these ubiquitous inadequacies and near-failures would be staggering. In 2001 ASCE put the cost of needed infrastructural renewal at $1.3 trillion over a five-year period; this year it raised the estimate by nearly 25% to $1.6 trillion. But the real cost is certainly much higher: ASCE total is just an aggregate expert estimate and a detailed inventory of needs would undoubtedly uncover more inadequacies and failures and, as with any large-scale projects of this kind, cost overruns on the order of 10-20% would be considered a success once the repairs were underway. Consequently, a more realistic total may be now at least $2-2.5 trillion and rising.

OK, fellow Democrats – want to take a stand on an important issue that will improve our lives, save energy and water, and create domestic jobs?

Let’s figure out how to get this done, and how to get it done without just tossing billion-dollar checks into the floodwaters of the Mississippi.

“S-Class” Galloway and the U.S. Congress

I may have been called out of his speech by a temper tantrum (my son’s), but S-Class George Galloway keeps making the news.

Power Line is reporting that Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman has announced (press release here) that the Congressional investigation into Galloway’s claims that he never received payment from Saddam Hussein in the form of oil allocations are false.As reprinted in the U. K. Independent:

In a report issued here, Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman and his colleagues on the Senate Subcommittee for Investigations claim to have evidence showing that Mr Galloway’s political organization and his wife received vouchers worth almost $600,000 (£338,000) from the then Iraqi government.

“We have what we call the smoking gun,” said Mr Coleman, who will send the report to the US Department of Justice and the British authorities. The MP could face charges of perjury, making false statements and obstructing a Congressional investigation. Each charge carries a possible jail term of five years and a fine of $250,000.

Mr. Galloway, unsurprisingly, is unmoved:

…Mr Galloway again denied the allegations – as vehemently as he did last May in a bravura performance before the Subcommittee, when he accused Mr Coleman of mounting “the mother of all smokescreens” to divert attention from America’s post-invasion difficulties, and launched a broadside against the Bush administration’s entire policy in Iraq.

“I have not made a penny out of oil deals with Iraq, or indeed any other kind of deal,” the MP said last night. “This ought to be dead, yet Norm Coleman parrots it once more from 3,000 miles away and protected by privilege.” His spokesman later described the report as “derogatory and defamatory”.

I’m making popcorn.

John Schmitz – George Moscone Dining and Drinking Society

I’ve been watching the rise of partisan blog social events (“Drinking Liberally,” comes to mind) with some amusement. The amusement is based in part on the notion that the blogs have gotten big enough that we can parse who we want to associate with, and partly on my wry acknowledgement that American politics today consists of two camps, armed with sharp tongues and quick thumbs – the better to text disparaging messages about each other.

Now I like a disparaging message as much as the next guy, but I also have fond memories of the lesson taught me by an ultra-right-wing politician early in my career.

John Schmitz was (literally) a member of the John Birch Society. he was a California State Senator when I met him in my capacity as a junior lobbyist for Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration, and he told me something I’ve remembered for a long time:

When Moscone ran the Senate, he and I used to fight hammer and tongs all day, then go out and have drinks over dinner and laugh about it. We differed on where we wanted the boat to go, but we recognized that we were in the same boat. These new guys would gladly sink the boat rather then compromise.

So in honor of the late Sen. Schmitz’s sentiment – if not his child-rearing ability or political views – I’m going to see if we can kick off a series of blogger meals – first here in Southern California, and then maybe elsewhere, if folks can be found to make them happen.

The John Schmitz – George Moscone Dining and Drinking Society. Motto: “It’s just one boat; we’re all on it; let’s make sure the food is good and there’s lots of booze.”

We’ll have our first dinner Saturday, November 12, someplace near the 405 and 110 in the Los Angeles area (I’ll pick a venue when I have some idea of how many people may come). We’ll meet for drinks at 6:00.

It’s For The Members…Really, It Is!!

California is facing an interesting election this November, as a series of initiatives from Gov. Arnold are up for a vote.

One of the most significant is Prop 75, which would defund the public-employees union political warchests by requiring that they obtain annual permission from union members to use a portion of their dues for political campaigns.

I’m pro-union (and certainly pro-working families), and also strongly pro- this initiative. The capture of state government by it’s employees – at the expense of those who it is supposed to serve – is one of the reasons California government is in the straits it is in…

Apparently, I’m not alone.

As labor critics seek to limit the use of union dues in California politics, one group is mostly steering clear of the Proposition 75 campaign: the workers whose rights the initiative claims to be championing.

Despite their entreaties, advocates for the initiative have been able to recruit only a handful of the state’s public employee union members to make appearances, give money or participate in campaign ads.

Out of more than 1 million union members who would be affected by the measure, only 181 have publicly endorsed it.

The absence of union members within the Campaign for Paycheck Protection is striking because its advocates say that one-third to one-half of union households favor the measure.


So it is important to defeat this proposition for the union members, or for the union leaders, and the political apparatus they are funding with the members’ money?

Polls in Palestine

In the course of surfing around and looking at the state of things in the Arab world – part of my effort to try and assess what the impacts of Iraq and the recent changes in the Middle East might be – I found this recent poll, taken in June by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.
5) From among the following factors, which one is the most important in determing your vote for one list against another?

1) the political party or faction it belongs to 8.9 8.7 9.2
2) The ability of the list to reach a peace agreement with Israel 17.2 16.5 18.2
3) The ability of the list to insure the continuation of the intifada 3.0 2.7 3.4
4) The ability of the list to improve economic conditions 15.6 14.7 16.9
5) The ability of the list to fight corruption and implement reform measures 24.3 24.2 24.5
6) The ability of the list to enforce law and order 8.2 8.7 7.5
7) The ability of the list to protect national unity 11.6 12.4 10.4
8) The ability of the list to protect refugee rights in negotiations 9.5 10.5 8.0
9) DK/NA 1.6 1.5 1.9
Total% West Bank% Gaza Strip%

Note that reaching a peace agreement was the most important for 17.2%, improving economic conditions was most important for 15.6 percent, fighting corruption was most important for 24.3 percent, and ensuring the continuation of the intifada was most important for 3.0 percent.

I’ve argued for a while that the bulk of the Palestinian people – like the bulk of people anywhere want the same thing – a future for their children, a safe home, and the chance to build a better life for themselves.

I’ll suggest that this poll supports that…

Yglesias Responds – So Do I

Yglesias attempts to set my misguided soul straight.

NOT SURRENDER, DEFEAT. To certain misguided souls the question of whether or not the Iraq War has failed hinges on whether or not we can win the war, in the sense of defeating our adversaries there. Unlike some, I don’t have any real doubt that, if we’re willing to spend the blood and money that it takes, that we can beat this insurgency sooner or later. And of course, insofar as the point of the war was to eliminate Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent nuclear weapons program, we’ve already done that. But insofar as the goal is democracy, we’ve already lost.

Of course, I discussed why there was a strategic justification for the war apart from WMD (although I think I let them skate a bit on that issue…go reread this old post…) and democracy.

Vide democracy, Yglesias’ post points to today’s murder of the attorney for one of Saddam’s co-defendants as concrete evidence that democracy is not at risk of failure, but has failed.

Rosemary Nelson and Jonathan Luna and Joan Lefkow might stand as examples of the thinness of Matt’s argument here.

I doubt that Iraq will be a democracy in the sense of 21st-century California any time soon. But I’d settle for something a lot like 19th-century Illinois.

And if you asked the Iraqi people, I bet they would, too.