Political Solutions, Cont’d

Contrarian points me to this piece in Reason highlighting some good news in Iraq:

Al Qaedaesque insurgent action from Anbar to Basra is calming down. Sunni fighters are aiming not at U.S. troops, but at Al Qaeda troublemakers. From June to now, the military says, violence in and around Baghdad is down 59 percent; car bombs down 65 percent, with casualties from them and roadside bomb down 80 percent, and general casualties from enemy attacks in the entire nation down 77 percent.

Spencer Ackerman chimes in with an even more upbeat piece in the American Prospect:

That doesn’t mean security is good. But security is as good as it’s been in Iraq since — well, since last October, going by the civilian-casualties estimate. And give the surge its due for that. But it’s perhaps even more important that the accelerants of sectarian violence appear diminished. Al-Qaeda in Iraq, while never as powerful as the administration portrayed, is without a Sunni base of support. (Some in the U.S. military are even ready to declare that al-Qaida is defeated in Iraq.) The Mahdi Army appears interested in curbing its excesses at the moment. Taken together, both Sunnis and Shiites have reason to see their greatest bogeymen on the defensive, at the least. Shiites are more united than they have been in at least a year, and Sunnis are able to negotiate from a position of strength.

I still think we’re screwed until at least the January 2009 Iraqi parliamentary elections, where this newfound Sunni participation and Shia unity can be actually translated into a governing coalition that relfects the will of the people and can actually get things done.

Assuming, of course, that Turkey doesn’t invade Kurdistan sometime between now and then, of course.

Political Solutions

If you’re like me, you’ve been noting the recent decline in violence in Iraq with some cautious optimism. U.S. troop deaths are down, for example, and civilian deaths have dropped so much that it’s actually crippling the Iraqi cemetary industry. Things are still way worse than they were in 2004 and 2005, but the trend lines seem to be moving in good directions.

But all that’s useless without a political solution. I know that’s a Democrat cliche, but it’s true. In fact, part of the “surge” has been a 180-degree shift in our political strategy. Instead of a top-down effort to promote national reconciliation (the old strategy), we’ve been working with tribal chiefs at the local level, arming the Sunnis, etc., all in an effort to build political institutions from the bottom-up.

Unsurprisingly, burning the candle at both ends means that we’re not getting anywhere:

The GAO report, delivered to a House of Representatives subcommittee, cited a major drop in the number of enemy attacks on U.S.-led coalition troops and Iraqi security forces.

There were about 3,000 such attacks in September, compared to some 5,300 in June, the report said.

Despite the drop, however, government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has made only “limited progress” toward passing legislation designed to foster national reconciliation, the report said.

None of the most crucial bills have been approved, it said. These include legislation that would ensure the equitable distribution of petroleum revenues and lift a ban on government jobs for Iraqis who were low- and middle-level members of the former ruling Baathist Party.

The report noted some progress in reconciliation at the local level, including in Sunni-dominated Anbar Province.

But at the national level “sectarian factions within the Iraqi government ministries continue to undermine reconciliation efforts” and use their positions “to maintain power,” the report said.

Meanwhile, Turkey has all but delcared war on the Kurds. Since Turkey’s a member of NATO, we’re sort of obligated by treaty to join the war on their side. Except, of course, we’re already at war on the Kurds’ side. So we’ve basically committed to fighting ourselves in Iraq. Well done, America!

Ben Bernanke: Sackless Wonder

[I think I wrote that headline before]

The markets have already priced in a Bernanke rate cut.  The question is: where do we go from here?  With inflationary pressure likely to mount given a rate cut, and with the dollar tanking, what other mechanisms can the Fed exercise to stimulate the economy moving forward?

The answer is: not much.

Bernanke is like an airplane passenger pulling the ripcord at the first sign of turbulence.  There’s nothing left in case of real trouble.

Prez Clinton — welcome to your nightmare.

Clinton in Iowa

Hillary Clinton is staffing up in preparation to deliver a knockout punch to Obama in Iowa. She’s got only the slimmest of leads there, and with the funky caucus math, it’s anybody’s game.

This comes via Mickey Kaus, who argues that Hillary needs Obama and Edwards to both stay in the race through Iowa and prevent a solid anti-Hillary bloc from emerging.

I think this could cut both ways. In 2004, of course, Dean and Gephardt destroyed each other in Iowa and allowed Kerry and Edwards to slide into the #1 and #2 slots. Much of that, I seem to recall, involved a last-minute deal where Dean’s people shifted en masse to Edwards in precincts where Dean didn’t have the minimum 15% (like I said, funky math). So clearly Obama and Edwards are each hoping that the other guy will try and knock off Hillary, allowing them to coast to the top without going negative.

Alternatively, both Edwards and Obama could stay in the race long enough to prevent a single alternative to Clinton from emerging. In this strategy, Clinon wins by a hair in Iowa, wins New Hampshire, and then Edwards blocks Obama from winning South Carolina, and both guys eventually flame out after Super Tuesday. In other words, Edwards becomes this year’s Wes Clark.

Of course, I posted this on Daily Kos a few months ago and was roundly ridiculed, so what the hell do I know?

Liberalism, Defined

“It’s my job to make sure you don’t grow up stupid. It’s bad for the world.”

– Guidance Counselor Tami Taylor to fullback Tim Riggins on the TV Show Friday Night Lights, in what may be the most succinct argument for activist government ever penned.

(I’m just now working my way through Season 1, but FNL, incidentally, might be the best non-comedy on network television today)


Need to post a correction to our previous episode.

In discussing the Turkish massacre of Armenians, I incorrectly assigned responsibility for those events. In fact, the Ottoman Turks, in their last days, were responsible for the attrocity. Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, himself expressed regret for those events. And despite lingering tensions with Armenia, those Turks who adhere to Ataturk’s modernizing legacy have taken steps towards reconciliation.

Sub(gum) Pop!

It’s like pre-grunge America circa 1987, except with much higher stakes:

Marxists once referred to religion as the opium of the people, but in today’s China it is the music promoted on state-monopolized radio that increasingly claims that role. China’s leader, Hu Jintao, has talked since he assumed power five years ago about “building a harmonious society,” an ambiguous phrase subject to countless interpretations.

But Chinese musicians, cultural critics and fans say that in entertainment, the government’s thrust seems clear: Harmonious means blandly homogeneous, with virtually all contemporary music on the radio consisting of gentle love songs and uplifting ballads.

. . .

Even without resorting to direct censorship, the state has formidable powers for controlling popular music and shaping tastes. They include state ownership of all broadcast media, the screening of lyrics for all commercial music and strict control of performance sites.

Many say one result has been the dumbing down and deadening of popular music culture. Fu Guoyong, an independent cultural critic in Hangzhou, likened today’s pop music culture to the politically enforced conformity of the Cultural Revolution, when only eight highly idealized Socialist “model operas” could be performed in China.

“Nowadays singers can sing many songs, but in the end, they’re all singing the same song, the core of which is, ‘Have fun,’” Mr. Fu said. “Culture has become an empty vessel.”

Nowhere is conformity enforced more vigorously than on broadcast radio, where pop music programs are saturated with the Chinese equivalent of the kind of easy listening often associated in other countries with elevators and dentists’ offices.

Rock ’n’ roll is mostly limited to special programs that are allowed brief windows of airtime during the graveyard shift, and even then there are few hints of angst, alienation or any but the very mildest expressions of teenage rebellion.

. . .

Liu Sijia, the bass player and a vocalist for an underground Shanghai band called Three Yellow Chicken, said alternative music in China today is much like Western rock in the 1960s, with its frequent references to social issues like war, poverty, civil rights and generational conflict. But alternative rock is rarely heard on the radio.

“What prevails here is worse than garbage,” he said. “Because China emphasizes stability and harmony, the greatest utility of these pop songs is that they aren’t dangerous to the system. If people could hear underground music, it would make them feel the problems in their lives and want to change things.”

Chinese cultural officials and radio D.J.’s insist that the overwhelming prevalence of easy-listening pop merely reflects popular tastes. Many point to a commonly invoked generational shift in China, with today’s young people too caught up in the country’s economic boom to dwell on social problems or ponder life’s bigger questions.

“It’s whether you’re happy or not that counts, and not the substance,” said Zheng Yang, a veteran D.J. on Music Radio in Beijing. “Life is smooth, and so music is more about soothing things. Anyone can criticize or blame. What we need right now is guidance.”


A couple of days ago, Steve Benen noted Rudy’s double-standard:

I am curious, though, what’s driving the change. Infidelity involving a Dem was a legitimate area of inquiry, but infidelity involving a Republican (one who has expressed interest in a constitutional amendment to protect the “sanctity” of marriage) is beyond the pale. Republicans who went after Clinton were playing “hardball”; but two Dems who mentioned Giuliani’s troubles are engaged in the “politics of personal destruction.”

Rudy’s personal life is a disgrace. Personally, I don’t give a hoot, but the double standard is revealing. And let’s recall that Rudy — brilliant mind that he is — decided to put New York’s emergency response cetner inside WTC 7 for no apparent reason other that so that he could bang his girlfriend there.

Oh, in more substantive Rudy! news, the NYT comes out today with a look at Giuliani’s advisors, which more or less include the neocons who were too batshit crazy to get a seat at Cheney’s table. Interactive table included. Don’t miss it!