Category Archives: Domestic Affairs

Park Slope and The Rats of NIMBY

Elisabeth Rosenthal at NYT:

Park Slope, Brooklyn. Cape Cod, Mass. Berkeley, Calif. Three famously progressive places, right? The yin to the Tea Party yang. But just try putting a bike lane or some wind turbines in their lines of sight. And the karma can get very different.

Last week, two groups of New Yorkers who live “on or near” Prospect Park West, a prestigious address in Park Slope, filed a suit against the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to remove a nine-month-old bike lane that has commandeered a lane previously used by cars.

In Massachusetts, the formidable opponents of Cape Wind, a proposed offshore wind farm in Nantucket Sound, include members of the Kennedy family, whose compound looks out over the body of water. In Berkeley last year, the objections of store owners and residents forced the city to shelve plans for a full bus rapid transit system (B.R.T.), a form of green mass transit in which lanes that formerly served cars are blocked off and usurped by high-capacity buses that resemble above-ground subways.

Critics in New York contend the new Prospect Park bike lane is badly designed, endangering pedestrians and snarling traffic. Cape Wind opponents argue the turbines will defile a pristine body of water. And in Berkeley, store owners worried that reduced traffic flow and parking could hurt their business.

But some supporters of high-profile green projects like these say the problem is just plain old Nimbyism — the opposition by residents to a local development of the sort that they otherwise tend to support.

Ryan Avent:

The Times piece delves into the psychology of this kind of neighborhood opposition, but what it doesn’t say is that as annoying as this is, it has a far smaller impact on net emissions than the far more common anti-development strain of NIMBYism. Bike lanes make New York City a teeny bit greener. But New York is already much, much greener than most American cities, thanks to its dense development pattern and extensive transit network. Net emissions fall a lot more when someone from Houston moves to New York than when someone from New York starts biking.

Happily, lots of people would LOVE to move to New York. This is one huge benefit we don’t need to subsidize to realize. Unhappily, the benefit is nonetheless out of reach because of the huge obstacles to new, dense construction in New York. New York can’t accommodate more people unless it builds more homes, and it can’t build more homes, for the most part, without building taller buildings. And New Yorkers fight new, tall buildings tooth and nail. They fight them on aesthetic grounds, and because they’re worried about parking and traffic, and because they’re worried about their view, and because they just think there’s enough building in New York already, thank you. And many do this while heaping massive scorn on oil executives and the Republican Party over their backward and destructive views on global warming.

Of course, the obstruction of development is offensive for lots of reasons: it makes housing and access to employment unaffordable, it reduces urban job and revenue growth, it tramples on private property rights, and so on. But the environmental hypocrisy is galling, and it’s not limited to New York. My old neighborhood, Brookland, voted overwhelmingly for Obama (about 90-10, as I recall). Many of the locals are vocally supportive of broad, lefty environmental goals. And yet, when a local businessman wants to redevelop his transit-adjacent land into a denser, mixed-use structure, the negative response is overwhelming, and residents fall over themselves to abuse local rules in order to prevent the redevelopment from happening.

This project would bring new retail with it, which would enable more local residents to walk to a retail destination. It would bring new residents, and those residents would be vastly more likely to walk or take transit to destinations than those living farther from Metro. Forget the economic benefits to the city, the people occupying the new housing units would have carbon footprints dramatically below the national average. But this basically does not matter to the NIMBYs however much they profess to care about the environment.

To the extent that public opinion matters and can be shaped, I think it would be a huge boon for humanity for attitudes toward NIMBYism to turn decidedly negative. People should be ashamed of this behavior, which is both selfish and extravagantly dismissive of property rights.

Kevin Drum:

Earlier today, I linked to a Ryan Avent post complaining that although dense cities like New York are much greener than towns and suburbs, his lefty, environmentally-aware neighbors fight against new high-density developments in the city anyway. A little later, I had an email exchange with HW, a lefty, environmentally-aware New Yorker who thinks Ryan has it all wrong. Here’s the exchange:

HW: It is true that people living in NY have much much lower carbon footprints than those who live in lower density areas. It’s also true that it is a highly desirable place to live. So wouldn’t the way to accomplish more people living in high density areas like NY be to replicate it elsewhere? Or should we insist on cramming more people into NY against NYers’ will and make it a less desirable place to live?

Wouldn’t it be better for 8 million people to live in NY and have it serve as a beacon for a great, lower carbon footprint lifestyle? If you cram an extra million people in, sure, you lower their carbon footprints, but you may also make high density urban living far less attractive and less likely to be replicated around the country.

Avent mentions problems with parking and traffic as a throw-away, but I can tell you, the 4-5-6 running up from midtown to the Upper East Side is quite literally crammed wall-to-wall with people every morning. Parking is unlikely to be an option for anyone unwilling to spend several hundred dollars a month. And yes, another ten skyscrapers will result in the city becoming a darker and more depressing place. Not to mention the fact that the last ten high rises that went up on the Upper East Side were creatures of the housing bubble, resulting in massive losses and lots of empty units.

So would it be so terrible if we built up the downtown areas of Jersey City, White Plains and Stamford instead?

My reply: Well, that’s the funny thing. Building new high-density areas is the obvious answer here, but no one ever does it. Why? I assume it’s because it’s next to impossible to get people to move to new high-density developments. You get all the bad aspects of density without any of the good aspects of living in a big, well-established city.

It’s a conundrum. We could use more well established cities, but no one wants to live in the intermediate stages that it takes to build one. And of course, in well-established smaller towns and cities, the residents fight like crazed weasels to prevent the kind of development that they associate with crime and gangs.

I don’t really know what the answer is.

HW again: I’m not sure that’s entirely true. What about all the downtown redevelopment projects that have happened around the country? Or the urban centers that sprout up around the core of big cities like NY. Next time you are in NY, look across the East River and take a gander at Long Island City. It’s as close to midtown as the Upper East Side, easy to build there, far less expensive, and just as dense. And every single one of those luxury high rises went up in the past 12 years; it’s literally a skyline that didn’t exist 12 years ago. Jersey City is a similar story, both for residential and financial (every big bank has moved their IT back office out there). Or look at the gentrification of Brooklyn!

So why obsess on cramming a couple hundred thousand more people on the island of Manhattan, which will push it past the bursting point? It’s just not a smart premise. In fact, I’ll go further: it bears no relationship to reality. No one would stop a luxury high rise in any of the other four boroughs or right across the river in NJ and it’s just as dense and low-carbon to live in those spots. It’s just that Ryan Avent doesn’t WANT to live in those spots. He wants to live in a cheaper high rise in Manhattan (which, by the way, has seen tons of them go up already in the past decade — in the Financial District, Hell’s Kitchen, the Upper East Side). Avent should ride the 4/5/6 at 8 am every morning for a week, come back, and tell us if his article makes any sense. As a 4th generation NYer, I don’t think it even begins to.

I don’t really have a dog in this fight since I’ve lived in the leafy suburbs of Orange County all my life. But I thought this was an instructive response that was worth sharing. Back to you, Ryan.

Avent responds to the e-mail exchange:

I’m just pointing out the obvious here — many more people would like to live in Manhattan, it would be good economically and environmentally if they did, and it’s bad that local neighborhood groups are preventing them from doing so because they’re worried about their view. Further, my guess is that even without a relaxation in development rules Manhattan will cram in a couple hundred thousand more people, and demand will continue to rise; somehow, Manhattan will manage not to burst. Though it might eventually be swamped, if city-dwelling NIMBYs continue to make Houston exurbs ever more affordable relative to walkable density.

The transportation problem can be solved, in part, by better transportation policy. It is a crime that the subways are crammed while drivers use the streets of Manhattan for free, but that’s a policy failure, not a density failure. It’s also worth noting that heights fall off sharply as one moves away from the central business districts of Lower and Midtown Manhattan. If developers could build taller in surrounding neighborhoods and add residential capacity there, then more Manhattan workers could live within easy walking distance of their offices, and fewer would need to commute in by train.

Finally, let me point out that this is not about what I want. I’m not planning a move to New York, and I’m not remotely suggesting that the government should somehow mandate or encourage high-density construction. I’m simply saying that it should be easier for builders to meet market demand. It should be easier for builders to meet market demand in Manhattan, and Brooklyn, and Nassau County, and Washington, and downtown Denver, and so on. People clearly want to live in these places, and it would be really good for our economy and our environment if they were able to do so. And I find it very unfortunate that residents deriving great benefits from the amenities of their dense, urban neighborhoods are determined to deny those benefits to others.

Matthew Yglesias:

I don’t want to say too much about the debate over increased density in Manhattan because, again, ebook proposal. But one reality check on this whole subject is to note that the population of Manhattan 100 years ago at 2,331,542 people. It then hit a low of 1,428,285 in 1980 and has since then risen back up to 1,629,054.

Back in 1910 there were only 92,228,496 people in the United States. Since that time, the population of the country has more than tripled to 308,745,538. And if you look at Manhattan real estate prices, it’s hardly as if population decline in Manhattan has been driven by a lack of demand for Manhattan housing. Back around 1981 when I was born, things were different. The population of the island was shrinking and large swathes of Manhattan were cheap places to live thanks to the large existing housing stock and the high crime.

Karl Smith at Modeled Behavior:

Many years ago I gave a talk entitled, Green Manhattan, where I made the case that Metropolis was the greenest place in America.

Naturally, I got a lot of funny looks but the line that seemed to win a few converts was this: the best way to protect the environment is by keeping people out of it.

I admit I took a few liberties in the talk, not discussing how agriculture would be performed and supported, for example. Nonetheless, I think this framing breaks the intuition that green is about living with nature rather than letting nature live on its on.

Megan McArdle:

New York hasn’t actually been growing steadily; it’s been rebounding to the population of roughly 8 million that it enjoyed in 1950-70 before the population plunged in the 1970s.  It’s really only in the last ten years that the population has grown much beyond where it was in the 1970.

This matters because I think you can argue pretty plausibly that New York’s infrastructure has put some limits on the city’s growth–that by 1970 the city had about grown up to those limits, and that we can push beyond them only slowly.  The rail and bus lines that sustain the business district are pretty much saturated, and the roads and bridges can’t really carry many more cars at peak times.  Adding busses could conceivably help you handle some of the overflow, but unless those busses actually replace cars, they’ll also make traffic slower.
Unless you plan to fill the city entirely with retirees who don’t need to go to work, there’s actually not that much more room to build up New York–you could put the people there, but they wouldn’t be able to move.  And even the retirees would require goods and services that choke already very congested entry and exit points.  There has been peripatetic talk about switching all deliveries to night, but that would disturb the sleep of low-floor apartment dwellers, and be fantastically expensive, forcing every business to add a night shift.
At the very least, the current city dwellers are right that adding more people would add a lot more costs to them–crammed train cars, more expensive goods.  In New York, much more than in other places, the competition for scarce resources like commuting space is extremely stark.
That doesn’t mean it is impossible to add a lot more people to New York.  But doing so requires not just changing zoning rules–as far as I know, there’s already quite a lot of real estate in the outer boroughs that could accommodate more people, but it’s not close to transportation, so it’s not economically viable.  If you want to add a lot more housing units, you also need to add considerable complimentary infrastructure, starting with upgrading the rest of the subway’s Depression-era switching systems (complicated and VERY expensive because unlike other systems, New York’s trains run 24/7).  And ultimately, it’s going to mean adding more subway lines, because short of building double-decker streets, there’s no other way for enough people to move.
Those lines don’t have to go to the central business district; there’s already been some success developing alternate hubs in Queens and Brooklyn.  But they do have to go from residential neighborhoods to somewhere that people work, and they have to add actual extra carrying capacity to the system–line extensions do no good if the trains are already packed to bursting over the high-traffic areas of the route.

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Filed under Go Meta, Infrastructure

F Is For Fake, Is For Fraud

Charlie Langton at Fox:

Two former leaders of the Oakland County Democratic Party are facing a total of nine felonies for allegedly forging election paperwork to get fake Tea Party candidates on November’s ballot.

“It is not a partisan statement, and we need to make that very clear,” said Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper.

Former Oakland County Democratic Chair Mike McGuinness and former Democratic Operations Director Jason Bauer face up to 14 years in prison if convicted.

“Some of the people didn’t even know they were on the ballot till they began receiving delinquency notices of filings that were required as a candidate,” said Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard.

The sheriff says 23 statewide races had questionable Tea Party candidates on the ballot and the investigation may go beyond Oakland County.

Instapundit

Ed Morrissey:

The charges involve forgery, fraud, and perjury. The prosecution alleges that the two signed candidacy materials under false pretenses, forms which require people to acknowledge that they are under oath to provide truthful and accurate information. If they signed the forms themselves under the names of people who didn’t know what the two Democrats were doing, those charges should be easy to prove in court. The two will face years in prison.

The question will be whether this was part of a larger operation to dilute the ballot to help Democrats, a scheme that failed anyway. If McGuiness and Bauer end up facing the long end of a 14-year sentence, they may be highly motivated to tell prosecutors about any wider plans in Michigan to defraud voters. Fox notes that the grand jury continues to probe this even after the indictments against the two Oakland County Democratic Party leaders, which might mean more indictments will be forthcoming. We will definitely keep an eye out for further developments.

Moe Lane at Redstate:

To the best of my knowledge, we’ve never had a blogger indicted for election fraud before. The trailblazer in this case is Oakland County, Michigan Democratic Chair Mike McGuinness (along with Operations Director Jason Bauer); they’re charged with forging election documents to get fake “Tea Party” candidates on Michigan ballots. Up to twenty-three statewide races may have been affected by the fraud: the authorities are definitely looking into just how far the rot goes in the Michigan Democratic party.  The two have been charged with nine felonies: if convicted, McGuinness and Bauer face up to 14 years in jail.

I’m not being entirely nasty by calling this a milestone, by the way: this is a pretty significant indication that blogging has become a way for people to enter the political world and take positions of some power and influence there.  After all, McGuinness, as Gateway Pundit helpfully reminds us, was until 2008 a blogger for the Michigan Liberal site; the fact that McGuinness was also (allegedly) just another corrupt progressive suckweasel who (allegedly) defecated all over the very principles of free and open elections that he (allegedly) supported shouldn’t deter other people from also getting involved in politics on the local and state level. Just don’t be a corrupt progressive suckweasel, that’s all.

Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit:

Look for the state-run media to bury this story before morning.

For the record…McGuinness was a progressive blogger at Michigan Liberal blog.

UPDATE: The Michigan Liberal blog wrote in with this. Apparently, Democrat McGuinness was not being honest about his life as a blogger.

My name is Eric Baerren. I’m the editor of Michigan Liberal. I just caught your blog post about Michael McGuinness, where you asserted that Mr. McGuinness was somehow ever a representative of Michigan Liberal.

I’ve been the site’s editor since 2007, was involved in its operation for a year before that, and know well its history. For the record, Michael McGuinness has never been a blogger at Michigan Liberal. He had an account there, as do people at lots of websites, but the tone of your sentence makes it appear that he had a much larger role than he ever did (it would be like my asserting that someone who comments on your blog who is arrested and charged with child molestation is somehow a representative of Gateway Pundit). In fact, the story you linked to in Michigan Messenger that mentioned that Mr. McGuiness was a liberal blogger never in fact mentioned where he blogged.

My response:

Dear Eric Baerren,
Thanks for the information. It’s a shame that Mr. McGuinness did not blog at Michigan Liberal. I’m sure he would have fit right in.
Sincerely,
Jim Hoft

Scott Johnson at Powerline:

I wonder if this story will get the attention it deserves. The story more or less speaks for itself, though one element left unexplained in the story is the offices involved in the scheme. It involves local leaders of the Democratic Party in Michigan and their creative efforts to split the anti-Democratic vote in the 2010 election

Robert Stacy McCain:

Democrats in several states did similar things. “Independent” candidates had an interesting way of popping up in key Massachusetts congressional races, as I recall. But apparently these Michigan Democrats were so careless they actually broke the law.

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Filed under Crime, Politics

Buy Your Canned Goods Now!

Associated Press:

Wholesale prices jumped last month by the most in nearly two years due to higher energy costs and the steepest rise in food prices in 36 years. Excluding those volatile categories, inflation was tame.

The Labor Department said Wednesday that the Producer Price Index rose a seasonally adjusted 1.6 percent in February — double the 0.8 percent rise in the previous month. Outside of food and energy costs, the core index ticked up 0.2 percent, less than January’s 0.5 percent rise.

Food prices soared 3.9 percent last month, the biggest gain since November 1974. Most of that increase was due to a sharp rise in vegetable costs, which increased nearly 50 percent. That was the most in almost a year. Meat and dairy products also rose.

Scott Johnson at Powerline:

I believe that food inflation is in the midst of its greatest run-up (by one measurement of a basket of basic foodstuffs) since 1974. The lead story on Drudge reports on the most recent data.

Under the rubric of QE2, the Federal Reserve Bank is engaged in the venture of increasing the money supply with the goal of moderately increasing inflation. I fear that this venture is misguided and destructive. I believe it will result in inflation exceeding the Fed’s goal, if it has not done so already, and that the Fed will apply the brakes well after the damage has been done, as is its style.

What sayeth the Fed?

Ed Morrissey:

Scott cleverly titles his post, “Let them eat iPads.”  I’m not sure I’d draw a line between QE2 and what has happened in food and oil prices, at least not as a primary factor.  The effect of QE2 will be to weaken the dollar, which will hike the cost of imports, to be sure, and that may account for a little of the large price jump.  If it was the main factor — if the dollar had been weakened to that extent — then prices would be up across the board, especially on imports.  At least according to today’s report from the BEA on the trade deficit, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

The real source of this problem is America’s continuing refusal to exploit its own energy sources.  We remain too dependent on imports for energy while deliberately sidelining at least hundreds of thousands of potential high-paying jobs by refusing to extract our own oil and natural gas.  When the unstable countries that produce oil go through political paroxysms, it spooks investors and sends commodity prices soaring on the increased risk to distribution.  Those price increases mean higher transportation costs, which impacts all goods and services that require transport to get to consumers.  It’s a multiplier factor that we have seen a number of times over the last four decades, and which our political class continues to pretend doesn’t exist.

Ron Scherer at Christian Science Monitor:

In the year ahead, expect to see the largest food price increases in the protein group: chicken, beef, and pork, as well as dairy items. One key reason: The price of corn, used as feed by ranchers and farmers, has doubled in the past year. But vegetarians won’t get off easy: Produce and orange juice are rising sharply, as well.

Higher food prices have wide economic ramifications and are being watched closely by the Federal Reserve. From a business standpoint, food producers – from agricultural giants to the corner pizza parlor – must raise prices or watch their profit margins evaporate. Many middle-class households are financially stretched to the limit, so any extra expense for such basics as milk or bread makes their life even tougher. Organizations that help the poor with food, moreover, find they can’t help as many people because their dollar doesn’t go as far.

“The more you have to spend on a loaf of bread and a pound of ground beef, the less you have to spend on everything else,” says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pa. “It’s like a tax increase, although it’s not quite as bad as rising oil prices, since at least the revenues go to US farmers, truckers, and ag-equipment manufacturers.”

The US Department of Agriculture expects the average price of food in 2011 to be 4 percent higher than last year. Some private forecasters say that, by December, prices could be as much as 6 percent higher than in December 2010.

“If food inflation comes in at 6 percent, it would be the most dramatic increase since 1982,” says William Lapp, a consumer foods economist with his own firm, Advanced Economic Solutions in Omaha, Neb. “We had a 10-year period, from 1972 to 1981, when annual food prices rose sharply – including a two-year period when increases averaged 8.7 percent.”

Mark Huffman at Consumer Affairs:

When you factor in crude foodstuff and feedstuff to food costs to producers, food prices rose at the fastest rate since 1974, when the U.S. economy was in the grips of what was known as “stagflation.” Prices were rising rapidly despite little or no growth in the economy.

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Filed under Economics, Food

Numbers For The “Sage Of Wasilla”

Chris Cillizza and Jon Cohen at WaPo:

Sarah Palin’s ratings within the Republican Party are slumping, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, a potentially troubling sign for the former Alaska governor as she weighs whether to enter the 2012 presidential race.

For the first time in Post-ABC News polling, fewer than six in 10 Republicans and GOP-leaning independents see Palin in a favorable light, down from a stratospheric 88 percent in the days after the 2008 Republican National Convention and 70 percent as recently as October.

In one sense, the poll still finds Palin near the top of a list of eight potential contenders for the GOP nomination. The former vice presidential candidate scores a 58 percent favorable rating, close to the 61 percent for former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and 60 percent for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, and better than the 55 percent that onetime House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) received.

But Palin’s unfavorable numbers are significantly higher than they are for any of these possible competitors. Fully 37 percent of all Republicans and GOP-leaning independents now hold a negative view of her, a new high.

In another first, fewer than 50 percent of Republican-leaning independents — 47 percent — hold favorable views of Palin.

Andrew Sullivan:

But look behind the headlines and you find something more interesting:

“Strong” favorability matters in primaries, where motivation to turn out is an important factor. Among strong Tea Party supporters, strongly favorable views of Huckabee and Palin are highest, at 45 and 42 percent, respectively; strongly favorable views of Gingrich and Romney drop off in this group to 35 and 31 percent, respectively.

There’s a similar pattern in a related group, leaned Republicans who say they are “very” conservative. Palin and Huckabee (at 45 and 44 percent) again attract much higher strongly favorable ratings among strong conservatives than do Gingrich and Romney (30 and 28 percent).

In primaries, enthusiasm matters. And if Huckabee doesn’t run …

Jonathan Bernstein:

In response to the latest polling on the Sage of Wasilla, which show her continuing to lose support even among Republicans, I went looking through my old posts on her to see if I could claim a little told-you-so — if I had clearly said that if she continued to snub party leaders they would eventually turn against her, and if that happened (as it has) then the rank-and-file, or at least many of them, would follow, regardless of how popular she was with them back then. Yup! Hey, I’m wrong sometimes (and I’ll try to ‘fess up when I am), but I think I nailed this one.

I bring that up because I still don’t think it’s too late for Sarah Palin to turn it around, at least in large part, if she suddenly decided to play by the rules that normal candidates follow. Policy expertise can be bought and faked; party leaders, whether they’re national columnists, interest group leaders, or locals in Iowa and New Hampshire, can be schmoozed. It increasingly appears that either she is constitutionally incapable of doing those things or just has no interest in it, and even if she does them there’s no guarantee she would be nominated…but it is clear now, as it has been from the start, that the normal rules of politics apply to her regardless of what she or anyone else thinks.

One other thing that I did come across from last summer which still seems relevant now is the question of whether Republicans will campaign with Sarah Palin. I said then that given how few people, especially swing voters, are Palin fans — but also how many Republicans remain strong supporters — that it would make sense for Democrats to press their GOP opponents over whether they would campaign with her or not. Of course, skilled politicians know how to duck questions for which there are no good answers, but it can’t hurt to ask those questions.

Jamelle Bouie at Tapped:

The obvious question is why? Chris Cillizza suggests Palin’s tendency to polarize, but I’m skeptical. For starters, she continues to score a high favorability rating among Republicans: 58 percent, compared to 60 percent for Mitt Romney and 55 percent for Newt Gingrich. Moreover, her views are within the mainstream of the GOP; on every issue, Sarah Palin is an orthodox Republican.

As far as I can tell, Palin’s fall from grace has less to do with ideology or popularity and more to do with her obvious disdain for Republican elites. Since 2008, she has been on a one-pol crusade against the activists and donors who represent important interests and elites within the GOP coalition. This was tolerable last year, when she was something of an electoral asset, but with the upcoming presidential election — and her stark unpopularity among everyone else — it’s less than acceptable. Conservative elites are gradually distancing themselves from Palin, and in all likelihood, this has trickled down to the grassroots.

This isn’t to say that Palin has lost her influence among conservatives — she continues to enjoy a devoted following — but it does put a damper on her presidential ambitions, if she ever had them (I’m doubtful).

Steve Benen:

It may be counterintuitive, but I actually think this is good news for Palin. She’s done nothing but bring shame and embarrassment to herself on a nearly daily basis for years, and she’s likely dropped about as far as she can with the GOP. And at this point, she still enjoys favorable ratings from a clear majority of Republican voters.

James Joyner:

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: By presidential candidate standards, Sarah Palin is an ignoramus. That is, she’s “utterly lacking in knowledge or training about matters of public policy, law, or international affairs” one expects of someone contending for the presidency. That was my assessment more than two years ago and it has only been buttressed with the passage of time.

But the fact that she’s not particularly studious or intellectually curious doesn’t mean she’s unintelligent. I’m guessing she’s within swinging distance in terms of raw IQ to George W. Bush or, certainly, Mike Huckabee. And she’s enormously charming and good in front of a friendly crowd.

Bush the Younger was thought by many to be a lightweight at this point in the 2000 presidential cycle. Granted, he’d finished his term as Texas governor and was into his second by this time in 1999. And he had his MBA from Harvard, so people presumed he had at least passing knowledge with business and economic affairs. But, aside from perhaps Mexico, there was little evidence that Bush had any particular interest in foreign policy.

But Bush surrounded himself with smart people and studied. Recall the great “Saturday Night Live” sketch about the second debate with Al Gore, in which he gratuitously cited the names of various obscure world leaders in an attempt to shake off a weak performance in the first debate. It worked.

When this debate last mattered, during the 2008 general election campaign, Republicans who disagreed with me on Palin rightly pointed out that her resume favorably compared with then-candidate Barack Obama’s. Even Democrats who ultimately supported Obama, like our own Dave Schuler, were concerned about his lack of experience. But, by the time the debates rolled around, Obama had mastered the playbooks and could intelligently debate matters of domestic and foreign policymaking. Yes, there were some early stumbles. But few thought he was stupid or ill informed by the time it mattered.

Palin has the inherent talent to apply herself and win over skeptical Republicans and centrists. Many people really want to like her. But Bernstein is right: There’s no evidence thus far that she’s willing to do what it takes.

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Filed under Political Figures

Boss Hogg Says Something Interesting

Ben Smith at Politico:

Here’s a major moment in the nascent Republican presidential primary: Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour tonight became the first among the leading Republican candidates to suggest that the United States reduce its presence in Afghanistan and its spending on defense.

Barbour echoed the concerns of critics of the Afghan war effort when asked by reporters in Iowa about American involvement in the conflict:

He also said that the U.S. should consider reducing the number of troops in Afghanistan. “I think we need to look at that,” he said when asked if the U.S. should scale back its presence.

But he said his reasoning isn’t financial.

“What is our mission?” Barbour said. “How many Al Qaeda are in Afghanistan. … Is that a 100,000-man Army mission?”

“I don’t think our mission should be to think we’re going to make Afghanistan an Ireland or an Italy” or a Western-style democracy, he said.

Barbour’s leading Republican rivals have positioned themselves to President Obama’s hawkish right on a range of foreign policy issues. They’ve also resisted calls from some associated with the Tea Party movement for deep cuts to federal spending that would include defense cuts. In fact, two of the candidates — Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich — have in the past backed the Heritage Foundation’s “4 percent for Freedom” initiative, which would actually raise baseline defense spending.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

Ben Smith correctly identifies the first sort of interesting event in the Republican presidential primary race: Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour has had enough of Afghanistan and wants to start drawing down troops. No details about how many and when, of course–and, in the end, Barbour’s timetable may not be all that different from Obama’s, which, I expect will have lots of troops coming home next year. But this is Haley Barbour, folks–and we know two things about him: he’s not the world’s boldest policy thinker and he’s probably the smartest political strategist in the field. When Barbour decides that Afghanistan is a loser, you can bet that more than a few Republicans are heading that way–and that means interesting times for the trigger-happy neoconservatives who have dominated Republican foreign policy thinking in recent years. It also means that the foreign policy debate in the Republican primaries may be a real eye-opener.

J.F. at DiA at the Economist:

The interesting thing about Mr Barbour’s comments is not that he said them, but that he’s right: of course reining in defence spending has to at least be part of the conversation if people are going to take Republican promises of fiscal responsibility seriously. The depressing thing about his being right is that it doesn’t matter. There are plenty of other ways for Republicans to show their fiscal bonafides. Means-testing Social Security, for instance. Trimming Medicare. Backing the cost-saving measures in Obamacare. Letting the Bush tax cuts expire (sigh). Any takers, Republicans? No?

My two cents: Mr Barbour will get a pass on those comments for now—and may even get some lip service from the Romney-Gingrich camp—because his candidacy is such a long shot. If things start to improve for him, though, look for him to be pilloried as soft on national security.

Dan Amira at New York Magazine:

Of course, if Ron Paul runs, he would easily outdo Barbour on this front. But for now, Barbour is the only one, and Time‘s Joe Klein uses the opportunity to tout him as “probably the smartest political strategist in the field.”

Whether or not that’s true, you really don’t need to be a genius to know that Americans across the political spectrum are tiring of the war in Afghanistan. You just need the ability to read. According to a January Gallup poll, 72 percent of independents and 61 percent of Republicans want to “speed up withdrawal from Afghanistan.” And the sentiment is even stronger among tea partiers. According to a poll commissioned by the Afghan Study Group — in the words of founder Steve Clemons, “a bipartisan group of leading academics, business executives, former government officials, policy practitioners and journalists” — 64 percent of self-identified tea partiers want to reduce troop levels in Afghanistan or leave the country entirely. Considering the poll numbers, more surprising than Barbour taking a dovish position on Afghanistan is that the rest of his fellow candidates-to-be haven’t already done the same.

Alex Massie:

Barbour, the Boss Hogg governor of Mississippi, remains a long-shot for the GOP Presidential nomination but he’s not someone noted for policy boldness or imagination. True, his ideal timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan may not differ from the platonic ideal of withdrawal imagined by the Obama administration; that’s not the important thing here. What matters – though this is but a tea leaf into which too much should not be read – is the hint that Republican enthusiasm for the Afghan mission may be waning. That in turn may make the foreign policy debates during the GOP primary more interesting than seemed likely six months ago.

Barbour, of course, is an impeccably-connected member of the “elite” disguised as a southern good old boy. Doubtless that’s why he’s also able to argue that conservative claims to fiscal responsibility (an interesting concept in itself) are meaningless if the Pentagon’s budget is ring-fenced and protected from future budget cuts. Again, this is the sort of “Beltway” thinking disdained by talk radio and the populist right.

Yesterday James observed that it is “worrying” that ” the United State appears to have lost interest in its role as global policeman” but it’s also worth pointing out that this is a role it has performed fitfully and inconsistently in the past. Again, parts of the Obama administration’s foreign and security apparatus – notably but not only Bob Gates – owe something to the George HW Bush/Colin Powell approach to international affairs. Leadership is certainly important but the problems of foreign policy are something to be managed, not solved. Because often there are no solutions and even rarer still is the solution that doesn’t involve hefty, perhaps expensive, trade-offs.

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The Raymond Davis Case

Rick Moran:

Raymond Davis, the alleged CIA contract employee who was charged with murder in Pakistan after gunning down two would be robbers, has been freed by a Pakistani court.

Pakistan’s English language daily Dawn reports:

A Pakistan court on Wednesday freed CIA contractor Raymond Davis, who was accused of murdering two men in Lahore, after blood money was paid in accordance with sharia law, the Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said.“The family members of the slain men appeared in the court and independently verified they had pardoned him (Davis),” provincial law minister Rana Sanaullah told a private television.

“He has been released from jail. Now it is up to him. He can go wherever he wants,” he added.

The lawyer representing the victims, Asad Manzoor Butt, said he was not allowed to appear for the hearing. The lawyer alleged that Davis possibly escaped from the prison with the consent of the authorities, DawnNews reported.

The lawyer further claimed that he was kept in unlawful confinement, according to DawnNews.

PML-N spokesman Pervez Rasheed the Punjab government was not involved in the release of Davis, DawnNews reported.

Could all of that be true? Anything is possible but Dawn is not the most reliable media outlet. At the time of Davis’ arrests, they reported that the two street thugs he shot were “commuters.”

Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room at Wired:

All it took was cash to end an acrimonious spy standoff between the U.S. and its Pakistani frenemy.

Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor held in a Pakistani jail since late January, is a free man. He reportedly left Kot Lakhpat prison after family members of the two men Davis allegedly killed agreed to accept $700,000 per family in compensation for their losses.  (The exact total is in some dispute.) Blood money: it works.

To say the case inflamed Pakistan is an understatement. Some 47 people signed up to give witness statements in Davis’ scheduled trial, including cops and hospital workers. Little wonder: while Pakistan’s government and military tolerates the CIA’s drone strikes in the tribal areas, popular sentiment is outraged by the presence of American spies roving Pakistani streets, as Davis apparently was.

A Pakistani court charged him with murder — Davis claims he shot the two men in self-defense when they attempted to rob him — and declined to rule on his claims of diplomatic immunity, something Washington insists Davis possesses. But that’s now overtaken by events: the Guardian’s Declan Walsh tweets that Davis is “en route to Kabul, landing shortly.”

Rep. Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, praised Davis’ release and blasted Pakistan for detaining him in the first place. “If Pakistan wants to be taken seriously as a state based on the rule of law, it must respect its international obligations,” Rogers said in a statement. “Pakistan and the U.S. cooperate on many levels because it is in our mutual interest. Irresponsible behavior like this jeopardizes everything our two nations have built together.”

Huma Imtiaz at Foreign Policy:

As March 16th dawned over Pakistan, perhaps no one except for the powers-that-be realized that Raymond Davis would soon be free.

Earlier in the morning, the Lahore Sessions Court had indicted Davis, a CIA contractor, for murder, after he allegedly shot dead Faizan Haider and Mohammad Faheem in Lahore this past January 27.

Hours later, the news broke that Davis was a free man, after he paid blood money to the families of Faizan and Faheem. According to Geo News, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah announced that the families had forgiven Davis, and been paid blood money under the Shariah law of Qisas and Diyat.  Another report aired on the channel said that 18 members of both families had announced in front of the judge in Kot Lakhpat jail that they had forgiven Raymond Davis, after which cash was handed over to the families. However, the families’ lawyer Asad Manzoor Butt told Geo News that they were forcibly made to forgive Davis, after being led to jail by a man without identification.

Munawar Hasan, leader of the right-wing religious party Jamaat-e-Islami, reacted to the news by accusing the government of being slaves of the United States. “They should know that traitor governments do not last for very long,” he said. “They have mocked the law, and the families were forcibly made to sign the Diyat document. Davis was involved with terrorist organizations, and yet they have let him go. The ISI claims to love the country, but they sell people to the States in exchange for dollars, they have failed in their love for the nation today.” Hasan says protests against the release of Raymond Davis will be held in the major cities of Pakistan.

Conflicting reports have emerged about how much money has been paid to the families. Sources on various TV channels aired figures ranging from Rs. 60 million to Rs. 200 million (approximately $700,000 to $2,350,000). Davis’ whereabouts are also unknown – Dunya News said he had flown to the United States, whereas Geo News claimed he had flown to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Another story attributed to “sources” on Geo News also said that Faizan’s widow Zehra had allegedly left for the United States.

Omar Waraich at Time:

Under Pakistani law, “blood money” is a legal means of securing forgiveness from the victims. Under the qasas and diyat laws, derived from Islamic jurisprudence, a court can release an accused person if the victim’s family agrees to a satisfactory cash settlement. The Shari’a-based laws are invoked in the majority of murder cases, Pakistani legal experts say. According to government officials in Punjab, Davis was charged with murder on Wednesday but then acquitted after the families of the two victims said in court that they forgave the CIA contractor and submitted documents attesting to that. Senior Pakistani officials told TIME that each victim’s family received $700,000 in compensation — for a total of $1.4 million.

David Ignatius at WaPo:

This deal had four principal architects: Hussein Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, who shared the “blood money” idea with Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Kerry then traveled to Pakistan, where me met with President Asif Ali Zardari, with the leaders of the Punjab government that was holding Davis, and with top officials of the ISI. Haqqani also visited CIA Director Leon Panetta the evening of Feb. 28 to share the “blood money” idea with him, according to a U.S. official. The final details were worked out by Panetta and ISI Director-General Ahmed Shuja Pasha.

U.S. and Pakistani sources said the process that led to Davis’s release Wednesday included a series of steps: First, the U.S. agreed to pay compensation to the families of the two Pakistanis Davis killed on Jan. 27. A Pakistani lawyer quoted by the Associated Press said the total payments amounted to $2.3 million. Another Pakistani source told me the payments were less than $1 million for each family. According to a U.S. official, the actual negotiations were conducted by Pakistanis, but the U.S. has agreed to pay the bill.

After the families reached the private financial agreement and formally forgave Davis, the settlement was recognized by the trial court in Punjab, which could then dismiss the murder charges under what is described as a standard process in Pakistani murder cases. With the murder charges dismissed, the Punjabi court resolved lesser charges against Davis, and he was freed.

An important aspect of the settlement, for the U.S., was that the principal of diplomatic immunity was never formally challenged in Pakistani courts. The Pakistani High Court refused to rule on the question and the trial court didn’t make a finding, either. That was crucial for the U.S., which feared that a legal challenge to its claim of immunity for Davis would expose hundreds of other undercover agents around the world who rely on the legal protection of their formal status as “diplomats.

John Ellis at Business Insider:

The ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, emerged the winner in the show-down over the fate of CIA operative Raymond Davis.

The US position was that Mr. Davis was in Pakistan on a diplomatic passport, that he enjoyed all the privileges of that status and that the charges of murder lodged against him (he shot two Pakistanis, he says, in self-defense, which is almost certainly true) were therefore null and void.

[…]

Officially, Pakistan gets nearly $2 billion annually in foreign aid from the US.  And that figure is the public number. The actual number is much higher.  How it is that the American government can get jerked around by a government that enjoys such vast US support is a mystery.  But that’s what happened.

Lisa Curtis at Heritage:

Despite years of working closely to target al-Qaeda and other terrorists in Pakistan, the ISI and CIA had seen their relationship begin to fray, partly over Pakistan’s handling of terrorist group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT), which was responsible for the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. Pakistani-American David Headley, who was arrested in Chicago in October 2009 and later charged by a U.S. court with facilitating the Mumbai attacks as well as a planned terror attack in Denmark, revealed to interrogators that he was in close contact with Pakistani intelligence. As a result, the families of the six American victims of the Mumbai attack filed charges in a New York court against the head of Pakistan’s intelligence service, General Shujah Pasha, for involvement in the attacks. Pasha’s tenure as Director General of the ISI was recently extended by one year by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.

Adding fuel to the fire, the CIA station chief in Islamabad was forced to leave the country last December after his cover was blown in the Pakistani media.

While resolution of the Davis case may help to cool tempers between the ISI and CIA in the immediate term, so long as Pakistan resists taking serious action against terrorist groups like the LeT, tensions in the relationship will persist.

Washington is increasingly and rightly concerned about the global reach of the LeT and the potential for the group to conduct a Mumbai-type of attack on U.S. soil. It is highly likely that the CIA had recently sought to develop independent sources of secret information on the group in Pakistan to avert such a possibility. Many analysts argue that the LeT is focused primarily on India and thus has little motivation to attack the U.S. directly. However, the skill with which U.S. citizen David Headley operated in close collaboration with the LeT for so many years has raised concern about the LeT’s level of sophistication and its potential capability to conduct an attack in the U.S. if it so chooses.

The Pakistani authorities must now brace for the public reaction to the release of Davis. The religious parties held numerous protests over the past several weeks against Davis’s release. Whether the Pakistani security establishment will be able to use their links to the religious parties to temper their response remains to be seen. Following the Pakistani military storming of the Red Mosque in Islamabad in July 2007, the religious parties strongly criticized the operation, but their public protests were muted. The Pakistani Taliban, which has conducted numerous suicide attacks inside Pakistan over the last three years, will almost certainly react with further violence in retaliation for Davis’s release.

While the release of Raymond Davis is indisputably good news for the U.S and may temporarily improve ties between our two intelligence agencies, it could also heighten anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, especially if the initial news reports that the families were pressured into accepting the blood money gain traction. While one diplomatic dispute between the U.S. and Pakistan has found resolution, the fundamental challenges to the relationship certainly remain.

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An Invitation From Their Cold, Dead Hands

Matt Schneider at Mediaite:

On a smaller platform than some may have hoped, President Obama wrote an op-ed in today’s Arizona Daily Star launching his intention to tackle serious and “common sense” gun control. Two months after the Tucson, Arizona shooting tragedy, Obama seems to be searching for middle ground on the issue in an effort to protect “our children’s futures.”Obama first reaffirmed he has no intention of confiscating guns:

Now, like the majority of Americans, I believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms. . . . And, in fact, my administration has not curtailed the rights of gun owners – it has expanded them, including allowing people to carry their guns in national parks and wildlife refuges.

And Obama discussed his awareness of how difficult it will be to approach an issue that both sides feel so passionately about:

I know that every time we try to talk about guns, it can reinforce stark divides. People shout at one another, which makes it impossible to listen. We mire ourselves in stalemate, which makes it impossible to get to where we need to go as a country.

Then Obama outlined a few practical beginning steps, including “enforcing laws that are already on the books,” strengthening the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, rewarding states that provide the best data, and making the background check system “faster and nimbler” so that criminals can’t escape it.

Jacob Sullum at Reason:

In an Arizona Daily Star op-ed piece (which Jesse Walker noted this morning), President Obama urges “an instant, accurate, comprehensive and consistent system for background checks” in response to the Tucson massacre. But since there is no reason to think such a system would have stopped Jared Lee Loughner from buying a gun, this recommendation seems like a non sequitur (as gun control proposals often do).

Obama regrets that “a man our Army rejected as unfit for service; a man one of our colleges deemed too unstable for studies; a man apparently bent on violence, was able to walk into a store and buy a gun.” But people who are rejected for military service or thrown out of community college are still allowed to own firearms, and Obama does not propose changing the factors that disqualify people from buying guns. As for his description of Loughner as “a man apparently bent on violence,” that is true mainly in retrospect; the school officials and police officers who encountered him prior to his crime seem to have viewed him more as a nuisance than a menace. In any case, Loughner was never “adjudicated as a mental defective” or “committed to a mental institution,” which would have made his gun purchase illegal.

In short, the president’s solution would not have stopped Loughner, and it would not stop similar assailants in the future. Yet Obama not only says the current system of background checks is “supposed to stop the wrong people from getting their hands on a gun”; he claims beefing up the system (primarily by incorporating more state data regarding disqualifying criteria) “will actually keep those irresponsible, law-breaking few from getting their hands on a gun in the first place.” Which is worse: that Obama believes this (assuming he does) or that he expects us to believe it?

Jennifer Epstein at Politico:

The National Rifle Association is declining to meet with the Obama administration to discuss gun control, signaling that the nation’s largest gun lobby isn’t willing to come to the table on a Democratic president’s terms.

“Why should I or the NRA go sit down with a group of people that have spent a lifetime trying to destroy the Second Amendment in the United States?” said Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president, in an interview with The New York Times on Monday. He cited Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — the latter of whom has little to do with gun policy — as examples.

Jim Hoft at The Gateway Pundit

Weasel Zippers:

Or as Obama would call them, “bitter folks clinging to their guns and religion.”

Ben Armbruster at Think Progress:

However, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre immediately rejected that offer. “Why should I or the N.R.A. go sit down with a group of people that have spent a lifetime trying to destroy the Second Amendment in the United States?” he asked, adding, “It shouldn’t be a dialogue about guns; it really should be a dialogue about dangerous people.”

Putting aside LaPierre’s posturing on the Second Amendment, it’s telling the NRA is not willing to state a substantive disagreement with Obama. The Post reported:

LaPierre said he favored much of what Obama endorsed in his op-ed, but he charged that the president was targeting gun ownership for political reasons rather than addressing the “underlying issue” of “madmen in the streets.”

The NYT similarly reported:

Despite his opposition to joining the administration’s table, by his comments in an interview Mr. LaPierre sounded at times like the White House.

Echoing NRA arguments, an Obama administration official told the NYT they want to redefine the gun debate to “focus on the people, not the guns” and they want to “begin by enforcing laws that are already on the books.” Nevertheless, the NRA is unwilling to be appeased.

So why is Wayne LaPierre misrepresenting Obama’s views and rejecting his olive branch? Since everyone seems to agree on a path forward, the answer seems to be quite clear: money and self-preservation. Since President Obama took office, the NRA has benefitedsignificantly in increased membership, due primarily to baseless and unfounded fears actively promoted by NRA officials, supporters and sympathizers, that Obama wants to eliminate the Second Amendment and take away everyone’s guns.

The NRA tells its members not to believe Obama when he says he supports the Second Amendment. It’s no wonder then that rank-and-file NRA members think Obama wants to “get rid of all the guns,” “has no respect for the country,” is “an idiot,” and “anti-American.”

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