Friday, February 29, 2008

Bush Aide Resigns Over Plagiarism - New York Times

New York Times:
WASHINGTON — A longtime aide to President Bush who wrote occasional guest columns for his hometown newspaper resigned on Friday evening after admitting that he had repeatedly plagiarized from other writers....

The aide, Tim Goeglein, had worked for Mr. Bush since 2001, as a liaison to social and religious conservatives, an important component of the president’s political base. Mr. Goeglein was influential in decisions on a range of questions important to that constituency, including stem cell research, abortion and faith-based initiatives.

You really can't make these things up!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Attacks Widen Rift Between Gaza and Israel

From The New York Times:
Among the militants killed was Hamza al-Hayya, the son of Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas leader and legislator, the senior Mr. Hayya said. The Israeli Army said the attack was a strike against a squad about to launch rockets. Hamas confirmed that Hamza al-Hayya was leading a rocket squad.

In Gaza, reacting to the news of his son’s death, Khalil al-Hayya said, “I thank God for this gift,” according to The Associated Press, adding, “This is the 10th member of my family to receive the honor of martyrdom.”

Further comment might seem superfluous. It is hard to imagine progress toward peaceful co-existence amidst such a culture of death. Would that we could all thank God for the opportunity to live together in peace and mutual respect.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Obama on Israel and Jews

There is a lot of trash and slime circulating on the internet regarding Obama's attitudes toward Islam, Israel, and Jews. In the past couple of days, I have received a couple of personally addressed emails, of the form "I saw this on the internet and wondered if it were accurate/ if it were fair/ what you think about this...", followed by what seems to be to constitute hate speech insinuating that Obama is some kind of Manchurian candidate who will do various dastardly things. The claims are so preposterous on their face, and so easy to disprove with a minimum of research, that it is hard not to suspect the motives of those who send such crap around.

I am saddened that some of these hate messages have been attributed to various Jewish groups, including some kind of Republican Jewish group. I am in the process of trying to track this down, and cannot at this point know whether these attributions are correct.

In response, various collections of Obama's statements on Israel are also circulating. Some of these follow the formulaic AIPAC line to a degree that I, as an ally of Israel's peace camp (Peace Now, New Israel Fund, etc.) find them rather unsatisfying both politically and intellectually. However, there is some evidence of more thoughtful views on Obama's part. Here is an excerpt from a recent Obama speech before a Jewish audience, quoted on Nick Kristof's NYT blog:

" of the things that struck me when I went to Israel was how much more open the debate was around these issues in Israel than they are sometimes here in the United States. It’s very ironic. I sat down with the head of Israeli security forces and his view of the Palestinians was incredibly nuanced because he’s dealing with these people every day. There’s good and there’s bad, and he was willing to say sometimes we make mistakes and we made this miscalculation and if we are just pressing down on these folks constantly without giving them some prospects for hope, that’s not good for our security situation. There was a very honest, thoughtful debate taking place inside Israel. All of you, I’m sure, have experienced this when you travel there. Understandably, because of the pressure that Israel is under, I think the U.S. pro-Israel community is sometimes a little more protective or concerned about opening up that conversation. But all I’m saying though is that actually ultimately should be our goal, to have that same clear eyed view about how we approach these issues...."

This is very true, and suggests that Obama's understanding is considerably more subtle and nuanced than the uncritical blather that he and most high level American politics are forced to regurgitate on most occasions. I think such an understanding, and the courage to speak it before a Jewish audience, are conducive to effective American intermediation if peace between Israel and her neighbors is ever to come. I am highly aware of the arguments against, but I have come to the conviction that the risks for Israel in seeking peace are less daunting, and less dangerous in the mid-to-long run, than those of not doing so.

And for what it is worth, whether he rejects or denounces Farrakhan, Obama's comments on rebuilding relationships between Jews and African-Americans (and his willingness to denounce anti-Semitism within the black community in speeches to African-American audiences) touch me deeply.

On the Ohio Debate

Politics: Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Most Improved Debater : In what may be the final debate, Obama shows how he's grown.
By John Dickerson
Posted Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2008, at 8:10 AM ET (Slate)

In the first Democratic primary debate 10 months ago, Hillary Clinton didn't have to charge that Barack Obama wasn't ready to be president on Day One. He did the work for her. He was halting, mumbling, and tentative. The only confidence he instilled was in Clinton. Nineteen debates later, he's improved so much that if he's not ready to be president on Day One, you could imagine he might get there after a little study. At what may be the last debate of the Democratic primary, Obama was commanding, at ease, and magnanimous. Clinton needed him to stumble, and he didn't. He won the night.

I think Dickerson nailed this.

What most astounds me about Obama's performances in the debates is his astonishing capacity for growth. I think last night was his best ever. Not only that--he now looks and feels "Presidential"--fully ready to step into the role "on Day One," as Hillary would have it. His mixture of gravitas, increasing command of the issues (less well displayed in his response on the incoming Russian President--although Hillary muffed that one as well), and gently self-effacing humor (which has, in the last two debates, utterly undermined Clintonian attacks, and made their purveyors look silly)--show his utter sense of command and, for me at least, recall several of JFK's most memorable political talents.

I respect Senator Clinton's policy knowledge and general sense of competence (not always well displayed in her Campaign). I do not want, especially as a male, to employ language suggestive of a sexist critique (and I was thrilled by her coming to the White House in 1992, and by her designation to head the (ill-fated) health care reform effort.) But the more I see of her in this campaign, the less I like her. Part of it is her world-leading sense of entitlement. Part is her increasingly obvious psychological projection, blaming others (including but not limited to Obama) for campaign tactics and motivations in a way that is more revealing of herself (and not in a positive sense) than illuminating about Obama, who is now able to shrug them off as campaign silliness. Senator Clinton is in real danger of making herself look ridiculous. I'll leave it there for now.

On naming Madison's new primary school

It is apparently still possible to send communications on the naming of Madison's new primary school to Here is a copy of my contribution:

Thank you for this opportunity to add my voice to those supporting naming our new primary school in memory of Jeff Erlanger.

When the naming issue first emerged a couple of years back, I was one of those who suggested Howard Temin's name. I have the greatest admiration and respect for Prof. Temin, and hope that there will emerge a suitable opportunity to honor him within the Madison School System. If and when consideration is given to naming Madison high schools for individuals, or naming a school with a magnet-type math/science/health orientation, I think his name belongs at the very top of the list. He was a world renown scientist, a dedicated educator at all levels, a great humanitarian, and a wonderful human being that all might seek to emulate. The level of his transcendent scientific achievements might, however, seem a bit distant and beyond reach for some primary school students.

I cannot imagine a more accessible and worthy model for primary school students than Jeff Erlanger. I knew Jeff (and know his family) well, and worked with Jeff on a couple of small projects over the past two decades. What a truly amazing individual. Only at his funeral, however, did I come to realize how many people Jeff had touched, and in what profound ways. Jeff's story is inspiring in a way that touches us all, and is readily understandable to primary school students. My understanding is that he was the first individual with his level of physical disability to be mainstreamed through the Madison public schools. With his resolute, hopeful and optimistic disposition and commitment to live his own life to the full, and to bring and make meaning (and, in a word of the moment, change) through efforts on behalf of others, he set a model for all of us of what a single person can accomplish in this world--a model likely to be especially meaningful to primary school students.

Having listened to several of Jeff's assistants talk about the impact Jeff had on their lives, I am struck by the ways in which Jeff's life turns around our usual narratives of dependency, and enriches our concepts of human interconnection and the ways in which individuals bring meaning into one another's lives.

One final point: the available documentation of Jeff's life, including videos with Mr. Rogers, provide a living legacy that will be pedagogically meaningful for future generations of students who attend this school, and others in the Madison district. It will continue to signify something, beyond a name on the wall, for students who can come to realize what it means, in very personal terms, to attend the Jeff Erlanger School. Jeff will continue to touch and inspire students, much as he did through his all too brief life, lived to the fullest.

Thank you again for this opportunity to contribute to your deliberations....

On The NYT McCain Fiasco

Here is a copy of my response to the now notorious NYT piece on John McCain's lobbyist associations. I sent this on the afternoon of Feb.22, before the appearance of NYT Public Editor Clark Hoyt's column on the same subject. Hoyt came to rather similar conclusions.

To the Editor:

I continue to struggle to make my mind up on this article. I am inclined to wait to see what new facts emerge before reaching any final judgment. My guess--and my hope--is that The Times knows more than it is yet prepared to publish, and that further facts are yet to emerge to fill in the story. If that is incorrect, my judgment will be more harsh.

I appreciate the detailed examination of Senator McCain's contacts with and responsiveness to lobbyists for the rich and powerful of corporate America, particularly given his powerful role as (former) Chair of the Senate Commerce Committee. The new wrinkle, given Senator McCain's self-promoted image as a crusading reformer, is that he is apparently so convinced of his personal rectitude that he is largely oblivious to situations that would raise legitimate concerns if they involved others. That is a recipe for disaster, particularly in a potential President. An article effectively raising and shedding light on this issue is clearly justified.

My concern is with the series of decisions made on how to play the "romantic"/sexual innuendo piece of the story. I think this aspect was peripheral, rather than central, to the main focus of the story. While it did, to some degree, advance the central thesis of the story, it was predictable that attention paid to the sexual angle would overwhelm everything else, as has in fact been the case. This was made significantly more likely by the decision to play this issue at the top of the story, despite the lack of harder documentation and identified sources. In an effort to play it cute--or perhaps to avoid legal attack--The Times highlighted the salacious sexual innuendo, with its predictable impact on the privacy of the individuals concerned, while seeking to avoid responsibility for stating and proving its case. The added news value of the suspected romantic relationship seems to me insufficient to justify playing this aspect at the top of the piece, as opposed to leaving it out altogether or running it much deeper in the story, as an illustration of concerns raised by McCain's closeness to lobbyists.

I can imagine a response saying that would amount to burying the lede. But that is precisely my point. If the lede is to be the romantic/sexual allegation, than state your allegation and prove it, using more than anonymous sourcing. If you are unable to do so, and are not able to name your sources or provide more in the way of proof, than this does not belong anywhere near the lede, and perhaps not in the story at all.
Can you explain the news judgment that you feel justifies organizing the story as you did?

On Superdelegates

From a response to Susan Estrich on Superdelegates
This is a somewhat unconventional view from an Obama supporter.

Posted By: The Wise Bard on Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The world has changed quite a bit since the time Susan is discussing. Many more states have elections and broad-scale caucuses. And the complexion of the superdelegates has changed to something more (if not fully) representative of the party, and of America.

There is a long time between the Iowa and New Hampshire contests and the Convention, and as we are learning, things can change quite a lot over the long primary season. Superdelegates provide a useful set of non-pledged delegates who can respond to these changing conditions, including the identity of the opposing major candidate(s) and things learned about the competing Democratic candidates over the long process of testing leading to the conventions. Ideally the superdelegates should stay unpledged until the convention (which many are not currently doing). If their participation in deciding the nominee reeks of a back room deal objectionable to a large faction of voters, the Party and its candidates (beyond the Presidential nominee) are likely to suffer in November--and the superdelegates know that.

And some followup in response to a challenge from another reader:
Posted By: The Wise Bard on Tuesday, February 19, 2008

In response to the gratuitously nasty comments of Mr. Thelen:

A large proportion of the superdelegates are elected officials--elected, that is, by the people, and responsible (and ultimately accountable) to them. Who exactly are the "regular" delegates? Can you name five of them, anywhere in the country? To whom are they accountable, particularly if the Convention goes beyond a first (committed) ballot?

If there were a single national primary, the likelihood of an insurgent candidate successfully challenging the "Establishment" is virtually nil. Insurgent movements build over time (at least if the insurgent is not a billionaire able to self-finance a campaign), and require proving oneself over time, best done in smaller jurisdictions (not necessarily Iowa or N.H.) less dependent on tv commercials and more open to retail-style politics. Obama, for instance, wouldn't have had a prayer of prevailing against Hillary Clinton in a one shot national primary. Tonight, here in Wisconsin (and with my enthusiastic support) he is taking his ninth straight event against the previous establishment favorite. Further, in a Presidential (as opposed to Parliamentary) system, with no "shadow Cabinet", the primary process, over time, provides a useful test of relevant leadership capacities of the candidate and his/her team, and tends to improve their abilities as campaigners and future leaders. That improvement has been evident in the Obama, Clinton, and Edwards campaigns this year, not to speak of the Republicans.

Perhaps we might have a system in which all states follow the same rules, but conduct their primary elections over time, to meet the objections to a single national primary. I would have no great objection to that, but I am inclined to favor a mix of primary elections and caucuses, which seem to do a better job of measuring enthusiasm and depth of commitment of each candidate's supporters, which may also favor insurgent candidacies.

It is also worth noting, contrary to Mr Thelen's initial remarks, that the superdelegates have a potentially significant impact on the ultimate nomination only in cases of close and prolonged contests, not where a candidate clearly prevails in the primary process. We heard little, if anything, about superdelegates in 2004, 2000, 1996...and my memories are not that clear about 1992 or 1988. We have to go back probably to 1984 for a clear instance of their impact.

To be sure, any political mechanism ultimately depends on the behavior of human beings, and can be subverted by bad behavior. My strong preference is that superdelegates withhold public statements of support or endorsement prior to the Convention. My guess this year is that an effort, say, by Clinton forces to "steal" a nomination earned by Obama would be self- (and party-) defeating, much as was the 1968 fiasco--and the superdelegates are likely to understand that. Of course, I could be wrong--and the fact that I can imagine the Clintons pursuing such a strategy is one among many reasons I am supporting Obama.

Posted By: The Wise Bard on Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Here is an interesting piece from Slate on the complexities of superdelegate voting, and the limitations of oversimplistic appeals to pure democracy:

The primary process, like our system of government more generally, is not designed to be a pure democracy, but a more complex mechanism responsive to multiple concerns. The state rules for selecting their delegates vary pretty widely, and test candidates in a variety of ways. If we wanted pure democracy, we would have a national primary. There are some pretty good reasons that we don't.

We might well consider varying strict proportionality (perhaps adopting winner-take-all by Congressional district, not by State), and perhaps reducing the proportion of superdelegates in the overall mix, to reduce the likelihood that superdelegates will have the determinative voice in a close and prolonged primary battle, but I think the flexibility that they add to the process makes some sense, if exercised wisely.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

On Clinton vs. Obama on individual adult mandates for health coverage

A number of prominent health care experts, most former officials in the previous Clinton Administration, have lent their support to Senator Clinton's attack on brochures distributed in recent weeks by the Obama campaign, linking the brochure to the infamous "Harry and Louise" ads of 1993-4. The issue is discussed in a posting on the online blog site of The New Republic. Herewith my response:

I strongly favor a single payer financing system with universal coverage for health care. Such a system would not solve all the problems of American health care--no system would. But it would move us closer to universal coverage than any alternative, would provide the best basis for administrative simplification and cost savings , and would provide the strongest basis for controlling high and rapidly rising costs of pharmaceuticals, technology, and fees. The plans advocated by Clinton, Edwards, and Obama don't come close.

As between the variants proposed by Edwards/Clinton and Obama, I prefer the plans with an individual mandate covering both children and adults to one covering children only, and believe that some such arrangement will ultimately be necessary if we move down this particular road. But this is, I think, a matter of timing and a study in grays, not an earth-shattering, epic battle between virtue and vice. An individual mandate is very tough to enforce effectively and without negative side-effects. I am inclined to believe that Hillary's plan would cover somewhat more individuals than Obama's, but both would be vast improvements over existing policy, and neither would effect the major advantages, including but not limited to scope of coverage, of single payer.

The signers of this letter--the vast majority of whom held senior positions in the (first?) Clinton Administration--address the brochure in question devoid of political context. Senator Clinton has been trying to clobber Senator Obama with what is likely an exaggerated version of the coverage limits of his plan, and an exaggerated version of the benefits of hers. She suggests that Obama simply doesn't care about achieving universal coverage, and refuses utterly to credit that he might have plausible policy and political /strategic reasons (looking to the general election, and to the political negotiations that will be required to win Congressional approval for any major health care reform package) for downplaying an (only partially effective) individual adult mandate from the outset. On policy, I am closer to Clinton than to Obama on this point. But politically (in terms of both the general election and future Congressional negotiations), I think it is a tough call, and one well beyond my expertise.

But the relevant point here, I think, is that Hillary has not sought a measured discussion and debate over the complex tradeoffs involved, and has refused to acknowledge that her approach involves some casts and risks as well as benefits. Her approach to Obama has been punishing and demagogic (on a variety of issues, not limited to this one). All purity is with her. It was particularly ironic in the Texas debate when she invoked Social Security and Medicare in favor of her plan and against Obama's, while studiously ignoring the fact that those programs are much more akin to single payer than to any of the Clinton/Edwards/Obama approaches.

Signers, what exactly would you have Obama do in these circumstances? Is Hillary free to say what she will, while Obama is debarred from explaining the factors that led him to make a somewhat different set of tradeoffs in what are fundamentally very similar plans? This sounds all too much like a call for unilateral disarmament, in the tradition of Kerry's inability to respond quickly and effectively to the Republican slime attacks of 2004. Obama needs to show he can and will fight back. Senator Clinton's angry whining in response seems, yet again, a likely instance of her own psychological projection, accusing her opponent of tactics (and motivations) all too present in her own campaign. Signers, I fear that you are at risk of becoming enablers in this regard.

I very much doubt Senator Obama would be distributing a brochure highlighting the tradeoffs implicit in any system of individual mandates had Senator Clinton not placed her central campaign focus (beyond "experience", from which she seems to have learned all too little) on demagoguing a debatable tradeoff in Obama's health policy by accusing him, repeatedly, of indifference to their shared goal of vastly expanding the scope of health coverage.

More (or less?) on individual mandates

In response to a piece by Jules Witcover:

Posted By: The Wise Bard on Saturday, February 23, 2008

I prefer Hillary's version of a universal health plan that would mandate coverage for both children and adults, to Obama's position, at least for the initial stage, to hold back on an adult mandate (which I think will become necessary and inevitable if the core policy wins legislative adoption). But the irony of Hillary's invocation of Social Security and Medicare to support her position is that both are, essentially, single payer systems, and many of their benefits (including very low-cost and reasonably efficient administrative systems) depend upon that. Their universality is in large part responsible for their widespread political support and relative untouchability.

Hillary fiercely resisted single payer in 1993-94, and again in this campaign. I am disappointed that Obama (whom I greatly admire and support) was not more ready to go in that direction.--The Wise Bard

Catching up on old posts to other lists

As per (unsolicited) request:Here are some old comments from The Fray in Slate. Feel free to look up the complete quotes:

Re: Honesty about judicial activism
I've blogged extensively on a number of recent decisions. Take a look. This was not the time or place for a comprehensive analysis (and I agree that specifics are appropriate for a more scholarly venue--I haven't noticed much of that here, or on most boards). You are also correct that my posting reflects outrage, although an outrage born of ...
Posted to Jurisprudence by The Wise Bard on July 19, 2007
Honesty about judicial activism
It's been a very long time--more or less since 1938--since political liberals/progressives have had this much reason to fear activist courts, and the Supreme Court in particular, or to rethink their commitment to venerating the special legitimacy of judicial action (or the fund of moral capital once possessed by the Court). For me, the ...
Posted to Jurisprudence by The Wise Bard on July 18, 2007
Thank you for the discussion
I'd especially like to thank Walter for his exceptionally moving reflections before and after the schools case came down on the real life meanings of segregation and racial difference in this society--truly America's original sin passed down from generation to generation (and thanks for the Charlie Black quote!). I'm not generally such a great ...
Posted to The Breakfast Table by The Wise Bard on June 29, 2007
Greenfield on Iowa
I am a long time fan of Jeff Greenfield's reporting and commentary, and I find much of value in his skeptical discussion of the Iowa caucuses (several key points were made previously by Chris Hitchens and the NYT, as Jeff properly acknowledges). I disagree, however, on Jeff's apparent view that secret ballots are an essential constituent of any ...
Posted to Politics by The Wise Bard on January 3, 2008
nomination politics
So, a question I continue to ponder: should Louis Brandeis' nomination have been defeated (as it almost was) because of open opposition to his political views, and, let's say, a minority filibuster? Is that a necessary cost of Bazelon's implicit position here? Is it a cost worth paying (or does this presuppose a principled consistency that is ...
Posted to Jurisprudence by The Wise Bard on June 29, 2007
Mitt's secret of success
I think he has now perfected the skill--or perhaps the art form-- of looking authentically inauthentic. We need someone willing to say anything to anybody to get ahead. After all, by the odds, he will be right some of the time. A stopped clock is right twice a day. It takes a President of conviction like W to fall below that level.
Posted to Politics by The Wise Bard on January 16, 2008
Re: Had to be wrong
I think this is an insult to Aaron Burr. For better or worse, Gore Vidal has an amusing book on the subject.
Posted to Jurisprudence by The Wise Bard on June 29, 2007
Kinsley on NYT
Michael, you have written a masterpiece. NYT, QED. --The Wise Bard (H'71).
Posted to Readme by The Wise Bard on February 25, 2008

He's baaaaacccccck!

Hi everyone.
The blog has been on hiatus during my effort to return to teaching.
I was delighted to have one more go at "Bioethics and the Law", trying this time to incorporate my and my family's difficult experiences with several deaths and serious diseases into the more theoretical and formal empirical approaches of prior iterations of the course. It helped, and perhaps forced, me to integrate the cognitive and the felt, the distanced and less personal analysis with the personal experience--both in my own person, and in what I was trying to convey to my students. I am grateful for that opportunity.
Unfortunately, though my spirit was more than willing, my body was weak, and not up to the physical and mental demands of returning to my prior life. I have, sadly, had to return to medical leave, and perhaps to a more permanent decision.
During my time teaching, I confined postings to leaving occasional comments in response to articles on other sites. These were, for the most part, signed as "The Wise Bard", and should (mostly) be searchable that way. I may try to retrieve some of those of continuing interest for reposting here, as time allows.
My intent on coming back to this blog is to focus more on my own comments and less on showcasing articles from elsewhere. While that was fun for a while, and I was pleased to share valuable nuggets I discovered elsewhere with readers of this blog, it proved enormously time consuming, and in the end, squeezed out time and energy for my own (more direct) self-expression. So with this mid-course course correction, let's see where we go.