Potentatus - Politics and Policy

Politics and Policy Blog

Wednesday, November 24, 2004


UN boosts DR Congo border force

The UN says it is sending additional troops to eastern DR Congo amid reports neighbouring Rwanda is threatening to target rebel groups in the country.

The head of the regional UN mission, William Swing, was also involved in intense talks with both sides to try to head off a further conflict, it added.

He was warned by Rwanda that an attack was imminent, a local UN official said.

Some of Rwanda's Hutu rebels who took part in the 1994 Tutsi genocide fled across the border to eastern DR Congo.


Ukraine on brink of 'civil war'

Both sides in Ukraine's disputed presidential election have warned of a civil war

Opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko rejected the official results declaring Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych as president and declaring himself as the winner.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell said Washington "cannot accept" the election result as legitimate.

Summary of Situation:
Official result:
Yanukovych: 49.46%
Yushchenko: 46.61%
Observers report:
Abuse of state resources and "overt media bias" in favour of Mr Yanukovych
State workers pressured to give absentee voting certificate to their superiors
Intimidation reported at some polling stations
Suspiciously high turnout in two pro-government regions

Wednesday, September 15, 2004


Theoreitcal Frameworks and Current Events: a theory for terrorism

plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

It is amusing (to me at least) to put a theoretical framework on the arguments concerning American policy dealing with terrorism.

We once again have the realist realpolitik debate against theconstructivist culture driven one that dominated the cold war publicintellectual discourse. (ahh, i love buzzwords).

In some ways, the sides will have difficulty ever agreeing because inthis argument people are working with different theroetical frames andare effectively talking past one another.

If you take the realist view that all that matters are balance ofpower and rationalist incentives, then the Bush approach may be thecorrect one. In Bush's favor, recent research in political science byBueno de Mesquita and others have shown that historically terroristsdo respond to incentives, and policies that raise the cost ofterrorist activities such as the Israeli punishment of the families ofsuicide bombers are an effective deterrent. Additionally, it was thehardline realist approach rather than the appeasement approach thatcan be credited for winning the cold war, and has arguably been thedominant paradigm of world order since Bismarck and beyond.

On the constructivist side, there are a large contingent of academicsthat argue that culture must matter. That in a unipolar world, theonly true power that remains is culturally based, and only throughreasoning and discourse, and "diplomacy, economic aid, education, andthe spread of hope" can the culture of terrorism be obviated.Additionally constructivists tend to reinterpret the end of the coldwar as the result of the cultural hegemony imposed by the Americancapitalist/hedonistic regime rather than a shift in power relations.

(If all those political science theory classes taught me anything, ittaught me how to bull shit with the best of them. Though this is anexample where bullshit theory [rather than the mathematical kind thateconomists prefer] seems strikingly appropriate.)

Sunday, August 29, 2004


Olympic Musing: Civil Society, Privatized Government, and Modern Art

what amazes me about america starts with the world's fair of 1889, Paris premiers the eiffel tower, the world's governments turn out to show off their might, all except for the United States. The government of the US takes no part and instead the US pavillion is entirely privately funded and has representatives of US industries, carnegie, rockefeller, etc...

flash forward to 2004. Every man, woman, and child in Greece is paying over $600 for the Olympics. For a typical family of four, that's $2400. Admittedly a lot of it is for infrastructure, but for a country whose per capita GDP is around $12,000, that's quite a hefty burden. Are the citizens of Greece well served? Compare to the US, where the US Olympic Commission is entirely privately funded. The games in Atlanta, largely so. What is amazing is that in America, people voluntarily contribute rather than being forced to.

in the arts, the US government indeed spends a paltry amount on the arts, but the country as a whole spends loads more on art per capita than any other country. (and in terms of levels, probably more than the rest of the world combined) (i was just in the bellagio at vegas where people are paying $15 a pop for a small gallery with 15 lesser Monets. and it was packed to capacity)

it is a country where the amount of money i am forced to spend on art is minimal, yet art flourishes, because people choose to support what they like, and the people decide rather than venal politicians or venal bureaucrats. Americans spend more on the performing arts than on movies or on sports. The average American is more likely to attend a museum than a football game. and far more likley than the average European. (every time i've been to the Louvre, the number of Americans always seemed to outnumber the french)

it is a system that makes america still the leader of art, from madonna to will eisner to whatever's hot at the Venice Bienniale. a leader in sports with the most medals at the olympics. a leader in culture, with a hegemonic grip on the hearts and minds of consumers the world over regardless of the politics, people buy coke and watch Star Wars...

for better or worse...

Saturday, August 28, 2004


al-Qaeda responsible for Flight 587 Crash?

A captured al-Qaeda operative has told Canadian intelligence investigators that a Montreal man who trained in Afghanistan alongside the 9/11 hijackers was responsible for the crash of an American Airlines flight in New York three years ago.

Canadian Security Intelligence Service agents were told during five days of interviews with the source that Abderraouf Jdey, a Canadian citizen also known as Farouk the Tunisian, had downed the plane with explosives on Nov. 12, 2001.

The source claimed Jdey had used his Canadian passport to board Flight 587 and "conducted a suicide mission" with a small bomb similar to the one used by convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid, a "Top Secret" Canadian government report says.


Excerpt of Ben Barnes on getting Bush into the National Guard

Excerpt of Ben Barnes on getting Bush into the National Guard


Isreal Spying on US

The FBI has a full-fledged espionage investigation under way and is about to apprehend someone, allegedly Larry Franklin, for spying for Israel from within the office of the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon.

The spy allegedly supplied Israel with classified materials that include secret White House policy deliberations on Iran. Two people who work at The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a powerful pro-Israel lobby in Washington, are central to the investigation.
The suspected spy, described as a trusted analyst at the Pentagon, turned over a presidential directive on U.S. policy toward Iran while it was in the draft phase when U.S. policy-makers were still debating the policy. This opens the possibility that Israel received sensitive information on Iraq and could have used that information to influence the US to invade Iraq.

Friday, August 27, 2004


connecting the swiftboat dots

On the radio today, the bloviating surprisingly popular rightwing firebrand Michael Savage was fulminating today about how John Kerry is the most decorated war hero in this nation’s history, having received 6 medals in only 3.5 months without ever being wounded. Savage’s point, that this proves Kerry was a self-aggrandizing Boston Brahmin is way overblown. However, the factoid spawned a line of thought in me, that helps connect the swiftboat dots.

I should first say that there is no doubt in my mind that Kerry is a war hero. Perhaps a flawed hero, but so are they all. There is also no doubt in my mind that the 200 or so other swiftboat veterans (60+ of whom are also decorated) (not to mention the now deceased veteran who had already made such charges in a Boston Globe interview 8 years ago) are also heroes in their own way, and that both sides are recounting what they see as the truth, albeit tinged by their own biases as Lord, Ross and Lepper showed, all opinions invariably are. The actual truth no doubt lies somewhere in between.

However, the Aha comes when you recall that Kerry was extremely reluctant to release his war records, and only did so after extensive prodding from the Republicans. Was this humility? Everyone was surprised that when the records were released, Kerry’s record appears phenomenal, again the most medals received by anyone in such a short period. And where did the humility go, as Kerry soon whole heartedly embraced the war veteran role once it blasted him through the primaries and became a cornerstone of his campaign. So why the initial reluctance?

Perhaps Kerry knew that once his war record came under scrutiny, things would not hold up so well. Perhaps a younger self-important Kerry saw the opportunity to talk himself up a bit. Its likely that given the opportunity, all of us would inflate just a bit here and there our bravery, our heroism. Something Kerry was undoubtedly good at. Perhaps years later, Kerry learned to cover it up, hoping it would go away. When the Republicans pried it out, the opportunist in Kerry (every politician is) decided to run with it, to milk it for what its worth, and then play hardball damage control spin when the rest of the story started to come out.

Elementary my dear Watson…

Just a thought.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004


Bush announces major troop realignment

Bush said about 60,000 to 70,000 uniformed personnel would move from overseas to posts in the United States over the next decade. Bush contends that the realignment will lead to a more agile and flexible military. I applaud Bush for making a change that was long overdue. Current US troop deployments are based on needs determined by the Cold War. Deployment realignment should have happened a decade ago and this proposal represents a fundamental shift for our military that needed to happen a long time ago. While Bush has not provided details on the realignment, Pentagon sources have stated that most of the reductions will come from Europe as well as from South Korea (the US has indicated it would like to withdraw 1/3 of the 37,000 troops deployed in South Korea)

However, given that this had been in the works for so long, I can't help but question the timing of the announcement. US troop commitments and support has been a presidential campaign topic for some time, and Bush has not alluded to the realignment. The timing of the realignment raises the question as to whether the decision was politically motivated rather than solely based on stregthening our national security.


Scientists Oppose Bush

Four thousand scientists, including 48 Novel Prize winners, have signed a statement opposing the Bush administration's use of scientific advice. This marks the first time that a large portion of the scientific community has united to express opposition to a president's science policy. The current adminsitration has removed many prominenet scientists from presidential advisory committees.

Many of the scientists who have signed the statemetn against Bush have served prominently in the current and past Republican adminstrations. Some of the notable issues which Bush is criticized for are stem-cell research, reproductive health policy, drug policy, and environmental policy. For example, environmental scientists have been thwarted in their attempts to include full and accurate information about global warming in official government reports. Embryonic stem cell research is likely the most contentious for the current adminsitration. In 2001, President Bush restricted federal funding for stem cell research to a few dozen existing cell lines citing concerns that harvesting the cells destroyed human embryos. Bush's decision hampered medical research that could offer a key to curing many diseases. The stem cell debate came to a head at the Democratic National convention, where Ron Reagan Jr. broke rank with his father's political ties and spoke to advocate voting for Kerry - um, they meant embryonic stem-cell research, right?

The Bush administration has manipulated scientific information to suit political purposes and has based appointment of scientists to advisory panels based on political affiliations and beliefs. Qualifications, not party ties, should determine government scientific advisors.


Iran warns of preemptive strike against US to prevent attack on nuclear sites

Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani warned that Iran might launch a preemptive strike against US forces in the region to prevent an attack on its nuclear facilities.

In response to recent threats by the US against Iran's nuclear facilities, Iran stated it will not sit and wait for the US to do so and that it might strike first. Iran also heightened tensions by making veiled references to it potential to wreak havoc in Iraq. Iraq is well within Iran's sphere of influence and large portions of Iraqi people share ancestral ties with Iran. Since the start of the war in Iraq, the US has feared Iran meddling in the internal affairs of Iraq and the US has feared Iran's ability to attack Iraq given Iraq's (and US troops) weakened state. The Iranians are also dead-set on preventing the US to use it troops in Iraq to wield greater influence in the middle East. US or Iranian attacks could yield responses from both sides that could entangle Israel in the matter and throw the entire Gulf region into chaos.


New overtime rules are bad for employees

The U.S. Department of Labor has set about updating who is, and is not, eligible for overtime. According to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, overtime pay accounts for up to 25% of weekly earnings of eligible employees, with the average amount being $161. In additon, overtime stimulates employers to create new jobs rather than paying overtime.

The good news about the new overtime rules is that if you make less than $455 a week ($23,660 a year), you are eligible for overtime. The old rule set overtime for anyone who made less than $250 a week. The exception for this rule is teachers, doctors and lawyers. They do not get overtime, no matter what they are paid.

However, there are many negatives to the new overtime rules:
1. Any employee who earns more than $100,000 a year is ineligible for mandated overtime, period.
2. Any employee who earns between $23,660 and $100,000 a year, and who is in most executive, professional, or administrative positions, is not eligible for overtime. This does not, however, apply to salespeople. They are still eligible.
3. Managers are not entitled to overtime if they oversee two or more people and have the authority to hire, fire, or recommend that someone be hired or fired.
4. Administrative employees who have decision-making power and run some sort of operation are not eligible.
5. Employees whose job requires imagination, invention, originality, or artistic or creative endeavors are not eligible for overtime.
6. Employees whose main duties are computer-related and involve the implementation, analysis, development, or application of computer systems or designs are also not eligible for overtime.
7. Sales staff that regularly work outside of the employer's place of business are not eligible.


Alice Cooper Blasts Democratic Rockers

Alice Cooper has publicly stated that all the rock stars campaigning for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry are guilty of treason. Alice, a staunch Republican, expressed disgust at plans by Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, R.E.M. and other bands to hold a series of concerts aimed at unseating U.S. President George W. Bush. Alice argues that these artisist are committing treasons against rock becuse rock should never be involved in politics.

Cooper said, "If you're listening to a rock star in order to get your information on who to vote for, you're a bigger moron than they are. Why are we rock stars? Because we're morons. We sleep all day, we play music at night and very rarely do we sit around reading the Washington Journal."

Despite his strong insistence that rock has no place in politics, Cooper has proclaimed support for Bush.


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