Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Obama Won

The best quote of the election came from Andrew Sullivan on Colbert:
there's a black man in power who has nothing to lose

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Obama acknowledges that it's not solely the executive's job to reign itself in

I believe the exchange below between Obama and Jon Stewart on The Daily Show (Oct 18) lends support to my previous post about what Obama really thinks about civil liberties and limits on executive powers.

In particular, this sentence suggests a high level of self-awareness on this topic: "not only am I reigned in, but any president is reigned in".

However, this being the run-up to the election, he starts to back pedal towards the end. This is not exactly a powerful defense "we have modified them, and built a — a legal structure, and safeguards in place that weren’t there before". And it can't be, because there's not much there to defend.

Here's the relevant part of the transcript:
OBAMA: You know one of the things we’ve got to do is — is — is put a legal architecture in place and we need congressional help to do that, to make sure that not only am I reigned in, but any president is reigned in, in terms of some of the decisions that we’re making. Now there are some tradeoffs. I mean there are times where there are bad folks somewhere on the other side of the world, and you’ve got to make a call, and it’s not optimal. But when you look at our track record, what we’ve been able to do is to say, we ended the war in Iraq. We’re — we’re winding down the war in Afghanistan. We’ve gone after al-Qaeda and its leadership. It’s true that al-Qaeda is still active, at least sort of remnants of it are staging in other parts of North Africa and the Middle East.

And sometimes you’ve got to make some tough calls, but you can do so in a way that’s consistent with…


OBAMA: …international law, and with American law.

STEWART: Within that, as it ratchets down, I think people have been surprised to see the strength of the Bush era, warrantless wiretapping laws and those types of things, not also be lessened. That the — the strictures that he put in place that people might have thought were government over-reaching, and that maybe they had a mind that — that you would perhaps tone down, you haven’t?

OBAMA: Well you know the truth is actually, we have modified them, and built a — a legal structure, and safeguards in place that weren’t there before. On a whole range of issues. Now that — they’re not real sexy issues. They’re not the kind of things that you’re going to…

Monday, October 01, 2012

It's not the job of the sitting president to rein in the powers of the executive

UPDATE II: Conor Friedersdorf won't vote for Mitt either.

UPDATE: Just came across this post from Kevin Drum (don't know how I missed/forgot it). Kevin, inspired by Daniel Klaidman's Kill or Capture book, says that Obama caved on national security because of lack of support from Democrats. I take that as an argument in support of this post. Bottom line is that the voting public aren't putting pressure on Democrats which means there's no pressure on Congress.

I've read Conor Friedersdorf (@conor64) for years, and I've come to respect his independent thought and criticism of Republicans and Democrats alike.

Recently, he explained why he won't vote for Obama. It comes down to Obama's doubling down on the civil liberty violations that George Bush Jr. started after 9/11. With regular drone killing of Pakistanis Obama has left Bush in the dust (read almost anything by Glenn Greenwald for more.)

Now, I was as outraged as the next guy over Bush's secret prisons, torture, and all the rest. And I was very disappointed to see Obama continue most of these "police state" policies (sans the torture). But unlike Conor I have come to accept this side of Obama over the years. Does that make me an Obama apologist like most of these people?

Maybe, but I don't think so. Because it's not the job of the sitting president to rein in the powers of the executive.

I would be willing to bet Obama was genuinely outraged by the civil liberty violations under the Bush administration. But when he came into office, he realized the Commander in Chief is responsible for a huge security apparatus with hundreds of thousands of people. And these people need a leader in order to be effective and keep America safe. And if there ever were another 9/11 style attack, these people and the American public would want to know that their leader had done everything in his power to prevent it.

I think Conor should direct his verbal firepower at other branches of government, notably Congress. Just like it's not the JP Morgan CEO's job to reform the financial industry, I don't think it's the sitting president's job to curb executive power. Especially when there's no public relations benefit to doing so.

Agree? Disagree? Reply or follow me on twitter -- @mkvalsvik.

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Economist has a piece on how low social status is bad for your health, and why.  Which I find fascinating.

But this bit is really crazy:
Epigenetics—currently one of molecular biology’s hottest topics—is a process by which genes are activated or deactivated by the presence or absence of chemical structures called methyl and acetyl groups. Dr Tung and Dr Gilad found that methylation patterns were systematically different in high- and low-ranking animals. Crucially, these changes are generally passed on to the daughter cells produced when a cell divides, and are thus perpetuated throughout an animal’s life. To the extent that epigenetic marking is involved in creating social status, then, status may be being maintained by the animal’s cells as they replicate.
When reading history, I've always wondered why lowly peasants put up with their lot in life while defeated kings (and their offspring) manage to get back up on their thrones (or new thrones) without much protest.  This epigenetic marking stuff goes a long way towards explaining why (along with cultural norms, illiteracy, and such).