accountabilitybloke (old blog)

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High hypocrisy and low quality….

The concepts of “separation of powers” and “checks and balances” are “topics of the week” as the 111th Congress convenes and we get closer to the inauguration of Obama, and two pieces read over the past 48 hours indicate that we are in for an intellectually challenging rough time.

The OpEd piece by Bolton and Yoo in Sunday’s NYT is a classic example of neocon hypocrisy, for in the process of making the case for a renewed emphasis on “treaties” (as an explicit counter to the presidency-centered reliance on executive agreements and Congressional-executive agreements), these two gentleman seem to have rediscovered the value of our constitutional arrangements that they were actively interpreting out of existence while officials in the Bush Administration. This would be somewhat acceptable if we thought we were witnessing a recantation of past misdeeds and conversion to a more principled approach to constitutional law. Instead, it is clear that we have here a blatant effort to strategically resurrect a mechanism that can be used by the neocon-oriented (and very small) minority in the Senate to block US involvement in global arrangements to deal with a number of trans-national environmental, social and moral problems. It is not hypocritical for them to take such a stand, but rather to do so after having spent their entire tenure in the Bush Administration (and after) actively pursuing ways to circumvent international obligations that existing treaties (as well as agreements of all sorts) required of us. I hate to keep saying it, but talk about hypocritical….

Garrett Epps’ article in the most recent Atlantic does not suffer from hypocrisy, but rather from a superficial and oversimplified presentation of US constitutional and political history. Were it not for the author’s credentials, one would assume this is an example of the kind of “analysis” expected from a college freshman paper, informed mainly by high school textbook history and reflecting a bit too much History Channel viewing. It is not the kind of insightful work one expects from a law professor who has made his reputation on a detailed knowledge of the 14th Amendment. The bottom line argument is that the abuses of constitutional authority practiced by the Bush Administration were not to be blamed entirely on W, but also on the Framers of the Constitution who created a “flawed” institution. Using a hodge podge of historical anecdotes drawn from here and there, Epps makes an embarrassingly weak case (even for the Atlantic) for a bunch of reforms that seem naive at best. Is this the best he could do? Is this the best The Atlantic can do?

January 6th, 2009 Posted by | accountabilitybloke | no comments

Scenes of contrition and political accountability in China….

Our collective attention turns increasingly toward China these days, and one can stumble across some pretty interesting media coverage. Some of the coverage is, of course, linked to the unexpected earthquake (see especially NPR’s coverage) — but most of the in-depth documentaries now (re)surfacing have been scheduled to coincide with the Olympics.

Case in point: “Morning Sun,” a PBS/Global Voices documentary originally aired several years ago that is now popping up on some channels (in the Boston area we are blessed with several WGBH channels, including WGBH World which is a constant source of current and quality replays of PBS news shows and documentaries). It is a history of the Cultural Revolution, and provides some fascinating insight into the politics that drives China today.

For example, it helps make sense of the front page story in yesterday’s New York Times that featured a picture of a local Communist Party official literally begging on hands and knees in response to shouting protesters/mourners. The caption states that the official is begging them to stop their protests, but the pose is strikingly similar to some pictures of the public humiliation of Party officials during the height of the Cultural Revolution.

There are all sorts of interesting questions about China’s political regime and political culture raised by both the documentary and the stories of current protests. Since I am obsessed with things “accountable”, I view this process of public contrition as a formidable accountability mechanism in a political culture in which (supposedly) other forms are suppressed. There are similar forms of accountability (e.g., truth and reconciliation forums, for example) that beg for comparison and analysis….

And then there is the story of the shoddy construction of those schools that so quickly collapsed during the earthquake — which is worth its own separate post….

May 29th, 2008 Posted by | accountabilitybloke | no comments

Obama backgrounder….

Today’s New York TImes has a a front page piece that offers an interesting picture of Barack Obama’s political rise in Chicago — and the style he developed there. What emerges is a picture of an intelligent political novice who turned into a politically savvy operator.

One of the highlighted quotes from the article comes from Rashid Khalidi: “People think he’s a saint. He’s not. He’s a politician.” Although perhaps meant as a criticism of Obama, the line is actually both a good summary of the lessons to be drawn from the article and a damn good reason for backing him for the presidency. No doubt we would like to elect saints to political office, but assuming that is unlikely (and probably undesirable — the arrogance of power driven by egomania is sufficiently dangerous; an individual convinced of his or her saintliness would be catastrophic!), a politician with the intellectual capacity to be reflective and the skills of a political mediator is exactly what we might need.

Although I tend to assume a “keep them guessing” posture when it comes to my political leanings (if for no other reason than it keeps my students baffled about some of my comments in class), it should be clear that I am an Obama supporter at this point — and have been a regular (if small) contributor for some months now. That said, although I am fascinated by his charismatic style and his stands on many issues, what really attracts me is his well-honed political savvy and what promises to be a very different and very intresting presidency — if we are lucky and wise enough to make it happen….



Another article in this AM’s NY Times reinforces my argument of the need for the pragmatic, bridge-building style that Obama would bring to the presidency. In the short Magazine piece, William Galston and Pietro Nivola present the case that the political geography of the US reflects a much more polarized landscape than two decades ago. Read in conjunction with the Obama backgrounder and one can see the benefits….

Finally, my daughter just sent me a link to the Saturday Night Live “Message from Hillary” skit that opened their show last night. Funny….

May 11th, 2008 Posted by | accountabilitybloke | no comments