Kanye Shouldn’t Design Sneakers

29 01 2009

Some things should never have gone from the drawing board to the market. Case in point the Luis Vuitton sneakers, or tennis shoes as some folk from the Chi call it,  designed by Kanye West.

Ye explained his the inspiration came from the movie Dune, according to the Moment.  “Most sneakers focus on the tongue, so I wanted to do something different,” the producer turned rapper says.

To me, it just looks like another ugly cross color sneaker with Air Force One accents.

The LV-meets-Kanye will be in Luis Vutton stores in June, but Kanye should just stick to beats.


Intuitive Yet Still Fascinating

28 01 2009

The Center on Tax Policy provides the following assessment of the “Making Work Pay Tax Credit” provision in the House version of the stimulus plan.

This proposal gets high marks for timeliness, assuming it is implemented as an adjustment to tax withholding, and that mechanism would also maximize the chances that the credit would be spent rather than saved. As a refundable tax credit, the proposal would aid many low-income workers who are most likely to spend the money. However, the credit would also be available to many higher-income workers who are less likely to spend the additional income. Were the credit better targeted, it would have been graded an A.

CTP explains why:

Evidence from behavioral economics suggests that taxpayers view small increments to after-tax pay as income, to be spent, whereas they tend to view lump-sum payments as wealth, to be saved.

Well, its intuitive depending on where you fall on the political spectrum.

Amb Susan Rice Wants to Engage

27 01 2009

At her first presser yesterday as the newly minted United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice raised eyebrows when she said she looked forward to “engaging in vigorous diplomacy, that includes direct diplomacy with Iran.” To many, this sounded as if President Obama was willing to sit down and have tea with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions. But this is very unlikely to be the case.

Ambassador Rice was probably referring to the need to engage Iran on a number of fronts including their support for Hamas in the Palestinian Territories, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Shiite factions in Iraq. Who knows maybe how they might be helpful in eliminating a resurgent Taliban, in Afghanistan, a persistent irritant to the government in Tehran well before the American invasion.

For his part, President Obama himself in an interview with Arab television network Al Arabiya noted that while Iran has not always behave in ways “conducive to peace and prosperity in the region” it is still important “for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are.” He also went on to say, “And as I said during my inauguration speech, if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us. So, it seems for now the president is content with simply keeping the lines of communication open in laying the ground work for more robust diplomacy.

Ambassador Rice also took time to remark on the on the war in the Gaza strip. Ambassador Rice prefaced her remarks regarding the ceasefire with expressing concern for the humanitarian situation in Gaza. “…with respect to Gaza, let me say that you have heard the President speak very forthrightly about his grave concern about the current humanitarian crisis,” she told the UN press corp.

Perhaps this seems small but its important to note that her comment did not begin with reiterating the already broadly accepted and frequently invoked claim that Israel has a right to self-defense. Instead she began discussing the humanitarian situation and calling for a “durable cease fire” that would ultimately lead to “border crossings to open and be available for humanitarian as well as day-to-day economic development imperatives.”

This is a striking different tune that what Bush administration has and have said. Amb. Rice’s predecessor, Bush appointee John Bolton, recently argued out-going Secretary of State Condi Rice at the UN Security Council should have vetoed instead of abstaining from voting on the cease fire measure, which would have killed its passage. Anything short of a veto would have been an abdication of our “international leadership role.”

Interestingly enough, Ambassador Rice was not asked whether or not the U.S. will participate in the World Conference on Racism, also known as Durban II or about the U.S. joining the U.N.  Human Rights Council. She was, however, asked about it at her Congressional confirmation hearing earlier this month.

According to the transcript, Senator Bill Nelson expressed his disappointment with how the Durban Conference “got sidetracked on attacking Israel rather than dealing with human rights” only to further complicate Mid-East politics in general. He also commented on how the U.S. should be prepared to reassess its participation in the Human Rights Council if certain countries are going to use that body, along with Durban itself, as “a tool to beat up on one of our allies or if it becomes an objective to undermine U.S. policy.”

In her reply, Dr. Rice astutely sidestepped making any specific remarks about Durban and simply sought to reassure Nelson that she and everyone else in the incoming administration took Israel’s security seriously. She then quickly pivoted to strongly criticizing a resolution on a Gaza cease fire that originated in the Human Rights Council, which enjoyed the support of many African and Arab countries, but not much from Western nations.

News reports say that the Human Rights Council resolution mainly focused on human rights violations in Gaza by Israel and encouraged the UN to do fact finding regarding those abuses. Rice said the resolution was “a classic example of the utterly imbalanced and reprehensible kinds of resolutions that have, too often, emerged from the Human Rights Council.”

(Note: the Human Rights resolution that passed on Jan 12th is different from the UN Security Council resolution that passed on Jan 8th almost unanimously save the lone abstention by the U.S.)

By the same token, it was clear that Rice errs on the side of engaging in the UN process even if the problems seem intractable. Referring to the outcome of the resolution, Rice said at the hearing it “just begs the question of what might have been different with U.S. participation and leadership. It seems to me hard to imagine that we would not have sought to work with, and indeed prevail upon, many of our allies to stand with Canada and with us in opposition to such a resolution.”

Obviously, engagement does not mean going along with anything member states favor at the U.N., but being apart of the process and taking it seriously.

Clearly, Ambassador Rice is optimistic about the future of U.S.-U.N. relations.  Perhaps this is the dawning of a new era of American liberal internationalist foreign policy.

Misreading the Bush Doctrine in the WaPo

26 01 2009

On Sunday, the Washington Post published a story with the following headline: “Bush Doctrine Stalls Holder Confirmation.” Now I understand that headline writers have quite a bit of leeway in deciding what they title certain articles, but there’s a difference between being creative and misrepresenting the main idea of a story.

The lead in the article says, “Even as Senate Republicans seek assurances that new leaders at the Justice Department will not prosecute former government officials over national security abuses, one of the highest-profile investigations of the Bush era is grinding to a close.” The rest of the article describes how Senate Republicans want to assurances from Eric Holder that he will not seek to investigate and prosecute those who may have tortured or otherwise abused detainees under interrogation and the destruction of tapes recording those sessions. That has nothing to do with the Bush Doctrine.

Simply stated, the Bush doctrine holds that the U.S. has a right to extinguish national security threats with the use of military force against a country or nonstate actor as preventive measure. That is to say, we may wage preventive war to anticipate threats before they blossom into full blown eminent threats. This is a radical idea because international law calls for threats to at least be eminent before claiming to wage an attack in self defense against an enemy. Otherwise, there is no way of truly distinguishing a war of choice from a war of necessity.

By contrast, the WaPo article on Senate Republicans stalling the confirmation of Eric Holder as Attorney General has to do with pressuring him not to investigate officials interrogating war on terror suspects, not his views on what constitute the judicious use of military force. One is a question of who to prosecute and what for, whereas the other has to do when we should go to war against or at least strike an enemy.

Its hard to imagine that the folks at the WaPo thought that making these kind of distinctions do not matter.

Republican Pushback on Gitmo

25 01 2009

Apparently, President Obama’s series of executive orders to shut down Gitmo and the network of secret prisons run by the Central Intelligence Agency within a year has not gone over well with many Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Representative Steven King has made the case that Obama’s plan amounts to granting terrorists a path to U.S. citizenship and a free pass to strike again. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham still wants to preserve the option of detaining of at least some war on terror suspects or enemy combatants indefinitely.

House Republican Leader John Boehner has even gone so far as to suggest that the well documented abuses at Gitmo are somehow exaggerated. Earlier this week, the Ohio Congressman told the Politico, “I don’t know that there is a terrorist treated better anywhere in the world than what has happened at Guantanamo.”

He also went on to say, “We have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build a facility that has more comforts than a lot of Americans get. … I believe they have been treated fairly.”

That of course does not square with a recent bipartisan Senate Armed Services report which concluded:

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques for use at Guantanamo Bay was a direct cause of detainee abuse there. Secretary Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 approval of Mr. Haynes’s recommendation that most of the techniques contained in GTMO’s October 11, 2002 request be authorized, influenced and contributed to the use of abusive techniques, including military working dogs, forced nudity, and stress positions, in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But its important to understand the human dimension of all of this and why this chapter of the Bush administration’s legacy needs to be closed. In the January 15th issue of the New York Review of Books, Georgetown law professor David Cole quotes the U.S. Army log describing the tortuous interrogation of Mohammed al-Qahtani, the alleged 20th 9/11 highjacker, at Gitmo. The descriptions of the brutality are nothing short of harrowing.

Detainee began to cry. Visibly shaken. Very emotional. Detainee cried. Disturbed. Detainee began to cry. Detainee butted SGT R in the eye. Detainee bit the IV tube completely in two. Started moaning. Uncomfortable. Moaning. Turned his head from left to right. Began crying hard spontaneously. Crying and praying. Began to cry. Claimed to have been pressured into making a confession. Falling asleep. Very uncomfortable. On the verge of breaking. Angry. Detainee struggled. Detainee asked for prayer. Very agitated. Yelled. Agitated and violent. Detainee spat. Detainee proclaimed his innocence. Whining. Pushed guard. Dizzy. Headache. Near tears. Forgetting things. Angry. Upset. Complained of dizziness. Tired. Agitated. Yelled for Allah. Started making faces. Near crying. Irritated. Annoyed. Detainee attempted to injure two guards. Became very violent and irate. Attempted to liberate himself. Struggled. Made several attempts to stand up. Screamed….

Thankfully, 53 percent of the American public support using a different system for handling detainees than the military commissions process at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Another 58 percent support an complete ban on using torture as a interrogation technique, according to a recent ABC News poll.

Sure, Obama himself admitted that shutting down Gitmo “is more difficult than I think a lot of people realize” and that many of the so-called enemy combatants are still dangerous enough to pose a threat, but we can still try them in our own civil system or in the military courts-martial system for war crimes.

As Obama noted earlier this week, the U.S. will win this fight and “We are going to win it on our own terms.”

Undoing Gitmo

23 01 2009

In just days after the nation welcomed him as its newly inaugurated president, Barack Obama swiftly moved to undo some his predecessor’s legacy in shutting down the prison at Guantanamo Bay and the network of secret prisons run by the Central Intelligence Agency.

President Barack Obama began by signing an executive order instructing military prosecutors to seek a 4 month delay of the military commissions process in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the site of a U.S. naval base and prison camp.  The Obama administration will use the 120-day period to “undertake a thorough review of both the pending cases and the military commissions process” to further the “interests of justice.”

A military judge granted the request for the delay on Wednesday.

In choosing to halt the trials of Gitmo detainees, experts believe President Obama wants to either try detainees in federal courts as criminal defendants or in a courts martial or even create a specialized system where the accused are accorded a a greater measure of due process rights and end the use of abusive interrogation practices.

During Bush’s tenure, many prisoners at Gitmo were held indefinitely without charge, tortured by CIA officials, had secret evidence used against them to justify their detention, and in the vast majority of cases could not challenge the legality of the very incarceration.

A key Bush administration official, Judge Susan J. Crawford, recently told the Washington Post she did not refer certain cases at Gitmo for prosecution because she believes the U.S. tortured certain detainees while interrogating them, rendering their confessions inadmissible. Also, a recent bipartisan Congressional report, found that former Secretary of Defense “Donald Rumsfeld’s authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques for use at Guantanamo Bay was a direct cause of detainee abuse there.”

Even Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Bush appointee who currently serves in the same post, urged the outgoing president to shut down the prison this summer because it also diminished U.S. standing in world. “I think that despite the fact that in many respects Guantanamo has become a state-of-the-art prison now, early reports of abuses and so on unquestionably were a black eye for the United States,” Gates said this summer.

On November 13, 2001, President Bush signed a military order to create the military commissions. The commissions were designed to try, treat and detain non-U.S. citizens in an effort to prosecute and interrogate so-called war on terror suspects and enemy-combatants, a class of fighters that are not quite conventional soldiers, but were captured on the battlefield by American troops.

In 2006, a Republican controlled Congress passed the Military Commissions Act. The law gave Bush with the authority that the Supreme Court said he could not usurp with an executive order alone to set up his own court system that escaped scrutiny from other branches of government and suspended a prisoner’s right to contest his own imprisonment.

But Barack Obama is now moving with all deliberate haste to change course.

As the 44th president noted in his inaugural address on Tuesday, the framers of our constitution “understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please.  Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.”

So, in many ways these initial steps signify a break with the old regime and yet an embrace of America’s oldest traditions that happens to “reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.”

“Dealing With Hamas”

14 01 2009

During Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton’s confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator John Kerry not only underscored the need for greater engagement in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but also the counterproductive consequences of bombing campaign in Gaza.

Kerry noted:

I had the privilege of being in the West Bank the day — the morning after President Abbas was elected in 2005 and I met with him in Ramallah in that old headquarters and we spent some time together and he looked at me and he said, “You know, Senator, I know exactly what you expect of me. I have to disarm Hamas. Now, you tell me how I’m supposed to do that. I have no radios, I have no cars, I have no police, and Hamas has the ability to walk up to a door and deliver $20,000 value to somebody who’s blown up, widows or orphans of a family of a suicide bomber.”

They deliver the services and we, for years, have talked about the creation of a legitimate partner for peace and yet we’ve done almost nothing to fundamentally help them deliver that capacity.

So my hope is — I mean, I fear — I mean, Israel has all the right in the world and we are totally supportive of the patience they’ve shown, the forbearance, over 10,500 rockets, the fact that Hamas broke the ceasefire. We understand the need to deal with Hamas, but we also have to recognize the threat here that Hamas may, in fact, wind up being more powerful than FATA as a consequence.

If Hamas becomes more powerful as a result of Israel’s war in the Gaza strip, it only stands to reason it will be difficult to work around them politically. With thousands of Hamas rockets finding their way into southern Israel thus far, one can only dare to imagine how many they would fire if peace talks were conducted and they were not at the table.

Of course, this is further complicated by the fact that Hamas actually controls the government in the Gaza strip thanks to the Bush administration insistence that elections be held there despite warnings that the Western backed Fatah party would lose.

For her part, Clinton maintained that Hamas must yield to a variety of demands before Israel and the U.S. engage them in peace talks. “When it comes to non-state actors like Hamas, as I said at the very end of the morning session, there are conditions. Hamas must renounce violence. They must recognize Israel, and they must agree to abide by all previous agreements,” she told the committee,” she told the Committee yesterday.

I am not sure this is realistic these preconditions are  no matter how much the U.S. and Israel are committed to them. In my mind, the U.S. would have to redirect its energies toward weakening Hamas by persuading those in its political arm to side with other moderates living in the occupied territories and create another rival party or remake Fatah into a independent party that with real support.

Both of which would be difficult to do considering how Hamas has all the real fighters, which is all the more important in a time of war. Plus, with other countries in the region such as Iran in supporting Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian fighter group, the influence of Saudi cash, and possibility of rocket fire coming from Hezbollah forces in Lebanon all could make things instantly more volatile with or without new elections and with or without peace talks.

So the fact that we need “to deal with Hamas” becomes painfully clear with each passing year, and that may include doing so diplomatically. We may not need to widely advertise that fact, but we also should not completely ignore it either.