Monday, September 29, 2008

McCain’s exploitation of General Petraeus

Senator McCain repeatedly appeals to the authority of Army General David Petraeus to justify his own positions pertaining to the conflict in Iraq. McCain has difficulty articulating his support for current policy in Iraq and drops Petraeus’ name repeatedly suggesting that the General’s recent tactical successes in the field justify Washington’s policy.

General Petraeus has performed brilliantly but before he is promoted to sainthood it is important to remember that it is the civilian leadership of this country – the President in conjunction with congress – that determines policy, not the military. It is the mission of the military to carry out that policy when armed forces are required. All indications are that General Petraeus is well aware of this but it appears that Senator McCain, who is seeking to become the Commander in Chief, is not.

It is inappropriate to continually insert a serving military commander’s name in ongoing political debates insinuating the commander is somehow endorsing, however indirectly, a particular candidate. That compromises both the commander and his or her mission. The McCain campaign has already been criticized for using General Petraeus’ photograph for fundraising.

MDC has these thoughts at Foreign Policy Watch:

Anyone who watched the presidential debate between John McCain and Barak Obama last Friday night had the opportunity to witness McCain's unabashed infatuation with Army General David Petraeus. The newly-minted head of US Central Command (CENTCOM), who was recently the commanding general of US forces in Iraq, was mentioned by name nine times in Friday's debate, eight of which were made by McCain alone. On one instance, McCain mentions Petraeus three times in answer to just one question. In defense, there were times when the general's name was tossed around rather innocuously, but that was not always the case. There were other points in the debate where McCain was clearly seeking to gain an advantage over Obama by invoking Petraeus. This should raise a few eyebrows for three main reasons.

First, it is dangerous for the state of civil-military relations in a developed democracy like the US. An active duty general should not be injected into politics at any level, especially not in the midst of a heated presidential campaign. Period. McCain used Petraeus to support his policies and points of view and to disparage those of his opponent. Here are two such instances, the first of which also involves the mention of another high-ranking active duty military officer, Admiral Mullen, the current Chairman of the JCOS:

MCCAIN: Admiral Mullen suggests that Senator Obama's plan is dangerous for America.

OBAMA: That's not the case.

MCCAIN: That's what ...

OBAMA: What he said was a precipitous...

MCCAIN: That's what Admiral Mullen said.

OBAMA: ... withdrawal would be dangerous. He did not say that. That's not true.

MCCAIN: And also General Petraeus said the same thing. Osama bin Laden and General Petraeus have one thing in common that I know of, they both said that Iraq is the central battleground.

Now General Petraeus has praised the successes, but he said those successes are fragile and if we set a specific date for withdrawal -- and by the way, Senator Obama's original plan, they would have been out last spring before the surge ever had a chance to succeed.

But the important thing is, if we suffer defeat in Iraq, which General Petraeus predicts we will, if we adopted Senator Obama's set date for withdrawal, then that will have a calamitous effect in Afghanistan and American national security interests in the region. Senator Obama doesn't seem to understand there is a connected between the two.

Petraeus is, in many ways, a remarkable military officer who embodies the type of leadership the US military needs to succeed in a 21st century world. His efforts in Iraq have undoubtedly contributed to the recent downturn of violence in Iraq. But, while his accomplishments in Iraq are welcome and laudatory, and the merits and long-term success of the "surge" debatable, injecting the viewpoint of Petraeus into a political contest is out of place.

Furthermore, even if you disagree with my argument that the use of Petraeus in this fashion during a presidential debate crosses a line, there is still the issue of the extent to which a sitting president leans on the military to shape and conduct US foreign policy. It is one thing to heed the advice of the military on certain issues (e.g. the feasibility of certain policy options; the most suitable military solution in the heat of combat, rescue operation, etc.). It is another to have the advice of the military - and just one member of the military at that - guide the course of a nation's foreign policy. The military does not set policy in the US. The civilian leadership does. (When then-CENTCOM Commander Admiral Fallon made a series of remarks regarding Iran that were seen as going against the current policy or strategy of the US, I spoke out against that, even though his views on the matter were largely aligned with mine.)

Second, it is problematic from an argumentative perspective for McCain to repeatedly reference the views and statements expressed by Petraeus to bolster his own views and credibility. This "appeal to authority" is not the sign of a candidate who exudes much confidence in his own convictions. It is also an attempt to make Obama's positions appear indefensible by stating that, since Petraeus seemingly disagrees, Obama's policy prescriptions are somehow by definition irresponsible and misguided.

Finally, McCain's usage of Petraeus links the general to the surge, the sole factor credited by McCain of recently bringing some semblance of stability to Iraq. Yet the surge was merely one causal factor among many - or, more specifically, the confluence of several factors - that are responsible for the downturn in violence. The others, as has been repeated ad nauseam here and elsewhere, are/were: the "Sunni Awakening," which began in the al-Anbar province and spread to other areas of the country, whereby Sunni militias turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq and sided with the US military; the decision by Moqtada al-Sadr and his militia to institute a ceasefire against US troops; and the walling off and ethnic separation of Baghdad residents. The surge coincided with these other, unrelated developments, and the strategic flexibility that resulted from the large influx of troops allowed the US to crucially exploit them.

So, where Obama is too slow or reluctant to acknowledge the surge's role in the recent drops in violence, McCain is far too eager to assign all of the credit to the surge. Nowhere in the debate does he make note of the other factors present. Instead, Petraeus is name-dropped ("So there was a lot at stake there. And thanks to this great general, David Petraeus, and the troops who serve under him, they have succeeded.")

Meanwhile, the situation in Iraq is tenuous and not irreversible, which to McCain's credit, he openly states. Very serious questions remain about the long-term stability of Iraq as a unified, federalized nation-state, the basis of which is the key pillar US policy - past, present, and future - must be judged against. If McCain is unable to recognize or acknowledge what has created a modicum of security in Iraq in the interim, he has more problems than just his debating style.

Friday, September 26, 2008

For swing voters -- The Will Galison Orchestra: “Takin’ it Back with Barack, Jack!”

Will Galison, American jazz musician and harmonic player, along with his orchestra perform ing “Takin’ it Back with Barack, Jack!”.

The lyrics:
Hate to see the nation being run by a hack
Dig the situation that he dug in Iraq

Half the population wants to give him the sack
And now he's lookin' round for somebody else to attack
We need somebody great to get us back on the track
So we're takin' it back with Barack, Jack!

Choo Choo, Change to believe in
Woo woo, we can achieve it
Choo Choo, Change to believe in
Takin' it back with Barack, Jack!

Now that global warming is a matter of fact
The only real question is just how to react
The new administration needs the guts to enact
Drastic legislation, leave the planet intact
We can't be foolin' round with some Republican Mac

So we're takin' it back with Barack, Jack!

Choo Choo....

He only gets his money from your regular macs
Doesn't take a penny from some whackity PAC's
For bringin' folk together he's the man with the knack
And he'll supply the hope and inspiration we lack
Cause he's the best we got and did I ....mention he's black?

So we're takin' it back with Barack, Jack!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Katie Couric’s interview of Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin answers questions from CBS’s Katie Couric about Rick Davis, Bailout proposal, John McCain's legislative record. Ben Smith has the full transcript here.

The McCain campaign is now proposing that the Vice Presidential debate between Palin and Democrat Joe Biden scheduled for next week be postponed.

No one has done more to serve the cause of anti-Americanism than GW Bush

As George W. Bush nears the end of his presidency, he leaves behind him a nation weakened by a style of governing beset by ideological blinders and incompetent leadership. This administration’s devotion to laissez-faire capitalism has, ironically enough, led to the situation this week where this same president is proposing using government intervention to bail out major Wall Street financial institutions to prevent, at best, the evaporation into thin air the wealth American individuals have accumulated over their lifetimes or, at worse, the collapse of the American economy.

Beyond these shores the old rule of uniting our friends and dividing our enemies has been turned on its head as the militarization of this country’s foreign policy has led friends to keep the U.S. at arms length and emboldened enemies as they see the U.S. weakened by stretching its armed forces too thin. Whatever one thinks of wisdom of invading Iraq, there is no question that the initial victory in toppling the dictator was squandered by lack of preparation, failure to commit necessary resources in advance, failure to plan, and failure to do the necessary political work in a timely manner. The country sunk into overlapping civil wars (Sunni v. Shiite, Shiite v. Shiite, Kurd v. Arab) resulting in misery for the Iraqi people and a drain on U.S. military manpower and treasury. Into this chaos came a band of Al Qaeda fighters thus providing the justification of the presence of U.S. forces. After years of conflict there finally appears to be some semblance of calm in Iraq but it comes a price of approximately 4 million people displaced with approximately half displaced internally in Iraq and the other half scattered throughout the Middle East. In the meantime, Pakistan deteriorates and Afghanistan teeters on the brink as Al Qaeda – the group responsible for the 9-11 attacks – run amok on the border between the two.

So much for bold leadership from our 43rd president in advancing the interests of our nation.

Timothy Garton Ash has this assessment in the Guardian:

As the two men who would succeed him train like Olympic athletes for tomorrow's foreign policy debate, pause for a moment to complete your final report on the 43rd president of the United States. What would you say?

I would sum up his two terms in four words: hubris followed by nemesis.

Remember the mood music of eight years ago. The greatest power the world has ever seen. Rome on steroids. An international system said to be unipolar, and Washington's unabashed embrace of unilateralism. The US as "Prometheus unbound", according to the neoconservative commentator Charles Krauthammer. Wall Street investment bankers bestriding the financial globe as Pentagon generals did the military globe and Harvard professors the soft power one. Masters of the universe. Personifying that hubristic moment: George Walker Bush.

And now: nemesis. The irony of the Bush years is that a man who came into office committed to both celebrating and reinforcing sovereign, unbridled national power has presided over the weakening of that power in all three dimensions: military, economic and soft. "I am not convinced we are winning it in Afghanistan," Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a congressional committee earlier this month. Many on the ground say that's an understatement. The massive, culpable distraction of Iraq, Bush's war of choice, leaves the US - and with it the rest of the west - on the verge of losing the war of necessity. Here, resurgent in Afghanistan and Pakistan, are the jihadist enemies who attacked the US on September 11 2001. By misusing military power, Bush has weakened it.

Economically, the Bush presidency ends with a financial meltdown on a scale not seen for 70 years. The proud conservative deregulators (John McCain long among them) now oversee a partial nationalisation of the American economy that would make even a French socialist blush. A government bailout that will total close to a trillion dollars, plus the cumulative cost of the Iraq war, will push the national debt to more than $11 trillion. The flagships of Wall Street either go bust or have to be salvaged, with the help of government or foreign money. Most ordinary Americans feel poorer and less secure.

The decline in soft power - the power to attract - is also dramatic. The Pew Global Attitudes Survey has recorded a precipitous worldwide fall in favourable views of the US since 2001. The map is chequered, of course, but the distaste extends beyond policies of the Bush administration to things such as "American ways of doing business", and "American ideas about democracy". Iraq has been central to this collapse of credibility and attractiveness. When Bush denounces Russia for invading a sovereign country (Georgia), as he did again at the UN on Tuesday, a cry of "humbug" goes up around the world. Now American-style free market capitalism is taking a further hit, while some of the alternative models are looking better.


Obviously not all this mess can be blamed on Bush: he's not responsible for the epochal rise of China, nor for jihadist terrorists' long-term hatred of the west.

But a great deal of it can. At the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri, you can still see the painted glass sign that president Harry Truman placed on his desk in the oval office: The Buck Stops Here. (On the back it says: I'm From Missouri.) The buck stops there. The contrast between the president from Missouri and the president from Texas is painful. Judgment, prudence, vision, patience, honesty - every quality that the 33rd president so signally possessed, as the US remade the world after 1945, has been signally lacking in the 43rd.

Iraq, the US's greatest strategic blunder in at least 30 years, is Bush's fault. The buck stops there. And the more we learn about it, the clearer it becomes that it was pursued with a mixture of self-deception and lies. …


Something similar happened with the vertiginous unreality of hyper-leveraged Wall Street investment banking over the past decade. The financiers' motto, too, could have been "We create our own reality". Again, nemesis follows hubris as the night the day. The White House was not directly responsible for what looks like wild financial irresponsibility, but it was responsible for not supervising and regulating it - something even John McCain is now at least implicity admitting. The buck stopped there.

As for the decline in American soft power, that is something for which George Bush was directly to blame. His arrogance, his unilateralism, his insensitivity, his long-time denial of the need for urgent action on climate change: all fed directly into the plummeting credit of the US around the world. It would have been a different story with a different president.

For years now, we have seen those who hate the US abusing and burning effigies of Bush. The truth is, the anti-Americans should be building gilded monuments to him. For no one has done more to serve the cause of anti-Americanism than GW Bush. It is we who like and admire the US who should, by rights, be burning effigies. But now, at last, we live in hope of a better America.

January 20th cannot come soon enough unless, of course, it brings the swearing in of John McCain to carry on a Bush third term.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

McCain and Obama stand in as proxies for two visions of America

Americans dislike polarization in politics yet it is these same American people – or, rather, their competing visions of the future – that drive this polarization. The two political parties have followed this trend – Southern conservatives who used to be significant power brokers in the Democratic Party have switched over to the Republican side and Republican liberals and moderates who used to moderate the excesses of their party’s right wing has now moved over to the Democrats. Yet, what has moved people from one party to the other has been not only issues but a broader vision of America’s future.

Obama represents a new multicultural America that Americans either find attractive or frightening. McCain is the candidate of traditional America -- or rather, an idea of that America (small town, Protestant, white, and a perceived moral purity) -- that Americans either want to preserve or want to let go of. It is these visions of American that are either equally or more important than the specifics on issues in determining how Americans will vote in November.

Here is Paul Starr in The American Prospect:

Earlier in this election cycle, many observers suggested that if Barack Obama and John McCain became their parties' nominees, they would each moderate the polarizing tendencies in American politics. In the wake of the two parties' national conventions, that notion seems like a frail hope. Something is driving polarization, and it isn't the personalities.

It also isn't trends in public opinion. As Morris P. Fiorina argues in his book, Culture War?, public opinion surveys show that on most issues Americans are still bunched in the middle, contrary to the widespread belief that they are more deeply divided than they were a generation ago.

Of course, party differences have sharpened as a result of the ideological sorting out that's come with the defection of white Southerners from the Democrats and the conservative revolution within the GOP. At first glance, it looks like two opposite and equal shifts. The Democrats have become more liberal with the loss of Southern conservatives as the Republicans have become more conservative with the disappearance of liberals and moderates from their party.

But that nicely balanced picture doesn't fully reflect what's happened. Compare an older generation of Republican leaders to their successors--for example, George H.W. Bush to George W., George Romney to Mitt--and the younger ones are distinctly more right-wing. Democrats haven't seen a comparable generational shift. To borrow a term from Paul Pierson and Jacob Hacker, what we've had is "asymmetrical polarization": Republicans have moved further right than Democrats have moved left.

This year, McCain was expected to bring the GOP back toward the center, not just because of who he is (or is supposed to be) but because of the dismal condition of the Republican brand. Instead, after locking up the nomination, he veered to the right, turning away, for example, from his earlier positions on the environment that gave him a reputation for independence (he had already changed his stance on immigration, Bush's tax cuts, and other matters). The base demanded concessions, and he made them. And nowhere was that pattern more evident than in McCain's choice of Sarah Palin after he backed down from picking Joe Lieberman.

Was all this inevitable? No, the McCain of Bush's first term might have resurfaced to wage a more centrist campaign, but the pressures to conform--the imperative to rouse the party--were formidable. And those pressures ultimately reflect social realities--the social make-up of the Republican Party, which was on full display at the party's national convention.

What is really at the root of party polarization is social tensions. Sociologically as well as ideologically, the two parties have become a stark contrast. The delegates to the Republican Convention were nearly all white (only 1.5 percent black and 5 percent Hispanic). Their hearts would not have been in a centrist campaign. What got them excited were the old denunciations of the liberal media and "Eastern elites" by speakers who tried to reignite the culture wars. With a more socially and culturally diverse base, the Democrats seek to downplay polarization, while the more homogeneous Republicans cannot resist trying to inflame it.

Despite the changes in its regional support, the GOP occupies the same sociological space today as in the 1920s, when it was a party predominantly of small-town Protestants fighting off a rising urban, immigrant America. At that time, the dominant conception of white Americans excluded recent immigrants, such as Jews and Italians, whereas now it includes them. But structurally the situation was the same: a white, self-consciously Christian party against a more diverse, urban one, with the former inclined to see the election as a contest between the virtues of honor, patriotism, and moral uprightness that its members identify with their own group (and their candidates) and the vices that they project onto the other.

McCain and Obama stand in as proxies for two versions of America. When voters hear Obama, they are responding not just to him but to a new multicultural America that they find attractive or frightening. And when they hear McCain, they are responding to a traditional America--or rather, an idea of that America--that they are determined to preserve or willing to see change.

McCain's America has historically dominated Obama's. White has dominated black, old has dominated young, the appeal of soldierly virtues has dominated those of the peacemaker. If Obama wins the presidency, it will turn the traditional order of things on its head.

But that has happened before. After the 1920s, FDR assembled a new majority, and in the 1960s LBJ helped to build another one. BHO has a fighting chance to do the same.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Bill Evans: “Someday My Prince Will Come” (1965)

This is the Bill Evans Trio – Bill Evans on piano, Chuck Israels on bass and Larry Bunker on drums – performing “Someday My Prince Will Come” on the UK television program Jazz 625. This recording was made on March 19, 1965.

William John Evans -- better known as Bill Evans -- (1929 – 1980) was one of the most famous and influential American jazz pianists of the 20th century. He was well known for his use of impressionist harmony, his inventive interpretation of traditional jazz repertoire, and his syncopated and polyrhythmic melodic lines.

Bill Evans developed in his duos and trios a unique conception of ensemble performance and a classical sense of form and conceptual scale in unprecedented ways. The Bill Evans Trio became one of the most acclaimed piano trios, and jazz bands in general, of all time. With this group, Evans's focus settled on traditional jazz standards and original compositions, with an added emphasis on interplay among the band members that often bordered on collective improvisation and blurred the line between soloist and accompanist.

Evans died in 1980 due to complications related to his lifelong problems with drugs. However, his musicianship has been a model for many pianists in various genres. Evans' music always displayed his creative mastery of harmony, rhythm, and interpretive jazz conception. His work fused elements from jazz, classical, and ethnic music.

The works of Bill Evans continue to influence pianists, guitarists, composers, and interpreters of jazz music around the world. Many of his tunes, such as "Waltz For Debby", "Turn Out the Stars", "Very Early" and "Funkallero" have become often-recorded jazz standards.

You can watch and listen to him here perform “Waltz for Debby.”

Friday, September 19, 2008

A conservative for Obama

Wick Allison, the former publisher of National Review, had backed John McCain in the primaries. He has become disillusioned with McCain and believes the Republican Party has lost its moorings. He believes it is time for a pragmatist to lead the country which is why he now supports Barack Obama. This is his endorsement in D Magazine:

THE MORE I LISTEN TO AND READ ABOUT “the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate,” the more I like him. Barack Obama strikes a chord with me like no political figure since Ronald Reagan. To explain why, I need to explain why I am a conservative and what it means to me.

In 1964, at the age of 16, I organized the Dallas County Youth for Goldwater. My senior thesis at the University of Texas was on the conservative intellectual revival in America. Twenty years later, I was invited by William F. Buckley Jr. to join the board of National Review. I later became its publisher.

Conservatism to me is less a political philosophy than a stance, a recognition of the fallibility of man and of man’s institutions. Conservatives respect the past not for its antiquity but because it represents, as G.K. Chesterton said, the democracy of the dead; it gives the benefit of the doubt to customs and laws tried and tested in the crucible of time. Conservatives are skeptical of abstract theories and utopian schemes, doubtful that government is wiser than its citizens, and always ready to test any political program against actual results.

Liberalism always seemed to me to be a system of “oughts.” We ought to do this or that because it’s the right thing to do, regardless of whether it works or not. It is a doctrine based on intentions, not results, on feeling good rather than doing good.

But today it is so-called conservatives who are cemented to political programs when they clearly don’t work. The Bush tax cuts—a solution for which there was no real problem and which he refused to end even when the nation went to war—led to huge deficit spending and a $3 trillion growth in the federal debt. Facing this, John McCain pumps his “conservative” credentials by proposing even bigger tax cuts. Meanwhile, a movement that once fought for limited government has presided over the greatest growth of government in our history. That is not conservatism; it is profligacy using conservatism as a mask.

Today it is conservatives, not liberals, who talk with alarming bellicosity about making the world “safe for democracy.” It is John McCain who says America’s job is to “defeat evil,” a theological expansion of the nation’s mission that would make George Washington cough out his wooden teeth.

This kind of conservatism, which is not conservative at all, has produced financial mismanagement, the waste of human lives, the loss of moral authority, and the wreckage of our economy that McCain now threatens to make worse.

Barack Obama is not my ideal candidate for president. (In fact, I made the maximum donation to John McCain during the primaries, when there was still hope he might come to his senses.) But I now see that Obama is almost the ideal candidate for this moment in American history. I disagree with him on many issues. But those don’t matter as much as what Obama offers, which is a deeply conservative view of the world. Nobody can read Obama’s books (which, it is worth noting, he wrote himself) or listen to him speak without realizing that this is a thoughtful, pragmatic, and prudent man. It gives me comfort just to think that after eight years of George W. Bush we will have a president who has actually read the Federalist Papers.

Most important, Obama will be a realist. I doubt he will taunt Russia, as McCain has, at the very moment when our national interest requires it as an ally. The crucial distinction in my mind is that, unlike John McCain, I am convinced he will not impulsively take us into another war unless American national interests are directly threatened.

“Every great cause,” Eric Hoffer wrote, “begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” As a cause, conservatism may be dead. But as a stance, as a way of making judgments in a complex and difficult world, I believe it is very much alive in the instincts and predispositions of a liberal named Barack Obama.

John McCain: new face on the same old swill

John McCain has decided the road to the presidency is paved with pandering to the very people who have made such a mess in Washington. The 72-year-old Republican has compromised the future of this country – if elected – by picking as his running mate a rightwing ideologue whose experience in governance has been serving less than two years as the governor of one of the smallest states in the nation and as the part-time mayor of a town of 5000 people. He suddenly is a populist when the economy begins to tank when the current financial mess is in is largely a result of deregulation of powerful financial interests – policies the distinguished Republican candidate for President has supported and promoted over the past three decades as a Washington insider. He and his fellow-travelers from the Republican Party establishment are chanting a “throw-the-rascals-out” message without bothering to point out they are the rascals that have been in power inside the beltway for the better part of a decade.

They don’t acknowledge the existence of a Republican in the White House or even their own membership in the Republican Party. As Chris Matthews put it, they are taking off their uniforms and running from the political battlefield. McCain and the Republicans in control of our government simply refuse to take any responsibility for their actions.

Melissa McEwan has these observations in the Guardian:

What a difference four years makes. In August of 2004, when he was running for re-election, George Bush turned what had been a nebulous idea encompassing various privatisation and investment ideas into a formal objective, releasing a "fact sheet" detailing his policies that would promote this capitalist utopia known as the "ownership society".

More access and choices in healthcare! More home ownership! More tax relief! It was all about getting the American taxpayers' tax dollars back into their pockets where they belonged so they could buy stuff - because, as Bush explained: "If you own something, you have a vital stake in the future of our country. The more ownership there is in America, the more vitality there is in America, and the more people have a vital stake in the future of this country."

Four years later, millions of Americans are now without healthcare, home foreclosures are skyrocketing, bankruptcy is epidemic and the headlines blare "Nightmare on Wall Street" as the country faces the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. The people who were supposed to own a vital stake in America's future by now are lucky if they still own the shirts on their backs.

The ownership society – built on the shoddy foundation of corporate deregulation, unchecked lending, massive deficits and tax cuts during a time of war – has failed.

And its failure is owned by precisely no one.

Bush, once the golden boy of modern conservatism, has now been disowned by the entire Republican party, who are seemingly just as eager to disown the name of the party itself: The words "Bush" and "Republican" were hardly spoken at the Republican National Convention earlier this month. …

… Bush is persona non grata. The ownership society? Never heard of it! Gee, it's a terrible situation we're in – how'd that happen? Well, never mind. Now is not the time to point fingers and lay blame! Let us tell you about a hot little commodity named John McCain.

What is, perhaps, most unrelentingly galling about their affected posture is that, even as they disown, disclaim and distance themselves from Bush's economic policies and promote McCain as some sort of saviour, they refuse to acknowledge that his proposals are just more of the same conservative überfail that got us into this morass in the first place.

Had he brilliant economic proposals, or even different ones, it might legitimately warrant their abandonment of Bush and his antiquated fiscal sensibilities. But McCain is merely a new face on the same old swill. They won't own it with Bush's name stamped on it, but they'll line up behind near-identical policies in droves, hoping no one will notice – hoping to help sell those policies again to the American people.

It's stunning, really.

The hypocrisy of the personal responsibility brigade brazenly, utterly refusing to take responsibility for this mess, and the irony of these great champions of the ownership society flatly refusing to own the economic policies which have resulted in massive losses among American families, would be positively hilarious if it all weren't so goddamned tragic.

And what of McCain in all this? Once upon a time, he was an honourable man – and, while it's debatable how kinda sorta mavericky he ever really was during the first part of his career in the Senate, it seems fair to suggest there was probably a time when he would have refused to play the role of new-and-improved packaging on economic policies that had been comprehensively disastrous for America.

But the 2000 election left the taste of presidency in his mouth and Karl Rove's bootprint on his back. Whatever decency and integrity there had ever been in the man disappeared in a moment, as he infused with new meaning that dear old chestnut: If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. He once said he wouldn't want to lose a war to win an election. His position on losing his soul seems more flexible.

He now stands at the front of the Republican party, poised to lead them back into the White House, given the right number of electoral votes, and he refuses, like all the rest, to accept any responsibility for the current economic crisis, or to own up to the reality that he's got nothing new up his sleeve, nothing that will effectively and significantly alter the course we are already on – a dearth of ideas that, comically, is owed to the unwavering fealty to partisan doctrine he had to affect in order to become his party's nominee, genuflecting to the precious tax cuts that no one wants to own. Not anymore.

So much for the ownership society.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

How do we prevent this financial collapse from cascading into Great Depression II?

No one wants to reward bad behavior or should feel obligated to protect those who engage in risky behavior from the consequences. However, as this country’s financial institutions crumble the wealth of millions of Americans, who have acted quite responsibly, is evaporating in thin air.

There are multiple reasons for this disaster including the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. (That's Gramm as in former Sen. Phil Gramm, a deregulation zealot and top economic adviser to John McCain.) But while there are various factors (or what Robert Kutner calls the seven deadly sins) resulting in the mess we are currently in it is, and has been, the zeal to deregulate our financial institutions and the greed of the deregulated that is undermining the American economy and public confidence in it. Action is required but substantive reform can only pull us out of this downward spiral if there is a philosophical turnaround in the minds of our elected leaders. We are seeing the results of those with faith in the “invisible hand” of markets. It’s time for adults to take over to deal with the real world as it is not as it should be based upon ideology.

Robert Kuttner has some suggestions on what should be done:

The current carnage on Wall Street, with dire spillover effects on Main Street, is the result of a failed ideology -- the idea that financial markets could regulate themselves. Serial deregulation fed on itself. Deliberate repeal of regulations became entangled with failure to carry out laws still on the books. Corruption mingled with simple incompetence. And though the ideology was largely Republican, it was abetted by Wall Street Democrats.

Why regulate? As we have seen ever since the sub-prime market blew up in the summer of 2007, government cannot stand by when a financial crash threatens to turn into a general depression -- even a government like the Bush administration that fervently believes in free markets. But if government must act to contain wider damage when large banks fail, then it is obliged to act to prevent damage from occurring in the first place. Otherwise, the result is what economists term "moral hazard"-- an invitation to take excessive risks.

Government, under Franklin Roosevelt, got serious about regulating financial markets after the first cycle of financial bubble and economic ruin in the 1920s. Then, as now, the abuses were complex in their detail but very simple in their essence. They included the sale of complex securities packaged in deceptive and misleading ways; far too much borrowing to finance speculative investments; and gross conflicts of interest on the part of insiders who stood to profit from flim-flams. When the speculative bubble burst in 1929, sellers overwhelmed buyers, many investors were wiped out, and the system of credit contracted, choking the rest of the economy.

In the 1930s, the Roosevelt administration acted to prevent a repetition of the ruinous 1920s. Commercial banks were separated from investment banks, so that bankers could not prosper by underwriting bogus securities and foisting them on retail customers. Leverage was limited in order to rein in speculation with borrowed money. Investment banks, stock exchanges, and companies that publicly traded stocks were required to disclose more information to investors. Pyramid schemes and conflicts of interest were limited. The system worked very nicely until the 1970s -- when financial innovators devised end-runs around the regulated system, and regulators stopped keeping up with them.


… no matter how much taxpayer money the Federal Reserve and the Treasury keep pumping in, they can't turn dross back into gold. The next administration and the Congress need to return the financial economy to its historic task of supplying capital to the real economy -- of connecting investors to entrepreneurs -- and shut down the purely casino aspects of the system that have only enriched middlemen and passed along huge risks to everyone else.

Reform One: If it Quacks Like a Bank, Regulate it Like a Bank. Barack Obama said it well in his historic speech on the financial emergency last March 27 in New York. "We need to regulate financial institutions for what they do, not what they are." Increasingly, different kinds of financial firms do the same kinds of things, and they are all capable of infusing toxic products into the nation's financial bloodstream. That's why Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson has had to extend the government's financial safety net to all kinds of large financial firms like A.I.G. that have no technical right to the aid and no regulation to keep them from taking outlandish risks. Going forward, all financial firms that buy and sell products in money markets need the same regulation and examination. That will be the essence of the 2009 version of the Glass-Steagall Act.

Reform Two: Limit Leverage. At the very heart of the financial meltdown was extreme speculation with esoteric financial securities, using astronomical rates of leverage. Commercial banks are limited to something like 10 to one, or less, depending on their conditions. These leverage limits need to be extended to all financial players, as part of the same 2009 banking reform.

Reform Three: Police Conflicts of Interest. The conflicts of interest at the core of bond-raising agencies are only one of the conflicts that have been permitted to pervade financial markets. Bond-rating agencies should probably become public institutions. Other conflicts of interest should be made explicitly illegal. Yes, financial markets keep "innovating." But some innovations are good, and some are abusive subterfuges. And if regulators who actually believe in regulation are empowered to examine all financial institutions, they can issue cease-and-desist orders when they encounter dangerous conflicts.

We're talking about a Roosevelt-scale counterrevolution here. But nothing less will prevent the financial collapse from cascading into Great Depression II. And the public should never again forget that this needless collapse was brought to us by free-market extremists.

You can read his entire article here which include his “seven deadly sins” or causes of the current mess. I recommend it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

U.S. financial crisis: Where’s the buck stop?

Chris Matthews accuses Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) and the Republican Party of shedding their GOP uniforms and running from the political battlefield. Matthews asks where’s the buck stop. The distinguished congressman from central Virginia doesn’t have a clue.

Spheres of influence in the new (or not so new) world order

East/West relations during the Cold War required vigilance and attention to avoid a global war along the lines of the previous two world wars or even a lesser conflict that might involve the exchange of nuclear weapons between the West and the USSR. Spheres of influence between the two sides were established with each side looking for weaknesses to take advantage of on the other side. Secondary and smaller wars were fought between domestic forces aligned with each side in the bi-polar world of the Cold War in Greece, Korea and Vietnam as well as smaller conflicts in different parts of Asia, Africa and South America. With some minor fluctuations, the boundaries of these two different spheres stood until the collapse of the Soviet Union.

A sphere of influence is defined as an area or region over which a state exerts some kind of indirect cultural, economic, military or political domination. A country within the "sphere of influence" of another more powerful country may become a subsidiary of that state and serve in effect as a satellite state or de facto colony. Frequently powerful nations intervene in the affairs of others for the sake of the advantage of the powerful state. The model of “spheres of influence” has been a staple of international relations for centuries and all too often it had been enforced by the use of the military of the dominant power or its proxies.

Discussions about the pros and cons of a world modeled on spheres of influence was completely sidetracked by the issues surrounding states dealing with non-state actors following September 11th. However, the recent invasion of Georgia by Russia has again raised the issue. The realist school of though argues in favor of recognizing Russian dominance in Georgia and the region as within its sphere of influence and thus promoting world stability. Neo-conservatives want to expand the U.S. sphere of influence by contesting the Russian move in some unspecified military action. (Attack Russia? Expansion of NATO all the way to the suburbs of Moscow?)

Surprisingly, there have been some liberals who probably in reaction to the nuttiness of the neo-cons are cozying up to the realists. However, the true liberal tradition has been internationalism that promotes greater economic and political cooperation among nations for the benefit of all. This cooperation is a recognition that nations’ long-term mutual interests are of greater value than their individual short-term needs. And there are right ways and wrong ways to extend one's influence.

Michael Walzer has these thoughts in Dissent:

The Russian invasion of Georgia has brought with it a new discussion of spheres of influence. Understandably, people who call themselves “realists” are now eager to recognize a Russian sphere, which would certainly include Georgia and many other countries from the former Soviet Union. The Russians are able to use military force in Georgia, and no one else is able to do that, so Georgia belongs to them. Realism requires that we acknowledge this, so that we can get on with “business as usual”—which is really business as it used to be, in the old days, when great powers recognized each other’s predominance over the lesser nations.

If this recognition is merely a prudential argument about when to fight and when not to, it has great force. Neither the U.S. nor the EU is going to fight for South Ossetia; nor should they. No nation went to war for Hungary in 1956 or for Czechoslovakia in 1968. Military power has its practical prerogatives, and in those cases, as in this one, Russia had, and has, the greater power.

But military power has no moral prerogatives. Most of the writers who have joined the argument about Georgia understand this, but some of the realists and, strangely, some people on the left seem to think that spheres of influence and the domination they entail are good things: they make for stability and peace (and provide useful limits on American imperialism). David Clark has a thoughtful piece in Democratiya #14 criticizing the right-wing realists and the odd leftists who have either defended the Russian attack or looked for ways of accommodating it, and David Greenberg has a similar piece in the New Republic on liberal writers who in the Bush era have become strangely soft on “realism.” I want to try to sketch a better liberal-left approach to spheres of influence. And the easiest way to do that is to ask what and where the American sphere is.

It obviously doesn’t include Georgia. But just as obviously, on any realist account, it does include Guatemala, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Panama—for starters. And yet, when the U.S. intervened in Guatemala in 1954 to overthrow the Arbenz government, I don’t remember anyone on the left arguing that Guatemala was, after all, in our sphere of influence, and it would be best for global stability and peace if we had our way there. Nor did anyone I know on the left make an argument like that at the time of the Bay of Pigs invasion. And, though I suppose that Chile is a geographic stretch, it has been widely thought (since the Monroe Doctrine) to lie within our sphere, and yet only right-wing cold warriors argued that the overthrow of Salvador Allende was a legitimate exercise of our “influence.” Liberals and leftists alike were rightly critical of political exercises of that sort.

Nonetheless, influence is a normal feature of political life. We all try to be as influential as possible. So how should influence work? When is it legitimate? There is a Marxist argument about this in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, which starts from everyday social life. Assume, Marx writes, that our relation to the world is a “human” relation: “Then love can only be exchanged for love, trust for trust...If you wish to enjoy art, you must be an artistically cultivated person; if you wish to influence other people, you must be a person who really has a stimulating and encouraging effect upon others.” I suggest that the case is the same with political parties, social movements, all sorts of NGOs, and with states, too. If they want to influence people in other countries, they must be stimulating and encouraging, which means materially helpful, politically supportive, ideologically persuasive. What is ruled out by the idea of “human” relations is military force, coercion, manipulation, and subversion. Barring those four, influence isn’t limited to a regional sphere—any person, any party or movement, any state can be influential anywhere.

So if democratic states in western Europe, say, provide ideological support, political encouragement, and material assistance first to new democrats and then to new democracies in eastern Europe, this isn’t imperial politics. It is an attempt at influence, indeed, but it isn’t the creation of an old-fashioned sphere of influence. The expansion of NATO is a harder question, and I am not going to address it here. But support and encouragement for the “color revolutions” in Georgia and Ukraine fit Marx’s account of how influence ought to work—while the U.S. instigation of a Guatemalan coup obviously doesn’t.

If Russia wants to be influential in Georgia, then, it has to be helpful and persuasive to the Georgians. There is no other way—that, it seems to me, is the liberal and left position. Realists may be eager to recognize the kind of influence that is a function only of military power, and political leaders may have to adapt to that kind of influence, at least for a time. But we liberals and leftists cannot accept this as morally right or politically conclusive. Our parties and movements should be active in other countries—building unions, training political activists, strengthening democratic institutions. We should work to undo imperial influence and foster “human” influence wherever we can, whether it is in the Caucasus, eastern Europe, or Central and South America. That work, indeed, should define what we mean when we call ourselves “internationalists.”

Willie "The Lion" Smith: “Ain’t Misbehaving” and “St. Louis Blues” (1966)

This is Willie “The Lion” Smith performing “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and "St. Louis Blues” in Berlin in 1966.

William Henry Joseph Bonaparte Bertholoff Smith (1893 – 1973), aka "The Lion", was an American jazz pianist and one of the masters of the stride style. According to Smith, his father, Frank Bertholoff, was Jewish, and his mother Ida Oliver, had "Spanish, Negro, and Mohawk Indian blood". "Frank Bertholoff was a light skinned playboy who loved his liquor, girls, and gambling." His mother threw Frank out of the house when "The Lion" was two years old. When his father died in 1901, his mother married John Smith, a master mechanic from Paterson, NJ.

He served in the army France during World War I. Supposedly his nickname “The Lion” came as a result of his bravery while serving as an artillery gunner. He was a decorated veteran.

Well-known for his flamboyant behavior, ever-present cigar, and derby hat, Willie “The Lion” Smith was a master practitioner of Harlem stride – a jazz piano style also known as New York Ragtime. He had started performing as early as the 1910’s. After the war he worked as a soloist and accompanied blues singers such as Mamie Smith. In the 1940’s he grew in popularity and toured the United States and Europe until 1971 and recorded his final album in 1972. He died in 1973.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

John McCain and the Keating Five

According to Republican presidential candidate John McCain, “The fundamentals of our economy are strong, but these are very, very difficult times.” And while the stock market drops over 500 points – the worse single day on Wall Street since the 9/11 attacks – and the economy continues to melt down as banks, brokerage firms and insurance teeter on collapse, the Senator from Arizona and his running mate, the former mayor of Wassilla, have promised unspecified reform and tout the Senator’s experience. Well, you can put lipstick on a bear (market) but its still a bear.

Of course, with over a quarter century experience in congress for the 72-year-old Arizona politician and all but eight years of that with his party in control of the White House, one has to wonder why he hasn’t led the fight for financial regulatory reform before the current crisis. Well, he did involve himself before in addressing the needs of Charles Keating and the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association in the late 1980’s. He and fellow Senators – the so-called Keating Five – were reprimanded by their peers for corruption and improper lobbying on behalf of Keating in his effort to resist regulators following large contributions he made to them.

According to the New York Times:

Mr. Keating, a Phoenix financier and real estate developer, became an early sponsor and, soon, a friend. He was a man of great confidence and daring, Mr. McCain recalled in his memoir. “People like that appeal to me,” he continued. “I have sometimes forgotten that wisdom and a strong sense of public responsibility are much more admirable qualities.”

During Mr. McCain’s four years in the House, Mr. Keating, his family and his business associates contributed heavily to his political campaigns. The banker gave Mr. McCain free rides on his private jet, a violation of Congressional ethics rules (he later said it was an oversight and paid for the trips). They vacationed together in the Bahamas. And in 1986, the year Mr. McCain was elected to the Senate, his wife joined Mr. Keating in investing in an Arizona shopping mall.

Mr. Keating had taken over the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association and used its federally insured deposits to gamble on risky real estate and other investments. He pressed Mr. McCain and other lawmakers to help hold back federal banking regulators.

For years, Mr. McCain complied. At Mr. Keating’s request, he wrote several letters to regulators, introduced legislation and helped secure the nomination of a Keating associate to a banking regulatory board.

By early 1987, though, the thrift was careering toward disaster. Mr. McCain agreed to join several senators, eventually known as the Keating Five, for two private meetings with regulators to urge them to ease up. “Why didn’t I fully grasp the unusual appearance of such a meeting?” Mr. McCain later lamented in his memoir.

When Lincoln went bankrupt in 1989 — one of the biggest collapses of the savings and loan crisis, costing taxpayers $3.4 billion — the Keating Five became infamous. The scandal sent Mr. Keating to prison and ended the careers of three senators, who were rebuked by the Senate Ethics Committee in 1991 for intervening. Mr. McCain, who had been a less aggressive advocate for Mr. Keating than the others, was reprimanded only for “poor judgment” and was re-elected the next year.

Some people involved think Mr. McCain got off too lightly. William Black, one of the banking regulators the senator met with, argued that Mrs. McCain’s investment with Mr. Keating created an obvious conflict of interest for her husband. (Mr. McCain had said a prenuptial agreement divided the couple’s assets.) He should not be able to “put this behind him,” Mr. Black said. “It sullied his integrity.”

Now that’s experience American voters can look to in making their judgment about the honorable gentleman from Arizona.

Joe Klein has this take on it at Time Magazine:

John McCain is up with an ad touting his "experience" to deal with the financial crisis. But no specific experience is cited--which is attributable to the fact that McCain has been a happily orthodox Republican when it comes to financial regulation these past 26 years. He's against it. He's against Washington telling you how to run your business. The unseen hand of the market and all that...

This has been the long-standing Republican bait and switch--scaring small businesses with the threat of new regulations if the Democrats win, commiserating with larger businesses about the evils of environmental and plant safety rules, while lifting as many regulations as possible governing the financial titans whose credit should be at the heart of new economic development. But that hasn't been happening: the financial titans have been going for the quick buck rather than the sound one. Money and creativity have been redirected during the Reagan-Bush era away from substantive loans to real businesses into a Ponzi scheme of borrowing by investment bankers, so they could engage in the most irresponsible, if lucrative (for them) speculative lending imaginable...In this sense, the mortgage crisis was a perfect metaphor for Republican financial governance: Investment banks like Lehman--R.I.P.--took loans to invest money in...bad loans. In this case, the loans were bad mortgages. This is called throwing good money after bad.

Actually, John McCain has excellent experience--a ringside seat--in the vagaries of this experiment in greed and anarchy. He was a member of the Keating Five. This was the signature scandal of the Savings and Loan crisis, twenty years ago. It concerned the insider help that five Senators gave Charles Keating and his Lincoln Savings and Loan, in return for contributions and gifts. The deregulation of S&Ls--community banks dedicated to local mortgages (like George Bailey's bank in "It's A Wonderful Life")--enabled slick operators like Keating to make reckless loans in new areas where they had no expertise. The final tab to the taxpayers was $165 billion.

McCain wasn't the worst offender in the scandal. He was included in the Five to make it bipartisan (the other four were Democrats). But he knew Keating, partied with him, made inquiries on his behalf. He once told me that his role in the scandal was harder on him, in some ways, than being a prisoner of war "Because my honor was called into question."

After an experience like that, you might think Senator Honorable would have devoted himself to preventing other such crises--to making sure the Big Wall Street Casino was operating according to rules that wouldn't screw the small investors and, more to the point, the taxpayers. But he walked the anti-regulatory party line, with only occasional exceptions...and tried to lay down a smokescreen of righteousness by campaigning against small potato[e!]s like legislative earmarks--money to study the mating habits of, uh, crabs, in, uh, Alaska (proposed by Governor Honorable).

What we are seeing on Wall Street today is the result of an ideology gone amok. There was call to loosen and change the antiquated regulations governing investment back in 1980. But the Republican era has seen that loosening go to the point of near-cataclysm. Banks are failing, markets dropping. We are in the midst of a slow-motion economic crash. What happens next is an economic contraction: loans aren't available, so businesses can't expand. A crash comes at the beginning of a period of economic trouble.

John McCain, after his political near-death experience, could have made the responsible regulation of markets one of his great causes. He didn't. And today he said, once again, "The fundamentals of our economy are strong." I hope he's right, but it's entirely possible that he knows as much about our economy as Sarah Palin knows about The Bush Doctrine.

Zoot Sims: “Zoot's Theme”

This is Zoot Sims on tenor saxophone, Roger Kellaway on the piano, Chuck Berghofer on bass, and Larry Bunker on the drums performing “Zoot’s Theme.”

John Haley "Zoot" Sims (1925 – 1985) was an American jazz tenor and soprano saxophonist. He grew up in a vaudeville family and learned to play the drums and clarinet as a child.

He played with renowned bands, including Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Stan Kenton, and Buddy Rich. Sims was also one of Woody Herman's "Four Brothers", and he was known among his peers as one of the strongest swingers in the field. He frequently led his own combos and sometimes toured with his friend Gerry Mulligan's sextet, and later with Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band. In the 1950s and '60s, Sims had a long, successful partnership as co-leader of a quintet with Al Cohn, which recorded under the name "Al and Zoot".

Sims acquired the nickname — Zoot — early in his career while he was in the Kenny Baker band in California.

Monday, September 15, 2008

What a McCain-Palin Supreme Court would look like

Since Richard Nixon demagoguery on the subject of the American court system has been standard Republican fare. The cry goes out about the need for strict constructionist views and against judicial activism. Yet, right-wing judicial appointments frequently have no qualms about ignoring legal precedent and the will of congress by being quite creative in interpreting laws to conform to rightist ideology rather than the Constitution.

The Supreme Court has swung to the right over the past few decades after being battered by conservative appointments by Republican Presidents. The next President likely will name anywhere from one to three new justices to the high court and John McCain has said if he is elected President, he would look for appointees like the reactionary John Roberts and Samual Alito.

Cass R. Sunstein, the Felix Frankfurter professor of law at Harvard Law School, has these thoughts in today’s Washington Independent:

There has been much debate about whether Sen. John McCain is a candidate of change. But in one area, McCain is unquestionably a reformer. He would almost certainly make fundamental changes in the direction of the U.S. Supreme Court.

McCain has said that, should he be president, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito “would serve as the model for my own nominees.” He regularly attacks what he calls “activist judging,” and he described a recent ruling vindicating the right to habeas corpus as “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country.” McCain has repeatedly said that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and should be overruled.

If McCain is elected, change would clearly be coming to the U.S. Supreme Court. And in constitutional law, the Republican presidential nominee is anything but conservative. Once skeptical of the idea that the court should overrule Roe v. Wade, he now invokes the clichés and code words of the extreme right. His votes have matched his words, for he has been a proud and enthusiastic supporter of President George W. Bush’s most extreme appointees to the courts of appeals.

Recently McCain complained of “the common and systematic abuse of our federal courts by the people we entrust with judicial power. For decades now, some federal judges have taken it upon themselves to pronounce and rule on matters that were never intended to be heard in courts or decided by judges.”

In his view, the “system of checks and balances rarely disappoints,” but “there is one great exception in our day”: the Supreme Court. McCain aims to eliminate that exception. It is more than mere speculation to suggest that with judicial appointments, McCain may well follow the extreme right-wing of his party.

The court is already dominated by Republican appointees, and in the last 20 years, it has shifted dramatically to the right. The next president is expected to be able to appoint at least one — and possibly as many as three — new members. Even a single appointment would likely shift constitutional law in major ways.

The right to choose remains sharply contested within the Supreme Court — and the Republican Party and the pro-life movement have long sought to eliminate that right. The McCain-Palin ticket plans first to “return the abortion question to the individual states” and then “to end abortion at the state level.”

We might well return to a period in which states threatened to subject pregnant women, and their doctors, with jail sentences for exercising the right to choose. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest, and there is no doubt that many states would attempt to enact that belief into law.

But abortion is only the tip of the iceberg.

Consider McCain’s astounding statement that the court’s recent vindication of the right to habeas corpus is among “the worst decisions” in the nation’s history. (As bad as Dred Scott v. Sandford, entrenching slavery? As bad as Lochner v. New York, striking down maximum hour laws? As bad as Plessy v. Ferguson, upholding racial segregation?) McCain’s favorite justices — Roberts and Alito — have consistently sided with the Bush administration in cases involving the constitutional authority of the president. Under a President McCain, their dissenting views might well become the law of the land.

The Supreme Court has already struck down provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Violence Against Women Act. A McCain court would go further. Some Republican appointees have raised constitutional doubts about provisions of the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. With new members on the court, important environmental laws would face fresh constitutional scrutiny.

In the last decade, Republican appointees to the bench have led a constitutional attack on affirmative-action programs. But in some areas, like education, for example, government is allowed to engage in a modest degree of affirmative action. With an appointment or two by a McCain administration, affirmative-action programs might be banned entirely.

Does the Constitution allow Congress to enact campaign-finance reform? McCain clearly thinks so. But his favorite justices — Roberts and Alito — have severe doubts. Campaign-finance proposals already face acute constitutional doubts. With one or two McCain appointments, most such proposals may well become constitutionally unthinkable.

All this offers merely a glimpse. Some Republican appointees want to restrict citizens’ rights of access to federal courts, to give commercial advertising the same level of protection as political dissent, to provide new protection to property rights (at the expense of environmental law), to narrow the court’s decisions involving sex discrimination, and much more.

There is a major irony here. McCain calls for “strict construction” and “judicial restraint,” and he rejects “legislating from the bench.” But in countless areas, conservative appointees avoid strict construction, and they are all too willing to legislative from the bench.

There is a close connection between the constitutional views of McCain’s his preferred judges and the political views of the extreme right-wing of the GOP. To say the least, it would be a startling coincidence if the best interpretation of the Constitution turned out, fairly consistently, to entrench the political views of one or another side.

When McCain calls for “strict construction” and “judicial restraint” while opposing “judicial legislation,” no one should be fooled. Is it “restrained” for justices to invalidate campaign-finance laws and provisions of the Violence Against Women Act? Is it “strict construction” to strike down affirmative-action programs, to ban Congress from allowing citizens to sue in federal court, to give unprecedented protection to property rights?

When McCain speaks of strict construction and restraint, he is speaking in code. He is signaling his desire to produce large-scale change in the direction favored by the far right — for starters, and above all, by overruling Roe v. Wade.

It is not at all clear that a McCain administration would seek to reorient current practices in the domestic arena or in foreign policy. But there is no doubt that in constitutional law, McCain favors fundamental change.

The question remains: Is this really the change we need?