Direct Democracy In Action

As someone who, like de Tocqueville and Lippmann, is deeply worried about the risks of overly-direct democracy, I’m not a fan of the referendum system. But it seems like it could work in South Dakota:

An abortion rights group Tuesday submitted more than twice the number of the signatures needed to hold a statewide vote in November on whether to repeal South Dakota’s ban on abortion.
The Legislature earlier this year passed the strictest abortion law in the nation, banning all abortions except those necessary to save a woman’s life. The law, scheduled to take effect July 1, makes no exceptions for rape or incest.

Via LG&M (two years and going strong, guys). Most polling suggests this will pass. 57% of South Dakotans oppose the ban, whereas 35% support it. Of course, this means the the National Right to Life Committee, the Christian Coalition, etc. will be focusing heavily on South Dakota this fall, which may change public opinion (this kind of lobbying is what makes me more comfortable when courts deal with these things). But the prospects for an overturn are high, which is comforting.

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TALKS!!!

Between this and the Paulson appointment, it’s almost as if the Bush administration has been replaced by people who know what the hell they’re talking about:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said today that the United States would be willing to change course and join multinational talks with Iran over its nuclear program if it suspends all nuclear activities.
Ms. Rice said that the move was meant to “give new energy” to a European effort to develop a package of incentives or potential punishments to convince Iran to rein in its nuclear program, and to give Iran a “clear choice.”
“The United States is willing to exert strong leadership to give diplomacy the very best chance to suceed,” Ms. Rice saidat the State Department before flying to Vienna for a meeting with European diplomats.
Ms. Rice said that the precondition for the multinational talks were for Iran to halt the uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities that it resumed following the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad last year, and allow a resumption of the voluntary surprise visits by nuclear inspectors that it cut off earlier this year.
Iran halted its nuclear program in 2003 after admitting that it had deceived nuclear inspectors for years. Britain, France and Germany then engaged Iran in two years of inconclusive talks, with the United States on the sidelines, that ended when Iran resumed nuclear enrichment.

Now, of course, all of this depends on whether Iran agrees to halt its program, which is less likely now that Ahmadinejad is in power, not Khatami (though Khamenei is still in office, which matters more). But this is, at the very least, a good starting point for diplomatic engagement. Will it suddenly make Iran a secular democracy that loves Israel and devours Richard Dawkins’ books? Of course not. But could it provide an opportunity to thwart the Iranian nuclear program? Absolutely.
But don’t believe me – believe Ivo Daalder, over at TPMCafé (happy one-year anniversary, Josh and company!).

Drum on Beinart

Kevin Drum interviews Peter Beinart on his new “let’s screw the brownies” book, The Good Fight, and it reminds me of the most annoying thing about Beinart: his absurd insinuation that, to be a humanitarian intervention-backing Democrat, one must have supported Iraq. This is patently misleading. The principle of humanitarian intervention is that, when American military power is capable of ending genocide, tyranny, human rights violations, etc., and when the opportunity presents itself, the U.S. should intervene. The principle of humanitarian intervention is not spinning the globe, putting one’s finger on some unsavory nation, and then going for a fun invasion. That’s not humanitarian; that’s just ridiculous. As, by the way, is Beinart.

Screw Them Subtly

Well isn’t this nice:

In an effort to raise revenues, tax writers in Congress added a last-minute provision that retroactively increased taxes for Americans living abroad. But the sudden imposition of new taxes has surprised overseas taxpayers, and it has employers concerned about the added cost.
The increase for Americans abroad was added at the last minute to the $69 billion tax cut legislation that was signed last week. Americans living overseas paid almost $3.5 billion in United States income taxes in 2001, the latest year for which data is available, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
The change, which is retroactive to the beginning of 2006, is expected to raise taxes on Americans abroad by $2.1 billion over the next 10 years.

Now, of course, the newfound war on expats must have nothing to do with the overwhelming Democratic tilt of cosmopolitans. Nothing at all.

Arundhati

Andy Sullivan’s Moore Award nominee today is Arundhati Roy, due to a quotation from an interview of her on Democracy Now! that I’ve actually seen, and I think Andy’s misinterpreting it:

“[T]he Maoists [in India] are fighting on two fronts. One is that they are fighting a feudal society, their feudal landlords. You have, you know, the whole caste system which is arranged against the indigenous people and the Dalits, who are the untouchable caste. And they are fighting against this whole corporatization. But they are also very poor people, you know, barefoot with old rusty weapons. And, you know, what we – say someone like myself, watching what is happening in Kashmir, where – or in the northeast, where exactly what America is doing in Iraq, you know, where you’re fostering a kind of civil war and then saying, ‘Oh, if we pull out, these people just will massacre each other.’
But the longer you stay, the more you’re enforcing these tribal differences and creating a resistance, which obviously, on the one hand, someone like me does support; on the other hand, you support the resistance, but you may not support the vision that they are fighting for. And I keep saying, you know, I’m doomed to fight on the side of people that have no space for me in their social imagination, and I would probably be the first person that was strung up if they won. But the point is that they are the ones that are resisting on the ground, and they have to be supported, because what is happening is unbelievable.”

Andy obviously thinks this to be apologism for Maoist terrorism. I wouldn’t take it that way. Taken in context, this is part of Roy’s discussion of the abuse of poor and rural areas of India by the government – particularly the case of dam development that causes both environmental damage and human displacement. I think Roy should be interpreted as saying that all movements opposing the current order in India – Maoists included – should be seen as resistance to the current order, which I think is right. Now, I’m no fan of Roy. Her anti-globalist writing are as frustrating as they are popular. Tom Frank said it best: “Maybe sometimes you just want to be on the side of whoever is more likely to take a bunker buster to Arundhati Roy.” But painting her as a modern day Weatherwoman isn’t fair.

Out With Gore, In With Obama?

It seems like Al Gore’s Politicians Anonymous program could be working. He’s been spreading the word to his former fundraisers telling them to go look for other candidates. Ezra, the blogosphere’s resident expert on the man, isn’t convinced, because of Gore’s desire to run an unorthodox campaign that ditches even the most basic rules of fundraising. But it seems less revolutionary, and more just stupid to go out of one’s way to discourage people from giving one money if one is going to run for president anyway.
However, the one candidate more appealing than Gore may be considering a run. Yes, seemingly as to replace the peetering out Gore buzz, Obama ’08 buzz is intensifying. Joe Klein is promoting a run, Barack has a new book coming out, two new political consultants have joined his Senate office, and Dick Durbin is openly urging Obama to run. The stars are starting to be aligned, and if Obama responds, then I’m definitely spending the spring and summer of 2007 and the winter of 2007-2008 in a New Hampshire field office of the Senator from Illinois. He’s the only politician of my lifetime that it’s easy to get genuinely excited about, and I’m thoroughly convinced by now that he’s the real deal. I still doubt an Obama candidacy this early in his career, but we can always hope.

Paulson: Not Too Shabby

It’s a rare decision by this administration that I can endorse, let alone be enthusiastic about. I guess I should cherish this appointment, then:

President Bush today nominated Henry M. Paulson Jr., the chairman of one of Wall Street’s biggest firms, to become his next Treasury secretary and what Mr. Bush described as “my principle economic adviser.”
Mr. Paulson, 60, will replace John W. Snow, a former railroad executive who announced his own resignation this morning after more than three years in which he was widely seen as more salesman than policy maker.
The selection of Mr. Paulson, chairman and chief executive of Goldman Sachs, is a significant departure from Mr. Bush’s initial reluctance to bring prominent Wall Street executives into his administration. And it was a rare break from Mr. Bush’s tendency to select his most senior aides from within an inner circle of trusted advisers.

Goldman Sachs CEOs are a pretty tall order. Robert Rubin went from heading GS to being the best Treasury Secretary since Morgenthau. Rubin’s successor, Jon Corzine, is the current governor of New Jersey and a former U.S. Senator, and has performed quite well in both positions.
Paulson seems to be no exception. As Ezra points out, he has nothing to gain from this appointment, so the only reason for accepting it is a genuine interest in the public good. And, as Ezra points out, he’s demonstrated that by lobbying for the Kyoto protocol. Appointing a global warming activist just as the issue is heating up (pun totally intended) is a really good sign.
That last point makes me optimistic that Paulson could give Bush’s fiscal policy the kind of grounding that Reagan’s got in his administration’s later years. The only reason the Kemp-Roth Tax Cut didn’t send our fiscal state to all hell was because of the tax hikes (including the 1986 reform act) that followed it. We haven’t had those same save-the-day hikes in response to the Bush cuts. And if we wish to avoid fiscal catastrophe, we damn well should.