Obama Continues To Show He Understands Foreign Policy Better Than More Experienced Clinton

Several recent attacks on Barack Obama from Hillary Clinton and other Democratic rivals for the nomination were designed to give the impression that Obama is too inexperienced to be president. In each case Obama proven his case and impressed many with believing he had the most insight on foreign policy.

The Los Angeles Times has an editorial today supporting Obama’s views on Cuba:

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, determined to cast himself as the Democratic presidential candidate most open to new ideas on foreign policy, raised plenty of eyebrows recently when he proclaimed that he would be willing to meet personally with such rogue figures as Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. But that was nothing compared with the opinion article he published Tuesday in the Miami Herald saying Cuban Americans should have unrestricted rights to travel and send remittances to the island.

The other Democratic front-runner, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who portrays herself as the experienced foreign policy realist next to Obama’s cowboy diplomat, wasted no time in rejecting Obama’s proposal. Her campaign released a statement saying the U.S. stance toward Cuba shouldn’t be altered until a post-Castro regime cleans up its act. Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Rudolph W. Giuliani, meanwhile, said Obama’s plan would only strengthen Castro’s oppressive government…

Regardless of the political implications, Obama is clearly right — the only problem is, his proposal doesn’t go far enough. The travel ban should be lifted for everybody, not just Cuban immigrants.

Yesterday I noted that Zbigniew Brzezinski had endorsed Obama, saying Obama “recognizes that the challenge is a new face, a new sense of direction, a new definition of America’s role in the world.”

There was also further evidence published yesterday that Obama was right on foreign policy. Documents obtained by AP showed that Obama’s statement on American troops going into Pakistan under limited conditions is consistent with current U.S. policy:

Newly uncovered “rules of engagement” show the U.S. military gave elite units broad authority more than three years ago to pursue suspected terrorists into Pakistan, with no mention of telling the Pakistanis in advance.

The documents obtained by The Associated Press offer a detailed glimpse at what Army Rangers and other terrorist-hunting units were authorized to do earlier in the war on terror. And interviews with military officials suggest some of those same guidelines have remained in place, such as the right to “hot pursuit” across the border.

Ideological Purity vs. The Big Tent

Michael van der Galien has one of the strongest arguments seen so far against the Bush Dog Campaign which started at Open Left, especially as it comes from a moderate right of center blogger as opposed to the many attacks from the far right. Michael makes some excellent points, but unfortunately also buys into many of the false claims of the right with regards to the war and the liberal blogosphere.

The Bush Dog Campaign’s goal is to put pressure on Democratic House members who have supported conservative measures in order to pass more progressive legislation:

And so, you may have noticed a lot of chatter about ‘Bush Dog’ Democrats over the past few days. That’s not an accident. We’ve been working to identify the group of conservative Democrats in the House who are holding back progressives from being able to effectively govern. These are concentrated in two main caucuses, the Blue Dog Caucus and the New Democrat caucuses. Blue Dogs consider themselves heirs to the Southern conservative wing of the party, and tend to vote for socially restrictive policies and a hawkish foreign policy. The New Democrats tend to be more partisan, but often are key to passing important pieces of right-wing legislation, such as the Bankruptcy Bill. In the last few years, these two caucuses have expanded their numbers, and the Blue Dogs have become the swing vote in the House allowing for effective conservative control of the Congress. We want to put a stop to the embrace of conservative values among House Democrats, and make sure that when Democrats are elected, they act like Democrats.

So who specifically are these people? As Chris Bowers noted, the two biggest defeats for House Democrats so far in 2007 have been the capitulation vote on Iraq, and the vote to allow Alberto Gonzales warrant-less wiretapping powers. We’re calling the Democrats who capitulated on both bills ‘Bush Dogs’, as these are the most likely to capitulate on important fights in the future.

There is a fine line here between supporting Democrats in primary battles who you support over those you don’t agree with and attempting to purge the party of those who do not exhibit ideological purity. As I agree with their views on Iraq and warrant-less wiretapping I am not opposed to this aspect of the effort, but I also share some of the reservations which Michael expresses:

This prospect should – as far as I am concerned – scare the hell out of everybody who thinks that some independence of thought is actually a good thing. We have seen some of this being done by conservative bloggers and activists, but never on the scale as we currently see (it being done by progressives). The intention is clearly to stifle all dissent, and all debate. Whether one is a Democrat or not, and whether one is more progressive than conservative, and left-of-center is irrelevant to these people. Nor do they seem to care that the voters voted these people into office in the first place. They have decided that they are enemies of the Democratic Party (even though they are Democrats themselves) and therefore enemies of the people.

The most important issue according to the progressives? Iraq. it is all that matters. In this instance they decide not to go after someone for not being progressive enough on certain issues, because this person opposes the surge. In other words, one might argue that it is not so much about progressive vs. less progressive, but about anti-war vs. open-minded. Make no mistake about it however: once these people get their way regarding Iraq, they will target politicians who they deem not progressive enough on other issues.

The previous quotation on the goals of this campaign disprove the assertion that the dispute is all about Iraq, but views on the war definitely do shape this debate. One consequence is that Michael looks at this too much from the perspective of a supporter of the war causing him to take an extreme view on this campaign.

That is not to mean that I don’t share some of Michael’s reservations. There is a segment of the liberal blogosphere which has a much more leftist view of economics than is shared by myself, other portions of the liberal blogosphere, and, most importantly, the majority of voters. I’ve already discussed this issue at length in multiple other posts, such as here, here, and here. While the majority of voters do not agree with the left on all issues, there is a growing consensus on opposing the war, opposing the social policies of the religious right, and supporting increased government action in certain areas where it has been found to be necessary such as health care and the environment.

Whether this campaign becomes a problem will depend upon whether it takes on the “totalitarian” undertones which Michael is concerned about. As an independent I also find value in having a portion of the Democratic Party which expresses different views, even if this includes views I do not agree with. I generally prefer divided government, finding the prevention of bad government policy to trump the desire to promote any specific policies. At present we have the problem that for all practical purposes we only have one viable political party. The Republicans have shown that they are totally incapable of governing responsibly from either the Legislative or Executive Branch, and they increasingly promote an extremist agenda which is far too damaging to the nation to allow them any significant influence. Perhaps we have no alternative but to have the “opposition” come from another faction within the Democratic Party itself. Creating a high bar to the passage of new legislation is not necessarily a bad thing.

The Republican Party became extremist by driving out their moderate members. Michael does raise a valid concern in fearing that the more progressive Democrats could do the same to the Democratic Party:

And so, slowly but surely, these people are destroying the Democratic Party. The average American does not favor truly progressive policies nor does the average American think highly of the anti-war crowd (led by Kos and Stoller). They might have their fair share of groupies, but so did other totalitarians in the past. These people are totalitarians because they do not accept any dissent. It is not as if policies are up for debate: they have made up their minds about certain issues, everybody else must agree. If they do not, they have to be targeted. More, Chris Bowers, Matt Stoller and “Kos” are now even making themselves unpopular among local Democratic activists. These activists basically tell Stoller and Bowers to bugger off. They know what is happening in their districts, they know what to do. National activists, they argue, do not have any idea what is going on in certain districts and / or states.

Michael might be overly concerned with Kos. He describes Kos as both a totalitarian who is exerting too much influence upon the Democratic Party but also notes that many members of the party, as well as many bloggers, do not go along with him. He also fails to appreciate the wide variety of views held even at Daily Kos. While I do share the concern about the party developing an ideological purity which would exclude other views, to be of value the party must stand for some principles. There was an excellent response in the comments to Michael’s post to the argument that “The average American does not favor truly progressive policies nor does the average American think highly of the anti-war crowd.” Besides the majority support for ending the war, a majority of voters express a number of other liberal views:

If you strictly mean that the majority of Americans aren’t total adherents to Kos philosphy I agree, otherwise… A majority of Americans think that the government should guarantee health care for all Americans. A majority of Americans are worried about Global Warming and environmental issues in general. Though a majority oppose Gay marriage, virtually the same margin favors civil unions. A majority of Americans also agree with upholding Roe v. Wade. Gee, this strikes me as being rather, I dunno, progressive don’t you think?

On a personal level I also found Michael’s arguments against demands for ideological purity to contradict his own personal actions as he came down on the side of such an attitude earlier this year. Long time readers are aware of how Liberal Values was first formed due to disagreements with attitudes at The Democratic Daily and was followed by a series of personal attacks against me over subsequent areas of disagreement. Disputes centered around my “controversial” beliefs (at least over there) that Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic rants contribute to anti-Semitism and should be discussed, that Holocaust Denial is a serious problem, that Astrology is bunk, that photographs which people claim to be of ghosts most likely are not of real ghosts, that attacks on evolution should be debunked regardless of whether from creationists on the right or from liberals such as Deepak Chopra, that the promotion of violence against those they disagree with is wrong, that it has not been conclusively proven that the 2004 election was stolen, and that belief that the 9/11 attacks were caused by al Qaeda provides a far more convincing argument than the various conspiracy theories blaming the attacks on George Bush. Despite the campaign of personal attacks launched against me for holding these beliefs which counter the beliefs at The Democratic Daily, Michael inexplicably took sides and repeated their rather bizarre justification for such personal attacks on me at his blog.

While this recent blog war is not of much significance I cannot help but be influenced by Michael’s past conduct in support of stifling free thought when I evaluate his post. It is one thing to take a principled stand for a big tent and to oppose the appearance of purging portions of the party. It is another thing to pick and choose based upon your personal feelings about the participants on one side. Between Michael’s stress on Iraq and his labeling of some anti-war bloggers as totalitarians I cannot help but feel that Michael is using the post more to attack opponents of the war he disagrees with than to defend independent thought after he came out on the side of opponents of independent thought in the past.

Update: Cernig of Newshoggers examines Michael’s Kos Derangement Syndrome.

Update II: Michael apparently has difficulty either letting things go or admitting he is wrong whenhe has made a mistake and therefore has a rather bizarre post linking back here. Much of what he says is already responded to in the comments.

Michael got involved in a dispute where he knew nothing about the facts but decided to stick up for someone he freely admitted was a friend. He was unable to separate the actual issues from his personal feelings. Michael does exactly what he accuses me of when he says, “Instead of talking about issues, we are suddenly caught up talking about people.” The whole dispute came because, as a consequence of speaking out on the issues, I have been subjected to continued personal attacks ranging from signs of anti-Semitism to inventing a numerous bizarre personal charges.

Michael has no factual response to my rebuttals of his charges in the comments here and therefore has posted what amounts to a personal attack (even if milder than the others I have encountered). Michael is far too hypocritical to realize that each time he takes sides and uses his blog to join in a the personal vendetta which The Democratic Daily has waged against me he is doing exactly what he accuses me of. His post today is clearly one of talking about people, where I have concentrated on issues. Considering that he brought this up days after the discussion here, he also looks like the one who cannot let things go.

Michael’s use of personal attacks is also seen in his original post under discussion where he basis his argument on calling those he disagrees with totalitarians. As I made clear, preferring to deal with issues as opposed to personalities, Michael did have a number of good points before he got into name calling. He could have had an excellent post if he stuck to the issues and looked at it objectively as opposed to needing to demonize those he disagreed with.

ACLU Defends Against Highway Robbery

The ACLU is going to court to attempt to recover money which was taken from a truck driver. The reason the ACLU is involved in such a case is that the money was taken by the DEA:

A trucker has sued the Drug Enforcement Administration, seeking to get back nearly $24,000 seized by DEA agents earlier this month at a weigh station on U.S. 54 in New Mexico north of El Paso, Texas.

Anastasio Prieto of El Paso gave a state police officer at the weigh station permission to search the truck to see if it contained “needles or cash in excess of $10,000,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the federal lawsuit Thursday.

Prieto told the officer he didn’t have any needles but did have $23,700.

Officers took the money and turned it over to the DEA. DEA agents photographed and fingerprinted Prieto over his objections, then released him without charging him with anything.

Border Patrol agents searched his truck with drug-sniffing dogs, but found no evidence of illegal substances, the ACLU said.

The lawsuit alleges the defendants violated Prieto’s right to be free of unlawful search and seizure by taking his money without probable cause and by fingerprinting and photographing him.

“Mere possession of approximately $23,700 does not establish probable cause for a search or seizure,” the lawsuit said.

The money was taken despite lack of any evidence of a crime, and without any due process. It sounds like robbery, and the ACLU agrees:

“The government took Mr. Prieto’s money as surely as if he had been robbed on a street corner at night,” Simonson said. “In fact, being robbed might have been better. At least then the police would have treated him as the victim of a crime instead of as a perpetrator.”

This is yet another example of how the war on drugs often does far more harm than good.

Debating the She-Devil

The conventional wisdom is that debates help the underdog as opposed to the front runner as the underdog appears to be the equal to the front runner. Does the concept work for informal attacks going back in forth in the media as opposed to a formal debate?

Reading Political Radar’s account of the public spat between John Edwards and Ann Coulter, I wonder if the end result is to place the two on an equal level. Instead of elevating himself to the level of a front runner. Edwards has managed to lower himself to the level of the She-Devil.

Scientists Induce “Out of Body” Experiences

It looks that there’s nothing very mystical about the perception of out of body experiences. The New York Times reports on studies in which experimental studies were induced to experience the sensation:

Using virtual reality goggles, a camera and a stick, scientists have induced out-of-body experiences — the sensation of drifting outside of one’s own body — – in healthy people, according to experiments being published in the journal Science.

When people gaze at an illusory image of themselves through the goggles and are prodded in just the right way with the stick, they feel as if they have left their bodies.

The research reveals that “the sense of having a body, of being in a bodily self,” is actually constructed from multiple sensory streams, said Matthew Botvinick, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Princeton University, an expert on body and mind who was not involved in the experiments.

Usually these sensory streams, which include vision, touch, balance and the sense of where one’s body is positioned in space, work together seamlessly, Prof. Botvinick said. But when the information coming from the sensory sources does not match up, when they are thrown out of synchrony, the sense of being embodied as a whole comes apart.

The brain, which abhors ambiguity, then forces a decision that can, as the new experiments show, involve the sense of being in a different body.

The research provides a physical explanation for phenomena usually ascribed to other-worldly influences, said Peter Brugger, a neurologist at University Hospital in Zurich, Switzerland. After severe and sudden injuries, people often report the sensation of floating over their body, looking down, hearing what is said, and then, just as suddenly, find themselves back inside their body. Out-of-body experiences have also been reported to occur during sleep paralysis, the exertion of extreme sports and intense meditation practices.

The new research is a first step in figuring out exactly how the brain creates this sensation, he said.