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Thursday, May 28, 2009
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Oldest insurgent force marches on

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) are celebrating their 45th anniversary, making them one of the oldest insurgent forces in the world - and, despite recent setbacks, still one of the strongest.

“The Farc are at their worst point in 45 years of fighting,” said Alfredo Rangel, head of the Bogota think-tank Security and Democracy.

“Up until recently they had always been growing, in numbers and territory. Now they are being driven back, and their numbers are falling. They are in terminal decline.”

Has the FARC Declined relative its zenith in 2002? Absolutely.

Is it at its lowest points historically? It depends on how one wants to look at it. The groups has been smaller, indeed significantly smaller in the past than it is now. It is also still the most significant armed group in Colombia-something it has not always been in its 45 year history. Without a doubt the group has suffered more significant setbacks in the last year and half than perhaps it ever has in its entire history.

Is it in “terminal” decline? I fear that we cannot go that far. The group still has ~8,000 fighters and access to wealth derived from kidnapping and the cocaine trade. As such, the capacity to keep the fight going indefinitely remains in place.

Indeed, as the BBC piece notes:

Much of the Farc’s longevity, certainly since the mid-1980s, can be attributed to one thing: cocaine.

Whilst the Farc are ultra conservative in their doctrine and tactics, they have proven themselves to be adept businessmen, latching onto the drugs trade and taking their cut from all the links in the narcotics chain, from the coca fields up to the vacuum-packed bricks of cocaine that leave Colombia’s shores at a rate of over 600 tonnes a year.

According to Roman Ortiz, security expert at the Ideas for Peace Foundation, the drugs trade has provided more than just overflowing coffers.

“The Farc have also inherited a support base from their involvement in the drugs trade,” said Mr Ortiz. “They get support and recruits from the peasants who cultivate and harvest the drug crops.”

None of that is likely to go away soon (indeed, if ever).

Will they ever be able to overthrow the Colombian state? No-but then again that has never actually been a real possibility in my estimation.

Meanwhile, the Miami Herald reports that Colombia’s FARC rebels work on rebirth plan, although the story itself does say all that much about the plan itself. Most og what is mentioned included enhanced political indoctrination of recruits to curb desertions and the use of mines and snipers to cut down on direct combat with the armed forces. The latter two points are, no doubt, a direct result of the diminution of troops available. But all that really means is utilization of classic guerrilla tactics, something that the FARC has been doing for decades. Rather than being a sign that the end is nigh, all of this is more an indication of going back to what could be considered normal for the FARC. In other words, the recent era of FARC growth was the period that was out of the norm compared to the group’s 45 year existence and the size and tactics being discussed under the “rebirth” rubric sounds very much like baseline FARC behavior.

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By Steven L. Taylor

A few days ago I noted a story (I forget where, so no link) that there were a far larger number of Republican donors in the list of Chrysler dealerships than there were Democratic donors. The author of the story in question saw this as some sort of possible conspiracy. My first thought was: what were the comparable stats for the dealerships that
weren’t closed, there was no way of knowing if the closed dealership pool was somehow special if we didn’t know the broader pool of dealers. If, for example, Chrysler dealerships were disproportionately owned by Republicans who gave money to Republicans, then it would follow logically that the closed dealerships would reflect that fact. Indeed, given the demographic of those who own car dealerships, it struck me as rather likely that, in fact, they were disproportionately Republican in partisan orientation. However, I didn’t have the time or the inclination to do the research myself.

Of course since everyone loves a good conspiracy, the story hasn’t died. To wit, Mark Tapscott writes in the Washington Examiner: Furor grows over partisan car dealer closings

Evidence appears to be mounting that the Obama administration has systematically targeted for closing Chrysler dealers who contributed to Repubicans. What started earlier this week as mainly a rumbling on the Right side of the Blogosphere has gathered some steam today with revelations that among the dealers being shut down are a GOP congressman and closing of competitors to a dealership chain partly owned by former Clinton White House chief of staff Mack McLarty.

The basic issue raised here is this: How do we account for the fact millions of dollars were contributed to GOP candidates by Chrysler who are being closed by the government, but only one has been found so far that is being closed that contributed to the Obama campaign in 2008?

Well, the basic answer to question asked would be to do what I suggest above: actually research the issue of the broader pool of dealership owners and see if there really is a seriously disproportionate number of Republican donors in the dealership closure pool. And, I would hasten to add, one would still have to figure out other factors, such as regionality (which often correlates to partisan affiliation) and whatever other variables might have gone into the selection of the dealerships in question.

Thankfully, Nate Silver has done at least some of the relevant research, so I don’t have to:News Flash: Car Dealers are Republicans (It’s Called a Control Group, People). Nate looks at contributions based on profession and finds the following:

Overall, 88 percent of the contributions from car dealers went to Republican candidates and just 12 percent to Democratic candidates. By comparison, the list of dealers on Doug Ross’s list (which I haven’t vetted, but I assume is fine) gave 92 percent of their money to Republicans — not really a significant difference.

In other words, there is almost a 9 to 1 chance that a given car dealer is going to be a Republican. As such, the fact that the closed Chrysler dealers are overwhelmingly Republican should be absolutely no surprise whatsoever.

In fact, it tracks with the numbers that are being used (by Ross in Nate’s post) and others are proof of a conspiracy. For example, World Net Daily:

But WND reviewed the list of 789 closing franchises and databases of political donors and found that of dealership majority owners making contributions in the November 2008 election, less than 10 percent gifted to Democrats while 90 percent gave substantial sums to Republican candidates.

The story has the subtitle “Dealers who give to Republicans much more likely to be shuttered” which is a statistics-illiterate statement, as simply having more of X than Y on a list does not automatically mean that X had a higher chance of being on the list than did Y. The probability of X to be on the list is directly related to the number of Xs in the pool from which the list is being selected. Yes, a 90-10 ratio would be odd if the original pool was 50-50. However, if the original pool is, as Nate’s numbers suggest, 90-10 to begin with, then a 90-10 sample of that pool makes perfect sense.

Indeed, to go along with something I said above, Nate rightly notes:

It shouldn’t be any surprise, by the way, that car dealers tend to vote — and donate — Republican. They are usually male, they are usually older (you don’t own an auto dealership in your 20s), and they have obvious reasons to be pro-business, pro-tax cut, anti-green energy and anti-labor. Car dealerships need quite a bit of space and will tend to be located in suburban or rural areas. I can’t think of too many other occupations that are more natural fits for the Republican Party.

Indeed.

Of course I expect that such evidence will not dissuade those who are hellbent on finding a conspiracy here.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009
By Steven L. Taylor

Says Hugh Hewitt (yes, Hugh Hewitt) on Sotomayor:

The judge is obviously a bright and accomplished professional with an enormously appealing personal story which resembles that of Justices Thomas and Alito. This is a great country that allows anyone who works hard to rise, and some to rise spectacularly as has Judge Sotomayor.

This won Hugh a Yglesias Award nomination from Andrew Sullivan (which James Joyner explains).

I was especially struck by the last sentence, as I almost blogged earlier today that more conservatives ought to focus on this point. In fact, I wrote the following, but did not publish it: I would think that at least conservatives with an individualist bent would be at least impressed by Sotomayor’s biography: via the LAT: Sotomayor rose from humble roots. I often think that conservatives miss chances to extol examples of hard work by individuals living the American dream because they don’t like the person’s politics.

While I understand the general politics of these situations, biographies such as hers should be a point of commonality where we can all agree that there are good things about the United States that transcend the partisan bickering of the moment.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via his Twitter feed no less (and according to the AJC it is, in fact, Gingrich’s feed).

Two tweets of note:

White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw.

and

Imagine a judicial nominee said “my experience as a white man makes me better than a latina woman” new racism is no better than old racism

Look, there is plenty of room to criticize the “wise Latina” quote (here’s one example and here’s another) but one of the things Sotomayor decidedly did not say is that her experience as a latina makeks her better than a white man. Indeed, as I noted in the previous post, and as Kerry Howley notes at Hit & Run, the context of the quote matters quite a bit (as, typically, is the case with all lines taken from a broader text-go and figure).

One of the amazing things here is that all of this is so utterly predictable, almost to the point of being preordained. I agree with Kevin Drum‘s designation of the whole thing as “Kabuki.” This would be true, btw, if it was a Republican making the nomination-just that some of the dialog and plot points would have been different, but the basic drama would be the same. In this case it was a foregone conclusion that Obama would pick a non-white male and hence the whole reverse discrimination/reverse racism arguments were going to fly. From there it was guaranteed that focus would be paid to some ruling, speech or article so as to prove the point.

Drum, in fact, lays out the future as follows:

We all know how this is going to play out. First, everyone is going to start looking for some dark secret in her background that will derail her nomination. That will probably fail. Then she’ll testify before the Senate, and everyone will ask what she thinks of Roe and Casey and Kelo. She’ll dutifully claim that she’s never even heard of these cases, and on the off chance that any of them ring a bell, she’ll sing the usual song about how it would be improper to say anything about any matter that might come before the court in the future. Which is everything. After a few weeks of this, all the Democrats and maybe a dozen or so Republicans will vote to confirm her and she’ll join the court in time for the fall term.

It’s all so tedious.

Indeed.

I will say, however, that I think that the confirmation process is necessary and useful, as these candidate ought to be vetted. The part that I object to is the rerun of a back sitcom we have to go through every time a nomination is made.

Update: CNN is also covering the story: Gingrich: Sotomayor ‘racist,’ should withdraw nomination.

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The “Wise Latina” Quote
By Steven L. Taylor

If one know anything about Sonia Sotomayor, one probably know the following quote (via Stuart Taylor):

“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion [as a judge] than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” — Judge Sonia Sotomayor, in her Judge Mario G. Olmos Law and Cultural Diversity Lecture at the University of California (Berkeley) School of Law in 2001

To which George Will (Identity Justice) notes today:

“Imagine the reaction if someone had unearthed in 2005 a speech in which then-Judge Samuel Alito had asserted, for example: ‘I would hope that a white male with the richness of his traditional American values would reach a better conclusion than a Latina woman who hasn’t lived that life’ — and had proceeded to speak of ‘inherent physiological or cultural differences.’ ”

A few thoughts emerge.

1) The first thing that comes to mind is the somewhat facetious notion that if one wants to be a Supreme Court Justice, never say anything else one finds oneself defined by one sentence. This is, of course, ridiculous, and is it not new (although in the past the advice was mostly focused on the written, no spoken, word).

Still, in this vein, I would note that it is a bit much to try and define someone by one sentence in a speech.

2) Is it really surprising that at a speech dedicated to diversity that a speaker might highlight the importance of diversity? Context does matter and speakers do tend to play to their audience.

The text of the speech can be found here.

If one looks at the context of the quote, it is noting that often white men have made rulings that have perpetuated discrimination. There is no doubt that this is true. As such, the point of the quote is not the a latina would always be wiser than a white male, but that in a given circumstance a wise latina might, in fact, reach a better conclusion that a wise white male. As such the quotation is a simple argument for having a mix of backgrounds and experiences on the bench. At the end of the day, it is not a controversial position.

Update: a post at Media Matters puts it quite succinctly in regards to the quote:

she was specifically discussing the importance of judicial diversity in determining race and sex discrimination cases.

Also, in regards to the “inherent physiological or cultural differences” that Will notes, the usage is less dramatic than he hints. From the speech:

Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging.

I will confess discomfort at the phrase “inherent physiological…differences” but ultimately can’t disagree with the notion that one’s “gender and national origins may and will make a difference in…judging.”

3) My Main Point: In regards to Will’s Alito counter-factual, the bottom line is that we have to be willing to admit that the reason why a white man making such a claim would be that the entire history of racial and ethnic politics in the United States has been one in which persons and groups who promote whites have done so in a manner focused on maintaining a privileged power position for whites at the expense of persons of other racial or ethnic persuasions. Likewise, groups that have sought to focus on other races have been fighting not to become hegemonic, but rather to promote the ability of members of that group to be judged on merit, not skin color. This is not an unimportant or insignificant distinction.

Further, having Alito make the same speech about whites that Sotomayor made about hispanics would be nonsensical, as the whole purpose of Sotomayor’s speech was that groups that have been historically excluded from power have a perspective to offer the process. One cannot make that claim about whites.

In other words, the historical context of a white man making such a statement would be that said white man would only want white men on the bench. However, for a hispanic women to make such a statement is not to say that only hispanic women should be on the bench, but rather that some ought to be allowed on the bench and that there is value in having them there.

I specifically wanted to note this third area because every time we go through this type of process someone says something to the effect that “a white guy couldn’t have said/done that.” Well, the truth of the matter is that a) at some point in the past white guys did say quite a lot like that, and b) it had a specific and unpleasant meaning that we do not want to see repeated now.

Granted, in a perfect world, these issues of race, ethnicity and gender would be moot. However, as the great philosopher Huey Lewis once noted “ain’t no living in a perfect world, ain’t no perfect world anyway.”

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the LAT: Sotomayor’s record sets off few ideological alarm bells

Reporting from Washington — In nominating Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court on Tuesday, President Obama tapped a veteran jurist whose humble upbringing and moderate-to-liberal record is unlikely to trigger an ideological battle in the Senate.

Actually, this may be true in regards to the Senate (although it depends on what the meaning of the word “battle” in this context). However, it is clearly impossible for someone to be nominated to the Court and not spark some kind of ideological battle.

I thought this was interesting from Obama’s statements on the nomination:

The president said he had considered many factors in his selection: “First and foremost is a rigorous intellect. . . . Second is a recognition of the limits of the judicial role,” noting that “a judge’s job is to interpret, not make, law.” Obama also said he wanted a nominee with “a sense of compassion, an understanding of how the world works and how ordinary people live.”

One would expect any president to say the first about a nominee, and the third item will cause some to freak out (after all, if “empathy” is problem, “compassion” has to be even moreso, yes?) However, it is the middle item that is noteworthy: the reference to interpreting not making the law. Yes, I expect that many of the president’s opponents will think that he is just paying lip service to the notion, but it strikes me as noteworthy that this notion has become such a part of American political discourse that the President felt the need to highlight it. Now, what that phrase means to Obama and to, say, George Will, no doubt is different. Still, that it is presumed to be an essential part of the qualifications of a Justice underscore how much closer we are ideologically in general than we pretend to be. If, for example, Obama really was the radical many wish to paint him as, he would not feel the need to make such statements. For that matter, were he a radical he wouldn’t have nominated Sotomayor.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the NYT: AT&T May Have Swayed ‘Idol’ Results

AT&T, one of the biggest corporate sponsors of “American Idol,” might have influenced the outcome of this year’s competition by providing phones for free text-messaging services and lessons in casting blocks of votes at parties organized by fans of Kris Allen, the Arkansas singer who was the winner of the show last week.

[...]

Representatives of AT&T helped fans of Mr. Allen at the two Arkansas events by providing instructions on how to send 10 or more text messages at the press of a single button, known as power texts. Power texts have an exponentially greater effect on voting than do single text messages or calls to the show’s toll-free phone lines.

Does the FEC know about this? Given that Lambert clearly should have won, I cry foul.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009
By Steven L. Taylor

Clouds like Mountains

365.145. This is just a pond in Prattville, AL but there is something about the clouds and the reflection that puts me in the mind of being up in the mountains.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Gardenia in Black and White

Well, my streak ended at 142 because I utterly, totally forgot to take a shot on Saturday. So, I guess it is Project 364 at the moment. My absent mindedness was so complete that when I went to download the shots from Sunday and Monday I was confused as to what happened to the Saturday shots until I realized that there were none. A friend actually asked me on Sunday if I had missed a day, and I said no.

Oh well, maybe I can manage next year ;)

365.144

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the AFP: Colombian police seize undetectable ‘black cocaine’

“It’s the first time we have encountered this type of cocaine,” Cardona said after reporting that 15 packets of the drug had been discovered in the fuel tank of a car heading to the El Dorado airport in Bogota.

[...]

Black cocaine has no odor, making it extremely difficult to detect, even for well-trained drug-sniffing dogs.

Apparently it is typically smuggled as printer toner or the like.

However, a little digging indicates that it isn’t new. A 1999 GAO report (PDF here) mentions it, for example.

Still, it does underscore the continued process of innovation on the part of drug traffickers who have every financial incentive to find ways to improve their smuggling capabilities.

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