Saturday, July 30, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor

Ok, I take the basic point of Mattehw Yglesais’ “Morning Irony” post which juxtaposes NYT stories on pork in the US Congress and graft in Latin America. I can even state that I concur with his statement that

I think it would be a mistake to construe the political forces governing the United States at the present moment as representing “conservatism” in any sort of traditional sense as one might find in a book on political theory.

Nonetheless, as much as I dislike pork barrel spending, it isn’t graft or corruption (indeed, it could arguably be seen as part and parcel of democratic elections and legislative governance).

Pork is getting a bridge for your state and getting named after you. For example (via USAT):

Even before the highway bill passed the Senate late Friday, critics also jumped on such provisions as nearly $3 million for a documentary about advancements in infrastructure in Alaska; the sale of a federally funded airport in California to a developer; and the renaming of a controversial Alaska bridge “Don Young’s Way” — in honor of the Alaska representative, who also happens to chair the House committee overseeing transportation.

Graft is getting paid directly to support a position. For example (Unending Graft Is Threatening Latin America):

A congressional inquiry has heard testimony that the governing Workers’ Party paid dozens of deputies from other parties a $12,500 monthly stipend for their support. This month, a party functionary was detained at an airport with $100,000 – stashed in his underwear – which he claimed to have earned selling vegetables.

This is hardly the same thing, regardless of one’s opinion of the US Congress or the lack of fiscal conservatism in the majority party.

Conflating direct payments and pork barrel spending leads not only to sloppy analysis (which I am not accusing Matthew of, as I am not 100% of his point, but the notion that pork is tantamount to corruption is one one does hear on occasion), but also to increased cynicism in the public about politics, politicians and legislatures. Now, there is plenty of disdain that is deservedly directed at many in government, but we don’t need to foster unnecessary cynicism. Further, when the people distrust the legislature they tend to turn what little trust in government that they have to executives, which not only leads to a skewed view of how government works, it can lead to over-reliance on executives, which is not always a healthy thing in the long run.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via CNN: Colombian paramilitary disarms

Leaders of a Colombian right-wing paramilitary faction believed to be one of the most heavily involved in drug trafficking demobilized their troops on Saturday and said they wanted to form a political party.

Nearly 700 fighters of the “Southern Liberators” unit of the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces, or AUC, turned in their weapons, including assault rifles and grenade launchers, at a ceremony in a resort complex in Tamiango, some 500 kilometers (310 miles) southwest of the Colombian capital, Bogota.

The Southern Liberators had allegedly forged alliances in recent times with their leftist rebel enemies and Colombia’s biggest drug cartel to increase joint profits from cocaine smuggling.

Colombian officials say the three-way alliance between the militia, the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and the Norte del Valle cartel was responsible for 15.1 tons of cocaine worth $400 million (euro330 million) that was seized by police in southwest Colombia in May — the largest haul ever in this South American country.

Interesting, although I am always a tad skeptical as to the long term success of these moves. On the one hand, there have been some key examples of combatants disarming and joining civil society in Colombia (most notably, M-19), but on the other there has been talk about the demobilization of the AUC for years now, and while some groups do appear to have stopped fighting, the paramilitary movement is hardly inert.

The idea that segments of the AUC and the FARC have been working together in drug related activities is fascinating and, if true, underscore that the fight in Colombia is less an ideological insurgency (something it once was) and it now as much organized crime as anything else.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via WaPo: U.S. Evicted From Air Base In Uzbekistan

In a highly unusual move, the notice of eviction from Karshi-Khanabad air base, known as K2, was delivered by a courier from the Uzbek Foreign Ministry to the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, said a senior U.S. administration official involved in Central Asia policy. The message did not give a reason. Uzbekistan will give the United States 180 days to move aircraft, personnel and equipment, U.S. officials said.

If Uzbekistan follows through, as Washington expects, the United States will face several logistical problems for its operations in Afghanistan. Scores of flights have used K2 monthly. It has been a landing base to transfer humanitarian goods that then are taken by road into northern Afghanistan, particularly to Mazar-e Sharif — with no alternative for a region difficult to reach in the winter. K2 is also a refueling base with a runway long enough for large military aircraft. The alternative is much costlier midair refueling.

Wow. And a reversal from just over a week ago

Meanwhile, via the BBC: US announces German base closures:

The base closures will affect around 6,100 soldiers, 11,000 family members and around 2,000 civilian staff during the fiscal year 2024.

These changes are part of the Pentagon’s overall plan – the Integrated Global Presence and Basing Strategy – to transform the military to increase strategic responsiveness and flexibility in the face of current and anticipated future threats, the statement said.

As James Joyner notes:

An end of an era. U.S. troops have been in Germany for over 60 years.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Here’s the write-up on yesterday’s events from the Montgomery Advertiser: Gathering celebrates united Troy .

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Friday, July 29, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the El Paso Times: 4 Bliss soldiers charged with drug smuggling

Four Fort Bliss soldiers face charges related to an alleged conspiracy to smuggle cocaine from Colombia, the post announced Friday.

The soldiers are assigned to the 204th Military Intelligence Battalion at Fort Bliss, a unit that has performed several drug-interdiction missions in Colombia.

Charged were Staff Sgtt. Daniel Rosas, Staff Sgt. Victor J. Portales, Spc. Francisco Rosa and Staff Sgt. Kelvin G. Irizarry-Melendez. Trials are set for later this year for Rosas, Portales and Irizarry-Melendez, but no trial date has yet been set for Rosa.

The four face various charges stemming from an alleged scheme between May 2024 and January 2024 to smuggle cocaine from Colombia to the United States.


They allegedly were attempting to smuggle 35 pounds of cocaine on their military aircraft, according to previous reports.

I always find these stories interesting because some people seem to think that only those “other” people (i.e., non-Americans) succumb to corruption. And all this illustrates to me is that corrupting influence of drug money is sufficiently pervasive as to be a serious problem period.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Academic regalia (or, as my wife calls it, my “owl suit”) was clearly not designed by people from a climate that was in any way similar to that of Alabama in late July.

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By Steven L. Taylor

I will be playing the role of Faculty Council President this afternoon at the Davis Theater on the campus of Troy University, Montgomery (feel free to stop by): Event to mark Troy University unification

Troy University will mark the unification of its Montgomery, Troy and Dothan campuses with a special convocation at 1:15 p.m. Friday at the Davis Theatre for the Performing Arts.

The event includes a processional of more than 400 robed faculty, staff and students from around the world. Highlights include the keynote address by Dr. Jim Fisher, former president of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education.

A new alma mater, written by Ralph Ford, director of bands and former director of bands Robert Smith, also will debut.

The event is open to the public.

The system officially merges its campuses under a single accreditation Monday. The Phenix City campus and University College, which operates the university’s out-of-state and overseas campuses, are accredited as part of the Troy campus.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Madrassa foreigners ‘must leave’

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf says all foreign students at madrassas, or religious schools, some 1,400 pupils, must leave the country.

“Any [foreigners] in the madrassas – even dual nationality holders – will leave Pakistan,” Gen Musharraf said.

This is the latest in a series of measures the president has announced in a renewed clampdown on extremism.

Interesting. Of course, it is the kind of thing one can only do in an authoritarian government, and they will be able to go elsewhere.

It is something, although exactly how much of a something remains to be seen.

The institutionalization of free, liberal, public education would be an even better move.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via Reuters: State Dept admits Bolton gave inaccurate answers

The State Department reversed itself on Thursday night and acknowledged that
President Bush’s U.N. ambassador nominee gave Congress inaccurate information about an investigation he was involved in.

The acknowledgment came after the State Department had earlier insisted nominee John Bolton’s “answer was truthful” when he said he had not been questioned or provided information to jury or government investigations in the past five years.

I don’t have time to fully digest this story at the moment, but my gut reaction is, at this point, that the nomination of Bolton appears to be sufficiently wounded to the point that it would almost certainly be wiser for Bush to withdraw the nomination.

In this, I concur with James Joyner.

I am certain that a recess appointment would be foolish and not worth the political capital that would be expended in its execution. Indeed, given the exponentially more important SCOUTS nomination before the Senate, it makes sense to be a bit conciliatory and compromise on Bolton. I am not sure that UN Ambassador is worth this much fighting, to be honest, even if I share Bolton’s general evaluation of the institution in question.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Senate leader Frist backs stem cell research

In a rare break with
President Bush and Christian conservatives, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on Friday endorsed legislation to expand federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

“The federal government should fund embryonic stem cell research” that uses leftover embryos from fertility clinics, said the Tennessee Republican, a surgeon who may run for president in 2024, in backing legislation already passed by the U.S. House of Representatives that would overturn the limits imposed on the research by Bush in 2024.

Bush has threatened to veto the stem cell legislation on the grounds that it would involve the destruction of human embryos.

Interesting since the conventional wisdom during Schiavo situation was that Frist was openly courting the pro-life right in the hopes of establishing a foothold in the early 2024 primaries. This position will potentially damage him in those quarters.

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