The First 100 Days

Last week I suggested that an Obama administration, of it were extremely lucky and everything went smashingly, might eek out 3 big achievements in the first term: wind down the war, reform health care, and institute a cap and trade regime to cut carbon emissions. After thinking about it for a bit, it occured to me that Obama doesn’t really have 4 years. He really has less than 18 months before the 2010 midterms start to vie for Congress’ attention.

Via Ezra Klein, here’s what Obama himself is saying about his first 100 days:

After sitting down with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to figure out a strategy in Iraq, “[G]et our health care plan moving. We need a bill…by March or April to get going before the political season sets in.”

So that’s one and two. The carbon emissions legislation can probably wait, since the environment has grown considerably more popular, pressing, and mainstream as an issue in the last few years. In fact, energy reform could even be an issue to run on in the 2010 midterms rather than run away from.

Polygamy in Islam … in America

Fascinating two-part series on NPR this week on Muslim polygamy in the U.S., among a small number of Muslim immigrants, but also African-American converts to Islam.

While various conservative nitwits have gotten the vapors, what I find interesting is the fact that, at the root, this issue, like so many others in the world, can be explained by simple economics.

Muslim polygamy was a response to the bloody times in which the religion took root. So many men died in war that the society had to adapt by embracing polygamy. In other words, it was not unlike today:

The single women at the mosque say polygamy is a fact of life. But it’s not their first choice.

“Every woman has a preference to be the sole wife,” says Aliya, echoing the sentiments of the others. Aliya is a 28-year-old single woman who is finishing up a master’s degree. She says that South Philadelphia in the 21st century is a little like Arabia in the 7th century. There is a dearth of men to marry.

“We’re dealing with brothers who are incarcerated — that is, unavailable,” she says. “And then unfortunately, you have the AIDS and HIV crisis, where HIV has struck the African-American community disproportionately to others. So when you look at it that way, there is a shortage.”

Of course, this is all anecdotal stuff. The actual number of muslim polygamists in the U.S. is vanishingly small. But it’s funny how society adapts.

You Go, Girl!

And here you thought jihadists had no concept of women’s rights:

On the street, Malika El Aroud is anonymous in an Islamic black veil covering all but her eyes.

In her living room, Ms. El Aroud, a 48-year-old Belgian, wears the ordinary look of middle age: a plain black T-shirt and pants and curly brown hair. The only adornment is a pair of powder-blue slippers monogrammed in gold with the letters SEXY.

But it is on the Internet where Ms. El Aroud has distinguished herself. Writing in French under the name “Oum Obeyda,” she has transformed herself into one of the most prominent Internet jihadists in Europe.

She calls herself a female holy warrior for Al Qaeda. She insists that she does not disseminate instructions on bomb-making and has no intention of taking up arms herself. Rather, she bullies Muslim men to go and fight and rallies women to join the cause.

“It’s not my role to set off bombs — that’s ridiculous,” she said in a rare interview. “I have a weapon. It’s to write. It’s to speak out. That’s my jihad. You can do many things with words. Writing is also a bomb.”

. . .

The rise of women comes against a backdrop of discrimination that has permeated radical Islam. Mohamed Atta, the Sept. 11 hijacker, wrote in his will that “women must not be present at my funeral or go to my grave at any later date.”

Last month, Ayman al-Zawahri, Al Qaeda’s second in command, said in an online question-and-answer session that women could not join Al Qaeda. In response, a woman wrote on a password-protected radical Web site that “the answer that we heard was not what we had hoped,” according to the SITE monitoring group, adding, “I swear to God I will never leave the path and will not give up this course.”

The changing role of women in the movement is particularly apparent in Western countries, where Muslim women have been educated to demand their rights and Muslim men are more accustomed to treating them as equals.

Ms. El Aroud reflects that trend. “Normally in Islam the men are stronger than the women, but I prove that it is important to fear God — and no one else,” she said. “It is important that I am a woman. There are men who don’t want to speak out because they are afraid of getting into trouble. Even when I get into trouble, I speak out.”

After all, she said, she knows the rules. “I write in a legal way,” she said. “I know what I’m doing. I’m Belgian. I know the system.”

24 Years

That’s a long time to be living in a motel:

What worsens matters are the semantic games played by the motel’s owners, who’ve declined interviews and even ran away from a reporter.

Reading between the lines, they have suggested that their tenants are not entitled to renters’ rights — such as protection from quick eviction — because they pay for motel rooms by the week and aren’t tied to long-term leases.

Don’t try telling that to Beverly Veal, 65, who has lived at the Green Lake Motel for 24 years.

She gets no room service. She cleans her own place. “Maid service,” she snapped, “is me!”

Sure sounds like apartment living.

Most of the appliances and furnishings in Veal’s unit are hers. She showed a 2003 pink store receipt. The wrinkled paper reads $510.27 — the cost of her General Electric range unit. She pulled out a price tag for an $80 appliance from Goodwill. It’s from the fridge that now hums inside her apartment — sorry, um, motel room.

The Politics of the Possible

Given how much I hate the farm bill, I feel obligated to link to this David Brooks column where he praises McCain for opposing it and slams Obama for supporting it.

Anyone who thinks Obama can change the world is going to be sorely disappointed by his first term in office. It’s time to start lowering expectations. All the political institutions and pressures that have existed in Washington for decades will continue to exist and exert pressure on a President Obama and/or Speaker Pelosi. The range of options will be limited.

Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but I see 3 top-level priorities for the Obama administration starting in 2009:

  1. Wind down the war in Iraq
  2. Reform health care
  3. Pass major climate change legislation

I might be projecting my own priorities on this somewhat, but I don’t really see any domestic or foreign policy concern that trumps these three. That is to say, if America doesn’t move on all of these in the coming four years, we’re so f**ked that it doesn’t really matter what else happens afterward.

That said, these are three ambitious, tricky, and potentially catastrophic goals. Any one of them could blow up in a way that it takes the administration down and thwarts the other two. And, of course, a totally new issue could pop up like 9/11 and derail all three of these.

On top of that the order matters. It’s been said that Bill Clinton didn’t get health care passed because he did NAFTA first, which alienated the unions and other liberal groups whose support he needed for universal coverage.

All of this is to say that things will get harder, not easier, in January 2009, as the Democrats get to work untangling 8 years of Republican atrophy.

Politicial Campaigns As The Most Ridiculous Form Of Theater Ever

Because this is when things just get silly*:

It’s expected to bring some 60,000 people to Louisville and some prominent political figures, including presidential candidate John McCain.

The NRA convention starts Friday at the Kentucky Exposition Center.

. . .

The south wing was bustling with activity Thursday, the day before the National Rifle Association Convention opens in Louisville. Workers set up 8,000 chairs for the sold-out program featuring Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

Guns are not barred from the state-owned south wing of the Fairgrounds Convention Center and John McCain’s campaign folks said it was fine with them if NRA members with valid concealed carry permits brought guns into his speech. But since our story last week, the Secret Service has stepped in.

But NRA members who walk through the doors will be greeted by metal detectors, they won’t be allowed to carry in weapons, even if they have a valid concealed carry permit.

According to an NRA spokesperson, Secret Service members have stepped in and said while firearms will still be allowed in the convention center, they will not be allowed in the Celebration of American Values Forum.

NRA members WHAS11 talked to say they’re not upset with guns being barred from an NRA event.

*And if it had happened in, say, September, would mark the exact moment when I stopped caring about the presidential campaign.