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Fluidity at the Front

[ 0 ] August 30, 2016 |

Valiant Shield – B2 Stealth bomber from Missouri leads aerial formation. By Jordon R. Beesley – US Navy, Public Domain,


Here’s the second of what will likely be three columns on the Biddle-Oelrich International Security article:

As discussed in last week’s column, Stephen Biddle and Ivan Oelrich have made a significant contribution to the literature on the future military balance in the Western Pacific. As with any such analysis, however, their article offers as many questions as it does answers. We can break these quibbles down into three areas; strategic, technological, and organizational questions.



Jill Stein Being A Buffoon Is Overdetermined

[ 13 ] August 30, 2016 |


As ridiculous as Jill Stein’s tendency to play pattycake with anti-vaxxers and use of DANK MEMES to attract the kids are, her ignorance about basic facts of politics and public policy are far more comprehensive. Peyser collects some of the sillier comments from her recent Washington Post interview here, including an instructively Trump-like claim that the presidency isn’t “rocket science.” Her recent Intercept colloquy is even more derp saturated. It’s amazing how many absurd statements she can fit into a single “thought”:

But in practice, if Trump wins, what happens to the Fight for $15, what happens to Planned Parenthood, what happens to health reform and immigration reform? Wouldn’t there be a difference between a Trump presidency and a Clinton one?

Maybe around the margins. We would have the Affordable Care Act, instead of some other privatized option. The Affordable Care Act is not a solution, it’s quite a problem. It provides some care for all. There was a Medicaid expansion, but that Medicaid expansion has been stopped, and it made health care more expensive and more out of reach.

I’m not even sure where to start.

  • The argument that because the ACA didn’t fully nationalize the American health insurance industry that there’s really no meaningful difference between the “privatized” ACA and the “privatized” Republican alternative is obscenely wrong. A unified Republican Congress would deregulate the insurance industry and probably block grant or privatize Medicaid. Tens of millions of people would lose health insurance and those that retained insurance would pay more while receiving less.
  • The term “privatized” strongly suggests that the ACA constricted public insurance and deregulated private insurance, which is the antithesis of the truth. (This is a close cousin to the ‘the ACA BAILED OUT the insurance industry’ argument, ludicrously assuming that we’d have single payer were it not for that meddling ACA.)
  • The idea that the ACA made insurance more expensive is absurdly wrong.
  • The Medicaid expansion was not “stopped.” A majority of states have adopted it. Millions of poor people have health insurance because of it. Were Stein to succeed in her goal of throwing the election to Trump, conversely, the most likely outcome would be millions fewer people having access to Medicaid than did before the ACA was passed.
  • It is true that while all Democratic statehouses accepted the Medicaid expansion after it was ineptly re-written by John Roberts, most Republican statehouses have not. This is surely central to Stein’s point that there is no meaningful difference between the two parties.
  • And note how she just dodges the point about the other massive differences between the parties. Is the difference between, say, Roe v. Wade being restored and being overruled “marginal”? How about carbon emissions being more tightly regulated rather than deregulated by crackpot climate change denialists? Oh, wait, Stein already answered that question:

I think they both lead to the same place. The lesser evil, the Democrats, certainly have a better public relations campaign, they have better spin. The dangers are less evident, but they’re catastrophic as well. Just look at the policies under Obama on climate change.

Yes, let’s do look at them. I see the Clean Power Plan, killing the Keystone pipeline, substantial subsidies for clean energy, tighter emissions standards in many areas, and the effective death penalty for the coal industry. Of course, these massive substantive differences are just “PR,” and I’m sure policy under EPA director Inhofe would be exactly the same!

Her analysis of legislative politics is equally shrewd:

You said before that President Obama came into office with an incredible public mandate, and yet he had an incredibly hard time getting anything through Congress. If you were to win the election, would you be able to get any legislation past them?

Because he didn’t want to. He didn’t try. He put his ground troops on the shelf. The myth is out there that the Republicans stopped him. He had two Democratic houses of Congress, he could have done something. He didn’t. What he did was make George Bush’s tax cuts for the rich permanent and he gave Wall Street the biggest bailout on record, that’s what he did.

You think Congress wouldn’t stop you?

No, because we won’t put our ground troops on the shelf. That’s what Barack Obama did.

Jill Stein’s GROUND TROOPS will force Paul Ryan to enact the Green platform. That and her DANK MEMES! The whole interview is like this — there’s scarcely a sentence that doesn’t have a massive factual howler, logical fallacy, or both. (To be Scrupulously Fair, she does defend approval voting, but this doesn’t help to explain why she’s running as if the U.S. already had it.)

And yet, someone in Stein’s position has to afford to be made to look ridiculous. The idea that there’s no major differences between the parties in 2016 is massively stupid, but since the only effect the Greens could ever have on an election in the current context is to elect Republicans, the Green leader has no choice but to pretend to believe it. She doesn’t have a good answer for what a Green presidential campaign can accomplish, but that’s because such an answer doesn’t exist. Being an ignorant crank is exactly what her form of third-party campaign demands.

The Clinton Rules

[ 53 ] August 30, 2016 |

powell-wideAbove: Only A Fool Or Frenchman Could Question His Unimpeachable Integritude!

The contrast between how the Clinton Foundation and Colin Powell’s foundation have been covered is indeed striking:

Because Colin Powell did not have the reputation in the mid- to late ’90s of being a corrupt or shady character, his decision to launch a charity in 1997 was considered laudable. Nobody would deny that the purpose of the charity was, in part, to keep his name in the spotlight and keep his options open for future political office. Nor would anybody deny that this wasn’t exactly a case of Powell having super-relevant expertise. What he had to offer was basically celebrity and his good name. By supporting Powell’s charity, your company could participate in Powell’s halo.

But when the press thinks of you as a good guy, leveraging your good reputation in this way is considered a good thing to do. And since the charity was considered a good thing to do, keeping the charity going when Powell was in office as secretary of state was also considered a good thing to do. And since Powell was presumed to be innocent — and since Democrats did not make attacks on Powell part of their partisan strategy — his charity was never the subject of a lengthy investigation.

Which is lucky for him, because as Clinton could tell you, once you are the subject of a lengthy investigation, the press doesn’t like to report, “Well, we looked into it and we didn’t find anything interesting.”

Instead we get things like:

An Associated Press investigation whose big reveal is that Clinton once tried to help out a Nobel Peace Prize winner who was in hot water with the ruling party of his home country.
An LA Times story headlined “Billionaire’s Clinton Ties Face Scrutiny,” about a rich Lebanese-Nigerian man who appears to be genuinely somewhat shady, gave money to the Clinton Foundation, and received nothing in exchange.
A Wall Street Journal story about how the crown prince of Bahrain scored a meeting with Hillary Clinton years after having donated to the Clinton Foundation. The story somehow forgets to mention that Rice, Powell, Madeleine Albright, and Warren Christopher had all also met with him during their tenures as secretary of state
An ABC investigation that concluded a donor had used a foundation connection to get a better seating assignment at State Department function.

Three of these stories, in other words, found no wrongdoing whatsoever but chose to insinuate that they had found wrongdoing in order to make the stories seem more interesting. The AP even teased its story with a flagrantly inaccurate tweet, which it now concedes was inaccurate but won’t take down or correct. The final investigation into the seat assignments at least came up with something, but it’s got to be just about the most trivial piece of donor special treatment you can think of.

Did one of Alma Powell’s donors ever ask for a better seat at a Powell-era function? Nobody knows, because nobody would think to ask.

The Clintons have made mistakes. But it’s absolutely true that going back to Whitewater the media has been inventing anti-Clinton scandals out of absolutely nothing, and this continues in earnest during this campaign.

Takes Never Sleep

[ 31 ] August 30, 2016 |


Skip Bayless has still got it, everyone!

He began stirring it up in L.A. last week, taking to a Fairfax Avenue barber shop to talk sports with fans who came in for a cut. Bayless defended the abilities of Tim Tebow and opined that Aaron Rodgers is overrated considering his mixed playoff results.

I would expect all of these 7 forms of Colin Kaepernick hot takes to appear on Skip’s exciting new Fox show within the first ten minutes.

Gene Wilder, RIP

[ 103 ] August 29, 2016 |

Big loss, although not unexpected.

[SL]: Great tribute from Roy.

Both Sides Do It, An Eternally Recurring Series

[ 148 ] August 29, 2016 |

Yes, Hillary Clinton making Anthony Weiner the CEO of her campaign showed very poor judgment. Can’t dispute that logic.

Good Luck With That

[ 130 ] August 29, 2016 |


The Denver Broncos have named as their starting quarterback someone who, if he fully retained his NCAA production levels, would be a replacement-level NFL starter at best. The fact that there is, as far as I can tell, no contemporary precedent for someone as mediocre in peonage ball as Siemian becoming a viable starter (Tom Brady, a once-in-multiple generation development story, was a lot better in college adjusted for context) doesn’t make it impossible. But it does mean that the decision should be considered excellent news for the Kansas City Chiefs. Although, in fairness, I’m sure the Broncos will get a huge haul for Mark Sanchez.

In other NFL news, I have finally fulfilled my lifelong ambition of making it into Why Your Team Sucks. I can’t find the original comment, but if he’s still lurking thanks to Joe From Lovell for inspiring the joke.

Two Front

[ 25 ] August 29, 2016 |

By Loudon dodd – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

My latest at the National Interest ponders the possibility of a two-front war:

The United States discarded its oft-misunderstood “two war” doctrine, intended as a template for providing the means to fight two regional wars simultaneously, late last decade. Designed to deter North Korea from launching a war while the United States was involved in fighting against Iran or Iraq (or vice versa,) the idea helped give form to the Department of Defense’s procurement, logistical and basing strategies in the post–Cold War, when the United States no longer needed to face down the Soviet threat. The United States backed away from the doctrine because of changes in the international system, including the rising power of China and the proliferation of highly effective terrorist networks.

But what if the United States had to fight two wars today, and not against states like North Korea and Iran? What if China and Russia sufficiently coordinated with one another to engage in simultaneous hostilities in the Pacific and in Europe?

Only Donald J. Trump Can Protect the Sacred Bonds of Matrimony

[ 123 ] August 29, 2016 |
Marla Maples and Donald Trump during "The Will Rogers Follies" Gala - May 16, 1991 at Palace Theater in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

Marla Maples and Donald Trump during “The Will Rogers Follies” Gala – May 16, 1991 at Palace Theater in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

Apparently the latest round of internet interaction from Carlos Danger was the last straw for Huma Abedin. The Republican nominee for president has some thoughts on the subject:

“Huma is making a very wise decision. I know Anthony Weiner well, and she will be far better off without him,” Mr. Trump said in a statement.

“I only worry for the country in that Hillary Clinton was careless and negligent in allowing Weiner to have such close proximity to highly classified information,” he continued. “Who knows what he learned and who he told? It’s just another example of Hillary Clinton’s bad judgment. It is possible that our country and its security have been greatly compromised by this.”

Yes, we cannot have a president who has an adviser whose husband virtually cheats on her — what does that say about her judgment? Rather, we need a president who openly boasted about his affairs while married to his first two wives.

I am looking forward to the first pundit who spent years arguing that it was highly disturbing that Abedin didn’t leave Weiner who finds it highly disturbing that she left him, and either way it says something very bad about Hillary Clinton because something.

Are TRIGGER WARNINGS and SAFE SPACES Destroying Free Speech? (Spoiler: No.)

[ 173 ] August 29, 2016 |

635973704823610467775588141_Safe-Space-Sticker-e1406320631580Above: Why Do These Monsters Hate Free Speech?

The University of Chicago “safe spaces” letter does have one virtue: it’s produced some excellent writing debunking the dense web of strawpersons and urban legends and random anecdotes that seem to be pervasive in discussions of these issues. Mark Tushnet on trigger warnings:

That, I think, is what discussions of trigger warnings should be about – whether pedagogic choices made in a different era, with a different set of students with different values and known backgrounds from those today, should be adhered to. An example: I can imagine – because I think I did it many years ago – referring in a class discussion of Everson v. Board of Education to Justice Jackson’s dissenting reference to Lord Byron’s description in Don Juan of Julia, but I certainly wouldn’t do so today; the pedagogic benefit, which is minor, is clearly outweighed by the interference the reference would cause, particularly because there are many other ways of making Jackson’s point.

Instructors use trigger warnings, when they do so in a sensible manner, to maximize their pedagogic effectiveness as instructors: They want to include material whose content might distract students who weren’t prepared for it, and hope that the warning will be enough to reduce the distraction to a level where the substantive point can still be made. These choices are bound up with a lot of other pedagogic judgments – Can one make the substantive point by using other material? Will giving the trigger warning itself distract students, as they wonder, with respect to each item up for discussion, whether that was what the trigger warning was about? So, it’s quite silly to say, as the University of Chicago letter did, that the University “does not support” giving trigger warnings. At the very least, instructors should have the freedom to make a responsible decision that giving a trigger warning will, in the circumstances, enhance pedagogic effectiveness. If the University doesn’t support their doing so, it doesn’t care about good teaching.

Tushnet on “safe spaces”:

The widely noted University of Chicago letter to freshman is, I’m afraid – with due respect to my friends there – basically quite stupid (in the words that have attracted the most attention). The phrasings are either transparently false or so vague as to obstruct rather than facilitate clear thinking about the issues the letter purports to address.

Quoting: “We do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe’ spaces where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.” That’s either false or an indication that people should think carefully about sending their children to the University. Consider some examples: A war veteran is assigned a dormitory room with a roommate who is aggressively anti-the-war-in-which-the veteran-served. Almost every evening the roommate seeks to engage the veteran in a conversation about the injustice of the war and of specific incidents during it. The veteran goes to the appropriate university authorities and asks to be assigned a different roommate, saying, “I’m perfectly happy to engage in a discussion of the war in a military history class, a philosophy class on justice in wartime, and in many other places. But in the evening I just want to kick back and relax, and study for my classes. My room, in short, should be a safe space with respect to conversations about the war.” I think the university might well be irresponsible if its only response were, “Grown-ups have to learn how to work out for themselves the resolution of these kinds of disputes.” (That’s the “think carefully about sending your kids to the University” prong.) And, in my view, it wouldn’t be acting badly if it reassigned either the veteran or the roommate to another dormitory room, thereby “condon[ing] the creation of [an] intellectual ‘safe space'” for the veteran. (That’s the “it’s false” prong.)

Henry Farrell on “safe spaces”:

What this all suggests is that questions of preserving academic freedom and academic diversity are more complicated than the University of Chicago’s rather self-congratulatory letter to incoming students would suggest. Lohmann’s fundamental point (and I really hope the book emerges, so that these ideas get the airing they deserve) is that successful universities – surely including the University of Chicago – are congeries of safe spaces that factions of scholars have carved out to protect themselves from their intellectual enemies. More concretely – the University of Chicago has both a very well recognized economics department and a very well recognized sociology department. There is furthermore some overlap in the topics that they study. Yet the professors in these two departments protect themselves from each other – they do not, for example, vote on each other’s tenure decisions. They furthermore have quite different notions (though again, perhaps with some overlap) of what constitutes legitimate and appropriate research. In real life, academics only are able to exercise academic freedom because they have safe spaces that they can be free in.

Thinking about universities in this way doesn’t provide obvious answers to student demands for safe spaces, some of which seem to me to be legitimate, some not (I also suspect that the media has an interest in hyping up the most ridiculous seeming claims because the weird social connections between the American elite and a very small number of colleges mean that this stuff gets an audience – but that’s another matter for a different post). What it does though, is to make clear that universities’ and professors’ own notions (myself included) of what makes for legitimate inquiry, academic freedom etc, and what doesn’t are themselves contested, and the products of social processes that don’t always look particularly good when they’re subjected to sustained inquiry.

Obviously, any useful pedagogical tool can be misused or implemented in a manner inconsistent with academic freedom (although it’s striking how few random anecdotes people whinging about trigger warnings have come up with — we’re still hearing, for example, about the dumb Oberlin policy from 2014 which was never actually implemented.)  Some student requests and reasonable and some are not. But this idea that coming out against BIG POLITICALLY CORRECT in this way is taking some kind of bold stance is very silly. As Tushnet observes at the first link, we’re already seeing the two-step of terrific triviality in which it is said that the most natural reading of the phrase “do not support so-called trigger warnings” — i.e. that the administration opposes the use of trigger warnings even if it can’t forbid them — is wrong, and actually all that the letter meant is that they aren’t required. Which is 1)not what the letter says and 2)if so, it’s not clear who disagrees, but anyway. It’s also striking how quickly supporters of the letter start bringing up things — such as “Yale students failed to show proper deference to Erika Christakis’s authori-tah” — that do not in fact have anything to do with “trigger warnings” but do suggest that it’s a problem when students object to how administrators exercise their authority. I’m reminded of the movement a couple years ago to suggest that America’s elites have an inalienable right to get five-figure paydays to deliver banalities to a captive audience free of any objections on the part of the campus community.

Orville Redenbacher Stocks Skyrocketing!

[ 38 ] August 29, 2016 |


No one really knows what Donald Trump will say about immigration these days? It shifts by the hour. A campaign based around hate of Mexicans from a candidate who really just doesn’t care about anything but self-promotion realizes that he is going down to a historic defeat based in part of this rhetoric. So he sort of changes it. Then changes back. Then to some other incoherent position. All of this has done nothing to help Trump. But it has made his strong supporter Ann Coulter very, very sad.

Coulter’s problem is that on the very week she’s unveiled her immigration-themed defense of Trumpism, Trump himself has begun jettisoning it. On Wednesday night, he admitted that it’s “very, very hard” to deport all the undocumented immigrants in the country and implied that he would be open to some people being allowed to stay legally without becoming citizens, provided they pay back taxes. Suddenly, Trump is flirting with an immigration policy that resembles that of every other Republican who ran for president. Which makes Coulter look like a dupe. On Thursday on his show, Rush Limbaugh had a hearty laugh at her expense.

So far, Coulter has responded in contradictory ways. She’s fired off tweets attacking Trump’s immigration shift. But she’s also downplayed it.

Maybe Coulter, like the other high-profile supporters Trump has burned, will accept her humiliation and resort to defending Trump no matter what he says. Her incentives, however, are different. Unlike most of the folks who appear on television supporting Trump, she has an independent brand. And it’s built on white nationalism. Trump may win votes by moderating his stance on immigration. But that’s not how Coulter sells books.

Coulter also needs an explanation for Trump’s likely defeat, an explanation that will preserve her ability to claim that America’s silent majority believes the things she does. By emphasizing Trump’s immigration flip-flop, Coulter could argue that this issue cost him the white votes he needed to win.

All of this has made Rush Limbaugh laugh at Coulter.

“Poor Ann!” he continued to laugh. “Oh, my God, she’s got this book In Trump We Trust, and in it she says the only thing, the only thing that could cause Trump any trouble whatsoever is if he flip-flops on immigration, goes amnesty. It looks like he’s getting close to it, and she’s just beside herself with this. I mean, what timing.”

“I don’t see a lot of people preparing to abandon Trump over this,” he said later in the program. “Maybe Coulter. Who knows what she’s gonna do. I mean, her book hits, and it’s just had the rug pulled out from under it.”

Watching various Republican hatemongers and hacks go at each other’s throats has been one of the highlights of this election cycle.

The Democratic Bench

[ 222 ] August 29, 2016 |
Former Governor TedStrickland at the Athletic Club of Columbus 136 E Broad St on August 6, 2013 speaking on Climate Change. (Columbus Dispatch photo by Tom Dodge)

Former Governor TedStrickland at the Athletic Club of Columbus 136 E Broad St on August 6, 2013 speaking on Climate Change. (Columbus Dispatch photo by Tom Dodge)

This piece is pretty pessimistic about downballot Democrats and its hard to disagree.

“The bench is not apparent right now,” said David Axelrod, the chief strategist for Mr. Obama’s presidential campaigns. “There are some impressive young leaders, but who among them is the next presidential nominee I can’t answer. A lot of them are not there yet.”

“Democrats have done a poor job, and I take my share of responsibility here, in not being as focused as Republicans have on building at the grass roots,” Mr. Axelrod said. “Look what the G.O.P. and their related agents have done with legislative and City Council and school board races. They are building capacity, and Democrats have paid the cost.”

Many promising young Democrats in the House have been frustrated by the reluctance of Representative Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader, and her aging deputies to step aside and let new members ascend to leadership — one of the few rewards for a minority party in the House. “I was on the recruitment committee, and a lot of candidates decided to take a pass,” said Representative Karen Bass, Democrat of California. She added, “There are people who are new to Congress and have a difficult situation because they are not going to be there for 20 years.”

Some simply leave. “I was one of the few Democrats not to support Nancy Pelosi for leader,” said Representative Gwen Graham, Democrat of Florida, who is retiring after one term and planning to run for governor. “We need new voices.” Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, once considered a potential House speaker, is running for the Senate.

Democratic ranks have also been decimated in state governments across the nation, where new leaders tend to plant roots for future higher office.

After the 2008 elections, Democrats controlled 62 of the 99 state legislatures; today, Republicans control 68 chambers, according to Governing magazine. Over the same time period, the number of Democrats in governor’s mansions fell from 28 to 18. In both cases, Republican control is now at or near historic highs.

There are a number of issues here. Frankly, Democrats should be crushing Republicans in Senate races this year and while it’s clear they will make gains, I think it’s fairly safe to say that as a whole, the party is underperforming given what is happening in the presidential race. Ted Strickland has been a disaster in Ohio. Katie McGinty is the definition of meh. Patrick Murphy is very shaky and Alan Grayson is a clown, leaving no good Florida options. Grassley could be vulnerable in the right environment, but Patty Judge hasn’t done anything and is not exactly the young, dynamic candidate who might push him out. If the Democrats do win the Senate, it’s quite likely because Evan Bayh decided to parachute into the race. I’m sure that will do nothing for his nonexistent ego.

But of course this extends beyond the Senate. The fundamental problem is still that Democrats didn’t show up in the 2010 elections, allowing Republicans to game the states through gerrymandering. There are fewer Democrats to build a strong reputation. And they exist now in the minority, meaning they don’t have many accomplishments to run on. Plus, Democrats simply don’t pay much attention to lower-level races. The emphasis on the presidency is a lot higher among Democrats than Republicans. Given Hillary is blowing out Trump, you’d think we’d see more of a shift to the states and while that may happen more after Labor Day, it sure hasn’t yet. Democrats seem to believe more in electing the national leader and thinking that person will solve problems, which they can’t without downballot races. This may be because Democrats are more grassroots and Republicans have the corporate support that know how to leverage power at the lower levels. And with the general abandonment of Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy, when you have an election like this, the Democrats are unable to run even halfway credible candidates against many House or state legislature members who might be vulnerable all of a sudden.

I did however wonder about this prognostication:

“Democrats are going to have their own Tea Party moment in 2018,” said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor and Senate analyst for The Cook Political Report. “I don’t think they are going to put up with the party dictating who their candidates are.”

I could see this going either way. Will the Sanders movement spawn a bunch of progressive candidates ready to take on established Democrats in primaries and launch grassroots efforts to knock them out? I don’t really know. I suppose it’s possible. It would also take a whole lot of organizing after the November election, which the base has not been good at doing in the last several years. I think also misinterprets the Democratic base, which is not so much loud college educated white liberals, but African-Americans and Latinos. So in some districts, yes, I think it’s quite likely you see some of this, but in the core of the Democratic districts, I am a lot more skeptical.

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