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Archive for June, 2004

Like Elvis and Nixon shaking hands, except this time they’re both evil

[ 0 ] June 30, 2004 |

I refer, of course, to the picture to the right of the story.

Rollin’ like a River

[ 0 ] June 30, 2004 |

I’m surprised that Eugene Volokh is surprised that O’Connor and Breyer vote together 70% of the time, the 8th most common pairing on the court. Breyer–as was proved yet again in his appalling dissent inAshcroft v. ACLU–is the “liberal” most likely to roll over, especially on civil liberties cases. More broadly, O’Connor and Breyer have commonalities in many respects–not only are they the median votes, but they share a penchant for highly pragmatic, minimalist decisionmaking. It’s a logical pairing, which is only surprising if you’re determined to find “liberal activists” among Democratic appointees.

Volokh also makes a fair point about Thomas; whether or not it’s based in racist condescension, claiming that Thomas is merely Scalia’s handpuppet is empirically dubious as well. Thomas is quite odious enough on his own merits–that particular line of insult should probably be put to bed.

A constructive approach to the Nader menace

[ 0 ] June 30, 2004 |

As some of you may have noticed, I’m reaching the stage of frustration with the whole Nader thing I should have reached about four years ago. In a few weeks I should be reaching the “sputtering rage” stage.

I don’t really want to be there. I’d like to maintain a more reasoned and practical response.

Thanks to Eszter at CT, I’ve found a website appropriate to my needs. Here it is.

The game is–pledge to support one of the many fine and important organizations the good Ralph founded many years ago, if he is out of the race by Sept. 1.

I doubt this will work in the sense that it will actually make him seriously reconsider his run. But it could work in another way–by showing people the extent to which Nader has abandoned the approach to progressive political activism that worked in favor an increasingly tragi-comic Don Quixote routine.

So there it is. I’ve got 25 dollars earmarked for Clean Water Action if Ralph can bring himself to help stop W from undoing much of the good he did in his long and admirable life of public service.

Liberal Hawks: What went wrong?

[ 0 ] June 30, 2004 |

Michael Ignatieff has another mea culpa for his support of W’s Iraqi adventure. His previous apology back in March (no link, behind a pay-per-view wall) I recall only hazily. It showed up during a bit of a barrage of clumsy apologies, who can keep them straight? At any rate, I’ll read this one shortly and share my thoughts here, since I’m blogging about it before I’ve read it. My particular interest here is that I take Ignatieff rather more seriously than most liberal hawks, even though his justification for his Iraq hawkery didn’t really stand out. This is in part because he’s a political theorist, and we all know they need to be taken seriously at all times. Actually, because he’s written well and seriously on human rights in a way that shows that he has strong commitments to a form of liberal internationalism, but in a form that doesn’t appear to lead directly to political naivete and strong universalism–two things that generally bug me about liberal internationalists, even when I want to agree with them.

In other words, I’ve seen evidence that Ignatieff is a bit more politically smart than many who defend similar positions in political theory. So I’m particularly interested in what he has to say now about his obvious mistake.

So is Brad DeLong. He quotes the following passage:

Someone like me who supported the war on human rights grounds has nowhere to hide: we didn’t suppose the administration was particularly nice, but we did assume it would be competent. There isn’t much excuse for its incompetence, but equally, there isn’t much excuse for our naivete either

To which he responds with the following question:

Ignatieff needs to tell us what chain of thought could possibly have led him to the assumption that the Bush administration was competent

To which Kevin Drum responds:

This is a recurring theme, and one I really hate to see. There are lots of “liberal hawks” (and even a few conservative hawks) who are having public second thoughts about having supported the war, and we should warmly embrace them. They are excellent candidates to become opinion leaders who will help persuade other people to see things our way.

However, it sometimes seems as though a mere public reconsideration is not enough: we instead demand an abject, groveling apology and a confession that those who opposed the war were right about every last thing.

I’ve got to side with Brad DeLong here. Kevin Drum is wrong to think this is about the tone and strength of the apology. It’s not grovelling we want; I don’t care how many verys the liberal hawks place before their ‘sorry’. What we want is an explanation–how could you think this? is a legitimate question. I want to know what went wrong with an otherwise astute political observer. It’s not that the liberal hawks were wrong, it’s that they were so obviously going to wrong all along, to me and many others. In real time, they served to marginalize the anti-war left as politically naive and immature, but I don’t really care about that any more. Now, I want to know what the flaw in their reasoning was.

As an analogy, if I hand my math professor a first year calculus problem, and she gives me an incorrect answer, an apology isn’t really that interesting, no matter how heartfelt and serious. I want to know how someone in her position could fail so abjectly at something they should be able to figure out without much trouble.

I’ll welcome them back to our side without such an explanation, but until they figure out what went wrong with their reasoning process and try to figure out how to correct for it in the future, their judgement ought to be held in rather significantly lower esteem.

UPDATE: Digby’s got more. He’s less charitable than I; his suggestion is that Ignatieff et al had war fever. This may have been the case. At any rate, if the liberal hawks have a better explanation for their error, it’s incumbent upon them to lay it out for us.

GW, JC, and Turkey

[ 0 ] June 29, 2004 |

Good post at Crooked Timber about Turkish prospects in the EU. Here’s Chirac letting GW have it for meddling in European affairs by arguing that Turkey should be a member. And here’s Digby being, I think, a bit unfair.

There are a few reasons why some EU member states don’t want let Turkey in. Turkish human rights policy still leaves something to be desired. The Turkish economy is much weaker than the economies of most of Europe, including the new Eastern European entries. Allowing Turkish would completely tear the Common Agricultural Policy to shreds, as virtually all the CAP money would start going to Turkey.

Those things are important, but let’s get real. The biggest reason the Europeans don’t want to let the Turks in is because they aren’t white enough, and they aren’t Christian enough. Europeans worry that Turkish entry will destroy the “European” character of the EU. What this means in real-speak is that most Europeans don’t care for the Turkish districts in their own cities, and don’t want to see more Turks on their streets. Straightforward, old fashioned racism.

Bush is now pushing the EU to approve the Turkish application. I’m sure that GW’s motives in this aren’t altruistic; it’s a convenient club to beat the French with, it helps mend fences with Turkey, and it would help Muslim-Christian relations without any effort on the part of the US. Doesn’t change the fact that he’s probably right, though. Digby is troubled by his method,

Who the hell do these people think they are? It’s not that we have no right to politely advocate for Turkey being admitted into the EU if we choose. It’s that we don’t do it by publicly insulting the EU for our own purposes. Where did these people learn their manners, Attica?

but I’m not. European sensibilities in this area should be offended. Turkey has been an integral part of the Western Alliance for fifty years, and a critical member of the European world system for some 600. It would be nice if the Europeans treated the Turks with some courtesy, and if they would do so without being publicly denounced by GW, but I don’t see it happening.

F 9/11, another take

[ 0 ] June 29, 2004 |

I saw it Sunday afternoon. Not quite as boisterous a crowd as Rob and Scott were treated to, but enthusiastic enough. I found the film uneven, but undeniably and surprisingly powerful (especially given how little new information there was for a political geek such as myself).

It’s easy to be anti-war, and easy to make powerful, emotional filmic appeals to anti-war sentiment. As a non-pacifist who considers Moore’s lowest moment to be the montage in Bowling for Columbine that linked a violent gun culture to Vietnam to Kosovo, which is stupid and offensive, I was prepared to be bothered by the sections of the film that I feared might be cheap anti-war sentiment.

I didn’t have the response I feared at all. Moore (with a lot of help from GWB) provided an outstanding context for the segments on the Iraq war, by demonstrating just how unwilling and unable Bush had been to respond to the threat of Al Qaeda in a serious manner, the generic tragedy of war (war is always tragic, and in a banal sense is always unnecessary, if someone had behaved differently at some point) is transformed into a very specific tragedy–a war that was counterproductive to it’s stated aims to a degree we can’t begin to ascertain. The middle aged Iraqi woman shouting at the camera is a stunning bit of footage: we watch her grief for her fallen family members morph into a cursing of all things American. As Paul Krugman reminds us again today, nothing about the war and the subsequent administration of Iraq has been particularly serious. Bremer’s departing edict of a 15% maximum tax rate drives the point home more forcefully than Moore ever could. To watch the war footage, the family of a dead soldier, etc. with all this in mind makes it all the more powerful.

Is asking members of congress to encourage their children to sign up for the military a cheap stunt? Well, it’s a stunt–and gotcha stunts have long been Moore’s staple. They often work quite well and occasionally fall very, very flat. On that scale, this one is mediocre. But to judge it on its own is to miss the point he’s making. It serves as a companion to the bit where he follows around overzealous and manipulative recruiters in the economic disaster areas of Flint. That pairing, combined with a brief mention of Bush’s attempt to reduce pay and benefits for soldiers and veterans, makes a collective point that is far greater than the sum of its parts.

The footage of Bush sitting in silent panic in the classroom reading a story to children is nothing short of remarkable. Subjectively, it comes across as the most damning thing in the film. Now, I’ve heard Bush defenders say this is unfair as criticism of Bush, it means little and it could have happened to anyone. My response is simple: I have no idea what I would have done in his position. It’s entirely likely I might have reacted similarly. But here’s the rub: I know a bit about my strengths and limitations. I know I’m not a quick decision maker, and I don’t have real leadership skills. I know I would be way, way out of my depth if I were POTUS. I seek more appropriate employment accordingly. Responding quickly and effectively to developing emergencies is, I believe, part of the job description.

One big question on a lot of minds (or at least mine) is the potential electoral impact of this film. Here’s some reasonable speculation on that front. It’s hard for me to imagine a non-ideologue seeing this and seriously considering voting for Bush, but I’m hardly a good judge of that sort of thing. Given how many people have seen it and will see it, it’s hard to see how it won’t have some impact. As Atrios recently noted, part of the embrace this film is receiving has to do with the fact that it advocates a series of positions that have been rather absent from the mainstream media. I went to coffee after the film with about a dozen people, all of whom were voting for Kerry anyway, but several of whom only casually follow politics. Many of them seemed quite angry–at Bush, but also about the fact that this was the first they had heard much of this. Others talked about how if only they could get their parents/brothers etc. to see this film, they would abandon their plans to vote for Bush.

It would be unprecedented for a documentary film to have a real impact on a presidental election, as far as I know. But, a 24 million dollar opening weekend for a documentary is entirely unprecedented. Preemptive war doctrine is new as well, as is fudging evidence of WMDs before Congress and the UN. I wouldn’t rule out an impact.

The only thing left for Bush partisans is to poison the well with attacks on Moore. Shame on liberals who aid and abet this project. Moore’s work is far from perfect–at times I find him absolutely maddening–but saying he’s the left’s answer to Coulter and Limbaugh is patently unfair, and at the present time fits in perfectly with the rhetorical strategy of the right to stifle serious criticism through character assassination.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention–what the hell is Bush thinking when he says “There’s a diverse crowd here–the haves and the have mores. Some people call you the elite–I call you my base.” in front of rolling cameras? Doesn’t he have assistants, media people, “handlers”? Shouldn’t they be the last line of defense against this kind of thing?

Saletanisms: The Vacuities and Hacktacularities of Lord Saletan

[ 0 ] June 29, 2004 |

Admittedly, identifying the worst manifestation of a silly concept badly executed is a wearying, impossible exercise, so identifying the very worst “Kerryism” is as inherently futile as discerning the worst episode of “Who’s the Boss?” or the worst film directed by Roland Emmerich. Nonetheless, I’m inclined to make such a claim about this one anyway.

Here’s the original Kerry sentence:

If I’m president, we’ll have a military second to nobody in this world, and I won’t hesitate to use force if necessary as a last resort to achieve our goal.

And here’s the version Saletan prefers:

If I’m president, we’ll have a military second to nobody in this world, and I won’t hesitate to use force to achieve our goal

This is just utterly asinine.

1)You’ll note, looking at Kerry’s original, that there’s nothing remotely prolix or evasive about it. The underlying point of “Kerryisms”–which seems to be the breathtaking insight that stump speeches and extemporaneous answers to interviewers won’t be uniformly constructed in ways Strunk & White would approve of–is pretty lame to begin with, but if it identified examples of Kerry using large numbers of words with no content it might occasionally amuse the very bored Mickey Kaus fan. The sentence here, on the other hand, is a completely straightforward statement, clearly expressing a substantive claim in simple and concise language. This has been true of most recent Kerryisms.

2)Saletan’s revision isn’t a simpler way of expressing the same thing; it’s a completely different argument. The “as a last resort” qualifier is the heart of Kerry’s argument. Without it, there’s no distinction between his policy and Bush’s. Hell, why not cut the sentence down to, “When I’m president, we’ll have a military.”? See, nice and simple!

3)What makes “Kerryisms” not just worthless but actively pernicious is the sensibility it expresses. Not just the fake “balance”, but the obsession with meaningless superficialities over content. The point of Kerryisms seems to be that using any qualifications is inherently bad, and anything worth saying should be able to be expressed as the simplest banality, and that how politicians speak is more important that what they stand for. It fits in perfectly with the Saletan/Kaus obsession with the empty tautology of what they call “character” over the substantive differences of politics.

Liberal Minority Government in Canada

[ 0 ] June 28, 2004 |

I’m happy to be wrong…

Canadian Election Blogging

[ 0 ] June 28, 2004 |

My predictions, based on the extremely reliable method of “half-assed guesses derived from thin research”:

Con 115
Lib 108
NDP 28
Bloq 55

It’s basically too close to call, but with the popular vote basically even, I think you have to bet against the more regionally diffuse party. A Harper minority, backed up by the Bloq–it may outlast the last Conservative minority (which held on for less than a year), but it may not. Issues of federalism just aren’t salient enough for a Bloq/Conservative coalition to be stable.

I Would do Anything for Bush, But I Won’t Do That

[ 0 ] June 28, 2004 |

In a way that was vaguely consistent with my earlier prediction, the Court refused to fully cede jurisdiction and give unlimited executive power to the presidency, but did so in a way that didn’t help the defendants on the merits. (I was wrong, however, that there would be a unanimous ruling.) I think it’s reasonable to declare these cases as a victory, although evidently it’s a narrow one. The Administration has broad powers to hold “enemy combatants,” and the Court used a technicality to send arguably the strongest of the three cases back to the lower courts.

The ruling in Hamdi is quite effectively summarized by O’Connor:

We hold that although Congress authorized the detention of combatants in the narrow circumstances alleged here, due process demands that a citizen held in the United States as an enemy combatant be given a meaningful opportunity to contest the factual basis for that detention before a neutral decisionmaker.

The problem here is the implausible statutory construction–Congress didn’t give the President this authority. Shockingly, for the second time in a week Scalia (joined by JPS) gets it right in this case. Congress didn’t suspend habeas corpus, and as such American citizens simply can’t be detained without charges:

Many think it not only inevitable but entirely proper that liberty give way to security in times of national crisis–that, at the extremes of military exigency, inter arma silent leges. Whatever the general merits of the view that war silences law or modulates its voice, that view has no place in the interpretation and application of a Constitution designed precisely to confront war and, in a manner that accords with democratic principles, to accommodate it. Because the Court has proceeded to meet the current emergency in a manner the Constitution does not envision, I respectfully dissent.

Needless to say, his friend Thomas argued that the courts have no jurisdiction, even where American citizens are concerned.

I haven’t had time to read Rasul v. Bush yet, but the lineup is more straightforward–Rehnquist/Thomas/Scalia dissenting and giving unlimited power to the President outside of U.S. territory, absent an act of Congress. Ack. It’s good it came out right, but three votes is three more than that position deserved.

Arrggghh. . . It hurts so much!!!!

[ 0 ] June 27, 2004 |

Via Atrios, apparently Dale Earnhardt Jr. told his pit crew to go and see F-911. Normally this wouldn’t be news, but the right is in full meltdown mode. A few comments from Free Republic:

Well he does make LEFT turns for a living.

oh boy… wonders how he feels now that a marine has been taken hostage and now they’re threatening to behead him.

If we ruined the careers of the Dixie Chicks we can ruin the careers of Michael Moore and Dale Jr.

Dale Jr. is also a big fan of gangsta rap and one of his best friend is none other than Snoop Dog, as I recall. Dale Sr. must be spinning in his grave. There’s no doubting Junior’s talent as a driver, but if you’re looking for role models in NASCAR, you can do better than #8…

I’ve never been a NASCAR fan, but at least it was original, grassroots, heartland and conservative for decades, now it’s becoming just another branch of the liberal Hollywood culture.

If this isn’t a put-on, then it’s a pretty funny story. Not on its own merits, of course; who the fuck cares what Dale Earnhardt Jr. thinks, after all? The humor comes from the desperation; the need for one last piece of America that isn’t polluted by the pernicious, feminist, limp-wristed, pro-terrorist left. Everyone knew that NASCAR, with virtually no minority drivers and virtually no minority fans was one of those places. I hope that Dale Jr. has helped to destroy that for the right. If he has, maybe they won’t show so many goddamn NASCAR races on TV; infomercials are more entertaining.

Where does this all come from? I know that Edgar Martinez is a Republican, but I don’t care. He’s still one of my favorite baseball players. Barry Bonds is a Republican, and he’s also the greatest ballplayer anyone has ever seen. Does ANYONE on the left have a similar reaction to this kind of thing? Film, perhaps. There are many things that will prevent me from seeing the next Mel Gibson film, including the fact that almost all of his films that aren’t titled “The Road Warrior” blow, but the fact that he’s a right-wing crank does matter a little. . .On the other hand, Tom Selleck is also a crank, and that doesn’t prevent me from watching re-runs of Magnum P.I.


[ 0 ] June 26, 2004 |

Saw Fahrenheit 9/11 yesterday afternoon. Lots of people outside the Neptune selling anti-Bush paraphenalia, a few gathering signatures. One guy wandering around with a display trying to convince Dems to stiffen their backbones.

Crowd was altogether enthusiastic. I suspected that we might get some sort of anti-Moore demonstration; frat row is only a few blocks away. Nothing, though. Fair number of loud cheers during the movie, some of which made dialogue difficult to hear. I can’t confirm, but I suspect that many in the crowd didn’t recognize Jim McDermott, even though he must represent just about everyone there.

The film was pretty solid. Moore wandered a bit at times, and lingered too long on the Carlyle Group and the various connections between Saudi and Bush money. That’s not entirely right; it’s certainly good to talk about those connections, but I think the relationship is more complex than the point Moore was trying to get across. If anything, that part of the film demonstrated that anyone who thinks of America as a meritocracy is sadly deluded. Got a bit off track with the discussion of the Afghani pipeline, although the images of Taliban representatives in DC and Texas were outstanding. Aside from these quibbles, the film was very good. Moore does us a favor by letting the images and subjects speak for themselves. He doesn’t need to spend time trying to get politicians into embarrasing situations, because they’ve already put themselves there.

The star of the film is GW. I think Moore should have stayed on GW for the full time that he sat, dumbfounded, in the Florida classroom trying to deal with what he had just learned about the attacks. Deer in the headlights. Bush does his best in the rest of the film to look like a Class 1 asshole who’s over his head in his new job.

The film was good enough to embarass its critics. Hitch’s meandering smear job barely touched upon the matter of the film; he must have known that he needed to attack the director instead of the flick itself. Sully has avoided this problem by simply refusing to watch the movie. I suspect that most conservatives will follow Sully’s lead, as it’s pretty clear they’re doing with Clinton’s book.

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