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Archive for July, 2004

The proof of the pudding is in the recipe

[ 0 ] July 31, 2004 |

Matt Yglesias has (justly) come under fire for his recent posts arguing against civil rights protections for gay people on the basis of conservertarian bromides that weren’t persuasive when the Supreme Court used them to strike down maximum hours laws in 1905, and for his criticism of John Kerry’s acceptance speech for not being a Brookings Institute position paper (see also David Brooks today for the same argument, which should tell you all you need to know about its usefulness.) But he really gets it right here:

Look, look, it is fun to get all upset about Democrats who’ll accept a “stable” Iraq rather than a “democratic” one, but you’ve got to ask yourself a thing or two. Would I rather have a stable Iraq or would I rather have a failed state Iraq that the president of the United States calls a democracy? This is your choice. If you like what’s behind door number two (i.e., Afghanistan) then you really ought to vote for George W. Bush. He’s really good at talking about democracy-promotion. Way better than John Kerry. The only Democrat who even gets the text in the right neighborhood is Joe Biden and his delivery is nothing compared to Bush’s. And not only is Bush good at talking about democracy promotion, he’s really good at calling Afghanistan a democracy, and really, really good at pretending that Baathist hitman Iyad Allawi is an emerging liberal democrat.
George W. Bush for President: Because He’ll Keep You Detatched From Reality.

To prove MY’s point, Robert Tagorda argues that calling failed states democratic is what really matters:

With Bush, we know that he strives to promote democracy. We can debate whether
he actually lives up to this goal. We can point out where he actually succeeds
and where he only pays lip service. But, with Kerry, we know very little about
what he ultimately wants to do with Iraq.

Uh, actually, we do not know that Bush “strives to promote democracy.” In fact, he does no such thing. He just talks about it, which to any non-warblogger is completely beside the point. If you look at what he’s doing, it’s basically nothing. Afghanistan isn’t going to become a democracy, and neither will Iraq. That’s Matt’s point; calling failed states “democracies” does not count as “striving to promote democracy.”

Moreover, we know exactly where Kerry stands on the theoretical idea of a liberal democratic Iraq–he’s an favor of it. Who isn’t? What Kerry understands is that Iraq was an exceptionally unlikely candidate for democracy before Bush’s quarter-assed reconstruction effort, let alone now, and a stable state is preferable to a failed state. Kerry just has the intellectual integrity not to pretend that Iraq is going to become democratic just because one really wishes it would be, and saying that you’re in favor of democracy is a worthless banality that does nothing to increase the chances that Iraq will become one. It might be more politically prudent for Kerry to talk more about democracy, but in terms of policy it’s irrelevant.

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Cal Thomas–like George Will washing an Ambien down with well bourbon! Or something like that.

[ 0 ] July 30, 2004 |

Michael Berube offers some voluntary editing services to a Cal Thomas column perhaps more egregiously stupid than the one by some tall blond guy that USA Today killed earlier this week.

I would like to add one important point. All comparisons taking the form “x is like y on steroids” are excruciatingly lame. There has never been, and never will be, a comparison using this form that is anything but painfully unfunny. There are no exceptions to this rule.

The proof of the pudding is in the recipe

[ 0 ] July 30, 2004 |

Matt Yglesias has (justly) come under fire for his recent posts arguing against civil rights protections for gay people on the basis of conservertarian bromides that weren’t persuasive when the Supreme Court used them to strike down maximum hours laws in 1905, and for his criticism of John Kerry’s acceptance speech for not being a Brookings Institute position paper (see also David Brooks today for the same argument, which should tell you all you need to know about its usefulness.) But he really gets it right here:

Look, look, it is fun to get all upset about Democrats who’ll accept a “stable” Iraq rather than a “democratic” one, but you’ve got to ask yourself a thing or two. Would I rather have a stable Iraq or would I rather have a failed state Iraq that the president of the United States calls a democracy? This is your choice. If you like what’s behind door number two (i.e., Afghanistan) then you really ought to vote for George W. Bush. He’s really good at talking about democracy-promotion. Way better than John Kerry. The only Democrat who even gets the text in the right neighborhood is Joe Biden and his delivery is nothing compared to Bush’s. And not only is Bush good at talking about democracy promotion, he’s really good at calling Afghanistan a democracy, and really, really good at pretending that Baathist hitman Iyad Allawi is an emerging liberal democrat.
George W. Bush for President: Because He’ll Keep You Detatched From Reality.

To prove MY’s point, Robert Tagorda argues that calling failed states democratic is what really matters:

With Bush, we know that he strives to promote democracy. We can debate whether
he actually lives up to this goal. We can point out where he actually succeeds
and where he only pays lip service. But, with Kerry, we know very little about
what he ultimately wants to do with Iraq.

Uh, actually, we do not know that Bush “strives to promote democracy.” In fact, he does no such thing. He just talks about it, which to any non-warblogger is completely beside the point. If you look at what he’s doing, it’s basically nothing. Afghanistan isn’t going to become a democracy, and neither will Iraq. That’s Matt’s point; calling failed states “democracies” does not count as “striving to promote democracy.”

Moreover, we know exactly where Kerry stands on the theoretical idea of a liberal democratic Iraq–he’s an favor of it. Who isn’t? What Kerry understands is that Iraq was an exceptionally unlikely candidate for democracy before Bush’s quarter-assed reconstruction effort, let alone now, and a stable state is preferable to a failed state. Kerry just has the intellectual integrity not to pretend that Iraq is going to become democratic just because one really wishes it would be, and saying that you’re in favor of democracy is a worthless banality that does nothing to increase the chances that Iraq will become one. It might be more politically prudent for Kerry to talk more about democracy, but in terms of policy it’s irrelevant.

Kerry’s Speech

[ 0 ] July 30, 2004 |

I didn’t watch all or even most of it, just catching most of the major speeches. From where I sit, this was a success–tight, organized, on message, and the speakers were very good.

The response to Kerry’s speech around the blogs is interesting. Over-the-top enthusiasm from DigbyPandagon and Kos, shulder-shrugging from Kevin Drum, and denunciations from Matthew Yglesias.Digby (again) does a good job with Matt’s objections, but I want to discuss another one a bit more. Matt is unhappy with the lack of a concrete proposal for what to do in Iraq. I humbly submit that had he tried to do so honestly and in specific terms, it would have been a terrible idea.

Let me explain: Iraq is in a world of shit right now. Recall a bomb just blew up several dozen people, and it was an attack on police recruits. Any honest and frank discussion of Iraq would quite possibly poorly on Kerry right now. There is no silver bullet strategy change to make the situation much better. The best Kerry has to offer is less arrogance and more competence (and an easier road to internationalization), but probably no substantive sea-change in overall policy direction. A few more troops in the right places, a few less obvious corporate giveaways, etc. This would do nothing but fire up the overlapping constituencies who suspect the differences between Kerry and Bush are small (they’re not, of course, but they might sound that way on Iraq policy) and those who think we should pull out now. These groups shouldn’t be catered to, exactly, but they also shouldn’t be needlessly antagonized. It would also clash with the convention theme, as Kerry would be unable to make claims that appear consistent with his strength message. Furthermore, as Kerry has said before, his Iraq strategy will be very dependent on what facts on the ground look like in January. Will the election go off as planned? Who will be winning? Will the insurgency be any less strong? Who will they be targeting? How are the Kurds getting along with everyone? These are all very much unanswered questions, and the answers matter a great deal for Iraq policy. Of course, when he says this, the media treats it as a dodge, an avoidence, flip-flopping, etc. Hell, R.W. Apple says when Bush takes Kerry’s advice on Iraq, that makes Kerry the flip-flopper.

To sum up, the costs of getting into this seem quite likely to be greateer than the benefits. This is not true on foreign policy and terrorism generally; there are things Kerry can and should be saying about how different his approach to Al Qaeda will be, and he should make those points early and often. Here, he can plausibly say he will do a lot better than Bush, very different style from Bush, etc. with accuracy, clarity and ease. I’d like to have seen more of that in the speech, and hope for more of it in the coming months.

A final kvetch: I was watching the convention early yesterday evening at the gym, so it was on CNN instead of my preferred C-Span. I don’t know why I expect anything but nonsense from CNN, but I didn’t expect them to almost entirely ignore Wes Clark’s speech in favor of GOP Judy and Wolfie blathering on about nothing. They interrupted their innanities to cut to Clark’s speech a couple of times, for about 30 seconds. Can this programming decision be defended on any level? Do they really think that viewers need that extra 10 minutes of moronic talking heads making shit up? Isn’t 14 hours a day enough? Wes Clark is at this point a major national figure, one of the four serious candidates for the Democratic nomination, for God’s sake. The snippets CNN deigned to show us looked good. I’ll have to dig up the speech and take a look. I supported Clark during primary season, and I still think he should have a prominent place in this administration and Democratic party politics.

And the theme of the CNN blowhards was all about how Kerry really, really had to tell people all about his detailed policy proposals on various matters because voters are woefully uninformed about his actual plans. Hey, assholes: Kerry’s got detailed plans on numerous issues. They’re available online, and he talks about many of them regularly. You’re too lazy to report them. That’s not his fault.

Kerry

[ 0 ] July 29, 2004 |

Well, I think this is going pretty well. He’s still not a great orator, but he can be good, and I’d say he’s close to the top of his game. While I can’t help but think they’ve been laying on the Vietnam service a bit thick, but the Cleland introduction was powerful and really a very good idea.

So far (this is L G and M’s first experiment with “liveblogging”), Kerry has sounded good. He’s fired as many direct broadsides against the Bush administration as anyone all week, which I like. I think they’ve done very well.

The stuff about “I’ll have a VP who won’t conduct secret meetings with polluters, aSecdef who ignores in intel, an AG who protects the constitution, etc.” Pure gold.

“I won’t send troops to war without a plan to win the peace”
I love this. One of the safest and most effective avenues of attack on Iraq. This line should be in ads.

Now he’s on the family values/valuing families schtick. Good stuff, takes a wedge issue and turns it around nicely, and he leads that nicely into the equality of opportunity theme of Obama and Edwards..

Health care stuff. He’s giving specifics here. It’s good, although I preferred Napolitano’s HC speech, which was more about transforming the discourse about health care. Strongly says HC is a right for all Americans, which I like.

(He’s still strong on delivery, but he seems to be rushing now, talking over applause. I wonder if he’s trying to finish by 11:00)

I think I like his religion bit. I don’t want to insist that God is on my side, I want to pray humbly that I am on God’s side. On the one hand, it seems defensive, a response to a GOP smear that doesn’t deserve a response about Democrats being too secular to relate to voters. On the other hand, this is a really good way to respond to it. Christianity is a powerful theme, and it’s meanings are diverse and contested. The emphasis on humility (while Kerry will never come across as Humble) provides an outstanding contrast to Bush’s take on religion and politics.

The end is a little anticlimactic, but this was a really good speech for Kerry. He certainly exceeded my expectations.

Now for the unpleasant business of seeing what Chris Matthews and the  jackasses at Fox News say. Off to do my duty.

Picking Rehnquist

[ 0 ] July 29, 2004 |

Erik asks in the comments if Rehnquist’s nature was known when Nixon appointed him. As it happens, John Dean wrote a good book on the subject.  Essentially, Rehnquist was a last-minute choice; Nixonites knew about many of the skeletons in his closet, but Senate Democrats didn’t have time to assemble the paper trail necessary to challenge the nomination.  Rehnquist perjured himself both about his activities as a polling booth thug and the famous memo he wrote as a clerk for Robert Jackson (in the latter case, claiming–ludicrously–that the informally written memo reflected Jackson’s position). Well, let’s quote the juicy bits from his memo:

To the argument made by Thurgood Marshall that a majority may not deprive a minority of its constitutional right, the answer must be made that while this is sound in theory, in the long run it is the majority who will determine what the constitutional rights of the minority are… I realize that it is an unpopular and unhumanitarian position, for which I have been excoriated by “liberal” colleag[u]es, but I think Plessy v. Ferguson was right and should be re-affirmed. If the fourteenth Amendment did not enact Spencer’s Social Statios [sic], it just as surely did not enact Myrddahl’s [sic] American Dilemma.

There was some evidence that Rehnquist was incredibly reactionary, in other words, but Dems just didn’t have the right information to challenge his perjurious assertions, and Nixon didn’t care. (Because of the timing, Nixon didn’t know about Rehnquist’s role in forcing Fortas to resign and trying to impeach Douglas, both of which involved inappropriate use of the DOJ, and of course neither did the Senate.)  Another amusing sidelight is that a woman with a decade’s experience on the California courts was rated “unqualified” by the ABA. Lest you buy into revisionism about Nixon being domestically liberal, let’s consider Nixonites on women:

Mitchell: “I don’t think a woman should be in any government job whatever. I mean, I really don’t. The reason why I do is mainly because they are erratic. And emotional.”

Nixon: “[Chief Justice] Burger’s totally against [appointing a woman to the Court.]Because the Court doesn’t want to deal with a woman in the Court. I am against it, frankly…I’m not for women in any job. I don’t want any of them around. Thank God we don’t have any in the cabinet. But I must say the Cabinet’s so lousy we [might] just as well have a woman there too.”

There’s a common misperception that Nixon was a liberal on domestic politics. As his misogyny and relentless exploitation of Southern racism makes clear, he wasn’t.  It’s just that he was basically indifferent about most domestic policy, so that with a liberal Congress his policies looked liberal. With a conservative Congress, his domestic policy would have been conservative. He didn’t really care about it.  When picking someone for the court, he just cared about criminal procedure and busing. He didn’t require getting someone like Rehnquist–a Powell or Burger was good enough–but it certainly didn’t bother him either.

UPDATE: Jeff raises a good point about Rehnquist’s justifications.  According to Richard Kluger’s Simple Justice (and if you don’t own it, buy it now), in the 1971 hearing Rehnquist asserted that Jackson had asked him to prepare the memo to “arm himself” against the anti-Plessy Justices. In other words, Rehnquist is asking is to believe that one of the highest-wattage Justices of the 20th century needed to be informed about the basic facts of Lochner -era jusirprudence–in 1952.  Sure. (In a long footnote on pp. 609-10 of the revised version that came out this year, Kluger completely destroys Rehnquist’s position. Shorter Kluger: who are you gonna believe, a Justice who by the standards of his time was a strong liberal and humanitarian, or a guy who, from polling-booth thuggery to persuading Goldwater to oppose the 1964 CRA  to lone dissents upholding federal funding for Bob Jones University–has throughout his career engaged in race-baiting?) The Chief Justice perjured himself to cover up his racism twice, making his presiding over the Clinton Impeachment particularly ironic…

Afghanistan

[ 0 ] July 28, 2004 |

Conservatives like to complain that the media insists on covering on the bad news in Iraq (like car bombs blowing up dozens of people) while ignoring the good news (a fresh coat of paint on a school!). Well, given what news we get about metatrends in Iraq (for example, we’re still well behind our planned schedule for restoring electricity), this may be appropriate. But even if we were to acknowledge this point, it would be rather hard to argue with the assertion that the media is doing the Bush administration a huge favor by not covering ongoing events in Afganistan. The troop and resource demands of Iraq have left Afganistan a largely dangerous and lawless place. Doctors without Borders, a international humanitarian organization providing desperately needed medical care in many of the world’s most dangerous places, has been doing valuable and necessary work in Afganistan for 24 years. Those a tough couple of decades–civil strife galore, the mujahaaden, the Soviets, the near- total civil war/anarchy of the early 90’s, and the oppressive rule of the Taliban.

But now, in 2004, it has become too dangerous for them to do their work, and they’re leaving. This is in no small part a consequence of the ambush and murder of 5 DWB workers about two months ago. How did the government respond?

Although government officials have presented MSF with credible evidence that local commanders conducted the attack, they have neither detained nor publicly called for their arrest. The lack of government response to the killings represents a failure of responsibility and an inadequate commitment to the safety of aid workers on its soil. In addition, following the assassinations, a Taliban spokesperson claimed responsibility for the murders and stated later that organizations like MSF work for American interests, are therefore targets, and would be at risk of further attacks.

My hunch is that Karzai would really like aid workers to stay, and he’d like to protect them, and he’d like to go after the Taliban (yes, that Taliban) thugs who did this. The only reason he wouldn’t is that his grasp on power is weak, and he knows it. We’ve deposed a government and installed another one, but we haven’t given them the resources or ability to effectively combat the power we diposed.

In addition to leaving the Afganis in a horrible position, we’ve significantly damaged our own security here. To state the obvious, the Taliban and Afganistan had a direct link to Al Qaeda, while Iraq and Hussein didn’t. Their power in Afganistan appears to be rising, and the government controls very little actual territory. It’s unclear that Afganistan is any less a haven for terrorists now than it was in 2001.

I thought the rationale for the war with Afganistan was strong, and while I had serious reservations, I tentatively supported it. Yet with respect to Iraq, I had no patience for those who couldn’t see that even if this was a good idea, Bush would be too incompetent to pull it off. I need to listen to my own advice.
Anyone who says Bush is strong on security is either in the tank or not paying attention. Kerry’s slogan “For a Stronger America” is the equivalent of an excellent Italian restaurant adopting the slogan “Tastier than Arby’s.”

via Brian Leiter.

Refighting the Civil War: the correct rhetorical response

[ 0 ] July 28, 2004 |

Paperwight makes a good point in the discussion of Dave’s Ann Coulter post.  It makes perfect sense for Coulter to recycle stale anecdotes from Reagan-era Michael Medved columns, because this will still seem fresh to a constituency still seething with resentment over the Reconstruction Amendments.

One often hears from reactionaries that the Civil War was about “states’ rights” as opposed to slavery, leading rational people to point that slavery really was the triggering cause. However, the neo-Confederates have a point.  “States’ rights” is, of course, a constitutionally meaningless term.  In the context of American constitutionalism, to talk about governments having rights is a giant non-sequitur. States have powers; rights belong to individuals.  What “states’ rights” means is “rhetorical cover for policies that are completely indefensible on their merits,” and when one understands this it makes perfect sense to say that southern secession was about “states’ rights.”

But more importantly, it’s baffling that it’s apologists for apartheid police sta…er, “federalism” that bring this up.  The obvious response to this line of reasoning is “sure, the Civil War was fought for states’ rights.  And states’ rights lost. Better luck at the track, assholes!” The Civil War seems to be the only conflict in which history was largely written by the losers…

People who need to read Karl Popper

[ 0 ] July 28, 2004 |

One of the most amusing pathologies of wingnut cranks is their unyielding conviction that Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee in 2004, despite the facts that 1)she repeatedly said she wouldn’t run, and 2)no constituency within the party who wanted her to run.  Then, she was a highly likely veep pick. Despite the fact that there was no sign whatsoever that Hillary being on the ticket had no chance of happening, and showed no sign of happening, the Morris/Safire crowd kept developing more elaborate theories trying to wedge reality into whatever world they live in.

With this claim having been falsified, have these obsessives admitted they were wrong and moved on? Need I answer that? No, instead the irrational obsession has turned to assertions that Hillary will try to sabotage the Kerry campaign to allow her to run in 2008.  Apparently, Clinton’s brilliant speech is all part of the plan, and I’m sure it will be explained somehow.

More from Media Matters on Tweety Matthews’s obsession with Hillary here.

The star and the schmuck

[ 0 ] July 26, 2004 |

About Obama, I have little to add to the blogger consensus; at least as it sounded on the radio, it was great.

Ever the glutton for punishment, after Reagan’s speech I watched to the Fox Panel.  After the first Beltway Boy–the Trotskyite compared to centrist Fred Barnes, presumably (or is it the other way around? The hardest things about Fox panels is trotting to figure out who’s supposed to be the liberal…) praised the speech, Beetle Barnes made two incredibly stupid arguments:

  • According to Barnes, the speech was appalling because it didn’t take the moral arguments of the anti-stem cell research side seriously enough.  Leaving aside the fact that these silly and irrational arguments got about as much time as they merited,  what the hell kind of argument is that? A campaign speech doesn’t devote equal time to opposing arguments and state them in their strongest form? How shocking! And something you’d only see at a Democratic convention…
  • According to Barnes, the Republicans are the “party of consensus,” while the Democrats are just a group of disparate groups.  To the extent that this statement–which is often expressed in various forms by Beltway hacks–means anything, it’s complete nonsense. If it means internal consensus, the Republicans are distinctly non-consensual.  With the exception of tax cuts, there are bitter inter-party divisions over every other major issue. If it means the Republican Party positions represent a consensus of Americans, it’s even less defensible.  On most issues, Republican positions do not merely not represent a consensus; they’re not even a majority. A majority of Americans, in fact, are pro-choice, culturally tolerant, and prefer Social Security and Medicare to upper-class tax cuts.  On the rare issues where the GOP has a majority–such as gay rights–they are low-priority issues on which they will soon represent the minority position.

This general argument that the Democrats are the “party of special interests” in the perjorative is incredibly stupid.  Big coalition parties are always collections of diverse interests.  What Barnes really means, of course, is that Republicans represent a majority of white males, which to him are real Americans–the only “consensus” that matters.

In the year 2024. . .

[ 0 ] July 26, 2004 |

Island of Balta believes “”In 20 years, we will look back and say that the single greatest failure of this Administration was the fact that it allowed Iran time to build the bomb.”

This got me thinking.

Balta may well be right.  However, there are MANY things that we might refer to as the greatest failure of this administration twenty years from now.  The Iranian nukes are a good candidate, but here are some others:

  • The failure to stop North Korea from reprocessing spent fuel rods at Yongbyon
  • The failure to follow up the Afghani campaign with the destruction of Al Qaeda
  • The invasion of Iraq for no apparent reason, and the alienation of the Islamic world
  • The squandering of the Clinton surplus in favor of massive budget deficits
  • The squandering of goodwill following 9/11 and the destruction of the Western alliance
  • The war against our environmental regulations
  • The withdrawal from every even slightly inconvenient international agreement

This administration has been hard at work.  Any of these could end up being its worst mistake twenty years from now.  I’m sure that I’ve missed a few, and I’m also sure that another four years would give us a lot more candidates.

 

Iran makes a break for it

[ 0 ] July 26, 2004 |

Via Kevin Drum, Iran has broken the remaining seals on its nuclear equipment.  Looks like they’re going for broke.

A few points:

1.  This is entirely rational on the part of the Iranians.  They think that the US won’t respond during an election, and especially while tied down in Iraq, and they know that the Europeans won’t do anything of note.   They also know that the “invade Iran” meme is starting to spread among some Washington circles; nuclear immunization now makes that impossible.

2.  As noted by Balta, an Osirak style attack probably isn’t going to work.  Osirak, you may recall, was the Iraqi nuclear plant attacked and destroyed by Israeli aircraft in 1981.  The Iranians have been careful to spread the various elements of their nuclear program around, and presumably have also taken steps to harden any vulnerable targets.

3.  Options?  Well, we can invade, which would spark further unrest in Iraq (especially the south), finish off Tony Blair and any other allies we have in Europe by the end of the day, and leave us, best case, with a country twice the size of Iraq to occupy and administer.   We can try the Osirak option, which probably won’t work, which will irritate the international community (any strikes would be flagrantly illegal, as there is zero chance that the UN would approve them; Iran would probably be legally justified in launching any counter-attacks it wished), and will also spark further unrest in Iraq.  We can adopt a policy of “regime change” which apparently means glowering at the Iranians until their government collapses; some people seem to believe this is how the Cold War ended.  Finally, we can deal with the Iranians and their new nukes.

I would like to think that some combination of regime change and engagement would be the best strategy, but I can’t bring myself to believe that the Islamic Republic is on the verge of collapse.  Tossing cash in the direction of some Iranian exiles may make us feel better, but I very much doubt that it will have any substantial impact on Iranian domestic politics.  Invasion is laughable at this point; Bush couldn’t do it even if he wanted to.  The Osirak option seems to me high-risk/low reward; the chance that we would destroy any targets is offset by the further decay of our alliances, the instability it would cause in Iraq, and the probable increased popularity of the Islamic Republic in Iran.  At this point, engagement seems the only serious option.

Nuclear Iran:  Brought to you by the Bush administration.

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