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Archive for August, 2004

Bloody difficult finding a conservative these days

[ 0 ] August 31, 2004 |

Irrational Robot points out that the Republican platform is calling for four constitutional amendments. These include a) an amendment in support of “human life” which presumably would ban abortion, b) an amendment to protect marriage from those pushing “the homosexual lifestyle”, c) an amendment to give victims of violent crimes specific rights, and of course d) an amendment to prevent flag burning. As Irrational Robot helpfully points out, the Libertarian Party only calls for three amendments, including the repeal of the 16th (won’t be too long before the Republicans jump on that one, too).

People who call themselves traditional conservatives, like David Brooks (sometimes) and Andrew Sullivan, should be pretty appalled by all this. If the word “conservative” means anything politically, it has to include the concept of political conservation, which means that we grow wary of altering the things that our forefathers and foremothers have passed down to us. In short, it means that we don’t fuck with things like the Constitution unless we have a really good reason.

People who want to re-write the Constitution, revolutionize American foreign policy, reconstruct the entire tax code, and destroy the institutions that have safeguarded the nation since the New Deal and longer are not conservatives; they’re radicals. There’s nothing particulary wrong with being a radical, but you’re really not supposed to refer to yourself as a conservative if you are one. I wonder if at some point it will be a) desireable, and b) possible to take the label “conservative” away from the Republican Party, as they certainly have done nothing to deserve it, but have derived great benefit from it. Edmund Burke continues to spin in his grave; I hope that his ghost haunts Jonah Goldberg.


Maybe Quantoids are good for something after all

[ 0 ] August 31, 2004 |

Alan Krueger and David Laitin have an article in the latest Foreign Affairs discussing the State Department’s infamous terrorism report for 2003. As you may recall, the report was unveiled with great fanfare, and purported to show that terrorist incidents were at a thirty-five year low, despite the fact that 2003 saw the most terrorist attacks of any year on record. Regrettably, the article is available by subscription only, but you can read the preview here.

Laitin and Krueger point out a number of problems with the terrorism survey. There are no clear criteria for determining whether an event is a terrorist attack or not. There are no clear criteria for determining whether a terrorist incident is international, in which case it counts, or domestic, in which case it doesn’t. Think for a moment about Chechen terrorism; domestic or international? The report itself is very hazy on the details of how it reached its conclusions. All of this would be bad enough to ruin a study if terrorism wasn’t politically relevant. Because it does matter politically, all sorts of folks have an interest in how it turns out, which means that they try to meddle with the results.

All of this is pretty bad, but genuinely unsurprising. This administration has a knack for combining mendacity and incompetence. However, there are larger issues that make messing with the terrorism survey particularly problematic. A few years back, a guy named Stephen Rosen demolished the myth that military organizations learn better during war time. He showed, using the examples of the U.S. Army in Vietnam and the RAF/USAAF in World War II, that military organizations only learn when they have accurate measures of effectiveness. Back in World War II, a bunch of generals in the RAF and the USAAF (United States Army Air Force) were convinced that bombing German cities out of existence would force the Germans to surrender. They also tried to destroy particular German industries, such as ball-bearing production. Problem was, they didn’t have any way to measure whether their bombing was effective; they knew they were blowing things up, but hadn’t a clue what this was doing to the German, and eventually the Japanese, war effort. Turns out that it wasn’t doing anything, and German arms production peaked at the very time the bombings were heaviest. The organizations were ineffective because they had no reliable means to determine whether what they were doing was working.

In the Pacific, political considerations intervened, making the situation a lot worse. The USAAF didn’t even try to bomb Japanese industry, and instead concentrated on firestorming Japanese cities. A firestorm is a real bad thing; it’s a fire that feeds upon itself. The USAAF wanted to be independent of the Army, and decided that if it won the war it could win its independence. So, the generals cooked up a bunch of measures of effectiveness that had no connection with reality, but that justified the continued incineration of Japan’s urban population. A lot of wasted effort, and a lot of dead people. Read Robert Pape, Bombing to Win, for more details.

Long story short, learning to fight terrorism, or even the Iraqi insurgency, is going to be really hard because good measures of effectiveness are extremely hard to come by. Spinning, washing, drying, and mangling the numbers, which is what this administration is doing, makes it impossible for organizations to learn. We continue bad strategies that we think are working, and eschew good strategies that might have an actual effect. But then, the administration isn’t really interested in winning anything that’s not an election, so no real problem.

Rehnquist and Roe

[ 0 ] August 31, 2004 |

Hopefully you’ve been reading Balkanization, which has added commentary from two of the best constitutional scholars currently writing–Mark Graber and Mark Tushnet–to already excellent blog. (I wish they would come on permanently, creating a lefty version of Volokh.) Anyway, Prof. Balkin has been poring over the recently-released Blackmun papers, and has two posts–both fascinating–up about Roe’snear-death experience during the first Bush Administration. Please read the posts–the excerpt from the Stevens memo alone makes it worth your time. A few quick comments:

1)Granting that I haven’t seen the evidence he has, based on what Balkin tells us and on the accounts of Edward Lazurus, I actually disagree with Prof. Balkin’s ultimate thesis about Rehnquists’s strategizing inWebster:

In the end, neither Scalia nor O’Connor joined his opinion treating Roe as a rational basis case. Rehnquist discovered that he had been too clever for his own good.

It seems to me that Casey was the most the conservatives could have gotten. By then, it seems clear that O’Connor was not going to go along with a decision that overturned Roe, whether directly or sub silento. Casey upheld four of the five types of abortion restriction anyway, and there’s no way O’Connor would have gone along with overriding the spousal notification provision (no matter what standard was being used.) By leaving the issue unsettled in Webster, Rehnquist bought a little more time; it just didn’t work, because Kennedy and Souter rolled. Scalia’s earlier attack on O’Connor may have been, but frankly I doubt that it made any difference. I just don’t see O’Connor voting to overturn Roe, and I particularly doubt that she would have provided the fifth vote under any circumstances. I don’t think Rehnquist could have done anything to change that.

2)As an aside, claims that upholding the types of state restrictions upheld in Casey have the effect of “gutting” Roe are, I think, exaggerated. Mandatory waiting periods, informed consent forms, and the like have very little impact on abortion rates. (As current guest blogger Mark Graber points out, low-income women have to overcome so many obstacles to obscure abortions anyway that the additional restrictions don’t amount to much.) I don’t mean to say that they’re trivial; such restrictions are costly and humiliating for women, and particularly low-income women, even if they don’t actually deter many abortions. But what really matters is whether states can actually ban abortions. As long as that part of the holding in Roe is upheld, it’s a huge victory on balance for the pro-choice side.

3)One sometimes hear liberals proclaim fear of a “Scalia court.” Actually given that he’ll be on the court anyway, making him the Chief Justice (although appalling symbolically) would actually be the best place for him. Although for exactly the opposite reasons as Burger (mmm, Burger), he would be a very ineffective Chief. As Tushnet notes if you scroll up a bit, Rehnquist has been an extremely effective Chief Justice. Scalia probably would not, which if you don’t like Scalia’s jurisprudence is (of course) a good thing.

Minor Changes

[ 0 ] August 31, 2004 |

LGM Readers,

The site will be undergoing some minor visual changes over the next couple of days. If these give you browser problems, hurt your eyes, or in any other way interfere with your reading pleasure, please let us know.

The Staff

UPDATE: The red proved problematic for some and overly exciting for others. We’re now trying a nice, soothing forest green. Comments still welcome.


[ 0 ] August 30, 2004 |

If there is one thing I’ve gotten sick of in the last four years, it’s having to pick my jaw up off the floor every so often, after it fall there in response to my lack of ability to prepare myself for the level of incompetence and/or mendacity exhibited by the current GOP leadership and their apologists. Each time, I say to myself, I won’t be surprised next time. But you simply can’t prepare yourself for this sort of thing.

It’s revealing that the typical reader, at this point, probably isn’t sure which bit of mendacious nonsense I’m referring to, and there are a certainly a number of possibilities. It just so happens that in this particular case I’m referring to Dennis Hastert’s recent comments re: George Soros. They needn’t be digitally reproduced again, but see them here at the Political Animal, of there at Crooked Timber and over yonder at TPM. It’s probably discussed elsewhere, but for my own mental health I need to stop reading political blogs for a little while and clear my mind.

One wonders what role big D will play if Bush were to lose in November. His main task recently has been saying, writing and doing stupid in the service of the Bush administration. Unlike DeLay, Hastert wasn’t always ideologically strongly linked to Bush, but he’s now probably more linked to Bush than Delay is. I’m curious to see what his role in the party will be if the election doesn’t come off as planned. Let’s all hope and pray my curiousity is satisfied.

But what about the good news?

[ 0 ] August 30, 2004 |

The boys on the right have to stop every other day and gush about Arthur Chrenkoff. Chrenkoff, you see, tells the good news about Iraq. Moreover, he tells it in the Wall Street Journal, which is part of the “good media” and means that the wingnuts’ heads won’t explode trying to explain a good Iraq story in the “liberal” media. So, what do we find in an actual column by Chrenkoff? Let us see. . .

First, Chrenkoff writes a lot. This must mean that there’s a lot of good news, right? Today’s column runs to 15 printed pages, and purports to cover the last two weeks of Iraqi goodness. Fifteen pages, oh my! What treasures await us!

Chrenkoff spends the first page talking about how the media tell the wrong story about Iraq, thus justifying his own project:

It’s a pity because the story of “Iraq, the phoenix rising from the ashes” is in many ways a lot more interesting, not to say consequential, than the usual steady media diet of “Iraq, the Wild East.”

Ok, fair enough. But we still have fourteen pages left. On page 2, Chrenkoff talks about the the selection of delegates for the Iraqi National Council, which is legitimately good news. Oh, well, I guess half of page 2 is actually about how bad the media is for not reporting the good news; nevertheless, 1/2 of a page of good news, 13 to go!

Hmm. Page 3 is mostly the ruminations of Iraqi blogger named Ali, along with more condemnations of the media, and a few platitudes about how great legislatures are. . . Wait, here’s something about infrastructure being rebuilt, that sounds good. We’ll give him another 1/2 page. That gets us to a page of good news, still 12 left.

Ok, so the first half of page four is another Iraqi blogger saying that blogging isn’t enough to save his country. Does that qualify as good news? I’m not sure, but I don’t think so. Can’t really give that to him. Rest of page 4 is Olympics coverage; given that teams from the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union always tended to do quite well at the Olympics, I’m less than convinced that Olympic success is really a guarantee of a healthy body politic. . . okay, page 5 is also the Olympics, along with the first part of page 6. . . we appear to be stuck at 1 page of good news, but we still have eight pages left, not to worry!!!

Ah, here we have a paragraph about an Iraqi theatre group touring Japan, and a story about how Iraqis can now get tatoos without fear of Saddam. It really doesn’t quite come to half a page, but we can say without reservation that we’re now at 1 and 1/4 pages. Rest of page six is about shopping malls replacing traditional markets, which I suppose is good news. Some banking reforms seem on the horizon as well; I’ll give him half a page. We’re up to 1 and 3/4; onward!

Hmm. First paragraph is about an American who thinks Iraq is doing fine; I’m not sure that’s really news in and of itself. Down the page a bit, it looks like an Iranian company is helping to develop the Iraqi transport system. Is that good news? I’m not certain. . . Then we have a history of the Iraqi rail system, maybe half of which talks about recent or planned improvements. . . ok, 1/2 page. That gets us to 2 and 1/4.

Page eight starts off by describing how bad the postal system was under Saddam; three paragraphs of history, followed by “Murphy’s team helped establish postal codes to improve speed and reliability and negotiated with the Universal Postal Union to get Iraq full voting-member status.” That doesn’t really qualify as 1/4 of a page, let’s see if we can do better. . .ah, it looks as if some Iranian Kurds are migrating to Iraqi Kurdistan for economic opportunities, that’s worth half a page, even if it’s not really a consequence of the invasion. . . 2 and 3/4 pages so far, we’re doing okay.

Page nine points out that Iraqi agriculture is poised to take off, and that the Allawi government has taken steps to increase the amount and quality of manure; that seems like good news. And on reconstruction, we have this:

After long delays and broken deadlines, there are signs that the largest reconstruction effort since World War II’s Marshall Plan is poised to explode.

Followed by this:

The World Bank is aiming to embark on its first reconstruction projects in Iraq since the overthrowing of the previous regime, the head of the bank’s Iraq program declared on Monday. Faris Hadad-Zervos said that the projects would improve infrastructure within Iraq, helping to provide water and sanitation and to rehabilitate schools.

I’m not sure that’s really good news; it sort of suggests that something good might happen in the future, which is a kind of good news, I suppose. I’ll give them another half page; that puts us at 3 and 1/4.

Training assistance, a subject near and dear to my heart!!! It looks as if about forty Iraqi health workers and 20-30 diplomats will begin training in Japan in September, which is next month, not really this month. . . more training, though;

Up to 30 civil servants from various Iraqi ministries were recently awarded certificates at a small graduation ceremony, marking the conclusion of a two-week training course on financial management, procurement and project management. Financed by a European Union grant contributed to the World Bank-administered Iraq Trust Fund, this course represents the latest in a series of 20 training activities launched since February with the intention of gearing Iraqi civil servants to manage internationally funded reconstruction projects.

Ok, well, that’s good. A total of 600 have been trained overall, which is progress. Moreover, the Australians have offered to teach 25 “agricultural delgates” over the next five months, which is good. The Russians have offered to train some teachers and oil workers. It looks like Unicef is helping to “rehabilitate” some Iraqi schools, that’s good. Also, someone is installing a new computer system to help Iraqi and Coalition forces chase insurgents. Hell, combined with the remainder from the improved postal service, I’m willing to give a full page of good news, bringing us to 4 and 1/4.

On page 11, got some additional educational opportunities, some help with health care, and, well, some filler. I’ll give 1/2 page, getting us to 4 and 3/4. Page 12 is mostly about increased supplies of electricity; I probably should reserve judgement, since there’s no context provided, and I don’t know if there is more or less electricity than a year ago, but I’m feeling generous, and I’ll give a page, gets us to 5 and 3/4.

Page 13, a U.S. Army captain facilitates the transfer of $3000 to an Iraqi hospital, that’s good. A young boy got help with a heart problem; also good. On page 14, we learn that the U.S. Army is giving it’s all to replace the limbs of the Iraqis who lost them during the war; I guess that’s good news. Really sounds more like anecdotes, though, and I’m not sure that I’m comfortable including anecdotal evidence. We also learn that the Iraqi forces are helping Coalition forces to “crush” the Al-Sadr uprising; since the uprising wasn’t crushed, and since the Iraqi forces often refused to fight, does this count? Better relations with Turkey are worth a genuine 1/4 page, getting us to seven. I’m uncertain that a quote from an EU official who thinks that things are going well is really news. More training info on page 15 is worth 1/2 page, which gets us to 7 and 1/2.

7 and 1/2 pages of good news from Iraq, more if you count anecdotes, filler, and denunciations of the liberal media! Well, that’s not too bad, even if most of the news lacks any context, many of the problems being solved are a direct result of the invasion, and a few of the items seem, well, a trifle minor. You have to see the glass as half-full; even if several Iraqi cities are under the direct control of insurgents, and even if Americans are dying at a rate of two per day, we must remember that manure is being produced and spread at a faster rate than ever before.

I’ll let you decide whether that’s happening in Iraq, Washington D.C., or the offices of the Wall Street Journal.

Wait, didn’t we surrender?

[ 0 ] August 30, 2004 |

Still glad that Andy’s back:

Paris never wanted to be involved, but the notion that even a chief appeaser of Islamist terror can escape its fury is getting less and less persuasive. French journalists have been kidnapped in Iraq in protest of France’s admirable secularism in its education system. France refuses to give up its head-scarf ban in schools. More innocents are likely to be murdered. One can only hope that Paris gets the message. There is no escaping this fight. It is civilization or Jihadism. We can and should debate tactics; but the sides are clear enough.

It never ceases to amaze how he can follow up a set of reasonably coherent arguments and insightful observation with something like this. In Andy’s mind, France did not support the invasion of Iraq because it wanted to appease the Islamists, and shrink from the War of Terror. Never mind that anti-islamic sentiment is much higher in France than in the United States, or that French forces have been in Afghanistan fighting Al Qaeda for the last three years. No Iraq war= appeasement of terrorists. You’re either with George W. Bush, or with the terrorists. No escaping this fight, apparently. And debating tactics apparently means discussing different variants of occupation strategy, because it certainly doesn’t mean questioning the wisdom of invading a secular Islamic state that has the fewest connections with international terrorism of anyone in the neighborhood.

Other appeasers? Russia, which has been too busy slaughtering Muslims in Chechnya to bother with Iraq, and China, which has taken advantage of the War on Terror to violently consolidate authority over the Islamic population of Xinjiang. They don’t understand that there are only two sides in this war, and that they can’t escape the fight by cowardly appeasing the Islamic terror state of Iraq.

Andy does seem genuinely concerned about the hate mail he’s getting from his conservative readers over his unwillingness to swallow the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Maybe bashing the French will keep them satisfied for awhile. Here at LGM, we solve the problem of conservative hate mail by not pandering to the Right. When you don’t loudly blare their opinions back at them, they tend to wander off. Of course, we don’t depend on pledge drives for a living, either.

Which Party is That?

[ 0 ] August 30, 2004 |

Andy’s back, and he’s pissed.

The Dixiecrats meet again in New York. Now they’re called Republicans.

This is an almost seventeenth century piece of public sectarianism and anti-Catholic bigotry. But it’s now the Republican mainstream.

I think it’s close to unarguable that a Bush second term, regardless of whether you believe it would be good for the country, would be terrible for conservatism as a coherent political philosophy.

These kinds of clashes – when they do not end in clear victory – seem to me to increase bitterness, unrest, unease and resolve little. At best, we are back where we were. At worst, the mess has deepened. Does anyone believe that the administration has a clear idea of how to rescue the situation? I see few signs of candor or clarity.

For a president who never served in Vietnam to get his cronies to lambaste an opponent who actually put his life in danger was, well, breathtakingly bold.

But, being Andy, he also remains confused:

He deserves a chance to repudiate the big-government, nanny-state, sectarian legacy of his first few years and show us where his second term would leave us (and no, I don’t mean Mars). Will he expand freedom at home or continue to curtail it? Will he reveal a strategy in the war that shows he has learned the dangers of waging war unprepared and on the fly? Can he show an ability to grow into more than a deeply polarizing president, more than a man who has clearly failed to win over fully half the country at a time when unity against Jihadist terror is essential? The party of McCain and Giuliani and Schwarzenegger could do that. The party of Santorum and Dobson and DeLay obviously cannot. I fear the battle is already lost, since Bush has caved to the Santorum wing on almost every single domestic issue. But I can still hope, can’t I?

No, Andy, you really can’t. The question is already answered, and has been for a long time. Apparently, you’re one of the last to pick up on it. Good work, I suppose.

The mythical French veto

[ 0 ] August 28, 2004 |

The letter Economist editor Clive Crook wrote to Brad DeLong makes use of a ploy that, while a familiar tactic of wingnut hacks, is particularly dismaying coming from an intelligent conservative:

He sought allies throughout for the war in Iraq, and built the biggest coalition he could. France and Germany withheld their support for the war, and undermined the effort to put pressure on Saddam Hussein, at a time when they too knew that the sanctions regime was collapsing and they too believed that Saddam had WMD.

This happens to be (in and of itself) a strong argument, which is why you hear it so often. If the Iraq war was generally supported by American allies but opposed by Germany and France, it would indeed by silly to criticize Bush for unilateralism. In my judgment, the Iraq war would not have been in the interests of the United States even so, but this particular critique of Bush would be wrong. And, obviously, if a war is in the national interest France and/or Germany should not be given veto authority. (And while France happened to be right about the Iraq war, I have no illusions that this was necessarily for the right reasons.)

The problem, of course, is that in the particular contexts of both the Iraq war and the presidential campaign this argument happens to be utter horseshit. First of all, in terms of the Iraq war France wasn’t the exception; it was the rule. Canada and Mexico, who Bush could not compel to support the Iraq war, are much more representative examples of countries that didn’t go along than France and Germany. The idea that Bush effectively but together a broad, effective coalition but was thwarted by a couple of cynical outliers is, while extremely effective rhetoric, also an outright lie. Second, there is no evidence whatsoever that Kerry believes that individual countries should have a “veto” over American foreign policy, despite the fact that this belief is often attributed to him. He simply argues that multilateralism is in the American national interest, a seemingly banal observation that was nonetheless often rejected by Bush apologists as he failed to put together a significant coalition priori to the Gulf War.

If Crook’s open-mindedness about Bush rests on this foundation, DeLong’s evaluation of his mental state seems quite accurate.

This must be Clinton’s fault. . .

[ 0 ] August 28, 2004 |

Don’t have much to say yet about the investigation into Larry Franklin for sending secrets to Israel. If you’re interested, check out Juan Cole, who has an extensive analysis, and this article by Josh Marshall, who’s been working on the story for quite some time.

If you’re interested in chuckles this morning, read Instapundit. Shorter Glenn: If the New York Times isn’t leading with it, we should forget about it, and anyway it can’t be any worse than the antics of Sandy Berger.

Can we shoot Lamar Alexander, just to watch him die?

[ 0 ] August 28, 2004 |

Lindsay Beyerstein draws our attention to a truly dismaying attempt to Johnny Cash as a symbol for Republican politics. Appalling.

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down, Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town, I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,But is there because he’s a victim of the times.

I wear the black for those who never read, Or listened to the words that Jesus said, About the road to happiness through love and charity, Why, you’d think He’s talking straight to you and me.

Well, we’re doin’ mighty fine, I do suppose, In our streak of lightnin’ cars
and fancy clothes, But just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back, Up front there ought ‘a be a Man In Black.
I wear it for the sick and lonely old, For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold, I wear the black in mournin’ for the lives that could have been, Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.

And, I wear it for the thousands who have died, Believen’ that the Lord was on their side, I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died, Believen’ that we all were on their side.




Yeah, those are sentiments you’re really likely to hear at the Republican convention…


Racism and Affirmative Action

[ 0 ] August 27, 2004 |

The decline in affirmative action over the last several years should be a major cause for concern for anyone interested in social justice. We often hear from rightwingers how affirmative action is actually reverse racism against qualified whites, something that many white men and even white women are happy to believe in since they see any rise in society by blacks or Latinos as a direct threat. Unfortunately, the left has not properly defended affirmative action for reasons that deserve another posting. But we must defend this key piece of civil rights legislation and I will attempt to do so here.

When whites oppose affirmative action, it is a racist act. Though they may frame the issue in the rhetoric of the self-made man, that is a coverup for not being willing to confront the historical white racism that continues to course through the veins of this nation. Mainstream whites have always opposed rights for blacks and since the Civil War this rhetoric of the self-made man has dominated the reasons why they oppose it. Most whites didn’t oppose slavery. Most whites refused to support the federal government using its power to ensure a fair shake for blacks during Reconstruction. Most whites supported Plessy v. Ferguson. Most whites didn’t actively oppose lynching. Most whites didn’t support the desegregation of schools when it applied to them. And we all know what happened when blacks started to move into white neighborhoods in the North. Opposing affirmative action is simplythe next phase of whites opposing black civil rights. And until we fight to uphold the rights of blacks and fight against historical white privilegethat we whites benefit from everyday, the racists who actively fightaffirmative action and average whites who are insecure with their own lives and ready to blame blacks for their problems will continue to roll back thegains of the 1950s and 1960s.

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