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Archive for July, 2006


[ 0 ] July 27, 2006 |

Good line:

The case requires elaborate cover, buckets of money and the finest, fastest air and sea vessels the taxpayers of Miami can afford. Not really, of course. The actual operating budget for the Miami police department in fiscal year 2005 was around $100 million, a good $50 million less than the reported production costs of “Miami Vice.”

Should I be ashamed of the fact I’m excited to see this movie?


Third Parties and the Left in the U.S.

[ 0 ] July 27, 2006 |

To make this somewhat more useful than merely attacking Ralph Nader’s reactionary vanity candidacy in particular by moving it to the question of the value of American third parties in general, in comments MSS (of Fruits and Votes) says: “Democrats always need a push (as one of your own posts the other day noted, albeit from a social-movement perspective).” [my emphasis] I emphasize this because the distinction is everything, and crystallizes precisely why the Nader campaign was such a colossal blunder. Most of us can agree that the current Democratic Party is suboptimal in many respects; the question is about how to change it. Social movements that alter public opinion, mobilize voters, and create different incentives for parties are a good strategy. Third parties (at least those that don’t cross-cut existing, or represent dying, coalitions a la Perot or Wallace) are not, because 1)the incentives they provide are trivial, and 2)they carry massive disadvantages (most notably ending up in the worst option being elected.) As I wrote back in the first days of this blog:

Farrell, like Ehrenreich, assumes that building alternative social movements requires also building a third party. I’m absolutely baffled by this argument. In the context of the American constitutional structure, third party politics is a terrible strategy for building alternative social movements. It consumes enormous amounts of resources but provides few benefits, fractures coalitions, and has unfortunate side effects (like, say, leading to the election of the most reactionary President in many decades.) It should be noted as well Nader and Green affiliated groups have not been the ones that have benefited from anti-Bush countermobilization–their funding is down. (And I’m one reason why; after the election I pulled my monthly WASHPRIG contribution and donated it elsewhere. If Nader and his supporters want to elect Republican Presidents, they can do it with their own dime.) The rise in the mobilization of movement conservatives didn’t require a third party. It’s true that the left needs to build more of a base outside of the Democratic structure, and conflict will be inevitable. Democratic politics extends far beyond electoral politics. But, especially at the national level, third party politics is actively counterproductive to movement building.

Like Dave, I’m not inclined to think much about whether the party system in the US is optimal, for the same reason I don’t spend much time complaining about how much I hate the Senate–because it’s not going away. The combination of a first-past-the-post legislative system and winner-take-all system for electing the President make a two-party system as inevitable as any institutional structure can be, and changing it is virtually impossible. The two-party system isn’t going to go away if only people really wish that it will go away, and to pretend otherwise obstructs the potential for progressive social change. The left needs to be better mobilized, but third party politics is a bad way to accomplish it (which is why tying together left mobilization and a left third party is generally assumed rather than argued.)

Or as Mike Tomasky put it in the article I cited earlier in the week:

First, if it was the intention of Nader voters in New York or Massachusetts (or any state Al Gore was certain to win in 2000) to send a message to the Democrats, that’s an understandable and respectable intention. But as the Christian Coalition model shows, such messages are far more effectively sent inside the party than outside it — the Greens really influence almost nothing in this country, whereas the Christian Coalition, with its power in the GOP, influences almost everything. I’d have actual respect for the Greens if they were working within the Democratic Party to take it over. You can say that’s impossible, but it seemed impossible in 1958 that archconservatives could take over a Republican Party that was very accommodating to both New Deal and internationalist priorities. Within six years, though, they’d gained control of the party to the point that their guy, Barry Goldwater, became its presidential nominee. Real success took another 16 years, but to good dialecticians, there should be no hurry.

Making the Democrats better is a good thing. To invoke this in the context of defending national third parties who seek merely to slice off a part of one existing coalition–let alone Nader’s intentional throwing the election to Bush–is simply a non-sequitur.

When He’s Right, He’s Right

[ 0 ] July 27, 2006 |

Like Matt, I think that Jacob Weisberg is 100% right on this one.

I think it’s worth noting as well that what seems to be the most common position among states–legal state-sponsored lotteries and machines (and perhaps horse racing), but other forms of gambling illegal–is the most transparently indefensible. I can see the libertarian argument, and I can also see a paternalistic argument that gambling should be banned entirely. But state lotteries have much, much worse odds than casino gambling, and also prey on the poor even more disproportionately. Wealthy people will sometimes go to casinos, or put some money on the Super Bowl, but how often will they go down to the bodega and buy 70%-vig scratch tickets? And then you have all of the negative externalities that come from black-market gambling. To permit narrow, state-sponsored gambling with horrible odds that functions as an exceptionally regressive tax while banning other forms of gambling for pleasure makes absolutely no sense at all.

…Matt makes a good point in comments: casinos also generate some jobs with decent incomes for relatively unskilled workers. Vegas, in particular, has generated a large number of unionized, middle-class jobs (which, incidentally, is likely to push Nevada Democratic sooner rather than later.)

Sports Autobiographies

[ 0 ] July 27, 2006 |

Are there any good sports autobiographies? The genre is not one noted for distinction; most of the books are written by ghost writers who often have only a mercenary appreciation of their subjects. Ball Four, the one clear candidate for classic status, may not even qualify as an autobiography, although Bouton’s multiple revisions and new editions have brought it much closer to inclusion in the genre. I’ve heard that Hank Aaron’s book isn’t bad, but I haven’t read it. Are there any sports autobios that are worth reading?

Rethinking Agricultural Subsidies

[ 0 ] July 26, 2006 |

Late last year one of my students gave an outstanding presentation in defense of US agricultural subsidies, an accomplishment I had not thought possible. Daniel Davies makes the same argument here. Long story short, it’s difficult to convincingly argue that agricultural subsidies have a serious detrimental effect on Third World consumers, as opposed to producers. Given that most third world countries are net importers of food rather than exporters, reduced subsidies in the US and EU are likely to hurt more than help.

This doesn’t get ag subsidies completely out of the woods; they are still allocated unfairly, they still represent questionable subsidization of a narrow economic strata, and they still tend to have detrimental environmental effects. Still, something to think about.

What the Hell?

[ 0 ] July 26, 2006 |

After launching widespread airstrikes in order avoid negotiating with Hezbollah for the return of its soldiers, it now looks as if Israel will… negotiate with Hezbollah for the return of its soldiers, possibly promising to stop harassment of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and negotiate out the Shebaa farms issue.

What the hell? Why did a war have to be fought to achieve that outcome? A Haaretz article also indicates that Israel may maintain a 1km zone within Lebanon, which will do absolutely nothing to prevent anything like this from ever happening again. You might as well put up a sign saying “Don’t Seize Soldiers or Launch Rockets at Haifa”.

Since I don’t believe establishing a reputation for “resolve” is important or possible, the outlines of this settlement don’t bother me so much. If you do believe in reputation, however, it’s hard to imagine how this situation could have gone down worse for Israel. Of course, the situation remains fluid, and everything I just cited may change in the short term. It’s also possible (as always) that I’m missing some important angle.

UPDATE: As Dan points out, the FOE post cites a Beirut Daily Star op-ed, which can’t really be seen as a reliable indicator of Israeli attitudes. My bad. But Haaretz doesn’t really dispute the second contention, which is that Israeli objectives have been scaled back to something resembling a thin demilitarized zone, which, again, will have almost no effect on Hezbollah’s ability to attack Israel. Note that I’m not calling for Israel to attack more vigorously; I think that a quick cease-fire will be good for everyone. Nevertheless, it’s frustrating to see lots of people die for what appears to be no productive outcome.

Ze’ev Schiff has a not terribly helpful op-ed arguing that Hezbollah must be defeated for reputational reasons; apparently, Jordan and Egypt are likely to attack Israel if Hezbollah cannot be defeated:

If Israel’s deterrence is shaken as a result of failure in battle, the hard-won peace with Jordan and Egypt will also be undermined. Israel’s deterrence is what lies behind the willingness of moderate Arabs to make peace with it. Hamas, which calls for Israel’s destruction, will be strengthened and it is doubtful whether any Palestinians will be willing to reach agreements with Israel. Therein lies the link between the fight with Hezbollah and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

That’s pretty close to a textbook case of a bad use of the reputational argument; all commitments are interdependent, everyone interprets events in the same way, etc. Schiff also give no useful advice as to how Hezbollah can be “defeated” such that all actors will agree on the outcome.

Just To Be Clear

[ 0 ] July 26, 2006 |

As with the dead-on-its-feet Giuliani candidacy, I would like to think this is obvious, but apparently not. In comments, the otherwise astute Redbeard gives the Naive Nader Apologist Account of his strategy in 2000: “Yeah, while the most likely consequence of a Nader campaign might be a Bush victory, that doesn’t mean it was really Nader’s goal. Why not take Nader at face value? He wanted to achieve 5% of the popular vote and get the Green Party public funding. The best place for him to get those votes is from dissatisfied Democratic voters, so he tries to convince them the Dem candidate’s no different from Bush.”

Er, no.

1)Actually, I am taking him at his word: “If you want the parties to diverge from one another, have Bush win.” “Which, Nader confided to Outside in June, wouldn’t be so bad. When asked if someone put a gun to his head and told him to vote for either Gore or Bush, which he would choose, Nader answered without hesitation: “Bush.””

2)Moreover, his actions in the last month were actually consistent with the goal of electing Bush to punish the Democrats and heighten the contradictions, whereas they are radically inconsistent with the idea that his goal was to get matching funds for a party he quite evidently didn’t give a rat’s ass about (although it’s embarrassing if any Greens still don’t see, even after 2004, that he didn’t care at all about party building.) The states for him to mine votes in the last month were where Gore was a lock, not highly contested swing states.

Electing Bush was not a random byproduct of the 2000 Nader campaign; it was its raison d’etre. I can sort of understand people not getting this in 2000, particularly before the last weeks of the campaign, but at this late date? Give it up. He announced he wanted to elect Bush, he campaigned in a manner entirely consistent with that goal, and he succeeded. There’s no second verse here.

IDF Effectiveness Roundup

[ 0 ] July 26, 2006 |

Billmon on strategic planning:

But, of course, I’m getting the impression from reading between the lines of the official propaganda that the IDF is struggling just to produce these little symbolic victories — they seem to be “securing” the same objectives over and over again. So my guess is that the internal debate will now turn to how many more divisions to commit to the battle, how far north to push, etc. My friend can’t tell, nor can I, if the primary objective is still to smash the hell out of Hizbullah, or whether the Israelis are just looking to save a little face.

Pat Lang on Israel’s newfound taste for air power:

At the strategic level, the IDF under Halutz is following classic “Air Power” theory which holds that crushing the “Will of the People” is the correct objective in compelling the acceptance of one’s own “will” by an adversary or neutral. With that objective in mind, all of the target country is considered to be one, giant target set. Industry, ports, bridges, hospitals, roads, you name it. It is all “fair game.” In this case the notion is to force the Lebanese government and army to accept a role as the northern jaw in a vise that will crush Hizballah and subsequently to hold south Lebanon against Hizballah. Since Lebanon is a melange of ethnic and religious communities of which Shia LEBANESE are a major element and since many Lebanese Shia are supporters of Hizballah, the prospect of getting the Lebanese government to do this is “nil.”

Larry Johnson on clear and hold:

When you are fighting a force like Hezbollah, on terrain it views as its home, you cannot defeat them unless you occupy the land and maintain a force in place. That is a costly and long term proposition. Israel tried it once and withdrew. Israel will discover in the coming weeks that their current operation will leave them once again on the horns of a dilemma—stay in southern Lebanon and fight a long-term insurgency or withdraw and give Hezbollah another notch in its belt. A third alternative—an international force empowered to keep the peace—exists only as a fantasy on paper. No country or group of countries appears willing to assume the burden of a costly, long-term military occupation.

Reuven Pedatzur on unpreparedness in the IDF:

Until the incidents are examined seriously by elements external to the IDF, there is an unpleasant feeling of a whitewash operation going on – and concern that something fundamentally bad is going on in the army. Because what began at Kerem Shalom repeated itself on the Lebanese border: The IDF was again caught off guard, this time in a well-planned Hezbollah ambush. The intelligence failure and the complacency of the men in the patrol and of their officers had grave results. The entry of the tank into Lebanon, in an attempt to delay the escape of the kidnappers of the two soldiers, was also flawed. It is unclear why, at command levels, they did not anticipate that Hezbollah had laid mines to delay the advance of tanks.

Also see the NYT on the likely inadequacy of air power, the reluctance of Israel to commit significant ground forces (although Israel is apparently preparing to occupy a strip along the border), and on the continuing capacity of Hezbollah to resist the IDF.

First, some caveats on all of the above. Whatever mistakes the IDF may be making (and some of the above may be overblown), the US has been down the same road and made the same mistakes on multiple occasions. All military organizations make mistakes, including the IDF. Although in popular lore the IDF has acquired a reputation for invincibility, its performance historically has been uneven. The Yom Kippur War and the Lebanon occupation both revealed serious deficiencies. The question for the future is whether the Israelis will learn from the mistakes and either a) choose operations more likely to succeed, or b) become better at operations they’re likely to choose.

I have to say, though, that what appears to be an increasing commitment to the idea that air power can prevail over all obstacles is a disturbing turn. The idea that an organization like Hezbollah can be destroyed or even seriously damaged even by a long term, intensive air campaign is absurd. The commitment of small ground units helps, but won’t solve the problem. It is deeply troubling that some in the IDF appear overtaken by the same fantasy that continues to afflict the USAF; the idea that air power is the hammer than can drive all nails, even when those nails are screws. This point really reveals the absurdity of much of the blogospheric discussion of the Israeli campaign. Wingnuts are happily cheering on Israeli resolve to fight Hezbollah, while failing to note that the tactics being employed by the IDF stand no chance whatsoever of actually destroying the organization.

I’m a lot less concerned about IDF effectiveness on the ground, as Hezbollah is an effective organization, well trained and capable of laying a good ambush. Falling into such an ambush doesn’t necessarily reveal any deeper problems. But Johnson is correct to say that Israel is on the horns of a dilemma. If they don’t occupy southern Lebanon, Hezbollah will declare victory. If they occupy a small strip of southern Lebanon, Hezbollah will continue its attacks and declare victory. If they end the airstrikes without destroying Hezbollah, Hezbollah will declare victory. Indeed, it’s hard for me to figure out a way in which this will end without giving Hezbollah the opportunity to declare victory, unless a large contingent of foreign troops arrives from somewhere (Fiji? Chile? Mongolia?) to help disarm the militia or at least manage southern Lebanon.

… also read Philip Gordon on the hopelessness of an air power strategy.

… and it should be noted that Israeli ground incursions seem to be increasing in scope and strength. This is not, in my view, a bad thing, as long as the incursions allow Israel to actually engage and destroy Hezbollah forces. I don’t think that Israel can actually destroy Hezbollah through the limited incursions, of course, but it’s still better than an air campaign that won’t do anyone any good.

The Chinese? Say what?

[ 0 ] July 26, 2006 |

A transcript of my remarks from yesterday is here.

The front page of the Herald-Leader reads “UK Professor Rob Farley thinks that the Chinese would be the best choice for leadership of a peacekeeping mission. Find out why online”. I suppose I ought to defend that palpably absurd offhand remark…

The problem is that while deploying a peacekeeping or peacemaking force to Lebanon is a good idea in the abstract, no one knows where the troops will come from. The US cannot supply peacekeepers, and wouldn’t want to even if it could. The Europeans seem reluctant. An Arab-led force seems to me a bad idea; there’s little reason to believe that Egyptian or Saudi forces will take the initiative in controlling or disarming Hezbollah. This leaves relatively few options (although Indonesia and Malaysia have both offered troops).

In this context, a Chinese led mission looks attractive. The PLA has massive ground forces that aren’t doing anything particularly important right now. The Chinese also have relatively good relations with all of the parties concerned, including Israel, Lebanon, Iran, and the Gulf monarchies. With logistical support the Chinese have the capacity to carry out the operation, and can plausibly play the role of honest broker. That’s the upside.

Then there’s the downside. Why would China ever want to do this? The PLA has engaged in several other peacekeeping missions, including Lebanon and Haiti, but none of a magnitude approaching what would be necessary in southern Lebanon. The capability of the PLA to carry out what might turn into a counter-insurgency operation in unknown. On the one hand, the PLA was born as an insurgency. On the other, Mao’s been dead a long time. Moreover, a country retains its status as an “honest broker” by staying as far away as possible from any controversial subject. Beijing might lose diplomatic cred through an extended Lebanese deployment. Finally, there’s likely to be considerable Pentagon nervousness about extending the diplomatic and military reach of China, nervousness that might lead the administration to kibosh the whole operation.

Still, it’s a thought. The PLA could use some experience in a large operation and, if Beijing is interested in stepping up on the world diplomatic stage, this would be a way to do it. I also doubt that Beijing is as casualty averse as many of the European governments.


In the Same Way that Baghdad is Safer Than L.A.

[ 0 ] July 26, 2006 |

Via B.A.B. (who, alas, is not going to see an end to “women’s bodies being the playing field for election-year politicking” anytime soon), I see that George Bush has offered a peculiar justification for the awful new legislation that passed the Senate yesterday:

In a statement, Mr. Bush said that “transporting minors across state lines to bypass parental consent laws regarding abortion undermines state law and jeopardizes the lives of young women.

Er, sadly, no:

The risk of abortion complications is minimal when the procedure is performed by a trained professional in a hygienic setting: Fewer than 1% of all U.S. abortion patients experience a major complication. The risk of death associated with abortion in the U.S. is less than 0.6 per 100,000 procedures, which is less than one-tenth as large as the risk associated with childbirth.

But, in fairness, if Bush and the forced pregnancy lobby get their way, the gap will be narrower:

However, 68,000 women in countries where abortion is illegal die each year of abortion complications, and many times this number are injured by unsafe procedures.

Even by the high standards of illogic observed by anti-choicers, trying to sell these kinds of abortion restrictions as public health regulations are profoundly embarrassing lies.

The Chronicle First-Person Essay: A Primer

[ 0 ] July 26, 2006 |

Via le professeur le plus dangereux en Amerique, the Little Professor (who did great work during the whole Ivan Tribble thing) offers a handy guide to the writing a Chronicle of Higher Education first person essay.

As an addendum to the forum on blogging and academia that is the substance of Michael’s post, I was happy to see that my alma mater has snapped up Jacob Levy. It remains unfortunate if indeed Levy was denied tenure because of a hobby, but hopefully he’ll agree with me that the city and the university are a pretty nice way to land on your feet.

Stating What Should Be Self-Evident

[ 0 ] July 26, 2006 |

I’m glad that someone was motivated to point out the obvious fact that Rudy Giuliani has absolutely no chance whatsoever of winning the Republican primary. The fact that anyone in the media takes this seriously is right up there with the “and Hillary will jump in at the last minute and take the Democratic nomination after the convention goes to a 36th ballot” routine we saw in 2004. Except that it’s even less plausible. Can’t someone buy vibrators (or Glamour magazines) for these people so they can keep it behind closed doors? A pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, thrice-married New Yorker winning the national Republican nomination? Sure, right after the next three Royals/Pirates World Series.

Randy is right in comments, however, to note that claims about “relatively conservative” Queens (which Kerry carried by only 6 points fewer than Kings County) aren’t really operative any longer: “Queens, while not being as liberal as the Upper West Side or Berkeley is still very liberal. Communities such as Forest Hills, Long Island City, Jackson Heights (where I live) and Astoria are very liberal. Jackson Heights is not only ethnically diverse, but is also the center of the outer borough’s gay community…Everyone knows that the only borough that has a hint of conservatism is Staten Island.” The better example is that Kerry carried Suffolk County–once the white-flight epitome of sociological Long Island. And the only difference from the past three cycles is that he carried it by less of a margin than Gore or Clinton. Even in a suburban county far more conservative than New York City, national Republican candidates can’t win. It’s just not a milieu in which a successful Republican politician could be remotely competitive in a national primary, period.

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