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Archive for May, 2007

Art of the Possible

[ 0 ] May 31, 2007 |

Put me squarely in the Meyerson camp:

Many of my antiwar friends were furious at Democratic congressional leaders last week for their failure to attach withdrawal deadlines to or cut funding from our occupation of Iraq — a failure chiefly attributable to the simple fact that the votes weren’t there for either option. What they should recall, however, is that the much more heavily Democratic Congress that hastened the end of the Vietnam War during Richard Nixon’s presidency did so by passing a series of incremental measures, each of which constrained Nixon’s warmaking powers a bit more than the last. In succession, Congress banned the use of funds for military actions in Laos and Thailand, then (after Nixon ordered the invasion of Cambodia) banned the use of ground forces in Cambodia. Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, one of the Democrats’ foremost doves, three times introduced an amendment that would have ended U.S. involvement in Vietnam within nine months of enactment, but it never passed.

It took the Democrats, and their dovish Republican allies, four full years to pass a cutoff of funds for U.S. ground forces in Vietnam, by which point Nixon had already pulled all ground forces out (though the legislation kept him from putting those forces back in, which was not a mere academic possibility). That hardly means that Mansfield betrayed the cause of peace, any more than Nancy Pelosi’s failure to shut down the war last week means that she sold out to the Bush administration. Mansfield put one antiwar bill after another to a vote, winning more and more support each time around, leaving Nixon with fewer and fewer options. Pelosi is steering the same course, for a war even more reckless and absurd than Vietnam.

Right. It’s all well and good to point out that Bush and the war are politically unpopular, but while doing so we can’t forget that we live in a Madisonian anti-majoritarian system that privileges the status quo. Combine that with a two party system that has only weak incentives for party discipline, and the ability of a small Congressional majority to change the course of a war becomes quite limited. Frankly, I’m impressed that Reid and Pelosi did as well as they did in resettling the Democratic Party in Congress firmly on the side of withdrawal, and I see little point in excoriating them for not doing enough.


Ever More Falklands Blogging

[ 0 ] May 31, 2007 |

David Axe has the story of the Santa Fe, an Argentine diesel-electric submarine that fought off a swarm of British helicopters before succumbing:

Cut off and incommunicado, the Santa Fe’s crew fought back against the swarms of Wessex, Wasp and Lynx helicopters, using only the firearms they had on board and some ancient anti-tank rockets belonging to an embarked commando team. “They prevented the helicopters from flying right over us,” Bicain recounts.

But the Santa Fe was cornered. In addition to the depth charges and torpedoes, the British choppers fired anti-ship missiles and even their machine guns. An AS-12 missile punched right through the sub’s hull without exploding, taking off one sailor’s leg. The Santa Fe slowly sank while desperately steaming towards land and safety. Finally it struck the shallow seabed. The frigates that had launched the helicopters were soon within sight. The jig was up, and at 5 p.m., Bicain surrendered.


[ 0 ] May 31, 2007 |

He’s a real class act:

The setup: Yankees winning, 7-5, two out and two on, top of the ninth. Jorge Posada pops up to third. Howie Clark camps under it. Rodriguez trots by and yells “Ha!” (according to him). Clark thinks it’s the shortstop, John McDonald, calling for the ball. He backs off, the ball drops to the turf, the inning continues, and the Yankees score three more runs.

Even thirteen-year olds know this sort of thing is bush-league. Next time the Yankees are in Toronto, I would hope that A-Rod’s first trip to the plate ends with one pitch and a slow, painful walk to first base.

Deal Breaker

[ 0 ] May 31, 2007 |

The U.S. Attorney had to know he was in trouble with the Bush administration. What was his offense, you might ask? Corruption? Refusing to prosecute serious crimes? Hitting on Laura Bush? No, it’s much, much worse than you could imagine:

For more than 15 years, clean-cut, square-jawed Tom Heffelfinger was the embodiment of a tough Republican prosecutor. Named U.S. attorney for Minnesota in 1991, he won a series of high-profile white-collar crime and gun and explosives cases. By the time Heffelfinger resigned last year, his office had collected a string of awards and commendations from the Justice Department.

So it came as a surprise — and something of a mystery — when he turned up on a list of U.S. attorneys who had been targeted for firing.

Part of the reason, government documents and other evidence suggest, is that he tried to protect voting rights for Native Americans.

Yes, it’s hard to imagine anyone keeping their job after such scandalous behavior. For shame.

Tucker Territory

[ 0 ] May 31, 2007 |

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that Glenn Beck’s Headline News ratings are in the rubbish bin, but I would have thought that at least 200,000 people across the country were falling asleep — or succumbing to demon rum — in front of the TV before his show begins. Or do people actually have to be conscious for their viewership to count? I’m no expert on these things, but it seems to me that your average cable-access show would earn a larger audience than this. After all, it appears that Beck is just as crazy as the guy whose anti-Masonic rants sustained me through many a difficult night in grad school. Here’s what Beck offers on his “Perfect Storm” page, which collates stories about the various apocalyptic perils facing America:

We are at a crucial time in not only our nation’s history, but also in the history of the entire Western world. There are powerful forces at work that, when looked at individually, are still quite serious but each seems somewhat manageable. However, when we examine these events and the possibility that they could happen collectively, well–then my friend, we’re facing something I like to call The Perfect Storm . . . .

Remember that scene [in A Beautiful Mind] where Russell Crowe has pasted up a number of newspaper stories and is making associations and drawing connections between them by running strings from one story to the next, and then that story to another, and so on? You could easily do the same with the stories here. It’s not a great leap to see a certain synchronicity between them.

You read that correctly — Glenn Beck believes schizophrenia is a methodology. I must admit that this makes me just a little more eager to actually watch his show now.

Justice Brennan’s Evil Twin

[ 0 ] May 30, 2007 |

The small band of people arguing that Sam Alito would be anything but a catastrophe for liberal constitutional values had very few arguments available to them, given the overwhelming evidence that he would be (including the extremely high esteem in which Alito is held by those who despise the achievements of the Warren and early Burger Courts.) One strategy, favored by Ann Althouse, was to assert that liberals “may discover that there are varieties of judicial conservatives, just as there are varieties of political conservatives, and that Samuel Alito is not Antonin Scalia” without citing a single area of law where Altio is likely to be more liberal than Scalia. (The reverse, conversely, is quite easy.) Obviously, this is not worth taking seriously. The other strategy — favored by the likes of Akiba Covitz and Stuart Taylor — was to claim that Alito would be to the left of Scalia because he was more “congenial” and less prone to the broad pronouncements and acerbic rhetoric of Scalia. This is both true and entirely beside the point. Yes, his strategy is to avoid Scalia’s culture warrior posing and rather — like a bizarro world William Brennan, gone over to the dark side — to cobble together precedents while subtly pushing them towards his ideological preferences, with an extra soupcon of bad faith.

His opinion yesterday in Ledbetter is a classic case in point. Alito, before citing a precedent, blandly asserts that Ledbetter’s “argument is squarely foreclosed by our precedents” and that “It would be difficult to speak to the point more directly.” But the precedent cited — which involves a case in which a woman resigned because if a discriminatory policy, and then sued for back pay after being hired several years later — is hardly a “square” or “direct” analogy (or, as Alito claims, “basically the same” argument.) That case dealt with two discrete acts, with the potential discrimination of the first resignation more more transparent than relative pay discrimination between employees. The precedent is a point in the company’s favor, but nothing more than that; it’s hardly controlling. The Morgan case cited by the dissenters — which involved non-discrete, ongoing discrimination — is at least as relevant, and it seems to me much more so. Alito’s bland rhetoric conceals characterizations of precedents that are tendentious in the extreme.

So, yes, Altio’s measured tones don’t have any of the quotable “Kulturkampf” rhetoric of a Scalia opinion; there’s nothing about gender discrimination being a glorious American tradition or something. This doesn’t make him better than Scalia to people oppose gender discrimination, however. It makes him even more dangerous.

Atheist Guide to Kentucky

[ 0 ] May 30, 2007 |

Media Czech has finished his Atheist’s Guide to the 2007 Kentucky Elections. I understand that he is preparing a similar document for the Presidential primary field…


[ 0 ] May 30, 2007 |

The Times’ Dave Leonhardt does a pretty decent job today of surveying Lou Dobbs’ fact-free mental landscape (though it should be noted that
nothing Leonhardt has to say couldn’t have been discovered three weeks ago at Orcinus — see Dave Neiwert’s posts here and here).

Taking Dobbs’ disgusting leprosy fables as a starting point, Leonhardt explains why this case is emblematic:

For one thing, Mr. Dobbs has a somewhat flexible relationship with reality. He has said, for example, that one-third of the inmates in the federal prison system are illegal immigrants. That’s wrong, too. According to the Justice Department, 6 percent of prisoners in this country are noncitizens (compared with 7 percent of the population). For a variety of reasons, the crime rate is actually lower among immigrants than natives.

Second, Mr. Dobbs really does give airtime to white supremacy sympathizers. Ms. Cosman, who is now deceased, was a lawyer and Renaissance studies scholar, never a medical doctor or a leprosy expert. She gave speeches in which she said that Mexican immigrants had a habit of molesting children. Back in their home villages, she would explain, rape was not as serious a crime as cow stealing.

Leonhardt is certainly correct as far as all this goes — it takes about five minutes of viewing to realize that Dobbs’ ears ooze with whatever offal remains in his head after his mouth stops moving. But this point continues to miss the larger, more consequential one. As I think Neiwert is right to argue, Dobbs is a venal, race-baiting blowhard who doesn’t simply outsource his arguments to white supremacy sympathizers but instead allows the fantasies of geniune white supremacists to guide his program content. Moreover, he’s the worst kind of American populist — waving his thick fists incoherently about the corporate overlords while devoting three times as much energy to fighting the weakest, most vulnerable and most despised fractions of society.

Domestic Consumption

[ 0 ] May 30, 2007 |

Hilzoy points to another in the endless series of empirical studies and professional testimonials indicating that torture is useless for the purpose of intelligence-driven interrogation. There’s no value trade-off here; torture is both bad and useless. So why do Republican presidential candidates have such a hard time condemning the practice?

Torture is domestic Green Lanternism. Foreign policy resolve is normally invoked as a value because a perception of strength changes the behavior of foreign countries. If the Chinese understand that we’re tough, the story goes, then they won’t mess with us. But torture doesn’t really have that foreign policy effect. Nations that don’t torture are appalled by the fact that we do, and nations that do torture aren’t notably impressed that we’ve joined the club. Indeed, torture has only negative foreign policy effects. Domestically, however, torture conveys the appearance of will. Support of torture signals to a politician’s base the will to do grievous harm to some random person in order to preserve a sense of security. Apparently, some significant portion of the US electorate finds this willingness impressive. Until that changes, questions of effectiveness are simply moot.

Cross-posted to TAPPED.

A Balk And A Blast

[ 0 ] May 30, 2007 |

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

“You ask for a miracle, I give you…Armando Benitez.”

Between the beautiful day and the Perez/Lincecum matchup, I made am impulse decision to buy Mets tickets yesterday (even with the knowledge that Bonds wasn’t going to start), and it ended up being a good decision. It was a classic power pitchers matchup–every run scoring on a homerun except for Human Highlight Reel Reyes flying home from first on a double, and outside of Perez in the first inning both had terrific stuff. The old Husky Lincecum, if he stays healthy, is going to be a dynamite pitcher; not only a fastball in the upper 90s, but also a devastating curve he throws in the mid-80s. The game went to the 12th. In the top of the inning with runners on the corners, Delgado made a risky play by going for the DP on a groundball by touching the bag first. It was tempting because he was right there, but taking the force off [that was stupid on my part; see comments. I was thinking the bases were loaded when the ball was first hit, and didn’t make the adjustment after I remembered.] was crucial, as Vizquel slid under the tag with the go-ahead run. In the bottom of the inning, though, Reyes draws a leadoff walk–somewhat unnoticed, the formerly undisciplined Reyes has drawn 29 with a near-.400 OBP this year–and spooked Benitez into a balk. Endy bunts him over to third, but even Reyes can’t score on Beltran’s hard grounder. But Reyes bluffs off third and Bentiez balks again, bringing in the tying run. You can tell Benitez senses the inevitable now, and sure enough Delgado hits a 2-2 pitch for his second mammoth homer to right of the game to win it.

And then I get home and see that the Yankees have dropped to 14 1/2 back in a game involving crucial errors by Jeter and Slappy Rodriguez and a straight steal of home. Oh yeah. BTW, the idiots who claim that if you just watch Jeter you’ll see he’s great shortstop (if the only other shortstops you see play for your local high school, maybe) should have been at Shea last night, where a great shortstop put on a clinic; Vizquel is unbelievable. It looked like the Mets had the game won in the bottom of the ninth when Franco–maybe Vizquel felt extra young at this point–hit a hard grounder up the middle, but Vizquel ranged well to his left, speared the ball, and flipped it to the second baseman who barehanded it for the force. It wasn’t the only great play he made, either. These numbers ain’t a fluke; even at 40, Jeter couldn’t carry Vizquel’s jock as a defensive player.

The War Prayer

[ 0 ] May 29, 2007 |

Twain, 1904 or 1905:

O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it — for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!

Having been rendered into real life in the 20th and 21st centures, Twain’s “War Prayer” is now available in a more tolerable animated form. (h/t Ralph Luker)

. . . for those with slower connections, the YouTube link is here.

Reading Pravda

[ 0 ] May 29, 2007 |

This is kind of interesting; I open up Fox News and find a front page article on a threatening new Russian ICBM that’s apparently capable of defeating any US missile defense system. The missile, a variant of the Topol-M, isn’t new. The Russian claims that the ICBM can defeat a missile defense system aren’t new, either. Fox’s shoddy reporting aside, though, it’s curious that someone decided to front this article today. Russia has become threatening and irritating in any number of ways over the past five years or so, so why the alarmist report now on an event that amounts to, essentially, nothing?

Fox’s model is a remarkable synthesis of canny consumerism and political purpose; they understand that they need to please a consumer base expecting red meat, yet at the same time they can lure that base in particular directions. I’m wondering whether this article is part of the first project, or of the second. Does the braintrust at Fox think that the base is ripe for some Russia baiting? They have a viewership that trends old, white, and male, and might have some fond memories of the Cold War. Still, I can’t remember all that many articles at Fox recently highlighting the Russian threat. On the other hand, could the folks at Fox be thinking that this is the time to emphasize national security in a way that doesn’t refer to Iraq or to the War on Terror? The article takes pains to conjure a new Russian threat, mentioning that the new ICBM was (purportedly) developed in response to the withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, and pointing out Russian intransigence on the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty.

So I have to wonder, is this part of an effort to steer the media debate towards national security, but in a way that ignores Iraq and the GWOT? Are we going to see the Republican nominee next year denounce his Democratic opponent for being insufficiently tough on the Russians? Indeed, (and this would be truly perverse) I have to wonder if we’ll see someone claim that we oughtn’t withdraw from Iraq because “we can’t look weak in front of the Russians”.

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