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Archive for August, 2007

Withdrawal Predictions

[ 0 ] August 31, 2007 |

There was a high powered panel this morning at APSA on strategic withdrawal from Iraq. It included James Wirtz of the Naval War College, John Mearsheimer, Juan Cole, and Stephen Biddle, and unlike many high powered panels actual resulted in some good discussion.

Biddle summarized his recent congressional testimony about partial withdrawal, noting explicitly that the only intellectually defensible options regarding Iraq lie at the extremes. Escalation has a low chance of success (Biddle pegs it at 10%), but complete withdrawal is preferable to virtually any scheme for leaving sixty to eighty thousand American troops in Iraq. Such a force will be unable to cap violence, unable to close the borders, unable to target Al Qaeda, and suffer a very precarious logistical situation.

Cole agreed that violence will increase in the wake of a US withdrawal, pointing out the three most important conflicts that we’re likely to see. Shiite groups will continue to fight and probably escalate around Basra, while Sunni-Shiite conflict around Baghdad and Kurdish-Sunni/Turkomen conflict over Kirkuk will increase. On the first, Cole held out some hope of compromise, and he believed that the Kurds would very likely win the last, although the means of that victory might risk Turkish intervention. The Baghdad conflict is the most serious, and Cole suggested it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that the Shia would win.

John Mearsheimer was very direct and deeply pessimistic. Ten years ago, I doubt I would have believed that Mearsheimer’s critique of US foreign policy would essentially mirror a standard leftist perspective. There are differences, of course, but on Iraq Mearsheimer is making an argument that would fit very comfortably into the netroots. Mearsheimer argued that Iraq has been and will continue to be a disaster, but that because of domestic politics and institutional dynamics we’ll still be there in five years and beyond. The stab-in-the-back narrative that’s being prepared by the Republican Party will succeed in scaring a Democratic president and Democratic congress from taking any decisive steps to end the war. At the same time, the senior theater leadership in the armed forces are committed to not losing, due to their perception of the institutional disaster that resulted from the Vietnam War.

All told, it was a grim panel.

Endangered Species Sighting

[ 0 ] August 31, 2007 |

We have a sighting of that increasingly rare beast, the principled, internally consistent pro-lifer! In response to an Anna Quindlen column that produced the usual outpouring of comically transparent illogic and evasion from anti-choicers, Matt Abbott is willing to actually apply his principles with some measure of consistency:

That said, I do believe, in some cases, the abortion-seeking woman is indeed the perpetrator. She knows very well what she’s doing. She’s not coerced by anyone. Perhaps she’s even going against the wishes of her loved ones. This is the woman who should be treated as a criminal – if not a murderer, then an accessory to murder.

What would be an appropriate prison sentence for such a woman?

Fifteen years-to-life sounds reasonable, no? Of course, one would have to take into account all the circumstances in a particular situation, and it wouldn’t be an easy task. But it could be done.

Admittedly, there’s still a little evasion, as he prefaces this by saying that “[n]ot all abortion-seeking women are perpetrators.” But still, that’s quite different from (in the more typical fashion of the American forced pregnancy lobby) simply assuming a priori that all women who obtain abortions are helpless victims. Moreover, few feminists would deny that some individual women are coerced into abortions, and in addition to safe, legal abortion part of what reproductive freedom should entail is ensuring that women who want to continue their pregnancies have the resources to do so. So while Abbott is very, very wrong, his position is at least worthy of some measure of respect.

Meanwhile, Dana points us to an even rarer animal: the pro-lifer who actually considers how abortion laws work in practice. The novelist Anne Rice, despite being a Catholic opposed to abortion, is endorsing Hillary Clinton because criminalizing abortion doesn’t actually work. This may seem like a rationalization or contradiction, but it’s actually a completely coherent position. Clinton’s set of policies, Rice correctly notes, will actually lead to fewer abortions than the illegal abortion-reactionary gender relations-irrational sex ed-threadbare safety net policies favored by most American “pro-lifers.” (Cf. Canada and Western Europe vs. Latin America.) A similar argument was made in book form by Mark Graber, who’s a reverse John Hart Ely: a pro-lifer who thinks Roe v. Wade was correctly decided. When you look at the inevitably sporadic and arbitrary application of abortion laws, it actually makes perfect sense.

Come Vote For The Party of Forced Pregnancy, Ladies!

[ 0 ] August 31, 2007 |

Kimblerley A. Strassel argues that the majority of women who vote Democratic are out there for the Republican plucking. What, might you ask, is the strategy? Well, apparently women no longer care about such trivial “70s” issues as whether they will be discriminated against in the workplace or whether the state will force them to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term (and certainly it’s not like either of these are live issues that could turn on recent Supreme Court appointments or anything!) No, what’s really important to women — although we’re not treated to anything as gauche as evidence — is…tax cuts for the wealthy. Finally, a Republican with the courage to propose something new!

Most married women are second-earners. That means their income is added to that of their husband’s, and thus taxed at his highest marginal rate. So the married woman working as a secretary keeps less of her paycheck than the single woman who does the exact same job. This is the ultimate in “inequality,” yet Democrats constantly promote the very tax code that punishes married working women. In some cases, the tax burdens and child-care expenses for second-earners are so burdensome they can’t afford a career. But when was the last time a Republican pointed out that Ms. Clinton was helping to keep ladies in the kitchen?

So let me get that straight. As a political strategy, the Republicans should appeal to an already Republican group (affluent married women) by proposing a policy that will do absolutely nothing to help an expanding group that is for obvious reasons fleeing the GOP in droves (single women.) I’d also be interested in seeing a defense of the proposition that treating the income of male and female earners in a marriage equally is the “ultimate in inequality” while pay discrimination is trivial. And then there’s the “burdensome” problem of “child-care expenses.” How is the state going to address this problem while forgoing substantial amounts of revenue by treating the income of married people exactly like single people? Look, it’s Halley’s Comet! And, finally, apparently Republicans appeal to contemporary women by simply assuming that men will be the primary breadwinner and women are secondary workers responsible for the childrearing.

I think this strategy needs some work.

My First and Last Larry Craig Post

[ 0 ] August 31, 2007 |

According to CNN, Idaho Senator may be stepping down today.

It’s obvious that Craig – like so many others in the scandal-ridden GOP – is a complete and utter hypocrite. But I find all the hot air blowing and chest beating from the right in calling for his resignation somewhat…overblown. And hyperbolic.

As it stands, David Vitter, who led the charge against President Clinton only to recently admitto using a high-end call girl service, remains a Senator. He was tsk-tsked by the right wing and its mouthpieces, he apologized, and everyone kissed and made up. I seriously doubt we’re going to see that happen in the Craig case.

Seems to me there are two explanations for this. The first, per The Nation’s John Nichols, is that Vitter didn’t face much GOP pressure to step down because his resignation would have allowed Louisiana’s Democrat (INO) governor to appoint his successor. Larry Craig’s got no such luck. The governor there is C.L. “Butch” Otter, who, with a nickname like Butch, could not but be a Republican.

The other explanation, I think, is that Vitter’s transgression is one recognized and minimized by the old boys club. Patronizing a prostitute and committing adultery are no-no’s, but ones that might be joked about over cigars and port. But gay (or MSM) trysts? I doubt that goes over as well in the locker room of Senate’s the old boys club (er, gym) (women make up only 16% of the Senate as of the 2006 elections).

So Craig faces the one-two punch. Doesn’t seem to me like there’s much of a chance that he and FoxNews (or the GOP leadership) will kiss and make up now.

Comedy Gold

[ 0 ] August 30, 2007 |

Jeff Goldstein really should be performing with a brick wall in the background:

Still, I think there are certain elements of an actual conspiracy here that shouldn’t be overlooked — most specifically, a kind of institutional willingness to repeat each other’s debunked stories in an effort to turn certain narratives, through repetition, into received truths.

This, of course, was posted shortly before Goldstein insisted that the war in Iraq is one in which “commitment and will are the deciding factors,” and argued for the 493rd time that “the rhetorical aims of the anti-war camp reveal themselves in such a way that they overlap, intentionally or not, with the rhetorical strategies used by al Qaeda in its propaganda war against western hawks.”

If not for endless, baseless repetition, I’m not sure your average wingnut blog would have any narrative at all.

Good News out of Texas

[ 0 ] August 30, 2007 |

There’s something I thought I’d never say. Good news today on the criminal justice front out of Texas.

Kenneth Foster
came within hours of execution today for the 1996 shooting murder of Ray LaHood. The killing occurred after a robbery spree during which Mr. Foster was the driver of the getaway car. One of his accomplices got out of the car, followed, and shot Mr. LaHood. No one claims that Mr. Foster pulled the trigger. Mr. Foster claims that he had no idea that his accomplice was going to commit the murder. Yet, unlike two of his accomplices who pleaded guilty, and like the shooter, Mr. Foster was sentenced to death.

Today, based on the recommendation of the Texas Parole Board, TX governor Rick Perry commuted Mr. Foster’s sentence.

Putting aside my basic opposition to the death penalty, it’s outrageous that a person can be sentenced to death for a murder to which he is connected but which he did not himself commit. It violates the notion — fundamental to criminal law — that guilt and innocence are tied to the individual. Arguably, the law is unconstitutional as cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court at one point agreed; it held in 1982 in Enmund v. Florida that it would be a violation of the Eighth Amendment to execute an accomplice to a murder. But only a few years later, in Tison v. Arizona, the Court carved out an exception, allowing for the execution of a defendant whose participation in a capital murder was “major and whose mental state is one of reckless indifference.” Not surprisingly, Texas was happy to oblige, and the state has retained its law allowing for such executions. In his commutation today, Gov. Perry called on the legislature to repeal the law. It’d be close to miraculous if that actually happens. And we all know that this Supreme Court is not about to jump on the defendants’ rights bandwagon.

But there’s an intermediary step that courts and legislatures could take. Foster was tried together with the actual killer. Though juries are instructed to remember that guilt is individual, I’d ask if that’s actually possible. While a consolidated trial might make sense in major tort litigation, where there are tens of defendants and a class or hundreds of individual plaintiffs, it just doesn’t make sense in the criminal context. Courts should avoid consolidation — even, as are most of my suggestions, at the expense of efficiency. There’s just too much at stake.

A fact that Kenneth Foster today got perilously close to demonstrating.

Great Moments in Scienticianism

[ 0 ] August 30, 2007 |

This post from Michael Asher at DailyTech has already brought predictable yodels from climate change skeptics. From what I can gather, Asher supplies — once again — ample evidence that he’s functionally innumerate:

In 2004, history professor Naomi Oreskes performed a survey of research papers on climate change. Examining peer-reviewed papers published on the ISI Web of Science database from 1993 to 2003, she found a majority supported the “consensus view,” defined as humans were having at least some effect on global climate change. Oreskes’ work has been repeatedly cited, but as some of its data is now nearly 15 years old, its conclusions are becoming somewhat dated.

Medical researcher Dr. Klaus-Martin Schulte recently updated this research. Using the same database and search terms as Oreskes, he examined all papers published from 2004 to February 2007. The results have been submitted to the journal Energy and Environment, of which DailyTech has obtained a pre-publication copy. The figures are surprising.

Of 528 total papers on climate change, only 38 (7%) gave an explicit endorsement of the consensus. If one considers “implicit” endorsement (accepting the consensus without explicit statement), the figure rises to 45%. However, while only 32 papers (6%) reject the consensus outright, the largest category (48%) are neutral papers, refusing to either accept or reject the hypothesis. This is no “consensus.”

Um… Let’s ignore the fact that the author of the study cited by Asher is a surgeon who has published plenty of articles on cancer but none on geological science; perhaps his judgment on what separates “implicit” endorsement from “neutrality” really is quite finely honed.

But not knowing whether this article “submitted” to E&P has even gone through one layer of peer review — and thus setting aside the obvious question of whether a survey covering three years of academic publications amounts to an adequate data set — it looks to me as though 93% 94% of the articles in the canvas either (a) endorse certain conclusions about anthropogenic climate change, or (b) make utterly no effort to contest a position that previous research has identified as winning near-universal assent among climate scientists. Now, I know my credibility has been damaged by my recent uninformed assertions about 20th century avant-garde composers, but this pretty much sounds like a “consensus” to me.

. . . Note to self: When bitching about someone’s “innumeracy,” take the time to actually do the math….

Adventures In Rank Idiocy

[ 0 ] August 30, 2007 |

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“You ask for a miracle, I give you…Charlie Manuel.”

Granted, I’ve never understood the intentional walk fetish of so many managers. But they don’t get much stupider than walking 1)the best base stealer in baseball to 2)load the bases with 3)the go-ahead run to bring up 4)a good singles hitter who’s almost impossible to double up 5)followed by two of the best hitters in the league 6)with a pitcher with no command on the mound and 7)the beyond-washed-up Jose Table as your next option out of the bullpen. But since he seems to have established that absolutely nothing can get him fired, it’s hard to blame Manuel.

If I were a Phillies fan I would be spitting blood right now, but given the Phillies’ taste in managers it’s not clear who his replacement will be. Is Bill Virdon still alive? Doc Edwards? John McNamara?

…of course, given than Burrell continues to slug 4.000 against the Mets it’s not like the game is actually over…

…I’m not sure he had a better option, but bringing in a dead-armed Wagner for 2 doesn’t exactly look like a strategic masterstroke in its own right…

With A Barely Audible Whimper

[ 0 ] August 30, 2007 |

Since I was hard on the Tribe earlier this month, I should note that the Red Sox have had three chances to knock out the Yankees this year, and each time they have generously prevented the Yankees from reaching the canvas and poured them a cup of Bigelow Green Tea. Admittedly, nothing in this series was quite as pathetic as having the chance for a sweep handed to you on a silver platter and proceeding to make the hapless Kei Igawa look like Lefty Grove, but pretty feeble stuff. Speaking of feeble, I was at least hoping the Mariners might get a token day in the wildcard slot in September….

Social Conservatism For Thee…

[ 0 ] August 30, 2007 |

Matt says:

A reasonable politics of “family values” needs to contain some penalties for heterosexuals with anti-family behavior (see, e.g., Dick Vitter, Rudy Giuliani) and support for gays with pro-family behavior. What they have right now is just loathing of gay people masquerading as defense of the traditional family.

This is true, but there’s another angle to it as well. Republican social conservatism, at least as instantiated as state policy, is about imposing burdens on other people to make oneself feel virtuous. Bans on abortion don’t seriously obstruct the ability of the affluent women Republicans represent to obtain safe abortions. Large homes in the suburbs are very unlikely to be subject to no-knock searches. And so on. These policies are basically a free pass for the Republican elites who advocate them, appoint judges who uphold them, etc.

And this is why gay-baiting is such a useful Republican tactic, even for the many closet tolerants among GOP elites. To put it mildly, it’s not obvious why gay marriage is a greater threat to family stability and “traditional values” than, say, no-fault divorce. But there’s not going to be a constitutional amendment to ban no-fault divorce introduced in Congress or serious attempts to get rid of it in most states — somehow, social conservatism always loses most of its appeal when restrictions on your liberties and privileges, rather than those of a stigmatized minority, are involved.

First Day Jitters

[ 0 ] August 30, 2007 |


It happens every fall. The first day of school* rolls around and I get jitters. Today is my last-ever first day of school, as I embark on my third (and last!) year of law school. For all of you lawyers out there, I’m headed into the dreaded fed courts at 2pm.

May the force be with me.


* Technically, the first day of school was yesterday, but I didn’t have any classes, so I just sat around yakking with friends and meeting with profs. So today is my first real day of school.

Hack of the Day

[ 0 ] August 30, 2007 |

David Ignatius.

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