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Archive for August, 2007

"Through the dancing poppies stoleA breeze most softly lulling to my soul."

[ 0 ] August 26, 2007 |

After they finish helping the Mariners, there’s perhaps more work to be found for O’Pollahan in Helmand province, the “Taliban stronghold” located in southern Afghanistan. To the untrained eye, and to those who lack the kind of exclusive perspective dispensed by EvenLiberalWarCritics(TM), the situation looks well-nigh shitty. Behold:

Here in Helmand, the breadth of the poppy trade is staggering. A sparsely populated desert province twice the size of Maryland, Helmand produces more narcotics than any country on earth, including Myanmar, Morocco and Colombia. Rampant poverty, corruption among local officials, a Taliban resurgence and spreading lawlessness have turned the province into a narcotics juggernaut.

Poppy prices that are 10 times higher than those for wheat have so warped the local economy that some farmhands refused to take jobs harvesting legal crops this year, local farmers said. And farmers dismiss the threat of eradication, arguing that so many local officials are involved in the poppy trade that a significant clearing of crops will never be done.

Rest assured, though — the US is on the case:

Loren Stoddard, director of [USAID's] agriculture program in Afghanistan, cited American-financed agricultural fairs, the introduction of high-paying legal crops and the planned construction of a new industrial park and airport as evidence that alternatives were being created.

Mr. Stoddard, who helped Wal-Mart move into Central America in his previous posting, predicted that poppy production had become so prolific that the opium market was flooded and prices were starting to drop. “It seems likely they’ll have a rough year this year,” he said, referring to the poppy farmers. “Labor prices are up and poppy prices are down. I think they’re going to be looking for new things.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Stoddard and Rory Donohoe, the director of the American development agency’s Alternative Livelihoods program in southern Afghanistan, attended the first “Helmand Agricultural Festival.” The $300,000 American-financed gathering in Lashkar Gah was an odd cross between a Midwestern county fair and a Central Asian bazaar, devised to show Afghans an alternative to poppies.

Under a scorching sun, thousands of Afghan men meandered among booths describing fish farms, the dairy business and drip-irrigation systems. A generator, cow and goat were raffled off. Wizened elders sat on carpets and sipped green tea. Some wealthy farmers seemed interested. Others seemed keen to attend what they saw as a picnic.

True, the United States has blown $600 million on a counter-narcotics program in Afghanistan — a program so wildly unsuccessful that the religious maniacs who uprooted the country’s poppy fields in the late 1990s have now re-emerged as the world’s opium kingpins. The good news is that opium cultivation is so vast, and its benefits so thoroughly entwined with local governments, that scorched-earth eradication efforts are a non-starter.

But with enough goat raffles, meager financial incentives that attract only the most prosperous farmers, and burnt offerings to the free market, this is a war on drugs we just might win.

Wankers Unity ’08!

[ 0 ] August 26, 2007 |

You’ll be shocked to know that David Broder is thrilled about the prospect of a ticket that represents “post-partisan leadership” composed of two moderate Republicans (OK, one is not technically a Republican anymore.) As Benen says, “The column reads like a daydream of a writer who believes a liberal independent and a very conservative Republican will join forces, solve all of our problems, and ‘get something done.’ Get what done? It doesn’t matter; it’ll be something.” But taking explicit policy positions is so vulgar!

On a related note, I saw about 20 minutes of the even-more-atrocious-than-you-would-expect Robin Williams vehicle Man of the Year on HBO recently. The comedian was running on an exciting platform: he would transcend partisanship, you see, by denouncing “special interests” and explicitly supporting “getting something done” about education and the environment. Broder must consider that the greatest film made since Capra died. (And for a talented director, boy has Barry Levinson directed some crappy films.)

If Only We Could Get Brookings To Take Over the Twins

[ 0 ] August 26, 2007 |

I really don’t understand why Matt won’t take the Pentagon’s secret evidence at face value; would they really lie to use about such matters?

In related news, on a superficial, fuzzy-math, pre-9/11 way it may look like the incomparable Horacio Ramirez has been torched for 67 runs and a .400 OBP in a great pitchers park while striking out only 32 batters in 80 innings. But Bill Bavasi, who if you use such unsophisticated figures might look like the biggest dumbass in the known universe for trading a talented reliever for the privilege of paying this lemon $2.65 million, after my tour of the executive boxes at Safeco Field has shown me top-secret data complied by his assistant Micken O’Pollahan demonstrating that Ramirez is in reality having a year that makes Sandy Koufax look like Jose Lima‘s sickly little brother. I assume that Terry Ryan is smart enough to use the real, top-secret numbers, and will be trading Johan Santana and Justin Morneau to acquire him before the deadline. The Twinkies could be contenders yet!

Why Is John Galt?

[ 0 ] August 25, 2007 |

Apparently NYC development officials had warning that the John Galt corporation was not an ideal choice to demolish the Deutsche Bank building, but went ahead and did it anyway. This was also in violation of the general principle that “giving important municipal contracts to shell corporations named after Ayn Rand characters is a bad idea.”

Speaking of which, don’t forget to register for the conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of Atlas Shrugged, with a lunchtime keynote by Mr. Charles Murray!

Plausible Deniability

[ 0 ] August 25, 2007 |

From an MSNBC piece on the unpleasantness that awaits Iraq fraud whistleblowers:

Then there is Robert Isakson, who filed a whistleblower suit against contractor Custer Battles in 2004, alleging the company — with which he was briefly associated — bilked the U.S. government out of tens of millions of dollars by filing fake invoices and padding other bills for reconstruction work.

He and his co-plaintiff, William Baldwin, a former employee fired by the firm, doggedly pursued the suit for two years, gathering evidence on their own and flying overseas to obtain more information from witnesses. Eventually, a federal jury agreed with them and awarded a $10 million judgment against the now-defunct firm, which had denied all wrongdoing.

It was the first civil verdict for Iraq reconstruction fraud.

But in 2006, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III overturned the jury award. He said Isakson and Baldwin failed to prove that the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-backed occupier of Iraq for 14 months, was part of the U.S. government.

I’m sure there’s an actual argument behind that finding, but this really helps illuminate the boundless insanity of this war.

Yoosta-Bee Sunk Costs

[ 0 ] August 25, 2007 |

It’s a generalization, and therefore subject to exceptions and qualifications, but this seems basically right:

If we discount the out-and-out hacks, my entirely unscientific impression that apparently smart1 pro-war bloggers who were/are genuinely right wing have been much more likely than apparently smart pro-war bloggers who were (or who claim to have been) left of center to accept that they were wrong and that their former comrades appear to be increasingly deranged.

Especially if you fold the Reynolds/Althouse “right-wingers who refuse to admit that they’re (at least now) right-wingers” into the mix, this seems right. Some initially pro-war liberals bailed either just before or soon after the shooting began — Yglesias, JMM, Drum — but otherwise among the “liberal hawks” or “decents” there have been very few conversions against the war comparable to actual conservatives like Cole, Sullivan, Bainbridge, etc. (Did Drezner support the war initially? I don’t remember and don’t have time to check.)

Another exhibit of both strands of the premise: Greg Djerejian on O’Pollahan.

Dick or Phil?

[ 0 ] August 25, 2007 |

Harder than I thought.

Semper Fidel

[ 0 ] August 24, 2007 |

Honestly, I haven’t had this much fun watching a blogger trainwreck since Khamenei supposedly went toe-up. This episode has an extra layer of appeal, in that the usual wingnut blogs have been joined by their intellectual equals in hyping the apparent non-story. Wonkette, for example, has a revealing selection of comments from the Perez Hilton site, whose proprietor — taking a brief respite from his usual schtick of drawing jizz stains on celebrity photos — first “reported” the passing.

That said, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Castro died sometime in the next few weeks. Among the lesser geopolitical ripples caused by his passing, I would take a commanding lead in the Dead Pool to which I belong. Last year was rough — only three of my entrants surrendered their carbon — but this year I’m ahead of the curve with four. For the morbidly curious, here’s my list:

1. Ariel Sharon
2. Fidel Castro
3. Emiliano Mercado del Toro [d. 24 January]
4. Robert McNamara
5. Lady Bird Johnson [d. 11 July]
6. Bruce Bennett [d. 24 February, 100]
7. Brooke Astor [d. August 13]
8. John Wooden
9. Oral Roberts
10. Claude Levi-Strauss

Undermining The Electoral College

[ 0 ] August 24, 2007 |

I’ll have a longer piece about the general subject coming up next week, but in the meantime Brian Beutler notes an interesting proposal by California Dems. In response to the California GOP’s “21st century democracy for thee but not for me” initiative, the Democrats have a proposal that would award the state’s electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. Given current circumstances, it’s not a terrible idea; it would still be unilateral disarmament, but at least the it would matter much less frequently, and would have a better chance of being balanced by a couple other states. I still probably wouldn’t support it, but as a way of undermining the electoral college through initiative (assuming that Article II is read so as to permit this at all) it’s probably the best one can do, at least without a trigger requiring other states to come on board before it goes into effect.

Man-Child With A Mustache

[ 0 ] August 24, 2007 |

The Editors replay some of Tom Friedman’s greatest hits. Although being op-eds in an otherwise respectable paper the sentiments are at least not expressed entirely in 80′s action movie chiches, “suck on this” captures the puerility of the “thoughts” much better. It’s particularly amazing that Friedman, having supported a war that he concedes was fought “because America needed to hit someone in the Arab-Muslim world,” reacted to the inevitable resulting chaos by claiming that Iraq may be “beyond transformation” because they “hate others more than they love their own children.” Democracy, you see, isn’t something that emerges from an exceptionally complex series of social, cultural, and economic, and institutional factors, but it something you choose like a new brand of soap. If razing a state in a country (not to produce a democracy or even for security reasons, mind you, but because the thought of invading an Arab country selected almost at random in retaliation for an attack by people who had nothing to do with the country in question gave people like Tom Friedman a boner) riven by ethnic conflict and without the institutions of civil society that characterize democratic states doesn’t immediately produce a stable, democratic state, why, it’s just that those Iraqis are beyond help!

What can one even say at this point?

Southern-Fried Rock

[ 0 ] August 24, 2007 |

Saw Scott Miller and Commonwealth on Wednesday in Lexington, and Jason Isbell last night in Louisville. Thoughts:

  • Miller opened with Highland County Boy, which awakened in me latent urges to find and shoot a Yankee.
  • Miller is a lot younger and skinnier than I envisioned. Indeed, he looks kind of like Michael O’Hanlon…. weird.
  • The Dame is the primary music venue in Lexington, but lacks air conditioning. The outside temp at show time was 88; it was easily 100 inside. Lesson learned: When you sit in 100 degree temperatures for two hours, any number of drinks will produce a hangover.
  • Isbell was good, but you really become aware of how great a frontman Patterson Hood is when he’s not there. Hood’s charisma and energy add a tremendous amount to a show, even when the music is pretty similar.
  • Not to rumour-monger, but a couple I spoke with at the show (who seemed in the know) suggested that Isbell’s break with the Truckers is a result of a set of contradictions inherent between the “hard living rock star” project and the effort to maintain a marriage to your bass player.

The International Law Dodge

[ 0 ] August 24, 2007 |

Dan Drezner (cursed be his name) aptly sums up my thinking on international law and Iraq. First, I think he’s quite right to call out John Quiggin on the latter’s implication that international law has caused the reduction in wars since 1945:

Quiggin is factually correct that interstate war has been on the wane since 1945 (though whethera lot of interstate were simply replaced by civil wars between state proxies is another question entirely). Asserting that this is due to the ever-growing power of international law would be a reeeeaaaaallly big stretch. There is likely no one satisfactory answer to the question. Liberal internationalists would argue that as the world has become more liberal, it has become more peaceful. The spread of democracy, the rise of economic globalization, and the empowerment of international institutions have all made war a more costly and less desirable option. Realists would provide a different explanation. They would argue that the spread of nuclear weapons among the great powers in the system has provided a powerful dampening effect on systemic international violence.

Right; we have many plausible explanations for the reduction in interstate war, and the expansion of international law is, to my mind, among the least compelling of them. But with regards to the constraining impact of international law on US behavior:

Even under the aegis of current international law, it is pretty easy to devise justifications for a wide range of military actions. In part this is because — with profound apologies to Alex Wendt — international law is what states make of it. If the U.S. can’t go to the United Nations to justify action in Grenada, there’s always the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States. If the Security Council won’t support action against Kosovo, NATO will. Beyond the EU, there is little to no hierarchy in international law, and there are a sufficient number of international bodies such that a state can find casus belli somewhere.

The Iraq War as conducted was illegal, stupid, immoral, and very likely doomed to failure. If Jacques Chirac had not been President of France, or if he had decided to abstain rather than veto (and give cover to a bunch of other opponents of the war), then the second UN resolution may well have passed, making the war nice and legal. Assuming that this legality didn’t magically produce 150000 German, French, Canadian, and Russian troops ready to ship out to Iraq, the result would have been a war that was legal, stupid, immoral, and very likely doomed to failure. For all the complaints of neocons about international law and international institutions, the United States has a historically critical and extremely privileged position in international law. While it doesn’t quite extend to “it’s legal if we want it to be legal”, it’s not that far off, either. This is why I have always been skeptical of international law as a proxy for justice.

Now, this is not to take the extreme realist position that law has no impact on state behavior, or that increasing the density of law in international society is a bad thing. I agree with Delong, for example, that the US would benefit from a stronger set of legal prohibitions on aggressive (or preventive) war. But it’s critical to remember that the construction and enforcement of this law will inevitably favor the United States and whatever particular conception of the national interest that it holds at the time.

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