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Archive for September, 2008

Kaus Gets Something Half Right

[ 0 ] September 27, 2008 |


The Refs Dream They’re Being Worked: When McCain’s campaign attacks the press, he’s not “working the refs.” That implies McCain’s strategists still care how the “refs” make calls. I think it’s pretty clear they’re doing something else (and they’re perfectly happy if the refs keep making calls against them). … P.S.: Of course the MSM “refs” like to think McCain’s “working the refs,” because that implies they’re worth working–that their refereeing role is still all-important (as opposed to their role as, say, a totemic focus of political, class and cultural resentment!)..

I think that this is correct; attacks on the media by the McCain campaign no longer have the traditional “work the refs” angle, because McCain doesn’t want good coverage from the mainstream media. He’s determined that it’s more useful to use such attacks to rile up a base primed for years by anti-media rhetoric. McCain now seems to think that MSM attacks are good for him, and as such the intent is to provoke such criticisms rather than to force the media into a faux-even-handed “Democrats say this, but Republicans say this” narrative.

I think it’s important to add, though, that this is likely to be a disastrous strategy for McCain. It might have worked for Mike Huckabee, but John McCain is a creature of the mainstream media; the only reason that he’s a prominent Republican politician and not just another random Mountain West Republican Senator is that the mainstream media fell in love with him back in 2000. Moreover, an “enthuse the base” strategy is a really, really bad way to go in 2008, when the Republican base is at a substantial disadvantage to its Democratic counterpart. However, I’m also wondering at this point whether the national GOP is even capable of a strategy other than “enthuse the base”; such a strategy may have been so imprinted on the GOP electoral machine by Karl Rove in 2000 and 2004 that McCain had no alternative.


Do People Watch Presidential Debates?

[ 96 ] September 27, 2008 |

Wasn’t there a repeat of “House” on USA?

This seems mildly positive:

Forty percent of uncommitted voters who watched the debate tonight thought Barack Obama was the winner. Twenty-two percent thought John McCain won. Thirty-eight percent saw it as a draw.

Forty-six percent of uncommitted voters said their opinion of Obama got better tonight.

Sixty-eight percent of uncommitted voters think Obama would make the right decisions about the economy. Forty-one percent think McCain would.

No Sympathy Here

[ 30 ] September 26, 2008 |

Unlike Chris Orr, I have utterly no sympathy for Sarah Palin, despite the fact that her interviews and occasional public statements have meandered into the realm of the exquisite corpse. Mike Riggs wonders if some liberals — like Orr — no longer view Palin as a “potent potential threat” and are thus more inclined to “treat her like a human being.” I’ll admit that it’s difficult to watch someone crash and burn in a nationally-televised interview for which she’s presumably had weeks to prepare, but the idea that Sarah Palin no longer represents a source of concern for Democrats is — or should be — nonsensical.

She remains the vice presidential candidate in a closely-contested race that is, politically speaking, a thousand miles from a conclusion. Though I’m temporarily buoyed by the fact that John McCain appears at the moment to be on the downward slope of a dissociative fugue, I’d be an idiot to think he didn’t have a decent chance of actually winning and launching a fake reformer with transparently shitty policy views down the hall from him in the White House. And while John McCain likes to compare himself, implausibly, to Teddy Roosevelt, in terms of his physical health he’s probably more closely affiliated with Konstantin Chernenko. All of which raises the obvious concerns about Palin, who is matchlessly unsuited for high office.

But here’s the thing about Palin that’s worth remembering. She didn’t as Orr puts it, need to “plucked from obscurity” by the McCain campaign. She could have done the sensible thing and refused the offer. She had no shortage of plausible excuses — spanning the personal as well as the political — to maintain a lower national profile and not accept an opportunity for which any Alaskan with half a brain (even, I assure you, her boosters in the legislature) understood she would be catastophically unprepared. She could have remained an immensely (if in my view undeservedly) popular governor who would likely have cruised to re-election in 2010; she might have looked forward to challenging Mark Begich for US Senate in 2014 or, Christ forbid, she could have followed an acquitted and re-elected Ted Stevens into the same office. Or she might have campaigned for the state’s only seat in the US House someday when Don Young either retires or begins a new career as a license-plate presser in federal prison. Or she could have challenged Ethan Berkowitz, who looks like a good bet to defeat Young this year but who is, at bottom, a Democrat in a state that would happily replace him with a Republican if they could find one who wasn’t, you know, a criminal.

The point is, Palin had alternatives. The point is, she made what appears to be a terrible error in judgment by fastening her political future to the clown-stuffed volkswagon otherwise known as “John McCain’s campaign.” Maybe Jesus told her to do this. Maybe she’s incapable of recognizing her limits. I don’t know, and for now I don’t really care. For now, she’s the candidate for vice president on a ticket that’s plainly undeserving of anyone’s sympathy, so I see nothing to be gained by offering it.

McCain Wins!

[ 0 ] September 26, 2008 |

From my brother, who has apparently drilled into a vast sub-surface shale deposit of free time this afternoon:


…OK, here’s one of mine:

John McCain=Neville Chamberlain

[ 5 ] September 26, 2008 |

I can’t believe that John McCain has decided to appease the Democrats. Doesn’t he understand the threat that the Democrats pose to democracy? Doesn’t he understand that this appeasement will only be met with further aggression, including additional demands that John McCain attend debates that he’s already agreed to? Where will it stop? WHERE WILL IT STOP!!!1?!?!?!?

David Horowitz is the Kindest, Bravest, Warmest, Most Wonderful etc. etc.

[ 0 ] September 26, 2008 |

I have reviewed Party of Defeat. Full story as soon as I have time. What I really want to see is a cage match between Horowitz and Ramesh Ponnuru; is the Democratic Party the Party of Death, or the Party of Defeat? The world wonders!!!

Huh? What? Was Pete Carroll Deeply Invested in Washington Mutual?

[ 18 ] September 26, 2008 |

Before I forget, precisely what the fuck happened last night in Corvallis?

Tax Cuts Solve Everything!

[ 0 ] September 26, 2008 |

House GOP says we can solve the problems created by companies possessing now-worthless securities can be solved by…a temporary suspension of the capital gains tax cut. I can’t see any problems with that logic!

Evidently, no deal is better than a Republican solution crackpot scheme.

[ 0 ] September 26, 2008 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson.

Best bailout-related caption wins.

Posse Comitatus on the Merits

[ 36 ] September 26, 2008 |

Over e-mail, Glenn has suggested that the origins of posse comitatus in the United States are irrelevant to the wisdom of maintaining the policy today. I only partially agree with that claim. To briefly set aside the question of the origins, and to entirely set aside the question of whether the incident Glenn mentions actually represents an erosion of posse comitatus, it is certainly worthwhile to examine whether or not posse comitatus is a policy worth maintaining. It’s also worthwhile to dispose of this:

Even after the last 8 years, there are still plenty of people — including, apparently, liberals like Farley — who dismissively wave away concerns about presidential seizures of radical, dangerous and possibly illegal powers as nothing to worry about. That mentality bodes well for the McCain/Palin ticket and for authoritarian policies in general, and explains much of what has happened during the Bush era (throngs of people like Farley who mocked objections to Bush’s radical executive power theories as “handwringing”).

Yup…. C’mon, Glenn; just call me Neville Chamberlain. You know you want to.

Anyway, the case against posse comitatus runs something like this; giving the President the capacity to legally use the United States Army within the United States will lead to an increase in the militarization of our society, and an erosion in our civil liberties, the latter created by the increased capacity of the President to use force in the face of civil disobedience. Moreover, while the United States Army has a substantial organizational capacity, its strengths do not lie in crowd control, disaster relief, or other tasks that a President might wish to use it for; even though the Kent State incident didn’t actually involve the US Army, more incidents like Kent State would occur if the Army was regularly used inside the borders of the United States. This is an entirely reasonable case, and one that reasonable people can hold to; if there’s a part of the case that I’m missing, please feel free to indicate in comments, because I don’t want to build and burn a strawman. It’s also fair to say that no small percentage of United States Army officers hold to this position; the Army is not, by any means, seeking a larger internal role. Moreover, while posse comitatus in the United States was born of the effort to destroy Reconstruction, as a policy it certainly shares much with the concerns of the Founders regarding the dangers of standing armies.

So what’s the case against? The first is merely practical; the military is capable of a multitude of tasks associated with disaster relief and crisis preparedness, and is regularly asked to execute the disaster relief role. It would be better, I think, if we simply accepted what everyone already knows (that the military will be asked to participate in disaster relief, as indeed is allowed by the Posse Comitatus Act), instead of regarding the semi-permanent designation of a brigade to handle and prepare for disaster relief as an encroachment on civil liberty. This brigade is not, in fact, the only one stationed in the United States, and is not the only one that would be asked to respond in the case of natural disaster. Moreover, the use of the military in natural disasters isn’t something that started in the Bush administration, but rather has been ongoing for some time.

The case for holding the line on posse comitatus would be more compelling if the theoretical argument made more sense. Civil liberties come under threat not simply from the Federal Government, but also from states, localities, and private actors. Armed force is not inherently hostile to civil liberties; indeed, it can and has enabled people to take advantage of their civil and political rights, such as voting, assembly, and speech. As such, an increase in the ability of the Federal government (through use of the Army) to intervene in domestic situations does not necessarily lead to a loss of freedom. If rights come under threat from private actors, localities, or states, then the intervention of the Federal government can have a net positive effect on the ability of the people to take advantage of their civil rights. Moreover, the Federal government is a good deal more capable of protecting civil liberties than states or localities, because it enjoys far greater resources. Small government entities are no more likely to recognize civil liberties, political freedoms, or minority rights than the Federal government, and potentially could be a good deal likely.

Now, this may all seem terribly abstract; the intervention of the Federal government in a military sense could yield benefits for civil liberties, but is it likely to do so? The possibility of a direct confrontation between the Federal government and a state or local government that would require the use of the Army, or even the threat of the use of the Army, would seem pretty unlikely. This, I think, is where the history becomes relevant. In asking whether posse comitatus results in a net positive or negative for civil liberties, it hardly seems irrelevant to note that the Posse Comitatus Act was part of an explicit bargain to enable the re-establishment of a white supremacist regime across the South. In other words, the point of the act was to insulate states and localities from the threat of Federal force, such that those states and localities could either tolerate white supremacist activites (involving the disenfranchisement and murder of thousands of African-Americans) or directly engage in the support of those white supremacist activities. It’s not as if this behavior stopped in 1952; states and localities bitterly resisted Federal efforts to disassemble the white supremacist regime that held sway over the South after Reconstruction throughout the heyday of the Civil Rights Movement. Moreover, efforts to resist the expansion of civil rights and civil liberties on the part of states and localities continue to this day, albeit through means less direct than those pursued in 1890.

In short, the Federal government might well try to use the Army to threaten civil liberties, but we absolutely, without a doubt know that states and localities will use force and other means to eliminate or reduce civil liberties, and we also know that the desire of states to do this has been a significant source of friction between those states and the Federal government for the last 130 years. This is why the invocations of Kent State, the Minneapolis police, and various other organs of state are rather beside the point in a discussion of posse comitatus; states and localities already possess considerable coercive capacity, and have demonstrated a strong willingness to use that capacity against groups and individuals that they don’t care for. We also know that in the most egregious case of the destruction of civil liberties in US history (the end of Reconstruction and the establishment of Jim Crow), the states perceived the Federal government to be their enemy and sought a specific prohibition on the ability of the Federal government to mess with their business.

This point is not lost on conservatives. There’s a reason that Glenn found it useful to cite Alan Bock, a right-wing libertarian who strongly opposes Federal interference in local affairs. Bock, to put it as simply as possible, doesn’t believe that the Federal government had any business in enforcing respect for civil liberties during Reconstruction, or during any other period of note. It’s not that he’s afraid of what the Federal government might do; he thought it was wrong to use the Army to enable black people to vote in the first place. Similarly, Glenn cites right wing libertarian James Bovard in defense of his case for posse comitatus. These are hardly the only right wingers to share an aversion to Federal power; to the extent that “state’s rights” has any content whatsoever, it has typically included a commitment to the privilege of state’s to restrict the civil liberties of whatever minority groups that find distasteful.

And so yes, it is possible to have a reasoned objection to posse comitatus without necessarily being an appeaser of the Bush administration. Glenn (and some others) think that the Reconstruction story is irrelevant, but it’s not at all difficult for me to envision the need for troops to protect the rights of African-Americans to vote, or of women to have access to abortions. It makes a substantial difference whether those troops belong to (say) the Alabama National Guard, or the US Army; I know that I’d strongly prefer the latter.

See also Yglesias, who touches on some of these points. Chris Quillen had a good article on posse comitatus in the Spring 2002 Parameters, the timing of which should also suggest that this debate was ongoing prior to the Bush administration. Finally, let me again recommend Nicholas Lemann’s Redemption, which is a detailed account of the role that the US Army played in Reconstruction-era Mississippi.

Another View

[ 14 ] September 26, 2008 |

With all due respect to Paul, my latte-sipping colleague, it bears pointing out that neither he nor his libertarian friend have taken the time to consider the possibility that Sarah Palin is not so much a conveyor of “context-free linguistic gobbets” so much as she’s “a down-home straight-talker who doesn’t dodge a bullet.” Which I suppose means she’s slow and possesses no survival instincts.

Which I guess reinforces Paul’s point. Er…

But she’s at least as smart as Paul Krugman!

Ignorance v. Stupidity: A Sarah Palin Steel-Cage Death Match

[ 52 ] September 26, 2008 |

I’ve been having an argument today with my friend JJ about whether Sarah Palin is, as Jeeves says of his employer, “mentally negligible.” JJ (who btw is a hardcore libertarian who is voting for McCain on a lesser of two evils basis) watched the latest clips from the Katie Couric interview and decided she was. I hadn’t watched the clips, but in classic academic fashion I argued with him about it anyway, reasoning that while she is obviously a profoundly ignorant person in regard to the sorts of things a person who could become POTUS needs to know (like, um, various stuff about the US political and economic and social system), she surely isn’t stupid in the she has an IQ of 88 sense.

So I finally watched the clips and, well . . . let’s say my faith was shaken a bit. The best part are the cutaways to Katie Couric’s face, which betrays a truly priceless incredulity at what she’s hearing. What she’s hearing are long strings of semi-literate English sentences that are both profoundly unresponsive to Couric’s questions and seem to make little sense even as context-free linguistic gobbets.

Still, I don’t think Palin is an actual idiot. I think it’s extremely difficult for a person who knows almost nothing about a subject to fake her way through an interview on that subject, even if she’s got a cheat sheet (which Palin glances at several times) and has had her head crammed full of catch phrases and stock responses that for the last month she’s been coached to repeat.

Consider, for example, somebody who knows almost nothing about baseball having to fake a way through a conversation about baseball. Unless the person has a photographic memory and a gift for pathological lying, even a month of cramming on the subject isn’t going to create a knowledge base sufficient to fool any baseball fan into thinking this person really knows anything substantial about baseball.

Contemporary U.S. politics and its institutions comprise a much more complicated subject. People who have spent their lives learning about, arguing about, participating in, etc. national politics will find it easy to underestimate what a fantastic amount of knowledge they’ve accumulated over the years on these matters.

OK, I’m sipping a latte as I type this, so I’m going to be blunt: Sarah Palin is a completely uneducated hick from a nowhere town in the deepest backwoods. She has spent her life surrounded by 4,999 other people who have very similar backgrounds to herself. I’m sure she knows a great deal about all sorts of things that have come in handy in the context of her particular social circumstances, involving field dressing moose, fixing snowmobiles with tools assembled completely out of dryer lint, etc. But she doesn’t know ANYTHING about the sorts of things a person who might become POTUS needs to know. This is almost literally true. It’s like taking somebody whose knowledge of baseball is pretty much limited to being able to identify Babe Ruth and Willie Mays, and that a batter gets three strikes and that there are four bases on the field, and then naming them general manager of a major league club. It’s preposterous. It’s insane.

It’s also the ultimate reductio ad absurdum of populist politics — the idea that literally anybody can be a competent and effective president of the United States if she has the right values and is an ordinary hardworking salt of the earth real American, even if she knows nothing whatsoever about almost any of the stuff that you, ideally, would want someone to know something about before she got within hailing distance of the most powerful and important political office in the world.

Good Lord.

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