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Archive for October, 2008

Creepy

[ 57 ] October 31, 2008 |

Jonah Goldberg wants “non-culty Obama supporters” to admit that it’s “creepy” when a man — driven to desperation for who knows what reason — throws himself off a bridge and allegedly leaves a note behind asking Barack Obama to take care of his family.

Call me a liberal fascist, but I find the details of an anonymous man’s suicide substantially less creepy than someone who uses it as an opportunity to remind everyone that some dirty fucking hippie once called Obama a “lightworker.”

That said, I suppose it’s hardly worth mentioning Pantload is ill-suited to measure the depths of “creepy,” since as far as I’m able to gather, he’s failed to distance himself from Rich Lowry for sprouting a chubby during the vice presidential debate.

Somebody Went There…

[ 48 ] October 31, 2008 |

Ahem. And ahem.

To my understanding, Mitch McConnell’s sexual orientation has been rather an open secret in the Kentucky political establishment. I tend to think that if gay Republicans maintain what amounts to a civilized stance on gay issues, then they deserve their privacy. If they dedicate their careers to making things really difficult for other gays and lesbians, then I don’t have a lot of sympathy. McConnell’s position on these questions isn’t as bad as some (he’s never, as far as I know, demagogued the issue), but it’s not good, either.

All that said, the ads linked above are pretty goddamn ugly. They do not in any manner or fashion put the drive for GLBT civil rights in a good light; in fact, just the opposite. While pointing out hypocrisy on this issue is always rather awkward, it can be done in a way that doesn’t rely on homophobia to make the point. I certainly hope that Bruce Lunsford had nothing to do with the ads. There’s no immediate reason to think that he did; AFSCME sponsored the radio version.

Conservative Domination of the Federal Courts

[ 5 ] October 31, 2008 |

As a welcome companion to Steven Calabresi’s silly ranting about how — horrors! — Barack Obama may completely transform the federal courts (if a whole bunch of relatively young judges retire en masse, of course, Charlie Savage brings some data about the extent to which Bush has transformed the federal courts. Democrats control exactly…one of the 13 federal circuit courts (with 2 being evenly split), and overall Republican appointees represent a whopping 62% of the federal circuit courts. Moreover, these numbers probably understate the reactionary tilt of the federal courts; recent Republican presidents have tended to be much more committed to appointing strong conservatives than Democratic presidents have been to appointing strong liberals.

In his first term, Obama will just be attempting to restore balance to the courts. And what they would look like after a couple more Republican terms is something I don’t even want to contemplate. And I hope that Obama will look beyond the cautious moderates he seems attracted to for some appointments.

[ 5 ] October 31, 2008 |


Friday Cat Blogging… Dewey

Depends on what the meaning of "convicted" is

[ 22 ] October 31, 2008 |

Ted Stevens is a real piece of work:

“I’ve not been convicted yet,” Stevens said Thursday in a meeting with the editorial board of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. “There’s not a black mark by my name yet, until the appeal is over and I am finally convicted, if that happens. If that happens, of course I’ll do what’s right for Alaska and for the Senate. … I don’t anticipate it happening, and until it happens I do not have a black mark.”

Stevens reiterated that position during a televised debate late Thursday night, declaring early in the give-and-take with Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, “I have not been convicted of anything.”

Please allow me to translate this into Alaskan for you: So far as Stevens and his supporters are concerned, Alaska has always been regarded as the only legitimate venue for the senator’s trial. Other courts, by contrast, carry a degree of legitimacy that’s roughly equivalent to the International Criminal Court, or perhaps to the Zinoviev trial. So the fact that Stevens has in fact been convicted of seven felonies is, to a significant percentage of the public completely irrelevant.

I should add that a lot of folks around here are seriously talking about the possibility that Stevens might win re-election and resign at some point in 2009, regardless of the status or outcome of his appeal. In that event, a special election would be scheduled, with Sarah Palin being a likely contender for the seat. I haven’t decided yet whether I think this is a likely scenario. Whether or not this actually transpires, though, I suspect a lot of Alaskans are going to vote for Stevens on the assumption that reducing the power of Democrats in the Senate is more important than sparing the state further national embarrassment by electing someone who isn’t a crook. And I’d imagine more than a few people will cast votes for Stevens and comfort themselves with the thought that either (a) his conviction will be overturned on appeal, or (b) he’ll hold the seat long enough for a stronger Republican to emerge and deny Mark Begich the seat. If a special election were held sometime in 2009, it would be framed as much by anti-Obama/Reid/Pelosi narratives as anything else. And if Senate Democrats have 59-60 seats after Tuesday, such an election would present an opportunity for the RNC to test-market all the insane shit they’ll be developing for the mid-term elections in ’10.

Petraeus and Syria

[ 6 ] October 31, 2008 |

I suspect that Eric Martin may be suggesting too much of a distinction here:

ABC News is reporting today that General Petraeus has been pushing for a meeting with Syria’s leadership but the Bush administration has refused…

As Daniel Levy mentioned recently, Petraeus and Pentagon leadership have been pleased with recent overtures from the Syrians, and cautiously optimistic about the potential to build on that cooperation…

But then, despite this progress and the continuation of peace talks between Israel and Syria, the Bush administration went ahead with a cross border raid and airstrikes aimed at targets in Syrian territory. Instead of supporting and expanding the diplomatic process, the Bush administration opted for a show of force.

On Tuesday, Eli Lake wrote:

In July, according to three administration sources, the Bush administration formally gave the military new power to strike terrorist safe havens outside of Iraq and Afghanistan. Before then, a military strike in a country like Syria or Pakistan would have required President Bush’s personal approval. Now, those kinds of strikes in the region can occur at the discretion of the incoming commander of Central Command (Centcomm), General David Petraeus. One intelligence source described the order as institutionalizing the “Chicago Way,” an allusion to Sean Connery’s famous soliloquy about bringing a gun to a knife fight.

Eli is Eli, but this certainly seems plausible to me. If it’s true, then it means that it’s not quite right to say that the Bush administration opted for a show of force in the face of opposition from Petraeus, or least that it may not be true; Petraeus may have ordered the strike himself.

This wouldn’t be altogether surprising. As Spencer notes, Petraeus’ efforts in Iraq have involved alternation between talks and the use of force. And as Eric wrote, airstrikes don’t preclude negotiations. Long story short, I’m not convinced that the airstrike and the negotiation stories are connected in the way that’s being suggested here. It’s not necessarily true that the airstrike represents a rejection by the administration of the diplomatic option that Petraeus apparently wants to pursue. I’m quite willing to believe that the administration and Petraeus disagree about the value of engaging Syria, but the airstrike doesn’t imply that the former is an effort to undercut the latter. As we know from our Schelling, military action is diplomacy; there’s no necessary distinction between the two types of effort.

Rather, I would suggest that the crucial insight here is that the administration is restraining Petraeus from undertaking diplomatic efforts towards Syria, while allowing him to use force. This is not a strategy that is likely to work, and it’s an approach that I expect would change under an Obama administration. We may well still see these kinds of strikes, but I expect they’ll be accompanied by genuine efforts at diplomatic accomodation.

…Erin Simpson has some additional thoughts on the subject.

Revisting Roe’s Status

[ 0 ] October 31, 2008 |

Kay Steiger has an excellent article about how vulnerable Roe is under the current Supreme Court, which quotes yours truly. The bottom line for me remains that the argument that Roe‘s overturn is imminent depends on the belief that Kennedy has changed, and I just don’t think there’s any evidence that he has. To add a couple of points:

  • Leaving aside the question of how “political” we can expect the Court to be, I don’t understand why a politically savvy court would wait until Democrats hostile to their views controlled every branch of the federal government to overturn Roe. I don’t see how it becomes any better for the GOP to overturn Roe explicitly in 2010 than it is now. If anything, a politically savvy Court would have seen 2008 as a likely Democatic year anyway and gotten it over with if it wanted to do it.
  • The idea that Roe would be explicitly overturned also ignores the extent to which Alito and Roberts have gone out of their way to nominally “uphold” precedents they’re not seriously applying. If they’re not willing to explicitly overturn precedents that almost nobody in the general public cares about, they’re certainly not going to be anxious to do so on a high-salience issue where such an outcome would be very unpopular.

None of this is to say that I’m sanguine about women’s access to abortion in this country. It’s important to remember how much damage can be done to abortion access without Roe being overturned. And if a court gets more Republican appointments, that’s a different matter entirely. But the Court as currently configured isn’t going to explicitly announce the overruling of Roe v. Wade.

The way we live now

[ 9 ] October 31, 2008 |

I imagine my own experience with blogging isn’t unusual for someone of my age and background. I think I first heard the word “blog” around 2001 or 2002. I don’t think I started reading any blogs until a year or so after that — Josh Marshall, Billmon, and Sullivan are the first I remember looking at.

But I didn’t start reading them regularly until the fall of 2004 and the presidential campaign. Then I got hooked and the blog world became part of my regular routine.

One thing I don’t have a good sense of is what percentage of politically engaged people are now regular blog readers? Anecdotally it seems very high, but that’s just based on people I know. I suppose there’s lots of data on this, which I’m too lazy to look for before a second cup of coffee.

Anyway the point of this rambling, to the extent it has any, is to wonder what effect the blogosphere has had on the way people think about politics. Surely it has made them (us) better informed in certain ways — I barely looked at the internet for about the past 36 hours because of various commitments, and this morning I was struck by how much sheer information is reported, digested, critiqued, meta-analyzed etc. in that space of time — and maybe its biggest strength is that it has made people much more sophisticated consumers of media as media.

On the other hand Rob’s post below about Thucydides reminds me that one thing this little world of ours seems not to produce much of is the kind of analysis that isn’t driven by the political demands of the moment. This isn’t a Broderesque lament for faux-centerist “non-partisanship.” It’s just a bit of complaining about how too many things in the blog world are instantly transformed into the kind of argument that always seems to be happening between zealots on issues like abortion or Israel/Palestine, where one’s opponents are always a bunch of evil idiots, as opposed to people very much like oneself who just happen to be working from different (non-refutable needless to say) first principles.

Maybe this will change as the medium matures. Didn’t newspapers start out as mostly more or less scandal sheets and tools of libelous invective? (I don’t actually know, but I have a vague impression along those lines). Now a couple of hundred years later we have both the New York Post and the New York Times. For awhile more anyway.

Dude, that’s Harsh

[ 12 ] October 31, 2008 |

Ouch:

Asked by the host whether Palin could step in during a time of crisis, [Lawrence] Eagleburger reverted to sarcasm before leveling the harsh blow.

“It is a very good question,” he said, pausing a few seconds, then adding with a chuckle: “I’m being facetious here. Look, of course not.”

Eagleburger explained: “I don’t think at the moment she is prepared to take over the reigns [sic] of the presidency. I can name for you any number of other vice presidents who were not particularly up to it either. So the question, I think, is can she learn and would she be tough enough under the circumstances if she were asked to become president, heaven forbid that that ever takes place?

“Give her some time in the office and I think the answer would be, she will be [pause] adequate. I can’t say that she would be a genius in the job. But I think she would be enough to get us through a four year… well I hope not… get us through whatever period of time was necessary. And I devoutly hope that it would never be tested.”

Why do Barack Obama and his surrogates have to be so cruel? Obama should call up Larry Eagleburger and say “Thanks, but no thanks for the support you’ve given my campaign thus far.” That’s the only way to deal with out-of-control campaign surrogates who stray off message. Seriously, can you imagine a McCain surrogate saying something like that?

How Can We Forget You if You Won’t Go Away?

[ 28 ] October 31, 2008 |

Shorter Verbatim Bob Kerrey: “Obama understands that to succeed, he must make peace with John McCain just as he has done with Hillary Clinton. When this historic election concludes, I expect the two to sit down, without precondition, and negotiate an agenda of reform.”

Admittedly, I’m not opposed to any such discussion that begins (and ends) with Obama saying “Here’s my offer: nothing. Not even the fee for the gaming license, which I would appreciate if you would sell one of your 13 houses to put up personally.” Students who have watched Kerrey perfect the the all-too-active art of concern trolling will not be surprised to learn, however, that the “reforms” Kerrey seems to have in mind involve Obama agreeing to implement Republican fiscal policies using feeble Republican talking points…

A Simulation

[ 0 ] October 31, 2008 |

We may never get to see the lost Farley/Goldfarb tapes, although I’ve heard rumors of a bootleg annotated by Greil Marcus turning up at Bleeker Street Records. But I assume the missing footage went a little something like this.

A Brief Note

[ 0 ] October 31, 2008 |

Based on personal and other anecdotal experience, I would have to say that SuperShuttle is pretty much the worst thing ever. If I understand correctly, the deal is that you add about four hours on to your travel time to save about six bucks (or, in New York, pay significantly more for something that actually takes significantly longer than public transportation to most places.) I’m permanently inclined to pass…

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