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Archive for March, 2009

The Wanker Caucus

[ 0 ] March 31, 2009 |

Although given my particular hobbyhorses I might have preferred a little more emphasis on the structural issues with the Senate, in his defense Chait’s article really does a superb job of pointing out just how farcical the Very Serious Centrist Democrats are. Lots of good stuff, including Democratic collaboration with the ridiculous student loan subsidy, but I liked this most:

What’s maddening is not that Obama’s budget is a perfect document–though it does a better job of setting priorities than any presidential budget in at least the last 30 years–but that the deficit-reducing measures Democrats object to are the most sensible parts of the budget.

Take the farm payments Conrad endorses. It is virtually impossible to find an economist on the left, right, or center who defends agriculture subsidies, which are costly, distort the market, and hurt the Third World poor. Obama does not dare phase out crop subsidies. Instead, he modestly asks to save about $1 billion per year by eliminating payments to farmers who gross more than $500, 000 per year–the least justifiable slice of a totally unjustifiable program. Conrad the Deficit Hawk, joined by other farm-state senators (such as Nebraska’s Ben Nelson) and representatives, cannot abide it.

Or consider Obama’s plan to limit tax deductions for the rich. If your goal is to raise revenue without imposing pain on the middle class or unduly harming incentives, this is about the best way one can do it. (Because limiting deductions would not raise marginal tax rates, objections from conservative economists have been generally muted.) Democrats in both chambers have declared this proposal dead on arrival. But, if they want to reduce the deficit and fund health care reform, the money needs to come from somewhere.

And what’s amazing is that to Fred Hiatt et al. these clowns represent the ultimate in High Principle. And, come to think of it, they do reflect Fred Hiatt’s principles very well…

Our Awards Shows Are Just As Crappy As Your Award Shows!

[ 0 ] March 31, 2009 |

I see that fresh off a richly-deserved win in the coveted Worst Lyrics of 2008 competition (“You look so much cuter/With something in your mouth”) (although, actually, I might vote for the Rivers Cuomo one if I heard him sing it) Alberta’s shame Nickelback won several awards at the Canadian equivalent to the Grammies. I complain about the Oscars a lot, but music awards in both nations really do tend to be a different level of bad. At least the Junos have actually been worse (cf. 1999, 1995…) and usually somewhat better…

Will They Get What They Want?

[ 0 ] March 31, 2009 |

Walt on the Foreign Policy Initiative:

The new group’s modus operandi is likely to be similar to the old Project for a New American Century: bombard Washington with press releases and email alerts, draft open letters to be signed by assorted pundits and former policymakers, and organize conferences intended to advance the group’s interventionist agenda. Other commentators have already greeted the launch with appropriate skepticism, but for me, the big question is whether their efforts gain any traction. If so, it would confirm what many people are beginning to suspect: there is virtually no accountability in American public life.

The point about accountability is well taken, but I’m guessing that FPI is going to be a good deal less successful than PNAC. For one, not many people seem to be buying into the efforts of neocons to distance themselves from the Iraq War. Second, the Iraq War hasn’t become notably more popular; it still seems to be widely regarded as a misstep, with the only serious discussion being on how disastrous the mistake was. Finally, the information infrastructure is different; because of the efforts of “Mad” Matt Duss, Stephen Walt, and others, the launch of FPI has been greeted as much by mockery and derision as fear and respect. Bill Kristol is a 20th century guy lost in a 21st century world…

Russian Conscripts: Still a Disaster

[ 0 ] March 31, 2009 |

Conscription in Russia continues to suck:

The year 1991 also had a particularly low birth rate, which makes a huge peacetime draft even more of a challenge. The young men are also entering employment and working age — and families in the middle of Russia’s economic crisis, which is sharper than the rest of the world’s, may not be so willing to give up their potential breadwinners. (Soldiers are paid a minimal and “symbolic” amount for service to their country, the equivalent of about $10 a month.) Moskovsky Komsomolets, a daily newspaper in the Russian capital, reports that 45,000 Muscovites, out of the 60,000 eligible to be conscripted, are currently trying to avoid military service.

Paying them more than $10 a month might help a lot; the remaining conscript armies in Western Europe offer relatively generous terms, as they understand that the dedicated can avoid military service without too much trouble. In any case, read the whole thing. Along with this, it serves as yet another refutation of the idea that Russia can offer any kind of serious peer competitor threat to the United States in the near or medium term. Russia can do much and is doing some to re-establish its military capabilities, but beyond the ability to effectively pound small neighbors into submission, we are very, very far from the Soviet heyday. The issue, as much as anything else, is political will. Putin and Medvedev are interested in a military establishment that can project prestige globally, but not one that can project power. Thus, we’ll continue to hear a lot about expensive high-tech projects that Russia is planning to engage in, or about to start up, or could pursue if it wanted to; such claims feed both the defense PR industry in the United States and the international prestige of Russia’s leadership.

Calipari!

[ 0 ] March 31, 2009 |

I suspect that a referendum on the hiring of John Calipari, including funding, would win by a substantial margin statewide. UK occupies a remarkably important space in Kentucky’s social and political life (much more so than, in my experience, the University of Oregon or the University of Washington), and basketball is an important, although not exclusive, part of that contribution. That said, there are some agitators:

Then, in 2007, Kentucky was seeking to fill it’s men’s basketball head coaching position. Which only happens to be one of the most high-profile jobs in all of American sports.

In filling this vital public relations-oriented job, UK’s background check failed to identify that it was offering the position to a prickly introvert (Billy Gillispie) prone to extreme mood swings.

Given the past performance, Dr. Todd, you’ll forgive me for being skeptical that the background check UK will run on John Calipari will actually ask the questions that need to be raised.

Much proto-vetting then ensues.

The long march through the institutions

[ 0 ] March 30, 2009 |

It’s hard to imagine anything sillier that Andrew Breitbart’s evidently sincere belief that the conservative movement should commence its war against the Obama administration by defeating liberal trolls and defending Hugh Hewitt from people who would call him a douchebag. But then again, I’ve so far managed to avoid reading Breitbart.com — despite Scott’s occasional work on the subject — so perhaps this is the sort of garden-variety insanity I should expect from someone who thinks meth addicts killed Matthew Shepard for drug money.

…UPDATE [BY SL]: I dunno if that’s the real Breitbart in comments, but if so he’s just re-linking the same self-serving, implausible, uncorroborated after-the-fact retractions he used last time. As touching as Brietbart’s faith in these muderers may be, these very convenient retractions have not, in fact, become any more credible with the passage of time. See the still-definitive response from Roger Ailes.

I wonder if any of this is TARP money?

[ 0 ] March 30, 2009 |

On the day GM and Chrysler are sort of going bankrupt, and perhaps being allowed to shed their “bad” liabilities (this appears to mean their contractual obligations to their workforce) it appears John Calipari is going to get $40 million over six years to coach the student-athletes at the University of Kentucky.

There’s a moral in here somewhere.

Worst. Bracket. Ever.

[ 0 ] March 30, 2009 |

Ok, not as bad as that, but really not good. It appears that exactly one of the 105 completed entries picked Villanova as the NCAA Tournament Champion. It’s too complicated for me to work out right now, but that team (jt) and a few others remain in the running for the LGM league title.

I am currently tied for 90th.

The Police State and the Private

[ 2 ] March 30, 2009 |

A couple things pointed out by commenters in post last week give us a chilling window into a society in which, for example, two judges routinely throwing juveniles in jail for trivial offenses without counsel is no bar to promotion unless you were actually bribed to do so. First, via Weiner, this quite chilling video in which the DA (quite rightly) being sued attempts to defend using threatened prosecutions for the horrible crime of young women sending unrevealing pictures of themselves to friends to try to force said young women to attend what seems to be some sort of winger reeducation camp.

But you haven’t gotten a full picture inside the mind of the bootlicking authoritarian until you’ve read Judge Hawkins’s dissent in Redding. Some commenters asked how strip-searching a young woman for the potential crime of possessing ibuprofen could be justified by a reasonable person. Well, apparently it can’t. But some of Hawkins’s leaps of illogic include:

  • Invoking “an incident several years before in which a Safford Middle School student brought prescription pills to school and distributed them. In that incident, a student who took that drug had to be airlifted to an intensive care unit and almost died,” while omitting what kind of prescription drugs were responsible in that case. Using a catch-all category to conflate Oxycontin and double-strength Advil opens the same kind of road to mischief as conflating mustard gas and nuclear weapons under the “WMD” rubric. (In addition to the obvious problem of using a single incident from “several years before” to justify an arbitrary serach of an individual who had nothing to do with said incident.)
  • Feeble attempts to gin up a history of wrongdoing in a student with a clean disciplinary record order to…well, it really wouldn’t justify the search anyway, but: “At the August school dance, “several staff members noticed some unusually rowdy behavior from a small group of students, including Marissa . . . and Savana Redding,” and a bottle of alcohol and a pack of cigarettes were found in the girls’ bathroom. The majority points out that the staff found no specific link between Redding and the bottle…but there is undisputed testimony that the staff detected the smell of alcohol among Redding’s small group.” So, there was some pretty flimsy evidence that some members of a group Redding was involved with may have imbibed some liquor at a school dance. Well, I’m convinced!
  • Read carefully through the assertions that the fact that the first search conducted on the basis of a self-interested, uncorroborated informant turned up bupkis somehow made it all the more necessary to conduct a further search. Presumably, it would have also been reasonable to proceed to a full cavity search after the strip search turned up nothing, and then after than produced nothing maybe torturing a confession out of her would have done the trick.
  • And, finally, in a passage noted by the commenter and which Justice Alito’s clerks have probably already cut-and-pasted, this Bush-era classic: “The majority favors the term “strip search” to describe a search that took place in a closed office with only a female school nurse and female administrator present, and began with Redding removing her jacket, shoes, socks, pants and shirt, and continued with her pulling her bra and shaking it, partially exposing her breasts, and pulling her underwear away from her body and shaking it, partially exposing her pelvic area. I would reserve the term “strip search” for a search that required its subject to fully disrobe in view of officials, and I think it is useful to maintain the distinction so that we can distinguish such searches from the one in this case.” Yes, how outrageous of the majority to describe a situation in which a student was forced to disrobe by administrators [because of exceedingly flimsy evidence that she had committed a trivial offense] as a “strip search.” Hawkins must be happy to know that if he leaves the bench there’s a position waiting for him at Boalt Hall

Weekend Video Relevant to Preceding Post Blogging

[ 0 ] March 30, 2009 |

Bonus, involving the product on which I (really) learned BASIC:

The Coast Guard in North Dakota

[ 0 ] March 29, 2009 |

It’s hardly a surprise that the Coast Guard is doing excellent work in North Dakota. This post exists mainly because I had never expected to have the opportunity to write the sentence “the Coast Guard is doing excellent work in North Dakota.”

Or, at least, not for another fifty years.

The Waaaaaaamublance Collides With Logic

[ 3 ] March 29, 2009 |

I recommend all of Taibbi’s response to poor widdle rich boy Jake DeSantis (and implicit, richly deserved attack on everybody who swallowed his story uncritically). But this point is particularly important:

Also, there’s this: let’s just say, Jake, that you’re telling the truth, that you don’t know anything about this toxic portfolio. If that’s the case, then why the fuck does anyone need to retain you at an exorbitant salary to help unwind that very portfolio? If these transactions aren’t and never were your expertise, then where the hell is your value here?

When I spoke to Christine Pretto, the AIG spokeswoman, and asked about those bonuses, she said that AIG needed to retain people like you in order to take advantage of your “knowledge of these transactions.” So if you don’t have knowledge of these transactions, what are you being paid for? Your winning attitude?

Right. Basically, the “only these geniuses have the very specific knowledge necessary to unwind these trades” rationalization for the bonuses is fatally destroyed by the concurrent “don’t look at them, they didn’t do it” rationalization. DeSantis can’t have it both ways. Either the trades can be unwound by any generic “good trader,” or he bears substantial responsibility for his division losing a billion dollars a week. Either way, the idea that the taxpayers owe him a 7-figure bonus is beyond absurd.

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