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Archive for November, 2010

No Partying with the Tea Party

[ 3 ] November 10, 2010 |

My latest at WPR concerns the exceedingly low likelihood that a Progressive-Tea Party understanding will develop on defense spending:

However, hopes for a less-hawkish Republican congressional caucus probably won’t come to fruition, for two reasons. First, budgetary concerns almost always fall victim to parochial interest. New GOP representatives will likely defend Defense Department and military industrial investment in their own districts at the expense of larger concerns about the budget deficit. The U.S. defense industry has carefully configured itself in order to maximize its congressional influence, by spreading contracts, facilities, and programs across as many states and districts as possible in order to vest interests for senators and representatives. Legislators rarely vote to kill projects that bring jobs and money to their districts, and Tea Party Republicans will feel this pressure just as much as any other elected official.

Second, the increasing prominence of a network of conservative think tanks, such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, has restructured Republican politics. Since the 1970s, these institutions, which lean very heavily in favor of an interventionist posture, have effectively sidelined the “realist” and “isolationist” factions of the Republican Party. With impressive media operations and tight connections with the GOP congressional caucus, they can provide ready-made talking points for newly elected officials, while helping to rein in wayward politicians by restricting media attention and campaign funding. This framework provides crucial socialization for representatives who have not previously thought very long or very hard about foreign policy issues. It also provides a rote party line for those with little interest in establishing foreign policy expertise, or assembling a good foreign policy staff team. If newly elected officials rely on the expertise that these institutions can provide, they will likely begin to view the world in similarly hawkish terms, regardless of their positions on domestic issues.


Electoral College Counterfactuals

[ 40 ] November 10, 2010 |

Electoral reform has been one area where the cumbersome amendment process established by Article V hasn’t been a huge barrier.   With the unusual exception of the 14th, the bulk of the substantive rights and procedural changes contained in the post-Bill of Rights amendments have dealt with elections: various expansions of the franchise, cleaning up the succession process, term limiting the president, etc.    The electoral college, however, despite its irrationality and the fact that the election of 1800 seemed to establish a norm that the president should be a close to popularly elected as the rules allow, has persisted.   I’ve wondered for a while if this is the result of the fact that the most obvious democratic travesty* produced by the Electoral College — the election of Lincoln in 1860 when any good electoral system would have awarded the election to Douglas — luckily happened to work out extremely well.    Had defects in the electoral college led to a war to expand slavery rather than a war to end slavery, I wonder if it would have remained in place.   Similarly, had Kerry won another 120,000 votes in Ohio in 2004 (and hence won an election he would have lost if the country had an electoral system that met modern democratic standards) there may have been enough bipartisan opposition to the electoral college to make it vulnerable.    But it didn’t happen, so it continues to lay around like a loaded weapon waiting for another undemocratic outcome as bad or worse than 2000.

*As Matt points out, of course the 1860 was only a travesty of democracy when you accept the undemocratic rules that defined the electorate in 1860; in this case, the electoral college actually produced a more democratic result in the modern sense.   But this was also a fluke — for most of its history, the electoral college had favored the slave power.

Jon Stewart Spanks Bill Maher, Lightly and With Civility on the Wrist. Burn.

[ 24 ] November 9, 2010 |
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
MSNBC Suspends Keith Olbermann
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Rally to Restore Sanity


[ 17 ] November 9, 2010 |

Some random link in lieu of actual blogging.  General apologies for the slowness; things picking up at school, column takes up some of my writing time, etc.  But I read…

  • Stephen Walt is simple and brutal in his analysis of George W. Bush’s decisions.
  • Why Caprica failed. I think that this is mostly right; the show demanded a lot from an audience that wasn’t so big to begin with. SyFy’s practice of splitting the season didn’t work out well in this case, as it simply gutted any momentum that the story had developed.
  • Does Britain need a military? A lot of my thinking recently has been about the how the idea of American Exceptionalism is deployed on the left and the right, and what American foreign policy might look like if the United States was a “normal” country.
  • Republicans may not care about the deficit. More about this tomorrow regarding the defense budget; short answer is that the chances of a progressive-tea party understanding on defense spending are exceedingly low.
  • A ceremony memorializing Jews who fought for the Kaiser.   I’d be curious to learn how many Jews served in the Austria-Hungary armed forces in World War I.
  • Danger Room says that the LA “missile contrail” was really just a jet contrail seen from an odd angle. But then, they would say that.
  • Ben Wittes and Tom Malinowski talk about the ethics of killing Joseph Kony with a drone strike.

Pasta Diving!

[ 35 ] November 9, 2010 |

Derek Jeter, after one atypically mediocre defensive season, this year was back to being the 32nd best defensive shortstop in the majors according to the +/- rankings, with similar evaluations in other metrics.    So, of course:

I have to get this out of the way … Yes, Derek Jeter has just won another Gold Glove.

It’s his fifth, which means he’s now won at least four more Gold Gloves than he’s deserved. By any stretch of the fever-crazed imagination.

It’s not exactly news that the Gold Glove voters are incredibly lazy, but Christ. As Neyer says, what’s especially strange about this is that while there used to be a major discrepancy between his reputation in the media and his performance, I get the impression that even among his fawning lickspittles in New York nobody thinks he’s much of a shortstop at this late date. At least they didn’t give one to Posada…

…the full list, verbatim from the best.  website.  ever.:

2010 Gold Gloves

Pos American League
P Mark Buehrle (CHW-2nd)
C Joe Mauer (MIN-3rd)
1B Mark Teixeira (NYY-4th)
2B Robinson Cano (NYY-1st)
3B Evan Longoria (TBR-2nd)
SS Derek Jeter (NYY-5th) We can’t believe it either
OF Ichiro Suzuki (SEA-9th)
OF Fr. Gutierrez (SEA-1st)
OF Carl Crawford (TBR-1st)

See If You Can Spot the False Dichotomy: Rank Bigotry Edition

[ 11 ] November 9, 2010 |

Shorter Verbatim one of the Powerline stooges:  “The purpose of the Marines is to fight America’s enemies. It is no [sic] part of their purpose to facilitate the self-actualization of gays.”

For further grim amusement, consider his additional claim that “[i]n this context, any appreciable risk to the fighting capacity of the Marine Corps is too much.”  Of course, non-bigots can ask exactly the same question: in this context, it’s particularly stupid and dangerous to turn away qualified military personnel in order to accommodate the discriminatory prejudices of an increasingly small minority of Americans.

An Interesting Pattern in the Wikileaks Data

[ 21 ] November 9, 2010 |

I have recently read a book entitled Inventing Collateral Damage in which the authors argue, among other things, that that concept of collateral damage was created for and in fact serves the purpose of allowing military officials to shrug off or gloss over the civilians they are indifferently killing in high-tech wars.

I found this rather interesting argument poorly substantiated in the book for reasons I will outline at greater length in a forthcoming essay, but this got me to thinking about how you would substantiate or disconfirm such a hypothesis, which would be an example of what scholars of international relations refer to as a “permissive effect” of a norm.

So since the Iraq War Logs allow a user to search the database with keywords, I figured I’d type in “collateral damage” and see for myself what sort of passages in military documents are associated with the term. It’s quite remarkable what one finds: contrary to the claim made by Rockel, Halpern and their contributors, the term is generally used to explain why US service-personnel do not fire on otherwise legitimate military targets.

Baseball Creationism

[ 5 ] November 9, 2010 |

What I don’t get is why Selig would feel the need to endorse this particular lie.    What, people are going to stop coming to Cooperstown unless more people accept fairly tales about how the game was invented?  Isn’t wasting 5 minutes of every post-season game doing “God Bless America” jingoism enough?

More on the Politics of DADT Repeal

[ 25 ] November 9, 2010 |

What Drum says here is correct:

Democratic spinelessness on this is worth mocking. But let’s get real: the problem isn’t with Senate Democrats, 97% of whom voted to repeal DADT in September. The problem is with Republicans, 100% of whom voted against repeal even though, as the Gallup poll above shows, repeal is favored by 60% of Republicans, a majority of conservatives, the Secretary of Defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

100%. Not one single Republican was willing to buck the tea party hordes and vote for DADT repeal. Even Susan Collins of Maine, the only Republican who publicly supports repeal, concocted a transparently bogus excuse not to vote for it.

Democrats may not be profiles in courage here, but they aren’t the villains on DADT repeal. They just aren’t. Republicans are. They’re willing to unanimously filibuster funding for the military in order to pander to the small percentage of their own party that thinks gay people are icky.

Right, as far is it goes. Certainly, DADT repeal is a poor example for those trying to claim that there’s no difference between Democrats and Republicans. But:

But not only are they getting away with the filibuster, they’re turning their obstruction into a political winner by forcing the progressive community into circular firing squad mode. I try really hard to think of politics in terms of the substance of things rather than the quality of the performances, but from a sports fan type perspective you really have to admit that Mitch McConnell has delivered a gutsy virtuoso performance as a legislative leader. It takes a real kind of vision to recognize that relentless obstruction even of overwhelmingly popular progressive ideas can be turned into a political winner by creating fractures in the other side’s coalition.

For a moment, let’s also stipulate for the sake of argument that Drum is also right that the Obama administration shouldn’t use its discretion to refuse a repeal to the ruling overturning DADT, certainly a reasonably position (certainly, legislative repeal would be preferable.) This puts all of the direct blame on Republicans, who deserve at least 90% of the blame in any case.  But this still doesn’t explain why the Democrats are pre-emptively capitulating on an issue on which they hold the political leverage. As Matt says, filibustering defense appropriations bills is unpopular, and DADT is unpopular. Certainly, if the shoe was on the other foot McConnell would force the Dems to filibuster multiple times and put intense pressure on the moderates. It’s entirely possible that there’s nothing Reid can do to get “moderate” Republican frauds to do the right thing, but at least Dems  could get a political victory out of it.   By just surrendering when they hold the political cards, the Democratic leadership must bear some responsibility for the circular firing squad.

Schoolchildren Shed Their Rights at the Schoolhouse Gate

[ 40 ] November 9, 2010 |

Amazing how for conservatives — including winger heroes like Owen, Garza, and Clement — their much-alleged free speech libertarianism is likely to vanish when corporations spending money isn’t involved. In fairness, it must be noted that even if she thinks that state officials can compel someone to cheer for their rapist, she’s a bang-up Sunday school teacher, so really the Gang of 14 was a huge win for the Democrats.

Actually, I Don’t Know That

[ 28 ] November 8, 2010 |

Defending the Obama administration’s decision to appeal the ruling holding DADT unconstitutional, Joe From Lowell asserted:

The GOP is going to vote for the Defense Authorization bill. It is a must-pass bill, and DADT is already in it. They can only delay at this point, but they can’t not pass the bill, and even the most optimistic scenarios don’t give them enough votes to remove DADT repeal.

But you already knew that.

I assume many of you have already spotted the flaw in this analysis — to state the obvious, legislation can be re-introduced in different forms.  Given this, it would seem implausible in the extreme that the GOP would suddenly agree to a repeal of DADT from a stronger political position. And what do you know:

Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and John McCain of Arizona, the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, are in talks on stripping the proposed repeal and other controversial provisions from a broader defense bill, leaving the repeal with no legislative vehicle to carry it. With a repeal attached, and amid Republican complaints over the terms of the debate, the defense bill had failed to win the 60 votes needed to overcome a procedural hurdle in the Senate in September.


Tommy Sears, executive director of the Center for Military Readiness, which opposes a repeal, rated the chance of action “extremely low.” Richard Socarides, an activist and former adviser on gay rights to President Bill Clinton, said it was “extremely unrealistic” that Congress would take it up this year.

Who saw that coming? Why, next thing you’ll tell me that John Boehner isn’t planning on sitting down with Obama and working out a cap-and-trade deal.

If you want to defend the Obama administration’s decision to appeal the DADT ruling on the merits, go ahead (although I disagree.) But let’s not kid ourselves about the consequences: if the appeal succeeds, we’re stuck with DADT for a minimum of two more years. The chances of legislative repeal during this period are essentially zero.



Look, if Democrats can’t repeal a policy more than two thirds of the American people, including a majority of conservatives want gone then they can’t expect people to vote for them. Preserving DADT is rank absurdity, even in 1993 the RAND study commissioned by the government showed that combat effectiveness would not be harmed by allowing openly gay servicemembers to serve, and the fact that DADT investigations are sometimes delayed when servicemembers are deployed undermines the notion that openly gay servicemembers harm the war effort.

The GOP shouldn’t be let off the hook here — it is, after all, their unanimous obstruction that prevented the repeal — but it is nonetheless true that the Democrats have leverage in the form of a defense bill they’re refusing to use, and the Obama administration’s opposition to DADT appears to be entirely nominal.

How About We Just Agree on “Go Mitch!”

[ 34 ] November 7, 2010 |

Apparently some people somewhere are enthusiastic about Mitch Daniels:

I spoke this morning to John McKay, a Chicago-area businessman who runs, which has launched a petition drive to get the Indiana governor into the race for president.

“We need him more than any other person,” said McKay. “He’s so more qualitfied than any of the other candidates it’s not even funny.”

McKay, who is part-owner of a rehabilitation business in Cinicinnati, said he met Daniels at a 2008 press conference at an Indiana business, Author House, in which a partner of his was involved, and was “captivated by him.”

Okay, so it’s actually “Cincinnati,” but whatever. Here’s the e-mail release I received yesterday:

Robert …I’m doing some work for (to help get Indiana Governor Mitch Davis [emphasis added] to throw his hat into the ring for the White House in 2012), and wanted to know if you cover this sort of thing? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

We have a formal press release coming out soon, should we keep you on the list? Please advise, Darren.

I suppose that we’ll be running on a platform of competence and good government…

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