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Archive for September, 2012

China’s Aircraft Carrier

[ 28 ] September 30, 2012 |

Everyone I know sent me a link related to this event. First things first, congratulations to the PLAN and to the people of China on turning a half-finished hulk into a major, if limited, warship.  Some thoughts from around the internets:


Entertaining takedown of the day

[ 60 ] September 30, 2012 |

Mark Lilla is insufferably smug, and I have little use for his politics. But the man can write, and he was a superb choice to review a new book on Barack Obama by one Charles Kesler, who seems to be the Straussian equivalent of Glenn Beck. A couple of choice cuts:

A sense of proportion, once the conservative virtue, is considered treasonous on the right today, and Kesler cannot be accused of harboring one. But his systematic exaggerations demonstrate that the right’s rage against Obama, which has seeped out into the general public, has very little to do with anything the president has or hasn’t done. It’s really directed against the historical process they believe has made America what it is today. The conservative mind, a repository of fresh ideas just two decades ago, is now little more than a click-click slide projector holding a tray of apocalyptic images of modern life that keeps spinning around, raising the viewer’s fever with every rotation. If you want to experience what it’s like to be within that mind on a better day, then you need to visit “I Am the Change.”

For some years now the Claremont Institute has been promoting the idea that Wilson was a kind of double agent, whipping the Huns in World War I while surreptitiously introducing the Hegelian bacillus into the American water supply and turning us into zombie-slaves of an elite-run progressivist State. Glenn Beck popularized the notion among grass-roots conservatives by placing Wilson at the center of his Jackson Pollock blackboards, with spokes running out to Bill Ayers, Angela Davis, Saul Alinsky, Acorn, George Soros, Cass Sunstein and now I’m forgetting who else. Kesler gives us a more sober account of what Wilson wrought.


Venal Corporate Lickspittle of the Day

[ 54 ] September 30, 2012 |

Evan Bayh. I mean, give Lanny Davis this: he never really pretends to be anything but a greasy hack. Bayh wants to be Lanny Davis while pompously patting himself on the back for his Commitment to Public Service.

This gets us to the heart of the fundamental disagreement I have with some people about evaluating Obama’s first term. Some people seem to think it’s a major debit that Obama couldn’t get a robust public option thorough a Senate in which Lanny Bayh was a representative median vote. Me, I’m amazed Reid and Obama were able to get people like Bayh to vote for anything.

The 2000 Debate Myth

[ 150 ] September 29, 2012 |

Never let it be said that I don’t know how to spend an exciting Saturday night, I’m re-watching the first Bush/Gore debate. (SPOILER: Bush lies his ass off, particularly about his massive upper-class tax cuts! Gore patiently explains why the lies are lies! Centrist pundits and many allegedly tough-minded leftists alike believe Bush’s transparently phony moderation!)

Anyway, there’s a widespread assumption that Gore ran a terrible campaign. Is that true? Maybe! The question can’t really be answered by data. Certain common individual arguments are comically ignorant about inexorable trends in American history (Gore was incompetent for losing southern and border states Obama lost by 15 points in a landslide year not even running against an orthodox conservative!) Certain are comically ignorant and contradicted by follow-up pundit’s fallacies. (“Gore should have pandered more to the conservative southern Democrats who voted for Bush, and should have run to the hard left!”) But it’s possible (and I think likely) that Gore’s campaign underperformed.

Whether any underperfomance was based on factors in Gore’s control, however, is another model. One very durable myth is that Gore’s performance in the first debate was inept, and this was a crucial factor. Well, the debate may well have turned out to be a crucial factor. But as Bob Somerby helpfully reminds us, this wasn’t because Gore wasn’t seen as winning the debate by the public:

Let’s start with false. According to Cooper, Candidate Gore sighed over and over again at his first debate with Candidate Bush. Apparently as a result, “Bush, the underdog, surprise[d] by winning the debate.”

Increasingly, that last claim is part of the script, but it’s just basically false. After that first Bush-Gore debate, five major news orgs conducted “overnight polls,” surveying people who watched the debate.

Gore was the winner in all five surveys. He won by an average margin of ten points.

Cooper works for CNN. Gore won CNN’s overnight poll, 56 percent to 42—unless you listen to Cooper today, in which case Gore of course lost.

By the way: Did Gore “sigh over and over again” at that debate? On balance, we’d have to say no. If you want to test this question yourself, you can watch that full 90-minute debate at C-Span.

We watched that tape about six months ago. You can hear a few sighs or intakes of breath—but in all honesty, we’d say that they’re few and far between. If you watch the full 90 minutes, you can decide for yourself.

Did George Bush win that first debate? Only after the press corps began playing videotaped loops of Gore’s troubling sighs (with the volume cranked, of course). And only after the press corps invented several new “lies” by Gore.

Gore scored a knockout win with the public in the first debate. Bush ended up as the ultimate “winner” because of the way the debate was spun by a media that was engaged in an ongoing War On Gore. Blaming Gore for underperforming, the debate should remind us, is mostly blaming the victim.

And, as Somerby as said many times, it’s crucial to remember that this War was not driven primarily by right-wing media, but by MSNBC and the New York Times and the Washington Post. And, yet, this kneecapping still largely ignored when the 2000 campaign is discussed. And worse, as Frank Rich shows, you can have been an active part of the kneecapping — not only endlessly repeating dishonest scripts but making up lies of your very own — and still be taken seriously as a liberal pundit as long as you started to make some banal critiques of the man you worked tirelessly to put in the White House after it was too late to make any difference.

Falling in Line

[ 34 ] September 29, 2012 |

Shockingly enough, there’s something of actual interest in the latest “Ben Domenech” column:

One of the most interesting aspects of the 2012 election is how the tea party movement has proven more politically mature than the center-right’s self-styled elites, and those who spent much of the Republican primary season chiding swathes of people for being insufficiently pragmatic have turned out to be far more childish than the conservative base.

The tea party movement—once again proving its pragmatism once the general election season rolls around—lined up in the immediate aftermath of the Paul Ryan pick and has proven they can grow up. Professional concern troll David Frum, who spent most of the primary season telling liberals why conservatives were never going to suck it up and go for Romney, now seems very concerned that they have.  Michelle Malkin, who could be taking the wood to Romney on a daily basis for his infidelity to the immigration hardline, has morphed into a loyal soldier while Peggy Noonan is calling for Romney to bring in the 82-year-old Jim Baker to rescue his campaign (yes, really). Ann Romney seems a bit perturbed about this.

The roles of all these figures have completely reversed. Why is this happening? A number of reasons, but chief among them that the tea party movement just wants to beat Obama—they understand that as a necessary first step before continuing any of their internal battles on policy grounds. In contrast, while most insiders want to win, they value the importance of winning on their own terms. The tea partiers could be freaking out about any number of things from Romney.  Heck, his re-endorsement of Romneycare in the past few weeks barely got a peep.  They’ve largely sucked it up, making peace with the idea that they’ll have to keep him honest if he gets to the White House.


1. Do we know enough to say with certainty that Romney’s problems don’t involve an inability to motivate the conservative base? When I read this initially I concurred with the notion that Romney’s difficulties lay on the centrist side of the coalition rather than the right, but thinking about it now I’m not 100% sure. Even weakness in Ohio and Florida could come from far right distrust of Romney’s Mormonism, Romneycare, etc.

2. Rhetorically I think that the column is correct; whatever the private plans of Tea Party types, the right wing noise machine largely shut up about Romney’s deficiencies after he won the nomination. There’s certain to be blood in the future (lots of it if, as appears likely, Romney loses), but the right of the Right is holding its fire for now, even as conservative elites begin to scurry for cover. I have my doubts that the peasants will ever actually purge the lords, but it’ll certainly be fun to watch.

3. There surely is a productive comparison to be made between how the left and the right blogosphere treat their nominees. My interest in this is both academic and political, wherein both the “Why does the Right approach solidarity differently than the Left,” and “Should the Left accord a higher value to solidarity?” I haven’t blogged about the Friedersdorf column, but I should note that I find “Why don’t these liberals talk more about drones like they did with Bush?” an utterly uninteresting question on both empirical and normative grounds. Bloggers and commentators aren’t neutral; they expect to prefer one candidate over the other, and will tend strategically to focus on aspects of the record that make that candidate look good rather than aspects that make that candidate look bad.  What’s interesting, perhaps, is that active support for the drone program (among the larger set of civil liberties concerns) has been very restrained in the left blogosphere over the past four years; by and large (there are exceptions), pro-Obama bloggers have not convinced themselves that the drone campaigns in Pakistan and Yemen are positive goods to be celebrated.

A Clarification

[ 25 ] September 29, 2012 |

Recent discussion here may have given the impression that I am comprehensively anti-spoiler. Absolutely not true! Some spoilers I like perfectly well. Now, if the Red Sox can save any remaining wins until Monday…

In addition, while I can never exactly be happy about a Mariner loss the A’s really are a phenomenal story.

Things In Politico That Will Make Charles Pierce Want To Mainline Antifreeze

[ 134 ] September 29, 2012 |

Shorter Politico: Mitt Romney is likely to lose badly because he’s just too good for America to appreciate his qualities. Wonderful guy, but bad candidate. A Nice Guy who deserves America’s love but won’t get it because the American electorate is a bunch of stuck-up bitches. Your loss!

I especially treasure this bit:

Yet many of the folks who are despairing about Romney would actually love what he would do in office. Romney’s metric-obsessed transition team is fleshing out a “200-day plan” (100 days wasn’t enough time to pass a bunch of big bills) aimed at goosing the recovery and creating jobs by bringing corporate cash off the sidelines in the United States and attracting investment from abroad.

The weapons would include tax and regulatory policy and what one aide called a “very aggressive” series of executive orders, many already on the drawing board. Two of Romney’s friends told POLITICO he would be eager to sign a bipartisan grand bargain in the first four months in office to calm markets and ease partisan tensions.

Yes, if there’s anything the 47% is really dying for, it’s a neurotic misogynist a bunch of confidence fairy gibberish and big cuts to entitlements to finance upper-class tax cuts. It’s just amazing how the American electorate always wants what Politico editors and people employed by Fred Hiatt want, and that they want it is so obvious we hardly need any evidence to back it up!

Trailer for “Won’t Back Down”

[ 29 ] September 29, 2012 |

Maybe I will go see Won’t Back Down since I have a love of agitprop. I couldn’t find the exact trailer for the film online, but I’m guessing if you switch a couple of characters around, this is pretty much the same film.

A short history of the democracy and the state

[ 277 ] September 28, 2012 |

So I was trying to have a discussion/argument with Henry Farrell on twitter, which was primarily useful for reminding me how much I dislike twitter.  I’m still trying to make sense of where he’s coming from in the current cross-blog disagreement; I continue to feel as though I must be missing something  because, well, I’m used to quite a bit more from him; I’ve long admired him has a blogger and scholar, and my general advice would be that if he and I disagree about something, you should probably stick with him.

To reproduce tweets that, more or less, get at the heart of the disagreement, here’s Farrell:

As noted, I will probably end up voting for Obama, but with some reluctance and respect for the autonomy of other people who abstain as a reasonable choice.

Here’s me:

…there’s a fundamental responsibility to take available affirmative steps to limit gov’t harm

It’s hard to read Henry any other way than suggesting that a withdrawal from electoral politics on moral grounds is, if done for the right reasons, an honorable choice that deserves significant moral respect. This is rather different than his initial claim, that overall Romney might not be much worse than Obama. Scott’s dealt with the initial claim thoroughly enough that there’s nothing left for me to say, but I’m not at all convinced Farrell’s argument following his surprisingly Kantian turn fares much better. My disagreement couldn’t be much more thorough, actually. The noble withdrawal takes the form and shape of an honorable position at first glance, but it’s an illusion; it’s an incoherent position rooted in a deep denial regarding our present condition.

I tried to lay out some of my reasons for this view in my post earlier this week, but it obviously wasn’t persuasive for many. I’m going to try again from a slightly different angle.

Five hundred-odd years ago, give or take, in Europe, the configuration of social power changed. A kind of entity called the state began to emerge as victorious in struggle for social power. This power grab wasn’t at all noble or particularly justifiable in normative terms, indeed, war making and state building were intimately connected developments. The quasi-monopoly this kind of entity was able to create on the exercise of legitimate violence created extraordinary new opportunities for exploitation but also contributed to an environment that allowed for extended periods of peace and prosperity, at least for certain lucky segments of the population. To state the obvious, the arrival of the state as the dominant form of social and political power was both wonderful and horrible: the state created new opportunities for wealth and security, and perpetrated brutal, oppressive crimes against humanity with staggering efficiency.

(Democracy is) the single greatest technology humankind has developed to  restrict at least some of the tremendous negatives associated with the state, while retaining access to most of the benefits. (Democracy, of course, is more than elections, but they remain central to the constraining power of democracy.) Even in the best and most effective democracies, the state remains a terrifying force for violent, abusive, and arbitrary power, at least some of the time. But it also becomes, oddly enough, an occasional force against other forms of abusive power–sometimes for selfish, monopoly-oriented reasons, but sometimes because it gets all mixed up with democratic values.

But the terrifying, deadly origins of the state never go away. The state kills people, and it does so for indefensible reasons and in indefensible ways, contrary to its purported values. Democracy can mitigate this, sometimes considerably, but it does not appear to be a technology capable of eliminating this fundamental feature of the state (and it occasionally goes awry and makes it worse).

When I said this:

The moral purpose of democracy is not to keep my hands clean and feel good about myself, no matter how much politicians and other demagogues claim otherwise. The moral purpose of democracy is the reduction of abusive power in the world.

I was signalling my allegiance with what I call the “democracy against domination” school of thought in political theory (This is a good overview). It’s not much of a school of thought, really, because its main adherents (Shapiro, Pettit, Young, Walzer) have very little in common with each other. As I read it, the suggestion is that democracy potentially subverts domination in two ways: first, as a procedural roadblock against domination of citizens by the state; second, as a mechanism by which citizens can attempt to harness the power of the state to curtail private domination. Other conceptions of democracy (as deliberation or as common-good seeking community) are best understood as instances of democracy against domination; those secondary democratic values have democratic value to the extent that they contribute to the cause of anti-domination in a particular circumstance.

In terms of killing people, Obama is not particularly unusual among American presidents. If he is “beyond the pale” for the purposes of whatever endorsement you believe a vote implies, so to is pretty much all of American politics at the federal level. Identifying yourself as “better” than the American federal state in some important moral way is just fine; you probably are. So am I! I don’t kill people, either. But to move from that banal observation to abdicating the duty to use the primary tool we’ve got to constrain its abusive power is to badly miss democracy’s point. It’s the most dangerous power in our midst, and we have one noteworthy tool to shape and constrain its power; to attempt to make it more deadly. Farrell thinks I should honor and respect the decision to not pick up this tool and use it, because it brings them too close to that deadly power for their taste to do so. But that would involve indulging the fiction that that deadly power is something they can separate themselves from in a meaningful sense. I just don’t see it. It’s our state. There’s nothing we can do about *that*. It’s ours, and it’s incredibly dangerous. We absolutely have an affirmative duty to minimize the harm it can do, where we can, and to not let our wish it did even less harm and more good to get in the way of that. If there were good reasons to believe that short term harm minimization was extremely likely to cut against more significant medium to long term harm minimization, then we’d have a difficult decision on our hands, but the case for such a proposition has, to put it mildly, not been made. As long as that case hasn’t been made, refusing to engage in harm minimization when necessary is a betrayal of democracy’s central purpose; I can’t agree that it’s a reasonable or honorable choice.

Ah, Liberal Hollywood

[ 70 ] September 28, 2012 |

I can just imagine the pitch meeting for this.  “It will be The Replacements meets Waiting for Superman!  For the screenplay, we’ll hire someone who worships Aaron Sorkin but finds him insufficiently didactic.”

But “Won’t Back Down” ultimately has no use for nuance, and its third act is a mighty cataract of speechifying and breathless plot turns that strip the narrative down to its Manichaean core. Once teachers give up job security and guaranteed benefits, learning disabilities will be cured, pencils will stop breaking and the gray skies of Pittsburgh will glow with sunshine. Who could be against that?

In a “death is not an option” game, I think I’d rather sit though the Dinesh D’Souza thing.

Also: “Someone needs to launch an investigation into what combination of crimes, dares, alcoholic binges and lapses in judgment got Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal into this movie.”


[ 22 ] September 28, 2012 |

First Bolsheviks no hitter since Browning. Congrats to Homer Bailey!

Incidentally, is there serious debate to be had regarding Johnny Cueto‘s appropriateness as Cy Young award winner?


[ 24 ] September 28, 2012 |

This evening, LGM passed 500,000 readers in a month for the first time in its history. Kind of a milestone. There’s only one way I can think of celebrating this and that’s with Mickey, the Firefighting Cat of Minneapolis.

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