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Is Obama Any Kind of Republican? (SPOILER: No.)

[ 32 ] October 23, 2014 |

Bruce Bartlett has an American Conservative cover story arguing that Obama is best described as a moderate Republican. It is…not persuasive. I’ll leave aside the arguments about foreign policy, simply because these issues don’t break cleanly on party lines, so foreign policy views can’t really prove much of anything. (You could say that Obama is a “Republican” because his foreign policy is closer to Eisenhower than LBJ, but this is a not a productive argument.) I don’t really agree with calling Obama a “hawk” in the context of actually existing American politics but quibbling over the semantics is beside the point of his argument.

On the domestic policy questions, none of Bartlett’s analysis holds up at all:

Stimulus Bartlett makes a telling error when discussing the ARRA, arguing that “this legislation was passed without a single Republican vote.” (There were two GOP votes in the Senate, and had to be.) In one sense, this could be seen as helping his argument — there was minimal Republican support for the stimulus makes it even more Republican! But I don’t think so, because a lot of the tax cuts in ARRA were there to appease Snowe, who had a veto over the bill. It’s obviously true that “the election of McCain would have resulted in savings of $816 billion,” but I don’t necessarily agree that under McCain there would have been “a stimulus plan of roughly the same order of magnitude,” and Bartlett concedes that whatever the magnitude it would have been tilted much more heavily towards tax cuts. So…I just don’t see how the example helps Bartlett at all. The ARRA was Democratic policy, it doesn’t reflect the priorities of any strand of Republicanism, and Obama’s proposed ARRA was more progressive than the one that needed the support of the moderate Republicans he’s allegedly interchangeable with to pass.

The ACA I’ve explained many times why Bartlett’s repeated assertions that the ACA is a Republican policy is plainly false. I will observe here only that Bartlett’s version of the argument is a particularly extreme and caricatured form. You would think based on Bartlett’s argument that the ACA consisted of one sentence saying “you must buy the health insurance kthxbi.” Just as in the version of the argument that comes from the nominal left, Bartlett ignores the historic Medicaid expansion that has resulted in more of the increase in coverage than the exchanges, despite the Supreme Court re-writing the expansion in a way that resulted in greatly reducing a scope. And this is a rather crucial omission from Bartlett’s argument, given that it’s dispositive of the idea that the ACA is “Republican policy.” Even John Chafee’s decoy health care proposal — which didn’t actually represent the preferences of any meaningful number of Republicans either — had no Medicaid expansion. Even if you want to reduce the ACA to the exchanges, they’re very different than what Heritage proposed — but you can’t do this. The ACA just isn’t Republican policy, moderate or otherwise, end of story.

Social issues As if he knows how weak the argument is, Bartlett’s discussion of Obama and same-sex marriage is perfunctory: “Simply stating public support for gay marriage would seem to have been a no-brainer for Obama, but it took him two long years to speak out on the subject and only after being pressured to do so.” Well, first of all, this still puts him to the left of most Republicans. But even so prior to explicitly supporting same-sex marriage, he opposed Prop 8, he signed legislation repealing DADT, and he refused to defend DOMA. These are not “Republican” positions. Women’s rights Bartlett just ignores entirely for obvious reasons.

Civil Rights In perhaps the most remarkable part of his essay, Bartlett asserts that “[e]ven when Republicans have suppressed minority voting, in a grotesque campaign to fight nonexistent voter fraud, Obama has said and done nothing.” This could not possibly be more ridiculous, unless you think that Eric Holder is a rogue official acting against Obama’s wishes. He has also criticized Voter ID laws. Barlett’s argument here is quite simply embarrassing, particularly in a context in which 5 Republican Supreme Court justices (including quintessential country-club moderate Republican Anthony Kennedy) are willing to rehabilitate Roger Taney to gut the Voting Rights Act.

Giving Republicans credit for Democratic policies One puzzle of the essay is exactly how Bartlett defines what a moderate or liberal Republican consists of, a point on which he is strategically slippery. Two public officials dominate the discussion: Richard Nixon and Mitt Romney (as governor, not presidential candidate.) The obvious problem with this is that the ends up giving “Republicans” credit for policies favored by overwhelmingly Democratic legislatures. One searches in vain for examples of “Republican” policies that were actually favored by unified Republican governments at either the federal or state level.

All that remains of the argument, then, is just a logical fallacy that renders the argument entirely useless. Bartlett might object to my point about reproductive rights, for example, by pointing out that liberal Republicans don’t oppose them. But so what? The fact that some Republicans support(ed) abortion rights doesn’t make everyone who supports reproductive rights a Republican. The fact that in the early 70s Republicans were not as hostile to environmental regulations as they are now does not make every supporter of environmental regulation a Republican, and so on.

This is really not complicated. Obama is a moderate liberal Democrat. He’s not any kind of Republican and in the context of American politics he’s not any kind of “conservative.” Pretending otherwise involves some combination of distorting actual Republican preferences, ignoring inconvenient facts, and simply making stuff up.

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Today In the Noble Ideals of Amateurism

[ 146 ] October 23, 2014 |

But I’m sure this is a total outlier:

For 18 years, thousands of students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took classes with no assigned reading or problem sets, with no weekly meetings, and with no faculty member involved. These classes had just one requirement: a final paper that no one ever read.

The academic fraud in the university’s African-American studies department was first revealed three years ago. But a new investigation shows that the fake classes were even more common than previously thought, and that athletes in particular benefited from the classes, in some cases at the behest of their academic counselors. Previous investigations had found no ties to campus athletics.

On campus, the fake classes, which at least 3,100 students took, were hardly a secret. They were particularly popular with athletes, who made up about half of enrollments. Nearly a quarter of students who took the classes were football and basketball players. And the classes made a difference: good grades that students didn’t have to work for made more than 80 eligible to graduate who otherwise would have flunked out.

In the most crucial finding, no player was paid $10 for an autograph, so it’s a minor scandal in the end.

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Ever wondered how horror films work?

[ 8 ] October 23, 2014 |

For those of you who enjoy my breakdown of films — and in the spirit of Halloween — I’m going to link to this Vox article that I had no input into the choice of films selected or the techniques discussed.

In all seriousness, it was supposed to be a collaboration, but events intervened — so Todd had to settle for doing a fantastic job writing it up on his own.

As for my next AV Club column, it’s been pushed back a bit so it can take part in the site’s “Horror Week” theme. It’ll cover some of the same territory as the Vox article, but will be about Ringu.

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Thai Braised Chicken

[ 17 ] October 23, 2014 |

Last night I needed to use up some chicken thighs and legs I had thawed. I was tired of the same crap I usually make and was really crazing some Asian flavors…so I came up with this:

Thai Braised Chicken

  • 6-8 pieces dark meat, bone-in chicken (Skin chicken if you are averse to having a fattier, richer sauce. Skin will not get crackly crisp, but will not be soggy gross, either.)
  • 2 bell peppers, sliced thinly
  • 1 onion, sliced thinly
  • I can coconut milk
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 heaping tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1-2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste (Adjust for your heat tolerance; I use a heaping 1 1/2)
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. yellow Indian curry powder
  • lime wedges and chopped cilantro, for serving
  • hot, cooked rice
  1. Preheat oven to 325.
  2. In a bowl combine coconut milk, sugar, fish sauce, curry mixes, and lime juice
  3. In a large dutch oven, heat some oil ’til almost smoking. Salt and pepper chicken pieces, brown them, then remove them from the pan and set aside.
  4. Season (lightly!) the veggies then sauté them in the oil/fat for a minute or two.
  5. Pour in the coconut milk/curry sauce, stirring to mix everything.
  6. Nestle the chicken pieces in the sauce (taking care to keep skin above braising liquid) and put the (lid-off!) dutch oven in the oven. Braise for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, until chicken is almost falling off the bone and veggies are tender.
  7. Serve over rice with lime wedges (a squeeze of lime here is wonderful) and chopped cilantro.

Also, check out these sweet dance moves. 

 

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Fail!

[ 26 ] October 23, 2014 |
Allied tanker torpedoed.jpg


“Allied tanker torpedoed” by U.S. Navy (photo 80-G-43376) Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

My latest at the National Interest takes a look at military failure:

In this article, I concentrate on specific operational and strategic decisions, leaving aside broader, grand-strategic judgments that may have led the United States into ill-considered conflicts. The United States may well have erred politically in engaging in the War of 1812, World War I, the Vietnam War and Operation Iraqi Freedom, but here I consider how specific failures worsened America’s military and strategic position.

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In Fairness, There Was Nothing About Drug Running at the Mena Airport

[ 196 ] October 22, 2014 |

I am not particularly thrilled about the prospect of a noncompetitive Democratic primary with Hillary Clinton as the presumptive nominee.  An article that explained why and how a candidate could be preferable would be useful.  Alas, Doug Henwood’s Harper‘s cover story is not that article.  Some of the problems are conveyed even in the intro that isn’t behind the paywall:

“How’s that hopey, changey stuff working out for you?” Sarah Palin asked American voters in a taunting 2010 speech. The answer: Not so well. We avoided a full-blown depression, but the job market remains deeply sick, and it’s become quite mainstream to talk about the U.S. economy having fallen into structural stagnation (though the rich are thriving). Barack Obama has, if anything, seemed more secretive than George W. Bush. He kills alleged terrorists whom his predecessor would merely have tortured. The climate crisis gets worse, and the political capacity even to talk about it, much less do anything about it, is completely absent.

Of the last two assertions, the first (implying that while Bush supported torture he opposed targeted killings) is risible. The argument that nothing has been done about climate change during the Obama administration is just demonstrably false. (Even Thomas Frank concedes that Obama has a good record on the environment, fer Chrissakes.) The claim about secrecy is, I will grant, a judgment call on a small-potatoes issue. And the first talks about structural trends divorced from policy changes and without any explanation of what more Obama could have done about unemployment. (And if you think that a large stimulus was just inevitable, cf. most of Europe.)

As the use of Dick Morris’s “expertise” suggests, things don’t get much better when things get to Clinton. For example:

While it was certainly not the diabolical conspiracy Republicans made it out to be during the fevered days of the Clinton impeachment, it was not nothing.

No, it really was, at least insofar as the Clintons were concerned. Gene Lyons explains:

Basically, the author has performed a simple trick: putting leftward spin on GOP talking points from the 1990s. Because everybody’s either forgotten the details or never knew them, it’s possible to make long discredited charges of corruption against both Clintons sound plausible again.

Whitewater, Henwood assures readers, definitely “was not nothing.”

What it may have been, however, he appears to have no clue. The most basic facts elude him. No, the late Jim McDougal’s doomed Madison Guaranty savings and loan did not finance the Clintons’ real estate investment. They were never “investors in McDougal’s [other] schemes.”

Maybe Henwood would better understand the Clintons’ surprising “escape from the Whitewater morass” if he grasped that they were basically the victims, not the perps.

Here’s how Kenneth Starr’s prosecutor Ray Jahn put it in his closing argument at poor, mentally ill Jim McDougal’s trial:

“Why isn’t the President of the United States on trial?…Because he didn’t set up any phony corporations to get employees to sign for loans that were basically worthless…The president didn’t backdate any leases. He didn’t backdate any documents. He didn’t come up with any phony reasons not to repay the property. He didn’t lie to any examiners. He didn’t lie to any investors.”

A lot of the rest of the analysis isn’t much better. He derides her legislative record, arguing that “of all her senatorial accomplishments, “the [Iraq War vote] arguably had the biggest impact. The rest were the legislative equivalent of being against breast cancer.” Certainly, Clinton deserves a great deal of criticism for supporting the Iraq War, but since this vote almost certainly cost her the Democratic nomination it’s not exactly news. But it’s also true that this was pretty much the only “impact” the vote had — the war was happening however she voted. It’s fair game because it reflects a serious error in judgment, but its causal impact was on the war happening was nil.

The bigger problem, though, is criticizing her for not getting major legislation passed. (This deeply odd way of evaluating a senator’s record is reflected in his language: “Hillary passed a total of twenty bills during her first five years in the Senate.” Individual senators don’t “pass” anything.) The rather obvious problem here is that the entirety of her Senate tenure happened with George W. Bush in the White House, and 6 of those were with a Republican Congress. Of course the only legislation she supported that passed was trivial symbolic stuff. This really takes Green Lanternism to a whole other level; apparently, if Hillary Clinton was a good senator a Republican Congress and Republican president would have passed transformative progressive legislation. That seems plausible!

So while there’s a good Clinton critique waiting to be written, this ain’t it.

…Tom Till in comments:

There are plenty of issues where Hillary Clinton deserves close, even withering scrutiny and where reasonable people can and should debate. The grotesque and preposterous sham known as Whitewater is not one of them. That a number of prominent reporters, editorialists, members of the judiciary, and various elected politicians, operatives, lobbyists, committee staffers, and wingnut bottom-feeders conspired to hatch it, prolong it (in many instances blatantly disregarding the law or at least legal ethics), and infect the political bloodstream with it to such a degree that it ultimately resulted in a president’s impeachment is, well, neither forgivable nor forgettable.

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Urban Raccoons

[ 79 ] October 22, 2014 |

Evidently, raccoons in the city are smarter than rural raccoons because the city teaches them so much, primarily how to get at food.

Personally, I fear they will ally with the monkeys and robots to enslave us.

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“A Happy Blend of the East and the West”

[ 17 ] October 22, 2014 |

Because of course you want to watch tourist films from 1976 promoting Bombay, now Mumbai.

Need to get that song on itunes.

Via

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The New Gilded Age

[ 22 ] October 22, 2014 |

And we keep marching on into the New Gilded Age:

Once upon a time, the American economy worked for everybody, and even the middle class got richer. But this story has only been a fairy tale for almost 30 years now. The new, harsh reality is that the bottom 90 percent of households are poorer today than they were in 1987.

This is actually a much more dramatic statement than it sounds. While the Federal Reserve has already told us that the median households is worth less now than it was in 1989 — that’s the household right in the middle — it turns out that everybody but the richest 10 percent of Americans are worst off. That includes the poor, the entire middle class, and even what we would consider much of the upper class.

It’s been a lost 25 years for the bottom 90 percent, but a lost 15 for the next 9 percent, too. That’s right: altogether, the bottom 99 percent are worth less today than they were in 1998.

But this isn’t a story about the top 1 percent running away from everybody else. It’s a story about the top 0.1 — scratch that, the top 0.01 percent — doing so. You can see that in the chart below, again based on data from Saez and Zucman, of each group’s share of US wealth. Indeed, since 1980, the top 0.01 percent’s piece of the wealth pie has increased by 8.6 percentage points, while the next 0.09 percent’s has done so by 5.4. The bottom 99 percent, meanwhile, have seen their wealth share fall an astonishing 18 percentage points.

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Apparently, An Oxford Education Isn’t What It Used To Be

[ 105 ] October 22, 2014 |

Charles C.W. Cooke is very upset that people who oppose antidiscrimation laws are compared to people who oppose antidiscrimination laws:

In this manner, too, have we come to discuss the ever-diminishing scope of private property rights, our debates centering nowadays not on whether individuals should have a general right to decide whom they will serve, but on why anybody would be asking these questions in the first instance. Think you should be able to decide who comes into your bar? Drop the act, Bubba, you must be in the Klan.

Let’s leave aside the silly assumption that businesses who want to be exempt from civil rights laws are all “individuals.” Do civil rights statutes violate longstanding “rights” of public accommodations to exclude customers for any reason of their choosing? Well, I have someone with some expertise with the subject right here, and:

[I]f an inn-keeper, or other victualler, hangs out a sign and opens his house for travelers, it is an implied engagement to entertain all persons who travel that way; and upon this universal assumpsit an action on the case will lie against him for damages, if he without good reason refuses to admit a traveler.

–Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England

This common law tradition, requiring public accommodations to serve customers with the ability to pay on equal terms, was carried over to the United States. Civil rights laws applying to public accommodations do not represent a dimunition of traditional rights; they represent a statutory recognition of long-standing common law rights. The Jim Crow “general right [of businesses open to the general public] to decide whom they will serve” arrangement Cooke prefers is the anomaly in the Anglo-American legal tradition, not civil rights laws. Generally, people who advocate for policies designed to advance segregationist policy preferences against well-established rights should not be surprised when they’re likened to segregationists.

[Via Edroso.]

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Honestly, I wouldn’t even know what one looked like

[ 86 ] October 22, 2014 |

COP: Have you noticed anything unusual this morning?

SEK: Not to my knowledge.

COP: Nothing at all? Not even a…suspicious dump truck?

SEK: A suspicious dump truck? I’ve seen a lot of dump trucks across the street, at the construction site, but I don’t know what would make one suspicious.

COP: You know, like one that didn’t look like it…belonged with the other dump trucks.

SEK: Sorry, they look like a happy little dump truck family to me.

COP: I understand. Just keep your eyes peeled, and call me if you see anything suspicious.

SEK: Will do.

UPDATE: Someone did come in and steal all the dump trucks. Video here. Looks like someone will finally earn his Boy Detective merit badge…

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Oh! Canada

[ 30 ] October 22, 2014 |

The scope of the attack remains unclear, but this is evidently a frightening development.

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