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Lady Justice Smiles on Kentucky

[ 0 ] May 11, 2006 |

Governor Fletcher indicted.

For those that only watch the Kentucky Derby, Governor Ernie Fletcher seems like a stand up guy. It turns out, though, that Kentucky shares with its northern neighbor an incorrigibly corrupt Republican Party. I am told that the business interests in Frankfort don’t care for Fletcher anymore, because he lacks the even basic honesty needed to be productively corrupt.

Much more from Bluegrass Report.

InstaLogic!

[ 0 ] May 11, 2006 |

Glenn’s reaction to the NSA domestic data trolling story:

UPDATE: Of course, if we’d had a terror attack since 9/11 and didn’t have a program like that, people would be complaining.

Right. If people would complain about the absence of something in the wake of a terrorist attack, then it must be justified.

Let’s see what else we could justify using this logic:

Concentration Camps for Muslim-Americans: Of course, if we’d had a terror attack since 9/11 and didn’t have a program like that, people would be complaining.

Random Detention of Suspect Leftists: Of course, if we’d had a terror attack since 9/11 and didn’t have a program like that, people would be complaining.

Widespread Censorship: Of course, if we’d had a terror attack since 9/11 and didn’t have a program like that, people would be complaining.

An Invasion of Canada: Of course, if we’d had a terror attack since 9/11 and didn’t have a program like that, people would be complaining.

Try it at home!

Upside?

[ 0 ] May 11, 2006 |

Hey, maybe there’s an upside to all this Da Vinci Code nonsense. If it drives James Dobson and his ilk batty, then who am I to complain?

Of course, I still won’t be seeing it.

American Way of War?

[ 0 ] May 11, 2006 |

Adam Kotsko asks:

It’s indisputable that the US has superior firepower and has for quite a long time — in fact, although I’m willing to be corrected here, I seem to remember that the US was basically always ahead of the USSR in the arms race. That factor aside, however, is there any evidence that the US has ever actually been good at war on a technical level? Are there any of these moments of strategic brilliance where an amazing victory was pulled off on a shoestring? I know that the US has had successful generals, but have we had talented generals, the kind who will go down in the history of military strategy?

Certainly an interesting question.

In terms of thinkers who have really transformed the way that the world has thought about war, I think that the only American worth naming would be Alfred Thayer Mahan, who was read all over the world at the turn of the last century and is still taken seriously today. Mahan’s ideas had a profound effect on naval procurement in the early part of the twentieth century. Mahan didn’t really have the opportunity to command or organize a fleet in battle, but he’s certainly an important figure in the history of military theory, not too far off from Jomini or Clausewitz.

Mahan’s contribution really lay at the political and high strategic levels, rather than at the operational or tactical. For these latter, I think that some of the Civil War generals come off pretty strongly. Lee is an interesting case; his obvious tactical and operational brilliance was marred by a lack of good strategic sense. Moreover, Lee was not in any way revolutionary; he was simply very, very good at Napoleonic tactics, and at understanding the weaknesses of the generals he was fighting. I think that Sherman and Grant made a more lasting contribution. Grant and Sherman were exceptional generals, and both understood the combination between the military and the political in a twentieth century manner. Of the others, I think that both Longstreet and McClellan deserve some accolades.

What about the twentieth century? I think it would be fair to say that the United States, prior to 1991, had not distinguished itself in operations or tactics in land campaigns. The US Army was demonstrably inferior to the German Army in both war on an operational and tactical level, and I think that the same could be said of the US Army’s relationship with the Red Army, at least toward the end of World War II. Patton was great and all, but he doesn’t really shine in comparison with the best German and Russian generals. On the other hand, it would be wrong to say that the United States demonstrated itself to be inept at tactics and operations. Across the board, US performance was superior to that of the British, and has to be reckoned as better than that of the Russians prior to mid-1942. If the US Army had been subjected to the same tempo of operations as the Red Army, then it might have turned out as well or better than the Russians. As for post-World War II campaigns, there are some serious questions to be asked about the US performance in Korea, and, while the Vietnam War would have presented a profound problem for any military organization, it can’t be said that the US Army did a good job.

I would also say that the United States has not distinguished itself theoretically in the twentieth century. US military thinkers were (and in some cases still are) enamored with the German model, and spent much more time perfecting it than developing something new. There’s nothing wrong with this; the Germans were, operationally and tactically, the best model to be had. Perhaps the most important US contribution to land warfare has been in the field of logistics (and this really goes back to the Union half of the Civil War). The United States Army has done an exceptional job of integrating industry, supply train, and fighting units in all of its wars. The US has also done pretty well at the strategic and political levels, at least in major interstate wars.

The USN does better, I think. By early 1943, the USN outclassed all potential opponents in tactics, damage control, and ship quality. This last isn’t just a consequence of a strong industrial base; USN naval architects were better than the naval architects of other countries. US carrier tactics and operations were vastly superior to their Japanese and British counterparts, in spite of some early Japanese successes. It would also be fair to say that the USN was very good at the strategic level, choosing targets in 1944 that would force the IJN into battles where it could be (and was) destroyed. The Marine Corps has also distinguished itself repeatedly in the twentieth century, developing first an expertise in counter-insurgency warfare, then, in a short period of time, becoming the premier amphibious assault organization in the world.

Of the Air Force there is less to say, but the USAAF and the USAF certainly haven’t performed any worse than their opponents.

So, in answer to Adam’s question, I would say first that the US has excelled in the technical aspects of war in some cases, if not in others. I would also suggest, though, that it’s not quite the right question. Part of the US approach to war (and, really, part of any sensible approach to war) is to make sure that the battle is won before it is fought. Overwhelming logistical superiority helped to win the Civil War, both wars against Germany, and made the final campaigns against Japan a foregone conclusion. Logisitic superiority, which includes a careful integration of industry and warplanning, is itself a technical skill, and it’s one that the United States has executed better than any other country.

That’s my take, anyway. I hope that AG, Kingdaddy, and the gentlemen at OP FOR would also contribute.

UPDATE: I should add that I think that the belief that the US Army and Marine Corps are currently the most skilled (and technologically advanced) military forces in the world is accurate. The outcomes of the 1991 and 2003 wars were overdetermined, but the extraordinarily low casualty rates on the US side in both conflicts are evidence that both skill and technology favor the US. I think that this tends to reinforce the idea that military power is not fungible; some organizations are good at some tasks, others at different tasks, but very few organizations can do everything well.

Five in Twenty-Five

[ 0 ] May 11, 2006 |

I’m tickled that the New York Times Book Review assessment of the five best novels of the last twenty-five years aligns so closely with my own preferences. Here’s the top five:

1. Beloved, Tony Morrison
2. Underworld, Don Delillo
3. Rabbit Angstrom, John Updike
4. Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy
5. American Pastoral, Philip Roth

I am deeply ashamed that I’ve never read Beloved, and the Rabbit novels have been on my “to read” list for the last four years or so. The McCarthy and the Roth, though, are on spot. I know that Scott disagrees, but I think that American Pastoral is, by a fair distance, the strongest of Roth’s later work. I like Sabbath’s Theater (which, along with five other Roth books, is on the larger list) but I always felt that American Pastoral was a more complete and accessible work. Blood Meridian is obviously the best McCarthy (the Border Trilogy also makes the larger list). Underworld is interesting; I think that it’s probably better than Libra and White Noise, although with the latter this is purely a stylistic preference on my part. It’s certainly more ambitious than Libra, but I think that it could be reasonably argued that Underworld doesn’t come together quite as well, apart from the magnificent first fifty pages.

I’m not sure that it’s quite fair to include Confederacy of Dunces as a candidate; it was written well outside the twenty-five year window. Then again, so were three of the four Rabbit novels. There are only three works since 2000, including two of what I thought were fairly weak Roth efforts (Human Stain and especially Plot Against America), which suggests to me that distance and hindsight are important to a project like this. I imagine that a couple of hundred prominent writers and critics asked in 2015 would return a much different set of works from the first part of this decade.

Are These Morons Getting Dumber or Just Louder?

[ 0 ] May 10, 2006 |

The right-wing of the blogosphere has become apoplectic about this post from All Things Conservative. The Corner, Powerline, Polipundit, Instapundit, and the inimitable Mickey Kaus have all seen fit to link. The cause for celebration is the latest Brookings Institution Iraq Index. To the naked eye, this Iraq Index is more or less identical to all of the others, but Bill Crawford, being the insightful type, lists eighteen points of progress.

1. Per Capita GDP (USD) for 2005 is forecast to increase from the previous year to $1,051. In 2002 it was $802.

Super. Glad to see that we can successfully increase the per capita GDP of country under crippling sanctions by 25% in four years.

2. Increases in GDP for the next five years: 16.8, 13.6, 12.5, 7.8, and 7.2.

Again, super. That is, of course, if those projected GDP gains actually pan out; I wouldn’t actually count this as progress until there’s, like progress…

3. Actionable tips from Iraqis have increased every month this year. In January, 4,025 tips were received; February, 4,235; and March, 4,578.

Great… Does this actually mean anything? Is this part of a trend? Did this lead to any, you know, action? Does this correlate in any fashion whatsoever with anything positive about Iraq? From a glance at civilian casualty numbers, the answer is clearly no…

4. On an index of political freedom for countries in the Middle East, Iraq now ranks fourth, just below Israel, Lebanon, and Morocco.

Super. Ranking below Morocco isn’t really a positive, and, in any case, this question hardly touches on what remains the most critical question in Iraqi life, which is basic security.

5. Crude oil production reached 2.14 million barrels a day (MBD) in April of this year. It had dropped to 0.3 MBD in May of 2003.

Yes, that’s quite the comparison. Surely, if you want to demonstrate progress, the best base metric is to refer to production the month after the war started.

6. Revenues from oil export have only slightly increased from pre-war levels of $0.2 billion, to $0.62 billion in April.

Just out of curiosity, what were oil prices like before the war, and what do they look like now? Oh, yeah.

7. Electrical output is almost at the pre-war level of 3,958 megawatts. April’s production was 3,600 megawatts. In May of 2003, production was only 500 megawatts. The goal is to reach 6,000 megawatts.

See #5.

8. The unemployment rate in June of 2003 was 50-60%, and in April of this year it had dropped to 25-40%.

See #5.

9. The number of U.S. military wounded has declined significantly from a high of 1,397 in November 2004 to 430 in April of this year.

Why, yes, every single month that the war has been fought does look good in comparison to the worst month of the war.

10. Iraqi military casualties were 201 in April of 2006, after peaking at 304 in July of 2005.

See #9.

11. As of December 2005, countries other than the U.S., plus the World Bank and IMF, have pledged almost $14 billion in reconstruction aid to Iraq.

And how, precisely, does that compare to pre-war estimates? Moreover, how much of that money has actually been delivered and spent?

12. Significant progress has also been made towards the rule of law. In May 2003 there were no trained judges, but as of October 2005 there were 351.

Super.

13. As of January 2006, 64% of Iraqis polled said that the country was headed in the right direction.
14. Also as of January 2006, 77% said that removing Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do.

Both great, but the numbers look radically different if broken down along sectarian lines. Given that the insurgency is largely sectarian, all the great poll numbers in the world aren’t going to make it go away.

15. In May of 2003, Iraqi Security Forces were estimated at between 7,000-9,000. They numbered 250,500 in March of this year.

And, er, how many of those are actually operating? How many exist on anything but paper? And what noticeable effect have they had on the course of the insurgency, in terms of coalition casualties or civilian casualties?

16. The breakdown of foreign terrorists by country of origin is interesting. The largest number come from Algeria, at 20%. The next two countries are Syria and Yemen, at 18% and 17%, respectively.

Genuinely interesting.

17. The number of foreign terrorists fighting in Iraq was estimated at between 300 and 500 in January 2004. That number increased in April of this year, to between 700 and 2,000.

Also interesting, although I’m curious as to the methodology.

18. From May 2003 and April 2006, between 1,000 and 3,000 anti-Iraqi forces have been killed each month.

Which doesn’t, you know, indicate progress. If you keep killing the same number of insurgents every month for three years and the insurgency doesn’t end, then you have a problem, not a solution.

Reynolds summarizes the point of this little operation; there are good things happening in Iraq, and the mainstream media doesn’t report them. But take a moment to think about it; the best that four or five of the premier warbloggers in the country can do is link to piece that cherry picks (and poorly cherry picks, I might add) a few data points from one of the many Brookings Institute Iraq Indexes since the war began. And they insist, banging furiously on their keyboards, that it is the fault of the mainstream media that none of the “good” news can get out about Iraq.

I think it’s great that we’re training judges, and I deeply hope that that economic growth in Iraq continues, and it is my dearest wish that the insurgency could be defeated. This is fantasy, though, and it’s what passes for analysis on the right side of the blogosphere.

Impressive

[ 0 ] May 9, 2006 |

Wow. The gentlemen at Truth Laid Bear have done some good work with the Ecosystem.

United 93

[ 0 ] May 8, 2006 |

Went and saw United 93 on Saturday.

There’s no doubt that the film is technically proficient and well paced. What surprised me, especially given my reaction to the preview, was how little emotional impact I felt. I found the preview extremely uncomfortable both of the times that I saw it, and expected a similar level of discomfort in at least parts of the film itself. Aside from a few moments, however, (the second plane hitting the tower, for example) I didn’t really become emotionally engaged. I suspect that there is simply no way to recapture September 11 in an emotional sense, no matter how well made a film is. That, or perhaps a recreation is not the appropriate vehicle for producing an emotional reaction.

Nevertheless, the film is quite well made. The only part that I found even mildly exploitative was the decision to put a quasi-pacifist speech into the mouth of a passenger with what sounded like a Scandinavian accent. Greengrass did a phenomenonal job of portraying the wholesale chaos that afflicted both civilian and military authorities on the morning on September 11, although, partially because of his decision to use the real personnell, he probably had them come off a bit better than they actually performed. Those sections alone would make the film worthy of a class showing, to demonstrate how poorly organizations react to unexpected stimuli. The decision on the part of the passengers to seize the plane was made in a shorter time frame than I had imagined. I had no particular reason to think that it would have taken longer, other than that it felt like such a decision would take a little bit longer to make and execute.

The oddest part of the film was that the deepest catharsis I felt towards any character was with the chief terrorist. He is portrayed as reluctant (more through a failure of nerve than through concern with the justice of his mission) to seize the aircraft, and I felt like saying to him “Dude, you really DO have to make your move now”. It’s not quite right to say that the portrayal evoked sympathy, but it certainly evoked empathy.

I haven’t quite decided what I think of the film’s relatively lackluster box office. On the one hand, I have some shameful joy that wingnut predictions about the film, particularly that it would reinvigorate America’s enthusiasm for the War on Terror, appear to be just about as accurate as every other wingnut prediction. Moreover, given the Rotten Tomato score (93% fresh, 8.3 average) and the Metacritic score (90) it can hardly be claimed that the lefty entertainment elite has shunned the film. Certainly, the performance of the film further puts to bed the notion that the American filmgoing public is crying out for movies that portray true American heroism. On the other hand, it’s a solid enough film, certainly better than most of its competitors (I’m looking at you, MI:3), and I hate to wish box office difficulties on a worthy effort at tackling an enormously difficult subject.

Kentucky 3rd

[ 0 ] May 8, 2006 |

Due to the generosity of the folks at Drinking Liberally: Louisville, I was able to attend a debate between the four Democratic primary candidates for the Kentucky 3rd Congressional District this evening. The district, which includes Louisville and normally votes Democrat in Presidential elections, has been held for the last ten years by Republican Ann Northrup. If you’re particularly interested, the debate will be available shortly here, and will replay on KET1 at 2am on Wednesday morning.

Three of the four candidates seemed to be serious about contending. I haven’t seen any polling data, so I haven’t the faintest who is likely to win the nomination next week. One of the candidates was Andrew Horne, a retired Marine who is one of the Fighting Dems. Northrup has won very narrow victories the last two times out (and has never won more than 53% of the vote), so there is most definitely an opportunity for a pick up. From the debate it was difficult to tell who the strongest challenger would be, although I think that Horne and John Yarmuth would have to be considered the strong candidates, the latter for money and the former for biography. I was mildly surprised at how little I cared about any question other than that of electability; they all seemed fine to me. Here’s an analysis at Bluegrass Report that degenerates (in the comments) into a fair amount of bitter recrimination. Daniel at Kentucky Democrat has a poll from April that puts Yarmuth well ahead, and has endorsed Yarmuth.

Baseball Challenge Standings, Week 5

[ 0 ] May 8, 2006 |

The Kentucky Bearded Ducks have taken what I can only assume is an insurmountable lead. The “system” espoused by Loomis lies in tatters.

1 Kentucky Bearded Ducks , R. Farley 1514
2 I Love Technology , E. Loomis 1468
3 titleixbaby , P. Smith 1436
4 Bolts from the Blue , R. Payne 1394
5 The Stugotz , B. Petti 1362
6 Axis of Evel Knievel , D. Noon 1289
7 Eephus , J. Schroeder 1262
8 green weinies , W. Bell 1251
9 Shangri-La Coelacanths , J. Daw 1246
10 Seattle HemiCats , M. Bruneau 1233
11 Sector 7G Carbon Blobs , S. Meredith 1214
12 St. Louis Cardinals , D. Solzman 1206
13 deez nuts , m s 1133
14 Axis of Evel Knievel , d. noon 1063
15 Moscow Rats , I. Gray 1062

Too Democratic?

[ 0 ] May 8, 2006 |

Matt makes an important point here:

A new theory is gaining steam — problems are due to Hollywood and the entertainment media which has failed to produce enough propaganda movies rather than the news media.

In part, this is just low partisanship. I think, however, that it also reflects a real ideological error. The dominant political movement in the United States seems to genuinely believe that democracy itself is a series of potentially intolerable impediments to American national security.

The first response to almost any difficulty is to decide that we need to chuck one of the system’s building blocks overboard. Democracy makes it harder to cheat on international agreements, free speech is a threat to morale, legal restraints on the intelligence apparatus are holding us back. Such things as legislative oversight of the executive and the existence of a professional bureaucracy are intolerable. When disaster relief efforts go poorly, the solution is domestic deployment of the military. Even political competition itself over questions of national security policy is a form of aid and comfort to the enemy.

Kingdaddy reinforces the point that this is not a new tendency:

Back in the good old days of the Cold War, when national security was merely a question of figuring out how to keep a global thermonuclear war from erupting, some pundits who had stared into the abyss of the Soviet Union found themselves questioning the foundations of Western democracy. Case in point: Arnaud de Borchgrave, the conservative author of, among other things, a few lamentable essays in the 1980s about the “ungovernability” of Western democracies. Books like The Crisis of Democracy became faddish in circles where a certain breed of conservative worried that Soviet totalitarianism was proving to be a more organized, efficient, and competitive form of goverment than the sloppy, disputatious liberal democracies. I’m sure that everyone who contributed to this intellectual fad is now embarassed, having seen the “competitive” totalitarian model crumble under the weight of corruption, disaffection, and illegitimacy.

Perhaps we have to be a bit forgiving of Arnaud de Borchgrave and his fellow travelers. After all, until the very end, the USSR put on a very brave face. If you watched the May Day parades of military might, you might conclude that the Soviets remained a determined threat, even while it slowly transformed itself from the tyranny that built Potemkin villages, to the ethnically distinct villages that grew tired of the Potemkin regime.

So, too, people looking at pre-invasion Iraq might conclude that the Ba’athist regime was far more menacing than it was. However, it’s not necessary to be all that forgiving, since the signs of Soviet and Iraqi weakness were there. Instead, you might conclude that a certain kind of pundit or politician wanted to believe in a greater threat than the real USSR or Iraq. The neo-conservatives who peddled their anxious fantasies to anyone who would listen never seemed to have paused to ask themselves, “Is Saddam Hussein as dangerous as we think?”

The willingness to believe in the Iraqi threat, bordering on an eagerness to believe, is what made the abyss fascinating to the point of distraction. It generated fears about our own lack of “competitiveness” that led to excessive secrecy, crackpot theories about the “unitary executive,” and a willingness to gamble on an extremely risky venture. Fearing that it might fall into the abyss involuntarily, the Bush Administration and its supporters felt that jumping into the abyss of our own volition was somehow preferable.

Right. In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was conveniently forgottent that many conservatives (including the Team B types) believed that the Soviet capacity to mobilize its society would prove too much for the United States to handle. Democracy was great in the abstract, this line of thought went, but was insufficient to meet the threat of a totalitarian foe. The idea has a long pedigree in conservative circles; Carl Schmitt argued, essentially, that democracies were simply inadequate to the demands of the international system. Hans Morgenthau, in a more qualified, less direct way, made the same argument in Politics Among Nations. The unimaginable and almost certainly unstoppable power of the Soviet Union was a critical theme in the first half of the Reagan administration, and found its way into pop culture via Hollywood. Red Dawn and Rocky IV, for example, are both about an inhumanly powerful Soviet threat, one that can only be overcome by American pluck, commitment, and, I daresay, Will.

And now, again, we see the conservatives begin to suggest that we fail in Iraq because of fundamental flaws in our way of life. Our propaganda isn’t good enough, and our media has too much freedom, our national security apparatus allow too much difference of opinion, and our generals are allowed to criticize after retirement. Finally, our democratic system has made us too soft and too weak to do the things that need to be done.

Democracy: Great in the abstract and a useful bludgeon, but don’t let it slow you down.

CIA and Team B

[ 0 ] May 8, 2006 |

In the wake of this…

The CIA is supposed to work for the president. It was created in 1948 to be the president’s civilian, non-partisan, non-policy intelligence arm. Its job is to provide an accurate picture of facts and trends so that decision makers can formulate good policy. Too often the agency has performed that job miserably, the greatest example being its gargantuan miscalculations about the Soviet Union. In retrospect, this is perhaps unsurprising. The CIA has always had a leftist bent, well represented in its upper echelons even under directors of staunchly anti-Communist and pro-national-security orientation.

It’s important to link back to this…

Today, the Team B reports recall the stridency and militancy of the conservatives in the 1970s. Team B accused the CIA of consistently underestimating the “intensity, scope, and implicit threat” posed by the Soviet Union by relying on technical or “hard” data rather than “contemplat[ing] Soviet strategic objectives in terms of the Soviet conception of ‘strategy’ as well as in light of Soviet history, the structure of Soviet society, and the pronouncements of Soviet leaders.”

And when Team B looked at “hard” data, everywhere it saw the worst case. It reported, for instance, that the Backfire bomber “probably will be produced in substantial numbers, with perhaps 500 aircraft off the line by early 1984.” (In fact, the Soviets had 235 in 1984.) Team B also regarded Soviet defenses with alarm. “Mobile ABM [anti-ballistic missiles] system components combined with the deployed SAM [surface-to-air missile] system could produce a significant ABM capability.” But that never occurred.

Team B found the Soviet Union immune from Murphy’s law. They examined ABM and directed energy research, and said, “Understanding that there are differing evaluations of the potentialities of laser and CPB [charged particle beam] for ABM, it is still clear that the Soviets have mounted ABM efforts in both areas of a magnitude that it is difficult to overestimate.” (Emphasis in original.)

But overestimate they did. A facility at the Soviet Union’s nuclear test range in Semipalatinsk was touted by Gen. George Keegan, Chief of Air Force Intelligence (and a Team B briefer), as a site for tests of Soviet nuclear-powered beam weapons. In fact, it was used to test nuclear-powered rocket engines. According to a Los Alamos physicist who recently toured Russian directed-energy facilities, “We had overestimated both their capability and their [technical] understanding.”

Team B’s failure to find a Soviet non-acoustic anti-submarine system was evidence that there could well be one. “The implication could be that the Soviets have, in fact, deployed some operational non-acoustic systems and will deploy more in the next few years.” It wasn’t a question of if the Russians were coming. They were here. (And probably working at the CIA!)

[...]

Team B hurled another brickbat: the CIA consistently underestimated Soviet military expenditures. With the advantage of hindsight, we now know that Soviet military spending increases began to slow down precisely as Team B was writing about “an intense military buildup in nuclear as well as conventional forces of all sorts, not moderated either by the West’s self-imposed restraints or by SALT.” In 1983, then-deputy director of the CIA, Robert Gates, testified: “The rate of growth of overall defense costs is lower because procurement of military hardware–the largest category of defense spending–was almost flat in 1976-1981 . . . [and that trend] appears to have continued also in 1982 and 1983.”

In short, the CIA was wrong about Soviet military capacity; it overestimated that capacity in almost every case. The CIA was wrong about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction; it severely overestimated Iraqi capabilities. The cause of these severe overestimates, problematic not because they were wrong but because they failed to support a right-wing ideological line, is the presence of radical leftists in the Agency.

*Ahem*

You know what the problem is today with America? Our conservatives are too goddamn stupid. Democracy requires a minimal level of responsibility from all participants, and American conservatives have systematically abandoned even the pretense of interest in the public good.