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[ 0 ] August 11, 2006 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson and Starbuck

That’s a Mixed Blessing…

[ 0 ] August 10, 2006 |

At Slate’s Fraywatch, Adam Christian summarizes a number of devastating critiques of Weisberg’s “The Hippies Are Out to Get Us” piece from yesterday. Unsurprisingly, the critiques are cogent, well thought-out, well researched, and well argued. In recognition of just how badly his boss has been taken to the woodshed, Christian mounts this defense:

The Big Idea Fray is an embarrassment of riches at the moment, generating more intelligent debate than can be summarized in this column. For all of Weisberg’s detractors here, it’s worth noting that his interpretation of Lieberman’s defeat is echoed by Jonah Goldberg’s Los Angeles Times op-ed and Thomas B. Edsall’s article in The New Republic.

The invocation of Edsall is fair enough, although his position is unsurprising given the common journalistic pedigree of Weisberg and Edsall and the editorial position of Edsall’s boss. But when the best you can do for your boss is to note that he shares an opinion with Jonah Goldberg, you know you’ve got some serious problems.

Progressive Vision on Security

[ 0 ] August 10, 2006 |

Drum writes:

And yet, much as I’m reluctant to agree with him, Weisberg has a point: aside from kvetching about Bush’s policies, the liberal blogosphere has chosen to almost unanimously sit out any substantive discussion of the fight against radical jihadism and what to do about it. Emphasis counts, and this widespread silence makes it hard to avoid the conclusion that liberal bloggers just don’t find the subject very engaging.

I don’t think that’s quite right. Drum makes the mistake of separating criticism of the Iraq War from a positive vision of the War on Terror, but the fact is that, for many leftish bloggers, the Iraq War was seen as particularly bad BECAUSE it was likely to be so disastrous for the War on Terror. Critiquing the invasion of Iraq wasn’t so much anti-war (and this is what Weisberg and the TNR miss), as it was an attack on the manner in which the Bush administration wanted to fight terror. It was clear to a large and important section of leftish blogospheric opinion that the Iraq War was going to have exactly the opposite of its intended effect, and weaken the US position vis-a-vis Al Qaeda. While this doesn’t describe all blogospheric opposition to the war, it certainly describes a large segment of it.

Beyond that, the left blogosphere seems to me to have engaged in a cogent and reasonable critique of how the War on Terror has been fought, offering suggestions such as an increased presence in Afghanistan (difficult because of the Iraq War), a larger public relations effort in the Arab world (difficult because of the Iraq War), more of an effort at managing failed states (difficult because of the Iraq War), and more international legal cooperation designed to thwart terrorist activity (difficult because of the Iraq War).

The left blogosphere is hardly silent on questions of military affairs. A casual glance at the blogroll in the left sidebar reveals a large number of blogs (Yglesias, Ezra Klein, Cole, Tapped, America Abroad, Duck of Minerva, Arms and Influence, Armchair Generalist, What is the War, Whiskey Bar, Blue Force, Dymaxion World, American Footprints, and Steve Gilliard, among others) that regularly deal with questions of military/political strategy, operations, and tactics. In short, criticism of the Iraq War can hardly be separated from a positive vision of the War on Terror, and progressives have offered and continue to offer serious commentary on security affairs.

The Hippies Under the Bed

[ 0 ] August 9, 2006 |

Eschewing the notion of trying to cook up an original thought, Jacob Weisberg wastes no time descending into self-parody:

The problem for the Democrats is that the anti-Lieberman insurgents go far beyond simply opposing Bush’s faulty rationale for the war, his dishonest argumentation for it, and his incompetent execution of it. Many of them appear not to take the wider, global battle against Islamic fanaticism seriously. They see Iraq purely as a symptom of a cynical and politicized right-wing response to Sept. 11, as opposed to a tragic misstep in a bigger conflict. Substantively, this view indicates a fundamental misapprehension of the problem of terrorism. Politically, it points the way to perpetual Democratic defeat.

Does Jake bother to source any of this? Can he provide a citation of a single Democrat making the above argument? Of course not; by the simple fact of opposing Joe Lieberman, Democrats become pacifists ready to hand the keys of the city to Osama Bin Laden. Weisberg even acknowledges that the Iraq War has been a tragic error, and has reduced the security of the United States. But the bigger mistake, for Jake, is opposing this tragic and disastrous effort, since doing so surrenders to the Republicans the issue of national security. Indeed, one wonders what sort of criticism of Bush administration foreign policy is legitimate at all.

We know this because we have been here before. The Lamont-Lieberman battle was filled with echoes and parallels from the Vietnam era. Democratic reformers and anti-establishment insurgents weren’t wrong about that conflict, either. Vietnam was a terrible mistake for the United States. But like Iraq, Vietnam was a badly chosen battlefield in a larger conflict with totalitarianism that America had no choice but to pursue. In turning viciously on stalwarts of the Cold War era like Lyndon B. Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, and Scoop Jackson, anti-war insurgents called into question the Democratic Party’s underlying commitment to challenging Communist expansion. The party’s Vietnam-era drift away from issues of security and defense—and its association with a radical left hostile to the military and neutral in the fight between liberalism and communism—helped push a lot of Americans who didn’t much like the Vietnam War into the arms of Richard Nixon.

Right. Weisberg is afraid of the hippies under the bed. He’s internalized a set of Republican talking points saying that opposition to the Iraq War was concentrated among a group of raving left-wing pro-Mumia radical leftists, ignoring that the vast majority of critics of the Iraq War were supportive of military action against Afghanistan. Undeterred by any kind of informed discussion of 1972, Weisberg goes on:

It was not George McGovern’s opposition to Vietnam but his larger tendency toward isolationism and his ambivalence about the use of American power in general that helped him lose 49 states to Richard Nixon. In a similar way, the 2006 Connecticut primary points to the growing influence within the party of leftists unmoved by the fight against global jihad. Nixon had the gift of hippie demonstrators and fellow-traveling bluebloods like Ned’s great uncle Corliss Lamont as antagonists. Today’s Republicans face an anti-war movement with a different tone and style, including an electronic counterculture of enraged bloggers and callow entrepreneurs like Ned himself. Yet the underlying political dynamic is not altogether different.

Yep, just as George McGovern was a friend of totalitarianism except when he was fighting against it in a war, Howard Dean is a pacifist except when he advocates invading other countries. It’s gotten a lot easier to be a pacifist these days; you can advocate the use of military force in all kinds of situations.
I have to wonder what kind of political activity Jacob Weisberg DOES find acceptable. It’s not as if one cannot assert that invading Iraq was a mistake, because Weisberg himself does so in this column. To base one’s vote on this question, however, is to be a hippie pacifist. I am left to conclude that acknowedging the error of the invasion of Iraq is a route only available to those who supported the war in the first place. If attacking Iraq sounded like a terrible idea in 2003, likely to undermine the campaign against Al Qaeda, then you’re a hippie. If you believed George W. Bush’s nonsensical rhetoric, and fell for the notion that Iraq could be turned in short order into a utopian liberal paradise, then you’re a sober, well-informed commentator on the political scene. In other words, you become serious about fighting global jihad by not being serious about fighting actual terrorists.

But for Weisberg, the politics of national security are never about working out a reasonable, well thought out policy designed to protect the citizens and interests of the United States. Instead, it’s about hiding from the hippies under the bed. Joe Lieberman can’t be relied upon to fight Republicans or Al Qaeda, but we know that he’ll take on the hippies. That’s all that matters.

I Am Glad I Do Not Work for Marty Peretz

[ 0 ] August 9, 2006 |

When in doubt, attack Jesse Jackson:

But, if Lamont is trying to put himself forward as a new face in the Democratic Party, the two men who planted themselves right in back of him on the stage at the victory party gave it all away. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are hustlers, and racist hustlers at that. They have accomplished nothing for African-Americans, nothing. Jackson keeps himself alive by conning big corporations out of bags of cash. He is a one-man reparations racket. Sharpton is the reverend with the big silver jewelry, and it isn’t a cross. He sups off his perennial political campaigns and has been known not to pay taxes besides.

Is there a difference between Peretz and Bill O’Reilly?


[ 0 ] August 9, 2006 |

Over at Alterdestiny, Loomis heralds a reconsideration of our portliest President, William Howard Taft. Loomis argues correctly, I think, that Taft had the misfortune of being sandwiched between Wilson and Roosevelt, two of America’s most over-rated Presidents. Taft lacked both the almost psychotic imperialism of Roosevelt and the virulent racism of Wilson, while supporting some of the more defensible positions of both. The upshot, I think, is that there’s a certain upside to a basically competent caretaker President.

I would add that Taft was also the last President to sport facial hair. Facial hair has become extraordinarily rare even among candidates for President; Thomas Dewey possessed a modest moustache, and Charles Evans Hughes a rather impressive beard and moustache, but in the last sixty years the bare of face have dominated American politics. I had hopes for the full-bearded Al Gore, but sadly he lacked the fortitude to break new ground, or more accurately to reopen old ground.

Crowley Stares into Abyss, Picks Nose

[ 0 ] August 9, 2006 |

Michael Crowley asks the right question

People who think the national media are overly obsessed with the Lieberman-Lamont race often wonder why the press doesn’t pay as much attention to Rhode Island’s GOP Senate primary, where moderate incumbent Lincoln Chafee faces the conservative former Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey.

Then, after putzing around a bit in search of an answer, cites a reader making this argument…

The reason the press isn’t paying much attention to the [RI] race is because the GOP isn’t engaged in the self-destructive, cannibalistic, circular firing squad behavior like the Democrats in CT. Even though Chafee is a heretic among conservative and consistently takes positions more in line with John Kerry than Bush, the RNC, RSCC, Bush and the GOP rank and file have rallied around him so he survives the primary, because they know he’s their best chance in the general. Consider that we have THREE super-competitive House races in CT — Three legitimate pick up opportunities for Democrats this November, yet we’re spending all this time, money, effort and energy to fight each other, rather than attacking Republicans. Karl Rove is laughing.

…without pausing to note that it doesn’t make a damn bit of sense.

First, the reader somehow fails to have noticed that every major Democrat and Democratic organization that intervened in the race in any meaningful fashion supported Lieberman. Indeed, Marty Peretz seems to think that the national Dems supported him so much that he lost (!). Second, it’s pretty clear that the GOP “rank and file” AREN’T coming out in support of Chafee, since he’s ahead of his opponent by all of 1 point in the latest polls. Third, the idea that the Lamont challenge is more destructive to the Democrats than the Laffey challenge is to the GOP is absurd on its face, given that the Democrats are virtually a lock to hold Connecticut regardless of nominee (and will likely hold even with Lieberman as an independent), while Chafee is far more likely to win the general election that Laffey (although even that’s looking like an iffy proposition now).

Michael “I’m just here to post random reader e-mail, not to think about it” Crowley doesn’t bother to engage this argument, which leads me to conclude that the real answer is available in comments:

…the Chaffee race hasn’t gotten nearly as much attention as the Lieberman race is that the DC chattering classes adore Lieberman and they don’t care two figs about Chaffee. Or even one fig. Only Democratic party turncoats can be “courageous and independent thinker[s].”

Right. An isolated challenge to a moderate Senator in a safe Democratic state is a circular firing squad deserving of the gnashing of teeth and tearing of clothes, while a concerted (the Hair Club for Growth supports Laffey) conservative effort to defeat a moderate GOP incumbent in blue state barely merits notice.

…keatssycamore asks

Wait a minute now, I thought John McCain was the proof that you don’t have to be a Democrat to get labelled a “courageous and independent thinker” by the ‘DC chattering classes’.

The trick, I think, is that you have to be either a conservative Democrat or a conservative Republican to be called courageous and independent. Liberal Democrats and moderate Republicans need not apply, but McCain and Lieberman are welcome.

Book Review: Illicit

[ 0 ] August 6, 2006 |

This is the second of an eight part review series of the Patterson Summer Reading List.

1. Colossus, Niall Ferguson
2. Illicit, Moises Naim

Illicit, by Moises Naim,
is about crime. According to Naim, crime of all varieties is expanding to the degree that it threatens the global economy, and the traditional nation-state seems incapable of doing much about it. Since some of my work involves piracy (the Yarr! kind, not the lame intellectual property type), I was interested in what he had to say.

There’s a lot to like here. Naim details the various ways in which criminal (and terrorist) networks take advantage of the global economy, and shows how they manage to stay ahead of traditional law enforcement. He touches on the markets for small (and not so small) arms, drugs, slavery (although he seems to have a broad definition of slavery, such that it includes essentially voluntary illegal immigration), intellectual piracy, and money laundering. He correctly connects the illicit economy to terrorism, making the relatively nuanced (and correct) argument that smugglers, drug dealers, and terrorist all move through the same shadowy legal areas, and all benefit from the inability of states to enforce their will. Naim argues that the illicit economy is bigger than ever before, that it is escaping the capacity of governments to police and control, and that it threatens general global economic health.

I don’t think that Naim makes his case, however. In order to believe that the illicit economy is a threat to the real economy, he has to convince us that the illicit sector a) has expanded relative to the global economy as a whole, and b) is doing real damage to the legitimate economy. I am less convinced of the first than the second, but I’m not really convinced of either. It seems to me that what Naim wishes to describe as an explosion of illicit activity may well be an artifact of both the general increase in trade and a sharpening of the instruments used for detecting illegal activity. Naim argues that police forces and other state based law enforcement teams are always behind the curve against illicit and criminal organizations, but what appears to be an explosion in crime may just be an improvement in the detection methods that such organizations have. As such, I’m not convinced that the increase in global trade has actually led to an explosion in illegitimate economic activity in percentage terms. Is it easier to launder money now than in 1950? I know several New York Mafia families that might dissent from that suggestion.

I’m also unconvinced that the problem is as devastating as Naim wants to suggest. The global economy, after all, continues to grow in spite of the increase in illicit activity. Not to get all socialist, but Naim seems to assume that the current structure of property rights (both intellectual and otherwise) is more or less ideal, and that divergence from this legal structure, through whatever illicit means, is illegtimate and damaging. It seems obvious to me that the current legal structures that define property rights are contingent and the result of political struggle, and thus that they represent a modus vivendi rather than an ideal, pareto optimal construction. It follows that divergence from these structures does not necessarily represent a reduction in efficiency and general well being, although it almost certainly represents a redistribution of goods within the system. Given this, it’s not quite right to suggest that the copying of a DVD in China, for example, represents a deadweight economic loss. It may involve some overall loss (and it may not), but obviously some actors (including the consumer) are seeing a benefit. The same could be said of illegal immigration and human smuggling; obviously, some actors are seeing important economic gains, and writing those off as illicit isn’t particularly helpful.

Naim ends by arguing that the state is really insufficient to dealing with the problem of increased illicit economic activity. I’m halfway convinced. I certainly think that there’s a good case to be made that criminal organizations can be more nimble than government organizations, or at least that they exist within an environment that favors innovation (because of the need to survive) in a way that government organizations don’t. On the other hand, governments are always going to have greater resources than criminal organizations, although Naim fairly points out that the distinction isn’t always clear, as illicits can penetrate governments and nudge them in nefarious directions. Naim also occasionally, and unfortunately, ventures into almost an “Army of Davids” type argument, suggesting that private groups can fill the gaps that government fails to cover. This isn’t completely wrong, but I think he understates the degree to which these kinds of NGOs operate through government activity, rather than in distinction from it.

Still, even if he overstates (and perhaps slightly mis-states) his case, the argument is reasonable and the information presented is interesting. Certainly, I think that the kind of activity discussed by Naim is understudied in the general academic literature, and Naim’s argument makes one wish that we’ll see more work in this area.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: USS Oregon

[ 0 ] August 6, 2006 |

USS Oregon was the third ship of the Indiana class, the first class of true battleships constructed by the United States Navy. Oregon was laid down in 1891, immediately in the wake of the publication of the first volume of Alfred Thayer Mahan’s Influence of Seapower on History. Oregon and her sisters were designed primarily for coastal defense work, but carried a heavy main armament. Oregon displaced 11000 tons, carried 4 13″ and 8 8″ guns, and could make 16 knots. Although a reasonable effort for a navy unused to constructing line of battle ships, Oregon did not compare favorably with foreign counterparts, the class of which were represented by the British Royal Sovereign class. The Royal Sovereigns were 3000 tons larger, carried 13.5″ guns, and could make a knot and half faster than Oregon. Nevertheless, Oregon represented a start, and the USN would, with the help of Mahan, follow through with the creation of one of the world’s most powerful navies.

Built in San Francisco, Oregon was commissioned in 1896 and posted to the Pacific. On February 15, 1898, in the context of increasing tensions between Spain and the United States over Spanish control of Cuba, the armored cruiser Maine blew up in Havana. Thanks in part to the journalism of William Randolph Hearst (son of mining magnate George Hearst), the Bill Kristol of the 1890s, the United States went to war with Spain in April. Expecting the conflict to escalate, USS Oregon set sail from San Francisco on March 19. The captain of Oregon opted to take the Straits of Magellan to save time, which put the battleship in grave danger during a gale. Nevertheless, Oregon survived and arrived in the Cuba theater of operations on May 24. Oregon, now nicknamed “McKinley’s Bulldog”, participated in several actions against Spanish positions in Cuba before the war ended. The experience of Oregon was critical in building support for the construction of the Panama Canal, as the existence of a canal would have cut three weeks off Oregon’s travel time. Consequently, the United States fomented a rebellion in Colombia that led to the independence of Panama, and purchased French equipment and property in what came to be known as the Canal Zone.

Oregon was redeployed to the Pacific after the war, and spent considerable time in East Asia, including duty on station during the Boxer Rebellion. An uncharted rock nearly sent Oregon to the bottom in 1900. In 1906, Oregon decommissioned. We tend to think of our era as one of accelerating technological development, but it’s interesting that Oregon went from construction and commissioning to decommissioning and obsolescence in a mere ten years. Oregon was refit and recommissioned in 1911, decommissioned again in 1914, and commissioned/decommissioned several more time before 1920. In 1923, Oregon was demilitarized and loaned to the state of Oregon as a floating museum. She was moored for what was expected to be a permanent stay in Portland, Oregon. However, World War II intervened, and the USN decided that Oregon was more useful as scrap metal than as a war monument. No less than Representative Lyndon Baines Johnson delivered the keynote upon her sale to a local scrapyard.

Oddly, the story didn’t end there. The Navy determined that it didn’t actually need the scrap, and the process was halted after Oregon’s guns and superstructure had been removed. The hulk was reclassified and used as a munitions ship in the Pacific campaign. Moored in Guam after the war, her hulk broke free during a storm and floated about the Pacific for a month in 1948. In 1956 the hulk was sold to a Japanese scrapyard, and Oregon’s story ended.

Oregon’s foremast survives today in Tom McCall Waterfront Park in Portland, Oregon. In 1992, the author convinced a young woman that the entire battleship was actually buried beneath the Park, with only the mast above ground.

Trivia: Which dreadnought battleship was owned by Britain, France, and Germany at different points during its career?

Blogging is Really its Own Reward…

[ 0 ] August 4, 2006 |

What with the Blogads and the Googleads, Scott and I derive an income from this blog that, when supplemented by full time jobs and heavy debt, allows us to live lower middle class lives of comfort. However, if you’ve ever felt a strange compulsion to shower us with cash and gifts but just didn’t know how, you now have a chance. You’ll note that we’ve established links to our Amazon Wish Lists on the right sidebar. Also, take note of our intermittent tip jar; I believe that after a full 18 months, we’re sitting pretty with one American dollar. I would venture that we are also prepared to take requests; if you think that the one thing this blog lacks is sufficient Simon Bolivar blogging, or if you think we ought to write more about Mozart, act accordingly.

[ 0 ] August 4, 2006 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson

McCain is Not Unbeatable

[ 0 ] August 4, 2006 |

I agree with Kevin Drum; the proposition that John McCain can’t be beaten in 2008 is indefensible on its face. I remain unconvinced that McCain will be able to fight his way through the Republican primary, but even if he does, I see no call whatsoever to declare him invincible. Candidates who appear invincible two years before the primary season starts almost always lose their luster, and McCain has already begun to make the compromises, necessary to winning the Republican primary, that will undercut his attractiveness across the political spectrum.

Ezra, who still believes in McCain’s invincibility, undercuts his position by noting:

Remember that [Clinton] didn’t enter the 1988 race because he worried that the Reagan revolution hadn’t yet run its course. And remember, too, that his 1992 campaign was supposed to do nothing more than build his name recognition for 1996, when he could capitalize on Cuomo’s inevitable loss with the “New Democrat” schtick. That Cuomo pulled out and a recession destroyed Bush changed the playing field.

This should serve to remind us that what is taken for granted as political reality in 2006 is likely to expire by 2008. As late as early 1992, George Bush was understood to be an invincible candidate for re-election. Recall also that in 1995 and 1996 the punditocracy was beside itself noting the high bipartisan approval ratings of Bob Dole, and it was not uncommon to hear talk that he would prove unbeatable in the general election. Then he got crushed. I think that there’s more similarity between Dole and McCain than most people are ready to note; McCain has certainly portrayed himself as more of a maverick, but Dole was thought to be a relatively moderate Republican with good bipartisan cred and was possessed of a wicked wit that was supposed to make the media fall in love with him. Also, conservative Republicans seem to loathe Dole and McCain equally, and McCain’s clumsy efforts to pander to the right are deeply reminiscent of Dole’s equally pathetic efforts to mollify the right in 1996.

So, no, I’m far from prepared to write off 2008 as the Year of McCain.

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