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David Brooks’s Pathetic Iraq Excuses

[ 176 ] May 19, 2015 |


David Brooks starts off his apologia with some stoned-dorm-room stuff about how if Hitler had been strangled in the crib we wouldn’t have the GI Bill or as many women in the workforce, which means that nobody can really held responsible for Iraq. It does not improve from there. First, note this crafty bit of dissembling:

Which brings us to Iraq. From the current vantage point, the decision to go to war was a clear misjudgment, made by President George W. Bush and supported by 72 percent of the American public who were polled at the time. I supported it, too.

The implication is that more than 70% of the public supported the war ex ante. But if you click the link — which readers of the hard copy edition won’t be able to — you’ll see that the 72% approval rate comes from a poll done with the troops already in the field. Before this rally effect, support was significantly lower. A majority of the public still supported the war, but particularly given the post-9/11 context this support was rather tepid. So I’m afraid Brooks can’t brush this off by saying that the consensus was wrong — there was plenty of opposition at the time even as the public was being misled.

It gets worse:

The first obvious lesson is that we should look at intelligence products with a more skeptical eye. There’s a fable going around now that the intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was all cooked by political pressure, that there was a big political conspiracy to lie us into war.

That doesn’t gibe with the facts. Anybody conversant with the Robb-Silberman report from 2005 knows that this was a case of human fallibility. This exhaustive, bipartisan commission found “a major intelligence failure”: “The failure was not merely that the Intelligence Community’s assessments were wrong. There were also serious shortcomings in the way these assessments were made and communicated to policy makers.”

As Chait observes, the obvious problem here is that Robb-Silberman was only allowed to go forward on the condition that it would not judge the administration’s responsibility. As he explains the evasion: “Step 1: Prevent a Senate report from looking into whether the administration lied. Step 2: Ignore the existence of the report that did show the administration lied. Step 3: Pretend that an intelligence failure and a deliberate effort to cook the intelligence are mutually exclusive.” When congressional investigators were finally allowed to judge the administration’s culpability, they found them plenty culpable.

In addition, Chait is still being too generous to himself and other supporters of the Iraq War by continuing to use the essentially useless term “weapons of mass destruction.” There was, I agree, some evidence that Iraq possessed some of what were labelled WMD as the term was used, even if the administration exaggerated some of it and made up a lot more of it. What there never was any serious evidence that Iraq had WMDs that would pose any threat to American civilians or more threat to people under Huessein’s control than any number of conventional weapons. And, as always, what Davies said. If you’re a sophisticated observer and were still taking the administration seriously after Colin Powell went to the UN and lied his ass off that’s on you.

After some of the dime-store Brukeanism that Brooks remarkably used to defend the Bush adminisration’s lack of planning, the punchline:

I wind up in a place with less interventionist instincts than where George W. Bush was in 2003, but significantly more interventionist instincts than where President Obama is inclined to be today.

If I understand correctly from the preceding paragraphs, this means that the U.S. should ramp up the killing without even the pretense that it’s bringing democracy with it. I suppose Brooks has learned something, but it’s really not the right lesson.

…Greg Sargent has more on the attempt to whitewash Iraq.

…and see also Maloy.

One Crucial Reason Why Abortion Criminalization Is Indefensible

[ 38 ] May 18, 2015 |


But of course:

A Tennessee Republican is making headlines for voting in favor of a national abortion ban, even after pressuring the women in his own life to have legal abortions.

Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-TN) publicly opposes abortion and has repeatedly run for office as a pro-life candidate. Last week, he was one of 242 House members to vote for a proposed 20-week abortion ban that has become one of the top priorities for the current GOP-controlled Congress.

An anti-abortion Republican casting a vote in favor of an abortion restriction is not typically newsworthy. However, DesJarlais’ positions on the subject are particularly controversial, thanks to evidence that emerged in 2012 that revealed he has advocated for at least three legal abortions in his personal life.

Three years ago, transcripts related to the congressman’s divorce trial showed that DesJarlais supported his ex-wife’s decision to legally end two pregnancies. He also had several extramarital affairs, and once pressured a 24-year-old woman to have an abortion after she told him she was pregnant with his child. “You told me you’d have an abortion, and now we’re getting too far along without one,” DesJarlais told the woman in a recorded phone conversation. “If we need to go to Atlanta, or whatever, to get this solved and get it over with so we can get on with our lives, then let’s do it.”

This reminds me of people asserting that when John McCain said that if his daughter wanted an abortion he’d leave it up to her, this showed that he was really a moderate on abortion rights. The problem with this is that the formal legal status of abortion is essentially irrelevant to whether the wives, mistresses, and daughters of people like Scott DesJarlais and John McCain will be able to obtain safe abortions. They are fully aware of this when they vote for every abortion regulation and ban to come down the pike. And the disjuncture also illustrates that these votes are appalling. All women should have access to safe, legal abortions, not just women who are affluent or who have access to the patronage of people like Scott DesJarlais.

Rick Scott: Today’s Ideal Republican

[ 27 ] May 18, 2015 |

Florida Gov. Rick Scott Attends Hurricane Conference

As I have observed before, albeit not at the same length, Rick Scott’s selective opposition to federal health care spending tells you most of what you need to know about the Republican Party in 2015:

So Scott used his deceased mother as a shield to lie about his motives in order to funnel federal taxpayer money to Florida businesses, then reneged on his part of the deal, leaving many poor Floridians to needlessly suffer and in some cases die. All par for the course for Scott, who before entering politics oversaw a massive amount of Medicare fraud as CEO of a large for-profit hospital operator.

At this point, one could say that, rank dishonesty and opportunism aside, at least Scott is standing on principle. He is turning down federal dollars to protect state sovereignty. Not a very attractive principle, but at least a principle, right?

Nope. Before the Affordable Care Act, the federal government made money available to states to create Low-Income Pools (LIP) that would reimburse hospitals that treated patients who couldn’t afford to pay for emergency services. Florida is receiving more than $1 billion a year in federal funds from LIP. The ACA, however, makes the LIP obsolete. It addresses problems of uncompensated hospitals by expanding Medicaid, greatly reducing the number of patients who cannot pay their bills.

This lawsuit builds on the Supreme Court’s already shaky holding that allowed states to opt ouf the expansion, pushing it to an extreme that would be too absurd even for the Roberts Court. It has virtually no chance of succeeding.

But the decision to file it is instructive. On the one hand, Scott is arguing that taking an extraordinarily good offer from the federal government to insure its poor citizens would be an intolerable intrusion on the sacred sovereignty of the state of Florida. On the other hand, Scott is arguing that Florida has a right to another source of federal tax dollars for health care.

There is, in other words, no actual principle involved here — not even a bad “states’ rights” one. It’s just pure partisan politics, with Florida’s poor people being punished as a result.

I don’t know that I can say that Scott is America’s worst governor — it’s a tough competition — but he’s up there.

I’d Like To Buy That Man Woman A Coke

[ 7 ] May 17, 2015 |

Pretty impressive. Let me also endorse Rick Perlstein’s summary from Facebook:

Don finally accepts that faking authenticity is all there is, all the way down.

*Title modified to properly indicate that Eileen Sutton was the source of the theory.

A World of Hurt

[ 27 ] May 17, 2015 |

This compilation of reactions to the list that destroyed American liberalism is highly amusing and, in its own way, instructive. The amount of defensive whining generated by an instance of mild observational humor can help to explain a world in which the Weekly Standard can publish a cover story in which an affluent white guy asserts that the mere fact of an African-American or woman president proves that affirmative action and Victim Politics are killing the country while simultaneously complaining about people criticizing his public writing. I would have to say that I remain unconvinced that white men with too much time on their hands constitute a subaltern class.

Conference Championship Picks

[ 17 ] May 16, 2015 |

I’ll do this quickly after a perfect division round, and will add Berube picks if/when I get them:

Rangers v. Tampa Bay Part of me can easily see the Rangers as the ’93 Canadiens, not really a great team but grinding out overtime and 1-goal wins in front of a Hall of Fame goaltender.  And the Lightning, who would have been my pick to get to the finals, have been curiously unimpressive in the playoffs so far, actually getting beaten up pretty badly possession-wise by the Habs despite what might have appeared to be an easyish win.  Still, I’ll take the 82-game sample over the 13-game one, and I think Tampa’s greater skill depth will allow them to sneak by King Henrik.  For Michael’s sake I hope I’m wrong, but LIGHTNING IN 7. 

Chicago v. Anaheim You have to respect Anaheim, and as a Flames fan I certainly — they’ve big, they’re well coached, they have two killer lines.  But I don’t think they’re quite ready to beat the Hawks — they might not have many more big runs in them, but I think they’ll make this one count.  BLACK HAWKS IN 6. 


The Blog Post That Destroyed Free Speech in America

[ 82 ] May 15, 2015 |


Mr. Seth Lipsky wishes to register a complaint about the death of political discourse in the United States of America:

To the list of questions the left has sought to place off limits to open debate—global warming, same-sex marriage, campaign finance, abortion—add a startling new topic: monetary reform. And what a scalp has just been claimed.

Alan Greenspan, who was chairman of the Federal Reserve for nearly two decades, has pulled out of a conference this summer on monetary reform. He did so May 8, two days after the New York Times published a blog post by Paul Krugman labeling Mr. Greenspan the Fed’s “worst ex-chairman ever.”

Sadly, this is actually Lipsky’s argument — Paul Krugman’s four-paragraph blog post (accurately) summarizing Alan Greenspan’s dismal post-Chairman career has now ended debate about monetary policy in America. Fascinating. It’s almost reassuring to know that the free speech theories of the Sage of Wasilla retain such currency in certain quarters. With notably rare exceptions the arguments that proceed from the premise are always compelling.

Next, I assume Krugman will end debate about supply-side economics by quoting Greenspan’s argument that if we don’t immediately pass huge upper-class tax cuts the national debt will be paid down to quickly. No form of speech, we all know, is more vicious than accurately describing the views of conservatives.

Who Can Forget the Fugitive Heterosexual Act?

[ 52 ] May 15, 2015 |

Takes just don’t get much more scorching hot than this. Even Maggie Gallagher isn’t sounding this desperate these days…

B.B. King

[ 21 ] May 15, 2015 |

One of the really great ones. R.I.P.

“It is hardly lack of due process for the Government to regulate that which it subsidizes”: The Ballad of Roscoe Filburn

[ 120 ] May 14, 2015 |


Recently, Bijan reminded me in comments that I’ve never quoted some of my favorite passages from the United States Reports here. These quotes from Robert Jackson’s opinion in Wickard v. Filburn aren’t well known because they come from the section dismissing the particularly frivolous due process claim. But they sum up the case and the having-it-all-ways faux libertarianism the case has come to represent in many quarters perfectly:

It is agreed that, as the result of the wheat programs, he is able to market his wheat at a price “far above any world price based on the natural reaction of supply and demand.” We can hardly find a denial of due process in these circumstances, particularly since it is even doubtful that appellee’s burdens under the program outweigh his benefits. It is hardly lack of due process for the Government to regulate that which it subsidizes.


Only when he threshed, and thereby made it a part of the bulk of wheat overhanging the market, did he become subject to penalty. He has made no effort to show that the value of his excess wheat consumed without threshing was less than it would have been had it been threshed while subject to the statutory provisions in force at the time of planting. Concurrently with the increase in the amount of the penalty, Congress authorized a substantial increase in the amount of the loan which might be made to cooperators upon stored farm marketing excess wheat. That appellee is the worse off for the aggregate of this legislation does not appear; it only appears that, if he could get all that the Government gives and do nothing that the Government asks, he would be better off than this law allows. To deny him this is not to deny him due process of law.

Filburn was not a hobbyist growing a little food for his family. (If he was, there would have been no case; the quotas didn’t apply to farms growing less than 15 acres of wheat.) He was someone with a commercial farm who not only wanted to sell substantial amounts of wheat but wanted to take advantage of federal price supports that allowed him to sell the wheat for more than twice the price it would command on the world market. While he wanted to take advantage of the federal guarantees, however, he wasn’t willing to comply with the federal regulations, which included a production quota that was a crucial element in the price supports. Filburn’s opposition federal regulation of the interstate wheat market applying to him was highly selective.

The only reason to be the slightest bit concerned about the Court’s obviously correct holding in Filburn is the slippery slope. Without it, as one commenter [mds!] astutely noted, you’re left with an argument that the congressional regulation of commercial wheat production is fine, but actually applying the regulation to a commercial entity involved in wheat production just goes too far. But when the facts are no longer carefully sanitized, it’s pretty hard to argue that there’s a direct path between Wickard and JACK BOOTED FEDERAL THUGS seizing the broccoli from your home garden while simultaneously requiring you to purchase it from Big Broccoli. Article I gives the federal government the authority to regulate interstate commodity markets, and doing so requires the federal government to regulate individual commercial entities, even if not everything these entities grow will be sold on interstate markets. It’s really not a complicated question, and Wickard is not a slippery slope to unlimited federal power.

Idiotic Invasions Cannot Fail, They Can Only Be Failed

[ 59 ] May 14, 2015 |

Shorter Quin Hillyer: The Iraq War would have worked out great if it wasn’t for that meddling Barack Obama.

For old time’s sake, I can’t resist quoting this particular line of bullshit:

Second, he still did have traces of weapons of mass murder (WMM — a better term than WMD). And he had maintained the capability to rapidly rebuild his stocks.

Saddam didn’t actually have WMDs. But he had “traces” of them, which we can pretend means something. And we cannot in theory rule out the possibility that he could have acquired more. Let’s give them a scarier name. And what threat would these WEAPONS OF MASS MURDER have posed to American civilians? Look — it’s the new Thomas Jefferson, Ahmed Chalabi! Let’s spend trillions of dollars to kill hundreds of thousands of people.

The List That Destroyed America

[ 277 ] May 13, 2015 |

Freddie de Boer’s new piece seems to be getting a lot of attention. What I see is a pretty familiar argument with some familiar problems.

To start with a point of agreement, it is very bad and very stupid to compare critics of Obama’s position on TPP to Emmett Till’s lynchers. The problem is assuming that this random guy is representative of anything. Drawing broad conclusions from the dumb tweets of someone who formerly held a leadership position in the Sacramento Democratic party makes about as much sense as generalizing about “the left” based on Salon letter-writers or the “St. Petersburg Democratic Club.” (Or, to pick another entirely random example, asserting that all liberals really support torture because Alan Dershowitz.) If you find yourself using rhetorical techniques beloved by Glenn Reynolds, it may be time for some re-evaluation.

The basic idea here, which we’ve seen before, is to conflate various objections to Freddie’s arguments so he only has to engage with the weakest one. The idea that Democrats shouldn’t be criticized is, indeed, very dumb. Not very common, but dumb, and if you see the assistant treasurer of the Des Moines Young Democrats saying it feel free to call it out if it floats your boat. The idea that there’s no real difference between Republicans and Democrats because Democrats are bad on issue x, however, is much more problematic. The idea that vote-splitting on the left is a sound tactic for pushing Democrats to the left is equally bad. Pretending that all of the disagreement is over point one conveniently relieves from having to defend the indefensible, i.e. points two and three. And, sorry, noting the fact that the most disadvantaged bear the brunt of the large differences between having Democrats and Republicans in charge of the federal government is fair game.

This is all familiar territory. Much odder is the attack on The Toast, a site as consistently smart and funny as anything on the intarwebs. Freddie alleges that it is “a website that has taken maximum advantage of this Teflon aspect of progressive argument.” I’m not entirely sure what this means, and again the evidence is threadbare. At issue is a quick list by Nicole Cliffe. Now, no writer bats 1.000 (including, God knows, this one), and just for myself I didn’t find it particularly funny. But using it as some kind of culture war totem is hilariously overwrought. In particular, one might want to look at the second tag, although it shouldn’t even be necessary. The list isn’t an attack on the books in question or on white men; it’s observational humor, a form of humor that depends on generalizations. Freddie might also want to consider the fact that many commenters praised in not because they feel pressure from the P.C. police but because they thought it was funny — what humor hits you where you live is going to, you know, vary. Obviously, not everything that Mallory Ortberg writes is pure gold — although there are very few writers with a higher success ratio — but one can disagree that “she’s in a ‘Radiohead recording themselves farting into a paper bag’ rut” without believing that she Should Not Be Criticized. Freddie, alas, is too busy preemptively asserting that nobody (who?) will allow him to criticize Ortberg to cite a single objectionable thing she’s written, let alone explaining why he finds it objectionable.

To return to another point of agreement, I agree that “[o]ne-liners don’t build a movement. Being clever doesn’t fix the world. Scoring points on Twitter doesn’t create justice. Jokes make nothing happen.” After reading all of the preceding paragraphs, however, I’m not sure who does believe this. What I am sure is that editors of The Toast “challenging their readers” in some unspecified way will not fix the world or create justice or make anything happen either, so they should probably keep doing what they’re doing.

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