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Dictatorship Is Over…If You Want It!

[ 0 ] April 1, 2008 |

A commenter chez Yglesias links to this 2003 interview with Paul Berman. I think this is my favorite part:

Even people who think that Bush is making a blunder with his military approach can try to undo that blunder themselves in some way by going ahead and doing the things that ought to be done — promoting liberal ideas. Promoting liberal ideas, finally, is the only real way to oppose the totalitarian movements that threaten us and threaten people in the Arab and Muslim worlds, whether they’re Baathist or Islamist.

Leaving aside the narcissism involved in the implicit claim that making banal arguments about liberal democracy being preferable to totalitarianism represent great courage, I’m confused about the causal mechanism here. Protests that had no impact on a domestic government’s rush to war can be expected to topple dictatorships in other countries? Protest movements in Iran will be helped by being associated with western groups? In fairness, Berman is consistent — he also seemed to really think that rather than being dispensed with once their useful idiocy had served its purpose, liberal intellectuals — including war opponents — could actually influence Bush’s conduct of the war. (“The people who have demanded that Bush refrain from action should now demand that the action be more thorough.”) Perhaps they could help by conjuring up troops that don’t exist, knowledge about how to impose democracy ex nihilo by force that doesn’t exist, etc.

It should also be noted that the interviewer does a very good job. Responding to Berman’s claims that Bush couldn’t defend this allegedly liberal war in liberal terms, she asks the obvious question: then why didn’t Blair do it? His answer:

I admire Tony Blair but I imagine that he’s hobbled by the Bush policy. Bush has confused the whole situation by saying that the goal of the war in Iraq is disarmament. Disarmament has nothing to do with the establishment of liberal freedoms.


He’s made it very difficult to present the war as an extension of the liberal and humanitarian interventionism of the 1990s in which Tony Blair played a distinguished and honorable and brave role.

Maybe it was hard to “present” that way because…it wasn’t. Anyway, apparently we were supposed to be believe that the leader of the most important American ally in the war couldn’t influence Bush’s conduct at all, but some liberal hawks with no electoral constituency who supported the war for the right reasons could. Evidently, the fact that this kind of stuff is presented in a frame of self-congratulation for telling the Hard Truths that war opponents are too blinded by Bush-hatred to see adds to the comic effect.


Noted Without Comment

[ 2 ] April 1, 2008 |

From the 2003 Berman article in The New Republic, discussed here and here:

TODAY, WE ARE living through not just a military crisis but something of a political crisis within the larger liberal democratic world, trans-Atlantically. Robert Kagan has written a subtle and brilliant book on this theme called Of Paradise and Power

Admittedly, he doesn’t think Kagan is quite right in his descriptions. He says that Europeans are from Venus “Tocquevillean”: they are defined by “a liberal democratic idea of a sort that cannot conceive of wielding power.” Americans aren’t Hobbesians but are from Mars “Lincolnians.” Uh-huh.

The "Technological Change" Dodge

[ 0 ] April 1, 2008 |

In a post engaging in the time-honored pastime of Mickey Kaus-bashing, Kathy makes an important point with respect to Kaus’s claim that increasing income inequality is the result of “increasing returns to skill produced by trade and technological change”:

…over the past several decades, other industrialized countries were faced with the same economic forces, such as technological change, globalization, and trade, that the U.S. did. Yet among OECD countries, only the U.S. and the U.K. saw large increases in wage inequality; the other countries saw only modest rises in inequality.

Right. Globalization, technological change, etc. happen to all market economies, but most of them have nothing like the increasing inequality of the U.S. There’s nothing inevitable about it; it’s in significant measure a product of policy choices.

Score One For Legal Realism

[ 0 ] April 1, 2008 |

The Supreme Court’s decision today in New Jersey v. Delaware was decided in favor of the latter. The two dissenters? Trenton’s Antonin Scalia and Trenton’s Sam Alito. (Well, Stevens dissented in part, but to argue that the rule announced by the Court was insufficiently protective of Delaware’s sovereignty.)

The Grim Reality of What Eventually Happens When Jeffrey Loria Runs A Team In Five Words

[ 6 ] April 1, 2008 |

Mark Hendrickson, Opening Day starter.

MLB Preview I: The AL

[ 15 ] March 31, 2008 |

AL EAST: 1.NYY 2.BOS (WILDCARD) 3. TOR 4. TB. NOT CLOSE TO 4th. BAL There’s obviously not much to choose between the top two, of course; Yankees have the better offense, the Red Sox solider pitching. My guess is that while Girardi will have problems long-term — if he can’t get along well enough with management and the press to survive in Florida, you wonder how he’ll deal with New York — his attention to detail will cause them to jump forward after the more avuncular Torre. The Blue Jays have become a little overrated; their offense is mediocre and their fine pitching too injury-prone to push them into contention. The Rays are also being puffed up a bit (their over/under last I checked was 76); they’re headed in the right direction, but they don’t get on base enough, a 73-year old Troy Percival won’t fix a ghastly bullpen and while I like Shields and Garza Kazmir’s injury and Maddon selecting Hinske over Gomes are ominous signs. They’re a year away at least. Meanwhile, although the Jones trade bodes well for their future this is the year when the Orioles hit rock bottom.

1. DET 2. CLE 3. CHI. 4. KC. 5. MIN Again I’ll go with offense over pitching, albeit without much conviction; I’m not sold on Carmona as an ace or on the Cleveland bullpen-except-the-awful-closer repeating, but if I’m wrong about either they’ll be in the postseason. Getting a better year out of Pronk is key. Still, Detroit could outscore the Yankees and their pitching should be a little better than last year. I like Chicago adding some onbase guys, but their rotation is also shaky and their core ain’t Ordonez/Cabrera/Sheffield/Guillen. The Royals continue their modest improvement. Very modest. The Twins could be over .500 if their pitchers all fulfil their potential, but that seems like a bad bet, like Mauer playing 145 games.

1. LAOFCAUSA 2. SEA 3. OAK 4. TEX The Mariners have become a trendy pick, and I wish I could agree. I see the logic: the Mariners were over .500 last year, and (whatever the long-term cost) added the ace pitcher they’ve lacked, while the the two underrated pitchers that kept the Angles in 1st despite their hacktastic offense will be hurt (one for the year.) The problem is that the Mariners weren’t as good as their record last year, and are an old offense that lacks both power and plate discipline. I could see a really good management team putting the Mariners over the top; alas, the manager was a time-serving bench coach who showed no sign that he knew what he was doing when he took over and was hired anyway, and the GM thought trading Rafael Soriano for Horacio Ramirez was a good idea. Oakland is retooling; they may hang in a little longer than many expect but it won’t involve the postseason. I thought Texas would be OK last year; I’m not falling for that again until some pitchers actually deal with the park successfully.

It’s amazing how far the west has fallen in 5 years…

NL later on Opening Day the Third. But I’ll say this: if you’re anywhere near Vegas, take the Giants under 72 and put $500 on it for me. You’ll thank me in October…

On The Prison Rape Problem

[ 10 ] March 31, 2008 |

Good op-ed from Ezra.


[ 1 ] March 31, 2008 |


I was lucky enough to see Ornette Coleman at Town Hall last Friday, and as expected it was exceptional. It was remarkable at the begining to compare his frail, barely audible vocal introduction and his stunningly rich tone, nearly undiminished. His quartet (drums/upright bass/electric bass) was equal to his playing, completing compelling rearrangements of everything from the prelude to Bach’s Cello Suite #1 (with Ornette on sax, violin, and briefly trumpet) to Dancing in Your Head. It always amazes me to see improvisation at that level of intellect and musicality, tight and empathetic while also freewheeling. (The same band can be heard on Sound Grammar, about which I’ll echo Fred Kaplan.)

Casey as Veep

[ 24 ] March 29, 2008 |

Matt is of course right that Bob Casey would be an extremely poor choice to join the Obama ticket. Going with a proponent of criminalizing abortion would be bad on the merits, bad politics, and especially bad considering the need to bring supporters of the Democratic runner-up back into the fold. (I would be especially interested in hearing Scheiber explain how this slap in women’s faces would be good for party unity.) Besides that, Casey is a notably non-dynamic speaker whose name recognition wouldn’t mean much outside of Pennsylvania, and it would also mean vacating a Senate seat the Dems wouldn’t be guaranteed to hold.

Remarkably, after Giuliani’s historic flameout, I don’t recall countless media stories about how the GOP is in deep trouble if they don’t broaden their tent and consider running someone who’s pro-choice. Indeed, let me know if I missed something but as far as I can tell the number of pundits making this argument was “zero,” although people are still whining and moaning about poor Bob Casey not speaking to the Democratic convention in 1992 even though he refused to endorse Clinton 15 years later. And this double standard exists although the Democratic Party actually represents the majority position on reproductive freedom. Why, it’s almost as if these arguments are about indifference and/or hostility to women’s reproductive rights rather than being about politics…

Innumerate Lancet Criticism

[ 0 ] March 29, 2008 |

It never dies.

Finally, A New Idea!

[ 0 ] March 28, 2008 |

As the primary season drags on, you might be getting tired of always hearing about the same stuff. Fortunately, someone has a brand new idea: Democrats throwing reproductive freedom under the bus! Kinda!

Winters ­who is the author of a forthcoming book, “Left at the Altar: How the Democrats Lost the Catholics and How the Catholics Can Save the Democrats,” ­ thinks Clinton could expand her support in the Pennsylvania primary (and in the general election) by distancing herself “from some of the more extreme pro-abortion arguments.” He elaborates:

She could say that the Democrats need to move beyond simply defending Roe and find alternatives to abortion or new ways of preventing unwanted pregnancies in the first place. She could repeat her husband’s mantra that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare” and point to ways that might make it more rare.

If one wants to give this a charitable interpretation, the obvious problem is that Clinton has already done this, which should have taught us for the umpteenth time that when given the choice between preventing unwanted pregnancies (and hence reducing abortions) and regulating female sexuality, American anti-choicers have an extremely strong tendency to choose the latter. I don’t see any evidence for the existence of a free ride where Democrats can pick up lots of anti-abortion voters without changing their substantive positions at all. I also don’t know what “extreme pro-abortion” arguments Clinton and Obama subscribe to, but presumably the problem is that they believe that women other than affluent ones who live in cities should have access to safe abortions instead of believing that some classes of women should be subject to a blizzard of irrational regulations.

In a similar vein, Amy Sullivan goes into her views on the subject at greater length. In addition to the free ride problem, her discussion is centered around an alleged contradiction that isn’t hard to explain. She claims the views of many Americans are incoherent because they have moral qualms about abortion but don’t want it to be illegal. But, of course, there’s not really a contradiction here: many more Americans believe that adultery is immoral than believe that adulterers belong in jail. This is particularly true given the ineffectiveness of and gross inequities inherent in criminalizing abortions, and it remains extremely frustrating that Sullivan and others who share her views generally refuse to discuss this. “I think abortion is immoral,” full stop, isn’t going to expand the pro-choice coalition or convince people to vote for Democrats.

Just A Reminder

[ 41 ] March 28, 2008 |

To echo thoughts directed at those claiming that they’ll take their balls and go home if the wrong candidate wins the primary, allow me to quote the following from John Paul Stevens’s dissent in Bethel School District v. Fraser:

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

When I was a high school student, the use of those words in a public forum shocked the Nation. Today Clark Gable’s four-letter expletive is less offensive than it was then.

Wait–it’s worse than that. I’m pretty sure that Justice Stevens is misremembering and was in fact a college student at the time. (He got his BA two years after Gone With the Wind was released.) And then note that the possibility of Antonin Scalia becoming the median vote on the Supreme Court isn’t the worst thing that could happen if John “Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran” McCain were to be elected. Just sayin.’

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