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[ 0 ] May 16, 2009 |

I’m back from Seattle, after a week of blog abstinence broken only by some very minor comment maintenance. Thanks very much to Charli Carpenter, who filled in very capably. My Google Reader account currently has 917 new items…

Two points on comments: First, I’m a bit befuddled by the apparent influx of an army of trolls in my absence; I’ll be culling a bit when I have some time. Second, I was extremely disappointed by this comment thread, and in particular that one of my favorite regular commenters saw fit to mount his high horse and dismiss Charli as “a technician of empire” for making a set of entirely reasonable claims about airstrikes in Afghanistan. A blog is a community, and the well-being of the community depends on something like a contract between the bloggers, the regular commenters, and the occasional commenters/lurkers. Regular commenters incur some responsibility for civility, but more importantly they have a responsibility to behave as if the bloggers and the other regular commenters are acting in good faith. This means that you can’t simply denounce a blogger as “a technician of empire,” and thus unworthy of engagement, after a single post. At LGM we ban people because of arbitrary drunken whim; no one is safe. That said, consistenly treating the bloggers and other commenters as idiots who act in bad faith (and to be sure, I don’t think that the commenter in question has established such a pattern of behavior; far from it) is, in the fullness of time, likely to get you banned. This is what happened to The Fool, and what happened to Dr. Zen.

On a final note, I want to apologize in advance for *not* wading into comment threads as much in the future as I have in the past. Going forward, I simply won’t have the time to devote an entire afternoon/evening to having a long argument/discussion in comments. I’ve noticed that the need to fight the good fight in the comments has made me considerably more skittish about posting on a variety of topics; I’ve caught myself thinking a few times “I could post on that, but then I’ll have to spend all day and most of tomorrow on the comment thread.” This is unfortunate, because I think there’s considerable value to a good, long comment thread discussion. However, given that a) I simply can’t devote the same amount of time to the threads that I have in the past, and b) the belief that I need to intervene in comments is resulting in fewer posts, and in posts less worthy of serious comment, I think that I have to step back a bit. What this means is that, in the future, I’ll be less likely to defend my baseless assertions and faulty logic in the comment threads. Again, my apologies…

…Spencer has some further thoughts on the relationship between bloggers and commenters.

Worst American Birthdays, vol. 49

[ 0 ] May 16, 2009 |

Roger Eugene Ailes, president at the odious Fox News Network, was born 69 years ago today in Warren, Ohio. (In a remarkable convergence of douchebaggery, Warren would also host the unfortunate birth of Hugh Hewitt, who was coughed into the world sixteen years later.)

A broadcasting major at Ohio University, Alies moved into a career as a television producer during the 1960s, ultimately landing a position with The Mike Douglas Show, which he helped turn into a national success. After striking up a conversation with Richard Nixon — who appeared on the show in 1967 along with a boa constrictor-wielding belly dancer named Little Egypt — Alies was offered a job with Nixon’s presidential campaign. He accepted the position, divorced his wife, and turned to the task of marketing Nixon (as Joe McGinness famously described it) “like a can of peas” to a nation that has never quite recovered from the sale. Working with other young conservatives like Pat Buchanan to remake the GOP into a juggernaut of spite, Ailes helped refine the campaign’s cynical, two-pronged strategy of expressing open contempt for (vaguely-defined) “elites” and somewhat more coded loathing for poor black urban denizens.

At the same time, Ailes achieved what nearly every mortal assumed to be an impossible goal: making Dick Nixon seem genial. His specialty was producing campaign events that employed what he called the “arena concept” — a forerunner of the now-ubiquitous town hall format — that simulated regional campaign events, bringing Nixon together with loyal audiences and panels of voters who served the candidate with questions that were predictably unchallenging. Difficult questions, if they were posed, usually came from reporters or professors, two groups that Nixon and his advisers were, in any event, eager to portray as liberal elites who were unpatriotic and insensitive to mainstream American values — and thus, by extension, to Nixon himself.

While Ailes did not invent so much as mediate this novel right-wing formula, he did so for a succession of political clients including Ronald Reagan and the elder George Bush, the latter of whom benefited from the historically grotesque management of Lee Atwater. And when Ailes dragged his jowly carcass back to television during the 1990s, he brought his Nixonian paranoia and anti-liberal contempt with him. From CNBC, Ailes moved to the short-lived and idiotic “America’s Talking” network before agreeing to head up a new cable news channel that would eventually distinguish itself as the viewing destination of choice for Americans who preferred to be misinformed about nearly everything. From its inception in 1996, Fox News and Roger Ailes rode with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse — the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, the 2000 Florida recount, the War on Terror and the candidacy and election of Barack Obama — to the pinnacle of the cable news market, demonstrating along the way the possibilities for success in a profession one actually loathes.

Abortion and Public Opinion

[ 0 ] May 15, 2009 |

I have some thoughts about the widely trumpeted but not terribly meaningful new surveys here. (Short version: talk to me if this persists for at least a year and shows up in surveys with better questions.) See also Sarah Posner on why it’s a bad idea to cede moral ground to advocates of abortion criminalization, not least because their positions tend, in fact, to be a moral, legal, and ethical shambles.

Ticking Time Bombed

[ 0 ] May 15, 2009 |

Shorter Charles Krauthammer: “I have an open-and-shut case for a “ticking time bomb” scenario that justifies torture. In this case, there was no ticking time bomb, and the torture didn’t work. See?”

See also. Man, this is pathetic stuff. But when you try to justify torture, this is the quality of argument you get…

Reading Sotomayor

[ 0 ] May 15, 2009 |

If you think that careful evaluations of a judge’s opinions are more relevant than anonymous gossip, Tom Goldstein’s post is for you. As one would expect, the opinions are those of a solid, moderate liberal.

Using A Non-Issue As Cover

[ 0 ] May 15, 2009 |

It looks like as long as the New Hampshire legislature is willing to add some superfluous religious freedom exemptions, John Lynch will sign the legislation. Works for me. And I think there’s a strategic lesson here: just add some language to legislation ensuring that things that nobody was going to do anyway can’t be done, and there goes the emerging silly pretext for opposing SSM. Ironically, I think that this argument is going to do more to provide a reason to justify flip-flopping than to actually maintain discrimination.

Obama: If We Pretend It Didn’t Happen, Maybe They’ll Hate Us Less

[ 0 ] May 14, 2009 |

OK, I’m officially disappointed in my President.

It was bad enough that he failed to decisively end Bush’s extraordinary rendition program (claiming he’ll only make sure it’s no longer abused); and that he blocked prosecutions for top-level officials who authorized torture. Now, Obama has decided to block the release photos depicting US troops engaging in brutal acts against detainees:

President Obama said on Wednesday that he is seeking to block the release of photographs that depict American military personnel abusing captives in Iraq and Afghanistan, worrying that the images could “further inflame anti-American opinion.”

Look, it’s not pictures that inflame anti-American opinion. Brutality has done that already. And trying to cover up that bad behavior only makes it look as if the new Administration is complicit. In short, this is the worst tactical decision I’ve seen Obama make so far, and I fear the grave consequences of associating his administration with the worst excesses of the past eight years.

The explanation given by the White House is no better than the decision itself:

Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said that the president met last week “with his legal team and told them that he did not feel comfortable with the release of the D.O.D. photos because he believes their release would endanger our troops.”

This logic makes so little sense I cannot believe it is the genuine rationale. First of all, as Gary Bass has exhaustively documented, the appearance of punishing those who are actually guilty is the best way to forestall collective punishment: it’s doing the reverse, obstructing genuine justice, that encourages vigilantism against all US soldiers. Second of all, even if they are put in even greater danger by their comrades’ ill-deeds, won’t this be the best possible deterrent for war crimes in the future? Studies of variation in war crimes demonstrate that militaries who commit the fewest abuses are those where there is strong peer pressure within fighting units to behave properly, and the best way I can think of to create this kind of culture is to allow all US troops to worry about the indirect consequences of being associated with those “few bad apples.”

So what is the actual logic here? Someone, enlighten me, because apparently our “rule of law” President would like to keep us all in the dark.

Who Will Obama Choose?

[ 0 ] May 14, 2009 |

That’s Rick Hasen’s prediction. And actually, that would be fine with me; she seems very impressive and more liberal than anybody on the current Court. Jan Crawford Greenburg, on the other hand, suggests increasing internal support for Kagan. Again, that would also be a strong pick. I find Hasen’s logic a litte more convincing but Greenburg is presumably getting some info from White House sources, so who knows. Except for Karlan apparently not being strongly considered, the process looks likely to produce a good choice: all of the justices on the alleged short list seem like decent choices (although I’m not sure about Granholm — tought to evaluate a governor in those kind of circumstances, and her proescutrial background worries me, but then so did Earl Warren.)


[ 0 ] May 14, 2009 |

The incomparable Marcy Wheeler has won a Hillman award, an award of such prestige that it can only be won by the finest blogs. Donations to support Marcy’s work can be made here.

Advocating for Civilians in Sri Lanka

[ 0 ] May 13, 2009 |

Some professors in Canada are attempting to “bridge the theory/policy divide.” 125 Canadian academics circulated a statement last week calling on the Canadian government to spearhead efforts to resolve the worsening humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka.

The group makes a compelling case:

“Most independent observers estimate that more than 200,000 Tamil civilians, many already displaced multiple times, have been under siege in the tiny coastal strip with at least 50,000 still there. Confirmed reports indicate that more than 6,400 civilians, including 700 children, have been killed since January 2009.

Displaced persons who have managed to flee the fighting have been placed in de facto detention camps by the Sri Lankan government where they are denied freedom of movement, in contravention of international standards. There are over 40,000 displaced people being held in 13 sites in the Vavuniya District in overcrowded conditions without adequate access to healthcare, food and water. There are reports of rape, torture and killings in the camps (Medico International, Germany, April 16, 2009). Civilians who are suspected of LTTE ties have been taken into government custody, leading to fears of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, tactics the government and its allied militias have employed in significant numbers over the past few years (Amnesty International, ASA 37/004/2009).

Recent artillery attacks by Sri Lankan forces have indiscriminately targeted civilians and civilian objects, in contravention of international humanitarian law. There are credible reports that the Sri Lankan army may be using illegal cluster bombs as well as thermobaric bombs in the safe zone with high civilian casualties. There have been more than two dozen incidents of artillery shelling or aerial bombardment on or near hospitals, in flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions. The presence of wounded combatants in hospitals does not turn them into legitimate targets. Deliberately attacking a hospital is a war crime. At the same time we deplore the LTTE’s forcible recruitment of civilians, including children, for untrained military duty and for labour in the combat zones as well as its practice of forcing civilians to retreat with its forces, deliberately preventing civilians under its effective control from fleeing to safety. Nevertheless, violations of the laws of war by one side to a conflict do not justify violations by the opposing side. They do not permit the indiscriminate use of force by the Sri Lankan forces in response (Human Rights Watch, 20 Februrary 2009).

Amen. However, reading this left me with a few questions about this group’s strategy. First of all, while most of the claims above are indisputable, a few leave me wondering, and for a statement prepared by academics, there is a dearth of sources cited (a few parenthetical citations give too little information for me to follow sources online so that I could link to them in this post).

What, for example, is the authors’ “credible source” on Sri Lanka’s use of thermobaric weapons? I have seen this concern raised (e.g. here) and (the LTTE has also been accused of using thermobarics as long ago as 2005). But these do not strike me as particularly credible sources, especially given the authors’ misperception that thermobaric weapons are banned in international law (they should be, but they’re not). And David Hamblin at Danger Room points out that none of these claims are verifiable - not that they should matter, slaughter is slaughter, thermobaric or not. Anyway, I’d have expected the academics writing this statement to distinguish between clear-cut facts and the variety of claims out there, or at least provide a citation to some independent report of which I, and more importantly their target audience, might simply not be aware.

I completely support this group’s aims. But I worry that failing to distinguish facts from claims and provide documentary evidence of such statements undermines these scholars’ very worthy case, and more importantly their value-added as academics.

Which leads to a different question. Were these concerned citizens really writing as academics or as Canadian citizens, and what’s the difference if anything? In a statement to the press, Sherry Aiken who initiated the petition said:

“The fact that so many Canadian Tamils are continuing to lose family members and riends in the ongoing crisis is what prompted us as concerned Canadian academics to stand in solidarity with them.”

I wonder if you need to be an academic in order for such concerns to have resonance. And I wonder whether academics should be taking stands as academics on issues that concern them primarily for personal reasons.

OK, lots of different issues raised here, comment away.

Failure of Leadership

[ 0 ] May 13, 2009 |

Right. At the very least, Reid need to actually get senators on the record with a cloture vote. If Snarlin’ Arlen wants to filibuster an eminently qualified nominee because she’s…pro-choice, make him do it on the record. And head into a Democratic primary with no support from unions or reproductive freedom groups. Good luck with that!

Violating the Rule of Law Without Violating Any Laws

[ 0 ] May 13, 2009 |

Todd Zywicki:

The close relationship between the rule of law and the enforceability of contracts, especially credit contracts, was well understood by the Framers of the U.S. Constitution. A primary reason they wanted it was the desire to escape the economic chaos spawned by debtor-friendly state laws during the period of the Articles of Confederation. Hence the Contracts Clause of Article V of the Constitution [sic! Seriously, you think that the framers threw a restriction on state governments’ authority to impair the obligation of contracts…in the section dealing with constitutional amendments? Might you want to look that up?], which prohibited states from interfering with the obligation to pay debts. Hence also the Bankruptcy Clause of Article I, Section 8, which delegated to the federal government the sole authority to enact “uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies.”

This would seems to be a roundabout way of saying that the Obama bankruptcy plan somehow violates the “rule of law” without violating any, er, laws. The framers could have stopped the federal government from “impairing the obligation of contracts.” They didn’t. And even if Zywicki doesn’t know where to find the contracts clause you’ll note if you read carefully that he doesn’t actually claim otherwise.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t serious public policy concerns with the bailout. Unlike the other two Detroit companies, whose product has (for understandable reasons) become if anything somewhat underrated, Chrysler’s product line is genuinely horrible, not only skewed towards anachronistic gas-guzzlers but not even making good cars in those categories. And Fiat seems not much better. And (without endorsing most of the rest of what he says) I also agree that there are real problems with keeping a zombie Chrysler alive to cannibalize market share from the two potentially viable American auto companies. The economic context (and the supply problems that would result) makes it more difficult than it would otherwise be, but there are good arguments against the bailout.

But the good argument is just that: a policy argument. The Obama policy doesn’t violate the “rule of law,” and the government subsidies that have propped up the value of what the company would get in a liquidation make arguments about sacrosanct contracts or “distribution” moot. If the government pays the piper it call the tune. (And talk to me about the UAW getting too much of a break after you start talking about the violations in the “rule of law” inherent in much larger direct subsidies to inept banksters that would otherwise be out of a job.)

…see also here.