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They write letters

[ 0 ] February 18, 2009 |

Brad DeLong:

Academic freedom is a powerful and important principle. But I do not believe it provides a shield for weathervanes. I do not believe it shields those whose work is not the grueling intellectual labor of the scholar and the scientist but instead hackwork that is crafted to be convenient and pleasing to their political master of the day.

I am not an international law professor. I am not a moral philosophy professor. I am just an economics professor. I am aware that my conclusions may be wrong. It is the fact that my conclusions may be wrong has led me to dither about this matter up till now.

But with the OPR report I see no choice: so I ask you, out of a concern for justice, a concern for humanity, and a concern for our reputation as a university, to dismiss Professor John Yoo from membership in our university.

The Glories Of American Veto Points

[ 0 ] February 18, 2009 |

Although Krugman is of course right to blame a “fanatical, irrational minority” for the current crisis in California, it can’t be emphasized enough that what really matters is the incredibly stupid institutional rules that empower this minority: namely, the idiotic super-majority for tax increases and an initiative system that both created that supermajority requirement and provides incentives to vote for every tax cut while mandating certain kinds of spending because the issues are isolated. Fortunately, the federal level (while it has too many veto points) is not quite at this level yet, and at least the stupid filibuster rule doesn’t apply to budgets.

[X-Posted at TAPPED.]

Right Adopts Tactics That Stopped Iraq War From Happening

[ 0 ] February 18, 2009 |

But I have to agree, if they’re going to stop the stimulus bill they’re going to need some big puppets. I would also suggest an Uncle Sam on stilts.

…oh, and I hope we see more of this highly effective line of protest:

Verrrrrry Scarrrry! [/Count Floyd]

A Bunch of Stuff Happened…

[ 0 ] February 18, 2009 |

So, lot’s of interesting defense news; read Spencer on the Afghanistan buildup and David Axe on the F-22. If you read the latter, please compare and contrast Axe’s case for purchasing more F-22s with Bowden’s; the former dispenses with myths, while the latter reinforces them; the former has a handle on the economic and strategic tradeoffs, while the latter ignores them; and the former rejects panicky arguments about the dwindling air superiority “gap” while the latter uncritically accepts them. In short, the former knows what he’s talking about and the latter is content to write agitprop for Lockheed.

Off to the ISA conference for the day; will blog more on both of these questions later.

The single dumbest independent clause you’ll read all day

[ 0 ] February 17, 2009 |

Golf claps all around to Amar Bhide:

The depressions and panics of the 19th century ended without any fiscal stimulus to speak of…

Right. And I suppose we could note that the Spanish influenza pandemic “ended without any major vaccination efforts to speak of.”

Forget the panics of 1819, 1837, and 1857. As everyone knows, the US — to say nothing of the rest of the industrialized world — was in one phase or another of a major depression in roughly half of the twenty-four years between 1873-1897. The contraction that began in October 1873, for example, lasted 65 consecutive months and had near-universally corrosive results. Labor unions were annihilated; the Republican party officially threw up its hands on the question of Reconstruction; mass unemployment immiserated the land, and by the end of it all, striking railroad workers from Baltimore to St. Louis were being fired upon by federal troops. The economic catastrophe of the 1870s intensified racial animosity toward Chinese workers on the West Coast, leading to the passage of one exclusionary law after another; the depression of the 1890s spurred on lynch mobs in the rural South; and all of them roused otherwise sane people to spastic fits of worry over the menace of the foreign-born. In the US, the downturns of the 1880s and 1890s helped rejuvenate the principles of manifest destiny, leading to grossly dishonest efforts, public and private, to secure resources and compliant markets in Asia and Latin America. And throughout industrialized Europe, the Long Depression lent greater urgency to the project of colonialism, whose bloody results — if initially unremarkable to all but their immediate victims — were perfectly evident to everyone else by the late summer of 1914.

But remember: a few public works programs, the eight-hour day, and unemployment insurance would have been too awful to comprehend.

A Final Note Against Temperance Society Moralism

[ 0 ] February 17, 2009 |

While he’s wrong about the filibuster, I should note today that Brien Jackson (at 10:40 A.M.) is completely right about PEDs. As I’ve said before, I have no problem if a majority of players agree to have enforceable bans on substances because they believe the health risks are unacceptable and they don’t want a race to the bottom, or because they want other concessions in collective bargaining, or whatever. What I’m opposed to is 1)calling people who violated nominal but completely unenforced rules as “cheaters” and 2)engaging in empty moralism about how Athletic Purity has been violated because some particular chemical means of enhancing performance has been used.

To follow-up on Brien a bit, both variants of this moralism are plainly unserious arguments. If the argument is about health, well, if it was unacceptable to take any risks that might produce suboptimal health outcomes, you know what would be banned? Throwing baseballs overhand and hard a hundred times every five days. (We won’t even start on football.) Unless you support banning all professional sports altogether, to focus on the health risks of steroids in particular is ludicrously arbitrary. (And the fact that virtually nobody cares about steroid use in football — where the health effects are compounded — just underlies the point.)

But of course, this isn’t about health; this is about the Sanctity of the Record Book, and especially the records Back From When It Was A Game And the Players Proved Their Loyalty and Pride By Playing For A Fraction Of Their Market Value. But this also makes no sense. As Brien says, all records are contingent. If Hank Aaron had played for 15 years at Griffith Stadium, he wouldn’t have owned the home run record. If there hadn’t been two new bandboxes added to the league in 1961, Roger Maris probably wouldn’t have had a record to be broken by History’s Greatest Monster Except For Barry Bonds. If Greg Luzinksi had come up with the Rockies in 1994 who knows what records he would have set. Maybe Ty Cobb would have hit 900 homers if he had played in another era. And so on and so on. There’s no such thing as a statistic that purely reflects a player’s performance. In addition, people like to assert that steroids were the dominant factor in the increase in power numbers that started in the early 90s, but this is very, very questionable. There are a lot of other factors: smaller ballparks, much improved bats, aluminum bats in amateur ball teaching hitters to hit for power to the opposite field, Lasik surgery, improving training and nutrition, etc. etc. etc. My guess would be that steroids rank well down that list; certainly, it’s much easier to document the effect of ballparks on home run totals. But at any rate, all records are a product of their time, and Bonds’s records are no more and no less “legitimate” than Henry Aaron’s or Roger Maris’s (and Bonds, pre- or post- steroids, was a greater player than either.)

Boomer Crash Explanation?

[ 0 ] February 17, 2009 |

Gitlin forwards me the following on the SSBN crash:

To the tactical oceanographer, the Atlantic may be less large than it at first appears. It seems the British sub was heading out to sea, while the French vessel was returning from patrol. Both captains, with similar boats on similar missions likely took the same factors into account, both choosing the stealthiest routes and the best hiding spots among the trenches and seamounts. After assessing surface traffic, known submarine operating areas, local thermoclines and salinity layers, the skippers met on a reciprocal course.

Perhaps we should see it as a tribute to their professionalism.

Makes as much sense as anything, I suppose. I am curious about the degree to which the French and Royal navies have worked together on submarine doctrine; professionalism in questions such as these often has a distinctly national hue, such that a professional in the Russian Navy might be expected to come to a different set of conclusion based on data than a professional in the USN. If the French and British have worked together on boomer-hiding-doctrine, it would certainly help explain why the two boats were accidentally at the same place at the same time.

Pompous Hack of the Day

[ 0 ] February 17, 2009 |

Syndicated columnist William F. George hops on the denialist bandwagon. And, yes, it is Sarah Palin’s party now.

With room to drop

[ 0 ] February 16, 2009 |

This set of presidential rankings, as Steve Benen points out, is not all that useful except as a conversation-starter.

Bearing that in mind, I’ll simply note the absurdity of keeping William Henry Harrison on the list. Ol’ Tip’s misplacement is thrown into high relief by virtue of his being ranked lower (39) than George W. Bush (a gentleman’s 36), which I’d expect even Bush partisans to recognize as a silly comparison. I have no quarrel with ranking Bush ahead, for the time being, of the three Democratic presidents — Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan — who set the stage for the Civil War; and I’m even willing to keep Andrew Johnson and Warren Harding on a lower rung for now, though I’d expect him to overtake Harding fairly soon.

But in all seriousness, we need to give Harrison the equivalent of a “No Basis” grade for his 32 days in office. It’s like he bought the books; showed up the first day, read the syllabus, completed his introductory assignment — a long and ponderous essay about his plans for the future and his thoughts on a republican system of government — and then just bailed out on the rest of the semester. Is that really so bad as to deserve 39th place? Sure, you have to knock him for “Performance in the Context of His Times,” performances that had conventionally including surviving to the end of four years. But can you really evaluate the guy in terms of “Moral Authority” or “Relations with Congress”? And so far as “Setting an Agenda” is concerned, Harrison is vastly underrated. Length and poor prose aside, there’s much to dislike about Harrison’s inaugural address — he spends several Broderian paragraphs complaining indirectly about the shrill tone of abolitionism, for example — but he offered some thoughtful words regarding the temptations of power and vowed that under no circumstances would he ever seek a second term in office. Then, as if to prove his point, he went ahead and decided not to even serve his first. And people were seriously bummed out about his death.

As President, Harrison died pure as the driven snow. It diminishes all of us to keep him in the rankings.

Also, Harrison has this tribute working in his favor:

(cross-posted at Edge of the American West)

Better Journalism, Please

[ 0 ] February 16, 2009 |

For some reason, the Atlantic continues to attract love letters to aircraft. I had hoped that Robert Kaplan’s ode to the B-2 Spirit would be sufficient embarrassment to the magazine to make the editors think twice about a second paean to an airborne weapons system. Unfortunately, the generally-more-reliable Mark Bowden falls manages very nearly the same level of sloppy affection for the F-22 as Kaplan did for the B-2. While not descending into purple prose that should, again, have embarrassed his editors (“If the cost of air supremacy is not paid in dollars, it may be paid in blood”) Bowden’s account includes a number of distortions/omissions, including the following:

  • He claims that “independent analysts” have determined that the Air Force will require 381 F-22s. I have no doubt that this is, in some sense, correct; at the same time, numerous other “independent analysts” have determined that the Air Force requires zero F-22s.
  • Bowden accepts the economic claims of F-22 advocates without engaging in any serious scrutiny. It’s certainly correct to suggest that shutting down the F-22 line will put people out of work and close factories all over the nation. It’s just as true that the money spent on the F-22 could be used to create jobs in other ways, or to cut taxes, or to cut the deficit. Maybe the F-22 is among the best choices for economic stimulus. I don’t know, Lockheed doesn’t know, and Mark Bowden doesn’t know either; I wish he would have bothered to ask, however.
  • Bowden claims that skilled pilots have little chance against aircraft more advanced than their own, which is to say that technological superiority is the primary determinant of air combat victory. This argument, it is fair to say, has not been supported by the evidence; in Korea, Vietnam, and the various Arab-Israeli wars, pilot expertise proved a much more important determinant of success than technology.
  • Bowden claims that foreign built fighters have demonstrated superiority to the F-15. While I think that there may be a fair argument based on avionics data, Bowden resorts to description of the Cope India exercises, in which American pilots suffered losses against Indian aircraft. “Independent analysts,” such that they are, have long contended that these exercises were rigged, and essentially conducted in order to advertise for the F-22. Bowden doesn’t bother to address these arguments, instead allowing himself to get rolled by the (admittedly) super cool USAF fighter pilots.
  • Bowden detaches consideration of the F-15’s capabilities from any appreciation of strategic reality. Even if the Su-30 could be regarded as tactically superior to the F-15, and even if Venzuelan pilots could match the intensity and duration of training that American pilots enjoy, it’s unclear what the possession of a squadron or two of the aircraft would do to transform the US-Venezuelan relationship. Bowden simply accepts, without the merest protest, that the United States must have massive qualitative and quantitative advantage at all times with every type of weapon system in order to maintain its security. That the Venezuelan Su-30s would likely be destroyed on the ground before being shot down by better trained American pilots flying with substantial quantitative advantage doesn’t merit his attention.

See also Duss and Yglesias.

Cross-posted to TAPPED

On the Indefensibility of the Filibuster

[ 1 ] February 16, 2009 |

With the discussion here and elsewhere in the blogosphere about the filibuster, I thought it was worth trying to get to the core of the issues. It is true, as djw and I have argued in detail, that the mere fact that the filibuster is “counter-majoritarian” does not make it a bad thing. But it’s also true that it’s not enough to point out that the American system has other counter-majoritarian features: each one requires its own justification. And when you think of things that way, it’s pretty obvious that the filibuster is indefensible. Let’s consider the key issues:

  • It should be clear, first of all, that adding additional veto points to the American system should require an especially high burden of proof. The result of the unusually high number of veto points compared to other liberal democracies has been worse policy outcomes with no discernible gain in human rights. Many of these veto points are constitutionally entrenched. But for those that aren’t — such as the filibuster — we have to ask whether the clear costs of an additional veto point carry any additional benefits. (And while I could care less about the intent of the framers on this question, Matt is also right that there’s no reason to believe that there was any intention for the Senate to have a supermajority requirement.)
  • It’s not enough to say that the filibuster protects “minorities.” The relevant question is whether the institution can be expected to protect underrepresented and disadvantaged “minorities” in the Carloene Products sense. “Counter-majoritarian” institutional features are defensible to the extent that they do that. And the problem with the filibuster, then, is that given the structure of the Senate the only minority reliably protected by the filibuster is rural conservatives: an already absurdly over-represented minority. And, of course, it’s worse than that: the primary effect of the filibuster historically has been to prevent legislative majorities from protecting discrete and insular minorities by thwarting various types of civil rights legislation. And it sure wasn’t affluent people who got hurt by the cuts urged by the Senate “centrists” using their filibuster leverage to water down the superior House legislation.
  • And what’s remarkable to me is that apologists for the filibuster not only don’t dispute this trend, they literally can’t cite a single example of the filibuster working to good ends. Hilzoy — who isn’t an apologist — gamely tries, saying that “To anyone who thinks it’s just obvious that the filibuster should be eliminated, I have three words for you: Janice Rogers Brown.” Well, with the filibuster, Janice Rogers Brown is on the D.C. Circuit, just as she would be without it, so I’m not sure what the argument is. We saved two years? (Indeed, it was foolish not to force the Republicans to permanently discredit the filibuster to get what they were going to get anyway.) But even if we want to change the example to Miguel Estrada, isolated examples can hardly provide much on an argument against overwhelming historical trend.
  • And there are additional good reasons why the filibuster overwhelmingly serves reactionary interests. At the federal level, progressives generally want the government to do more, not less; the filibuster veto point, then, provides asymmetrical opportunities for entrenched privilege against those that would change the status quo. Moreover, once established, major liberal programs are very difficult to get rid off; we didn’t need the filibuster to protect Social Security in 2004. And in terms of protecting civil liberties, spotty as its record is judicial review can point to many examples of value, while as far as I can tell the filibuster can’t point to any.

So, basically, there’s nothing good to be said about the filibuster as it has historically been used. Defenses of the filibuster from a progressive point of view essentially require entering a land of fantasia where the relentlessly reactionary nature of the filibuster across various changes in legislative leadership and party coalitions is purely a coincidence, that progressives haven’t been able to use it not because of institutional realities but because people like LBJ just don’t grasp the finer points of legislative technique. This is, to put it mildly, implausible. The filibuster doesn’t protect underrepresented minorities in theory and hasn’t protected them in practice, and it would be best if it were abandoned at the first opportunity. Whether this will happen too late for decent health care reform to be passed, we’ll see.

UPDATE: A response to Publius’s point about the judicial filibuster can be found here.

On the Indefensibility of the Filibuster

[ 6 ] February 16, 2009 |

With the discussion here and elsewhere in the blogosphere about the filibuster, I thought it was worth trying to get to the core of the issues. It is true, as djw and I have argued in detail, that the mere fact that the filibuster is “counter-majoritarian” does not make it a bad thing. But it’s also true that it’s not enough to point out that the American system has other counter-majoritarian features: each one requires its own justification. And when you think of things that way, it’s pretty obvious that the filibuster is indefensible. Let’s consider the key issues:

  • It should be clear, first of all, that adding additional veto points to the American system should require an especially high burden of proof. The result of the unusually high number of veto points compared to other liberal democracies has been worse policy outcomes with no discernible gain in human rights. Many of these veto points are constitutionally entrenched. But for those that aren’t — the such filibuster — we have to ask whether the clear costs of an additional veto point carry any additional benefits. (And while I could care less about the intent of the framers on this question, Matt is also right that there’s no reason to believe that there was any intention for the Senate to have a supermajority requirement.)
  • It’s not enough to say that the filibuster protects “minorities.” The relevant question is whether the institution can be expected to protect underrepresented and disadvantaged “minorities” in the Carloene Products sense. “Counter-majoritarian” institutional features are defensible to the extent that they do that. And the problem with the filibuster, then, is that given the structure of the Senate the only minority reliably protected by the filibuster is rural conservatives: an already absurdly over-represented minority. And, of course, it’s worse than that: the primary effect of the filibuster historically has been to prevent legislative majorities from protecting discrete and insular minorities by thwarting various types of civil rights legislation. And it sure wasn’t affluent people who got hurt by the cuts urged by the Senate “centrists” using their filibuster leverage to water down the superior House legislation.
  • And what’s remarkable to me is that apologists for the filibuster not only don’t dispute this trend, they literally can’t cite a single example of the filibuster working to good ends. Hilzoy — who isn’t an apologist — gamely tries, saying that “To anyone who thinks it’s just obvious that the filibuster should be eliminated, I have three words for you: Janice Rogers Brown.” Well, with the filibuster, Janice Rogers Brown is on the D.C. Circuit, just as she would be without it, so I’m not sure what the argument is. We saved two years? (Indeed, it was foolish not to force the Republicans to permanently discredit the filibuster to get what they were going to get anyway.) But even if we want to change the example to Miguel Estrada, isolated examples can hardly provide much on an argument against overwhelming historical trend.
  • And there are additional good reasons why the filibuster overwhelmingly serves reactionary interests. At the federal level, progressives generally want the government to do more, not less; the filibuster veto point, then, provides asymmetrical opportunities for entrenched privilege against those that would change the status quo. Moreover, once established, major liberal programs are very difficult to get rid off; we didn’t need the filibuster to protect Social Security in 2004. And in terms of protecting civil liberties, spotty as its record is judicial review can point to many examples of value, while as far as I can tell the filibuster can’t point to any.

So, basically, there’s nothing good to be said about the filibuster as it has historically been used. Defenses of the filibuster from a progressive point of view essentially require entering a land of fantasia where the relentlessly reactionary nature of the filibuster across various changes in legislative leadership and party coalitions is purely a coincidence, that progressives haven’t been able to use it not because of institutional realities but because people like LBJ just don’t grasp the finer points of legislative technique. This is, to put it mildly, implausible. The filibuster doesn’t protect underrepresented minorities in theory and hasn’t protected them in practice, and it would be best if it were abandoned at the first opportunity. Whether this will happen too late for decent health care reform to be passed, we’ll see.

UPDATE: A response to Publius’s point about the judicial filibuster can be found here.