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See If You Can Spot the False Dichotomy: Rank Bigotry Edition

[ 11 ] November 9, 2010 |

Shorter Verbatim one of the Powerline stooges:  “The purpose of the Marines is to fight America’s enemies. It is no [sic] part of their purpose to facilitate the self-actualization of gays.”

For further grim amusement, consider his additional claim that “[i]n this context, any appreciable risk to the fighting capacity of the Marine Corps is too much.”  Of course, non-bigots can ask exactly the same question: in this context, it’s particularly stupid and dangerous to turn away qualified military personnel in order to accommodate the discriminatory prejudices of an increasingly small minority of Americans.


An Interesting Pattern in the Wikileaks Data

[ 21 ] November 9, 2010 |

I have recently read a book entitled Inventing Collateral Damage in which the authors argue, among other things, that that concept of collateral damage was created for and in fact serves the purpose of allowing military officials to shrug off or gloss over the civilians they are indifferently killing in high-tech wars.

I found this rather interesting argument poorly substantiated in the book for reasons I will outline at greater length in a forthcoming essay, but this got me to thinking about how you would substantiate or disconfirm such a hypothesis, which would be an example of what scholars of international relations refer to as a “permissive effect” of a norm.

So since the Iraq War Logs allow a user to search the database with keywords, I figured I’d type in “collateral damage” and see for myself what sort of passages in military documents are associated with the term. It’s quite remarkable what one finds: contrary to the claim made by Rockel, Halpern and their contributors, the term is generally used to explain why US service-personnel do not fire on otherwise legitimate military targets.

Baseball Creationism

[ 5 ] November 9, 2010 |

What I don’t get is why Selig would feel the need to endorse this particular lie.    What, people are going to stop coming to Cooperstown unless more people accept fairly tales about how the game was invented?  Isn’t wasting 5 minutes of every post-season game doing “God Bless America” jingoism enough?

More on the Politics of DADT Repeal

[ 25 ] November 9, 2010 |

What Drum says here is correct:

Democratic spinelessness on this is worth mocking. But let’s get real: the problem isn’t with Senate Democrats, 97% of whom voted to repeal DADT in September. The problem is with Republicans, 100% of whom voted against repeal even though, as the Gallup poll above shows, repeal is favored by 60% of Republicans, a majority of conservatives, the Secretary of Defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

100%. Not one single Republican was willing to buck the tea party hordes and vote for DADT repeal. Even Susan Collins of Maine, the only Republican who publicly supports repeal, concocted a transparently bogus excuse not to vote for it.

Democrats may not be profiles in courage here, but they aren’t the villains on DADT repeal. They just aren’t. Republicans are. They’re willing to unanimously filibuster funding for the military in order to pander to the small percentage of their own party that thinks gay people are icky.

Right, as far is it goes. Certainly, DADT repeal is a poor example for those trying to claim that there’s no difference between Democrats and Republicans. But:

But not only are they getting away with the filibuster, they’re turning their obstruction into a political winner by forcing the progressive community into circular firing squad mode. I try really hard to think of politics in terms of the substance of things rather than the quality of the performances, but from a sports fan type perspective you really have to admit that Mitch McConnell has delivered a gutsy virtuoso performance as a legislative leader. It takes a real kind of vision to recognize that relentless obstruction even of overwhelmingly popular progressive ideas can be turned into a political winner by creating fractures in the other side’s coalition.

For a moment, let’s also stipulate for the sake of argument that Drum is also right that the Obama administration shouldn’t use its discretion to refuse a repeal to the ruling overturning DADT, certainly a reasonably position (certainly, legislative repeal would be preferable.) This puts all of the direct blame on Republicans, who deserve at least 90% of the blame in any case.  But this still doesn’t explain why the Democrats are pre-emptively capitulating on an issue on which they hold the political leverage. As Matt says, filibustering defense appropriations bills is unpopular, and DADT is unpopular. Certainly, if the shoe was on the other foot McConnell would force the Dems to filibuster multiple times and put intense pressure on the moderates. It’s entirely possible that there’s nothing Reid can do to get “moderate” Republican frauds to do the right thing, but at least Dems  could get a political victory out of it.   By just surrendering when they hold the political cards, the Democratic leadership must bear some responsibility for the circular firing squad.

Schoolchildren Shed Their Rights at the Schoolhouse Gate

[ 40 ] November 9, 2010 |

Amazing how for conservatives — including winger heroes like Owen, Garza, and Clement — their much-alleged free speech libertarianism is likely to vanish when corporations spending money isn’t involved. In fairness, it must be noted that even if she thinks that state officials can compel someone to cheer for their rapist, she’s a bang-up Sunday school teacher, so really the Gang of 14 was a huge win for the Democrats.

Actually, I Don’t Know That

[ 28 ] November 8, 2010 |

Defending the Obama administration’s decision to appeal the ruling holding DADT unconstitutional, Joe From Lowell asserted:

The GOP is going to vote for the Defense Authorization bill. It is a must-pass bill, and DADT is already in it. They can only delay at this point, but they can’t not pass the bill, and even the most optimistic scenarios don’t give them enough votes to remove DADT repeal.

But you already knew that.

I assume many of you have already spotted the flaw in this analysis — to state the obvious, legislation can be re-introduced in different forms.  Given this, it would seem implausible in the extreme that the GOP would suddenly agree to a repeal of DADT from a stronger political position. And what do you know:

Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and John McCain of Arizona, the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, are in talks on stripping the proposed repeal and other controversial provisions from a broader defense bill, leaving the repeal with no legislative vehicle to carry it. With a repeal attached, and amid Republican complaints over the terms of the debate, the defense bill had failed to win the 60 votes needed to overcome a procedural hurdle in the Senate in September.


Tommy Sears, executive director of the Center for Military Readiness, which opposes a repeal, rated the chance of action “extremely low.” Richard Socarides, an activist and former adviser on gay rights to President Bill Clinton, said it was “extremely unrealistic” that Congress would take it up this year.

Who saw that coming? Why, next thing you’ll tell me that John Boehner isn’t planning on sitting down with Obama and working out a cap-and-trade deal.

If you want to defend the Obama administration’s decision to appeal the DADT ruling on the merits, go ahead (although I disagree.) But let’s not kid ourselves about the consequences: if the appeal succeeds, we’re stuck with DADT for a minimum of two more years. The chances of legislative repeal during this period are essentially zero.



Look, if Democrats can’t repeal a policy more than two thirds of the American people, including a majority of conservatives want gone then they can’t expect people to vote for them. Preserving DADT is rank absurdity, even in 1993 the RAND study commissioned by the government showed that combat effectiveness would not be harmed by allowing openly gay servicemembers to serve, and the fact that DADT investigations are sometimes delayed when servicemembers are deployed undermines the notion that openly gay servicemembers harm the war effort.

The GOP shouldn’t be let off the hook here — it is, after all, their unanimous obstruction that prevented the repeal — but it is nonetheless true that the Democrats have leverage in the form of a defense bill they’re refusing to use, and the Obama administration’s opposition to DADT appears to be entirely nominal.

How About We Just Agree on “Go Mitch!”

[ 34 ] November 7, 2010 |

Apparently some people somewhere are enthusiastic about Mitch Daniels:

I spoke this morning to John McKay, a Chicago-area businessman who runs, which has launched a petition drive to get the Indiana governor into the race for president.

“We need him more than any other person,” said McKay. “He’s so more qualitfied than any of the other candidates it’s not even funny.”

McKay, who is part-owner of a rehabilitation business in Cinicinnati, said he met Daniels at a 2008 press conference at an Indiana business, Author House, in which a partner of his was involved, and was “captivated by him.”

Okay, so it’s actually “Cincinnati,” but whatever. Here’s the e-mail release I received yesterday:

Robert …I’m doing some work for (to help get Indiana Governor Mitch Davis [emphasis added] to throw his hat into the ring for the White House in 2012), and wanted to know if you cover this sort of thing? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

We have a formal press release coming out soon, should we keep you on the list? Please advise, Darren.

I suppose that we’ll be running on a platform of competence and good government…

Strangest. Aesthetic. Stalinism. Ever.

[ 9 ] November 7, 2010 |

Shorter some Pajamas Media hack: I have recently discovered that (Pakula’s) All the President’s Men, Saturday Night Fever, and Roots were works of fiction. Obviously, this was a conspiracy to help liberals, because without these pictures everybody would have realized that Nixon wasn’t a crook and slavery wasn’t all that bad, and for very logical and compelling reasons I’ll get into later overestimating the number of Italian-American men from Brooklyn who went to discos in the 70s was crucial to the great progressive revival of the 80s.

MarkZism: What’s Not To Love?

[ 25 ] November 7, 2010 |

Me: “Look, here’s ‘me and Rob Farley’.”

Stu: “Who’s Rob Farley?”

Me: “Dude. My co-blogger; also, he’s coming to dinner next Wednesday after his guest lecture on battleships in my human security class. That’s not the point. Look, look this is ‘our’ Facebook page.”

Stu: “You mean the LGM page? I’ve visited it once or twice.”

Me: “Not the LGM page. See? Look.”

Stu: “Whoa. How did you do that?”

Me: “I didn’t do that; Facebook did it automatically.”

Stu: “How did you find out about it?”

Me: “Kid Number One told me. Her friends at high school are all over this.”

Stu: “I bet. Wow, this means you can easily research exactly what every pair of your friends has ever said to one another on Facebook? That’s pretty sweet.”

Me: “Sweet, yep. You can find out exactly how strong or weak your ties to your different friends are, relative to your other friends, much more easily now. And you can be sure that everyone else can see that too. I can imagine high-schoolers are going to have new ways to stigmatize each other now.”

Stu: “Oh, you’re always so down on Facebook. I happen to like Mr. Zuckerberg.”

Me: “I worry about cyber-bullying.”

Stu: “But come on, admit this is cool. I wonder what the algorithm is like they use to choose the profile picture they use for your page. Let’s see what we look like.”

Me: “OK, here you go…. Aww. Look at us. It’s Kid Number Two’s birthday party.”

Stu: “I look really bad in that picture. Oh look, it appears we attended the Rally for Sanity together.”

Me: “Looks like FB pledges were a pretty good indicator of the crowd size after all. Huh.”

Stu: “Hey, I want to see what ‘You and your buddy Alex’ look like. Don’t roll your eyes.”

Me: (typing) “That was a twitch, not a roll. Hmm. Now this is interesting. Alex must know some privacy settings I don’t.”

Stu: “Inconceivable.”

Me: (dryly) “I see his and my Lexulous games don’t appear here; that’s good since that’s where all the excitement actually goes on.”

Stu: “Ha, ha.”

Me: “You know, this is really invasive.”

Stu: “Why? Are you saying you have something to hide?”

Me: “No, but it shouldn’t matter. The depth and nature of my relationships with my online friends shouldn’t be easier to find now than they were when I was choosing to present them online.”

Stu: “What difference does that make?” Read more…

Bill Maher: Sanity Rally Should Have Sided With the Sane

[ 11 ] November 6, 2010 |

Now, I do disagree with, oh, about 30% of what he says, and those of you who have followed my thoughts on this subject can probably guess which 30%. But he also makes a range of cogent and highly reasonable points and most importantly, is as usual really really witty.

Huskies at Autzen

[ 8 ] November 6, 2010 |

This isn’t really a rivalry as much as an annual public execution, so it’s probably time to stop playing this video:

Greatest moment of my life, with the official exceptions of my wedding and the birth of my daughters. Maybe I’ll stop playing it next year…

…well, that was barely devastating, and only mildly dominant. They’ll need a much stronger effort if they have any hope to win by 35 at Cal.

The Retrospective Perfection of Great Democratic Presidents

[ 209 ] November 5, 2010 |

One commenter in the third party thread argues that people arguing against implausible heighten-the-contradictions arguments have their own, similar problem:

the even-handed liberal in me must point out that the alternative is just as unbounded across the middle.

1. Vote for Democrats, who will always and up spitting on you, and running to the right.
2. ???????
3. Profit!

This argument only works, however, if we assume that under extant institutional and cultural conditions a substantially more progressive governing coalition (and hence something closer to European social democratic policy outcomes) is possible, that the timid centrism of many Democrats and the legislative outcomes of the about-to-be-concluded Congress represent correctable tactical failures. My position is that a substantially more progressive governing coalition (president+median votes in both houses of Congress) almost certainly isn’t possible, and that the domestic policy disappointments under the Obama administration are not the result of strategic and/or tactical failures by progressives.

Another way of looking at this is to consider presidencies that most would consider progressive models. Outside of a few dead-enders, most of us can agree that projecting much more progressive preferences and the ability to achieve them on Hillary Clinton is farcically implausible. But perhaps a more superficially plausible comparison is with FDR. If FDR could be a great progressive president without these compromises, why can’t Obama? But the problem is, this FDR who was relatively uncompromising is a complete myth. If you think that health care reform kowtowed too much to corporate interests, consider the first segment of the New Deal that essentially consisted of establishing corporate cartels. If you’re appalled by Obama’s foot-dragging on gay and lesbian rights and by health care reform not going far enough, consider the fact that the (very skeletal and parsimonious) social programs of the New Deal were deliberately constructed so as to largely deny benefits to African-Americans (while FDR did almost nothing about the egregious abuses of the apartheid states of the American south.) Think Obama’s civil liberties record is pretty terrible? You’re right! But it’s hard to argue that anything he’s done can top the internment of persons of Japanese descent based on security justifications that were largely known within the administration to be false or frivolous. (FDR’s own initiative, too, not merely an unwise decision to defend the awful policies of his predecessor in court.) If you’re outraged by selling out progressive interests, kowtowing to reactionary forces, and third-of-a-loaf social reforms, you can have a field day with FDR.

LBJ — who is invoked much less — is actually a better case. The 1964 Civil Rights Act and (especially) the 1965 Voting Rights Act are as close as you can get to uncompromising progressive triumphs, and a great deal more worthy legislation passed under his watch. But even in insanely favorable circumstances (massive majorities with unusually large numbers of progressive Republicans willing to collaborate, halo effect of an assassinated president, booming economy) Johnson was unable to pass anything remotely resembling universal health care, and then there’s his cronyism botching Earl Warren’s replacement (which effectively rendered Brown a dead letter by the early 70s) and…the whole Vietnam thing which (defensibly) prevented the most progressive president of the 20th century from even getting his party’s nomination to run a second time. And remember, these are the strongest cases — your Clintons and Carters don’t get close to these records for various reasons, and we won’t even get into allegedly progressive presidents like Wilson and Jackson whose blemishes arguably outnumber their virtues.

Is Obama comparable to the best and most consequential of these figures, with all context considered? It’s way to early to say, and he may not be. Certainly, no president under current circumstances is likely to have the reconstructive effects of FDR. He can be fairly criticized for many things, and there are areas where his perfoamnce has been disappointing even given realistic expectations. But there’s no point in comparing him to a baseline of progressivism no American president has ever approached.

The bottom line is that people don’t pay enough attention to structural factors. The high number of veto points, the modest malapportionment of the House and the gross malapportionment of the Senate all conspire against progressive reform and make it much easier for relatively coherent conservative governing coalitions to form than progressive ones. The rule is that periods of reform are very rare, and reforms (with some very unusual exceptions like civil rights under LBJ) are modest, incremental, and involve buying off a lot of reactionary stakeholders — and FDR very definitely isn’t an exception to this rule. It’s pretty implausible that this is just the result of generation after generation of progressives making tactical mistakes or not doing enough to challenge the Democratic Party.