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Long Fuse

[ 0 ] December 15, 2008 |

In addition to the many other ways in which it’s abominable, Reuel Marc Gerecht’s op-ed supporting Stalinist interrogation methods and opposing the rule of law contains one of the most farcical invocations of the “ticking time bomb” scenario ever:

But this third way, which is essentially where America was before the Clinton administration embraced rendition, is plausible only if Mr. Obama is lucky. He might be. If there is no “ticking time bomb” situation — say, where waterboarding a future Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (the 9/11 mastermind) could save thousands of civilians — then there is neither need for the C.I.A.’s exceptional methods, nor the harsh services of Jordan’s General Intelligence Department.”

The “ticking time bomb” is always useless because it requires certainly about a number of things that are inherently uncertain. But any “ticking time bomb” scenario that allows for a time-consuming rendition of terrorists to other countries is pretty much by definition not a “ticking time bomb” scenario at all, since we seem to be conceding that there’s nothing imminent and that taking more time isn’t an issue. And, of course, if we have a genuine “ticking time bomb” scenario it’s not clear why we would need extraordinary rendition at all; does anyone think that a Jack Bauer who really did prevent a nuclear bomb from going off in Manhattan would be convicted? Rather, Grecht is giving away the show: invocations of the “ticking time bomb” pretty quickly turn into “well, if we arbitrarily torture enough people somebody may have some information of uncertain reliability that may lessen the probability of a future terrorist attack” arguments. Why the New York Times thinks that we need people to be making these types of arguments on its editorial pages is unclear.

…I agree with lp in comments that Henley’s take is classic.

Circumnavigation

[ 0 ] December 15, 2008 |

Cool.

The significance of the flight is best illustrated by the records that were set by Ford and his crew. It was the first round-the-world flight by a commercial airliner, as well as the longest continuous flight by a commercial plane, and was the first circumnavigation following a route near the Equator (they crossed the Equator four times.) They touched all but two of the world’s seven continents, flew 31,500 miles in 209 hours and made 18 stops under the flags of 12 different nations. They also made the longest non-stop flight in Pan American’s history, a 3,583 mile crossing of the South Atlantic from Africa to Brazil.

Bizarre hiring decisions, college football edition

[ 0 ] December 15, 2008 |

This is the weirdest coaching switch I’ve ever seen: Auburn fires Tommy Tuberville, who prior to this year had gone 42-9 in the SEC over the previous four seasons, including a perfect record in 2004, and replaces him with Gene Chizik, whose entire head coaching record consists of going 5-19 at Iowa State over the last two years. Adding to the bizarreness is that Auburn is several miles above ISU in the college football hierarchy. For a top 15ish program to fire a very successful coach in order to hire a guy whose head coaching record is limited to falling on his face at a fourth-tier program is, shall we say, unusual.

Meanwhile Auburn interviewed but didn’t hire Turner Gill, the former Nebraska quarterback who has done such a remarkable job of reviving Buffalo’s moribund program. Gill is currently one of four black head coaches at 119 major college programs. Now for a high-profile program like Auburn not to hire Gill is certainly defensible in the abstract, as his head coaching track record consists of two highly successful seasons at a lower-tier program, and that might reasonably considered not enough evidence of coaching talent. What’s not defensible is to hire Chizik instead of Gill.
Update: A couple of further points. As was noted in the comments, it’s not true that Chizik’s record at ISU has been anything but terrible even when you consider the context. ISU had played exactly .500 ball this decade before Chizik was hired, and had won seven games four times and nine games once. The very best you can assume is that he walked into a major rebuilding job, but it’s not as if his record so far can be counted as anything but a negative in the evaluation process. Simply ignoring his record given that, after all , it’s the only direct evidence there is of what sort of head coach he might turn out to be is ridiculous. The college football landscape is littered with examples of guys who were successful coordinators but failed as head coaches. What evidence is there to this point that Chizik won’t be another one? None.
Further, they’re paying him two million a year! They’ve taken a guy whose most relevant track record is a big negative, and put him very near the top of the college football salary structure. How many coaches will be making more than him next year, a dozen?
This, like the Weis situation at ND, is a classic example of structural racism. It’s not that anyone at Auburn is thinking “let’s hire the white guy.” It’s that some big deal booster or whomever really “likes” Chizik, and is “comfortable” with him, and just has a “feeling” that Chizik is going to be great, despite is actual record, which by the way totally sucks.
Funny how that works!

Colony to Superpower: 4.3

[ 0 ] December 15, 2008 |

Due to annoying illness and extended work commitments, part 5 of From Colony to Superpower will be delayed until tomorrow afternoon. Until then, see Paul from Subnumine:

Herring does have a thesis: he doesn’t believe that there was ever a real isolationist period in American history; his America has normally been willing to expand, and always to intervene. One of the commentators has come away with the impression that there is no real difference between Jefferson and John Quincy Adams, on one hand, and Reagan and Bush on the other; I think this over-simplifies Herring’s position somewhat.

On the question of extended Texas independence, Josh Trevino writes:

I think it’s fair to say that the prospects of a permanently independent Texas ended in an 18-month window in 1841-1842. In brief, 1841 saw the failure of Mirabeau Lamar’s Santa Fe expedition, which showed that the pro-independence movement was unable to make good its territorial ambitions, and would bankrupt the republic besides; and 1842 saw the Mexicans mount a successful invasion of Texas that withdrew for what can only be described as lack of interest. (Interestingly and irrelevantly, the Mexicans took San Antonio on 9/11!) The Texan riposte to that invasion, the Mier expedition, was a thoroughgoing disaster that was conceived and led mostly by Lamar’s pro-independence compatriots.

So, at the end of that 18-month period, it was fairly clear that an independent Texas would probably be an impoverished wedge of territory squeezed between the Sabine, the Nueces, and the Comanches, without prospects of developing major trade routes, and under permanent threat of “foreign” domination. The choice of that foreign dominator was between Mexico, the United States, and Britain as a distant third. No surprise that a settler population of expansionist Southerners chose the US.

This pretty much accords with what Erik suggests in his latest.

"The Democrats"

[ 0 ] December 14, 2008 |

An interesting and somewhat puzzling argument has been cropping up in comments from (amongst others) esteemed LGM commenters drip and John Emerson.

drip:
the existence of the filibuster gives the democrats some cover for a distinctly non-progressive agenda and they lack motivation to change it

JE:
The Democrat seems to use the Republicans as an excuse not to do things that they don’t want to do. Ending the filibuster would take away their excuse.

I am in substantial agreement with most of the views expressed by these and other sympathetic commenters–The filibuster ought to be eliminated, it probably won’t be, and even if it were it would not make democratic legislation, as drip puts it, “all super-progessive.” The precise position taken in these two quotations doesn’t make sense, and it simultaneously gives “the Democrats too much and too little credit.

A substantial number of viable progressive bills that fail have the support of a majority of Democrats. Likewise, a substantial number of anti-progressive bills that succeed do so despite the opposition of most democrats. The position advanced here seems to be that we should assume that the Democratic legislators on the right side of these votes should be presumed to be entirely insincere, that they’re voting for this bill for some unspecified reason, despite the fact that they really don’t want it to happen. The existence of a few Democrats to vote the way “the democrats” really want them to gives them cover to pretend to vote progressively.

I find this view….odd, and lacking in even basic evidentiary support. Part of the problem with the claim is that it treats “the democrats” as an actor with both intentions and capabilities they simply don’t have. It becomes a somewhat more plausible claim when we substitute “Democratic leadership” for “the Democrats”–leadership has on occasion worked against the preferences of a majority of Democratic legislators, perhaps most shamefully on FISA. But instead of assuming that means most Democrats don’t want better FISA legislation, one might assume that the leadership is more conservative than the rank and file, which invariably leads to such clashes. Given that the filibuster rules make it a necessary part of Reid’s job to win over non-trivial GOP support, it’s perhaps not surprising that his leadership is more conservative than the rank and file.

Too little credit: Assumes Democratic legislators’ intentions when voting progressively aren’t serious, without evidence. I see no more reason to doubt the sincerity of, say, Kerry and Dodd on FISA than I do Tancredo on immigration.

Too much credit: “The Democrats” aren’t the kind of agent capable of this degree of intentionality and devious action. Democratic legislators have their own reasons for doing what they do, and their collective actions don’t add up to the kind of collective actor with that kind of power to act in such a intentional (and devious) way.

Candid Stupidity

[ 0 ] December 14, 2008 |

There’s one thing, and one thing only, you can say about this nonsense: at least Silva makes no effort to hide the fact that he’s serving as a willing conduit for GOP propaganda:


The “unanswered questions” – as the Republican National Committee and others are calling them — will continue to haunt President-elect Obama and staff in the sordid case of the Illinois governor accused of attempting to sell Obama’s Senate seat.

What Silva never quite gets around to answering is what exactly these questions are, or why on earth anyone should care. This strikes me as relevant:


It’s important to remember that federal prosecutors, who have accused Blagojevich of dialing for dollars with his power of appointment over the seat that the junior senator from Illinois left after election as president, have implicated neither Obama nor his staff in the Blagojevich scandal.

I think this settles the question. So, again, questions about what? Who cares whether Blagojevich talked with Emmanuel if the latter didn’t do anything wrong? What’s the scandal here? We’re in Whitewater territory here — again, there will always be troubling “unanswered questions” that somehow can never be answered correctly, and once you’ve established that such “questions” don’t actually have to have anything to do with any wrongdoing the number of potential questions is infinite.

And, actually, I’m giving Silva too much credit. While at least he’s admitting to passing on feeble GOP talking points, note the “[t]hese are questions that Obama and staff will continue to face this week” construction. Needless to say, the role of hacks like Silva in ensuring that Obama will have to continue to face “questions” that imply some sort of scandal with no evidence whatsoever just sort of drops out of the picture. The “questions” just sort of magically appear out of nowhere, I guess.

Marshall on the Filibuster

[ 0 ] December 14, 2008 |

Via LP, Josh Marshall’s argument on why Senate Dems need to protect the filibuster is just a touch underspecified:

It is just bad practice — especially in the face of the last eight years — for numerical majorities not only to use the power of their numbers in straight up votes but to change the rules of the game itself. Notwithstanding the fact that filibuster has been increasingly abused, it was wrong in 2005 and it would be wrong now.

Ok… first, the filibuster isn’t one of the “rules of the game” that we have specified as requiring a super-majority to change. We refer to those rules as “constitutional”; they can be changed through amendments, and the process by which they are changed is laid out carefully in the Constitution itself. Marshall seems to be suggesting that the filibuster occupies a special class of rule that requires a super-majority to change, even though the actual, evident rules of the Senate don’t specify that such is required, or that the super-majority needs to be of a specific size, or really anything else about how that rule can be changed. I’m curious about what other rules Marshall believes require super-majorities to change, and what process he sees as necessary for that change. Beyond tradition, I’m not at all convinced of the utility of a rule that requires a legislative super-majority to enact everyday legislation in a body that is already ridiculously counter-majoritarian.

Now, I take more seriously than most (and probably more seriously than I should) the idea that tradition should have positive weight when considering changes in institutions. The filibuster as it stands now, however, bears little resemblance to the creature that existed forty years ago; it has not, after all, been traditionally understood that a 60% majority in the Senate is necessary for the passage of legislation. Moreover, the Republicans seem to understand this, and successfully bludgeoned the Senate Dems into submission with threats to remove the filibuster three years ago. So until Marshall comes up with a more compelling case for the need to protect the filibuster, count me unconvinced.

This is the Only Republican in the Country Willing to Tell the Truth: That Everything is Just Fine

[ 0 ] December 13, 2008 |

The thing is, it actually makes sense for Karl Rove to infer that the Republicans have come pretty much all the way back based on their narrow runoff victory in Georgia. After all, his own reputation as a strategic super-genius was based on his amazing track record of getting Republicans elected in such notoriously hostile environments as Alabama and Texas as well as a presidential election he lost only to be bailed out by Florida’s amateur-night electoral system and a partisan Supreme Court. (Remember the dozens of credulous articles taking Rove’s claims that he was a new Mark Hanna ushering in a decades-long Republican realignment seriously? Times of sustained high comedy, the early aughts.)

Wankers Propping Up Wankers

[ 0 ] December 13, 2008 |

Wow, when I designated Rendell the wanker of the week I hadn’t even read this. Yeah, it sure would be great if the Democrats could fine somebody with more severe issues with women than the Son of Saint Casey. (Or, as Atrios also notes, Specter, no matter how nominal his pro-choice position has become.)

I can sometimes understand why people think that Somerby is beating a dead horse about the 2000 campaign. But the fact that someone who was at the epicenter of the War on Gore (and hence the war in Iraq, Alito and Roberts, the Bush Depression, etc. etc.) could not merely keep his high-paying job but apparently be a serious Democratic candidate for major electoral office demonstrates that they’re wrong.

Medical superstition has consequences

[ 0 ] December 13, 2008 |

There’s really nothing quite so wonderful as living in a community that’s become a regional hot spot for pertussis because hundreds and hundreds of assholes refuse to immunize their children. We’ve had 80 reported cases since July. Fantastic.

Juneau has endured similar fake controversies in recent years, and as expected, the objections to sound public health measures aren’t even remotely grounded in fact; the particular arguments against the pertussis vaccine have little to do with the typically bogus anxieties about thimerosol and autism, but instead focus on a pile of anecdotes from the 1970s and 1980s, when the “whole cell” pertussis vaccine was alleged to be responsible for seizures and brain damage. Despite the lack of empirical evidence supporting a link between the DTP vaccination and adverse, and despite the fact that newer “acellular” vaccines (DTaP) have replaced DTP (and have, in any case, proven equally safe and effective as the previous generation of drugs), anti-vaccination zealots continue to argue that pertussis vaccinations are unnecessary and pose dangers to children that physicians and pharmaceutical companies don’t want parents to know about for some reason. I’d post a list of conditions that these people believe are routinely caused by pertussis vaccines, but it would be easier just to type the word “everything” and run the risk of just slightly overstating the matter. (Believe it or not, there are people out there who actually believe “Shaken Baby Syndrome” is sometimes caused by vaccines.)

Barbara Loe Fisher, of the mis-named National Vaccine Information Center, is probably the most well-known American proponent of all this silliness. She’s got a blog these days, wherein she documents the vast conspiracy, warning about the grave threat to personal liberty that public health represents, and occasionally giving props along the way to investigative wizards like those at Pat Robertson’s CBN, who I suppose can be counted on to raise the oldest anti-vaccination arguments of all (e.g., God hates it).

Until recently, I’d have argued that the rhetoric of the anti-vaccination movement resembles that of the climate change deniers or those who sow doubt about the veracity of the moon landing. But the more I read about these folks, the more their work reminds me of some of the fraudulent arguments raised by anti-choicers who insist that abortions pose unique physical and psychological perils to women. Obviously the policy landscape is different, but the style of the argument — e.g., the reliance on personal anecdote, the disregard for data that hasn’t been contorted painfully, the demonization of medical practitioners, the insistence that all of this is being done to protect innocent life — seems oddly familiar.

…Jeebus, these folks even have an online memorial to the “victims of immunization”… The mind, to coin a phrase, boggles.

The Collective-State-Guilt Theory Variant of the Pseudo-Scandal

[ 0 ] December 13, 2008 |

What Alterman said. The attempts to gin up pseudo-scandals involving Obama and SOHNEHO were bad enough, but attempts to tie Obama to the Blagojevich scandal seem to consist of guilt-by-association without even the association, unless “living in the same city” counts. And to this we can add the spectacle of pundits using arguments that could come straight from Obama birth certificate troofers — sure, there’s no evidence whatsoever of any wrongdoing, but somehow Obama is just never answering the right question in the right way.

It’s going to be a long 4 years for media watchers, and the even more frightening thing is that had Clinton won the media almost certainly would have been even worse.

…And in related news, the wanker of the week is certainly Ed Rendell.

Cholera as Biological Weapon?

[ 0 ] December 13, 2008 |

Zimbabwe, it is fair to say, is a nation poorly served by its government:

The cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe which has left hundreds dead was caused by the UK, an ally of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has said. Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu described the outbreak as a “genocidal onslaught on the people of Zimbabwe by the British”.

On Thursday, Mr Mugabe said the spread of cholera had been halted. But aid workers warned that the situation was worsening and the outbreak could last for months.

In his comments to media in Harare, Mr Ndlovu likened the appearance of cholera in Zimbabwe to a “serious biological chemical weapon” used by the British. The Zimbabwean minister for information blames Britain for the cholera outbreak
He described it as “a calculated, racist, terrorist attack on Zimbabwe”.

Mr Mugabe has already accused Western powers of plotting to use cholera as an excuse to invade and overthrow him.