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Living in the hysterical world

[ 7 ] October 29, 2010 |

Today’s “terrorist” “incidents” don’t seem too terrifying:

The rare military escort for a civilian flight heightened the drama of the still unfolding terrorism investigation, as officials isolated cargo planes at two other American airports and searched a delivery truck in Brooklyn for packages said to have been sent from Yemen to addresses in the United States.

None of those packages proved to be dangerous, but officials in Dubai found one that contained explosive material, and another — the first one to be discovered, in Britain — contained a device that appeared similar to an improvised bomb but contained no explosives.

Nevertheless President Obama held an impromptu news conference to discuss these barely newsworthy events. Obama is in a Catch-22 situation here: On the one hand if he acts like a grownup he will be excoriated from the right for not being taking The Existential Threat We Face from Islamoterrofascism seriously. On the other, we can be pretty sure that the next couple of days will feature lots of speculation regarding whether this whole thing has been trumped up by the administration for electoral purposes (it will be interesting to see if any GOP establishment mouthpieces pick up this theme).


Today’s Hack Puzzle

[ 14 ] October 29, 2010 |

Many right-wing bloggers were remarkably “successful” in finding ways to justify Rand Paul’s goons stomping on a defenseless woman’s head. The Christine O’Donnell case presents a similarly difficult problem: how do you blame the Democratic Party for a story put out on an apolitical gossip website that has earned nearly universal condemnation from liberals and Democrats? Col. Mustard rises to the challenge with some Grade A hackwork:

I don’t believe for a second that the criticisms of Gawker by most of the left-blogosphere are genuine.

These are crocodile tears from people who are afraid that the backlash will help O’Donnell politically, so they are pretending to unite in her defense on this limited point. Just read almost any of their posts, and they condemn Gawker while taking pains to point out that O’Donnell still is crazy and dangerous.

The left-blogosphere and media enabled Gawker, and if there is any justice, the monster they created will come back to bite them in the voting booth on November 2.

He goes on to claim that liberals “cheered on” Gawker for sexist attacks on Sarah Palin, while carefully omitting any evidence for the assertion.

The problem here, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, is that there isn’t the slightest contradiction between believing that O’Donnell is “crazy and dangerous” (in the sense of having crazy political positions) and believing that the Gawker post was sexist. The fact that O’Donnell advances a lot of reactionary (including anti-feminist) ideas isn’t a license to engage in sexist attacks. Indeed, I would argue that people whose commitment to feminist principles (unlike that of Jacobson and most other right-wing bloggers) doesn’t begin and end with insulating female Republican politicians from both legitimate and illegitimate attacks have rather more credibility on the subject.

Relatedly, I have some further thoughts on why attempts to justify Gawker’s actions by invoking “hypocrisy” won’t fly. My position on this goes a lot farther than, for example, Jill’s; even if the story was less overtly sexist, it would still be irrelevant.

Your Moment of Bobo

[ 6 ] October 29, 2010 |

Shorter David Brooks: The shrewd political course for Obama is to agree with David Brooks — and, hence, the American public, who I will attribute all my beliefs to — about everything.

On The Leaked Tribe Letter

[ 4 ] October 29, 2010 |

What Greenwald said.

On the first point, Paul’s post on Kagan and the legal establishment is obviously relevant. I just wonder if Tribe actually believes the highly implausible claims that Kagan will make Kennedy more liberal or if he was just telling Obama what he thought he wanted to hear to promote a colleague.

Friday Daddy Blogging

[ 6 ] October 29, 2010 |

Friday Daddy Blogging… Miriam and Elisha

Obama Won’t Enforce the Child Soldier Prevention Act

[ 9 ] October 29, 2010 |

I may be a fan of Obama’s performance on Comedy Central, but I’m no fan of this:

In 2009, the government of Chad conscripted refugee children for unlawful use as guards and combatants in its desert battles against rebel forces; the army of the Democratic Republic of Congo forced children to carry ammunition and supplies through the jungle, and some died under their weight; hundreds of boys and girls were forced into the army of southern Sudan, despite a commitment to release them; and in Yemen, children as young as 14 make up perhaps half the ranks of both the government’s forces and the rebels opposing them.

Despite those findings, in an annual State Department report on human trafficking, the Obama administration is allowing American military aid to continue to the four countries, issuing a waiver this week of a 2008 law, the Child Soldiers Prevention Act.

In a memorandum to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday, President Obama said he had determined that the waiver was in “the national interest.”

By this, the Administration apparently means that continuing to train these militaries in counter-terrorism work takes precedence over human rights concerns (I’m shocked); but they do also make a human-security-related argument: that these countries are likelier to actually end child soldiering with help from the US rather than by having aid withdrawn entirely. Not sure how to assess that one. Josh Rogin has more detail.

There may be another element at play here: enforcing the law on other countries could make the US look hypocritical for allowing military recruiters into middle schools and blasting military recruitment ads in movie theaters during PG films. While recruiting children isn’t the same as actually deploying them, the child soldiers treaty actually bans both.


[ 3 ] October 29, 2010 |

North and South Koreans are shooting at each other.


[ 34 ] October 28, 2010 |

He should have said “yes we can, and” instead of “but.” But in general, I don’t buy the criticisms of Obama’s appearance on the Daily Show last night. Some of them seem down-right contradictory: Dana Milbank claims Obama “didn’t try to connect with his youthful audience” in the same paragraph as he claims that he should have been humiliated by Stewart calling him “dude.”

I saw the opposite: a President whose very presence on the show demonstrated a connection to the audience, who was able to laugh both at himself and with Stewart, while speaking even-handedly about his record.

To my mind, his body language was masterful.* He towered over Stewart as he entered, sat forward like a tiger ready to pounce while Stewart worked up the courage to ask tough questions, and was genial, gentlemanly and Presidential especially when he was putting Stewart firmly in his place. In short, it was refreshing to see Obama display the backbone that Colbert and Stewart often (rightly) accuse him of lacking. This doesn’t make him “defensive”; it proves he’s still got much-needed punch. It was also a pretty slick maneuver to force Stewart into 2 minutes of overtime by refusing to let him control the ending of the show. Obama doesn’t need to worry about whether someone calls him “dude.” Read more…

Another Reminder That Even Odious Politicians Can Be Subject To Misogynist Attacks

[ 45 ] October 28, 2010 |

I have to agree (as even another part of Gawker Blogpost Production Enterprises LLC that was forced to run a prominent link to  the story largely concedes) that the Gawker non-story about an attempted Christine O’Donnell hookup provides substantial evidence that the would-be hookupee is a gold-plated asshole (“She was a ‘cougar’!”   “Who didn’t have a bikini wax, which is ‘obviously’ unattractive!'” It goes on like that…) but provides nothing of interest about O’Donnell.   Evidently, if this involved a male politician the chances that this would be a story are less than nothing.    Worst of all, it doesn’t even have the flimsy “hypocrisy” angle that is usually used to justify this kind of trivia, since she apparently wanted to remain a “born-again virgin.”

No link to original, but allow me to summarize to discourage you: a single woman who is now running for Senate once made out with some guy, and then they didn’t see each other again.   He would very much like to you know that she was into it but he considered himself far better than that.    Article fails to make a convincing case for the latter proposition, although I do not (to put it mildly) have a positive impression of the future candidate.   The end.

…see also Amanda and Tracy Clark-Flory. Amanda elaborates effectively on why the “hypocrisy” charge is pretty feeble. Besides, as a general rule I’m inclined to believe that unless there’s something wrong with the underlying behavior, when it comes to outing the private acts of public figures “hypocrisy” is (to paraphrase Robert Christgau) an excuse for anything and a reason for nothing.

…more on the web outlet apparently being edited by the late Bob Guccione here, here and here. I’ll give the final word to Weigel: “Hey Gawker, I hope a one-day SEO term victory is worth the sleaziest piece of shit story in memory.”

Divided We Will Fail To Govern

[ 6 ] October 28, 2010 |

As Matt notes, David Mayhew — argbuably the country’s most important Congress scholar — has shown that while divded government affects the type of legislation passed, it has had suprisingly little effect on the quantity of legislation passed.   (You can see a quick summary of his reserach in this symposium.)   It’s always important to remember, though, that past patterns never guarantee future results in politics.    The relative similarity of united and devided government is a contingent result of certain norms and partisan alignments that for the most part don’t obtain.    Looking at Seyward Darby’s analysis of the (non)prospects for bipartisan education reform, for example, it’s clear that Senate Republicans in particular take their self-conscious obstructionism seriously, and since from a cold. self-inererested perspective their read on the incentives are correct, I’m not sure what’s going to stop them.    And even granting that the normalization of the filibuster does allow for an enormous amount of minority obstruction in periods of nominally unified government, I still find it implausible under current norms that the Republican takeover of the House won’t have much effect on the ability of Congress to pass legislation implausible.    I think the next Congress is where we see the patten Mayhew idenfitied start to break down.

That Had to Hurt…

[ 16 ] October 27, 2010 |

This is like watching a puppy getting hit by a truck, except that the puppy pretty much deserved it.

What’s the Base?

[ 22 ] October 27, 2010 |

Just a note of mild irritation in response to a number of recent tweets on the subject; while failure of outreach to his base may have been a significant strategic error for the Obama administration, that’s not really the message of this poll:

Critical parts of the coalition that delivered President Obama to the White House in 2008 and gave Democrats control of Congress in 2006 are switching their allegiance to the Republicans in the final phase of the midterm Congressional elections, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

Republicans have wiped out the advantage held by Democrats in recent election cycles among women, Roman Catholics, less affluent Americans and independents. All of those groups broke for Mr. Obama in 2008 and for Congressional Democrats when they grabbed both chambers from the Republicans four years ago, according to exit polls.

To be clear, “base” does not equal “everyone who voted for Obama in 2008.” Base, by any reasonable definition, is a subset of that total; politicians win by motivating their base in addition to chipping off bits and pieces of the opponent’s coalition, as well as by winning the very small sliver of genuine independents.  According to the poll, as far as I can tell, the losses from the Obama coalition include two of the most conservative segments (Roman Catholics and “independents”) as well as women, and I’d argue that the latter is too large and diverse a category to be appropriately termed part of the “base.”    In other words, I suspect we’re seeing the loss of the most conservative parts of the Obama victory coalition, rather than the base.  Although Obama could have done more both to shore up his base and to convince swing elements to remain in the fold, loss of these elements is entirely predictable in context.