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Oh, Dirk Bendict…

[ 0 ] January 23, 2009 |

Yglesias says what needs to be said about Dirk Benedict’s screed against the reimagined Battlestar Galactica. It takes some chutzpah to rant against a better actor taking a more richly written role in a critically acclaimed show that has, thus far, run four times as long as the original. And although I’d love to read Benedict’s reaction to Katee Sackhoff taking the role of Faceman in an A-Team reprise, shows about roving bands of mercenary fugitive vigilantes went out with the decline of Reagan-Thatcher morality…

While on the subject, I think it’s clear that Richard Hatch’s decision to accomodate himself to the new BSG has worked out both for himself and for the show; he’s actually been good, and the internal political conflict storylines have played out more productively than many of the other subplots (*COUGH* Starbuck-Apollo romance *COUGH*).

Come Back Caroline Kennedy, All Is Forgiven

[ 0 ] January 23, 2009 |

Apparently, the extra days to deliberate didn’t do Paterson much good, as he has apparently made a very poor selection to fill New York’s vacant Senate seat. Her Republican dynastic background doesn’t bother me in itself, but being a Blue Dog really should disqualify you from consideration for statewide office:

Gillibrand has described her own voting record as “one of the most conservative in the state.” She opposes any path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, supports renewing the Bush tax cuts for individuals earning up to $1 million annually, and voted for the Bush-backed FISA bill that permits wiretapping of international calls. She was one of four Democratic freshmen in the country, and the only Democrat in the New York delegation, to vote for the Bush administration’s bill to extend funding for the Iraq war shortly after she entered congress in 2007. While she now contends that she’s always opposed the war and has voted for bills to end it, one upstate paper reported when she first ran for the seat: “She said she supports the war in Iraq.” In addition to her vote to extend funding, she also missed a key vote to override a Bush veto of a Democratic bill with Iraq timetables.

Ugh. And if the defense is supposed to be that you have to be this conservative to win the district — which is not entirely unreasonable — that makes the pick even worse. If you’re going to pick a sitting member of the House, it should be from a safe seat. Now, we have a senator without progressive credentials and have handed the GOP a good pickup opportunity in the House. I don’t see how this can be defended.

Against Abortion Inequality

[ 0 ] January 23, 2009 |

For this Blog For Choice day, Kay has a good post summarizing what legislation would be desirable. Of the legislative changes, I think that the repeal of the Hyde Amendment would easily be the most important. Because it restricts funding based not on neutral criteria like cost or medical importance but for the sole purpose of obstructing the exercise of a fundamental constitutional right, the Amendment is very constitutionally dubious. But even leaving constitutional issues aside, it’s atrocious public policy. While it’s at least possible to coherently defend an anti-choice position (at least in the abstract; defending laws that might actually be enacted as they actually work is another story), the idea that affluent women should have access to abortion but poor women should not is simply indefensible. Issues of abortion always involve class, and the Hyde Amendment is a particularly stark example.

Admittedly, the repeal of the Hyde Amendment is probably not a viable short-term goal. In the meantime, where possible pro-choicers should 1)try to restore funding in as many states as possible, and 2)work against arbitrary abortion regulations that obstruct access for poor women while producing no benefits whatsoever. As Megan says, “I don’t want loop holes for some, access for some. I don’t want anyone to have the power to decide who gets the right to choose and who doesn’t.”

I Guess Operation Cast Lead Worked…

[ 0 ] January 23, 2009 |

Thank God for those bunker busters:

After shoveling sand from their tunnel Thursday, the smugglers hoisted the prized cargo out of the narrow shaft: bags of potato chips — a minor luxury for Gazans tired of bland U.N. humanitarian rations.

All around them, other smuggling crews were getting merchandise flowing again through dozens of similar tunnels only days after a cease-fire in Israel’s devastating offensive in the Gaza Strip.

The tunnels linking Gaza and Egypt are back in business, despite the hundreds of tons of bombs and missiles that Israeli troops rained down on them.

The air reeked from spills of newly smuggled fuel being poured into plastic barrels as winches powered by noisy generators hauled more goods out of the wood-lined openings in the ground.

At other shafts, workers were still raising only dirt as their colleagues labored underground to dig out cave-ins caused by the Israeli bombardment. Egyptian border guards manned watchtowers barely 100 yards away.

Their fast recovery underlines the difficulty of stopping the smuggling and reinforces Israel’s fears that Gaza’s Hamas rulers will use the tunnel network to bring in weapons to rearm after the offensive.

For the record, the war has been over for three days. If the point was to terrify the Gazans into submission, I’m not sure it worked…

Bunning Headed to the Showers?

[ 0 ] January 22, 2009 |

Looks like Jim Bunning may be getting the hook:

Some Republicans are privately urging Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) to step down at the end of his term amid growing concerns that he can’t win reelection in 2010.

According to two GOP sources, leading Republican fundraisers in Kentucky are hesitant to raise money for Bunning and have told him he should not seek a third term.

“They want him to realize he’s had a good run but that it’s time to move on. These people want to win, and they realize he could easily lose this seat,” said one leading Kentucky Republican operative who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

Not terribly shocking, given that I’ve lived in Kentucky for almost four years and have never heard anyone (even Republicans) say anything nice about the august Senator. Indeed, the only thing I find surprising is that Bunning apparently still has fans…

Oscar Thread: Return to the Middlebrow

[ 0 ] January 22, 2009 |

By request, a thread to discuss the nominations. I will have a couple of movie roundup posts in the near future, but I would say that after a couple years of better-than-usual Best Picture nominations, all 5 this year are all again definitively middlebrow Oscar-type pictures, although with varying degrees of doorstopness. I do have to add the caveat that I can’t yet comment on Frost/Nixon or Forrest Gump II, although I would be shocked if the latter wasn’t the least watchable of the 5. Of the nominees, the surprisingly non-didactic and entertaining Milk would be my choice; I’ll say more about the good-but-highly-overrated Slumdog later. The Reader was a little better than it seems on paper, mostly because of the actors, but I wouldn’t say it was a good movie or anything. I was foolishly hoping that The Wrestler would get a token movie-too-good-to-win nomination, but that didn’t happen.

As many have already said, it’s good to see Anne Hathaway and Melissa Leo get nominated (I agree that the former’s movie would have merited Best Picture and Director nominations); I’m also glad to see Tomei (every bit as good as Rourke) get a supporting nod. I would have liked to have seen Kristin Scott Thomas, although the annual Meryl Streep slot does make the odds worse. Among ignored pictures, allow me to also cite Darnell Martin’s Cadillac Records, not a great movie but a very good and entertaining one that would seem to be an Oscar kind of movie in a just universe.

And, of course, the fact that An American Carol didn’t receive 15 nominations is proof that the nominations are a IslamoCommieNazi conspiracy.

…Another list of exclusions. I guess I need to see Happy-Go-Lucky?

The Kennedy Question

[ 0 ] January 22, 2009 |

As someone who could very much do without Kennedy worship in general and JFK worship in particular, I suppose that I’m happy, on balance, that Caroline Kennedy has removed herself from consideration to be New York’s next senator. Unlike many people, though, I never cared enough to even blog about it roughly for the reasons suggested by Dana. First, what matters most about a senator is their votes and Kennedy’s would presumably would be fine. Second, I’m not really convinced that which particular wealthy, especially well-connected person is appointed is some sort of major issue of merit or justice (and nepotism always seems a bigger deal where women are concerned; somehow, I don’t remember all the outrage over the fact that Andrew Cuomo may not have gotten his current position strictly on merit.) And, finally, however unjustified I think JFK’s reputation is the brutal truth is that it is a real political resource.

None of this is to say that I actually wanted Paterson to pick Kennedy; I would prefer a legislator with more experience and (especially) a clearer record of progressive politics, like Carolyn Maloney or Jerrold Nadler. But Kennedy probably would have been fine.

The Krauthammer Unit

[ 0 ] January 21, 2009 |

America’s Shittiest Op-Ed Columnist (Not-Named-Bill-Kristol Division), 16 January 2009:

[Bush] leaves behind the sinews of war, for the creation of which he has been so vilified but which will serve his successor — and his country — well over the coming years. The very continuation by Democrats of Bush’s policies will be grudging, if silent, acknowledgment of how much he got right.


Oh, well. At least now we have a verifiable expiration date for your standard Charles Krauthammer column — I suppose the only question is whether four days is the maximum or median shelf life. In any event, if it wants to avoid an E. Coli outbreak, the Post really ought to consider flash pasteurization.


[ 0 ] January 21, 2009 |

The Bush administration authorized the waterboarding of prisoners. Waterboarding is torture. Torture is prohibited by the Convention Against Torture, to which the U.S. is a signatory. This treaty requires a state to prosecute officals under its jurisdiction who violated the treaty. The U.S. Constitution makes this treaty binding law on U.S. officials, including Barack Obama, who swore an oath yesterday to uphold the former document.

All of this couldn’t be more straightfoward as a matter of the relevant legal rules.

I asked the students in my criminal punishment seminar yesterday why the treaty won’t be enforced by the new administration against officials of the old one. A student responded, “because it would be awkward.”

That’s about right I think.

Oh Glorious Day!

[ 0 ] January 21, 2009 |

Just found a couple weeks worth of research that I believed I had lost. This means, in effect, that I have accomplished two weeks worth of work before 11am. With that under my belt, time for a beer!

Elections Have Consequences. Sometimes, This Can Even Be Good

[ 0 ] January 21, 2009 |

I forgot to post on this earlier in the week, but indeed Marty Lederman taking over the job once held by John Yoo is fantastic news. And, of course, these kinds of actions are even better.

Blackwater-Blackfive Nexus

[ 0 ] January 21, 2009 |

Now this, from David Axe, is a fascinating story:

Susan Katz Keating posted a photo depicting, among others, “Uncle Jimbo” — one of the men behind the popular, and far-right, Blackfive blog — in front of Blackwater’s North Carolina headquarters last week. It seems Jimbo and others flew to Blackwater from the private air terminal attached to the D.C.-area Dulles airport, apparently on Blackwater’s dime.

In other words, Blackwater’s running junkets for press, paying expenses in return for coverage.

Now, junkets are curious things. Many journalists do them — I’ve done them — and most take pains to disclose the fact that their coverage was, in part, paid for by a source. Embeds with combat forces are, in a sense, a form of junket.

Junkets are risky. As long as there’s full disclosure, they can be a legit facet of the news. But in this case, there are extenuating circumstances that make Blackwater’s junketeering particularly vexing — and that’s Jimbo’s involvement. For Jimbo has plans that go beyond journalism and publishing. Jimbo, whose real name is Jim Hanson, has talked about turning Blackfive into an arm of a private military intelligence network, like a low-rent intel version of Blackwater.

I know this because Jimbo tried to recruit me last summer.

I had just returned from Chad. I had drinks with Jimbo and Blackfive boss Matt Burden. While Matt sat quietly, Jimbo told me how he was frustrated with professional reporters who only report facts, and don’t help use those facts to promote U.S. national security. He said he envisioned building a privately run intelligence network that would use freelance reporters, operating under Blackfive’s auspices and sponsored by corporations, to gather information for transmission to intel analysts in the U.S. He asked if I would be interested in joining up.

I said no, in no uncertain terms. In fact, I recall cursing and yelling.

I told Jimbo that if he really did launch a private intel network, and roped some naive young writers into serving as its operations arm, he was going to get some of them killed. I told him about all the occasions when suspicious and hostile sources in Africa and the Middle East have demanded to know whether I was an American spy. I always could honestly answer no. What happens when a reporter is a sort of spy, and gets confronted by people who wouldn’t hesitate to kill or abduct a spy? Not only is spying a clear violation of journalistic ethics, it’s a huge security risk for the reporter.

Jimbo’s plan is lunacy, but precisely the kind of lunacy represented by firms like Blackwater. And seeing Jimbo in front of a Blackwater facility, on a junket organized by the merc company, gives me chills. I can imagine the wicked synergy that might result.

Knowing David, I can say that it is very, very easy for me to imagine the cursing and the yelling.